Adam, Sin, and Romans 5:12

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There has been much debate throughout church history over the meaning of Paul’s Adam-Christ parallel in Romans 5:12-21. What exactly is Paul trying to convey in comparing the two? There are some who propose that Paul is simply making a point through rhetoric, that Adam’s actions and Christ’s are similar, but there is no real link between the two. Others say that Adam is parallel to Christ in a very real and significant way. Just as Christ is head over those under the New Covenant, so Adam was head over those under another covenant; a covenant which affected not only Adam, but all who were under his headship.

The question is, who is correct? I am Reformed, and believe it is clear in Romans 5 that Paul is speaking of Adam as a covenant head over humanity. Reformed theologians look to Romans 5:12 specifically to prove their point. Paul says: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned”. They would say, death spread to all men, because Adam’s sin was imputed to them, thus making all sinners worthy of death. Adam, as our covenantal representative, impacted us in such a way, that we all died spiritually as a result, being found guilty.

Others deny this interpretation of verse 12. They would point out that death spread to these men, not because of Adam’s sin, but because of their own sins. In other words, they died because they made themselves guilty. 

However, this does not seem to be the flow of the passage. Paul says further in Romans 5:19-20 that “through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners”. In other words, Adam’s disobedience made many sinners. This verse again points to Adam as being responsible for all of humanity’s guilt.

Herman Ridderbos agrees. He says of this passage:

The meaning of this much discussed pronouncement [in Romans 5:12], if one takes into consideration the whole context of Romans 5, in our opinion cannot be in doubt. One man has given sin access into the world; he has, as it were, opened the gate of the world to sin. So sin has entered in, here represented as personified power (v. 21); through and with sin, death has come in as the inseparable follower and companion of sin. The words then follow: “an so [i.e. along this way opened by the one man] death has passed unto all men, for the reason that all sinned”. The final words give final explanation as to how death, through one man, has passed and could pass unto all men. This happened because “all sinned”, namely, on account of their connection with the one man; therefore Adam’s sin was the sin of all, and in that sense it can hold for them that they all sinned. This union of all with and in the one is, as we have already seen, the governing idea of this pericope, and it is in that idea that Paul indicates the typical significance of Adam with respect to [Christ].

Many wish to understand the words, “for the reason that all have sinned”, as referring to the later personal sins of all. This is impossible, however, for more than one reason. First of all, even the words “and so death passed to all” point to the entering in of and granting of passage to sin and death into the world through the one man. Were one to understand the concluding words of verse 12 of the personal sins of all, then this passage of death would rest once again on the sins of all, and “and so” would lose its exclusive reference to what precedes. That this is not the meaning of the text appears from the following considerations:

(a) From the argumentation of verses 13 and 14, Paul appeals here to the period before the giving of the law, because the death of men then living cannot be explained from the “own”, person sin, but must have had its cause in the sin of Adam. There was sin then, too: “for until the law [came] there was sin in the world”. The sanction of the law (death) did not as yet apply, however. For where there is no law, there is also no transgression (cf. 4:15), and “sin is not imputed when there is no law”. Nevertheless, at the time also, death reigned over those who did not transgress in the same manner as Adam, that is, who were not confronted in the same manner as Adam with the divine command and the sanction on it. It is thus apparent that it was not their personal sin, but Adam’s sin and their share in it, that was the cause of their death. The final words of verse 12b cannot thus be understood otherwise than in this corporate sense.

(b)  That in the sin of all (v. 12) it is not a matter of personal sins of Adam’s descendants but of one, fixed, first transgression that was the sin of all by virtue of their relation to the first Adam is also unmistakably apparent in the sequel. Paul speaks here repeatedly of the one transgression or the transgression of one, which resulted in the death of all:

…for if by the trespass of the one the many died (v. 15)

…for the judgment led upon the ground of one [trespass] to condemnation (v. 16)

…for if by the trespass of the one death came to reign (v. 17)

…as by the trespass of one it came to condemnation for all men (v. 18)

[It is obvious then the passage speaks of] the sentence (of death) that the one sin of Adam brought on all men, because they are all included in the sin and in the death of the one. In bringing judgment on all by his sin, Adam is also the type of the Coming One, as is evident in all the parallel statement mentioned [in the passage].

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Perseverance of the Saints? Part 2: Paul’s Answer from Romans 5-8

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Following on the heels from my last post, I thought I’d include a bit of commentary from Douglas Moo on the issue of assurance and final perseverance. Douglas Moo makes the argument that in fact the issue of assurance and perseverance runs throughout Romans 5-8 in the form of a chiasm.

Moo explains,

Both [Romans] 5:1-11 and 8:18-39 affirm, against the threat of tribulation and suffering, the certainty of the Christian’s final salvation because of God’s love, the work of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This theme, the “hope of sharing in God’s glory” (cf. 5:2 and 8:18, 30), “brackets” all of chapters 5-8. Assurance of glory is, then, the overarching theme in this second major section of Romans (Romans 5-8). The verdict of justification, which Jews relegated to the day of judgment, has, Paul proclaims, already been rendered over the person who believes in Jesus. But can that verdict, “hidden” to the senses, guarantee that one will be delivered from God’s wrath when it is poured out in judgment? Yes, affirms Paul. Nothing can stand in its way: not death (5:12-21), not sin (chap. 6), not the law (chap. 7) — nothing! (chap. 8). What God has begun, having justified and reconciled us, he will bring to a triumphant conclusion, and save us from wrath.

As 8:18-39 shares a common theme with 5:1-11, so 8:1-17 has much in common with 5:12-21. And sandwiched in between these passages is 6:1-7:25. Here Paul focuses on the situation of the Christian in this life — a situation of some tension and conflict because, while transferred through our justification into the new realm of God’s kingdom, the powers of the old realm to which we no longer belong nevertheless continue to influence us. Temptations to sin, the sufferings that are a part of our sin-sick world, and the last enemy — the death of the body — must still be faced. But, proclaims Paul, the God who has provided for the beginning of spiritual life (justification) and the end (glorification) also provides the “between”. In union with Christ, we have been delivered from the tyranny of sin (chap. 6) and the law (chap. 7). At the risk of oversimplifying a complex section and obscuring many other significant connections, we may view the main development of chapters 5-8 as a …chiasm:

A. 5:1-11 — Assurance of future glory

B. 5:12-21 — Basis of this assurance in the work of Christ

C. 6:1-23 — The problem of sin

C’. 7:1-25 — The problem of the law

B’. 8:1-17 — Ground of assurance in the work of Christ, mediated by the Spirit

A’. 8:18-39 — Assurance of future glory

… In chapters 5-8, then, Paul invites the Christian to join with him in joyful thanksgiving for what the gospel provides — a new life given to God’s service in this life and a certain, glorious hope for the life to come.¹

¹ The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans, Douglas Moo. pp 293-294

Perseverance of the Saints? Paul’s Answer from Romans 5

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Can a Christian lose their salvation? I think the biblical answer, from every biblical author, is an emphatic no.

I can’t think of any better passage to examine in light of this question than Romans 5. Paul writes Romans 5 after having examined our helplessness in sin in Romans 1-2, and God’s method of salvation in Romans 3-4. Paul finishes his argument in Romans 3-4 by saying that God saves through Jesus’ wrath satisfying death on the cross. Because Jesus suffered the wrath of God, we who practice faith are saved from this wrath.

Paul begins chapter 5 by giving the “therefore” of this justifying death. Paul starts out by saying that because Jesus suffered the wrath of God, we “have peace with God” (Rom 5:1). Before the cross, we were at enmity with God. Paul tells us in Romans 1:30 we were “haters of God”, rebellious and at war with him. Because of this, God’s wrath was upon us. His anger toward our sin was directed at us. But, because Jesus took our sins on his body, and suffered God’s just wrath, this puts this cosmic war to rest. It means that we are at peace with God. It means our enmity with God is put to death.

More than this though, Paul tells us that because we are at complete peace with God, we can “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:2b). When Paul says hope, he doesn’t mean in the same way we do. He is using the word hope like we use the words promise or guarantee. RC Sproul rightly says that biblically, hope is “faith merely looking forward”. So what Paul is meaning to communicate here, is that because God’s wrath has been dealt with, we have a sure hope, or guarantee of sharing and enjoying God’s glory in eternity. In essence, the peace with have with God now is a guarantee of the glory we will have with God in the future. Paul is talking about the assurance of final salvation.

Paul goes on to tell us that this hope allows us to suffer in a different manner than others. We can suffer, and go through trials (Rom 5:3-4), knowing that this isn’t the end. We have a hope that one day we will share glory with God, enjoying and worshipping him forever. In fact, Paul says quite emphatically that we have a hope that “does not put put us to shame” (Rom 5:5). In other words, God doesn’t promise us eternal glory without giving us eternal glory. God will never go back on his word. And because of that, we know that our hope won’t put us to shame. And so Paul emphatically argues for final perseverance. God will keep those whom he has saved.

And if that wasn’t argument enough, Paul adds another layer in Romans 5:6-11. The climax of his argument is in verse 10, where he says, “for if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life”. What an incredible verse! In essence, what Paul is telling us is, “if God is able to save us at our worst, what is stopping him from keeping us until the end?”. The answer, of course, is nothing. If God saved us while we were still enemies of him, how much more can he keep us and save us until the end? The point is, God has saved us, and he will keep us.

What Paul is arguing through this whole passage is the fact that if God has made peace with us through Christ, he will keep us until the end, into glory. Final salvation is something guaranteed by God, and kept by God.

I think a lot of times, when Christians argue about whether a Christian can lose their salvation, the only thing that comes to mind is whether a Christian can forfeit salvation. But this is not at all how Paul sees the question in Romans 5. Paul posses the question in a totally different light. Instead of asking, “can lose my salvation?”, Paul asks, “Can God lose my salvation?”. And he emphatically answer no on several different levels. I believe we need to look at this question the way Paul does.

Douglas Wilson says it this way, “Christians cannot lose their salvation, for the simple reason that their salvation does not belong to them. It belongs to Christ. If anyone is to lose it, it must be he. And he has promised not to”. Jesus is the securer of our salvation. This means that it is he who has it, and it is he who keeps it. This is Paul’s point through the entire passage of Romans 5.

And in fact, he will argue this point from Romans 5-8, ending with the weight conclusion, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).

What does it mean that Jesus is the head of the church?

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What does it mean that Jesus is the head of the church? This concept of Jesus being over the church is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament, both implicitly and explicitly. In Colossians 1, Paul calls Jesus the head of the body, the beginning, and the first born from the dead, with the end result of him being preeminent in all things (Col 1:18). Jesus is the head, becoming the center of all things concerning God and his church. Paul mentions Christ’s headship in Ephesians 5 as well; and he compares Christ’s headship over the church to a husbands relationship to his wife, telling us that Christ’s headship is one of nourishment and sanctification toward his church; similarly, husbands should care for and nourish their own wives (Eph 5:23-29). But what is Paul trying to convey here?

When Paul speaks of headship, he is talking primarily about representation.

Biblically, what we must understand is that God deals with people by way of representatives. Whatever happens to that representative happens to those under him. This principle goes throughout the entire history of the scriptures.

For instance, when God created Adam, he gave him certain responsibilities. Adam was to cultivate the garden that God had given him, and to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). To Adam alone was given this responsibility — and Eve was given as a helper to assist him in accomplishing his God-given tasks. Also, God prohibited Adam from certain things. He was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). If he were to eat of it, he would surely die. Of course, we find that Adam and his wife did eat of the tree. But it’s interesting just how God punishes Adam and Eve for their disobedience. First, God holds Adam alone responsible, not Eve (Gen 3:9-10). Second, because of Adam’s failure, God punishes all of humanity, not just the pair. Paul later picks up on this concept, and tells us that we are sinful because of one man’s sin (Rom 5:12). What this indicates is that Adam was a God-ordained representative for all humanity. If he would have been obedient, we would have all benefitted. But because he chose to disobey, we all fell into sin.

From Adam and on, the principle of headship as representation can be traced from Old Testament to New. God chose Noah as the head of a new humanity (Gen 6-9), Abraham as the head of a new nation Israel (Gen 12-22), Moses as the head of the Mosaic Economy (Exod 19-20), and David as God’s eternal kingly dynasty (2 Sam 7). What is especially interesting when reading about the institution of the Mosaic Law, we find that the people of Israel waited at the bottom of Mount Sinai as Moses went and spoke before God on their behalf (Exod 19:1-3). And God interacted with the people of Israel through Moses alone. In that sense, Israel went in Moses into God’s presence. Paul picks up on this in 1 Corinthians 10, telling us that Israel was baptized into Moses in the Red Sea (1 Cor 10:2). What an interesting way to articulate the concept!

And when we arrive at the New Testament, we find out that all of these representative heads were merely pointing to the true cosmic representative, Christ. Matthew describes Christ becoming the true Moses who teaches God’s people from the mountain (Mt 5-7). Matthew also presents Christ as the true Israel, God’s true righteous servant (Mt 2:13-4). Paul calls Christ the last Adam, making him the head of a new humanity (1 Cor 15:22). He also calls Christ the true seed of Abraham who blesses the nations through his life and death (Gal 3:16). And, Luke presents Jesus as the true Davidic king whose kingdom will last forever (Lk 1:32-33). In this way, Jesus is the ultimate head who realizes all of God’s redemptive purposes. He realizes Adam’s mission, Israel’s purpose, and David’s kingship. In this way, Jesus is the fountain of all things.

So when we call Christ our head, what we mean is that he represents us before God. This is why Paul can say of himself: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). If we are in Christ, this means that the death that Jesus died to sin, we also died. It means that the life he now has is our life (Col 3:1). It means that his reign is our reign (1 Cor 3:21). If Christ is your head, you are hidden in him, seated at the right hand of God, clothed in his righteousness, dead to sin, and alive to God (Rom 6, Col 3:1-4).

Christ is our representative. This is what headship means. In Christ, what happens to Jesus happens to you! This is why Paul tells us that Christ’s headship means that he is preeminent in all things (Col 1:18). It is what Paul means when he tells us that our chosenness is in Jesus (Eph 1:3-10). We have been chosen in Christ before the ages began. And the result is that Christ is our representative, and all things are be summed up in Him alone (Eph 1:10).

**For further discussion on this, you can read a post on how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament here

How does the New Testament gospel “fit” with the story of the Old Testament?

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In his book, The King Jesus GospelScot McKnight says that “one reason why so many Christians today don’t know the Old Testament is because their ‘gospel’ doesn’t even need it!”.

This is, in many ways, very true. Of course on the one hand, one should be able to present the message of the gospel to an unbeliever without delving into a long study of the Old Testament scriptures; on the other hand, there should be a natural flow from the Old Testament to the New. And one thing that is wrong is when we find no natural connection between our gospel presentation to the narrative of the Old Testament.

Paul himself tells us the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures”. According to what scriptures? Well, the New Testament wasn’t completed yet, so we must assume that Christ died, was buried, and was raised according to the Old Testament scriptures! Scot McKnight says that the gospel then “is the Story of Jesus that fulfills, completes, and resolves Israel’s Story…God’s inscripturated and storied promises [found in the Old Testament] become a loud trumpet-like ‘Yes!’ in Jesus…”.

What McKnight is trying to explain is that when Jesus showed up, it was not out of the blue. He didn’t simply come out of nowhere to pay for the sins of mankind, and then fly up to heaven. Jesus came in the middle of a story that started in Genesis 3, and one that continued through Israel’s history, and climaxed in Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion.

McKnight says that the story of Jesus, the gospel, brings the “story of Israel to its telos point, to its fulfillment, to its completion, or to its resolution”.  In fact, McKnight will go so far as to say that the gospel message itself is the resolution of the story of Israel in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (and I think it goes further; that it is the story of Adam, Israel, and indeed all of humanity resolved in Jesus) — some clarification is needed.

God’s intention in creating mankind was that they be fruitful and multiply, and be God’s ikons. We were created to reflect and glorify God (1 Cor 10:31). However, Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God, consequently falling into a miserable state of sin and death. Humanity has found itself marred from that point on, under a curse, and born under the bondage of sin (Rom 6). From this point, God chose Abraham, and consequently Israel, as a nation that would bless the nations and bring God’s reign back on this earth (Gen 12-18). However, this chosen nation, the nation that was meant to bless the Gentiles, fell as well by choosing to worship other gods.

As a result, at the end of the Old Testament, we are left with a fallen humanity, and God’s chosen nation Israel just as lost. This is the context in which Jesus comes. And Jesus came for the purpose of restoring Adam’s fallen posterity, and to restore Israel to her original mission. This is why Paul says in Romans 15:8 that Jesus “became a servant of the circumcised (Israel) on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises to the fathers, so that the Gentiles may glorify God”. He also said in Galatians 4:5 that Jesus came to redeem those “under the law (Israel), so that we (Gentiles) might receive adoption as sons”. Paul explicitly says that part of why Jesus came and died was to restore Israel from her fallen state, so that he might fulfill her purpose in blessing the Gentiles! Jesus’ mission was to fulfill Israel, and thereby bless the world! In this way, Jesus became the true Israel. Also, Paul calls Jesus the second Adam, saying that “through one man’s disobedience (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through another man’s obedience (Christ) the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). In this way, Jesus became a new Adam, the head of a new humanity.

And so when Jesus came to the earth, we find him in the midst of a broken humanity, and a lost nation Israel. And when he died on the cross, he bore the sins of Adam’s broken and sinful humanity on his back, that all peoples might be justified and saved by faith (Rom 3-5, Heb 2); and he bore the curse of the Law that in Him there might be a new spiritual Israel composed of both Jew and Gentile (Gal 3-4). Jesus did all this to become the last Adam and the true Israel, so that “the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:14), and that he might “free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death…and make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:15, 17), and that God the Father might sum up all things in Him (Eph 1:10). God accomplishes all of his cosmic purposes through Jesus. And the Old Testament finds its fulfillment through him. It’s all about Jesus!

How the Gospel Transforms Our Suffering

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Suffering is a reality that we all deal with. It is evident in every day we live. Death. Decay. Relational stress. Financial need. Poverty. It is all around us.

And for many, suffering causes us to doubt the trustworthiness of God’s love. And often times, when we enter into trials that feel so demanding, we feel that either God is unable to help, or that he doesn’t want to help. What’s worse is that trials can prompt us to feel that perhaps we’ve done something wrong to offend God. We think that maybe our suffering is God’s subtle way of communicating that he is unhappy with us.

But are these thoughts about suffering correct? Is God really made at us? According to Paul’s letter to the Romans, this mindset is simply not correct. More than that, the New Testament as a whole never assumes that suffering and God’s love can’t be happily intermingled. In fact, in the book of Romans, the concept of suffering is harmonized with God’s goodness and purpose for his people. In Romans 5:1-5, Paul says:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Paul has just finished talking about the justification of God for those who place faith in Christ. For those in Christ, God’s wrath is no longer against us, and he now sees us as just and righteous because of Christ death and resurrection on our behalf. What good news!

But in verse 3, Paul then declares that because we are justified through Christ, we can now rejoice in our sufferings. What an astonishing statement! Apparently for Paul, the gospel and our forgiveness in Christ transforms our suffering, and rather than doubting God’s love, we can actually rejoice all the more in our suffering. But how does the gospel transform our suffering?

First, the gospel transforms our suffering by assuring us that God is not angry with us:

During great trials, it is easy for the Christian to believe that God is holding a grudge against you. Perhaps you have been unable to find a job, and bills are piling  up. It may be tempting to think, especially as a responsible adult, that God is withholding from you in some way. I mean, doesn’t God want us to have good jobs to provide for our families? Why would he withhold this sort of thing from his children? After asking this questions, it is easy, in our own fleshly and limited minds, to think that perhaps it’s not God’s fault, but our own. Maybe there is some sort of sin that we haven’t repented of, or perhaps I haven’t given enough of my life over to him. If we are honest with ourselves, we have all considered these things during hardship.

But, Romans 5:1 tells us that through Christ, we have peace with God. And this means that God is no longer at enmity with us because of our sin. Consequently, this means that he is no longer angry, even in the greatest of trials. The reason is because the wrath of God was poured out on Christ instead of us, and therefore this means that any and every trial is not, nor will it ever be, connected with God’s wrath. God is not punishing his children because he’s upset. God is not holding a grudge against us. And it is because God has already poured out all of the wrath he had toward us in Christ.

And so this means that in the midst of trials, we can rest assured that we are not experiencing suffering because of God’s anger.

Second, the gospel transforms our suffering by allowing us to trust that God is using it for good, and not bad:

This point is crucial. Not only is God not angry at us, but also, God is able to use whatever we go through to, as Paul says, produce character, endurance, and hope. Because God is not using the trials we experience to harm us, and because we are at peace with God, Paul is able to assure us that God is using suffering to grow us, not to harm us.

How does God do this though? Paul expounds on this point in Romans 8:28, saying that “we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good”. This verse is simply amazing. Even the most traumatic of experiences, according to Paul, can be wielded by God for our ultimate good. In the end, God will use every headache, every unpaid bill, every death, every bout of depression, and every sin for our good.

And it is because we are justified, and made a friend of God, that God will not allow anything we go through to harm us ultimately and finally. Though we may experience temporary pain in the trial, at the end of the trial, ultimately, we are better because of it. And to this end, the Christian can trust in God’s sovereign hand even in the most trying of circumstances.

Third, the gospel transforms our suffering by forcing us to depend on God’s love through his Spirit:

Lastly, the gospel enables us cling ever more closely to the love of God in Christ by the Spirit. Paul says in Romans 5:5 that we gain hope in trials because God’s love is made manifest by his Spirit in our hearts. What Paul means by this is that in trials, we are forced to hope ever more in God’s love, and in nothing else.

We are forced to trust in the midst of fiery trials that God’s love for us does not grow dimmer, but rather burns all the brighter! We are forced in times of distress to trust that God’s love in Christ is sufficient to hold us through it. And in this we find God’s ultimate good in every trial: we are forced to trust in Christ more because of each trial we experience. Without trials, our faith would not have grown to where it is now. And because of this, trials and suffering serve us more than we could ever know, because they force us to recognize other things we may be trusting in, and transfer that trust onto Christ.

Whereas we might think that money gives stability, in times of financial duress, we are forced to no longer trust in money, but in Christ who holds all things together. Whereas we may think that “looking good” will provide popularity and acceptance, when looks start to fade, we are forced to believe that Christ’s righteousness is enough acceptance.

And this is why Paul says that in trials we are able to grow in hope that never puts us to shame. It causes us, by God’s Spirit, to depend more and more on the love of God in Christ Jesus. And it causes us to truly believe that Jesus really is enough.

In this way, the gospel radically transforms our suffering. It is no longer a cause for us to doubt God’s love. Instead, it actually has the opposite effect. It causes us to lean ever more into the depth of love found in Christ Jesus, and to trust that “we have peace with God” (Rom 5:1).