“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.” (Romans 5:1-5) We have been justified by the faithfulness of Christ, who on the cross forgave us fully and took away the law that hung over our conscience. This gives room for the Holy Spirit to flood into our hearts with a new grace towards others. Therefore, the Spirit, working in conjunction with the cross, writes the law of shema on our heart. He fills our hearts with the same shema faithfulness for others, as Christ showed towards us. This is the “from faith to faith,” from the shema faithfulness of Christ to the shema faithfulness in our new family fellowship, that we saw in Romans 1:17.
We stand in this shema fellowship, despite persecution from those who wish to divide the church along tribal or social lines. When Peter was intimidated at Antioch for eating with the gentiles, he withdrew from their table. He needed to stand in the grace of fellowship Christ had won for the new family by his sufferings. Many others, including Paul, suffered for the gospel of one church family.
The shema was of first importance to Paul as a Hebrew believer. Paul recited it many times every day in his prayers. The love of God and love for neighbour was the central aspect of both the Law and the Prophets. The gospel was the way in which God was bringing about his true shema in our hearts and relationships, in order to renew creation. This is how Paul saw the teachings of Jesus and the Messiah’s mission on the cross and in the church.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) This is the explanation of God’s shema. He cares for the weak, as he did for the slaves in Egypt, in contrast again to the brutal Roman world. And to the weak he “commends his love,” by Christ forgiving us from the cross. The cross is God’s assurance to the guilty that he freely forgives us and frees us from the law by his grace. We then are to pass this on the others who are weak, lifting those in need around us, no matter their affiliation. This is the “from faithfulness to faithfulness.” “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:9) The blood of Christ here means his death, through which he has commended and revealed God’s love to a weak world. The salvation Paul envisages here is the Hebrew version, the new community God is raising up to refashion the Roman world and beyond, after the values and power of God’s kingdom. God will continue to bring about his promises concerning his new creation, especially now that it has been reconciled by his love on the cross. We will have to wait until Romans 8 until we see Paul outline this salvation in its full. This is the only salvation Romans speaks of: the coming of God’s kingdom.
In the first part of Romans 5 we have the conclusion of the first four chapters of Romans: God has made us one new family through his shema love and this new sharing community, bringing the tribes of the world together in selfdenying love, will bring God’s planned rescue to the world, in accordance with the promises of God to the Hebrew nation. Though there is also the hint here that this will happen in the midst of serious persecution, which Romans 8 further describes. The issue so far in Romans isn’t privatised faith, but community love. This is faith.