“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
This short verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans gives us insight into the love of God. What is God’s love like? How does God love? Who does God love, anyway? Does he love me? There are some verses in the Bible that hold more power than a nuclear bomb. This is one of those verses. These 18 words are some of the most glorious in the entire Bible. If you’re wondering about the love of God, this verse explains it.
My goal is to preach the gospel. Martin Luther, the great reformer, said, “I preach the gospel to my people every week because they forget it every week.” Tim Keller, a pastor in New Yokr City, said recently, "One of the signs you may not grasp the unique radical nature of the gospel in that you're certain you think you do." We are forgetful people. We are a proud people. But we have a God who humbles himself to remind us of his love. He is not far from any of us. Let’s open in prayer, coming to him and asking for his blessing on our time together.
What Jesus did to save us is the most loving action that has ever taken place in the universe. What took place on the cross was a once in history-type event. It has happened but the effects of it are ongoing. It didn’t just change history; history was created for it. It didn’t just accomplish something in the past, but has power to change the future. There is nothing like it. But let us not lose the wonder of it. Let us not lose the taste for the beauty in the hideous death of Christ on our behalf. Let us not lose the meaning of the cross. Let it be always treasured by our hearts. We must fight against losing the truth of this verse, because the apex of all history has already happened and we have seen the love of God for us on a scale that should blow us away.
What do you believe about the love of God? Most often we think about the love of God in two categories: either we are too good for it (“Of course God loves me, he’s God! God loves all of his creation. But I’m not sure I actually need his love. I do just fine on my own.”) or we are too bad for it (“I’ve sinned my way out of God’s love. Perhaps I could try and get it back, but my sin has overtaken me. I’m really a lost cause at this point. I want to love God but I’m just not sure he could love me.”) But the truth is we are actually worse than we think we are and yet we are more loved than we could ever imagine. That’s what the Bible says about us.
So, there is a third way to think about the love of God. It’s the gospel way, which tells us we are too bad for his goodness, but we can have him anyway through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel humbles the proud and lifts up the humble. The love of God is transformative. We don’t deserve it, yet we can have it. We need it to live, and he gives it to us without cost. What we think about the love of God will determine everything about how we live. What kind of love does God have for us? “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Your life includes the story of sacrificial death on your behalf. God died for you. You are loved so much that God was willing to nail his own Son to a cross to gain you back. My prayer for us today is that every single one of us walks out fully convinced that God loves us. Truly, the way to salvation is not in what we do, but in whom we trust. What do you believe about the love of God? Your answer determines your fate.
Paul tells us here in Romans 5:8 that God has shown us his love in the death of Christ. The One who created the heavens and the earth, the One who rules over all, the One who is in the heavens and does whatever he pleases—this One has shown his love to us in the death of his only Son. John 3:16 rings in our ears, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”
This verse explains what Jesus said in John 15:13 when he told his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” What Jesus says in John 15 he accomplishes at the cross in John 19 and Paul explains it to us here in Romans 5. This is the most important story the world has ever known. The scale of this sacrifice is still being weighed today. In fact, for all eternity we will see that the cost and the prize do not seem to balance, but there is glory in this gospel that fills up the throne room of heaven and shoots joy down to our hearts like lightening. This is a surprising gospel.
Romans 5:8 explains this surprising gospel by revealing how God shows his love to us in a surprising way, to a surprising people, and at surprising cost.
I want us to linger here for a few minutes. Let this sink in, because this is glorious. God shows. God is not a quiet, reserved, no-big-deal king. He’s not afraid to shake the world. He’s ambitious and he’s bold and he loves wildly. The very heavens declare the glory of God. Why else do stars exist? Why are sunsets as beautiful as they are? What purpose do they serve outside of lighting your heart on fire? God puts on display his love.
These two words, "God shows", speak to both camps of people, those who think they are too good and those who think they are too bad for the love of God. We are confronted here with what God does. He shows. He is a relentless lover. He is always pursuing us, not just so that we will agree at an intellectual level that we are loved, but to feel deep in our hearts that we are loved. It's as if he is saying, "Look. I know some of you think you don’t need me. Where will you get your righteousness? Some of you think you can't have me. What made you doubt my love?"
Do you realize the way in which God loves?
He doesn’t stop with words, he doesn’t stop with parting seas, he doesn’t stop at pillars of fire, or clouds of glory, he doesn’t stop with breaking down walls at the sound of trumpets, he doesn’t stop with voices from heaven or angels standing before us. He doesn’t stop with a promise. He doesn’t stop with a king. He doesn’t stop with one nation. He doesn’t stop with only one people group. He doesn’t stop with “good enough”. He doesn’t stop with perfect teaching or with amazing miracles. No, he stops with the death of the Son on the cross. God the Father loves so intensely that he could not give anything less than the absolute best that he had to offer: himself in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son.
God shows his love to us in a multitude of ways but the supreme way he shows his love to us is in the death of Christ for us. What greater love is there? You, in all your sin and all your messiness – you – were loved enough by God that he would die for you. He didn’t just tell us that. He showed it two thousand years ago at 3:00 in the afternoon on a hill outside of Jerusalem. And, even more surprising, he still shows his love in the death of Christ. These words are in the present active tense. God, today, in this moment, is showing us the love he has for us through the death of his Son, Jesus Christ. What we see right here in our Bibles – this black text on a white page – is lifting Jesus up before us right now so that we can see with the eyes of our heart the very love of God for us. Do you see it? Oh, I pray you do! Father, open our eyes!
Now that’s the kind of love we need and that’s the kind of love God has. Isn’t that surprising to you?
God’s people have been struggling for millennia to understand the love of God. They have misunderstood him, taken him for granted, ignored him, and sinned against him, but he has never stopped showing his love to them. Ultimately, Jesus left his throne in heaven to come and show us once and for all how deep the love of God is for us. You have to believe that. You have to acknowledge the love of God for you. That’s my greatest prayer. The way to your salvation is by trusting the God that tells this story. You can have love like this and it doesn’t even matter that you’re a sinner, because Christ died for sinners. In fact, he died only for sinners. So, if you see your need for a love like this, you qualify for that love. You can come to him and he will not cast you out because God shows his love to a surprising people.
The kind of person that God shows his love to is surprising. He shows his love to sinners. The text is plain, "while we were still sinners". If we had the all-seeing eye of God, we would be appalled at not only the sin we see in each other but the sin we see in our own hearts. I’d venture to say we are aware of about 5% of our sin. But God sees all of it. We need to understand what our sin looks like to God. Our sins aren’t mistakes. We like to use that word. It softens it. But the Bible uses words like evil and wickedness in regards to our sin. How often have you called yourself evil or wicked? But you are! We are all a mess. Our sin has ruined us. Every one of us has experienced this. Every one of us has done something that we don’t even want to think about. And yet God looks down at us in that condition, in that sin, and says I’ve died for that sin. You are free. For freedom Christ has set us free.
In fact, our sin is our only qualification. Look at the verse again. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. It is in the midst of our sin that Christ saves us. Our sin is the ONLY qualification, and we must still be in that sin to qualify, which of course we are. But this is insane. Look at the way Paul writes this phrase. God shows, present tense. Christ died, past tense. The death of Christ still shows the love of God. That one event was enough to show us for all time his love because of the magnitude of the one who died and who he died for. God died for his enemies. Our sin qualifies us and our faith justifies us through the work of Christ on the cross.
Even the way Paul words this is fascinating. What he’s saying here is that there has been a changing of the guard. Something has come in and something has gone out. The Greek text here is saying that in the death of Christ, we sinners have been redeemed. Even the syntax of the sentence is showing the gospel! Not just the words, but how the words are arranged.
God shows his love to us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Why did Jesus die for us? The simple answer is because he loved us and to love us till the end he had to die. But, you may say, “There must have been another way. Surely someone didn’t have to die in order to save me!” The Bible says that God saves sinners and the only way to save sinners is for the sin to be paid for by someone. And the Bible says that the wages of sin is death. Therefore, there are two options: either we die for our sins or someone else does. In God’s mercy, the gospel tells us that someone else has died in our place. But what does this look like? Is the Father an angry God who only wants blood while Jesus is the loving, kind-hearted Son who desperately wants his Father’s heart to change? By no means! God is not unjust and he is not unloving. But for justice and love to remain fully compatible a death had to occur.
D.A. Carson, one of today's most important theologians, helps here when he says,
“God demonstrates his love in that Christ died for us. You must not think that God stands over against us while Christ stands for us, as if the Father and Son are somehow at odds, so that the Father takes it out on his Son. God demonstrated his love by sending Christ. This is bound up with the very nature and mystery of the incarnation and the Trinity. This is the triune God’s plan. It hurts the Father to lose his Son, but he does it because he loves us. And the Son demonstrates his love for us by listening to and conforming to his Father’s own wonderful plan so that this plan of the triune God is worked out in God’s justice being secured and protected by virtue of the fact that Christ bears our sins and God’s just standards are preserved even while we stand free and go forgiven. God demonstrates his justice in the cross. Do you want to see the greatest evidence of the love of God? Go to the cross. Do you want to see the greatest evidence of the justice of God? Go to the cross. It is where wrath and mercy meet. Holiness and peace kiss each other. The climax of redemptive history is the cross.”
It hurts the Father to lose his Son, but he does it because he loves us. The death of Jesus was costly. He is the most glorious person in existence. He was there from the beginning – not the beginning of the world, but from the beginning of eternity past. It was he through whom and by whom and for whom all things were created. It is he who upholds the universe by the word of his power. It is he who is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. It is he who was promised and he who has come and he who has died and he who is reigning now and will reign forever. It is he to whom every knee shall one day bow. It is he, of whom the prophet Isaiah says, “he who is splendid in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength.” It is also he of whom Isaiah says, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for or iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” It is he that has given us access to the throne of grace. This is Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of Lords. The Son of God, the Son of man, the alpha and the omega, the one who was and is and is to come, the Messiah, the Christ. This is your savior! This is God. And there was no greater pain in the universe than the moment that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the elect. In that moment the Father turned his face away from the Son and gave him over to death so he might bring us who believe to glory. It cost something to gain us back. It cost the most valuable person in all existence. It cost God himself. You are bought with a price. God isn’t angry with you because he has done everything he needs to do to be happy with you forever. The price has been paid in the midst of your sin so that you can be free from the consequences of your sin. That is surprising!
THAT IS LOVE!
That is the gospel!
So if you are prone to think you are too good for God's love: can you now see that you are a sinner in need of Christ's saving work? Only when you see this need can you have the righteousness you long for.
And if you are prone to think you are too bad for God's love: can you now see that God saves sinners and sinners alone? Only when you see that will you be able to have the joy you long for.
Let's all lean into the third way of the gospel: God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners (we are worse than we think), Christ died for us (we are more loved than we imagined).
Let me close with these words from Charles Spurgeon, 19th century preacher,
“If today you feel that sin is hateful to you, believe in Him who has said, ‘It is finished.’ Let me link your hand in mine. Let us come together, both of us, and say, ‘Here are two poor naked souls, good Lord; we cannot clothe ourselves,’ and He will give us a robe, for ‘it is finished.’ . . . ‘But must we not add tears to it?’ ‘No,’ says He, ‘no, it is finished, there is enough.’ Child of God, will you have Christ’s finished righteousness today, and will you rejoice in it more than you ever have before?”
Receive this good news. Come to Christ. See what he has done for you. Come and live. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.