Romans: Justification By Faith Flows from the Love of God

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on January 21, 2001

Romans 5:6-8

Justification by Faith Flows From the Love of God
Romans 5:6-8

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
Romans, chapter 5. As we continue to work our way through this great book of Romans, let
me remind you where we have come from. In chapters and 2 the apostle tells us what the
problem is, what our predicament is. In chapter 3 he tells us what God’s glorious
solution is in Jesus Christ. And furthermore, having told us that Christ died for sinners
in Romans, chapter 3, he says God declares sinners to be just freely because of what Jesus
Christ has done. In Romans, chapter 4, he defends that from the Old Testament. And in
Romans, chapter 5, he begins to talk about the consequences of that, the implications of
that. So notice what he has done. In Romans 1 and 2 especially, he explains to us the
reality and the necessity of justification by faith. In Romans, chapter 3, he tells us
about the provision of justification by faith. In Romans, chapter 4, he tells us that
justification by faith is scriptural. And in Romans, chapter 5 through 8, he explains how
effective justification by faith is. He’s telling us consequences or implications of
this great truth, this great reality of justification by faith. It’s not just a
doctrine, it’s something that impacts us every single day. We’ve already seen
some of those implications if you’ll allow your eyes to run over Romans 5, verses 1
through 5. You’ll remember some of the things that we’ve seen already.
Justification results in our experience in the peace of God. We have peace with God,
having been justified, Paul said in verse 1. Secondly, justification results in our
communion with God. The greatest grace a person can have eternal fellowship with the
living God is brought about in justification. If we truly desire to glorify and enjoy God
forever, it is realized and enjoyed in our justification by faith. We saw that as well in
verse 2. Furthermore, in verse 2, we saw that justification means a certain future hope of
glory. A certain future hope of glorification, the final hope belongs to us if we are
justified. We not only have our sins dealt with, peace with God, we not only have a
present experience of communion with God, we have a future expectation of glory all
because of justification.

Paul’s not done yet. He goes on. In the verses that we looked at most recently
beginning in verse 3 and going into verse 4, to say that justification enables us to
rejoice in tribulation. Not merely to endure tribulation, not merely rejoice in spite of
tribulation, but to rejoice because of tribulation. And furthermore, justification says to
us that every tribulation which we experience now, God intends to make serve His purpose
of sanctification in us. In other words, He turns what would be an enemy against us into a
friend for His purposes because there is nothing that can be against us since He is for
us, since He has justified us. It’s a glorious thing. There’s no meaningless
suffering for the believer. Every drop of tribulation for the believer God has caught up
in His purposes and will use for our good.

I remember many years ago in a college English class, having an English professor say
to us, “Why is it that the Southern writers are the greatest writers of the American
writers in the 20th century?” Now he wasn’t a particularly religious
man, but here was his answer. His answer was, “God, because Southern writers are
still haunted by God. God has been forgotten in the rest of modern American
literature.” And he went on to say that there was no ultimate meaning in life, and
how can you write if there is no meaning? Why reflect on what is meaningless? God makes
all things meaningful, even tribulation and suffering are caught up into His purposes
because we have been made right with Him in justification.

That brings us then to verse 6, and that’s where we are going to start today as
Paul continues this train of thought. He’s not done yet as he expresses to us the
consequences of what it means to be justified. Let’s hear God’s word in Romans
5, beginning in verse 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 yet we were
still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired word. May He write His
eternal hears upon our hearts. Let’s pray.

Our Lord, we bow before You, and we ask that You would open our eyes to understand this
truth. We pray that as believers that we would be rooted and grounded in the love of God
displayed in the death of Jesus Christ. And as unbelievers we pray, oh God, that You would
shock us with the unexpectedness and the magnitude of Your love. Enable us all then to
praise You for that loving grace and to respond to it by faith. These things we ask in
Jesus’ name, Amen.

So, in the first five verses Paul has said that God’s grace in justification puts
things right between us and Him, past, present and future. He goes on to say even in our
sufferings we are enabled to rejoice by justification. But He’s not finished, He has
something else to add to that. Not only do believers have the capacity to rejoice in
suffering, they are also recipients, we could even call them receptacles of the lavish,
the undeserved love of God. The whole focus of the passage before us is, of course,
precisely that. The lavish and undeserved love of God. And I’d like you to see four
or five things Paul says to us about that love.

In fact, I’d like you to sneak back to verse 5 because we’re going to
pick up there. We didn’t get to verse 5. And Paul begins this thought, this focus, on
God’s love right in that verse. And he tells us first of all in verse 5 about the
fatherly love of the judge. He also tells us about the agent of the father’s love in
verse 5. In verse 6 he introduces to the love of God for sinners. This undeserved love of
God. In verse 7 he tells us that this love is unparalleled in human experience. In verse 8
he tells us that what Jesus did is the proof, the demonstration that God loves us.
That’s the question on many of our minds. We hear the words of “Jesus Loves Me,
This I Know,” and we ask the question to ourselves sometimes. “Well, how do I
know that? I know the Bible tells me so, but there are a lot of Christians that wrestle
with that. How do I really know that? How do I know that God loves me?” Paul is
answering that question here. Let’s here what he has to say. First, let’s hear
God as he speaks to us in verse 5.

I. Justification means that we are the object and
recipients of God’s amazing love and apprehend it.
“Hope does not disappoint,” He says. “Because the love
of God has been poured out within our hearts. Justification means not only that we are
forgiven sins, that we are acquitted, that we are accounted as if we were righteous; but
it also means that we are objects and recipients of the Father’s amazing love. Think
of it in a courtroom. If you go before a judge guilty of a capital crime, you are
convicted of that crime in the course of that trial. The judge does this. He sentences
you, and then he dismisses you. And never again do you have a relationship with him. The
apostle Paul says look at the amazing difference between our just Father who is a judge,
and the way that an earthly judge deals with us when we are guilty. The earthly judge, if
we are guilty, convicts us. The heavenly Father, when He finds us to be guilty, and we all
are, gives us His son in our stead to bear the due penalty of sin, and then He acquits us.
But He’s not done. He doesn’t dismiss us from the courtroom. He adopts us into
His family. And He lavishes on us the love of God. That’s what Paul says there in
verse 5. The love of God has been poured out within our hearts. He has lavished on us his
love.

We said, perhaps the last time, this is the first time in the book of Romans that the
love of God has been explicitly mentioned. Oh, ever since at least chapter 3, Paul has
been telling us about the love of God. But here he explicitly focuses on the love of God,
and he’s talking not about our love for God, he’s talking about God’s love
for us. That’s clear, by the way, in verses 6 through 8, when he illustrates what
he’s talking about here in verse 5. And if you don’t get it from 6 through 8 in
general, look specifically in verse 8, and the very first words. He says there, “God
demonstrates His own love for us.” Clearly this is God’s love for us, not our
love for God, which has been shed within our hearts. The reason we can glory in suffering,
the reason that we can be assured of a hope that will not disappoint is because the love
of God is certain. It has been poured out within our hearts. By the way, look back at
verse 2, and then verse 4 and then verses 5 through 8. Notice the progression from faith
to hope to love. You heard that triad before in Paul. You’ll hear it, for instance,
in I Corinthians 13. Paul likes to speak about faith, hope and love together, and here we
see a procession of faith, belief in God. Hope being established in a certain hope, and
then thirdly, love. The experience of love for us. Justification means that we are the
objects of the love of God.

II. The Holy Spirit is the agent of God’s love.
Now Paul, in the rest of this passage, is going to explain that
glorious reality as a consequence of our justification. He tells us also in verse 5 a
second thing. The Holy Spirit is the agent of that love. It is the Holy Spirit given to us
who grounds us in that love. Justification is joined with this incalculable gift, the gift
of the Holy Spirit. And it’s the Holy Spirit who ministers in us to root us in
God’s love. Let me demonstrate that to you from another passage in Paul. Turn with me
if you would to Ephesians, chapter 3 beginning in verse 14, Paul says this. “For this
reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth
derives it’s name; that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory, to
be strengthened with power through his spirit in the inner man so that Christ may dwell in
your hearts through faith. And that you being rooted and grounded in love may be able to
comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to
know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge; that you may be filled up to all the
fullness of God.” The one thing that I want you to see in that glorious passage,
which is worth fifty sermons, is just this point: that the Holy Spirit is given to do
what? To root us and ground us in the apprehension of God’s love’s for us. He is
the agent that God implants in our hearts that we might experience and know the love,
which God has for us in Jesus Christ. Jim Phillips puts it this way: “The Holy Spirit
is the executor of the Godhead. It is He who effectually applies the work of Christ to
individual hearts, making it real to them. Without the Holy Spirit salvation remains
merely something to hear about, never to experience. It is He alone who makes it ours. All
that Paul proceeds to teach in the subsequent chapters presupposes this truth.”

Perhaps you’re an unbeliever today, and you’re having a hard time getting
your head around this gospel, and you can’t quite accept and embrace it, perhaps an
appropriate prayer for you would be “Holy Spirit, open my eyes, enable my heart to
understand the gospel and to see the love of Christ for sinners.” It’s the Holy
Spirit that gives us the ability to see the greatness of God’s love and grace. He
alone grounds us in that reality. Paul means that God’s love has been sealed and
applied to us in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s not talking about some secret,
second, subsequent, mystical blessing. He’s talking about something that God does in
every believer by the Holy Spirit. As he justifies you, He vests with in you His Spirit
that you might know the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ. What an amazing thing, this
justification. Then he goes on, he’s not done, he begins to explain this further.

III. God’s love has been shed abroad not merely in the death of
Christ, but the death of Christ for sinners.
We see a third thing in verse 6. Paul here in
verse 6 gives an argument. In verse 7 he gives an illustration, and in 8 he gives a
conclusion or he makes a deduction from the argument. Here’s the argument in verse 6.
His argument is Christ died for us while we were helpless and hopeless, while we were weak
and sinful. While we were unbelieving and undeserving. In other words, he’s telling
us in verse 6 that God’s love has been shed abroad not merely in the death of His
Son, not merely in the death of Christ, but His love has been shed abroad, but His love
has been shed abroad in the death of Christ for sinners. It’s not just nice people
that Jesus has died for. In fact it’s not nice people at all. Jesus didn’t die
for the righteous. He didn’t die for good people. Why? There are no good people,
there are no righteous people. He died for sinners. And that’s Paul emphatic point
here in verse 6. Notice he uses two words, helpless and ungodly. What do you want on your
obituary? There’s been a lot of talk about what’s going to be the first entry in
the encyclopedia about our former president, you know. Well, what’s going to be the
first entry in the divine obituary for you?

Well, here’s Paul’s description of you, helpless and ungodly. That’s you
apart from Christ. That’s you apart from grace. That’s what you are. That sums
you up. Helpless and ungodly. Helpless in the sense that apart from God, apart from
Christ, apart from grace, we are under the power of sin. We are unable to free ourselves
from it. We don’t want to free ourselves from it. We enjoy it. We’re unable to
repent. We’re unable to see the gloriousness of the offer that’s being made to
us. We’re helpless. We’re weak. We’re ungodly. We’re separated from
God. We’re in rebellion against him. We’re not manifesting His image. We’re
created in His image, but we’re not manifesting that image in the way that we live.
That’s how Paul describes us. He describes us from two perspectives as those who are
captive to sin and to those who are out of a right relationship with God. That’s His
summing us up. That’s us apart from Christ.

And he tells us that Christ died for people like that. That’s who Christ died for,
people who are weak, people who are helpless, people who are captive, people who are
sinful, people who are ungodly, people who had no relationship with God. Jesus loves me,
this I know. How do I know? You know because Christ died. That’s how you know. He
died for the ungodly. Think, my friends, think just for a second. Think of your sin at its
worst point, or least at its worst point for you, because every time I think I know the
worst about myself, God shows me something else. But think for a moment. Think about that
thing or those things perhaps that you have worked hard even for those closest to you not
to know. Those things that you think, you know, if my wife, if my husband knew that,
they’d leave me in a second. When you’re honest, in those few moments that
you’re willing to be honest with yourself, it’s precisely at those points that
Christ loves you, that Christ dies for you. He knows the worst of you. It’s not as if
fifteen years later He’s going to discover ‘O, you mean that person is that way? Ah,
what big mistake I’ve made.’ He already knows you at your worst p point. He died for
the ungodly at the very worst point. At that point believer, He loved you still in Jesus
Christ.

The gospel is not just ‘God loves you.’ You see, ‘God loves you’ might convey the idea
that well, we’re fairly loveable people. Pretty nice guy, he’s reasonable,
it’s a nice thing for Him to do. It’s not even ‘God’s loves you at the cost
of His Son.’ God loves you in this magnificent way. That’s true. Its ‘God loves you,
sinner, at the cost of His Son.’ Thomas Boston once said, “If anyone knew my heart, I
wouldn’t have four friends left in Scotland. And it’s precisely there that
Christ dies for the ungodly. He doesn’t die for those who’ve got everything
together. They’re clean, they are well scrubbed, they have prepared themselves. He
doesn’t say, I’m going to die for everyone who’s going to help themselves.
I’m going to die for everybody who at least makes the effort to do what they ought to
do. He says, ‘I die for the ungodly.’ Christ died for the ungodly. God’s love has
been shed abroad not merely in the death of Christ, but in the death of Christ for
sinners. Paul is saying, “Do you want to see the love of God? See it in who Jesus
dies for.” He dies for people who don’t deserve it, people who are totally
unworthy of it. He’s not done.

IV. God’s redemptive love cannot be presumed upon.
In verse 7 he gives an illustration of this. His illustration points to
the rarity of vicarious sacrifice on behalf of virtuous people at the human level. From
time to time in our experience and perhaps in our reading we have heard about people who
have nobly given themselves on behalf of another person. Perhaps it has been someone
serving in the military who has been willing to lay down his or her life for the country.
Perhaps it’s a spouse who saves the life of his or her spouse through some heroic act
or saves the children. But in each of these cases Paul points out that we are doing it for
someone who is to us good. Paul is saying here that we cannot even compare that kind of
love with the love that God has shown to us in Jesus Christ; and we certainly cannot
presume on God’s redemptive love since even human self sacrifice is rare, and we are
undeserving. Paul is not making some sort of a nitpicking distinction between a righteous
man and a good man as if nobody would die for a righteous, but some people would die for a
good man. That’s not his point. His point is simply this. That at the very highest
levels of human nature, at the very highest levels of human behavior, it’s almost
altruistic. It is where we hear of someone giving their life for another. When we do, it
is always the case that that person is giving their life for something that they consider
to be good and righteous. A man laying down his life for his country. A man laying down
his life for his family. A person of noble and upstanding character, and it’s
precisely that point of discontinuity between the death of Christ and the death of people
in a vicarious situation that Paul is drawing our attention to.

Paul is going to argue in verse 8 again that Christ did not die for good and righteous
people, He died for criminals. He died for pagans. He died for sinners. Christ’s love
for us. God’s love for us in Jesus Christ is not what the philosophers call the love
of complacency. In other words, God doesn’t look at us and say, “Oh, how lovely.
How wonderful. Oh, I just couldn’t go on without those human beings. They are just so
excellent, so fine. There’s something in them that compels My love for them.”
That’s the love of complacency. That’s the love that attracts young men to young
women and hopefully vice versa. We delight in something in someone else that attracts us
to the other person. That’s not the love of God. The love of God is what the
philosophers would call to love is spontaneity. It dwells up from within him. It’s
not conditioned on something in us. In fact, if it were conditioned on something in us, we
wouldn’t have received it in the first place; because we’re unlovely, we’re
ungodly, we’re weak and helpless. God’s love for us in Christ is not based upon
something in us or about us. It’s based wholly and solely on something in Him and
about Him. And it’s something, my friends, that you and I will spend an eternity, and
we will never understand it to the bottom. The love of God, how deep, how wide, how
surpassing all our knowledge it is. Even in glory, we’ll never understand it until
the end. And Paul is saying, “That’s the kind of love that God has for us.
It’s not like any other kind of love. It’s rare,” Paul says, “that a
human would lay down his life for a righteous and noble person.” Then how much more
amazing, how much more unbelievable is it that God would give His Son for those who
don’t deserve it, for those who are sinners. The unparalleled love of God. But
that’s what He’s talking about in verse 7, but He’s still not finished.

V. God’s unique love is expressed and proven in the
death of Christ for unworthy sinners.

He brings it
home, the conclusion of His argument is found in verse 8. He says, “The proof, the
manifestation of God’s love for us is seen in the death of Christ for the
ungodly.” God’s unique love is expressed in and proven by the death of Christ
for unworthy sinners. Romans 5:8 is the John 3:16 of Paul’s writings. If John had
been written when Paul was writing this, it’s almost like Paul would have had it open to
John 3:16, sort of rephrasing it, putting it in a slightly different way, but getting it
precisely the same point. When he says ‘demonstrate’ in verse 8, He means that it is
proven by argument. God’s love is proven in that while we were yet sinners, Christ
died for us. By the way, Paul is not saying that Jesus died to show us that He loved us or
that God loved us. Jesus’ death is far more significant than merely being a manifestation
or an example, even the greatest example of God’s love. Christ died, as we’ve
already said, in order to atone for our sins, to propitiate God’s wrath, to cover our
sins, to expiate our guilt, to make us be able to stand before God accepted. But as a
consequent in that, we see God’s love for us. He did not die merely to show
God’s love for us, but in dying to save us from our sins, He has shown us God’s
love for us.

Furthermore, I want you to note that Paul does not say, ‘in this is love. God had only
wrath for you, but because Christ died, Christ was able to entice His heavenly Father to
love you.’ That’s not what Paul says. In Romans 5, chapter verse 8, Paul is not
saying that Christ’s death made God love us. The picture is not of the Lord Jesus on
the cross when he says, “Father, forgive them,” praying to some reluctant deity.
He finds it so hard to bless His people who just wants to blast them into oblivion and has
no love in His heart for them, and Jesus is somehow pleading with the heavenly Father,
“Oh Father, love your people, please.” That’s not the picture at all. The
cross is the expression of God’s prior love for His people. If the Father had not
loved His people, the cross would have never occurred. The cross doesn’t make God the
Father love His people. It is the expression, it is the consequence of God the
Father’s love for His people.

Paul is saying that this death of Christ is the very manifestation of the Father’s
heart of love for us. His love is unprecedented, and it’s unparalleled, and it is
yours if you believe on Him. It’s an amazing thing.

Now maybe some of you are still wrestling with that. “Jesus Loves Me, This I
Know.” How do I know that. And maybe some of you are saying, “I have a hard time
feeling that. I have a hard time accepting that. I have a hard time getting my heard
around that.” I understand that. I’ve met a lot of Christians who have wrestled
with that. But it’s a reality, my friend, for every believer. Gordon Reed tells the
story of a man who many years ago got on a riverboat in Cincinnati, Ohio, to make his way
to New Orleans. He didn’t have a lot of money. He spent almost all of his money to
buy a ticket to get on the riverboat. He didn’t have any money for food, except for a
little bit while he was going to be on this fairly long journey. And so he bought himself
a supply of crackers and cheese. He was embarrassed by his poverty, and so he hid himself
from the other passengers so he hid himself from the other passengers at mealtime. He knew
that he would never be able to afford to eat in the ornate dining room on the riverboat.
And so for days at a time when it come mealtimes, he would hide himself and eat his
crackers and cheese. About the time he got to Natchez, he bumped into a fellow passenger
who befriended him, and at mealtime he was going to creep off and eat his crackers and
cheese, and his friend said, “Where are you going? Aren’t you coming to the
dining hall.” He said, “Oh no, I could never afford to go to the dining
hall.” And his friend said, “Take out your ticket.” And his friend took out
his ticket, and he said, “Now read it.” And at the bottom of the ticket it said,
“All meals included.” Brister Ware tells me it’s the same way on the train
today. You buy a bed, you get your meals.

Some people forget that. My friends, if you’re justified, it’s not just that
you can be. It is that you are awash in the love of God. Have you read your ticket? Christ
died for the ungodly. Now eat the feast. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, what wondrous love is this that the king of bliss died for the
saving of our souls, and yet oh Lord, we live as such paupers that we don’t realize
the wealth of the love of Christ, which has been given to us. Help us this day to embrace
it and to walk in it and to live in it and to walk in it and to breathe in it and to
praise You for it, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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