When the Apostle Paul said: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8), was he implying that we were not to be always sinners? Did Christ die to save us in our sins or from our sins?
It is a good practice for authors to sum up their ideas at the end of a paragraph or chapter. What message was Paul trying to convey when he wrote the last verse of Romans chapter 5: “so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness, to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21)?
A love that is turned away by no sin – that is the thing that strikes the Apostle in Rom 5:8. The utmost reach of human affection might be that a man would die for the good – he would scarcely die for the righteous. But God sends His Son, and comes Himself in His Son, and His Son died for the ungodly and the sinner. That death reveals a love which is its own origin and motive. We love because we discern, or fancy we do, something lovable in the object. God loves under the impulse, so to speak, of His own welling-up heart.
And yet it is a love which, though not turned away by any sin, is witnessed by that death to be rigidly righteous. It is no mere flaccid, flabby laxity of a loose-girt affection, no mere foolish indulgence like that whereby earthly parents spoil their children. God’s love is not lazy good-nature, as a great many of us think it to be and so drag it in the mud, but it is rigidly righteous, and therefore Christ died. That Death witnesses that it is a love which shrinks from no sacrifices. This Isaac was not ‘spared.’ God gave up His Son. Love has its very speech in surrender, and God’s love speaks as ours does. It is a love which, turned away by no sin, and yet rigidly righteous and shrinking from no sacrifices, embraces all ages and lands. ‘God commends’-not ‘commended.’ The majestic present tense suggests that time and space are nothing to the swift and all-filling rays of that great Light. That love is ‘towards us,’ you and me and all our fellows. The Death is an historical fact, occurring in one short hour. The Cross is an eternal power, raying out light and love over all humanity and through all ages.
God lays siege to all hearts in that great sacrifice. Do you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins ‘according to the Scriptures’? Do you see there the assurance of a love which will lift you up above all the cross-currents of earthly life, and the mysteries of providence, into the clear ether where the sunshine is unobscured? And above all, do you fling back the reverberating ray from the mirror of your own heart that directs again towards heaven the beam of love which heaven has shot down upon you? ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and gave His Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4:10). Is it true of us that we love God because He first loved us?
Observe that the Apostle, as is his custom, gets himself entangled in a couple of almost parenthetical or, at all events, subsidiary sentences. I suppose when he began to write the final verse of Romans chapter 5 (v. 21); he meant to say, simply, ‘as Sin has reigned unto death, so Grace might reign unto life.’ But notice that he inserts two qualifications: ‘through righteousness,’ ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ What does he mean by these?
He means this, first, that even that great love of God, coming throbbing straight from His heart, cannot give eternal life as a mere matter of arbitrary will. God can make His sun to shine and His rain to fall, ‘on the unthankful and on the evil,’ (Luke 6:35) and if God could, God would give eternal life to everybody, bad and good; but He cannot. There must be righteousness if there is to be life. Just as sin’s fruit is death, the fruit of righteousness is life.
He means, in the next place, that whilst there is no life without righteousness, there is no righteousness without God’s gift. We cannot break away from the dominion of Sin, and, as it were, establish ourselves in a little fortress of our own, repelling her assaults by any power of ours. We cannot undo the past; we cannot strip off the poisoned garment that clings to our limbs; we can mend ourselves in many respects, but we cannot of our own volition and motion clothe ourselves with that righteousness of which the wearers shall be worthy to ‘pass through the gate into the city.’ There is no righteousness without God’s gift.
And the other subsidiary clause completes the thought: ‘through Christ.’ In Him is all the grace, the manifest love, of God gathered together. It is not diffused as the nebulous light in some chaotic incipient system, but it is gathered into a sun that is set in the centre, in order that it may pour down warmth and life upon its circling planets. The grace of God is in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Him is life eternal; therefore, if we desire to possess it we must possess Him. In Him is righteousness; therefore, if we desire our own foulness to be changed into the holiness which shall see God (cf. Matt 5:8), we must go to Jesus Christ. Grace reigns in life, but it is life through righteousness, which is through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So, then, brothers, let us knit ourselves to Christ by faith in Him. Then He who is ‘full of grace and truth’ will come to us; and, coming, will bring in His hands righteousness and eternal life. If only we rest ourselves on Him, and keep ourselves close in touch with Him; then we shall be delivered from the tyranny of the darkness, and translated into the Kingdom of the Son of His love.
Let us praise God with the song “Your Grace Is Enough”: