For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though 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. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. – Romans 5:6-11 ESV
Peter tells us, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). The sinless one died for sinners. The innocent died for the guilty. The righteous for the unrighteous. And not after we got our act together. Paul emphasizes the out-of-the-ordinary nature of this event. He says, “most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good” (Romans 5:7 NLT). As human beings, we would find it difficult, if not impossible to give our lives even for someone who deemed as righteous. We might do it, but we would have to give it some serious thought. But Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. He didn’t die for us because we were righteous, but so that we might become righteous. In fact, when Jesus was asked why He hung out with tax collectors and sinners, He replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick…For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12, 13 ESV).
The implications of this are staggering. We live in a world where we believe everyone gets what they deserve. We are taught that any good we experience in this life is ultimately earned and a direct result of our good behavior. But Paul turns that philosophy on its head by saying that our salvation was the result of God’s mercy and love as expressed through the sacrificial death of His own Son. Rather than giving us what we deserved: death, God gave us what we did not deserve: life through faith in His Son. We deserved condemnation. He provided pardon. We deserved alienation from Him. He made us sons and daughters. We had earned His wrath and judgment. He poured out His grace and forgiveness. And the amazing thing is that “God shows his love for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 ESV). Christ died for the ungodly. But man’s biggest problem is coming to grips with his own ungodliness. We struggle believing that we are sinners in need of a Savior. We hate the idea of being helpless and weak, incapable of saving ourselves. We want to desperately believe that we can somehow earn our way into God’s good graces. But Paul will have none of it, because God refuses to grade of the curve or lower His standards in order to allow men to squeeze in under the bar.
It was the death of Jesus, His shed blood, that makes our right standing with God possible. We have been right with Him and are free from ever having to face His righteous, holy wrath ever again. As Paul will say later in this same letter, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). We have been reconciled with God. At one point we were His enemies, but now we are His children. Because of Christ’s death, we have been made right with God – in this life. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we are assured a permanent right standing with God – for eternity. We are saved from the eternal wrath of God that is the eventual lot of all men who refuse to accept His gift of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of His Son. And Paul tells us that this reality should produce in us a joy right here, right now, because “we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11 ESV). It was the ancient writer, Origen, who said, “Paul stresses the now in order to indicate that our rejoicing is not merely a future hope but also a present experience” (Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans). We are reconciled with God. We are free from His wrath. We are righteous in His eyes. We are no longer His enemies. We are justified by God.
I love this quote from Ambrosiaster, a Christian writer who lived in the middle to late fourth century. He wrote, “If Christ gave himself up to death at the right time for those who were unbelievers and enemies of God … how much more will he protect is with his help if we believe in him! He died for us in order to obtain life and glory for us. So if he died for his enemies, just think what he will do for his friends!” (Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles). God loved us in the midst of our sin. Christ died for us because we were sinners. And we can trust God’s love to carry us through to the very end. We can rest of the fact that “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).