Romans 5:9, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
Reformed theology rightly stresses the forensic aspects of salvation. It affirms that in order for God to be just in the redemption of His people, Jesus had to bear His wrath (Rom. 3:21–26). Only by atonement can our Creator forgive us without compromising His holiness and justice. Incredibly, many opponents of Reformed theology in general and penal substitutionary atonement in particular caricature this position and on that faulty basis oppose it. Specifically, many have said that Reformed theology depicts God the Father as one who has no love for sinners and presents Jesus as one who has to get the Father to love them. In this false characterization, Christ must convince the Father to love us by dying for us.
Such a view is heresy, for it sets Father and Son at odds in their relationship to humanity, disrupting the unity of purpose and love among the persons of the Trinity. But we do not hold that view. We confess that out of God’s free love for us, Jesus dies to simultaneously preserve God’s justice and save us. Divine justice could be preserved without the atonement—but only if the Lord sent everyone to hell. The ultimate motivation for the atonement is God’s free love for us. Christ died because Father and Son chose to set their love on us. The Lord chose not to abandon all human beings to their just end, but He took pity on some, and His love found a way to save them. God cannot deny His attributes and remain who He is, but He chose not to forsake us all. His love for us overcame this “impasse” by taking on human flesh so that He could bear His own wrath in the person of His Son (5:6–8).
God’s love is such that He saves us from Himself. This salvation, guaranteed in the past, has a future realization to it. Having been justified by Christ’s blood, we will be saved by Him from the Lord’s wrath to come (v. 9). The already of our justification will preserve us in the day of wrath that is not yet. God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness” by Christ Jesus, and all people will see this day (Acts 17:30–31). But all people will not experience this day identically. In Christ, we will not feel the fury of God’s ire. Indeed, Jesus has already passed through this anger, taking upon Himself what would have been our fate had He never atoned for sin. This past work of atonement, which secures our righteous status before the Lord, will shelter us on judgment day. Then we will experience fully what we already enjoy positionally in Christ, namely, an escape from God’s holy wrath. Those outside of Christ, on the other hand, will not escape. They will suffer His ire for all eternity.
Currently, we enjoy many blessings that come from being found righteous in Christ, but on the last day we will experience them to their fullest. There is a salvation to come—we will pass through God’s judgment unscathed on the final day and be rewarded with the resurrection of our bodies. We will be rescued from all the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual infirmities that currently plague us, and we will enjoy the Lord forevermore.