The Demonstration of God's Love

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Romans 5:6-11

If you really love someone, you can tell them so in words, but the message is more powerful if you demonstrate your love by your actions.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 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! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 5:6-11 NIV

In the opening verses of Romans 5 Paul summarizes the gospel this way: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1-2). This statement caps off the apostle’s argument in the preceding four chapters. Human beings, who were created good and upright by God, who were made not only by God but like God and for God, have rejected God because they preferred to be God for themselves. As a result, the rebellion of his creatures has called forth God’s judgment, leaving all people cut off from fellowship with God and hopelessly incapable of justifying themselves – making themselves right with God – by their own efforts.

So things look bleak for the human race. God cannot forgive sin justly unless he punishes it. He can’t punish sin except by death; no lesser penalty will satisfy. The problem arises from the two most basic attributes of God’s nature. He is both holy and loving, both good and gracious. If God were not good, he could simply ignore sin as if it didn’t matter. Of course, the universe would then be a place of moral chaos where right and wrong had no meaning, and God himself would be a monster. Or, if he were not loving, God could simply destroy everyone and everything without another thought. Of course, then we should all perish everlastingly. But because God is both loving and just, he is faced with the dilemma of how to save sinners without compromising his character. The problem seems insoluble. How can God deal with sin without denying either his holiness or his mercy? But the gospel is the announcement of God’s marvelous solution. It comes with the good news about God’s plan of salvation, and at the very center of this plan is the death of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.

THE DEATH OF CHRIST

Christianity has a number of symbols, but the most important one has always been the cross. Most people have become accustomed to it, so it doesn’t strike them as unusual, but the cross really is a very odd choice indeed as a symbol of anything. In the first-century world the cross was the primary instrument of execution for the worst sort of criminals. Imagine choosing as your new company logo a hangman’s gibbet or an electric chair! Would that attract potential customers? It must have been a powerful impulse that drove the first Christians to embrace the cross as their symbol because it’s hard to imagine a more repulsive image. The cross speaks of death, and not any death but a violent and shameful death. Its wordless message is about pain and blood and humiliation and the curse of the law.

But, of course, that was exactly what made it so appropriate, because authentic Christianity centers on the suffering and death of Jesus. The cross serves to focus our attention on Christ’s death, the critical component in the whole marvelous plan of God’s saving grace. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 5:

It was while we were still helpless that, at the appointed time, Christ died for the wicked. Even for a just man one of us would hardly die, though perhaps for a good man one might actually brave death; but Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that is God’s proof of his love towards us. And so, since we have now been justified by Christ’s sacrificial death, we shall all the more certainly be saved through him from final retribution. For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, now that we have been reconciled, shall we be saved by his life! But that is not all: we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus, through whom we have now been granted reconciliation.

Rom. 5:6-11, REB

This paragraph is about the meaning of Christ’s death. Many deaths, especially those of the young, we say are tragic and senseless. But we never speak of Christ’s death this way. It was meaningful, in the deepest sense of the word. Paul explains its meaning by telling us that Christ’s death is the demonstration of God’s love. Maybe you have heard the saying: “Actions speak louder than words.” That’s especially true when it comes to love. You can say you love someone, but the way you treat them is the real proof of your feelings. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, nrsv). If sacrificing one’s own advantage in order to serve another’s good is the real measure of love, then making the ultimate sacrifice for someone would be the ultimate in love. And this is exactly what Jesus has done for us; he laid down his life for us.

THE DEMONSTRATION OF GOD’S LOVE

But look carefully: what the Bible actually says is “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). Now that doesn’t seem to make any sense. How can I demonstrate my love for you by having somebody else die for you? No, the only way it makes sense is if Christ and God are somehow the same, if Christ is really God, if when Christ died, it was God who actually died. And that is what actually happened. God demonstrates the length and height and breadth of his love by coming into our world in the person of his Son Jesus Christ and offering his life for us. Think of it! exclaims Paul. Sometimes through great love one person will dare to die for another who seems worthy of such a sacrifice. But Christ died, not for good and lovely people, but “for the wicked” (v. 6, neb), “while we were still sinners” (v. 8). And he did so at just the right time, when we were powerless to help ourselves. Something had to be done, but we couldn’t do it. Christ did it for us, thereby showing the whole world just how much God loves us.

So the fact that Christ died for us is the strongest proof of God’s love for us. But Christ’s death was even more than just a demonstration of God’s love; it was a saving act. Indeed, if it wasn’t more than a demonstration, an extravagant gesture, then it wasn’t even that. We must ask ourselves: Why did Christ have to die in order to show God’s love? There had to be some necessity involved, because dying for another when you don’t have to doesn’t show love at all. Imagine someone saying to you: “I love you so much I’m going to kill myself to prove it” (that actually happens sometimes). It would fill us with horror. Suicide demonstrates sickness, not love. But now imagine that you were condemned to death, and another person, out of love, offered to die in your place. That too has happened in the real world. What love that would be, and how great a debt you would feel! But there would have to be a real necessity; your life would truly have to be at stake, and your substitute’s death would have to be the only way out for you.

JUSTIFICATION AND RECONCILIATION

That is exactly how it was when Christ died for us. There was an inescapable necessity about it. He had to die to save us. Why? Paul gives two reasons. First, verse 9 says, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (niv). The term blood suggests the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death. Jesus’ death on the cross was a necessity because it was the perfect offering for sin which satisfied the justice of God. On the cross Christ atoned for sin, not his own, for he was sinless, but the sins of all who put their trust in him. That is what it means to be “justified by [Christ’s] blood.” Perhaps you’re thinking: All this talk of blood and wrath and atonement sounds terribly primitive and savage. Can’t we just believe in a God who is kind to everybody and forgives without all this sacrifice business? You’re free, of course, to believe in any kind of God you want, but the God revealed in the Bible is a God who cannot indulge his love at the expense of his righteousness, and who therefore cannot forgive unless he justifies, and who cannot justify without atoning. We must not imagine that his wrath is arbitrary or selfish or emotional like ours. No, it is holy and pure. Nor must we forget that, if God insists on a sacrifice of atonement, he also makes it himself. He pays in full the terrible price. There’s nothing we can do really to pay for our own sin. It’s not our religion, it’s not our good works, it’s not our offerings to God that atone. No, it is God’s own offering of himself. And that is why Christ’s death is such a demonstration of the love of God.

The second reason Christ’s death was necessary is that it reconciles us to God (see vv. 10-11). If the imagery surrounding the idea of justification makes us think of courtrooms and judicial sentences, then reconciliation is a social word suggesting personal relationships. We’ve all experienced reconciliation, or at least the need for it. You quarrel with someone, a friend or perhaps a member of your family. Offense is given and taken; hostility arises; estrangement sets in. You can no longer be together; your fellowship has been broken, and the relationship which once brought you such delight, such pleasure of love and friendship, now produces only discomfort. But then something happens. Someone makes a move to repair the breach by an act of love and reconciliation occurs. Forgiveness is extended and received, the pain is healed, and the joy of a restored relationship is ours once more.

That is what Christ’s death has done for us. We were God’s enemies, but the cross brings us back together again in a restored relationship. When the Canadian missionary Don Richardson was working among stone-age people in Irian Jaya, he witnessed a remarkable ceremony. Two feuding tribes, on the verge of a deadly war, were reconciled when one offered the gift of a baby, called a “Peace-Child,” to the other. Jesus is the divine peace child whose death reconciles us to God.

HOW MUCH MORE . . .

Paul closes with an exciting thought. You see, Christ isn’t dead. It’s true that Christ died once, long ago, and his death does all these wonderful things for us, but today Jesus is alive! He rose from the grave, he returned physically to heaven, and he has sent his Spirit to live in the hearts of his followers. And if his death has both justified us with God and reconciled us to God, how much more will his life, in which we also share through faith, deliver us from future judgment and bring us joy right now in our fellowship with God! Do you know that joy yourself? You can. You can not only receive the benefits of Christ’s death, you can also share in his life when you put your faith in him. Do you realize how much God loves you? He loves you so much he gave his only Son for you, so that, believing in him you might not perish but have eternal life. Accept that love today, right now!