Saint Paul dwells on the central meditation of Lent here in Romans. Verse 7 begins his inspired reflection on God’s motive to send the Son to the holy cross: “one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die.” There is only one thing that will lead a person to do such a thing — love. As Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Yes, for his friends, but who would lay down his life for his enemies? This is exactly what our text tells us as it goes to the depth of Divine love for us: “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” Yes, “Perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die; but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Yes, us, Jews and gentiles alike. Christ did this for us.
This is the unique love of God. Where does it come from? It is not to do with the qualities of the person who is loved — Romans 3 makes that clear; it simply comes from God Himself. It is internal to His nature, who and what He is. And it was manifested in Jesus, who laid down His life for us. He died for you. Actually, He died in your place to justify you, or to make you right with God, and to reconcile you, or to make you the friend, the family of God. We were enemies, but because of the self-sacrificing love of Christ, we are made friends, indeed, even the adopted children of our Heavenly Father. This tells us a fundamental truth about the Holy Trinity: God is love. Only from the triune God can there be a spontaneous and self-giving love for the unlovable.
This is how God demonstrates His love: “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Or put even more famously, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
How else could God show His love for us? Surely this is the only meaningful, enduring and praiseworthy demonstration. He could show His affection is a gift, but what would it show? For anything that God would bring into existence for us would not diminish His power one bit. There is no sacrifice God can make in love through gift-giving. But God has given the one costly thing – His Son, His only son, to give His life for us, and so to give to us the gift of life; the greatest love expressed through the greatest risk. The only and ultimate sacrifice of God for a love that will endure forever.
Two crucial facts depend on this gift. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God” (5:10), it says. So, we have been justified. This is a difficult idea for the modern mind to comprehend, partly because we do not easily recognize our need to be justified, or made just – or to put it plainly, that we are unjust. There is no wholeness in us, we are unjust unless and until we are made just. But Christ has fulfilled the whole will and Law of God, and gone to death for us, justifying us by His blood. That is what the text says, we have been justified by His blood. Past tense. Deed done.
There is another certainty too. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God” (5:9). This follows on: since we have been justified, we shall be saved. Future tense. Yet to be. The assurance is accomplished, that is clear; but the act it still to be done. We are going to be saved from the wrath of God — His necessary and righteous judgment. If we are justified, and of course we know that all who believe in Jesus, our Paschal Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, trusting in Him are justified, we will be saved from God’s wrath. The wrath of God is revealed in judgment. And it is at that point, in the judgment of God, that another steps in our place and delivers us from it, saves us from it. So, we shall be saved. Lenten repentance, Lenten yearning for resurrection: Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Judgment passes over us and onto Him. Hence, Christ is the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world and, therefore, the judgment of God and we bask in the love of God in Christ Jesus instead.
In fact, it was suggested recently on the basis of this text, if you are asked the question, “Are you saved?” as our Evangelical brothers and sisters do, the correct answer is, “No, I am justified,” or “No, but I will be.” We have been justified and we will be saved. Both dimensions are important. We know how we stand before God, justified, or made just by Jesus’ blood. But there is a future reality too: we certainly will be saved in His judgment because we are justified.
Think for a moment about the present reality, how it is for those who are justified by Jesus in the sight of God: Just as God’s creativity goes through nature, so His love goes on through His people, through His just ones. “We love because He first loved us,” says 1 John 4:19. The impetus of God’s love does not stop with the individual recipient, but cascades on. And it is the same unique quality of love, the ability to love the unlovable.
It is the unique privilege and calling of those who have been justified by Christ to reflect His love and, especially, to reflect it to those who seem least to deserve it. Enemies, the unjust, even our persecutors, these are the ones the divine love would seek out through us.
Loving those who most need love is obviously good for them, as the recipients of kindness, of mercy and of prayers. But it is no less good for the one who gives the love. Meeting hostility with love drains bitterness from the soul, where it creates a horrible feeling. Praying for those who persecute us is the best way I know of discharging the vengeance that might devour us. It is what Jesus did. “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:23-24).
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Romans 5:1-8.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Romans 5:1-8.