When a high school student considers her options for college, her fundamental question is, “which school will be best for me so that I can achieve my goals?” When a job applicant interviews with a prospective employer, he will ask about the compensation package — “what benefits will I receive for giving you 40-50 hours of my life each week?” When a young man prepares to ask a woman to be his wife, he contemplates the advantages of asking her to be his wife and of his making an investment in their joint future.
In all these circumstances, the participants want to know, “What’s in it for me? What do I get out of this arrangement?” And the believer in Christ might have a similar question: “What’s in it for me if I trust Christ and follow Him? Is there any blessing in being a Christian?”
In the opening verses of Romans 5, as Paul reflects on God’s work to justify him, he expounds on some of the blessings that the believer receives through justification. He identifies things like peace with God (v. 1), grace for daily living (v. 2), exultation in our tribulations (vv. 3-5), the experience of the love of God through the Holy Spirit (vv. 5b-8), salvation from God’s wrath (v. 9), and the security of our eternal destination (v. 10).
But one blessing seems to overshadow all the others for Paul — the ability to exult in God. In both the opening verses (v. 2) and the closing verse (v. 11) of this section, Paul identifies exultation in God as a blessing of the believer’s justification. In fact the final verse says, “And not only this, but we also exult in God…” [my emphasis], as if to say, “We receive all these blessings, but especially the blessing of exultation in God!” Clearly, Paul is profoundly moved by the ability to exult in God.
Since we don’t often use the word, “exult,” we do well to consider what Paul means by the term. Essentially it means to boast or take pride in something; it is a word of joyful confidence. It is akin to worship and delight in something that overflows into praise. So Paul says twice in this passage that a blessing of our being declared righteous through the blood of Christ (justification), that we have an ability to worship God.
Now we understand the other blessings that he offers in this passage, but why is it that worshipping is so important to Paul in this particular passage and the Bible in general? Understanding the nature of worship and what justification has done for us will help us.
We Were Created for Worship
First of all, exultation is a great blessing because we were created to worship and exult in God. Bragging is always condemned in Scripture because it is self-exalting and a consequence of sinful pride (e.g.., 1 Cor. 1:26-29). But bragging/boasting in God is always commended (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:30-31). Boasting in God is always commendable because God is, as Jonathan Edwards wrote, the end for which God created the world. God made all things so that all things would culminate in the worship and exultation of His glory. Now if we made such a declaration, that would be selfish, prideful, and sinful. But it is not sin for God to desire the worship of men, because God is ultimate. There is nothing greater than God, and for God to command His creation to find joy in Him is to command His creation to pursue the greatest joy. And that’s not a sin; it’s a blessing.
So when Paul says that a blessing of justification is that we can exult in God, he is simply affirming that we can now do what we were created to do.
We Were Not Worshippers
And doing what we were created to do is astounding because prior to our justification, no one was a worshipper of God. This is Paul’s message in Romans 3, particularly (see vv. 10-18). All men are sinners. All men reject God and seek only pleasure in their own desires. And even worse, prior to justification, all men worship anything except God. So in 1:21 it is noted that all unrighteous people refused to glorify (the literal translation of “honor”) God and they refused to thank Him (for anything). Further, they intentionally rejected the worship of God, preferring (v. 23) to worship various forms of man in his corruption, or birds and creatures in the heavens, or various beasts of the fields, and even crawling creatures (what my children would have called “creepy crawlies” when they were young). In other words, as long as they didn’t have to worship God, they were content. (And that was all of us, without Christ’s justifying work.)
Without justification we were worshippers, but we were illegitimate worshippers. We should have worshipped God. But we refused to worship Him.
Christ Died to Make Us True Worshippers
And in an amazing act of grace, when we were still idolatrous worshippers and enemies of God, Christ died for us. And He died for us to make us worshippers. He died to restore us to the original intent of worshipping Him (e.g., Ex. 20:3-6) above all things. He died so that we would love Him more than anything else (Mk. 12:28-30). Christ died for our justification so that we could worship Him (Jn. 4:24) in spirit (that is, spiritually) and in truth (that is truly or truthfully). He has put us into fellowship with Him through justification so that we can do what we were created to do.
In Christ, We Can Worship
So the glorious reality for the believer is that without and before Christ he did not and could not worship God, but when the believer is placed in Christ through salvation, the believer can worship. Before he had no ability or desire to worship God, and now he has an ability to please and worship God. This, my friends, is abounding grace. And that is why Paul is so excited about justification overflowing into the blessing of being able to worship God. What he could never do before, he has now been enabled to do. God created all men to worship Him, and in justification, He equips us to worship Him.
Paul makes this same point in Romans 11-12. At the end of chapter 11, as he closes the section on doctrine (chs. 1-11), he bursts into a great declaration of praise (vv. 33-36), finally saying, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever” (v. 36, my emphasis). In other words, all things are to culminate in the worship and exultation of God. And as Paul then transitions to his application of doctrine in chapters 12-16, the first thing he says is “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (12:1). In other words, all things are for the worship of God (11:36). So then all followers of God in Christ should worship Him (12:1). Which is another way of saying, “You have been justified and can now worship, so worship with your whole life!”
In Christ, We Delight in Worship
But there is one more joyful aspect to this new ability to worship God. Not only can we worship God, but now we want to worship Him.
Prior to Christ there was nothing in us that was drawn to God; He was our enemy, opposed to us, and we had only animosity for Him, hating Him in every way (Rom. 5:6-8, 10). And now, after justification, He has given us hearts of flesh that can and do love Him. Not only is worship possible, but worship is desirable for the believer in Christ. It is for this very reason that one of my regularly prayers (particularly on Sunday morning) is, “Thank you, Lord, for this day of worship. And thank you for not only giving me the opportunity for worship, but thank you for giving me the desire to worship. Apart from Christ I only wanted to worship my desires and only worship me, but now in an amazing act of transformation, you have made me to desire you so that I want to worship you above all other things.”
So boasting in anything but God is sin. But when boasting terminates on God, it honors Him and is a privilege for us — even the greatest privilege. So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us be glad in and boast in and worship God who has created us for this purpose, and given us an ability and joy in worshipping. And that is a supreme blessing in being justified and following Christ.