The Greatest Love Story Ever Told!
Scripture: Romans 5:6–5:11
From the beginning of time, the world has been fascinated by love stories. Music, art and literature from every culture celebrate the theme of love. The title for my sermon this morning is: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.
This love story is one that is traced and told throughout the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation. It is highlighted, focused and concentrated in the passage we are studying today, Romans 5:6-11. It is part of a longer paragraph which began in verse 1. It is a paragraph that elaborates on the benefits of being justified by faith. The paragraph opens with the words, Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have… Last week we looked at the first five verses, and four different benefits we receive when we are justified by faith. We have peace with God, we have hope for the future, we have joy in our sufferings, and we have the love of God poured out into our hearts.
It is to this last theme that Paul turns in the rest of this paragraph. As we study this section, I would raise the question: What makes this the greatest love story ever told? I would like to offer three answers to this question taken from these verses. I have chosen to present the three answers each in the form of a rhetorical question.
Here is the first one: Could there be any less likely candidates for love? Even as I pose that question, we should be swept by the realization that this is a different kind of love story. Normally love stories focus on the lovable qualities of the person loved: beauty, strength, courage, nobility of character. All of these are attributed to the persons loved. But when we examine these verses, we find that this is not the case. Could there be any less likely candidates for love?
Let us look at how the human race is described in these verses. The first description is found I verse 6: when we were powerless…There are two ways this adjective is used according to the lexicons. It is used to describe a state of helplessness in light of circumstances; trapped and unable to help ourselves. The second use is to describe someone who is morally weak and incapable of doing good. Both uses are actually true and relevant to this verse. This is the doctrine that theologians refer to as the doctrine of man’s depravity. Morally weak and incapable of doing or sustaining any good course of action and hence helpless and trapped; unable to help ourselves. It is not a pretty picture!
But that is not all. Later in the same verse, Paul describes us as ungodly. This word was translated back in Romans 4:5 as “wicked” in the phrase that states that God “justifies the wicked”. It is a word that describes someone who lives his life without regard for God or his standards; someone who is ungodly and impious.
In verse 8, Paul refers to us all as “sinners”. This is the same root as the word used in Romans 3:23 where we are told that “all have sinned.” This is the noun, describing people who consistently miss the mark and fail to live up to God’s standards.
Verse 10 then adds to the description by calling us “God’s enemies.” We are, by our very nature from birth, in a state of active rebellion against God and his rule over our lives.
And the consequence and culmination of all this bad news? In verse 9 Paul talks about God’s wrath. This phrase takes us all the way back to Romans 1:18 where Paul states that the wrath of God is being revealed against all the godlessness and wickedness of men…
As I said, it is not a pretty picture. When we look at the human race, and see ourselves as God sees us, through the prism of his righteousness and holiness, we are morally powerless, spiritually bankrupt, miserable failures, active rebels against God and richly deserving of God’s wrath. Could there be any less likely candidates for love?
That brings us to the second point in this sermon, also put in the form of a question: Could there be any greater measure or demonstration of love? The measure and demonstration of God’s love is the dominant theme of these verses. The measure of God’s love is clearly stated repeatedly. It is found in verse 5: Christ died for the ungodly. It is there again in verse 8 most clearly: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Verse 9 also makes a clear reference to Christ’s death when Paul states that we have now been justified by his blood. And verse 10 makes it clear once again: we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son. This is the ultimate measure of love, is it not? Jesus said it himself: Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John15:13) This is truly the final and ultimate measure of love: to die for the one loved. Abraham Lincoln, in his famous Gettysburg address, paid tribute to the patriotism of the Union’s fallen soldiers and their love of country when he referred to the “last full measure of devotion.” You cannot give more than life itself. That is how much God loved us, how much Christ loved us. Christ died for us!
The full impact of this “greatest love story” comes through, however, when we put the first two points of this sermon together. The uniqueness of this love story is seen when we compare “the candidates for love” and “the measure of that love.” This is what Paul points out in verses 7-8:
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man 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.
A couple weeks ago, on the plane back to the US, I browsed through the entertainment system looking for a movie to watch. I settled on a film that come out a few years ago called “Dave.” The premise of the film is rather far-fetched. The president of the United States is struck down by a massive stroke. But rather than announce the fact to the public, his Chief of Staff and others behind the scenes identify a man who has a striking resemblance to the president. In fact he makes a living appearing at events in which he impersonates the president. They move this man, named “Dave” into the White House and coach him on how to behave so that they can carry on as though nothing has happened until they can put their own plans for succession into place.
Like I said, it was rather far-fetched as this rather naïve but good-hearted man takes on the ceremonial and public roles of the president. One of the characters in the film is a Secret Service agent assigned to protect the president. Because he is so close to the action, of course, he is brought in on the secret. Early in the film there is a scene in which Dave is talking with this agent about his job. As his responsibilities are described, Dave asks him, “So you are ready to take a bullet for the president?” “Yes, sir!” he responds. Dave thinks about that for a few seconds and then asks, “Would you take a bullet for me?” There was a long and uncomfortable silence as the question went unanswered.
As the story goes on, Dave finds ways to escape the evil conspirators, and even use the powers of the presidency to do some very good things for the country. In fact, he proves that he is a better man than the president he is impersonating. As the story winds down, and Dave is about to leave the White House and step back into his own anonymous life, there is one final scene when Dave says goodbye to the Secret Service agent. As Dave turns to walk away, the agents says softly: “I just want you to know, I would take a bullet for you.”
It was a moving, “feel-good” moment in the story. But here is the thing. That is as far as our human imaginings can take us. That is as far as we can project the power of human “love” traveling. Because Dave was a “good man”, the agent was now willing to die for him. That is powerful. But as powerful as that is, God’s love takes up where human love leaves off. The greatest measure of his love was spent and expended on those who were least deserving! When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son. This is how God demonstrated his love. It is the greatest love story ever told! The full measure of devotion was expressed toward those who were most unworthy and undeserving. Jesus Christ took the bullet for you and for me. He did it because he loved us. He did it when we were least deserving.
There is an upside down theology that has invaded the church and infiltrated much Christian preaching and writing and music lyrics. It comes from the human self-esteem movement. It is a teaching which looks at the cross of Christ and concludes, “The death of Christ on the cross demonstrates that we are worth dying for.” I am sorry, but that is not what the Scripture teaches! The Scripture teaches that we were unworthy, but Christ loved us enough to die for us anyway. John Newton, the hymn writer had it right: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”
There is a very subtle, but essential distinction between Biblical teaching and the modern purveyors of self-esteem. Christ did not die for us because we were valuable. We weren’t. We were worthless. But now we have value because Christ died for us. The value lies in Christ, and in his love for us, not in us. And to him goes all the glory! We are saved by grace and grace alone! I said last week that Romans 5 uses the word “grace” more often than any other chapter in the Bible. And that is true. Yet the word “grace” does not occur in the verses we are looking at today. The word may not appear, but I believe that these verses represent one of the most powerful manifestations and descriptions of grace to be found anywhere in Scripture. When we were powerless…when we were sinners…when we were God’s enemies…Christ died for us. That is grace. Could there be any less likely candidates for love? Could there be any greater measure or demonstration of love?
This takes us to our third point, also phrased as a question: Could there be any greater result or benefit from love? As we turn to this question, I would point you back to the dominant theme statement of the whole paragraph in verse 1: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith… That is the overall result or benefit we have received from the love of God which was demonstrated on Calvary. We have been justified through faith. We have been declared righteous in God’s sight and before his courtroom by belief in Jesus. In the closing verses of this paragraph, Paul expands our understanding of justification by describing the benefits we have received in two additional ways.
First we are told that because of Christ’s great love we shall be saved. This is one of those phrases that has become a standard in the vocabulary of evangelical Christians. “Have you been saved?” we ask each other. Or we give our testimonies and say, “When I was saved…” We may have overused the language. It may have become a cliché. It may be misunderstood and even offend people. But let us never lose this glorious truth. It is grounded in the Scriptures. Paul uses the expression twice here: first I verse 9: Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! He repeats it again in verse 10: we shall be saved through his life! To understand this language, we must understand what it is that we are being saved from. Paul makes it clear, does he not? Saved from God’s wrath. God’s wrath against sin has been revealed from heaven. That is what Paul told is in Romans 1:18. Now we are told that “since we have been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from God’s wrath.” It is interesting that Paul uses the future tense. God’s wrath, his judgment against sin is something coming, both on the sinful world and on sinful people. How will we be saved from God’s wrath? How will we escape? Through Christ and faith in his blood! By being justified by faith.
That brings us to another way of describing what happened to us when we were justified through faith: we were reconciled to God.
For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
The word “reconciled” describes a change in relationship. It means to change from being an enemy to being a friend. Here Paul is not so much adding new truth as he is bringing us back full circle to where he began this paragraph. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Being reconciled to God is another way of describing the state of being at peace with God. We were at war. Now we are at peace. We were God’s enemies because of our sin. Now he declares us to be his friends.
I ran across an interesting phrase in my devotional reading this week that expresses this reality of our alienation from God. I have been reading in the Book of Leviticus. This is what it says in chapter 26, verses 27 and 28: But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. I like the way that is translated in both the English Standard Version as well as the King James Version. “To walk contrary.” The point that struck me is that it is a two-way alienation. When we walk contrary to God, then he walks contrary to us. This was our status. We were God’s enemies. But now we have been reconciled to God. We have peace with God. Could there be any greater result or benefit from love?
Truly, this is the greatest love story ever told. Could there be any less likely candidates for love? We were powerless, ungodly, sinners, enemies of God. Could there be any greater measure or demonstration of love? Christ died for us. Could there be any greater result or benefit from love? We have been reconciled to God. We shall be saved from God’s wrath.
That leads me to a simple question. Are you part of this love story? Have you received the free gift of salvation? Have you been justified by belief in Jesus? It is a step that is so simple it is hard. We keep thinking there has to be more to it. But there isn’t. You simply have to call on the name of the Lord and the simple act of calling out to him in faith will be credited to your account as righteousness. You will be justified. You will be reconciled to God.
Let me close by quickly adding two words of application for all of you who are already participants in this love story. You have been justified by faith and been reconciled to God. First of all, with privilege comes responsibility. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul uses this same language of reconciliation to God and this is what he says, beginning in verse 17:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
To those who have been reconciled to God, God has entrusted the ministry and the message of reconciliation; of pleading with the world around us to be reconciled to God. Are we faithfully discharging that responsibility?
Finally I would call our attention to the final verse in this wonderful paragraph. Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
What does it mean “to rejoice in God”? It is another of those Greek words that is hard to reproduce precisely in English. It means to boast and be proud of something; to be happy and take joy from something; to exult and celebrate something. This particular word has been a common thread in the first chapters of Romans. We first find it back in Romans 3:27, where Paul says, “Where then is boasting? It is excluded.” Paul makes the same point in Romans 4:2: “If in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God.” Now in chapter 5, Paul has used the very same word three different times: in verse 2, “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” In verse 3, “we also rejoice in our sufferings.” And now, in this verse, 11: “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is not a matter of whether we boast, rejoice and exult or not. It is a matter of whether or not we are boasting, rejoicing and exulting in the right things. We do not boast or take pride in our own deeds and our own righteousness before God. As the Scripture tells us, “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.” But we can, in fact we are called on, to rejoice and exult in God who has reconciled us to himself. Our joy, our boast is not in us or in what we have done for God, but in him and what he has done for us.
I like the words to the song the worship team sang during the offering; especially the last verse:
3 I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no powr's, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom
To those who have not yet trusted in Christ as Savior, I offer you the words to this simple prayer.
Holy God, I admit that I am a sinner. I have lived in disobedience and rebellion. I am unworthy of your love. I deserve your wrath. Jesus, I believe that you are the Messiah and the Son of God. I believe you died for my sins and rose again. I call on you to save me and forgive me for my sins. I want to be reconciled to you. Amen.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- What is your favorite love story from the world of fiction?
- Describe the attributes of those loved and why they were loved (from your “favorites” above)?
- The first point in Pastor Cam’s message is “Could there be any less likely candidates for love?” How is God’s love in this passage a contrast to the love stories you’ve been describing?
- Pick out the descriptions of the human race found in this passage. Do you agree with this depiction? How does it compare with the way the human race typically views itself?
- How did God demonstrate his love? When did he do it? Why is this significant and how does it demonstrate the attribute of “grace”?
- “The death of Christ on the cross proves that we were worth dying for.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
- What are some of the benefits we receive from God’s love (listed in this passage)?
- Spend some time in prayer “rejoicing in God” for your salvation.