Access to God (Romans 5:2)
As I begin the New Year, I find myself meditating on the fruits of justification by faith, especially the great principle that it brings us access to God. Paul says that through Christ, “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2a). Peace with God creates access to God, so that we can stand before him fearlessly. By grace, we can stand calmly before God. Illustrations may help us take this benefit to heart.
My wife once had an accident while driving at dusk on a rain-slicked road. Our young daughter distracted her and she didn't notice a stop sign, at the bottom of a hill, until it was too late. She skidded into the car ahead of her – driven by a police officer. He was not in a forgiving mood; he wrote a ticket that landed her in traffic court. She was already nervous and when she caught sight of the tattoos and scars that accented her seat mates, it didn’t help her settle down. She planned to make a middling plea that the court allowed – “guilty with an explanation.” Yes, she hit the car, but she wanted the judge to know she was not reckless. This was her first ticket and her first accident. Her child distracted her, she would never do it again, and so on.
But when the moment came to approach the judge and speak, she couldn’t speak. She opened her mouth, but nothing happened. She tried again and made choking sound “Aaagh. Aaagg.” I half-expected a puff of dust following by a cloud of gnats. She looked like she wanted to fall through the floor, so I spoke for her. "Your honor, my wife wants to say that she did hit the officer’s car, but it was a rainy night, and…” The judge had as much mercy as the law allowed.
Now God is the judge of all flesh. As he surveys our life, we are guilty of more than distracted driving. But we have a friend, an advocate, in Jesus. He does not plead, "guilty with an explanation," he presents us as innocent, with an explanation. Yes, he nods, this man, this woman, did much that merits punishment, but he bore that punishment and paid for all the damage we create when he offered himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.
In traffic court, my wife stood before the judge for ninety seconds. He listened, rendered a decision, explained it briefly, dismissed us, and we never knowingly saw him again. But the Lord is a different sort of judge. Instead of dismissing us, he strikes up a relationship. Imagine ourselves back in traffic court, with God as Judge. In that case, the judge sets my wife free, reporting “Someone who loves you already paid the penalty.” Then, instead of dismissing my wife, he engages her. “My notes here say you are quite a singer. I’m in an octet and we’re seeking a vocalist with your range. I also see that you have skills with watercolors. I wonder if you would have time to visit an exhibit with me tomorrow morning.” Before the session ends, this judge might want a hug and might offer a bite of his quesadilla.
Ephesians 3:12 says “we have boldness and access [to God] with confidence through our faith” in Christ. And Peter says “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Pet. 3:18, NIV). Humans do not merely sin against God, we are also impenitent, indifferent, and often hostile or arrogant toward him. Nonetheless, at great cost to himself, God removed our sin and guilt and made peace with us, so that we have access to him. Hebrews 4:16 states the application: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We need not panic or tremble speechlessly, for we approach a throne of grace.
Notice that our access is both direct and effective. It is direct in that we need no agent, guide, or mediator to smooth the way, since we already have one in Jesus. Our access is also effective, since the Lord hears our prayers. To be sure, the answer to prayer can be “No,” or “Not now,” but every person of prayer has seen positive, immediate, dramatic answers to their petitions.
Access to God is an objective reality that has subjective consequences. Above all, we can stand before God without fear, whether in worship or in prayer, despite our sins. If I may illustrate, I did most of Ph.D. research in a joint program that located me in Yale’s history department. A few months into the work, I learned that one of the seminal writers in my field still taught at Yale. Although he had dropped my topic and switched departments to work on other interests, his office was nearby. I ran right over, hoping to get an appointment a few weeks hence. As I loped along, I resolved that I would re-read his work, ply him with a series of incisive question, and so elicit his half-buried wisdom on my topic.
But alas, when I asked his secretary for a meeting time, she said, "He's free right now" and pointed toward Professor’s Morgan door, which was ajar. Worse yet, Morgan heard us, pushed his door open, and waved me in. I was horrified. I walked into the presence of a living legend with nothing but mute admiration – no apt quotations, no penetrating questions. What would I do? Say "I love your book," then start to perspire? I had no peace in Professor Morgan's office because I didn’t deserve this intellectual titan’s attention. He was cordial, but I was miserable, because I was unworthy and he was disinterested.
If this were a parable, Professor Morgan would stand for God and the fear a sinner has when entering his presence unprepared. But to tell the rest of the story, I was at Yale because another titan, the department chair, Professor Russell, took deep interest in my work - and in me as a person. I also felt unworthy of Professor Russell’s time and kindness, but he had his reasons, and we met in his office, regularly and comfortably, because he wished that it be so. If this were still a parable, Russell would represent the Lord, who welcomes us into his presence, regularly and comfortably. Like the best mentor, he gently corrects us when we err, but keeps working with us, assuring us that he wants to meet with us. So the work of Christ opens the door to the Father. Once we are in, he assures us that he loves us and sees something in us, so that the relationship needs to continue. In this life, the relationship abides through prayer.
Dan Doriani teaches Theology and Ethics at Covenant Seminary. He earned his M.Div. from Westminster and talked everyone into a joint Yale/Westminster Ph.D. He also pastored a very small church for five years and a very large one for eleven. He plays tennis, hikes mountains, wrangles grandchildren, speaks at conferences, and writes books. His most recent is Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation.