Loved Sinners (Romans 5:1-11)

Romans 5v8 God's love 02

How do you show someone that you love them?

There are probably more ways to show people that we love them than I can count. Some of these ways might be romantic gestures such as giving flowers, a card, chocolates or jewellery. We can show love to the people around us in very ordinary ways such as taking out the rubbish, doing the dishes after a meal, or cleaning the toilet. We can also show love in a deep commitment to other people, sticking with them in difficult times and supporting them when they really need it.

However you might show love to others, can you imagine showing that same kind of love to someone who doesn’t deserve it or who has hurt you in some way? It can be hard enough loving people you get along with, but have you ever tried loving someone who has wronged you, or has wounded you, or doesn’t deserve your love for any reason.

If we can imagine how difficult it would be to love someone who has wronged or hurt us, then we begin to get a glimpse of what Paul was thinking when he wrote Romans 5:6-8. It can be easy for us to talk about how God loves all people. However, Paul doesn’t just settle for a nice platitude when he talks to the early Christians in Rome about the love of God that he encountered in Jesus. Paul’s message was that God doesn’t love people because we do good, or we are nice, or even if we are in church on Sunday. Paul sees the love of God as so great because God loves people who are hard to love, who don’t deserve to be loved, but who need his love.

God showed how massive his love is in the death of Jesus for all of us who have wronged God.

No matter how nice or good we think we might be, we all do wrong. Jesus left us with just one command: to love (see Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28; John 13:34). We have all failed to love God and love other people in the way God wants us to. Our natural tendency is to think more about ourselves than God or others. We prioritise ourselves and our wants more than the needs of the people around us. We all have the desire to be at the centre of our own little universe, expecting others and even God to revolve around us. Humanism likes to tell us how good we are, but in the end we all carry flaws, failures and the brokenness that comes with being human.

I don’t say this to make people feel bad about ourselves. Instead, in order to comprehend the magnitude of God’s love for us in Jesus, we need to recognize and acknowledge our limitations and our inability to love in the way Jesus taught us. Loving someone who is easy to love is no big deal. However, loving someone who is difficult to love, who doesn’t deserve it, or who has done wrong, is something very special.

I don’t believe that Paul wrote Romans 5:6-8 to make his readers feel bad about themselves either. Paul knew what it was like to do wrong. What changed his life, however, was the love of a gracious God who knew Paul’s wrongs but still loved him. Paul found that love in the cross of Jesus. His words in Romans 5 are focused on pointing people to that same love so we can know and trust in Jesus’ life-changing love. I understand that we can see evidence of God’s love in nature, in the trees and sunshine and rainbows, and in the nice or beautiful things of this world. Nature has a dark side, however, so we need to also recognise that it is hard to see God’s love in storms, earthquakes, pandemics and other natural disasters. Paul points us to the way that God showed us his love by giving the most precious thing he had for us – the life of his own Son.

We can also see God’s love most clearly in the person of Jesus. He doesn’t just give us flowers or chocolate or jewellery to show us he loves us. Jesus doesn’t just take out our rubbish, wash our dishes or clean our toilets, although he does wash feet (see John 13:1-5). The way Jesus shows his love for us is by giving us his all. In dying for us in the cross Jesus gave everything he has for us and to us. Jesus held nothing back when he went to the cross and sacrificed everything out of love for us so that we can know what it is like to receive infinite and perfect love. Jesus knows all our flaws and failures, all our weaknesses and brokenness, and he still gives his all for us and to us because that’s how epic and crazy his love is for us.

Knowing and trusting in the love of Jesus can make a big difference in our lives. I learned that in my teenage years when discovering the love of Jesus gave me a new sense of who I am and what I’m worth. Decades later, I’m still working out how this love is shaping me and my relationships. That’s what it means to be a disciple or follower of Jesus – to be continually learning how Gods’ love for us in Jesus can shape our identity and our relationships, our belonging and our purpose. I’ve also seen how the love of God in Jesus can make a huge difference in other people’s lives. When the Holy Spirit pours the miracle of God’s love into us, it can give us a whole new perspective on who we are, where we fit and what we’re here for. For example, as Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5, knowing and trusting this love can produce endurance in us when we are suffering, character from endurance, and hope from this character which does not disappoint us. All this is from God’s love for us in Jesus which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts through the good news of Jesus.

How do you show someone that you love them? Would you be able to do that for someone who has wronged you? If your answer is no, don’t feel bad – that’s our shared human condition. But it also shows us something about God’s love. God loves us in a way that we can’t. But when we know and trust his love for us in Jesus, the love that gives everything to the people who deserve it the least but need it the most, then we can live in the reality of a love that can change our lives. Then, by God’s grace, this same love which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts can and will overflow from us into the lives of the people around us (see John 4:13-14).

Confession (Psalm 32)

psalm 32v5 confession 02

I love the look on my kids’ faces when I have caught them doing something wrong. On the one hand their guilt is obvious. On the other hand, though, they look at me with huge eyes, trying to convince me that they haven’t done anything wrong. Even though we both know they’re guilty, so many times they still try their best to hide what they’ve done and pretend there’s nothing wrong.

Most of the time I find it hard to get angry with them when they do that because their actions remind me of an important part of our natural human condition. We do wrong in lots of different ways. Yet we all try so hard to hide what we have done – from other people, from God and even from ourselves. Maybe we’re worried that people might think less of us or not love us anymore if they knew what we’ve done. Maybe we don’t want to face the guilt or shame that comes with doing wrong. Maybe we just don’t want to shatter the illusion that we really are good people.

Hiding the wrongs we have done can serious effect our well-being. I’ve known people who have carried guilt for something they had done for decades and seen the damage it can do. It can be like a cancer that we carry with us, eating us away from the inside, affecting our sense of self-worth and our relationships with other people.

There are lots of ways I’ve seen people try to hide from the guilt they carry. The most effective remedy I’ve seen, however, is forgiveness to help people find freedom from guilt and a greater sense of personal well-being. Confession and forgiveness was intended to be God’s gift to liberate us from guilt, not just an empty ritual. The act of confessing our wrongs and receiving forgiveness for them carries with it a power to heal our hearts, free our minds and give us a greater sense of well-being in our lives.

The writer of Psalm 32 knew the blessings that come with confessing sin and receiving forgiveness. He opens the psalm by stating that the person whose disobedience is forgiven and whose sin is covered is truly blessed (v1). This isn’t just a theological concept for the person writing this psalms but his lived reality! This person knew the joy that comes from having a record that’s been cleared of all guilt, and who can live in the honesty of their own flaws and failures (v2).

Especially as people who live in the light of the cross of Christ, we can find peace, hope and even joy in the forgiveness God gives us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus has embraced our humanity with all our flaws, failures and brokenness in his birth. Jesus has taken our sin from us and has put it to death in his crucifixion. Jesus has given us a new, guilt-free life through faith in his resurrection and his victory over sin, death and the devil’s power. Jesus came to free us from guilt, not to make us feel bad for the wrongs we have done.

So why do we continue to hide from our wrongs? Like the writer of this psalm, when we try to hide our guilt or hide from the wrongs we have done, we will continue to carry them and they will eat away at us and our relationships. When we confess them, however, our Father in heaven will only speak words of forgiveness, mercy and love because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. We have nothing to fear!

I hope that my kids will learn as they get older that they can tell me anything and all they will get from me is forgiveness and love. There will always be consequences for the wrongs we do because that’s how we learn about what is right and wrong. However, as we read in Hebrews 12:7-11, God disciplines his children because he loves us and wants what is best for us. He will never condemn us but will always freely forgive us because of the life, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus. So we don’t need to hide the wrongs we have done from him or from ourselves. When we confess our sin and guilt, God will always forgive us so we can find freedom from our sin, a greater well-being within ourselves, and the capacity to extend his forgiveness to everyone who wrongs us.