One of my last semesters in seminary, I opened my mail and discovered that I had been nominated for a preaching award. I was so stunned that I had to read the letter three times before I was convinced I was reading it correctly. In order to actually win the award, I needed to submit a tape of a recent sermon and its manuscript. So, I went to work. In fact, I thought I was going above and beyond. A tape? This was the new millennium! I would burn a CD and send it in. I thought I was gold and good to go; a win for sure. But when the winner was announced, my name wasn’t the one revealed.
Owing more to pride than anything else, I was down and frustrated. Then as I thought back to my last preaching class, I reread the submission process and realized that I didn’t actually stand a chance of winning. I had actually disqualified myself. What the school wanted wasn’t an audio tape, but a video tape. In my haste, I read too quickly, and even in trying to go beyond the basic expectations, I failed to even meet them.
The same is true with all of us when it comes to our sin before God, only more so. No matter how hard we try, we will always miss the mark. That’s imagery behind the word sin. We always miss the mark, our arrows always fall short in our pursuit of living a life that is acceptable to God. Even at our best, we don’t even qualify for life with God.
That still may not seem like that big of deal to you. But consider Paul’s words in Romans 5: “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” (5:6-8).
So severe, so wicked was our sin before God that we can only know because Christ died for us. Most of us have probably never done anything that we would consider really sinful. But who are we before God? Not righteous people; not good people. We are ungodly people before God. With that in mind, Paul says that this is how we know God loves us: God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The result is not only a legal standing with God, but a relationship with him. Despite our pridefulness in sin—living by our own wisdom, for our own glory—rebelling against a holy God, he loves us. And in that love, we works to see us reconciled to him in Christ, so that we are no longer his enemies but his friends. Paul goes on in Romans 5 to say: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (5:9-11). Listen to how Charles Hodge summarizes the point: “If Christ has died for his enemies, he will surely save his friends.”
This is the amazing hope we have in Jesus. It’s a powerful reminder of God’s grace in the face of our sin. It’s a reminder that should lead us to humble faith and obedience, not to earn God’s love, but as thankfulness for already having received it in Christ.