The Gospel As a Story (Romans 5:8)
…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5:8
The central idea of Romans 5:8 is contained in its last four words: “Christ died for us.” This is the most amazing phrase in the Bible. Shockingly, though, we often get more excited when the Minnesota Twins win a baseball game than we do when we’re reminded of the gospel truth that Christ died for us. I think that’s because too often, we think of the gospel as a mere collection of facts rather than as a story, with each of its elements working together to draw in and transform its readers. The thing that makes this one-sentence narrative so beautiful is what Paul teaches us through it about God, ourselves, and God’s action toward us. He wants us to remember, first of all, that God is holy. Secondly, that we are sinners. And finally, Paul would have us rejoice that our holy God loves sinners like us.
God is Holy
Who is God? Although that question is impossible to answer fully, it is important to answer on an elementary level so that we might better understand the main actor in our story. The way I would most basically answer the question “Who is God?” is that God is holy. In the sermon, To Him Be Glory Forever, John Piper defines God’s holiness like this:
God is in a class of perfection and greatness and value by himself. He is incomparable. His holiness is his utterly unique and perfect divine essence. It determines all that he is and does and is determined by nothing and no one outside himself. His holiness is what he is as God which no one else is, or ever will be, and it signifies his intrinsic, infinite worth…
God is loving, but he has created humans with the capacity to love. God is joyful, but he has created humans with the capacity to be joyful. That’s why those attributes of God, and others like it, cannot define him in his most fundamental essence. When we say that God is holy, we’re saying that he is wholly other than we are; there is nothing in us that can relate to God’s holiness. He alone is ultimately perfect, great, valuable, and unique. That’s the first chapter in the gospel story, and we need to understand it if we’re going to be wowed by the rest of the narrative.
We Are Sinners
Chapter two of the gospel story says that every one of us is sinful. God Himself defines sin in Jeremiah 2:13, in which he says, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” According to the previous verse, that is supposed to appall, shock, and utterly desolate us. Why? Because God created us to be in intimate fellowship with him, to receive all of our joy and satisfaction from the fullness of his goodness and glory, because there is no one more good or more glorious than He is. Instead, though, we’ve “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images (Romans 1:23).” In other words, we’ve used every breath God has given us to tell him that we don’t think he’s as great, valuable and satisfying as he says he is. Because of our sin, we are not fit to enjoy everlasting fellowship with God. We are outcasts. Unless something is done about it.
Bridging the Gap
There is nothing more opposite than God and humanity. We’re talking about the best of the best and the worst of the worst; the most beautiful wonder and the most horrific perversion. The final chapter of the gospel story tells us what happens when the Wonder of wonders meets the horror of horrors.
What didn’t happen is annihilation. He didn’t abandon us. He didn’t send endless curses upon us, though he could have done so and remained just. Instead, what God did was meet us in our sin. Immanuel (“God with us”), Jesus Christ, came down to live with sinners. But he wasn’t content to simply hang out with us. He wasn’t content to simply be nice to us. Romans 5:8 says that Jesus died for us. Jesus died for sinful people who slap him in the face every chance they get. He took the penalty that we deserved to pay because of our sin, and he did it “to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Because of Jesus, everyone who believes in him has “become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Because of Jesus, everyone who believes in him is fit to be a child of God (John 1:12), and enjoy lasting satisfaction and joy in him once again (Psalm 16:11).
Perhaps the reason the gospel doesn’t excite us sometimes is that we’ve narrowed the gap between us and God in our minds. We’ve cheapened his holiness, and we’ve minimized our sin. But the gospel narrative makes the gap between us and him as wide as it can possibly be.
And it’s only in seeing the enormity of the gap that we will truly rejoice because “Christ died for us.”
Do you have trouble embracing the gospel as the most beautiful reality? What are some specific reasons why you find it difficult? What are you going to do about it?
Would someone be able to tell by looking at your life that you take sin seriously? Why or why not?
Do you think it’s important to think about God’s holiness? Why or why not?