Commentary on Romans 5:1-11

Notes (NET Translation)

1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory.

The phrase “we have been declared righteous by faith” summarizes 1:18-4:25. Justification is presented as a completed act. Paul now builds on the consequences and results of righteousness by faith. We have peace with God in the sense of being reconciled to God (5:10-11). In the OT peace is a gift given by God in the end times when he fulfills his covenant promises (Isa 9:6–7; 32:15–17; 48:20–22; 54:10; Ezek 34:25; 37:26; Mic 5:4–5; Hag 2:9; Zech 8:12). This peace and reconciliation is through the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ (3:25-26). In the OT the promised peace was said to become a reality through the Davidic king (Isa 9:6-7; Ezek 24:23-31; 37:24-28; Mic 5:4-5). Christ’s atoning sacrifice provides access to the justifying grace of God. We rejoice, exult, and boast in the hope of God’s glory. God’s glory is the restoration of the glory humanity lost because of sin (3:23; 8:17-21, 30). We rejoice in the hope of being restored to a state of glory.

When Paul speaks of the hope of God’s glory, ἐλπίς (elpis, hope) means a sure confidence (cf. 4:18). It does not mean that believers long to experience God’s glory but are not sure whether it will come to pass. Believers are certain now that the glory Adam lost will be restored to them. Indeed, the glory restored to believers will be even greater than the glory Adam once had, for believers will be conformed to the second Adam, Jesus Christ (8:29).1

3 Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance, character, and character, hope.

To rejoice in sufferings means “to view them as a basis for further confidence in our redeemed status.”2 It is unclear whether sufferings in general or sufferings for the sake of the faith are in view. We can rejoice in sufferings because we know that suffering produces endurance, then character, and then hope. Endurance (hypomonen) means fortitude or perseverance. Character (dokimen) refers to a tested and approved character.

While it is easy to understand how suffering produces perseverance and how perseverance produces character, it is difficult to explain how character produces hope, and the apostle gives no indication of the way he thinks this occurs. We might surmise that, if the character produced by perseverance includes a greater trust in God, this in turn strengthens our hope of sharing the glory promised by God. The following comment by Moo is pertinent: ‘Sufferings, rather than threatening or weakening hope, as we might expect to be the case, will, instead, increase our certainty in that hope. Hope, like a muscle, will not be strong if it goes unused. It is in suffering that we must exercise with deliberation and fortitude our hope, and the constant reaffirmation of hope in the midst of apparently “hopeless” circumstances will bring ever-deeper conviction of the reality and certainty of that for which we hope (see Rom. 4:18-19)’.3

Thomas Schreiner provides another perspective:

Why does tested character spark hope? Because moral transformation constitutes evidence that one has really been changed by God. Thus it assures believers that the hope of future glory is not an illusion. There is a pattern of growth in the here and now, however imperfect, that indicates that we are changing. Believers, then, become assured that the process that God has begun he will complete (1 Cor. 1:8; Phil. 1:6).4

Of course, this chain only works if one responds to sufferings appropriately.

5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Hope will not disappoint us, meaning it will not be in vain and it will not put us to shame at the final judgment. The “love of God” is “the love of God for us” not “our love for God” (Rom 5:6-11; 8:39; 2 Cor 13:13). The phrase “poured out” indicates an abundance of love. The heart is the inner being of the believer. The Holy Spirit is the agent through whom the love of God comes into the believer’s heart. This verse is not speaking of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, but it does state that the Holy Spirit was given to us (cf. Rom 8:23; 2 Cor 5:5; Eph 1:13-14). “Believers know now in their hearts that they will be spared from God’s wrath because they presently experience God’s love for them through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.”5

6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

Human beings are both helpless and ungodly. The Greek term asthenon (“helpless”) may refer to the moral weakness of human beings in this fallen world (1 Cor 4:10; 2 Cor 10:10; 11:29; 12:10; 13:4, 9; Phil 2:26-27; 2 Tim 4:20) since the surrounding context focuses on human beings as sinners. “Ungodly” (asebon) is a strong pejorative term.

But what does Paul mean by saying that Christ died “at the appropriate time”? He may mean that it was the “right” time in world history for the sending of Christ and the proclamation of the gospel. Or he may be thinking of the time as “right” because it was the time when, had not Christ died, God’s wrath would have been poured out. Related to both these suggestions, but with better foundation in Paul’s theology, is the interpretation that takes “right time” to mean the culminating, eschatological “time” of God’s intervention in Christ (see Rom. 3:26; 8:18; 13:11). This last suggestion, which is the best of the three, is yet open to the objection that Paul usually adds a qualifier to “time” when it has this meaning. Considering the context, it is best to give the phrase a less theological and more prosaic meaning, and take it as further emphasizing “still”: “Christ died for the ungodly just at that very time when we were weak.”6

7 (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.)

The main point of this verse is to show that God’s love is not like human love. Someone might die for a good person or someone they were close to but God sent his Son to die for his enemies (5:10).

Despite agreement on the point of the verse, the exact meaning of the verse is disputed. Thomas Schreiner covers the following options:

  1. The two clauses are synonymous. This view is unlikely since the second clause is concessive, qualifying the first clause.
  2. The two clauses are nearly identical but the “good” person is more attractive or noble than the “righteous” person. Schreiner does not think we can distinguish between a “righteous” person and a “good” person in this way.
  3. The second clause is a correction or softening of the first clause.
  4. The words tou agathou (“the good”) may be identified as a neuter designating a good cause (as opposed to a good person) for which one is willing to die. This option is unlikely since both dikaiou (“righteous”) and agathou (“good”) are masculine, showing that dying for another person is in view. Masculine terms fit the context in which Jesus dies for human beings. Moreover, people have often died for good causes.
  5. The “good” person, unlike the “righteous” person, is a benefactor. Schreiner adopts this view because there is significant evidence that agathou was used for a person who was a benefactor.

Kruse adds:

In the client-benefactor relationship clients were under obligation towards their benefactors. Andrews concludes: ‘The obligations which were owed to one’s benefactor were socially binding, and it would not have been unthinkable for a man to lay down his life for such an honourable person’.7

8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

How very different is the logic here compared to Sirach 12.1-7, which advises to recognize whom you are doing good to and “give to the godly person but do not help the sinner.” Seneca advised giving help to those who deserved it (De Beneficiis 4.27.5), and Aristotle (Ethics 9.8.1169a) speaks of doing good for one’s friends. Paul’s logic runs counter to the normal conventions of the day. He stresses that God’s action in Christ is without human analogy.8

9 Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath.

Paul is making an argument from the greater to the lesser. If Christ has already declared us righteous by his blood (the greater) then how much more will he save us from God’s wrath (the lesser)! The preposition by in “by his blood” can denote either the means or the cost of justification.

Selecting the word αἷμα [haima, blood] was hardly due to the nature of Christ’s death, for little blood is shed during a crucifixion. The reference to blood is included because of its sacrificial dimensions, recalling the bloody animal sacrifices of Leviticus. Justification, therefore, was free but not cheap. It was obtained at the cost of Christ’s blood.9

10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life?

The term “enemies” suggests open rebellion or warfare against God (cf. Rom 1:30; 8:7; 11:28; Phil 3:18; Col 1:21). The mention of God’s wrath in the previous verse (cf. 1:18; 2:5) reminds us that God can be hostile towards sinners. The death of the Son reconciles the two parties.

“To reconcile” means to bring together, or make peace between, two estranged or hostile parties (cf. 1 Cor. 7:11). The language of reconciliation is seldom used in other religions because the relationship between human beings and the deity is not conceived there in the personal categories for which the language is appropriate. Reconciliation in Paul has two aspects, or “moments”: the accomplishment of reconciliation through Christ on the cross (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself”) and the acceptance of that completed work by the believer (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20b: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”). Naturally, while the focus can be on one of these moments or the other, the reconciling activity of God is ultimately one act; and in the present verse the complete process is in view.10

We come back now to the question of what the apostle means by ‘be saved through his life’. It has been suggested that Paul’s meaning is not so much that we are saved ‘through his life’ but rather that we are saved ‘in his life’? If the phrase were interpreted in this way, the apostle would be implying that our full salvation comes about by sharing in his risen life. While there is some truth in this suggestion, it has little support in the immediate context. The context (cf. 5:9) suggests that to be saved by his life involves being ‘saved through him from the wrath of God’. In this case Paul could have in mind the intercessory role of the risen Christ mentioned in 8:34 (‘Christ Jesus who died . . . is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us’) and in other NT writings (Heb 7:25: ‘he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them’; 1 John 2:1-2: ‘But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins’). This latter alternative is preferable because it has contextual support as well as support in other NT documents that the first alternative lacks.11

11 Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.

“This” probably refers to all that has come before, so this verse acts as a climax.

The theme of boasting was introduced with the reference to hope in verse 2, but hope itself is not more important than the one in whom we hope. The capstone of the believer’s experience is boasting and exulting in God himself. Thereby he receives the glory and praise that sinful human beings have so long denied him (1:21–23; 2:24; 3:23).12

We have now been justified by faith (5:1) and we have now received reconciliation (5:11).

While justification and reconciliation are closely related, they are not identical concepts. Justification highlights the forensic aspect and reconciliation the relational aspect of the salvation made possible through Christ’s death, though, of course, justification cannot be said to be without its relational significance, and reconciliation presupposes a resolution of the forensic problem.13

Bibliography

Kruse, Colin G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Metzger, Bruce M., ed. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Hendrickson Pub, 2005.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 1998.

Witherington III, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.


  1. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 5262-5265 
  2. Moo 1996, 302 
  3. Kruse 2012, 230-231 
  4. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 5288-5290 
  5. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 5319-5321 
  6. Moo 1996, 307 
  7. Kruse 2012, 235 
  8. Witherington III 2004, 137 
  9. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 5430-5432 
  10. Moo 1996, 311–312 
  11. Kruse 2012, 238 
  12. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 5471-5473 
  13. Kruse 2012, 238-239 
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