Special Access and Endurance – An Excerpt From Romans (The Story of God Bible Commentary Series)
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)
Approaching Holy Week brings our thoughts to the implications of Christ’s work on the cross. In his new commentary on Romans (The Story of God Bible Commentary Series) Michael Bird leads through the text of Romans 5 with humor and depth of insight into the great gift we are given and the hope that results.
Reflect on this excerpt of the commentary from Romans 5:1-11:
The summative nature of Paul’s language easily lends itself to application in both the ancient Roman churches and in the contemporary ones, especially in relation to the real meaning of our salvation and how it proves to be transformative for our own character and conduct.
The Access of Grace
I’ve worked in places where you need an access card to get into certain buildings or into special parts of certain buildings. You get to wear a special card on a piece of cord around your neck. You flash the card at security officials or else tap it on an electronic terminal to secure entry into a restricted area. If you do not have the special card, you need to either sign in or get escorted into certain places. When carrying such cards, there is always a certain feeling of privilege or exclusivity, as if one holds the key to some kind of kingdom! I can go in and out of this special secret place as often as I like but those persons over there cannot. I have special privileges! To put it another way, as Tim Keller recently tweeted (yes, I’m now quoting tweets in my commentary): “The only person who dare wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.”
Paul uses the word prosagoḡ e ̄ in Romans 5:2 for describing how believers now have, through Christ, “access” to God (a theme rehearsed also in Eph 2:18; 3:12). They are able to stand in God’s grace because Christ is for them the means of access into God’s favor. To try and approach God without Christ would mean not only access denied, but result in the social equivalent of being roughly carried out of a building by several serious-looking men wearing black suits, dark sunglasses, and pressing a finger against their ear pieces while muttering, “The weasel is being escorted from the building. I repeat, the weasel is being escorted from the building. The area is now secure, please stand down.”
Yet Christ means that the way to God’s presence is forever open to us who bear his name. There is no security service, electronic door, or dead bolt that can obstruct us from entering into God’s presence. We are free to enter the presence of the heavenly, royal, all-sovereign, and infinitely holy God. Not bad considering we were once godless sinners, by nature objects of wrath, at enmity with God. Yet now we can enter into the presence of God by the blood of Christ our reconciler.
There are different ways of conceiving of ethics. One can think in terms of consequences or duties, but these days it is common to describe ethics in terms of cultivating certain virtues. Paul himself was probably no stranger to discussions of virtue by philosophers, Greco-Roman and Jewish, as Paul was able to produce his own lists of virtuous attitudes and behaviors that should typify God’s people. Three virtues that Paul mentions here are endurance, character, and hope. Paul believed that Christians can even boast in affliction because affliction is the process by which such virtues are exercised as living expressions of our faith.
Endurance was celebrated by moral philosophers of antiquity as one of the noblest of virtues. The ability to persist under adversity was a mark of strong and even royal character. We celebrate endurance in our own culture in many ways, such as the accolades offered to endurance marathoners or memorializing those who have overcome great pain and anguish in the course of their lives. There is something inherently noble about those who have kept the faith, fought the good fight, walked the line with Christ, and finished the race in the midst of external pressure, internal struggle, personal injury, constant temptation, and even self-doubt. The fact is that the Christian life is not a sprint; it’s an ultra-distance marathon, or sometimes like partaking in an ultra-marathon obstacle course while being chased by tigers wearing laser guns on their heads. There are some great stations along the way that can refresh us in the often-perilous journey toward the new Jerusalem — hopefully every Sunday service, our family, and Christian friends — but that does not diminish the genuine struggle we face along the way. What gives us the impetus to keep going is seeing that the end is drawing closer. And our end is coming — either the Lord returns or we walk under the veil of death — but either way, at the end we will see the Holy City of the new Jerusalem and enjoy an everlasting intimacy with God (Rev 21 – 22).
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the story of the American distance swimmer Florence Chadwick, but it’s a good story about endurance. In 1952 Chadwick attempted to become the first woman to swim the twenty plus miles across the Catalina Channel from Catalina Island to Palos Verde on the American west coast. Due to the threat of surrounding sharks, cold waters, and a blanket of fog, she gave up the swim with less than a mile to go. The fog meant that she was unable to see where she was going and did not feel like she was making any progress. She could not see that she was getting nearer to her goal. So she quit the race. Afterwards she told reporters, “Look, I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen land, I know I could have made it.”
However, only two months later, Chadwick tried again, this time she made it across the channel. How true it is that we can only finish a race if we can see the end. For Christians, our endurance comes from (among other things) the fact that we can see the end, the majestic vision of God dwelling with his people, and this is the end we strive toward day by day, stepping out in faith, one foot after another, ebbing ever closer to our eternal home. (pages 168-170)
The Story of God Bible Commentary series aims to set each passage within the context of Scripture as a whole. As it wrestles with the passage, the author leads the reader to (1) “Listen to the Story,” (2) “Interpret the Story,” and (3) “Live the Story.” Romans is now available. Order your copy today to discover how the Story of God intersects with your story.