saved by his life


John Murray on Romans: worth getting to grips with

There’s an interesting verse in Romans 5, where Paul argues that if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

If God treats us so favourably when we were enemies, we can take it that he will be inexpressibly more generous once we are actually reconciled.

But for a long time I’ve wondered what the contrasts mean, exactly. The impression you get is that ‘being saved’ is something even bigger and better than ‘being reconciled,’ and also, that Christ’s life means something even more than his death.

Christ’s life, presumably, means his life after his death. (That’s not to belittle the significance of his life here on earth, when he perfectly fulfilled and magnified the law as a baby, a child, a youth, and an adult, bearing the sins of his people, and going about doing good.) But after his successful death, he rose again and ascended to heaven.

His life now is one of glory, including his own satisfaction with the work he finished on earth, enjoyment of his Father’s delight and approval, and an atmosphere of adoring worship from the angels and spirits of the just made perfect. He finished his labours and that’s the kind of rest he entered into.

But his life now is also one of constant activity. He is continually making intercession for his people, continually sympathising with them, continually revealing to them the will of God for their salvation, continually caring for them and ruling them and defending them from his and their enemies.

And where he lives now, he is preparing a place for them. His life now includes him unfolding the rest of history for them and for their good, and treasuring up for them a weight of glory that will correspond to but hugely over-compensate for whatever light affliction they have experienced here.

This weight of glory which Christ’s people can look forward to in heaven must, I take it, be included in the ‘being saved.’

Over and above ‘being reconciled,’ being saved includes being renewed. Imputed righteousness is always accompanied by infused righteousness, as sinners are brought from spiritual death to spiritual new life. Because of the various mediatorial activities Christ does in the life he now lives, his people live also – they are currently sustained in their new life of living to God, and in fact they are enabled to live more and more to righteousness and die more and more to sin.

But whatever fullness and richness of life the Lord’s people enjoy here due to Christ’s life above, ‘being saved’ must include being finally gathered into the completeness of salvation in heaven at the end of time. The goal of salvation for this life is a quickened, renewed, holy people – but that’s only an interim goal, until they can be made perfectly blessed in the full enjoyment of God to all eternity. Christ’s glorified life guarantees the glorification of his people.

This is something I’ve been mulling over for ages now, but it was only coming across John Murray’s commentary on Romans very recently that clarified and crystallised what this verse must mean. He says:

“The life of Christ referred to here is not what we often speak of as the life of Christ, his sojourn in this world in the days of his flesh. It is the resurrection life of Christ. There lies back of the expression an implied contrast between the death of Christ and his resurrection (cf 4:25). It is not simply the resurrection as an event that is in view, however. Paul does not say, we shall be saved by his resurrection, but ‘by his life,’ and therefore it is the exalted life of the Redeemer that is intended. The resurrection is in the background as conditioning the exaltation life. Since the clause in question is parallel to that in verse 9 – ‘we shall be saved through him from the wrath’ – and since the latter has eschatological significance, it is likely that the salvation here envisaged is also eschatological. On that assumption the guarantee of the final and consummated salvation is the exaltation life of Christ. This is a more embracive way of expressing the truth that the guarantee of the believer’s resurrection is the resurrection of Christ (cf 1 Cor 15:20-24).

The a fortiori argument of the apostle is thus apparent. It is to the effect that if, when we were in a state of alienation from God, God showed his love to such an extent that he reconciled us to himself and instated us in his favour through the death of his own Son, how much more, when this alienation is removed and we are instated in his favour, shall the exaltation life of Christ insure our being saved to the uttermost. It would be a violation of the wisdom, goodness, and faithfulness of God to suppose that he would have done the greater and failed in the lesser. This argument also shows the indissoluble connection that there is between the death and resurrection of Christ and that since these may never be dissociated so the benefits accruing from the one may never be severed from those accruing from the other. It is a frequent emphasis of Paul (cf 6:3-5, 2 Cor 5:14-15, Eph 2:4-7, Col 3:3-4). Hence those who are beneficiaries of Jesus’ death must also be the beneficiaries of all that is entailed in his resurrection life. …”