“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV)
As we continue thinking about the basics of the gospel, last week we established that the gospel is good news about what God has done in sending the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, to save us. This week, let’s think briefly about why the Gospel is good news for sinners.
A few years ago, Christianity Today ran a story about some research a pair of criminologists did in the 1950’s, which was confirmed decades later by a Harvard study. In the original study, pyschologist Stanton Samenow, and a psychiatrist, Samuel Yochelson, believed that crime was caused primarily by one’s environment. For some 17 years they studied hundreds of inmates in the Washington, D.C. area. Much to their surprise, the two researchers concluded that criminal activity was not primarily a result of environment, oppression, or poverty. Instead, it was due to serious moral failure.
The Bible tells us this moral failure stems not from our environment or other external factors. Instead, it comes from the fact that we are born sinners (Ps 51:5). We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. In other words, sin is not just something we do—it is something we are at a basic level. We are born guilty and bent towards sin because of the sin of our first father, Adam (Romans 5:12-21). Sin makes us love what God hates and hate what God loves.
If possible, it gets worse. The Bible says we are dead spiritually because of sin (Eph 2:1-3). Sin makes the gospel seem like foolishness to us (1 Cor 2:14) and makes us incapable of choosing Jesus to save us because our minds are hostile to God (Rom 8:7). Paul sums up our condition apart from God’s grace: “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Rom 3:10)
That’s the bad news. The good—indescribably good—news is highlighted in our verse this week. Two words make all the difference: “But God.” When we can’t because of sin, God can. The Bible says that it is precisely when we are in this dreadful, sinful condition that God saves us. Not after we try harder. Not after we do our best to clean up our act. God loves us in spite of us. Nothing can stop his love, not even something as powerful as our sin. There’s nothing else like this kind of love anywhere in the universe.
How does this divine love show itself? Paul says, “Christ died for us.” God’s love song for fallen sinners is written to the tune of clinking hammers and piercing nails and shrieking cries. Our sin is so terrible that nothing less than the gory wreck of the cross could atone for it. So think about that this week. When you’re tempted to pride, remember the cross and be humbled by how awful sin is. When you’re tempted to despair, remember the cross and how great God’s love for you is. He doesn’t love the lovely. He loves the unlovely, you and me. He loves sinners. No other god does.