While We Were Yet Sinners

While We Were Yet Sinners

In Romans, Paul demonstrates that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This is true of the idol-worshiping Gentiles, whose consciences convict them in the light of God’s divine nature. This is also true of the Jews, God’s covenant people, who had the benefit of His word, but still disobeyed.

Jews with the Law, and Gentiles without the Law, “are all under sin” (3:9). Thankfully, God had a plan, crafted in His heart since before the foundation of the world, revealed in stages through the prophets, brought to fruition in the fullness of times through the gift of the Son of God. Namely, that “the one who has faith in Jesus” would be “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (3:21-26).

With this in mind, Paul enumerates, in a lengthy and beautiful passage, Romans 5:1-11, all the wonderful benefits enjoyed by those who are justified by faith in Jesus. Here is the passage:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

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 we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

This and the next four articles will examine the many blessings we obtain “having been justified by faith.”

Let’s begin by being sure we understand what it means to be justified by faith. “Justification” is a long word that describes the process by which God declares sinners free from the guilt of sin. It means, “to be declared just.” It’s a word from a legal context.

But here’s an important clarification: in an American court, there is a presumption of innocence. To walk free, a defendant merely needs the prosecution to fail to prove he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in the fallible minds of the jury. Many defendants do not even need to speak up to be declared “Not Guilty.”

“Justification” is not simply being found not guilty. Justification is being declared just in the sight of all-knowing God. Whether or not the sinner committed sin is beside the point. It is well known that we committed sin many times. We do not deny our involvement and our guilt in such sins which are due the death penalty. We are set free not by creative lawyering, not by finding technicalities, not by playing to the jury. We are justified because one greater than we are, the divine Son of God, secured redemption for us through His blood. By faith in Him, we are declared just.

The centerpiece of this passage, 5:6-8, describes how Jesus secured our justification. This passage surpasses even John 3:16 in declaring God’s amazing love. Again:

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 we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Jesus Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins. And what an act of mercy! Perhaps one will die for a good man. Perhaps a mother will give her life for her child. Perhaps a secret service agent, through force of training and duty, will throw himself between the president and an assassin. But who among us would give his life for a bum, stinking and begging and hungover … who would step into the busy highway to rescue him? Or, who would give his life for his enemy, one who recently lied, stole, attacked … who would interpose himself between an attacker and one who had it coming, who was about to get what he deserved?

But while we were yet sinners, enemies, Christ died for us.

The gospel is not that God simply shrugged and waved away this guilt—He paid it and punished it with all the wrath it required, with the death of His Son. Only in this magnificent way devised in His mind, could He be, as Romans 3:26 says, “just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” At the same stroke, God is able to maintain His authentic character as perfectly and infinitely holy, one who hates sin and cannot countenance sin; and at the same time, one who forgives sin and brings salvation to the sinner.          –John Guzzetta