Grace Reigns for Eternal Life through Jesus Christ (Romans 5)
In Romans 5 Paul links this divine gift of righteousness to the obedience of Christ and the grace that now flows into the world through him. Several important features of this chapter illuminate our experiences of work.
In Romans 5:1–11 Paul offers more encouragement by reminding the Romans that through Christ we have already “gained access” to God’s “grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2). Grace signifies God’s life-giving power that raised Jesus from the dead. Grace continues to bring new and more abundant life into the world to and through Christ’s followers. By living Christ’s obedient life of faith and faithfulness in our own circumstances, we experience God’s life-giving grace that can bring us joy and peace at work, at home, and in every context of life.
Nevertheless, trusting the grace of God often calls for steadfast patience in the face of many challenges. Just as Christ suffered in the course of his obedience to God, we too may experience suffering when we embody Christ’s life of faith and faithfulness. Paul even says he “boasts” in his suffering (Rom. 5:3), knowing that his suffering is a participation in the suffering Jesus experienced in his mission to reconcile the world to God (Rom. 8:17–18). Moreover, suffering often brings growth.
Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts. (Rom. 5:3–5)
Therefore God does not promise that life and work will be happy for believers all the time. Many people suffer at work. Work can be boring, degrading, humiliating, exhausting, and heartless. We can be underpaid, endangered, and discriminated against. We can be pressured to violate our consciences and God’s principles. We can be fired, laid off, made redundant, downsized, terminated, unemployed or underemployed for long periods. We can bring suffering on ourselves by our own arrogance, carelessness, incompetence, greed, or malice against others. We can suffer even in good jobs. We should never be content with abuse or mistreatment at work, but when we have to endure suffering at work, all is not lost. God’s grace is poured out on us when we suffer, and it makes us stronger if we remain faithful.
To give an example, preparing the soil and caring for crops cannot guarantee that the grain will grow tall or the vegetables will ripen. Poor weather, drought, insects, and blight can ruin the harvest. Yet, through grace, farmers may come to accept all these aspects of nature, while trusting God’s care. This in turn shapes the patient, faithful character of farmers who come to care deeply for all of God’s creation. A deep appreciation of nature, in turn, can be a great asset for the work of farming.
Similarly, grace empowers us to remain faithful and hopeful even when the employer for whom we work closes their doors during hard economic times. So, too, God’s life-giving power sustains many highly educated young adults who still have trouble finding meaningful employment. Grace also inspires a team to persevere in developing a new product, even after repeated failures, knowing that what they learn by failing is what makes the product better.
God’s love sustains us through all kinds of suffering in life and work. “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” Even when suffering threatens to harden our hearts, God’s love makes us agents of his reconciliation, which we have received in Christ (Rom. 10–11).
Romans 5:12–21 reflects a dense and complex theological argument involving a number of different contrasts between the disobedient Adam and the obedient Christ, through whom we are made righteous and promised eternal life. The passage gives us assurance that Christ’s obedient act of self-giving for others puts all who come to him into right relationship with God and one another. As participants in Christ’s faith and faithfulness, we receive a share of the divine gifts of righteousness and eternal life promised by God through Christ. Therefore, we no longer participate in Adam’s disobedience but find eternal life by participating in Christ’s obedience to God.
Paul speaks of God’s grace operating in both the present time and eternity. Reconciliation has already been given through Christ (Rom. 5:11), so that we are already able to live God-honoring lives. Yet God’s reconciliation is not yet complete and is still in the process of “leading to eternal life” (Rom. 12:21). If we have received Christ’s reconciliation, then our work now is an opportunity to contribute to the better future where Christ is leading. Innovators gain new possibilities to create, design, and build products that improve the common good. Service workers have new opportunities to make other lives better. Artists or musicians can create aesthetic beauty that enhances human life for God’s glory. None of these are means to eternal life. But every time we work to make the world more as God intends it to be, we receive a foretaste of eternal life. When we remain obedient to Christ’s pattern of faith and faithfulness in our workplace settings, no matter what the circumstances, we can trust that our life is eternally secure in the hands of our faithful God.