Read: Romans 5:6-8
When it comes to love, actions speak louder than words. When it comes to God’s love, the cross speaks loudest of all.
Here is one of the truly great statements about the meaning of Christ’s death. In Romans 5:6-8 the apostle Paul writes:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
Q. E. D.
We all know and use proverbial wisdom all the time; that’s how it becomes proverbial. But not all proverbs work well in all situations. Consider this one for example: “It’s the thought that counts.” There are times when that saying is true, but proving that you love somebody isn’t one of them.
Imagine trying to get away with this: “Honey, I love you so much that I thought about getting you flowers for our anniversary.” Or this: “Son, Daddy wants you to know that he thought about playing with you today.” Or how about this: “God so loved the world that he thought about giving his only Son . . .” I don’t think any of those would work, do you? When it comes to love, the appropriate proverb is this one: “Actions speak louder than words.”
And this is supremely true when it comes to God’s love for us. Christ’s death is the great proof, the ultimate demonstration of God’s love. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
I remember in high school geometry class, how we learned to lay out exercises in an orderly, logical, step-by-step way: “All triangles have exactly three sides. Figure ‘A’ has exactly three sides. Therefore Figure ‘A’ is a triangle.” Then, after the conclusion, we were taught to print three letters, Q. E. D., which stood for the Latin words Quod erat demonstrandum: “that which had to be proved.”
You remember the sign that Pilate wrote out and fastened upon the cross of Christ. It said, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” But if God himself had written a sign to hang over Jesus’ crucified body, it might have said, “My love for sinners, Q. E. D.”
The Demonstration of God’s Love?
And this is exactly what Paul says about the cross in Romans 5:8. The death of Christ is the demonstration of God’s love. God shows, God proves, his love for us in giving Christ to die on our behalf. God didn’t just think about giving his Son for us. He so loved the world that he actually gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life. The most important word in that most famous of all Bible verses is the littlest one ?” so. John 3:16 is about how much God loves us. The truest measure of love is not words but actions. Love is not proved by how flowery your speeches are or how extravagant your declarations. Love is proved by how great your sacrifices are, by how much you are willing to do and give for the sake of your beloved. By that standard, God’s love for us is measureless.
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This statement of Paul’s sounds simple and comforting, doesn’t it? God loves us; he loves us so much Christ died for us. But the longer you think about it, the more you pay attention to exactly what the apostle says here, the less simple it seems. What looks at first like a “feel-good” verse turns out to be a “think-hard” verse. And when you try to figure this statement out, you immediately run into puzzles. Romans 5:8 is like an iceberg; God’s love is visible on the surface, but lots and lots of deep theology lies hidden below underneath, out of sight.
Let me show you what I mean by reading the verse several more times with different words emphasized. First, listen to it this way: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That is to say, God does the loving, but Christ does the dying.
Let’s imagine three people. We’ll call them A, B and C. A loves C, but C is in a terrible fix and needs saving. So A makes B go out and die for C as a demonstration of A’s incredible love. And I’m thinking, wouldn’t it be more convincing if A went and died himself? I mean, after all, what does B’s death have to do with A’s love? Exactly! You see, if Jesus is only a man, as so many even in the church are alleging today, then his death says nothing whatsoever about God’s love. If Jesus Christ is merely a human, even a good and great human, then to say that his death shows God’s love for humans is simply nonsense.
But, of course, that’s not what Paul is saying. Paul believes that Jesus is not merely human, he is also fully and truly divine. A and B, it turns out, are one and the same. God doesn’t send another in his place; he does the dying himself. And so beneath this statement lies the whole doctrine of what the church would come to call Christology, namely ?” that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. And not too far away is the doctrine of the Trinity, which is the church’s attempt to describe how more than one Person could be the one true God.
Christ Died for Sinners
Here’s a second reading: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Listen carefully again: God shows his love by Christ’s dying. Not by his incarnation, by becoming one of us, taking on our nature and walking among us; not by his teaching, his healing our diseases, his provision for our physical needs, not by the incomparable beauty of his example ?” not Christ’s life but his death is the ultimate proof of God’s love for us. And I wonder again, how does dying for someone prove your love for that person? Only when such a sacrifice is both necessary and unavoidable.
Some, you see, have argued that Christ didn’t have to die on the cross in order for God to be able to forgive and save us. His death was more in the nature of an illustration of how far God was willing to go, how deeply he loves us. But you don’t die for another person merely as a gesture, just to make a point.
Occasionally some twisted person will say to the one who rejected him or her, “I’ll show you how much I love you ?” I’ll kill myself!” That isn’t love; it’s just sick. But if the death is sacrificial, if it’s unavoidable, if it’s the only possible way to save the beloved, then, as Jesus himself said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
The soldier who sacrifices himself so his comrades can survive, the mother who shields her child with her own body, absorbing the brunt of the blow?” these are indeed demonstrations of the greatest love. And so is Christ’s death for sinners. It is no mere gesture or example. It wasn’t simply thrown in at the end as part of his experience of genuine humanity. It was the reason, the very reason he became genuinely human.
Christ’s death was absolutely essential to God’s plan of salvation. It was the only way sin could be atoned for without sinners being destroyed. So the whole of evangelical theology lies beneath this one word, died. Lost sinners, a sacrificial death, substitution, atonement through the blood of the cross, justification by faith, peace with God ?” the whole gospel is contained in this simple statement that God shows his love in that Christ died for us. Listen one last time:
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
In this last reading, it’s sinners that’s the operative word. This, in fact, is the very point Paul is making here. The real demonstration of the love of God is not only what he did to show it, but whom he did it for. Paul’s argument, you see, is by contrast. “One will scarcely die for a righteous person ?” though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die.” The soldier dies for his comrades, men closer to him than a brother. The mother gives her life for the child who is more dear to her than anything else. But God . . . God shows his love in dying for sinners (v. 8), for his enemies (v. 10), for the weak and the ungodly (v. 6).
Maybe about now you’re thinking, “I’ve been listening for weeks now to this book of Romans. I don’t think I need to be insulted any more.” But God’s love is for sinners. “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” said Jesus. If you refuse to accept this description of yourself, you exclude yourself from the love of God. I am many things: husband, father, brother, friend, minister, preacher, teacher, citizen, traveler. But most of all, I am a sinner. Aren’t you that too, whoever and whatever else you may be?
If we will only admit it, we will know that we are sinners all, and yet all beloved by God.
About the Author
Rev. Dave Bast retired as the President and Broadcast Minister of Words of Hope in January 2017, after 23 years with the ministry. Prior to his ministry and work at Words of Hope, Dave served as a pastor for 18 years in congregations in the Reformed Church in America. He is the author of several devotional books. A graduate of Hope College and Western Theological Seminary, he has also studied at both the Fuller and Calvin seminaries. Dave and his wife, Betty Jo, have four children and four grandchildren. Dave enjoys reading, growing tomatoes, and avidly follows the Detroit Tigers.