|Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
Justification by Faith is three fold:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ....
And thats because our status changes when we accept Christ as our Saviour. God doesnt only forgive us; not only are we reconciled in Christ, but through Jesus Christ we are looked upon by God as if we had never sinned. God looks at you and He looks at me just like He looks at His Son, Jesus Christ. Do you remember what He said about His Son? Matthew 3:17:
And a voice from heaven said, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.
And this is exactly what He says to you and me. Because you see, in Justification by Faith, God doesnt look at our performance; He looks at us as we are in His Son. And in His Son we have peace with God. We can call Him Abba, Father. That is the first, the immediate fruit of Justification by Faith. Its the first experience. If you dont have that peace, then you havent understood Justification by Faith, you have not experienced Justification by Faith. But it doesnt stop there.
Now this third ultimate goal is so radical, so revolutionary, so unlike any human experience, that Paul spends verses 6,7,8,9 and 10 talking about this love of God.
You see, the love of God that is shed abroad in the heart of the believer is unlike any human love, because human love is egocentric. Paul wants us to understand what kind of love is shed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It is the love of God.
And, as I said, that is so different that he wants to spend a whole passage, verses 6-10, explaining this love. And the way he does it, is not by comparing, but by contrasting human love. You see, you cant compare human love with Gods love. You can contrast it, because the two loves are opposite.
In fact, when the New Testament writers described the love of God, they chose a very obscure word in the Greek language, a word that was hardly used in the noun form. They gave it a meaning that they derived from the cross of Christ; that word was agape. Whereas the highest form of love in the Greek language, according to Plato was heavenly eros, and the New Testament writers refused to use that word. Not once is the word found in the New Testament.
But in order to understand and to appreciate our passage, I would like first of all to turn to another passage where Paul deals with the same thing, so that you understand the importance of comprehending the love of God. Turn to Ephesians 3 and, as you turn to this third chapter of Ephesians, I would like to give some background.
This is one of Pauls prison letters. He was in a dungeon, he was in prison when He wrote Ephesians. The Ephesian church was very dear to him, he had spent almost three years in Ephesus. But a problem had crept up: the imprisonment of Paul was bringing great discouragement to the Ephesian Christians. This is how they were reasoning: If Paul the great servant of God, the Apostle of Christ was in prison and God was not protecting him, what hope is there for us? Paul heard about this. So he writes to them, in verse 14 of chapter 3, he is unburdening his concern:
For this reason [that is, because of your discouragement] I kneel before the Father....
Now we need to remember that, in the days of Paul, people normally prayed standing up; kneeling was not a common method of praying. They prayed standing up, their eyes were open, and they often raised their hands to God. But whenever a Jew, whenever a person, in those days was very earnest in their prayer, he would kneel down. Paul is simply saying to the Ephesians, I am very earnest in my prayer, and my concern is for you. And his great burden, his great desire is verse 16 up to verse 19 [of Ephesians 3]:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he [i.e., God] may strengthen you [the Ephesian Christians] with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints [that includes you and me], to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
The only way Christ is strong, the only way your faith is strong, and Christ dwells in you permanently, is when you are rooted and grounded in the love of God, the love of Christ.
Hes using two metaphors, one from botany (deep roots) and one from architecture (strong foundations). Recently we had a terrible earthquake in Armenia. They are discovering now that the reason that so many of those buildings collapsed because theyve had similar earthquakes in California and the buildings there have withstood those but the reason they have discovered is that they used cheap materials, the foundations were weak. They were not able to take that shaking. If your knowledge of the love of God is weak, or incomplete, or wrong, you will never be able to stand the crisis. Paul is saying we need to be rooted and grounded in this love.
We cannot come to the knowledge of the love of God simply through human reasoning, or the human rationale, because its beyond that. The love of God is a complete contradiction of human love. And when we have understood the love of God, when our hearts our filled with the love of God, Paul says, We are filled with the fullness of God.
That is Pauls concern here in Romans 5. He wants us to understand the love of God, for two reasons:
With this background, lets go now to Romans 5:6. Verses 6, 8, 9, and 10 are dealing with the love of God. Verse 7 is dealing with human love, and you will notice that there is a contradiction between human love and Gods love. There is a difference; they are opposites, and we will look at it as we go along.
There are four words that I want you to catch a glimpse of, or to notice, as we deal with the love of God. Two of those words are found in verse 6:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
The Greek word for powerless simply means helpless. What Paul is saying here is: When we were still incapable of saving ourselves, in due time (or at the right time, or at the appointed time) Christ died for the ungodly.
Please notice two things:
...Christ died for us.
Now this is such a radical, such a revolutionary concept, that Paul says, I want to show you that this is in complete contradiction to human love. So in verse 7 he describes the ultimate expression of human love. He says:
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.
People dont give up their lives for an unrighteous man. But it is possible, he says, that, perhaps, for a good man, one would even dare to die.
Now there was a story that was very familiar to the population, to the people of Pauls day. It was part of Greek mythology, and its very likely that Paul had this story in mind as he used verse 7. But we are living 2,000 years later, and you are not familiar with the story, unless you have studied Greek mythology, so let me give you the story. Its the story of two people: one is Alcestis, and the other one is Admetus.
Admetus was a young man, who was a fairly good citizen, a good man. But he was accused falsely, as the story goes, and was sentenced to death falsely. Now Alcestis was his girlfriend. She knew him, she knew that he was a good man. She knew that he was innocent. She knew that he did not deserve to die. But she also knew, according to the law of the country, that she could not reverse the verdict. So she goes to the Judge and she says, Look, I cant convince you, because you have already made the judgment, that Admetus is a good man, he does not deserve to die. I would like to offer myself in his place.
And the Judge accepted that. The Greeks said, This is the epitome of genuine love. Here is Alcestis who is willing to die for a good man, Admetus.
Paul is saying, That is possible. Human beings have been known to give up their lives for a good cause, or for loved ones, or for a good person. It is not common, but it has happened. But, he says in verse 8, Gods love is in complete contradiction to this love. Jesus did not die for somebody good. Romans 5:8:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Can you see that? God doesnt say, Well, if youre good, Ill die for you. He didnt do that. While we were sinners, while we were helpless, while we were ungodly: these are the three things that you need to know. In other words, Paul is saying, God loved us unconditionally. And then in verse 9 he says:
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from Gods wrath through him!
I want you to notice that verse 9 is dealing with believers, those of us who have accepted Justification by Faith. He says, Look, if God loved us, and He died for us while we were sinners, ungodly, helpless, why are Christians ever doubting the love of God, why are they doubting their justification? Dont you realize that if God loved you when you were a sinner, that He loves you when you have accepted Him and come back to Him? Can you imagine that, doubting the love of God? How much more do you have to be sure that God will save you now that you have accepted Justification by Faith? Why are you doubting?
It is a tragedy when Christians come to me and say, I am not sure Im going to make it to heaven. Do you know what youre saying? I am not sure God loves me. Thats a tragedy. It is because we have projected human love onto God, and when we do that, we pervert the character of God, because human love is conditional. It has to be aroused, it has to be generated. I dont love people automatically; you have to be good to me, if I am to love you in return.
Thats why, in our world, we always try to produce love from each other by incentives, by doing good acts. Its a human problem. But, thank God, He loves us in spite of what we are. He loves us unconditionally. He loves us because He is love, not because we deserve it.
Paul is saying, Much more, now that you have accepted Justification by Faith through His blood, you can be guaranteed that He will do everything to make sure that you are in heaven with Him...much more. Why? He goes on in Romans 5:10:
For if, when we were gods enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Thats the fourth word describing us: we were helpless, we were ungodly, we were sinners, but now, even worse, we are enemies. Enemies of God. While we were still enemies, thats what he means, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.
There is one Person in heaven Who is on your side. He was on your side before you ever turned to Him. While we were enemies, God said to His Son, Son, I know that human race down there is rebellious, they have turned against us, but I want you to go down there and save them not condemn them, but save them.
The Son said, That is the greatest desire I have too, Father. I want to save them.
And the Holy Spirit said the same thing, and together they came down to save us. Paul is saying, This is the kind of love God has for us.
But now, having done that, having expounded that passage, let us look at the context. Why is Paul explaining the love of God? Because, he says, This is the kind of love the Holy Spirit pours into your heart. Thats in Romans 5:5:
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
What does that mean to you? How should it affect you? In two ways:
The fact that you love me today is no guarantee that you will love me tomorrow. Thats the tragedy with human love. But the fact that God loves me today, I can guarantee that He loves me tomorrow because His love is unchangeable. Jeremiah tells us that He loves us with an everlasting love [chapter 31:3]. In 1 Corinthians 13:8 where Paul defines and explains this Agape love, he says, Agape never fails. We have a God whose love is changeless.
At the heart of all human love is self, because thats how we are by the fall. We have sinful natures that are egocentric. But Gods love is self-giving. And because it is self-giving, He has only one desire, to live for you. Christ had two choices on the cross: He could chose between Himself and the world [i.e., fallen humanity].
The devil said, Dont be a fool, come down and save yourself.
Christ said, No! I love the world more than I love myself. That is the kind of love He has. When you understand that, you will have peace with God.
The world needs to see the love of God. They saw it in the face of Jesus Christ. But Christ is no longer in this world, Hes in heaven. But His body, the church, is here, and that is His desire.
What Paul is doing here in Romans 5:6-10 is simply telling us what Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Mount. So I want you to notice what Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Mount and you will see that it is identical to what we have just covered. Turn to Matthew 5, and you will notice here that Christ is doing the same thing: He is contrasting human love with Gods love. He is saying, This is the kind of love, this Divine love is what Christians should reflect in their daily living. This is the kind of love that Judaism was teaching the people. It is the kind of love that can be generated by human beings. Jesus said [Matthew 5:43-44]:
You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enermy. [That is typical human love.] But [the same word that Paul used in Romans 5:8, in contrast to what you have been taught] I tell you [this is the truth, this is what you should really do]: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of you Father in heaven....
Is this natural? Have you tried it? Well, Ill tell you, it is impossible. Jesus is not asking you to try, because even if you try you cannot do these things. Man cannot by will power or by effort love his enemies. It is a contradiction to his nature. This love comes only to those who have the Holy Spirit living in them, and Whose love is poured into them through the Holy Spirit.
Then, in Matthew 5:45, Jesus explains that, when you do this, you are behaving like the children of God: ...that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven. Then He describes the love of the Father:
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
The next time God blesses you, dont you ever get the idea that He has blessed you, or He has blessed our church, because we are good. No, He has blessed us because He is love.
Let me illustrate it to you. During the Exodus, did God bless the Jews? Did He protect them? Did He feed them miraculously? The answer is yes. You know, in 1975 I did the same route as the Jews, except this time I went by car, I did not walk. It took me eight hours to do the Exodus trip. It took them 40 years. The temperature in the daytime would reach as much as 120 degrees. It was hot. The night was cold. In fact, when I was leaving on the trip I just took light clothing with me. The Egyptian Pastor said, Dont you dare do that. They insisted that I take some warm clothing.
I said, What for? Were in the desert.
They said, Wait and see.
They were right. It was bitterly cold. In the Exodus, God gave them fire at night to keep them warm. He gave them a cloud, a covering, air conditioning in the daytime. He gave them food during the day. Why? Were they good? How did God feel about the Jews during the Exodus? Read Hebrews 3 and 4. He was very unhappy with them. Yet He blessed them. Why? Because Gods love is unconditional.
Next time you have a problem, dont say God is punishing you. God never punishes in the way that we think man punishes. God loves you; He is out to bless you. So Jesus says, He brings rain on the good and the bad. He brings the sunshine on the evil and the righteous. And then, please notice how Jesus goes on, Matthew 5:46:
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
The tax collectors were not the IRS [U.S. Internal Revenue Service]. To the Jewish mind, to the people of Christs day, tax collectors were the equivalent of sinners. What Christ was saying was this: that if you love only those who are good to you, you are no different from sinners. I dont have to be a Christian to love my friends; even the sinners, the atheists, love their friends. Matthew 5:47:
And if you greet only your brothers [i.e., your fellow Jews], what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
Therefore, said Jesus, do not behave in the natural way. You dont have to be a Christian to love your friends, to love your fellow brethren. It does take a Christian to love your enemies. It does take a Christian to pray for those who curse you. In Matthew 5:48 He says:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We have misused that word perfect. Jesus is not saying, Be sinless. What Hes saying here is, You must love as Christians, you must love in the same way that the Father loves, without discrimination, unconditionally. That is true Christianity, and that is the kind of love that Paul is talking about. This will take place when the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.
Let me put it another way. Look at John 13, Jesus says in verse 34:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Hes talking to His disciples. By the way, the word new does not mean brand new. The Greek word kainane means a renewed commandment. The commandment was already given in Deuteronomy, and in Leviticus, too. But the Jews had perverted the love of God in the Old Testament. Therefore, Christ is now saying to the disciples, I am renewing the commandment. Its not new to the Bible, its new to you, and that is: You must love each other in the same way that I have loved you. Then look at verse 35, the next verse:
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
When Jesus said, Be perfect, He meant, You must love as God loves.
There is a heresy that is known as perfectionism. The best description of perfectionism that I ever heard was from a scholar. He said, A perfectionist is a person who takes infinite pains to follow the blueprint, and he gives infinite pains to everybody else while trying to attain to that perfection. Thats a perfectionist. But a true Christian will love even though the person he loves doesnt deserve it, even though that person is turned against him.
The greatest need that the world has is to see the love of God manifested in the church. That is why Jesus said, The world will know Me when they have seen my love revealed in you.
How can we put this into practice? How can this become practical? What are the steps? Thats how I want to conclude. I want to show you how it works in reality.
First of all, we must be clear that you and I cannot generate agape.
This love is a gift. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 13, which is in the context of spiritual gifts (because chapters 12, 13, and 14 of 1 Corinthians are dealing with spiritual gifts), chapter 13 is dealing with this agape gift. It is the supreme gift, says Paul, of the Holy Spirit. Thats why, in Galatians 5:22-23, we are told that:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
So, the fruit of the Spirit is number one love.
First of all, we must be clear: you and I cannot generate this love. We cannot screw up our willpower and say, From now onwards I am going to love my enemies.
You cannot do that. You can have a desire, you can make a resolution, you can make a promise, but you cant fulfill it. You dont have the capacity to do it. I dont. None of us have. So, number one, we cant do it. Peter had to learn this the hard way.
When we accept the gift of God, and God brings in the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and God brings us this love, the first thing that this love does is give us peace.
It doesnt give us victory first, it gives us peace. We need to know this. Turn to 1 John 4. This chapter deals with the love of God, and I want to deal with several verses here. Look at verse 17 first of all:
In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.
In other words, the first thing that this love does is give you peace, gives you assurance, gives you boldness to face the judgment. Not because you are good, not because your performance is up to par, its because as He is, as Christ is, so are you in this world. God looks at you as you are in His Son. And since God is pleased with His Son, so He is with you. Now look at verse 18:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
As long as you are scared about the judgment, as long as you are scared about facing the final conflict, as long as youre not sure about your salvation, the love of God can never be perfected in you.
So as long as you are insecure about your salvation, as long as you are biting your teeth and saying, I wonder if I will make the judgment, Gods love can never be perfected in you. Why? Because fear and Gods love cannot live in the same camp. They are opposites. You see, you and I are born victims to fear. Hebrews 2:14,15 says so:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death that is, the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
The ultimate fear that we all have is the fear of death. Every other fear is a ramification of that one fear. But a Christian is not afraid of death, because he has the guarantee of life. Because a Christian who has accepted Christ and who is justified by faith has crossed over from death to life [John 5:24].
The love of God also does something else. Look at verse 7 and verse 12 of this same chapter. First, 1 John 4:7:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
The source of love is God. And everyone who loves, everyone who manifests this agape, is proving that he is born of God and knows God. So please remember that Christian love is not the means of justification but is the evidence of justification by faith. Now, 1 John 4:12:
No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Remember, God is love. Nobody has seen God. Christ came here to manifest that God is love, but now Hes in heaven. Hes depending on us to manifest that love.
Okay, you have accepted Jesus Christ as your righteousness. He is your righteousness, you have been justified by faith. God gives you the Holy Spirit, and the first thing the Holy Spirit does, is give you peace. But there is a problem.
The problem is: what is the standard of righteousness that we must now live? We all know that the standard of righteousness is the Ten Commandments. But heres the problem: in order for you and me to keep the Ten Commandments, we need an ingredient. That ingredient is Agape. Jesus made that clear in Matthew 22:35-40:
One of them [the Parisees], an expert in the law, tested him [Jesus] with this question: Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
A young man came to Jesus; He said, What is the greatest commandment? And Jesus divided the commandments into two camps, just as we as a church have done, rightly so.
The first four commandments deal with our relationship to God. The last six deal with our relationship to one another, our neighbors and so on. Jesus said to this young man, Love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your being; thats the first commandment. The second is like the first: love your neighbors like you love yourself. Just like you naturally, spontaneously, unconditionally love yourself, thats the way you must love your neighbors now.
Now heres the problem. If I dont have this agape, if I cannot generate it naturally (I cant produce it naturally), then I cant love my God or my neighbors naturally. But if God gives me this agape as a gift, so that I may, in turn, return it back to Him by keeping the first four commandments, you make God selfish. He gives you His love that it may come back to Him. That is why you will find almost nowhere its hardly found in the New Testament where we are told to keep the first four commandments.
Does it mean that God doesnt want us to keep the first four commandments? No. But the way we keep the commandments is by belief. Please look at 1 John 3:23. Two things are required of you:
And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
That is how you and I can keep the first four commandments. In other words, the basis of keeping the first four commandments is faith. If I have faith, I will have only one God, no other. If I have faith, I will not rest in my performance, or in the government, or in Social Security; I will rest in the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus Christ. If you are keeping the Sabbath without the faith motive, you are not keeping the Sabbath, according to the commandments. The only way you and I can keep the first four commandments is by faith alone. Thats all that God wants from you. Thats why Jesus said, in Matthew 6:33, in the Sermon on the Mount:
But seek first his [Gods] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [to eat, drink, wear] will be given to you as well.
Put your confidence in God, His salvation, and He will supply all your needs.
So God gives you agape, not that it may go back to Him. All He wants from you is faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. He gives you this agape, not that it may go back vertically (it comes down vertically) but that it may go back horizontally to our neighbors.
Thats why Paul can say that all the Law is fulfilled when you love one another. In other words, God gives you this agape that it may go out horizontally to our neighbors. And when the world sees that, then they will say, Now we know that the gospel is the power of God, unto salvation.
That is why the world needs to see not how good you and I are; the world needs to see the love of God shed abroad through the Holy Spirit. When the world sees that, the earth will be lighted with His glory. And the human race even the atheist, even the scientist who is looking for evidence and for demonstration will say, It is true, now I have seen it; these people love, as no other human beings can love, except God be with them.
For you see, this love was demonstrated once, in the early church. Read the book of Acts, chapter 4, especially verse 32 onwards. Acts 4:32-35:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
This love was demonstrated, and enemies of Christianity Cicero, Celsus, historians who hated Christianity had to confess, We are against them, but we must admit, these people know how to love each other.
When they talked about the agape feast, they were not talking about nicely decorated tables, with candles, like we have today. Thats not an agape feast. They were talking about a master and a slave sitting together and sharing the same meal; that was agape, something that was a complete contradiction to their culture.
This is the revelation that the world needs to see today. That is the why the greatest fruit of Justification by Faith that the world needs to see is not raising our hands and saying, Praise the Lord, I am saved! The world doesnt want to know youre saved. That we have here inside. What the world needs to see is, Do you have the love of God? Because thats the only way they can know God, through His body the church. It is my prayer that the gospel will transform you and me:
When that has happened, the work will be finished; the world will be lighted with His glory and the end will come. May God bless us, that you should know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
I have some homework for you. In the next study, we are dealing with a very difficult text, one that is controversial, one that caused a lot of controversy in the history of the Christian church and in our own church. Its Romans 5:12. Its the key text used by those who preach the doctrine of original sin. Ill give you the problem, and I want you to prayerfully wrestle with it.
The problem is in the last phrase of that verse. Paul says that, All die because all have sinned. And thats an incomplete phrase. What did He mean? Did he mean all die because all sinned like Adam, or did he mean that all die because all sinned in Adam? Thats the big issue. I want you to wrestle with it. I wrestled with it for five years. I have come to a conclusion and Ill give it next study. But I want you to wrestle with it, prayerfully, because its a crucial passage. It makes a world of difference between truth and error. So I want you to wrestle with it, and may God bless you.