Romans (Part 18) – Hope That Does Not Disappoint
As Paul is speaking of the results of justification in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 5, it appears he realizes that, while the truth of these glorious concepts may flood his readers’ vision, they will eventually get back to looking about them and seeing the persecution on the church by the Jews and by the secular Roman government. They will recognize even the hardships of life with problems of disease, finances, and catastrophes all around. But Paul is not dissuaded from these hardships to temper his idea of the glorious relationship established with God.
Of course, the world of difficulties must remain for a while. God’s intention in salvation is not simply rescue. It is a rescue to relationship, and relationship requires an initiation into love that cannot (if a true love) be coerced. By definition, the lover, in a love relationship, must choose to love. And the loving comes from knowledge. Enough knowledge to grow into love relationship necessarily, then, takes time. And so God reveals himself through his creation (as Romans 1 tells us) so that his call to embrace in relationship may be seen, recognized, learned, and engaged. But that time for relationship growth occurs while creation itself is under curse of sin and death, creating for us this conflicting dynamic of good and bad rolled together in our existence.
Yet Paul does not despair at the hardship. He does not bemoan its existence, wailing and waiting for this life to go away so that he may be ever with the Lord. He realizes (and urges his readers to realize) that even in the hardships we may rejoice because it is those hardships that actually serve to develop qualities for closer relationship with God. Paul tells us operating in TGB (truth, goodness, and beauty) under the sufferings and afflictions of this still-sin-cursed world produces an endurance in us that, when the conflict has passed and we have not fallen from the TGB standard, produces a tried-and-tested spirit that can better meet the next difficulty with a firmer grasp on TGB. And this firmer grasp of TGB is the growth characteristic in love relationship development with God. So the afflictions themselves work in us a greater knowledge of, and therefore a greater trust in, the perfection of love relationship founded and dependent on God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. And that is our hope.
Hope, in the context of relationship with God, is not merely a confident expectation. It is even stronger than that. Hope is something we do look forward to, but not without realization of what it involves because the blessing of our hope is partially realized in our current path. Since I’m a backpacker, I see backpacking as a great analogy. My intent in a backpacking trip is to reach some summit—some goal of the hike. When I reach that goal, I may revel in the beauty of God’s creation as I look around and enjoy the outdoors and experience the full impact of the get-back-to-nature reality. But even as I’m trudging up the trail for miles, carrying fifty pounds of supplies on my back, sweating, groaning, and aching, I do not come through a tunnel of only difficulty, recognizing nothing of the beauty and appreciation I will experience at the summit. Even in the hike (even burdened as I am on the climb) I experience the joy of the outdoors—a part of what I will realize more fully when I’ve reached my goal. So it is with our Christian experience in this life. Our hope is the attainment of that perfect and fully realized relationship, reveling in God’s TGB. Yet even now that hope for continued, growing, and full relationship is realized in part.
In our outline, I ended the part titled Justification by Faith with verse 4 of chapter 5. But this is not an abrupt ending, signaling a topic change. The very next verse (the first of our next part) continues talking of hope. The whole of chapter 5 may actually be seen as a transition—a sort of functional summary, drawing conclusions of the four previous chapters while also serving as the basis for Paul’s further explanation in chapter 6 and on. So finding the exact division ending one part to begin the next can happen almost anywhere in this transition chapter (especially in these first few verses of chapter 5). I picked verse 5 to begin the next part because I believe it starts to tip more from prior conclusions to initiating new perspective.
Our outline so far has encompassed these points:
Section 1: Introduction (1:1–17)
Section 2: God’s Righteousness (1:18–5:21)
Part A: In COE: Judging TGB (1:18–2:16)
Part B: In CCP: Justification Not by Law (2:17–3:20)
Part C: In CCP Justification by Faith (3:21–5:4)
Recall that COE and CCP stand for God’s Trinitarian covenants: the Covenant of Operational Essence and the Covenant of Creative Purpose. Part D, the final part of this section, is called “In CCP: Redemption Accomplished (5:5–21).
Verse 5 continues the discussion of hope by characterizing it as a hope that doesn’t disappoint (or that doesn’t put us to shame as in the NIV, ESV, and KJV). We see an obvious connection with 1:16 where Paul declared he was not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation. The idea here is the same. The death of a leader through the power of the enemy would tend to embarrass those who trusted in that leader for a certain outcome. But Paul states the gospel (in 1:16) and now our hope (5:5) does not produce shame—it does not disappoint. Our hope rests in exactly the necessity for relationship—Jesus’s death offered for us.
Although this idea is the basis for calling it a hope that doesn’t disappoint, Paul uses that concept to bolster the actual subject point of verse 5. One who has been justified may well wonder about his or her own ability to maintain relationship with this great God. In these next few verses, Paul addresses that seeming uncertainty. He begins in verse 5 by highlighting what occurs for the justified person.
We should pause to understand perspective here amid our current, developed ideas of soteriology. We, of course, recognize Calvinists as those who insist God chooses without condition those he will save and then saves and justifies based on his choice. The change of heart comes to the individual only (functionally) on the basis of a redeemed life rather than as the step toward redemption. The Arminian argues that individual choice logically precedes redemption, and it is on that basis of faith that God saves and justifies. The Faith Electionist agrees with the Arminian on this narrow point in the wider spectrum of salvation discussion.
As partial defense for the logical progression from faith to conversion, the Arminian and Faith Electionist appeal to redemption’s basis in relationship. Redemption is not merely rescue from impending danger; it is a rescue to the love relationship purpose for creation in the first place. And God’s emphasis on faith is not a mere capricious idea but rather a necessary requirement without which relationship is impossible. Therefore, in order to redeem, God will redeem only those who by faith possess the necessary foundation on which to build relationship. But the faith is not merely that God exists. The faith is belief in God and in Jesus. This belief in God speaks to who God is—the very source of all truth, goodness, and beauty communicated (revealed) to us through the love of God. Therefore, belief includes more than mere existence; it includes the embrace of the love revealed by God in a loving acceptance. And love simply cannot be coerced. Forcing someone to love you is a contradiction in terms. Love is the free expression of a heart in choosing to embrace. The Arminian and Faith Electionist, therefore, conclude that the lost individual must see God’s revealed love and respond in love as the logical prerequisite to God’s establishing the relationship in redemption.
But turning away from the Calvinist for a moment, the Arminian uses the same argument to attack the Faith Electionist because, although the Faith Electionist agreed with the Arminian concerning loving belief as the basis for God’s granting of redemption, the Faith Electionist believes that once established, that relationship has no possibility for end. The Arminian argues against that idea, saying the basis for love doesn’t change. If love must be initiated by an individual in order to have relationship, once established, relationship cannot be maintained by force. If it is coerced even after the relationship is established, the relationship is no longer one based on love. Therefore, the redeemed person must be able to lose that relationship if love dies (through loss of faith).
Before we get to the Faith Electionist’s response, let’s imagine what the Calvinist would say back to the Arminian on this point. Perhaps the Calvinist would argue that the Arminian, too, is not consistent. After all, once the individual passes from this life, either in physical death or one day by the return of Christ, the Arminian believes that relationship is sealed forever. What then of love? What reason can the Arminian offer that ensures love relationship is maintained in the heart of the individual forever? The Arminian appears inconsistent. In fact, the Calvinist may argue that he or she holds the only consistent position: God initiates and keeps based on his determined will supporting the love condition of an individual’s heart rather than being built on it.
The Faith Electionist answers the Arminian’s (and Calvinist’s) charges of inconsistency by saying it is only a misunderstanding of the love relationship that seems to allow for its disruption. Again, the Faith Electionist believes that coming to God in loving faith can occur only by the initiation of God. Human beings have turned their sight to creation seeking TGB from creation in individual, self-aggrandizing self-absorption. Thus, it is only by God’s breakthrough revelation can a person’s sight be arrested to recognize TGB coming only from God. This revelation, though universal, is not redemptive. It is what Paul describes in Romans 1:19–21. However, just as in Romans 1, individuals see this revelation and may turn aside, too intent in self-satisfaction on self-satisfaction. But for those who do embrace God’s revelation, God (significantly) provides more revelation. It is a revelation-response process in which God provides revelation, his image bearer responds to the revelation in faith, and God provides still further revelation for the faith response of the individual. Salvation is the result of this process at the point where belief in God as the source of TGB and rescuer from sin and death is established.
But at that point of salvation (conversion), the relationship process does not suddenly go dormant or stagnant. The revelation-response process continues (as indicated by James in his letter 4:8a “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you”). At the point of conversion, we begin a process of transformation (2 Cor 3:18) by which we, who are all made by God as creatures craving TGB, have TGB poured into our hearts and minds by the very source of TGB. Looking back to Adam and Eve, we see their craving for TGB prompting them to sin (Gen 3:6), turning aside from God as source before that God (since still in developing relationship) could pour that TGB into their hearts and minds. But once full relationship is established and the pouring of loving revelation begins unceasingly, the possibility of the thirsty soul in the desert being attracted by other interests when water is being poured out to quench the thirst is impossible. Thus, it is God who holds the redeemed—but the hold is through the unending abundance of grace in his loving TGB satisfying the craving hearts of all who have turned to him.
And this idea is exactly what Paul pronounces in Romans 5:5. He says, “This hope [of everlasting love relationship] will not disappoint [ever cease to satisfy] us, because God’s love [the communication of his satisfying TGB] has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Paul will have more to say about this role of the Holy Spirit in chapter 8.)
And this which we have just discussed is now the point of the succeeding verses 6 through 11. Paul seeks to assure those who have been justified that the relationship will continue because of God’s interest in it. Paul first muses that someone might offer his or her life for a righteous (virtuous) person. Even more so, Paul imagines, that a life could be offered for a good person (one who is not only virtuous but offers loving kindness to someone else). But God proved his love to us in offering the life of Jesus when we were evil. How much more, then, now that we have been declared righteous would God not continue that love interest in us. Paul concludes with confidence that our hope will not disappoint—we will be saved in his life! (Note that most translations end verse 10 saying we will be saved by his life. But the Greek should be translated here as in, matching the idea of Jesus’s prayer in John 17:21 “May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us.” The idea speaks of the unity enjoyed with Jesus and with God.