One Great Savior
The Point: God offers us hope and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
The Ground of Hope: Romans 5:6-11.
 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. [ESV]
“God’s Love Commended [6-8]. Romans 5:6-8 speak about the love that God has for us. The greatness of this love, which is mentioned here in Romans for the very first time, is an uplifting and positive theme. It is brought into the argument at this point to assure us that all who have been justified by faith in Christ have been saved because of God’s love for them and that nothing will ever be able to separate them from it. This is the climax to which we will also come at the end of Romans 8. Nothing could be more positive or more edifying than this theme. Yet Paul’s statement of the nature, scope, and permanence of God’s love is placed against the black backdrop of human sin, and rightly so. For, as Paul tells us: God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us . How can we appreciate or even understand that statement without speaking about the evil natures of those whom God has thus loved? This is a very practical matter for two reasons. First, since Paul is describing the love of God against the dark background of human sin, he is saying that it is only against this background that we are able to form a true picture of how great the love of God is. In other words, if we think (as many do) that God loves us because we are somehow quite lovely or desirable, our appreciation of the love of God will be reduced by just that amount. The second point is this: If we think we deserve God’s love, we cannot ever really be secure in it, because we will always be afraid that we may do something to lessen or destroy the depth of God’s love for us. It is only those who know that God has loved them in spite of their sin who can trust Him to continue to show them favor. I begin with Paul’s description of the people God loves and has saved, and I ask you to notice the four powerful words used to portray them, three in the passage we are studying and one additional word in verse 10. They are powerless (weak), ungodly, sinners, and enemies. It is important to know that we are all rightly described by each of these words. 1. Powerless. This word is translated in a variety of ways in our Bible versions: weak, helpless, without strength, feeble, sluggish in doing right, and so on. Only the strongest terms will do in this context, since the idea is that, left to ourselves, none of us is able to do even one small thing to please God or achieve salvation. What specifically were we unable to do? We were unable to understand spiritual things [1 Cor. 2:14]. We were unable to see the kingdom of God or enter it [John 3:3,5]. We were unable to seek God [Rom. 3:11]. Paul elsewhere describes this inability vividly when he says that before God saved us we were dead in the trespasses and sins [Eph. 2:1]. That is, we were no more able to respond to or seek God than a corpse is able to respond to stimuli of any kind. 2. Ungodly. This word conveys the same idea Paul expressed at the beginning of his description of the race in its rebellion against God: the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth [Rom. 1:18]. In these verses, ungodly and ungodliness mean not so much that human beings are unlike God (though that is also true), but that in addition they are in a state of fierce opposition to Him. God is sovereign, but they oppose Him in His sovereignty. They do not want Him to rule over them; they want to be free to do as they please. God is holy, and they oppose Him in His holiness. This means that they do not accept his righteous and proper moral standards; they do not want their sinful acts and desires to be called into question. God is omniscient, and they oppose Him for His omniscience. They are angry that He knows them perfectly, that nothing they think or do is hidden from His sight. They also oppose Him for His immutability, since immutability means that God does not change in these or any of His other attributes. 3. Sinners. Sinners describes those who have fallen short of God’s standards, as Romans 3:23 says: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God [Rom. 3:23]. It means that we have broken God’s law and in this sense is probably parallel to the word unrighteousness in Romans 1:18. 4. Enemies. The final word Paul uses to describe human beings apart from the supernatural work of God in their lives is enemies. This summarizes what has been said by the first three terms, but it also goes beyond that. It affirms that we are opposed to God in the sense that we would attack Him and destroy Him if we could. What a terrible picture of humanity! Yet it is only against this background that we see the brightness of God’s love. Any contrast has two sides, of course, and thus far we have looked only at one side. We have looked at the dark side: ourselves. Now we will look at the bright side: God’s side. And here we note that God did not merely reach out to give us a helping hand, but that He actually sent His beloved Son to die for us. There is a further contrast, too, as Paul brings these great ideas together and compares what God has done in dying for sinners with what human beings might themselves do in certain circumstances. Paul points out that , while a human being might be willing to give his life for a righteous or, better yet, a morally superior person under certain circumstances, Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, which is the precise opposite of being good, or righteous. Isn’t it astounding that God should need to commend His love to us? We are told in the Bible, though we should know it even without being told, that all good gifts come from God’s hands [James 1:17]. It is from God that we receive life and health, food and clothing, love from and fellowship with other people, and meaningful work. These blessings should prove the love of God beyond any possibility of our doubting it. Yet we do doubt it. We are insensitive to God’s love, and God finds it necessary to commend His love by reminding us of the death of His Son. So it is at the cross that we see the love of God in its fullness. What a great, great love this is!
Full Salvation [9-11]. There are some principles for Bible interpretation that Paul frequently used in his writings. One refers to a form of arguing in which, if a lesser thing is true, a greater thing must clearly be true also. A second principal related to the first argument is the opposite, an argument from the greater to the lesser. It argues that if something great is true, then something lesser in the same category will obviously be true also. Paul uses this principle twice in these verses. First in verse 9: Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. And second in verse 10: 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. Each of these arguments is based upon things God has already done for us through the death of Christ. They are great works: justification on the one hand, and reconciliation on the other. They are so great that they are used by God to commend His love to us, as Paul stated earlier in verse 8. But if God has already done such great works on our behalf, justifying us in Christ when we were ungodly and reconciling us to Himself when we were His enemies, God will obviously continue His work in the lesser task of seeing us through life and through the final judgment. When we look at verse 9, we have a tendency to think that we have already heard everything this verse has to teach. After all, wrath is the term we began with back in Romans 1:18, and the doctrine of justification was developed fully and compellingly in Romans 3. Besides, Romans 5:9 seems to be almost an identical repeat of verse 1 of this chapter. It is true, of course, that this is the first time we have encountered the word saved in the letter. But what have we been talking about all this time if it has not been salvation? To understand what is happening we have to realize that saved is used in at least three different ways in the Bible, in three different tenses. Sometimes it refers to something past, at other times to something present, sometimes to things yet to come. It is important to see that it is the future sense of salvation that Paul speaks about in verse 9. He is thinking of the judgment to come and is saying that because we have already been justified by God on the basis of the death of Christ, we can be certain of being saved from the outpouring of God’s wrath in the final day. Paul argues that if God has already justified us on the basis of Jesus’ atoning death, if God has already pronounced His verdict, any verdict rendered at the final judgment will be only a confirming formality. Arguing from the greater to the lesser is even more apparent in verse 10 where Paul speaks of reconciliation. While we were enemies (weak, ungodly, sinners [6,8] God reconciled us to Himself by the death of his Son. Reconcile means to remove the grounds of hostility and transform the relationship, changing it from one of enmity to one of friendship. In our case, as Paul has shown earlier, it meant taking us out of the category of enemies and bringing us into God’s family as privileged sons and daughters. If God did that for us while we were enemies, Paul reasons, He is certainly going to save us from the final outpouring of His wrath on the day of judgment, now that we are family members. If God has done the greater thing, He will do the lesser. If He has saved us while we were enemies, He will certainly save us as friends. The last verse of this section, which also marks the end of the first half of Romans 5, says that now, having been reconciled to God, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ . There is a sense in which this idea returns us to where we started out, since the first sentence of Romans 5 speaks of just such a rejoicing: we rejoice in hope of the glory of God . But careful reading will show that the object of our rejoicing is not the same in both cases. In verse 2, our rejoicing is in hope of the glory of God. That is, it is in our glorification. Knowing that we are going to be glorified is a cause of great joy for us. However, in verse 11, the object of our rejoicing is not our glorification, important as that is, but God Himself who will accomplish it. And, of course, of the two ideas the second is obviously the greater. To rejoice in God is the greatest of all human activities. What exactly shall we rejoice in, if we are to rejoice in God? We can rejoice in any one of all of His attributes. Our passage suggests these. 1. God’s wisdom. We can marvel at a wisdom so great as to be able to save weak, ungodly, sinful enemies. The question is: How can God save sinners without ignoring or otherwise condoning their sin? How can He be both just and the justifier of the ungodly? The answer is: through Christ, through His death for us. But we would not have known this or even have been able to suggest it by ourselves. It took the wisdom of the all-wise God to devise such a plan of salvation. 2. God’s grace. Grace is usually defined as God’s favor to the undeserving. But we rejoice in God’s grace because, in our case, grace is favor not merely to the undeserving but to those who actually deserve the opposite. What do enemies deserve, after all? They deserve defeat and destruction. God did not treat us that way, however. Rather, He saved us through the work of Christ. 3. God’s power. We often forget God’s power when we think about salvation, reserving this theme for when we contemplate creation. But the Scripture speaks of God’s power being displayed preeminently at the cross. The power of God was revealed at the cross when Satan’s power over us was broken. We rejoice in God’s power when we think of the cross, as well as in His other attributes. 4. God’s love. There are a number of attributes of God that may be learned from nature, chiefly, His power and wisdom, and perhaps His grace. But the only place we can learn of God’s love is at the cross. Perhaps that is why this attribute is the only one explicitly developed in our passage: But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us . It is when we look to the cross that we begin to understand what love is and how much God has loved us. 5. God’s immutability. While in our unregenerate state we may hate God for His unchanging nature, in our regenerate state we find this something to rejoice in, since it means that God will not waver in His love and favor toward us. Having loved us and having sent the Lord Jesus Christ to save us from our sin, God will not now somehow suddenly change His mind and cast us off. His love, grace, wisdom, and other attributes will always remain as they have been, because He is immutable. Paul’s last description of the believer in this section is we also rejoice in God. But do we rejoice? Have we actually come as far as Paul assumes we have in verse 11? Honesty compels us to admit that often we do not rejoice in God. Why is that? D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives a number of reasons. Three of his reasons are as follows: 1. A failure to grasp the truth of justification by faith only. 2. A failure to meditate as we ought, that is, a failure to think about what we do know. 3. A failure to draw the necessary conclusions from the Scriptures. I do not know if these are your failures or whether there is some other hindrance in your case. But whatever the cause, anything that keeps us from rejoicing in God is inappropriate and should be overcome by us. I challenge you to think about these great truths, meditate upon them, learn how great the love, power, wisdom, and grace of God toward you are. Then glory in God, as those who have known God throughout the long ages of human history have done before you. It will make a profound difference in your life, and you will be a blessing to others.” [Boice, pp. 535-550].
Questions for Discussion:
1. What four terms does Paul use to describe the people God loves and has saved? Discuss what these four terms are saying about us. Why is it essential that we have a correct understanding of our sinful condition before we can properly appreciate God’s love for us?
2. Contrast the Christian’s past [6,8,10] with the present and future [9,11]. How is the security of the Christian related to the much more in verses 9-10? Meditate on the security that Jesus’ death gives us whenever you are tempted to doubt God’s love for you.
3. What is the object of our rejoicing in verse 11? In this passage what five attributes of God does Boice suggest that we are to rejoice in? Practice this week meditating on and rejoicing in what these five attributes mean to you.
Romans, vol. 1, James Boice, Baker.
Romans, Thomas Schreiner, Baker.
Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity.
The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.