September 13, 2020

Salt & Light Online

A current connection to each week's session

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It
Romans 5:1-11

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I appreciate Carol Duerksen’s suggestion that perhaps Paul was reflecting on the day he watched the stoning of Stephen (see Acts 6:8–8:3) as he wrote this letter to the Romans (S&L, p. 11). Paul watched a man die a horrible death. Paul had approved of the killing, and he was sure he was right. But then the scales fell from his eyes, and he realized he was wrong.

One way of thinking about our being “justified by his blood” (v. 9) and “saved through him from the wrath” (v. 9) and “reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (v. 10) is to think of Jesus’ death as a transaction that happens between God and Jesus in a way that affects us as humans.

But another way of thinking about it is as something that happens in us as humans when we recognize the horrible potential of our own wrath. What if the death of Jesus was not necessary to satisfy God’s wrath but was the inevitable result of our human wrath? (If that question troubles you, please continue reading.) People killed Jesus believing they were right about God. People stoned Stephen believing they were right about God. The stoning of Stephen was not a requirement of God’s wrath—it was a result of human wrath. It was committed by people who were sure they were right about God, killing someone they were sure was wrong about God. Perhaps the horror of it made Paul understand that he had been wrong about God.

If we believe Jesus’ life reveals the nonviolent nature of God, the phrase “the wrath of God” requires some unpacking. According to the New Revised Standard Version, Romans 5:9 says of Jesus that we have been justified by his blood, we will be saved through him from the wrath of God. But the words “of God” are not in the original Greek text in Romans 5. Paul simply says, “the wrath.” The translators added “of God.” Perhaps it is our own human wrath from which we need to be saved. Perhaps when we witness what we are capable of doing in the name of God, when we are certain that we are right, our wrath horrifies us, and that horror is the beginning of our salvation.

Paul says, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (v. 10).

  • How does Jesus’ life save us?

Paul became reconciled with the true God and the people he had believed were God’s enemies.

  • Who do we believe are God’s enemies? Our enemies?
  • How is our sense of rightness and enmity intensified in an election season? A pandemic?

—Gwen Groff,

© 2020

Resources for this session

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Gwen Groff is pastor of Bethany Mennonite Church in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont. She lives in Plymouth, Vermont, with her husband and intermittently with her adult children.

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