God Loves Sinners

Life Impact: This lesson is designed to help you realize that God loves you. You do not need to strive to earn God’s favor or your salvation. In fact, there is nothing you can do to deliver yourself from the punishment you deserve. Even so, God offers salvation to you as a free gift. All you have to do is accept it.

The Proof:  Romans 5:6-11.

[6]  For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7]  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. [8]  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. [9]  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. [10]  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

[11]  And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.   [NASU]

[6-8]  Paul spells out two major means by which we come to be sure that God loves us. The first is that God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us [5b]. But God has a second and objective way of assuring us of His love. It is that He has proved His love by Christ’s death on the cross. The essence of loving is giving. The degree of love is measured partly by the costliness of the gift to the giver, and partly by the worthiness or unworthiness of the beneficiary. The more the gift costs the giver, and the less the recipient deserves it, the greater the love is seen to be. Whenever sin and death are coupled in Scripture, death is the penalty or wage of sin. Therefore the costliness of the gift is Christ’s death in payment for the penalty due our sin. What about the worthiness of the recipients? We for whom God made this costly sacrifice are portrayed by four epithets. First, we are sinners [8], that is, we have departed from the way of righteousness, fallen short of God’s standards and missed the target. Secondly, at just the right time Christ died for the ungodly [6b]. Thirdly, we were God’s enemies [10]. We cherished a deep-seated hostility to God, a resentment of His authority. The context contains references to God’s wrath [9], which is God’s holy hatred of sin; and since the reconciliation between God and us is said to have been received [11], it cannot mean our turning from our hostility, but must refer to God’s reconciling Himself to us. Paul’s fourth descriptive epithet is that we were still powerless [6a], meaning that we were helpless to rescue ourselves. The unique majesty of God’s love lies in the combination of three factors, namely that when Christ died for us, God (a) was giving Himself, (b) even to the horrors of a sin-bearing death on the cross, and (c) doing so for His undeserving enemies. Objectively in history and subjectively in experience, God has given us good grounds for believing in His love, the integration of the historical ministry of God’s Son (on the cross) with the contemporary ministry of His Spirit (in our hearts) is one of the most wholesome and satisfying features of the gospel.

[9-10]  These verses are notable examples of the familiar New Testament tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’, between what Christ has accomplished at His first coming and what remains to be done at His second, between our past and our future salvation. We have been saved through Christ from the guilt of our sins and from the judgment of God upon them, but we have not yet been delivered from indwelling sin or been given new bodies in the new world. What, then, is the future salvation which Paul has in mind here? He uses two expressions, the first negative and the second positive. First and negatively, we shall be saved from God’s wrath through Christ [9]. Secondly and positively, we shall be saved through His life [10]. We can share His life now, and will share His resurrection on the last day. But how can we be sure of it? It is mainly to answer this question that Paul writes verses 9-10. Both are a fortiori or ‘how much more’ arguments. The basic structure of both is identical, namely that if one thing has happened, much more will something else take place. What, then, has happened to us? The answer is that we have been justified [9] and reconciled [10], both of which are attributed to the cross. So the Judge has pronounced us righteous, and the Father has welcomed us home. In addition, it is essential to Paul’s argument that he stresses the costliness of these things. It was by His blood [9a], shed in a sacrificial death on the cross, that we have been justified, and it was when we were God’s enemies [10a] that we were reconciled to Him. Here then is the logic. If God has already done the difficult thing, can we not trust Him to do the comparatively simple thing of completing the task? If God has accomplished our justification at the cost of Christ’s blood, much more will He save His justified people from His final wrath [9]! Again, if He reconciled us to Himself when we were His enemies, much more will He finish our salvation now that we are His reconciled friends [10]! These are the grounds on which we dare to affirm that we shall be saved.

[11]  Christian exultation in God begins with the shamefaced recognition that we have no claim on Him at all, continues with wondering worship that while we were still sinners and enemies Christ died for us, and ends with the humble confidence that He will complete the work He has begun. It seems clear from this paragraph, then, that the major mark of justified believers is joy, especially joy in God Himself. We should be the most positive people in the world. For the new community of Jesus Christ is characterized not by a self-centered triumphalism but by a God-centered worship.

The Punishment: Romans 5:12-14.

[12]  Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned– [13]  for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. [14]  Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.   [NASU]

In these verses Adam and Christ are introduced. Paul begins with a sentence he never completes. He breaks off his argument in order to explain and justify [13-14] what he has just written [12]. The topic of verse 12 is sin and death, and in it Paul describes three downward steps or deteriorating stages in human history, from one man sinning to all men dying. First, sin entered the world through one man. Paul is not concerned with the origin of evil in general, but only with how it invaded the world of human beings. It entered through one man, that is, through his disobedience. Secondly, death then entered the world through sin. This is an allusion to Genesis 2:17 and 3:19, where death (both physical and spiritual) is said to have been the penalty for disobedience. Thirdly, in this way death came to all men, because all sinned [12]. Paul moves on from the presence of sin and death in one man to their presence in all men. Moreover, he sees a similarity between these two situations. Here then are the three stages: from Adam’s sin to Adam’s death, to universal death due to universal sin. But what is the meaning of the third statement, that death came to all men, because all sinned? In what sense have all sinned so that all die? Grammatically speaking, there are two possible answers to this question. Either all sinned by copying and so repeating Adam’s sin, or all sinned when Adam sinned and were included in his sinning. The first would be a case of imitation (all sinned like Adam), and the second a case of participation (all sinned in and with Adam). The first explanation is usually associated with the name of Pelagius who denied original sin and taught a form of self-salvation. Inheriting Adam’s nature, following Adam’s example, and recapitulating Adam’s story. But is this what Paul meant by writing because all sinned? That is the primary question. And in seeking to answer it, context as well as grammar must be taken into consideration. There are three main arguments. The first concerns the addition of 13-14, in which Paul makes three points. First, before the (Mosaic) law was given, sin was in the world [13a]. Secondly, but sin is not taken into account (i.e. punished) when there is no law [13b]. For where there is no law there is no law to break. So, until the Mosaic law was given and could exercise its role of defining and identifying sin [3:20], sin was not reckoned against sinners. Thirdly, nevertheless death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, that is, throughout the period before the law was given, even over those who did not sin by breaking a (specific, explicit) command, as did Adam [14]. This group of people did not voluntarily and overtly violate an expressly revealed ordinance of God. Yet all died and death is the penalty for sin. There can be only one explanation. All died because all sinned in and through Adam, the representative or federal head of the human race.

The Gift: Romans 5:15-19.

[15]  But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. [16]  The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. [17]  For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. [18]  So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. [19]  For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.    [NASU]

The second argument for this interpretation is the wider context, especially 15-19. Five times in these five verses, once in every verse, Paul states that the trespass or disobedience of one man brought death, judgment or condemnation to all men. Verse 15 clinches the matter: by the transgression of the one the many died. That is, universal death is attributed to a single, solitary sin. The third argument relates to the analogy between Adam and Christ, and between those who are in Adam and those who are in Christ. If death comes to all because they sin like Adam, then by analogy we would have to say that life comes to all because they are righteous like Christ. But that would turn the way of salvation on its head. Charles Hodge was right to say that Paul has been engaged from the beginning of the Epistle in emphasizing one main idea, viz. that the ground of the sinner’s acceptance with God is not in himself, but the merit of Christ. And the correspondence between Christ and Adam must preserve, not destroy, this truth. Instead Paul teaches that as we are condemned on account of what Adam did, so we are justified on account of what Christ did. These three arguments (from the text, the context and the analogy) seem decisively to support the view that ‘all sinned in and through Adam’. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed up the rationale in these words: ‘God has always dealt with mankind through a head and representative. The whole story of the human race can be summed up in terms of what has happened because of Adam, and what has happened and will yet happen because of Christ.’

[15-17]  Adam is the head of the old age, the age of death; Christ is the head of the new age, the age of life. So the structure of each of verses 15-17 embodies a statement that Christ’s gift is either not like Adam’s trespass [15-16] or much more effective than it [15-17]. The differences concern the nature of the two actions [15], their immediate results [16], and their ultimate effects [17]. First, the nature of their actions was different. Adam’s trespass was a fall, a deviation from the path which God had clearly shown him. With it Paul contrasts Christ’s gift, an act of self-sacrifice which bears no resemblance to Adam’s act of self-assertion. It is this enormous disparity which Paul elaborates in the rest of the verse. Secondly, the immediate effect of their actions was different. The emphasis is on the consequence of each action. In the case of Adam God’s judgment brought condemnation; in the case of Christ God’s gift brought justification [16b]. The contrast is absolute. Yet there is more to the antithesis than the two words ‘condemnation’ and ‘justification’. It is that God’s judgment followed only one sin, whereas God’s gift followed many trespasses. The secular mind would have expected many sins to attract more judgment than one sin. But grace operates a different arithmetic. Thirdly, the ultimate effect of the two actions is also different [17]. On the one hand, we are given the stark information that death reigned. On the other hand, we are not told that through Christ ‘life reigned’. The words how much more, together with the reference to God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness, alert us to expect a greater blessing. Even so we are not prepared for what follows, namely that the recipients of God’s abundant grace will themselves reign in life. What Christ has done for us is not just to exchange death’s kingdom for the much more gentle kingdom of life, while leaving us in the position of subjects. Instead, he delivers us from the rule of death so radically as to enable us to change places with it and rule over it, or reign in life.

[18-19]  Verse 18 takes up the immediate results of the work of Adam and Christ, as in verse 16, namely condemnation and justification. Yet the emphasis is on the parallel. Verse 19 takes up the nature of their actions, as in verse 15, though using different language. There it was trespass and gift; here it is disobedience and obedience. The expressions made sinners and made righteous cannot mean that these people actually became morally good or evil, but rather that they were ‘constituted’ legally righteous or unrighteous in God’s sight. Here Paul is describing the doctrine of justification whereby we are declared righteous by God the Judge solely because we are now in Christ and come under His perfect obedience!

Questions for Discussion:

1.         How is the degree of love measured? What four epithets does Paul use to describe our unworthiness [5:6-11]? How does the Cross show the unique majesty of God’s love?

2.         What does Paul mean by because all sinned in verse 12?

3.         Describe how Paul compares and contrasts Adam with Christ in 5:15-19. What does Paul mean by ‘in Adam’ and ‘in Christ’? What is true about us because we are ‘in Adam’; because we are ‘in Christ’?


The Epistle to the Romans, John Murray, Eerdmans.

The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Romans, John Stott, Intervarsity.

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