“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Romans 5:8 - "While We Were Still Sinners"

After going on a mission trip over spring break to minister to prison inmates, a friend of mine remarked that the song "I Am a Friend of God," which had previously seemed boring or simplistic to him, took on a whole new meaning and depth when he sung it with convicts in prison.

Most of us believe that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but it takes a glimpse of the outward manifestation of that sin in human lives and events in order for us to realize how corrupted and depraved we really are. Most of us agree mentally that God loves humans and is a very powerful being, but it takes experiences of sin and redemption to show us what it means to be embraced and loved by God - to show us how far God's love and power reaches.

We are all criminals against God. You and I have turned our backs on God and scorned his honor just as much as the worst serial killer. "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside" (Romans 3:10-12). "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). "For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Therefore, in order to understand ourselves better, let us not elevate ourselves above "sinners" and criminals, as the Pharisees did, but let us rather see our own sinfulness in the wretchedness of humanity. Let us be humble enough to admit that, were we to live in different places or times or circumstances, we may have been criminals or terrorists.

The more we see ourselves for who we really are, the more we will be filled with awe and wonder at the fact that God, who is holy and beautiful and perfect and glorious and without any defect at all, loves us, even us. God's love would still have been high and deep and wide if we had been beautiful creatures who knew him and embraced him in return, but that he loved us when we rejected him and turned our backs on him, when we threw ourselves into the pit of sin and became ugly and repulsive - how great must his love be! Like Hosea pursuing his faithless wife, like the father running to his prodigal son, so is God's love towards those who turned away from him.

"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
While we were sinners! While we were sinners God loved us and pursued us as his treasured possession, and not only that - he gave himself for us, he endured shame and humiliation and great suffering for us. He died for us. And all this for wretched, ruined criminals! In Paul's words, "for a good person" I can perhaps see myself dying. But for a convict? For one who had insulted me and grieved me and caused me great pain? Or could I love those who murdered my only child, while they were still murderers, unrepentant? I don’t think I could. God's ways are too high and beautiful for me to grasp - this, even this, is what he has done! God the Father allowed his Son, with whom he is one, to be murdered for the salvation of the murderers, to be slain to redeem the killers!* It was to save the very ones who spit in his face and thrust the crown of thorns upon his head and mocked him saying, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross" - it was for these very ones that Christ came! It was for them that he set his face like flint (Isaiah 50:7, Luke 9:51) and went to Calvary. For you, for me.
*The human analogy is imperfect; Christ was not a helpless victim, but submitted freely to his own murder.

There is no greater love than this, no love so high and deep and wide and strong as the love of God for us, and nothing can separate us from him (Romans 8:38-39). Not any evil power. They were defeated at the cross. Not even our sin. It was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14-15), and we are forgiven. Over the highest-security prison with the worst killers, over corrupt governments in Sudan and North Korea, over the death camps in Nazi Germany, even over America, even over your home and mine, the cross of Christ stands as a light in the darkness. Even here Christ has come "to seek and save the lost."

And it is the same power of God seen in the cross and the resurrection (Philippians 3:10) that is at work in our lives to redeem us, to transform us from criminals to radiant sons and daughters of God. Even those with the hardest hearts are being broken and made new. The other day I saw a video of a white man who, by the grace of God, came to Christ and sought out a black man whom he had beaten publicly in the 1960s, in order to ask for forgiveness. Be encouraged and keep praying - there is no one who has fallen so far that they are beyond the reach of the cross. God is mighty to save. And stand in awe of his power and love to seek and accomplish the redemption of sinners - even you, even me.

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