“For while we were yet still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
Having been born long after Jesus died on the cross it can be tempting to remove ourselves from this verse. One might think, “My sins did not nail Jesus to the cross, for I wasn’t even alive when all that happened”. Yet Paul is writing decades after the cross in Romans Chapter 5. Obviously a number of the people who would be receiving this letter, would not have been alive when Jesus came to the earth and died on the cross. The same is true for the audience of other letters in the New Testament. Peter and John equally speak to audiences, some of which were not alive at the time of the crucifixion, and yet still speaking of Jesus dying for the sins of the audience being addressed:
- “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24).
- “To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood” (Revelation 1:5).
We could not repay our debt. No amount of good works or good deeds could we have performed, even if even multiple lifetimes, to remove our sins. No human system or philosophy could pull man out of the darkness (Titus 3:5).
Christ Died for the Ungodly
When God places all of us into the “ungodly” category that can sting. At times some might disagree with this label and claim that while we were not perfect in our non-Christian lives, we were certainly not “ungodly” at the same time. Yet consider how God describes the sinner in Luke 15.
“Give Me the Share of the Estate”: Luke 15:12
I believe that most of us find this to be a rather shocking attitude on the part of this young man. To boldly go to your father while he is still alive and insist on your inheritance is incredibly selfish. Yet in this parable, the father grants the request. The young man in the story goes off and squandered his portion of the estate with loose living (15:13). Now, there are people who either depart from God or never serve God who do not spend a lot of time in loose living, yet they still squander what God has given to them. May I suggest to you, that the attitude of the young man in this parable, “Father, give me”, is the same attitude expressed by Isaiah 53:6 when the prophet says, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way”.
- God is the Creator and Designer of our amazing bodies, “For you formed my inward parts; you wove me in my mother’s womb… I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works” (Psalm 139:14). And the Psalmist clearly understood that “he” was one of God’s amazing works.
- God is equally the Creator of my spirit (Zechariah 12:1 “and forms the spirit of man within him”; Ecclesiastes 12:7 “and the spirit will return to God who gave it”).
- God has also cared for me for many years, providing health, parents, loved ones, food and other earthly blessings (Acts 14:17).
Therefore, to say to God, “My body belongs to me, and I can do with it whatever I desire”. “My time is my time, my day off is my day off”. Is to voice the same thing that the prodigal son said to his father, “Give me my share of the estate”. To use my body, time, intellect, talents for all my own personal interests and to ignore God and His kingdom (Matthew 6:33) is to spend my life selfishly squandering what God has graciously give to me. Thus, I would contend that the term “ungodly” is an entirely correct and appropriate label for an attitude which says to its Creator, “Forget You, I am living for me”.
Who is Paying the Bill?
When the father gave the prodigal son his portion of the estate, in a sense the father was financing or picking up the tab for the squandering that happened after the son left home. The father was obviously not morally responsible for how the son misused the gracious gift given to him, yet without the gift, the younger son would not have been able to go very far. In like manner, when I go off into sin, I am using God’s gifts to enable and support of life of rebellion. I am using the body, mind, emotions, talents, etc… that He gave to me, to do evil. I don’t know if people think about it in that light.
At the Right Time: Romans 5:6
God always shows up with help at the right time. It is never late.
The Righteous and the Good Man: Romans 5:7
Some say that the righteous man here is the man who would never cheat you and the good man is someone who is more than that, one who is kind and generous, a man that you would be drawn to because of his goodness. That might be true, yet the point seems to be in this passage that finding anyone who would willingly lay down their life for either man, would be a rare thing. Consider the terms, “One will hardly” and “perhaps… someone might dare even to die”. The world is not filled with people willing and able to lay down their lives for good people, how much less, willing to die for anyone who is ungodly. Thus, when we were in sin, there was not a line of people willing to lay down their lives so that we could be rescued. People might have been willing to offer advice, encouragement, or a “come one, get it together”, but no one was willing to make a big sacrifice for us.
We don’t have to wonder about God’s attitude toward us. We don’t have to worry or speculate about His motivation for creating us. In a dramatic way God has “demonstrated” or “proven” how much He loves us. Or, another way of saying it, is that God has placed on the table some serious earnest money to back up His message, that He wants us in heaven and He wants us saved (John 3:16).
- “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us…” (1 John 4:10-11).
- “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1).
What I need to realize is that if I do not serve God or if I stop serving God, then God’s amazing grace, the blood of His Son that was shed for my sins, the suffering that Jesus endured for me will have been wasted. It will not be given to someone else. It will simply have been wasted. I don’t want such love to be wasted. Thus Paul would echo, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
His Own Love: Romans 5:8
In other words, God did not employ or pay some outside agency to deal with our sins. Rather, God Himself arrived, partook of human flesh (John 1:14), and went to the cross and felt all the pain (Hebrews 12:2 “endured the cross”), and died for our sins. He personally got involved, He put Himself in the middle of the big mess that we all had a hand in creating, and He allowed sinful men to abuse Him and inflict upon Him tremendous suffering and pain.
So How Do I Respond to Such Love?
Such tremendous love sadly makes some people very uncomfortable, they want to ignore it, they don’t like to hear about it, they don’t like being indebted to anyone, they erroneously think that they don’t need anyone, don’t need any help and have never had to depend upon anyone. Others embrace such love and rejoice in it (Romans 5:9-11). We rejoice because are not alone in this world. There is a Creator who loves us immensely, who actually put us ahead of His own comfort, and who has graciously provided an amazing answer and remedy for our sins. After living almost 60 years and having interacted with all different kinds of people, some lowly and others in high positions, I can say with confidence that when it comes to sin, the only remedy that works is Jesus.
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017