In a single letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul laid out a masterful argument concerning the hopeless state of sinful humanity and God’s gracious act of redemption. Paul said he was an apostle set apart for “the Gospel of God” (Romans 1:1). His letter is complex in its theology, yet delivers a profoundly simple message which is the believer’s only hope.
Let’s begin with the bad news – God is justifiably angry with humanity (Romans 1:18-25). His wrath is against those who know Him but fail to glorify Him or give Him thanks. People worship created things rather than the Creator who deserves to be worshiped.
This state of humanity is referred to as depravity (Romans 1:28). God’s wrath is against all people because even those who know what is right do not do it (Romans 2:22-24). Everyone is subject to God’s wrath because all have sinned – there is no one who is righteous (Romans 3:10-18). Furthermore, people are incapable of making themselves righteous in God’s sight. More on Condemnation
There is only one way out of this hopeless situation (Romans 3:21-24). God’s grace sent Jesus into the world to reconcile people to Himself and to one another (Romans 3:28-30). Believers are justified through faith in Jesus Christ.
Faith is more than just believing that there’s a God out there somewhere. It’s also trusting that God will do what He has promised to do (Romans 4:5). Abraham never heard the name of Jesus. Yet he was justified (considered righteous in God’s sight) because he believed that God would do what He promised by giving him a son – Isaac (Romans 4:18-22). In the same way, believers are proclaimed righteous by believing God when He says that Jesus is His Son and the one who brings forgiveness of sin. Jesus accomplished this by dying on the cross and being raised from the dead (Romans 4:23-25).
Justification is an act of God. Its purpose is to make individuals righteous in His sight. Justification is a one-time decree that has everlasting effects. Individuals who have been justified by the grace of God through faith in Jesus are no longer under God’s wrath. They are at peace with God because of the sacrifice of Jesus (Romans 5:1, 8-10). Those who are justified by faith are no longer condemned for their sins (Romans 8:1). More on Justification
God gives the Holy Spirit to all those whom He justifies (Romans 5:5). New believers quickly realize that their former way of life is no longer acceptable. The Spirit empowers them to live a new life that is pleasing to God (Romans 8:5-9). This process of changing from the old way of life to the new is called sanctification. Believers participate in this process but would be unable to accomplish it without the convicting power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26-27).
It’s very important to distinguish between the one-time act of justification and the on-going process of sanctification. If the line between them is blurred, the result is a form of works righteousness – the idea that people must do certain things to achieve or maintain their salvation.
Justification is a decree from God. There is no way for people to justify themselves or make themselves righteous in God’s sight. If there were some way for people to save themselves from the wrath of God, then Jesus didn’t need to suffer and die. Justification is God’s gracious act of redemption through which individuals are given the faith to trust in Jesus. Sanctification, on the other hand, is a life-long process in which people participate with the Holy Spirit to live a new life as a follower of Jesus. More on Sanctification
The outcome of this process is the state of eternal glorification with God (Romans 8:14-18). Individuals who have been justified through faith in Jesus and sanctified by the Holy Spirit will also be glorified and live forever in the presence of God. This hope of glory is certain because it depends upon God’s mercy and power, not on human effort (Romans 8:28-30).
The Gospel of God is truly good news for all who put their trust in Jesus Christ. More on Glorification