Over the years as I have done pastoral counseling a common theme has presented itself. It often takes awhile to get to it because it is so embarrassingly basic but it comes down to some very personal questions. Folks don’t always put it in these words but variations of this come out. “I believe God loves the whole world. Everybody knows John 3:16. But does He really love me? “I know that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, but did He truly die for mine?” “I know that Jesus forgives the sins of the whole world but does He really forgive me?” “If He does all these thing then why don’t I feel loved and free and forgiven?”
While Romans is the most theological of all of St. Paul’s writings it is also very pastoral. I say that because in it St. Paul answers these kind of real questions that real people have. He does not philosophize. He does not tell us how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But He does let us know the heights and depths of God’s forgiveness and love. He moves us from being dependent upon the shifting sands of our emotions to a solid rock of truth on which to stand.
And he does it with two wonderful words. “much more.” “Much more.” As Moses instructed Israel I want you to bind these two words as a sign on your hand, make them as frontlets between your eyes and write them on the doorposts of your houses. (And just to be clear I’m not suggesting you go out and get a tattoo, I am being symbolic here.)
Four times St. Paul uses “much more” in chapter 5 and each time it opens the door to a greater vision of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus and if we will embrace this vision then it will significantly address our doubts.
First he says in verse 9. “Since therefore we have been justified by his blood much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
“Justified” is the language of the court. This is a “not guilty” verdict. We have lost the weight of our sins and so our old clothes no longer fit us and as the saying goes, “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
And notice what has made us justified, what has given us the “not guilty” verdict. It is not our good works. It is not our sincerity. Nor may we choose any path believing that they all lead to the same place. There is only one thing that brings us the “not guilty” verdict and that is the blood of Jesus. His sacrifice on the cross, and His sacrifice alone, pays for the sins of the world. So St. Paul is arguing here that if we have been acquitted by the blood of Jesus, then we have nothing to fear on the Day of Judgment. If we have been acquitted in the past then much more will be acquitted in the future.
The second time St. Paul uses “much more” is in verse 10. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
“Justified” was the language of the court, but “reconciliation” is the language of relationships. When a married couple has struggles they sometimes choose to separate. But when they go through counseling and work through their problems they are then said to be “reconciled.”
This is a beautiful word because it is far more interpersonal than “justification.” A judge can acquit you but still think that you are guilty as sin and believe that you should hang. But “reconciliation” speaks of healing, it is an end to separation. Reconciliation is the father embracing the prodigal son. Reconciliation is forgiveness and starting again, new and fresh. Reconciliation is tearing down the walls and making loved ones out of enemies. And that is exactly what God has done for us. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
“Does God really love me?” “Does God really forgive me?” “Does God really care for me?” In saying “much more” St Paul is saying “Are you kidding me? He did all these wonderful things for you when you his enemy so just imagine how much more he will do for you now that you are his child.”
The third time St. Paul says “much more” is in verse 15. “For the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by that grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” What is this free gift of which he speaks? He will tell us in the next chapter. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Do you see the progression here and how it is getting better and better. Do you see how everything truly is “much more?” We have gone from being justified or acquitted by the Father; to reconciliation or restoring our relationship with Him; to now to being given the free gift of eternal life. Did you know that there are some forms of Judaism that does not believe in an after life. Just to walk with God in this life is seen as gift enough. But He offers us much more in having this restored relationship last for an eternity. And as if that is not good enough there is one more “much more.”
In verse 17 St. Paul says, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
Mini Pearl had an expression “I’m just so proud to be here.” I would guess that would be an appropriate expression for most of us when it comes to heaven. We’d be just proud to be here. But God has much more planned for us than just an entrance. St. Paul is saying that we will not only be with Christ but that we will reign with Christ. It is an amazing idea to think that we will go from being forgiven by Christ all the way to reigning with Christ but that is what the Apostle taught. He says it so matter of factly to Timothy, “If we endure with Him we will reign with Him.”
I don’t pretend to know what that honor will look like but it certainly harkens back to the role that Adam lost in the fall when he was to have dominion over the earth but lost that position through sin. Perhaps reigning with Christ will look something like having that position restored, only not surprisingly, much more.
So let’s assume that the early Church embraced these truths. They replaced their doubts about God’s love and care for them with the knowledge that they have been forgiven, that they have reconciled to God, that they are invited into an eternal relationship and were even destined to reign with Christ. But then real life hits them. I can imagine after some time a little hand written note coming back to St. Paul. “Sir, all this sounds well and good but you are about to be arrested and we are getting pummeled. The Jews have kicked us out of their synagogues and the Romans are feeding us to the lions. How does all that fit with your ‘much more’ talk?”
Perhaps expecting such objections St. Paul makes a preemptive strike and puts suffering in perspective with being justified by faith and having peace with God. He points out in verses 3 & 4 that being reconciled with God does not exempt us from suffering. Rather being reconciled with God is what gives meaning to suffering. There is a great line in a hymn that we recently sang. “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, my grace all sufficient shall be thy supply; the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design they dross to consume and they gold to refine.” (#636 – How Firm A Foundation).
And so St. Paul tells us that we are to have faith that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and we have hope because of God’s love for us. So neither Paul’s arrest, nor their excommunication from the synagogues (and as he goes on in chapter 8) “nor death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separated us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” St. Paul strengthens our weak knees by calling us to the trinity of faith, hope and love. This is how we anchor our souls.
If you are doing this Lenten journey correctly then you too may be facing the questions with which I began this sermon. They tend to come up in this penitential season as this season is designed to be a time of serious soul searching. Besides embracing St. Paul’s “much more” I want to call two things to your attention.
First remember that this kind of doubt does not come from God. Faith is God’s gift to us. I believe that some forms of wrestling with God can be fruitful but this is not one of them. The kind of doubt that questions if you are loved or if you are forgiven comes from the enemy of your soul, whom the Scriptures call “the accuser of the brethren.” Remember his words to Jesus that we heard a couple of weeks ago? “If you are the Son of God?….If you are the Son of God?” He was trying to sew doubt. So if in you heart and mind you hear, “If you really are loved?….if you really are forgiven?” then you can bet where it is coming from.
Second it is important to confront these kinds of doubts as lies and hit them head on with the truth. Do what Jesus did and come back with “It is written…..” You may find a passage of Scripture or a prayer that centers you when you are under attack. The Eastern Church uses what is called the Jesus Prayer and many in the West find praying the rosary as a means of stabilizing themselves in the storm.
I have woven together two texts, one from Ephesians and one from Hebrews, that are very meaningful to me. I recite them like a mantra when I am feeling weak in the knees. When I hear “If you are…” I come back with “I am accepted in the Beloved and His kingdom cannot be shaken.” (Eph 1:6 with Heb 12:28). It has been my experience that that truth recited a few times goes a long way in warding off “ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night.” You may choose a completely different approach but the point is to confront the lies of the enemy with the truth just as Jesus did and like Jesus you will come through Lent as a victor.
I have a sneaking suspicion that St. Paul’s unfolding of “much more” in Romans is only meant to act as highlights of all that God has in store. He writes the Corinthians, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (NLT). So when the doubts and questions arise, “Am I truly loved? Am I truly forgiven?” you can tap into the abundance of assurance from God’s Word and them smile to yourself and say “O yes….and much more.”