How God Proves His Love

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Romans 5:6-8

If I say “I love you,” how do you know that I really love you? In the Bible God says that He loves us. But how do we really know?

When it comes to love, as with so many other things, actions speak louder than words. You want to show how you really feel about me – never mind the profuse declarations of undying passion. The real question is: How do you treat me? What do you do for me? What are you willing to sacrifice in order to meet my need? Jesus often defined love in the beautiful words of the King James Version. This is what he said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That’s the ultimate in love which, of course, Jesus himself did. So the real measure of love is not words but deeds. And this is supremely true with respect to the love of God.

This is God’s Word to us today: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Or to put it more simply: “The measure, the demonstration, the evidence of God’s love is the cross” which here means that Paul is simply echoing John, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The key word in that most famous of texts is the littlest one, the shortest one. It’s the word “so.” What John 3:16 is really about is the measure of God’s love. How much does God love? God loves so much that he gave this – he gave his only Son in order to save all who believe in him. So if love is measured by deeds and not by words, then the love of God for us is infinite. God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

But it’s not quite that simple. It seems like a simple enough statement. But as you think about it, think it through, probe a little deeper, you discover that beneath the surface there lurks all sorts of, well, theology. This is Romans, after all. And what sounds at first like a feel-good statement, “God loves me. God loves me a lot,” ends up being a think-hard statement.

What does this imply? As you dig deeper through the layers of this simple-sounding statement, you end up stumbling across the foundation of the whole book of Romans, which is to say, the whole of biblical theology.

Let me show you what I mean. Just take that statement pared down to its simple terms, “God shows his love. God demonstrates or proves his love in that Christ died for us.” Well, fine. But God proves his love by having Christ die? Which is to say: “A” demonstrates his love for “B” by sending “C” to make the sacrifice, the ultimate? Wouldn’t it be more meaningful if “A” went himself? How does it show love for somebody if I make another person pay the price that love demands?

Suddenly we find ourselves smack in the middle of New Testament Christology. Who is Christ after all? If Jesus is what most non-Christians think him to be, merely a good man, even a great and good man, a great prophet, then how does his death for humankind demonstrate God’s love? If that’s the case, then this verse is simply nonsense. But instead, we find ourselves drawn inevitably into a process that would lead the church ultimately to Nicea and the Nicean Creed with its formulation of Jesus Christ, “fully God, fully man, very God of very God,” and all the rest.

And not only that, the doctrine of the Trinity isn’t very far away either. The truth, that in all of his works, the triune God is at work which disposes of the crude caricature that salvation is a matter of a loving son persuading his hostile, angry father not to zap poor sinners. No, it is Father, Son and Spirit together, out of love and pure grace, engaged in this great work of love for us. It’s all there beneath the surface.

Or another question, “How does God demonstrate or prove his love by having Christ die? Paul never said that God demonstrated his love by sending Christ into the world, by the incarnation, by having him become one of us. It wasn’t through his life that God ultimately proved the depth of his love. It wasn’t by his incomparable works of mercy and his magnificent teaching. No, it was by his death.

How does death prove love? Well, only if it is both necessary and unavoidable, if it’s the only possible way to save the life of the beloved. To say to you, “I love you so much I’m going to kill myself to prove it” isn’t love. That’s just sick. The death must be more than a mere gesture. The death has to have something inevitable, unavoidable, no other way about it, in order to be the ultimate proof of love.

The soldier who sacrifices himself in order to save his comrade because it’s the only way they can escape – that proves love. The mother caught in the tornado who shields her child with her own body – that proves love.

Christ’s death was no mere empty gesture. It wasn’t simply an inevitable part of his becoming human, of the genuine human experience that he had to go through. No, it’s the reason he became genuinely human in order to die. It was the person of it all. That’s why Paul says, “It is the ultimate expression and proof of God’s love for us.”

So there it is, I’m afraid, the whole of evangelical theology, all here and in the surrounding verses – the blood, the sacrifice, the atonement, justification through faith, reconciliation, enemies of God, lost sinners being brought back into salvation through his sacrifice once for all on the cross. All of it, the whole crude ball of wax. In other words, the gospel.

And there’s one last thing. God shows his love in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. In fact, that could be argued as being Paul’s primary point in this verse. His argument is really an argument by contrast, yes, to die when death is the only way is the ultimate proof of love. Sometimes on rare and memorable occasions we are capable, some of us, of such a sacrifice, but God does it for sinners. The soldier offers his life in combat for his comrade, closer to him than any brother. The mother does it for her child, precious and beloved beyond anything in the world, but God does it for his enemies. God does it for the ungodly, for sinners, for unlovely, undeserving, unwilling human beings.

And maybe about now you’re saying, “All right. Knock it off. I’ve had enough of that ungodly sinner stuff. I didn’t come here to be insulted.” Well, you know, those are not my words. The fact is that God’s love is for sinners and only for sinners. “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Those that are whole have no need of a physician.

One of my new favorite preachers is Fleming Rutledge, an Episcopalian from New York City. In one of her sermons, she says of this text, Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us.” She says simply this, “I recognize myself in that word sinner.” And so do I. Do you?

Here we are, classy East Coast Episcopal preachers, outwardly respectable Reformed Church radio ministers, well-dressed middle and upper- middle-class Grand Rapidians, sinners all. Beneath the surface, liars, thieves, gluttons, drunks, adulterers, idolaters, you name it.

I sometimes amuse myself, that’s not quite the right word, by going through the seven deadly sins and trying to figure out if I’m free of any of them, you know, pride, lust, anger, envy, all the rest. And I never come up missing a single one of them. Sinners all. And all beloved. Loved by God. I can’t help but believe in God. I’ve monkeyed around occasionally trying not to believe in God but I can’t help it. To me the thing that’s difficult is imagining that God believes in me, that he loves me, that he loves you. It’s an astounding thing. It is the gospel. And the only way I can think of, maybe the only way in the world there is, to miss out on that love is to refuse to see yourself in that word sinner. Amen.