Amazing Love – Romans 5:6-8
By: Alistair Brown
(Part 3 of a study of Romans 5:1-11.)
It’s an old saying, that a man from a humble and deprived background who has been given enormous wealth is “just a poor man with money.”
Christians could be described as poor people with great spiritual wealth. We had nothing but now we’re very rich indeed. Amazing.
Paul explains how that happened in Romans 5:6-8.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
These verses talk about us and also about God.
First, us. Paul uses three words to describe us.
His first word is powerless (v. 6).
Literally the word means weak, incapable, unable to take action.
I’m told that when I was about three years old and very fat, I fell over and could not roll over to get back on my feet. A neighbor had to cross the fence to pick me up. I was powerless.
Decades later I had an operation for back pain. The day after the operation a nurse wanted me to try standing. I tried – I really tried – but no amount of determination could make my muscles move. I was powerless.
To be unable to save yourself or help yourself – to be powerless – is frustrating, humiliating, and disappointing. But that was our spiritual condition, our poverty.
Paul’s second word for us is ungodly (v. 6).
In the Greek (which Paul used) the word is asebēs. One of its root meanings is a complete failure to show respect.
Imagine a child wandering into a large art gallery, finding himself alone for a few minutes, taking out a broad-tipped pen and adding his own touches to a Picasso worth millions – just a few strokes here or there…!
That would be called ‘desecration,’ a complete failure to respect a masterpiece.
That’s the sense of the word asebēs – failure to honor something according to its true worth.
Paul used that word for our behavior towards God. We’re powerless, and we fail to recognize and honor God for who he is.
His third word is sinners (v. 8).
The root meaning of sinning is to miss the mark.
When I was ten, my Dad gave me a dartboard. That was not one of his better ideas. I was so bad that not only did I miss the numbers on the board I was aiming for, I often missed the board. The wall soon had so many holes it looked like we had a pest infestation. Overnight the board disappeared.
To have a target you ought to hit but you miss, that’s what it is to sin.
We try but we miss. We mean to do good but we fail. We don’t hit the mark in how we think, what we say, the way we live. We’re sinners.
So, that’s us. Paul sums up the mess we are in with those three words:
If heaven depends on our goodness or our effort, we’re not going.
- We might wish to be different but we don’t have the power to change.
- We know there’s a God and that we answer to him, but we still rebel.
- We understand what we should do, but we keep coming up short.
It sounds hopeless. We’re lost.
But we’re not, because we’ve been found. What we could not do, God has done. In the story of salvation, we’re not the main characters. God is. The main story is not about us, it’s about him.
So, him. God. Paul puts God front and center in the story of our salvation.
He describes both God’s attitude and God’s action.
What does Paul say about God’s attitude? In v. 8 Paul is clear that what God does comes from his love for us. In fact, he says two things.
1. God truly loves us. I’ve known lawyers who dreaded appearing in court before certain judges. They’d say things like: “He won’t listen to me, he’ll pick holes in my arguments. He’s always out to rule against me and, of course, my client.” Those lawyers felt the judge was predisposed to put them down, to find fault, to be negative.
God is predisposed to love. John writes in his letter: “God is love” (1 John 4:8) – his nature, through and through, is love. Nothing else comes from God than love. Paul saw that too, and though we are powerless, ungodly sinners God responded with a wonderful demonstration of his love. God loves us.
2. God truly loves us no matter what we’ve done. Our human experience is often of conditional love. People say: “I’ll buy you a new bicycle, a new coat, a new ball, or even a new car if… if you get an ‘A’ in your studies, if you win the trophy, if you stay good all day.” Statements like those sound generous but they’re not gifts; they’re rewards for achievements. Human love can be like that.
If God gave only conditional love, we’d be doomed. We’d have to achieve to win his affection, but powerless people don’t have achievements of the right kind. We could earn nothing other than God’s anger and his judgment.
But God loves us unconditionally. Paul says, God demonstrated his love “while we were still sinners,” while we were still in the wrong. We hadn’t stopped. We hadn’t improved. We hadn’t even said ‘sorry’. But he loved us. His love is a free gift. Powerless, ungodly sinners are loved anyway. No matter how guilty we are, no matter how long we’ve been guilty, no matter how often we’ve been guilty, God’s attitude stays the same. He loves us.
So, what about God’s action? That is spelled out in verses 6 and 8, “when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly;” “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
For people who rejected him, who had not changed their way of life, God took action. He gave his Son to die for them.
Paul makes it very clear how amazing that is. In verse 7 he states the obvious: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.” That’s true. No-one normally gives their life for anyone else, but possibly they would to save a very good person. But God gave his Son for those who were not at all good, those who gave him no respect, no obedience, no love. He loved us, and gave Jesus to get us.
My father played golf with the same buddies every week. Each one of the foursome left instructions with their next-of-kin that, in the event of their death, the funeral must not be on a Saturday. Why not a Saturday? Because that was the day of the golf game, and it would be tough to choose between playing golf or attending their friend’s funeral. None of them were sure the others would be at their funeral if it clashed with the golf match, hence their pact that none of them would be buried on a Saturday.
You know how much someone matters to you by what they’ll give up for you. How much do we matter to God? So much he gave up his only Son so that he could get us. Our ungodliness mattered; our sin mattered but we were powerless to sort it out. God’s Son died for us, so now our sin is gone and we are at peace with God.
He loved us – that’s God’s attitude.
He loved us so much he gave his Son on the cross for us – that’s God’s action. That’s the story of our salvation.
William Barclay talks of Colonel T.E. Lawrence – known as Lawrence of Arabia – journeying across the desert in 1915 leading a band of Arabs. All of them were struggling. Food was gone and water down to the last drop. The wind began to blow hard, driving sand into their faces. For protection, they pulled up their hoods almost right over their heads.
Suddenly someone called out, “Where’s Jasmin?”
Jasmin was a bad man. He had killed a Turkish tax-collector and then fled into the desert. No-one liked him. Now Jasmin’s camel was empty, his rifle still strapped to its side. One of the Arabs thought it possible someone shot him as they travelled along. Another wondered if Jasmin had fainted in the heat and fallen off his camel. Another traveler said what almost all were thinking: “What does it matter? Jasmin was not worth half a crown.” They pulled their hoods back over their heads, and got ready to start off again.
Not Lawrence. Lawrence turned his camel round and rode back the way they had come. The heat blazed down. The risk of getting lost and running out of all supplies was great. But he went back.
After an hour and a half of riding, he saw something through the sand still blowing into his eyes. He got nearer. It was a figure. Nearer still, and it was Jasmin. Jasmin was going blind, mad, and almost dead with heat and thirst.
Lawrence heaved Jasmin up on his camel, gave him some of the last drops of his precious water, and turned the camel forward again and plodded back to the others. They were amazed. They said: “Here is Jasmin, not worth half a crown, saved at his own risk by Lawrence, our lord.”
A man who did not deserve to live was saved at great risk.
We do not deserve eternal life, but Jesus not only risked but gave his life that we might live. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?