God’s Love Redeems
The foundation of the text we are considering this morning is actually contained in verse 5. There the apostle writes, “and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” What the apostle is doing in these verses is showing why it is that our hope will not put us to shame. Why? Because God loves his own, those who have been justified by the blood of his Son. The apostle explains that one way we know that God loves us is from the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit who pours out God’s love in our hearts.
But he does not stop there. Telling someone you love them is meaningless apart from some objective demonstration of that love. Thus, the apostle goes on to show how God’s love has been objectively manifested. This is the purpose of the word “for” at the beginning of verse 6: Paul is grounding God’s love in the death of Christ for us. This is confirmed from the parallel structure of verse 8 to verse 6. In verse 6, we have that God did something “while we were still weak” – in verse 8, “while we were still sinners.” In verse 6, “Christ died for the ungodly,” and in verse 8, “Christ died for us.” However, in verse 8, the apostle begins that verse by saying that “God shows his love for us in that . . .” That phrase in verse 8 does explicitly what the word “for” at the beginning of verse 6 does implicitly. How does God show and demonstrate and commend his love for us? He does so in the death of Christ.
Of course this is echoed throughout Scripture. “God so love the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn. 3:16). “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10). The death of Christ is the supreme demonstration of his love for us.
Why is this? It is because what Christ did on the cross he did not do for himself but for others. But what did he do for others? Well, just looking at the text before us, we see it spelled out in various ways. Christ “died for the ungodly” (6). He “died for us” (8). The word “for” in those verses (hyper) does not simply say that our Lord did something that benefits us in some way. No, it implies that what Jesus did on the cross, he did as our substitute and in our place. And this points back to the idea of substitutionary atonement which is so central to the gospel.
What did Jesus do in our place? The answer is that he satisfied the wrath of God that was against our sin, and he did this by suffering the punishment for our sins in our place. If we are going to take the gospel seriously, we have to reckon with these two realities: the reality of our sin and the reality of the wrath of God against our sin. Both are highlighted in the text. Note how Paul describes us: “weak” and “ungodly” in verse 6; “sinners” in verse 8; “enemies” in verse 10. We were enemies, not just because of our hostility toward God, but more importantly, because of his hostility toward us because of our sin. Our sins have made us obnoxious to God and have exposed us to his just and holy judgment. And thus we come in verse 9 to this mention of the wrath of God: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
Now someone might object that the words “of God” do not appear in the Greek text and that is true. So could this refer to the wrath of man? Certainly not. Paul has already argued that “for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek” (Rom. 2:8-9). It’s obvious that the wrath there is God’s wrath. It is the fundamental problem that sets up the necessity for the gospel: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). We need to be saved from wrath, the wrath of God, and God is not unjust to inflict wrath on us (cf. Rom. 3:5). Sin, which is treason against God, demands and deserves the severest judgment. To be saved at least partly means to be saved from the wrath of God. As John the Baptist said to the Pharisees who came to his baptism: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Mt. 3:7). To take the sign of salvation, baptism, without even dealing with the fundamental problem that salvation solves – namely, escaping God’s wrath – is problematic to say the least.
It has sometimes been objected that this emphasis upon God’s wrath undoes the emphasis on God’s love. But it should suffice us to observe that the Scripture emphasizes both. Christ’s death on the cross demonstrates God’s love to us; and, it turns away God’s wrath which was aimed at us. It does both. We have to remember that God’s wrath is not a pagan concept; it is the necessary corollary of his holiness. If God is holy, he must hate sin and he must punish sin. If we have sinned, our sins must be punished. If we have sinned, God’s wrath is aimed at us. How then can we escape it? We escape God’s holy wrath by the provision which God’s holy love provided: namely, the sacrifice of his Son on the cross for us.
Now, how is it that Christ’s death on the cross turns away God’s wrath? The answer to this question can be found in verses 9 and 10. In verse 9 we are told that we are justified by his blood and in verse 10 that we are reconciled by his death. The phrase “since . . . we have now been justified” recalls chapters 1-4. We are justified when we are declared righteous before God. And we can be declared righteous because on the cross Christ took our sin and expiated it, purged it. We are then clothed with his righteousness by imputation. Our sins were imputed to Christ and his righteousness imputed to us. That is what it means to be justified. Of course, if this is true of us, then we can no longer be exposed to God’s wrath; on the contrary, we are accepted by him into his family.
Moreover, verse 10 tells us that we are reconciled to God. As we have already argued in a previous message, this is not primarily a reference to the laying aside of our enmity against God; that would make nonsense out of the verse. For Paul says that “while we were enemies we were reconciled.” That would be like saying, “While we were hostile to God, we were no longer hostile to God.” Rather, what this means is that Christ by his death did away with the objective cause of our alienation from God, which is our sin and the wrath of God which it provoked. He died for our sins and therefore made it possible, not only for us to move toward God, but also for God to move toward us.
Paul’s perspective throughout this text is not on the here and now; it is on the future consummation of the glory of God which was purchased by Christ for us and on the future outpouring of the wrath of God which can only be avoided by the deliverance from it that Christ bought by his death. When he says that “hope does not put us to shame” he is referring to the hope that we will make it through the final judgment unscathed and enter into the joy of the Lord. The “glory of God” will be fully revealed only at the end of the age which will coincide with the final judgment. You will not experience the glory of God’s mercy which is to be desired above all things unless you escape the glory of God’s judgment which is to be feared above all things.
That’s not to say that the cross didn’t accomplish things for us in the present. After all, Paul says that because of our Lord’s death we are now justified (9) and now reconciled (10). However, even then the emphasis is on the future life which awaits us. Because we are now justified, “we shall (future tense) be saved from wrath through him” (9). Because we are now reconciled, “we shall be saved by his life” (10). We normally think of salvation as something we experience in the here and now. However, in Scripture salvation is not something which is complete until the resurrection and the new heavens and new earth. Therefore, in the fullest sense, we are not yet saved – that will not happen until we hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant: enter into the joy of your Lord.”
But the point is this: you will not fully appreciate the death of Christ unless you have this perspective that Paul brings. Being a Christian does not mean you will be healthy, wealthy, or wise in this present life. In fact, it could mean a tremendous amount of suffering (3-4). But all that is nothing in comparison to the glory that awaits. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). It is not enough to say that our sufferings are made up for by the life in the age to come; what Paul is saying is that the glory to come is so great that our sufferings will be completely swallowed up and forgotten. No comparison.
Which means that if Christ’s death on the cross is the only way that we can have this life in the age to come, then it is infinitely precious. And it is rightly valued when we view it, not as a way to feel good about ourselves so we can get on with our lives in this world, but as something which gives us that which is more valuable than any earthly possession – so valuable, in fact, that we are willing to give up things in this life for the sake of our Lord. As the person in the parable, we should be willing to sell all our possessions so that we might have that treasure.
We pondered the meaning of “the glory of God” in verse 2. We saw that it is incomparable in terms of its value and preciousness. There is nothing like it. To desire anything more than the glory of God is madness. But the only way we can obtain it is through Christ because of what he did on the cross.
God’s Love Reasons
So that brings us to the main point of the passage: how can we as Christians be sure that we will experience the glory in the age to come? What can we look to when the trials of this life tempt us to doubt God’s love for us? How do we preach to ourselves when it seems plausible that God has abandoned us? What truths can we rest our hopes upon? What sure ground do we have for the confidence that the apostle rejoices in?
The answer is, of course, the love of God. Paul’s argument is that the love of God will secure our final salvation. And the reason he gives for this is that God’s love has already done the greater thing; therefore, it should not surprise us that he will inevitably do the lesser thing.
What is the greater thing? The greater thing is that “while we were still weak . . . Christ died for the ungodly” (6); “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (8); “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (10). In other words, when Christ died for us, we were not contemplated in the purpose of God as being good and righteous. God did not send his Son to die for good people; rather, he died for bad people. We are described as “weak” – that is, helpless to save ourselves. Worse still, we were ungodly, sinners, and the enemies of God. As D. A. Carson has pointed out, the point of the word “world” in John 3:16 is not that the world is big but that the world is bad: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (Jn. 1:10).
To make his point, Paul points out in verse 7 that what God has done, we would never do. In fact, it is not that often that one would die even for a righteous or good person. It does happen, but when it does it is so remarkable that we wonder at it. But die for one’s enemies? Die for those who have sinned against you? Die for someone who hates you and despises you? That just doesn’t happen.
But God did exactly that when he sent his Son to die for us. Christ gave the most precious thing he had – his life – for those who didn’t love him but rather hated him. Paul felt this distinctly: as he would later write to Timothy, “though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent . . . I received mercy . . . and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:13-15). That is not just true of Paul, however; this is a good description of us all. We are all, as long as we are in the flesh – that is, unregenerate – hostile to God (Rom. 8:7). We are not his friends but his enemies. He died for us contemplated as his enemies.
Christ did not die for anyone because he foresaw that they would respond to his invitation and become a good person. If we have responded to his invitation, that is a fruit of his death, not the reason for it. There was therefore no reason in you that explains why Christ died. Everything in us was a reason for him to reject us. After all, we were already justly exposed to the wrath of God.
What then is the lesser thing? It is that, now that we are justified and reconciled to God – that is, now that we are accepted before God and declared righteous and no longer alienated from God – then it is sure that God’s love will bring us to glory, that we will be saved from the wrath of God. If Christ out of love gave his life for us when we were his enemies, now that we are his friends, how much more will his love secure our final salvation? How is it that God would die for his enemies and then give up on his friends? It cannot happen; it will never happen. That is the apostle’s argument.
Now there are several corollaries that follow from this. One is that God never gives up on his commitments. Or another way to put that is that God never breaks his promises. He doesn’t promise to save those who trust in his Son and then renege on that commitment and turn away from them in the end. God doesn’t justify us and then withdraw his favor. He doesn’t reconcile us to himself and then become our enemy. His love in unchanging and unfailing.
This is what Paul was getting at when he wrote, “As surely as God is faithful, our word to you [in the gospel] has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 1:18-20). God does not go back and forth on his word. You can take it to the bank. How is it that we can know that we have eternal life? Because God has promised it: “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Tit. 1:2).
The apostle is also getting at this in verse 10, in the words, “we shall be saved by his life.” What does he mean by that? It is almost certainly a reference to the resurrection of Christ. But I think it refers to more than just his resurrection, but also includes his ongoing ministry for his people. “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). Or, as the apostle will put it later in the epistle, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34). It would be good for us to remember that the ministry of Jesus Christ for us didn’t end on the cross, but continues to the present day. He is interceding for us – what more powerful person could you have in your corner? What more powerful reason could we have to believe that our final salvation is secure?
A second corollary to this passage is that ultimately the hope of our salvation rests upon God and not ourselves. Note that there is not a word about what we do to secure our final salvation. It is all about what God has done. Christ died for us. God shows his love for us. We have been justified – this is something that God has done. Reconciliation here is something God has done in Christ. We are saved by him, by his blood. If there is anything that we do that is mentioned in these verses, it is simply that we receive the reconciliation (11). If our final salvation depended upon us, then wouldn’t Paul have mentioned it? After all, he is arguing why our hope will not disappoint us (5). If we can disappoint that hope by apostacy or sin, then wouldn’t the apostle need to add some qualifications here? “Since therefore we now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” as long as we remain faithful to him, would needed to have been added. In this text, our salvation depends upon God’s love for us, not upon our love for him. His love not only gives us his Son, but also justification, reconciliation, and final salvation.
Now that doesn’t mean faithfulness isn’t important. I’m not saying holiness is not necessary. We could produce dozens of passages in the NT that show us that if we live in sin we have no right to this hope of which the apostle speaks. The epistle of 1 John comes to mind. How then do we put these two things together?
Well, it must be that the love of God which brings us to faith will also keep us there. The grace of God which justifies us by faith alone will also produce in us the fruits of holiness. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). How is it that we come to produce good works? Because we were better than those who do not? No! It is because we are God’s workmanship. Those works in you are God’s works as much as they are your works. It is why the apostle could say things like this: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). Or, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Faithfulness is necessary, but only because faithfulness is the indispensable mark of those who are truly saved, who have been truly born again and given saving faith.
Someone might object, “But what about those who fall away from the faith? And what about all the warnings in Scripture about the dangers of falling away? If God’s love will always preserve the saved until the very end, why all these warnings?” We do not want to minimize those warnings. They are real, and the consequences of which they warn are real. What we need to realize, however, is that you can be a professing Christian without ever having been born again. Just because you make a profession of faith doesn’t mean that faith is real. That’s one of the points of James 2 and Hebrews 6. You can have the faith of devils. The warnings of Scripture are there because we cannot necessarily distinguish between true and false believers and in the present age the church is made up of both true and false believers. It is only when they apostatize that the true nature of their faith is revealed. The warnings then are there to remind us what happens to those who apostatize. But they don’t imply that you can be saved and then lose your salvation.
That doesn’t mean the warnings don’t also function for those who have been in fact born again. They are, under God’s providence, a means of keeping true believers in the way of obedience. But that’s just the point: God keeps them and doesn’t lose them. The warnings are part of God’s mercy in preserving his people from falling away.
At the end of the day, we who have trusted in Christ have a sure hope, not because of who we are or what we have done, but because of who Christ is and what he has done. He has loved us with an undying love. He has out of that love given his life for us, even when we were his enemies. He has continued to love us, interceding for us even in heaven. He has justified and reconciled us, and will save us from the wrath of God at the end of the age.
It is no wonder then that the apostle would end this passage by writing, “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (11). I think the point is this. We don’t long for heaven for heaven’s sake. We don’t want salvation just to escape the wrath of God. Rather, we rejoice in God himself. The reconciliation that we have received is precious because by being reconciled to God, we can have fellowship with him forever. And there is nothing better than that. If there is any reason to rejoice, it is because we can through Christ call God our Father and our Friend and can approach him with confidence through grace. He may call us to do some hard things in this life. He may call us to give up some things that we thought invaluable. But he has already given us the Gift of all gifts: himself. May God enable us more and more to rejoice in him and to see every other gift a mere shadow of himself.