Theme: Four Pivotal Words
This week’s lessons discuss the important benefits that come to every Christian because of their justification given by Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Romans 5:2
“If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” Haven’t you heard this classic put-down of someone who has been acting arrogantly?
I think of it as we move from Romans 3 to Romans 5, because I know that a person might read what I have written about justification by grace and ask: “If justification is as great as you say it is, why aren’t Christians rich?” The answer, of course, is that Christians are rich, spiritually speaking. It is what the fifth chapter of Romans is about. Romans 5 tells us that our standing in grace has swelled our spiritual assets by giving us: 1.) peace with God; 2.) union with Christ; 3.) a transformed response to suffering; and 4.) a confident hope of our ultimate glorification.
Romans 5:2 is the pivotal verse for understanding these benefits of justification, but it is not easy to understand. This is because its key words—access, faith, grace, and standing—can be used in different ways, and it is not immediately clear how they all go together in this sentence. So let me begin by attempting to define each one, taking them in the order I think will get us to the meaning of “standing in grace” most quickly.
Grace. Grace is defined as “God’s unmerited favor,” sometimes rightly strengthened to read “God’s favor to those who actually deserve the opposite.” In this sense, grace is what lies behind God’s plan of salvation. That is why Paul can use it in writing to the Ephesians, saying, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9).
But this is not the precise meaning of the word “grace” in Romans 5:2. One clue that Paul is giving “grace” a slightly different meaning is that he prefaces it with the word “this.” “This grace!” It indicates that he has a specific grace in mind. Another clue is that Paul speaks of it as the grace “in which we now stand.” What grace is it in which we now stand? In the context of Romans, it is clear that the grace in which we now stand is our state of justification. It means that, while before we were “under wrath,” now we are “under grace” if we stand before God as justified men and women.
Faith. Faith also has a variety of meanings. It always means “believing God and acting upon that belief.” But the emphasis can be upon our conduct (being faithful), believing (taking God at his word), or what we are called upon to believe (the faith once delivered to the saints). Since faith is linked to the words “this grace” and since this is the grace of justification, the faith referred to here must be the faith in Jesus Christ through which we are justified.
Access. The Greek term lying behind this word is prosagoge, which means “right to enter,” “freedom to enter,” or “introduction.” Since it is used of the work of the Holy Spirit in prayer in Ephesians 2:18, it has been said sometimes that the Holy Spirit “introduces” us to God.
The important thing to see about its use in Romans 5:2 is that it is preceded by the verb “have gained” and that this verb is in the past perfect tense. The New International Version says “have gained” to emphasize this tense. But the word is actually “have,” and in the past perfect tense the proper translation is “have had.” What Paul is saying is that we “have had our access into the grace of justification.” Paul uses this special past tense to show that the justification in which we stand is something that has been accomplished for us and into which we have already entered.
It has a present significance too, of course. But the reason it has a present significance is that it is something that has already happened to us. We have been justified; therefore we remain justified. We have had our access, and it is because we have had it that we still have it.
Stand. The final keyword of Romans 5:2 is stand. By now we can see how it should be taken. By the mercy of God we have been brought into the grace of justification, and that is the grace in which we now have the privilege to stand. Before we were standing outside the sphere of God’s blessing, as children of wrath. Now we are standing within that sphere as sons and daughters of God. The point is that we have been made secure in Christ, and that forever. We have entered into grace and now stand in grace with an entirely different status than we had before.
What is the meaning of grace in Romans 5:2?
How is faith related to grace in this passage?
In what way is access particularly significant here?
Why is stand included in the list of key words?