Romans 5:6-8 (and verse 5) speak about the love that God has for us. The greatness of this love, which is mentioned here in Romans for the very first time, is an uplifting and positive theme. Besides, it’s brought into the argument at this point to assure us that all who have been justified by faith in Christ have been saved because of God’s love for them and that nothing will ever be able to separate them from it. This is the climax to which we will also come at the end of Romans 8. Nothing could be more positive and edifying than this theme. Yet Paul’s statement of the nature, scope, and permanence of God’s love is placed against the black backdrop of human sin, and rightly so (v. 8).
Since Paul is describing the love of God against the dark background of human sin, he is saying that it is only against this background that we are able to form a true picture of how great the love of God is. In other words, if we think (as many do) that God loves us because we are somehow quite lovely or desirable, our appreciation of the love of God will be reduced by just that amount. If we think we deserve the best of everything, we will not appreciate the love we receive irrespective of our beauty, talent, or other supposedly admirable qualities. The other point is 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.
There are four powerful words Paul uses to describe the people God loves and has saved, three in the passage we are studying and one additional word in verse 10. They are: (1) Powerless. This word is translated a variety of ways in the Bible. Here in means an unconditional impossibility, which is one which no possible change in circumstances can alter, and it is this that describes us in our pre-converted state. (2) Ungodly. This word conveys the same idea Paul expressed at the beginning of his description of the race in its rebellion against God (Rom. 1:18). In these verses, “ungodly” and “godlessness” mean not so much that human beings are unlike God (though that is also true), but that in addition they are in a state of fierce opposition to Him. (3) Sinners. “Sinners” describes those who have fallen short of God’s standards (Rom. 3:23). It means that we have broken God’s law and in this sense is probably parallel to the word wickedness in Romans 1:18. (4) Enemies. This is the final word Paul uses to describe human beings apart from the supernatural work of God in their lives. It affirms that not only are we unable to save ourselves, are unlike and opposed to God, and are violators of His law, but we are also opposed to God in the sense that we would attack Him and destroy Him if we could, which is what many people actually tried to do when God came among them in the person of Jesus Christ!
We have seen that God loved us, not when we were lovely people who were seeking Him out and trying to obey Him, but when we were actually fighting Him and were willing to destroy Him if we could. That alone makes the measure of God’s love very great. However, we may also see the greatness of the love of God by looking at the brighter side: God’s side. Here we note that God did not merely reach out to give us a helping hand, bestowing what theologians call common grace – sending rain to the just and unjust alike for instance – but that He actually sent His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die for us (what is sometimes called “costly grace”). Paul points out that while a human being might be willing to give his life for a righteous or morally superior man or woman under certain circumstances, Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, which is the precise opposite of being good or righteous. When we read of the love of God in Romans 5, we learn that it was not for those who were close to Him or who loved Him that Jesus died – but for those who were opposed to God and were His enemies. It is on this basis that God commends His love to us.
Isn’t it astounding that God should need to commend His love to us? We are told in the Bible, though we should know it even without being told, that all good gifts come from God’s hands (James 1:17). It is from God that we receive life and health, food and clothing, love from and fellowship with other people, and meaningful work. These blessings should prove the love of God beyond any possibility or our doubting it. Yet we doubt it. We are insensitive to God’s love, and God finds it necessary to commend His love by reminding us of the death of His Son. So it is at the cross that we see the love of God in its fullness. What a great, great love this is!
Romans 5:6-8 Reflection Questions:
Paul constantly keeps in mind how justification or being “declared to be in the right” works out in practice. Describe the past, present and future aspects of the work of God in verses 6-11.