“For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person — though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have now received this reconciliation through Him.” (Romans 5:6-11 HCSB)
Several years ago, my wife, my youngest son and I took a road trip together. We climbed into our newly purchased (but used) 2010 Ford Mustang and headed west. It was as close to a long stagecoach ride as I ever want to be. Our plan was to make several stops along the way as we made our way to Modesto, California to see my younger brother and his wife. We made stops at the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and Yosemite National Park. I had seen photos of the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, but had never been there. It was an incredible sight and very memorable trip.
While I could go on and on about the scenery in Vegas or Yosemite, the most incredible experience for me was seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. We had turned into the park entrance and began making our way along the road, but everything just looked like a desert. We drove, watching the road signs and looking for evidence of the canyon. Nothing. Drive a few more miles. Still, nothing. Suddenly, the road made a slight bend and we came alongside the canyon and I instantly realized why we hadn’t seen it and how much “grander” it was than the photos I’d seen could ever indicate or describe. WOW! What an experience. We parked, and I just stood there looking with wide eyes. I can tell you that it is deeper than many mountains are tall and wider than you can even imagine, but you’d have to see it to understand. What an unbelievable sight and experience.
Then, of all the crazy things to do, my wife goes over and sits on the edge with her feet dangling off and invites me to join her and sit beside her. NOT A CHANCE! There are several things in life of which I am quite certain. Two of them are how big I am and what happens when something my size falls for that far and hits the ground. I’m not scared of heights, but I’m terrified of falling. Well to be more accurate, I’m terrified of the landing.
Now, you may be wondering what all of this talk about the Grand Canyon has to do with our focal passage. Just for a second, I want you to stop and consider these words: while we were still helpless, in the timing appointed by God, Christ died for the ungodly. Two key words I want you to notice in that verse: helpless and ungodly. Like my own surprise and awe at seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, I want you to see and experience the surprise and awe of realizing the HUGE impact of those words. We were helpless, unable to secure or obtain a right relationship with God on our own, so Christ died for us, the ungodly. Let that sink in, a bit.
I didn’t want to sit down next to my wife on the edge of that canyon because I recognized my “weighty” contribution to the problem and my inability to fly. I love my wife and she would help me in any way she could, but she would be completely unable to keep those rocks from breaking, the dirt from giving way under my weight and she could never grab my hand keep me from plummeting onto the rocks far below us. In that situation, I would have no power to save myself and she could not help me. If my weight caused the rocks to crumble and the dirt to give way, I would be helpless and subject to the law of gravity and the mercy of God.
I did NOT comprehend the depth and breadth of the Grand Canyon until I stood on the rim looking across that wide expanse. That experience left me in awe of the power, majesty and might of God and my own humanity and helplessness. That’s what this verse should do for us, help us recognize our contribution to the weighty problem of sin in our world. I AM and YOU ARE the ungodly he speaks of in this verse!
We are helpless and ungodly… unable to save ourselves and unworthy of His intervention. But… HE did intervene. While we were still helpless, He DIED for the ungodly.
I hope and pray that gives you an “eye opening” experience and some insight into the vastness of God’s mercy and your own sinfulness. Like my inability to grasp the depth and breadth of the Grand Canyon until I stood on the rim and looked into it, I hope that you can stand on the rim of God’s mercy and look into the vastness of your own sin and ungodliness by letting these words penetrate your heart and soul. Now, consider these next words because they make the depth of our guilt even more real.
Paul says that someone rarely dies for a “just” person but for a “good” person someone might dare to die. I suspect that you, like me, might stumble over those words and wonder if they aren’t wrong or reversed. Let me unpack those words for you. The word just has to do with being “law abiding” and is most reflective of the Pharisees in the gospels. The word good has to do with being “kind, merciful” and is more reflective of the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. So, that ought to help clear up any confusion and, hopefully, make you stop and say, “Ah, now I get it.” Paul believes that someone would rarely die for a stoic, merciless legalist, but someone might be willing to die for a good, kind, merciful individual. I agree with him and I suspect you will, too. But don’t stop there…
Paul uses that statement to introduce his next, absolutely incredible, awe inspiring revelation: “But God PROVES His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” On a rare occasion someone might die for a legalist, sometimes people are willing to die for good, kind people, but Gods’ love is SO unbelievable that Christ’s willing to die for actively rebellious SINNERS! I sometimes think that religious folks sometimes become a bit anesthetized or numb to the power of that thought. Many of us have heard it from the time we were old enough to listen and it has worn a callous on our hearts or we’ve become so used to hearing it that it no longer amazes us.
It would be like a prospector who had traveled up and down those trails in the Grand Canyon so many times that he stopped seeing the incredible beauty and majesty of God’s handiwork. As he stands on the rim and looks down at his cabin far below, he sees only the struggle and pain of his daily journey and not the amazing beauty of God’s creation. Some of us have stood on the rim of God’s mercy so many times and for so long that we no longer see the awe of His amazing grace, the vastness of His love or the depth of our own sinfulness. We see only the pain of our journey, not His staid hand and fading wrath of His aborted judgement because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
I want to state this very clearly, God has PROVEN His love for you by having Christ die for you even while you were still a sinner. That’s the stark contrast Paul is wanting draw in your mind and heart. We might be willing to die for someone if we feel they deserved it and were worthy of our sacrifice, but HE died for us even while we DIDN’T deserve it and WEREN’T worthy of His love. Remember what I said about losing sight of the awe of His amazing grace, incredible love and the depth of our sin. Maybe you need to come over and sit next to me on the edge of that canyon and dangle your feet over the side. Let that view wash over you. Let the “fear of God” cause you to catch your breath and step back. Peer down into the depths of your own sinfulness and realize just how deep it goes and vast it has spread.
That’s incredible love, on His part, that ought to inspire incredible obedience, on our part. Ought to inspire obedience in us. If God was willing to reconcile us even while we were enemies, then just imagine what He has planned and wants to do in us now that we are reconciled by Christ’s life. Pay attention to Paul’s words, “if we were reconciled by His death… then how much more will we be saved by His life!” We have a tendency in the Baptist church to use that word “saved” to think about and talk about some future state of grace that is still “yet to happen.” We’ve been saved and heaven will be great, but we aren’t there, yet. God’s desire and intent is to see life transformation in us, now. We’ve been declared righteous by His death/blood but are being saved by His life. The power of God that brought life to Jesus’ resurrected body is capable of beginning our transformation into Christ’s image, right now!
Shortly after I stood next to (and about a foot behind) Tina as she dangled her legs over the edge of the Grand Canyon, we talked about hiking down into the canyon. We made our way to the head of the trail and began the journey down. I will tell you, the trip down is nothing compared to the trip up and out of the canyon. While our plan was to hike down to the bottom, we didn’t make it that far. We quickly realized just how difficult the climb out was going to be. We really only made it down about half way, stopped and turned around and began the arduous trek up the trail. I must admit, we huffed and puffed and stopped and rested, several times. However, two incidences during that climb out would prove to be humbling. The first was a young man who was, quite literally, running up that incredibly steep trail. I just marveled at his strength and stamina but I reasoned, he’s young and fit. The second was, however, even more humbling as I watched an older gentleman and his grandchildren pass me as I stopped to catch my breath. I could make any excuses, other than I was too fat and out of shape to keep up with him.
How’s your Christian fitness? Have you grown fat, lazy and out of shape when it comes to obedience to Christ’s expectations and demands? Does it seem daunting to peer over the edge of God’s grace and down into the vast canyon of your disobedience? Sometimes it seems easier to just overlook our lack of Christian fitness, relax in the knowledge of His grace and forgiveness and feel good about ourselves while we watch some Hallmark movie or listen to praise and worship music. But He calls us to be ministers of reconciliation, ambassadors of grace and messengers of hope and that requires spiritual fitness and a commitment to obedience. He also calls us to feed the hungry, minister to the hurting and hopeless, visit the prisoner and care for the sick and that often requires more than we’re willing to give.
I’m going to stick my neck out a bit here and make a rather bold statement that might make some of you mad, but hopefully it will cause us to stop, think and pray for forgiveness. We have become so dependent upon government doing the things Christ called the church to do that we often get upset when government fails to do what we’re called to do and ought to be doing. Please, hear me clearly on this… Christ said that His followers would be known for how they display and demonstrate His love to others, not the government. The CHURCH will be held accountable before God for our obedience because we’re the ones who have been reconciled to God through Christ. Will God judge others for their failure to believe and follow Jesus? Absolutely. But how much more will He hold us accountable who have been reconciled to Him through Christ for our failure to obey our Lord and follow His example.
If you don’t know Christ, don’t live in the desert. Step over here near the edge of the canyon and gaze into the vastness of His grace, breadth of His love and the depth of your sin. Trust Christ and let the transformation begin. I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a note by clicking on here (https://hilltopshawnee.com/prayer-request) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org