The Amazing Benefits of Justification (Part 3)

Romans 5:1-11

Tom Pennington  •  February 19, 2017
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This week as I was meditating on Romans 5, and the passage we come to today, I was reminded of the fact that human love is almost always based at least in part on something about the person that we choose to love. I chose to love my wife because of who she is, because of those qualities that I saw and still see in her. I love my children because they're my children and because again, of who they are and what I see in their characters and in their lives. This is how human love typically works. Even when we choose to love those who are not entirely lovable there is still often something about that person on which our choice is conditioned. I think perhaps the one exception to this normal human pattern may be when a couple chooses to adopt an orphan based solely on that child's needs, sometimes even unseen and unmet.

I think that's the closest we can get to trying to understand what it was like for God to choose to love us. And yet even that human comparison falls short because our situation was so much worse than that of an orphan. Because there was absolutely nothing desirable about us. Scripture is very clear that there was nothing in us that God found attractive. There was nothing in us God found desirable. There was nothing in us that pulled out, that motivated His love. We were instead, in biblical terms, completely unlovable, we were rebels against God, we were repulsive to God in our sin and He in His perfect holiness, we were antagonistic to God, in fact, we were His enemies, and according to Ephesians 2, we deserved His eternal wrath. And yet, for reasons solely in God, He chose to love us. Not because of who we are, not because of some quality He saw in us, but solely because of Himself.

Now, let's just admit that none of us has ever known love like that except from God's love. And so, it is hard for us to even begin to comprehend it, it is so foreign to our experience. I'll admit to you this morning that I feel woefully inadequate. I feel that I, in my own understanding of this passage, and in what I intend to share with you, to have merely scratched the surface of what we ought to understand about the love of God. But, with God's help, we're coming to Romans 5 and here we are learning through the inspiration of the Spirit, the illumination of the Spirit, about God's love for us.

Now, just to remind you that in the first four chapters of this letter Paul completes his explanation of justification, and having completed that explanation, he begins chapter 5 verse 1, "Therefore," in light of all that I have explained to you about justification, "having been justified by faith," he says I am writing to you who have already experienced the reality I've described in the first four chapters. Then, in the rest of the paragraph that begins in Romans 5:1 and runs down through verse 11, Paul lays out for us the immediate benefits of justification. Specifically, he identifies seven benefits that come along with our justification and that are the current possession of every believer. And God intends, listen carefully, God intends that these benefits, these blessings be a source of joy and comfort and peace and security and assurance for you Christian. That's the whole point of this section we're studying together. And so, he intends for them to be a source of blessing in your life.

Now, so far we have uncovered several of these benefits that come along with justification. First of all, in verse 1 we learned that we have peace with God, the war's over, we're no longer His enemies, we've been reconciled to Him. Secondly, in verse 2 we learned that we stand in God's grace, that rather than standing under His wrath, our position is now one of standing in grace. He showers us with goodness we don't deserve. Thirdly, because of our justification we hope in God's glory. That is, in the biblical term hope, not the English term. In other words, we live in joyful, certain anticipation of both seeing God's glory, what theologians call the beatific vision, and of sharing God's glory. That is, of being like Jesus Christ in our moral characters. Fourthly, we discovered that we rejoice in our trials. In verses 3 and 4, because we've been justified, now even the troubles of this life have meaning, God is using them for our spiritual benefit, and we unpacked those verses the last time we studied this passage together.

Now, last time we began but did not finish our study of a fifth benefit of justification and it's this, we are confident of God's love, we are confident of God's love. We see this in verses 5 through 8. In fact, look at verse 5. Here is a transition between his fourth point and his fifth point, kind of a hinge here, "hope does not disappoint," that hope that we have of seeing and sharing God's glory, "because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Paul says, in light of our justification we are confident of God's love for us, because God has revealed His love to us directly.

At the moment of salvation the Spirit acted on our souls to convince us of God's love for us. It was a direct immediate assurance given to us by the Holy Spirit, given to every Christian. He poured this confidence of God's love for us into our souls so that we now cry out "Abba! Father!" But how exactly did the Spirit do this? I want to be clear because I have said to you often and I'll say it again, the Holy Spirit never works in our lives apart from the Word of God. He always works and in through the Scripture. So when I say at the moment of salvation the Spirit revealed to you God's love for you, it's not like He did that outside the Scripture. It's not like at the moment of salvation the Spirit whispered in your ear, "God loves you." No, instead He, as He always does, worked in and through the Word of God. In this case, through the gospel message itself.

At the very heart of the gospel is a message about God's love. The most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." At the very heart of the gospel message that you heard, on that day you came to Christ, and believed, was God's love for you. And the Holy Spirit used that word, contained in the gospel message, to convince you of God's love. And it was because of that He drew you to Himself. Through that message the Spirit convinced us of God's love.

Now, having said that, next Paul goes on in this context here to describe the nature of God's love for us. And this is really the text on which I want us to focus this morning, verses 6 through 8. Here we discover the nature of God's love for us, that the Spirit has convinced us of, notice for 6,

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

That paragraph may well be the greatest paragraph in Scripture explaining and extolling the love of God for us. And I have to confess to you, I am confident I will not do it justice this morning. And yet, I want to understand it better and I want you to understand it better, so let's look at it together.

First of all, we learned last time that God's love is unconditional. It's unconditional. I don't mean that in the, sort of, contemporary popular way it's used. Here's what I mean. In eternity past when God set His love on you, it was not because of any condition in you. It's not that God looked down through the corridors of time, saw you, saw the kind of person you are, and was attracted to you, or saw something in you that caused Him to want to redeem you. When in time, God demonstrated His love by sending His Son to live and to die in your place, it still was not conditioned on anything in you. Instead, all that motivated God to love you was His own choice and His own character.

This is a really humbling reality. I really want you to think about this a moment. God loves you and the only reason God loves you is because He loves you, because He decided to, completely apart from what you deserve, completely apart from anything in you. He simply set His love on you. Paul drives this point home by making it clear that Christ died for us when we were the absolute worst of people. Notice in verse 6, we were morally helpless. In verse 6 he goes on to say we were "ungodly." And in verse 8, we were "sinners." So, clearly God's love for us was not conditioned on anything in us. It was conditioned solely on His own sovereign choice.

Now, that's where we left off last time, but there's something else we learn about the nature of God's love in this passage. Secondly, we learn that God's love for us is eternal; it is eternal. Notice that in spite of what we were, verse 6 says, "at just the right time," that's a fascinating expression, "at just the right time Christ died for [us] the ungodly." In other words, the death of Jesus Christ was not a divine afterthought, it was always part of the divine plan of redemption. Galatians 4:4 says, "when the fullness of time had come," that is, when everything was just right in the divine time table, "God sent forth His Son, to be born of a woman." Mark 10:45, Jesus says of Himself, "the Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many." This is why I came, this was the plan, Jesus says. The death of Christ wasn't an accident, it was premeditated by God Himself.

This is what the apostles underscore in their early words in the book of Acts. In Acts 2, Peter, on the day of Pentecost, verse 23, speaking of Jesus, says, "this Man was delivered over by the pre-determined plan and foreknowledge of God." In Acts 4:28, the apostles are praying and they mention Herod and Pilate, the Jews and the Gentiles, and they say in their prayer, "Father, they did to Your Son only whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur." The death of Christ was always the divine plan.

And in fact, it was so much a part of the divine plan that in the mind of God it was as if Jesus died before anything was. It's as if Christ was slain from eternity. There are several passages that hint at this. One of them is Revelation 13:8 which refers to those whose names were "written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain." God was so much committed to the death of Christ that it's as if that death had already occurred so that He could write the names of those who would believe in His Son and in His death before the world ever was.

Now, what this means is that God's love for us is eternal. Do you understand? God has always loved you. Psalm 103:17, "the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting," eternity past, "to everlasting," eternity future, "on those who fear Him." To Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 31:3, God says, "'I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with love to myself.'" In Ephesians 1:4-5, Paul says, "The Father chose us in Christ," we're talking about election here, sovereign election, "The Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him." What motivated God to choose us before the foundation of the world? "In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself." What I want you to see is God's love for you had no beginning and it has no end.

You see, we can't think of God's love like our love. Our love is fickle and impulsive, and sadly, even subject to change, but God's love is unchangeable and eternal. Do you understand that whenever God began to think about creating in eternity past, whenever God began to think about creating you, from the very first moment, believer, He thought about you, He loved you? Lloyd Jones writes, "Even before the world was made, God knew about us and was interested in us, and our names were entered in His book of life. He has loved us with an everlasting love. There is no greater proof of the love of God toward us than the fact that He was aware of us and had chosen us before the foundation of the world. It was planned that Christ should die for us before we ever lived."

God's love is an eternal love. Let this settle into your minds. Think with me for a moment about what this means. It means that in eternity past God loved you. Long before you were born, in fact, before God created the universe, before there was time and space and matter, when there was absolutely nothing but the being of God, He already knew you, He had already decided to create you, to redeem you, to adopt you, to love you. There was never a time when your name came into the mind of God that He did not love you. Every moment of your life here God has loved you.

At the moment of your conception, when you came into being, when God created the life that is yours, He loved you. When you were developing in your mother's womb, He loved you. On the day of your birth, He loved you. He loved you when you were a newborn, when you were an infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager, when you came to your adult years. He loved you even through all of those years that you were His enemy and did not know Him. He loved you on the day that He drew you, through the gospel, to Himself. And He has loved you every moment since He saved you. And He will love you to your dying breath.

But it doesn't end there. God will love you throughout eternity future. Listen closely to this, as long as God Himself lives, forever, as long as God Himself lives, there will never be a day, there will never be a moment, there will never be a fraction of a second in the vast ages of eternity, when He will love you less than He loves His one of a kind only Son. God's love for us is from everlasting to everlasting, it is eternal.

A third characteristic of God's love for us is that it is sacrificial. Notice verse 6, "while we were still helpless," morally helpless, "at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." Verse 8, "Christ died for us." Now, in both cases the Greek word translated "for" is a general word. It simply means He died on our behalf, He died for our benefit, without explaining the relationship between His death and us and our sin. There are other places and other words that make the relationship clear. For example, in Mark 10:45, I quoted a moment ago, Jesus said, "the Son of Man has come to give His life a ransom," and our text in the English says, "for many," but it's not the same Greek word "for," it's a different Greek word. It's a word that can only mean one thing, in the place of many. In other words, His death was for our benefit in the sense that He died as our substitute.

Now, Paul didn't need to explain it more fully here because he's already explained it. Go back to chapter 3. Chapter 3, you remember, as he unfolds the gospel and justification by faith alone, in verse 24 he says we are "justified," we're declared right with God, "as a gift" that God gives the sinner motivated by "His grace" and it's accomplished "through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." The word redemption here is a general word which speaks of Christ by His death making a payment to God to free us from God's justice, from what our sins deserve. But then he explains more specifically in verse 25 how Christ died for us. He says, "God publicly displayed Jesus as a propitiation in His blood." Here's how he died for us, He died to satisfy the just anger of God against our sin. "He bore in His body our sins upon the cross," Peter says. He was the perfect sacrifice for sins.

This is the message of Scripture. Last week John MacArthur took us through Isaiah 53, last Sunday night. In verse 10 of Isaiah 53 it says that the Messiah who would come would "render Himself as a guilt offering to God," that was why He died for us. Or the way John the Baptist puts it in John 1:29, he sees Jesus coming and he points Jesus out and he says, "'Behold, the Lamb of God who picks up and carries off the sin of the world!'" Or the way Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 5:7, he says, "Christ our Passover has been sacrificed." Christ is like our Passover lamb who has been slain so that we can live, so the death angel passes us by. Because the Father loved you, He sacrificed His Son as a guilt offering to pay for your sin. What an amazing demonstration of divine love.

You know, sometimes Christians get the idea, because we sing about Jesus' love a lot, we get the idea that yes, Jesus loves me and He died for me, and they get the mistaken idea that He is now in the presence of the Father trying desperately to convince the Father to accept us. Nothing could be farther from the biblical presentation of the gospel. Listen, God in his triune being created this plan, the Father initiated the plan, the Father, because of His love for you, was willing to offer His own unique Son. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself," and it cost Him His one of a kind Son to redeem you. His love is sacrificial.

A fourth characteristic of God's love is that it is radical, it's radical. Paul contrasts God's love for us with the very best of human love. Look at verse 7. Here's what human love looks like, "For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would even dare to die." Now, there are two ways to understand the relationship between the first half of that verse and the second half of that verse, between the righteous man in the first half and the good man in the second half. One view, one interpretation says there's no difference, we're talking about the same person. Now, this view says that Paul at first says, you know, it's very uncommon, very unusual for a man to give his life for another human being who's either respectable or good. Then he adds, in the second half of the verse, but I'm not saying it never happens, it does happen. That's one view of verse 7.

A second view of verse 7 says that the righteous man and the good man are two different kinds of people, and I'm inclined to think this is what Paul means here. This second view says, in the first half of the verse Paul's saying, listen it is very, very uncommon that a human being would willingly give up his life for someone he thought of as righteous, not in the sense of biblical righteous, but in the sense of a person who was morally upstanding, a respectable person. It happens, but it's highly unusual. On the other hand, the second half of the verse, this view says, says it's more common for human beings to be willing to die for someone they see as good. That is, someone who calls out their heart, someone on whom they set their affection, someone they love. We understand this. It's not uncommon for people to be willing to sacrifice themselves for someone close to them, that they love and who has their heart.

Last century in England, a story is told that there was a small boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion in order to live. This boy was the right match and he agreed, after having it explained to him, he agreed to do it. They placed the two of them on cots next to each other and they began to take blood from his little body and to pump it into the sick body of his sister. He lay there peacefully until about halfway through the transfusion he looked up at the doctor through sad eyes and he asked this question, "Doctor, how long before I die?" He had mistakenly believed that in giving his blood to his sister he would lose his own life. He thought he was giving his life voluntarily so his sister could live. That's human love.

Christ puts it this way in John 15:13, "'Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life,'" listen to this, "'for his friends.'" That is the pinnacle of human love, a person lays down his or her life for a friend, for someone close, for a fellow soldier, for a sibling, for a spouse, for a child. Now look at verse 7 again, because regardless of which of the two views you take, Paul's point is exactly the same. Here's the point of verse 7, man's love, at its very best, may be willing to give someone's life for a person we love and respect, that happens, but God's love is so much greater.

God's love is radical love because God loved us and sent His Son to die for us, not for the righteous, but for sinners, not for those who are good, but for evil, not for those who were His friends, but those who were His enemies. Human love never willingly lays down its life to save someone who's patently evil. No human being who has any goodness about them is willing to lay down their life for a terrorist. That takes divine love, that takes God's love. He loved us and sent His Son to die for us when we weren't righteous, when we weren't good, when we weren't His friends. It's a radical love.

A fifth characteristic of God's love is that it is categorical, it is categorical. That is, it is definite, it is unquestionable, it is undeniable, it is certain. Notice verse 8, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Now, first of all, who does Paul mean by us here? Well, as I've told you before, and this is a different message for a different time, but I believe Scripture clearly teaches that God loves all men. There is an aspect of God's love that is universal. Of course, there is a special saving, redeeming love reserved for the elect and I think that's what's on display here. In this paragraph Paul isn't talking about all men, he's talking, remember back in verse 1, about the one who's been justified, in verse 2, the one who has peace with God, the one who stands in God's grace, he's talking about Christians in this paragraph.

Christian, God proved His love for us by giving His own Son for us when we were morally helpless ungodly sinners, when we were not righteous, when we were not good, when we were not His friends, when we were His enemies. When that was our condition, notice what verse 8 says, "God demonstrates His own love toward us." The Greek word demonstrates is an interesting word. It means proved, or I like the way one Greek lexicon puts it, "God presented in its true and unmistakable character, His own love toward us."

If you want to know about God's love for you, Christian, go look at the cross. How else could God have demonstrated the depth of His love? What could He have done that would have been clearer? It's interesting too, when you look at that word demonstrates and you see it in English, it's even clear in the original language, the verb is in the present tense, God is demonstrating His own love. Now, Jesus died a couple of decades before Paul wrote this letter to the Romans and, of course, now it's been 2,000 years, and it's still in the present tense. Because Jesus' death on the cross keeps on proving, it keeps on demonstrating the love of God to everyone who will examine it. Scripture everywhere identifies the death of Christ on the cross as the apex, the zenith, the high point of God's love.

In fact, the cross demonstrates God's love in two ways. First of all, Christ's death demonstrated Christ's own love for us. Christ loved you, Christian. Christ, the eternal Son of God, loved you enough to offer His life willingly and voluntarily for you. That's the point, I think, of verses 6 and 7 here in Romans 5. "Christ died for the ungodly." It's what Ephesians 5:2 says, "Christ loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." The cross proves that Jesus loves you, so much that He was willing to go through that for you. And He would have done it, Christian, if you were the only person on the planet he had decided to redeem. He loved you and He gave Himself up for you.

But the Cross doesn't just demonstrate Christ's loves for us, it also demonstrates, secondly, the Father's love for us. I think, clearly that's the point of verse 8, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." God in His triune being, and the Father specifically, was willing to offer His Son for us, proving His love once and forever. Ian Murray has written a little book on this verse called, The Cross, The Pulpit of God's Love. That's exactly right. God preached His Love to you from the cross.

Turn over to chapter 8. Paul comes back to this point, verse 31, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?" Now, watch verse 32, "He," in this case the Father, "The Father did not spare His own Son," His one of a kind unique Son, His only begotten Son, "but He delivered Him over for us all." Paul goes on to say, listen, if God would do that for you, if He would love you like that when you were His enemy, do you really think He's not going to give you everything you need now that you're His child? The Father gave His unique one of a kind Son for you. It was God's love that motivated Him to send and to sacrifice His Son. Listen to 1 John 4:9-10,

By this the love of God was manifested, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

You want to know if God loves you? Remember that He sent His one of a kind Son to suffer beneath His own hand. God crushed His Son on the cross. He poured out the wrath that you deserve forever on His one and only Son. What else could He do to prove His love for you? Try to get your mind around this profound reality. God, the almighty, eternal God, has chosen, for nothing in you, to love you. And if you want proof, just look at what He did when He gave His only Son to die in your place.

Paul's point here, don't miss the larger point, Paul's point here is that we are confident of God's love. We can be secure in God's love because we were never the cause of it. You see, if God loved me because of something in me, then that thing in me could change and God's love for me could change. But because it was because of nothing in me, because it was what was true of Him, what was true of His own character, because He simply decided to do it, God doesn't change and His love for me will never change.

James Montgomery Boyce writes, "If we think we deserve God's love," listen to 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." It's only as you understand that God loved you because He loved you that you can rest in assurance and confidence of His eternal unchanging radical sacrificial categorical love. This is the ground of our assurance.

Look at Romans 8 again. Romans 8:31, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" And he brings us back to the Father's love, verse 32, "the Father didn't spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all." And then he comes back to the Son's love in verse 34, "Christ Jesus died." Verse 35, "Who will separate us from the love that Christ has for us? Will anything in this life?" In verse 37, no, "in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Christ who loved us." And then verses 38 and 39 he comes back to the Father's love,

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of the Father, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is the ground of our confidence, the love of God, the unconditional sovereign love of God. "Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God shouldst die for me." It's the love of God at the cross that we celebrate in the Lord's Table. Take a moment and prepare your heart as the men come.

Our Father, I fear that I have failed as a preacher to give Your people any deep sense of Your love for them. Father, I pray that You would take the words of this poor, lisping, stammering tongue and exalt by Your Spirit, Your love for Your people in their hearts. As we take of the Lord's Table, Father remind us of the pulpit of Your love, the cross itself, of which we're reminded in this ordinance.

Father, it's because of Your love for us that we love You in response. And because we love You in response, we hate our sin. And so, we come, even now, confessing our sin to You. Lord, we know that You have declared us righteous in Your throne room. Once and forever our sins have been dismissed, forgiven, we are justified, we are "having been justified." And so, Father, we don't come because that has changed with our sins over these last hours and days and this last week. But Father, we have sinned against You as our Father, not as our judge. And so, we come, seeking Your forgiveness even as You have encouraged us. As our Lord reminded us, You've already bathed our souls in justification, but we need You to wash our feet as we have gathered the dust of this world as we've walked through it.

And so Father, forgive us, forgive us for our pride, for our selfishness, for our lust. Forgive us for our attitudes of sinfulness, our complaining spirit against Your providences in our lives, our anxiety and worry when You are on Your throne. Father, forgive us for using our tongue in ways that are foreign to Your purposes, Lord, for speaking foul words, words intended to hurt and harm others. Forgive us, Father, for gossip. Forgive us for complaining. Father, forgive us for not building others up through the words we speak.

Lord, forgive us for our actions. We pray for those sins that are ours in our own hearts and souls that are those no one else knows but You. We pray for Your forgiveness for the sins we commit in our families, against those who love us most. Lord, we ask Your forgiveness for those sins that are very well known by all those around us.

Father, forgive us for our failure to love You, our failure to love others. Forgive us for neglecting Your word, for neglecting prayer. Forgive us for neglecting to share the gospel with others. Forgive us for not setting the right boundaries to protect ourselves from sin.

Lord, forgive us, forgive us for all of our sins, known and unknown, felt and unfelt, confessed and not confessed. Father, wash us clean in the blood of the Lamb so that we can partake of this reminder of His sacrifice in a way that honors Him. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.