Now let's turn in our Bibles again to Romans chapter 5, and as we come to the Scriptures let's bow in a brief word of prayer together: Father, we thank You for those in our gathering tonight who can say, 'Now I know that it is finished'. Father, this is the great Gospel that we have to proclaim, that in Christ mercy has met the anger of God's rod, the penalty of our sinfulness, our awful sinfulness in Your sight, has been paid. Pardon has been bought by Jesus' blood, and so we have a Gospel of pardon and forgiveness, emancipation, liberty to proclaim. Lord, help us as we do it, and as we seek to explain the Gospel and the certainty of our salvation we pray that someone in this place tonight would know what it is for the entrance of God's word to bring light. Would all of us, Lord, we pray, find a fresh joy and exultation in the great Gospel of God's grace. For it is in Christ's name and for His glory that we pray, Amen.
Paul, in Romans chapter 5, sets forth for us the consequences of justification. I'll explain what that means in a moment or two, but we know that from verse 1, the very first word he uses is: 'Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ'. What he does for us after verse 1 is, he looks back at what God has done, how God justifies a sinner. Then we find also in this chapter, he looks presently at what God is doing for a person who has been justified. He doesn't leave it there, not only does he look at the past and the present, but he looks forward into the future at what God will do for a believer who has been justified.
Justification, in a very broad sense, is just another term for salvation. It is a forensic word, a legal word that speaks of how God has made a sinner righteous in His sight, so that that sinner can now come into God's presence. It doesn't happen through a work that the sinner does, or any merits in himself, but it's through Christ's death and His death alone, and the sinner's faith in that death, that he can be justified - 'Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God'. What I want you to see is that what Paul outlines for us in this chapter 5 of Romans is the certainty of salvation - past, present and future. The consequence of justification is that we can be certain and assured that once God justifies us, once God saves us, we are saved in the present and in the future as well.
Someone put it like this - you often hear evangelical Christians talking about being saved - he said: 'I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved'. You see, salvation is something that has happened to the believer, but it's something that is currently going on, and will have a future day of consummation. Now I just wonder that, in the background to this chapter, was there a question implied to the great apostle - simply: how can we be sure that God will make us eternally secure in Christ? If we have faith in Jesus and His sacrifice, His death, His atonement, how can we know for sure that we're always going to be secure? I would have to say that this is something that puzzles people in our world today when they see Christians, and hear what they say - because they are uncertain, if they even believe in salvation and eternal realities, most people are uncertain about their salvation. So when a born-again Christian, an evangelical believer comes along, often people are sceptical of their Christian security.
But it's not just non-Christians, often people who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are troubled about this issue of assurance. It might be for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most common is that they have failed in some way in their life, they have let the Lord down, and so they ask the question: does that mean I have lost my salvation? There are even churches that teach such a doctrine. But it's specifically to the unbelievers I want to address this message tonight: don't ever misconstrue Christian certainty and assurance as ignorance, arrogance, or a presumption. That's often what unbelievers do. They hear Christians saying: 'I'm saved, and I know I'm saved, and I know I'm going to heaven', and some clever folk will say, 'Oh, you're ignorant of what the Bible really teaches', or' You're ignorant of the realities of what really is out there in eternity'. Others think it's just pure arrogance: 'How can you be so sure? Is that not self-righteousness to think that you are definitely on your way to heaven? It's presumption! You're presuming something that you cannot be sure of'.
Now let me say to you tonight: on the authority of God's word we can say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives absolute assurance. You will see tonight that there is a certain salvation that God offers: past, present and future. Our faith is not in ourselves or what we can do, but as Romans 10:17 says: 'Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God'. Our faith is in what God has said, what God has declared! We're going to see it tonight.
Now in one sense Paul, in Romans chapter 5, argues from the lesser to the greater. Let me explain myself: his logic is, if God's love went out to us - as Christians he's speaking to - when we were ungodly enemies of God, the lesser; how much more will He preserve us now that we belong to Him, now that we are His children? He argues from the lesser to the greater - He loved us when we were sinners, do you not think He's going to look after us now that we belong to Him? But in another sense, he doesn't just argue from lesser to greater, but he argues from greater to the lesser - he is saying that it's such a great thing that Christ died for the ungodly when we were still God's enemies, how can we ever doubt that God will do the lesser thing and complete this work of salvation which He began at such a great cost?
It's all arguing that we can be sure that if God justifies us after we have placed our faith in Christ and Christ alone, that He will not only save us concerning what we have done in the past, pardoning us, but He is saving us now, and He will go on saving us until the day that we find ourselves in heaven. So Paul's argument is simply this: if God did that in the past, justified you, sent Christ to die for you when you were ungodly and had no thought of God, if God did that you can be sure that He will do this. In developing this theme, the apostle introduces five 'much mores', and we'll only have time to deal with two of them tonight - 'much more', arguing from the lesser to the greater, what God will do because of what He has done. His whole point is that we can be sure of what God will do for us in the future, because of what He has done in the past and what He is doing in the present for all believers.
Let's deal with each of these - first of all, what great thing did God do? Looking to the past, what great thing did God do? Now look at the verses, it's so explicit: Christ died - that is the great thing that God did! Now the natural question to ask is: for whom? If this is the great thing that God did do the past - Christ died - who did He die for? If you look at verse 6 you see that it's described very graphically for us by the apostle: He died for those who were without strength. Then it says at the end of verse 6 that He died for the ungodly; then it says in verse 8 that He died for sinners; then at the end of verse 8 Paul says He died for us.
Now let's see how Paul forms his argument to describe what great thing God did in the past. Here's the first thing when we look at who Christ died for: it was for those who were without strength. Now listen to this: the greatness of what God did in the past is understood better when we discover for whom He did it. He did it for those without strength, literally it means those who were helpless. It's not speaking of physical weakness, but moral frailty. In other words, people who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ through justification by faith, the Spirit of God does not live in them, they are sinners and the Bible describes them as dead. My friend, I don't wish to offend you unnecessarily, but that's how the Bible describes you if you're not a Christian - spiritually dead. Someone who is dead in a spiritual sense, as in the physical, is incapable of doing anything to help themselves. That's what the Bible teaches, so much so that the power of God is necessary in a man or a woman's life. Jesus Himself said in John 6: 'No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day'.
Because a sinner without God is hopeless, Paul says he is helpless, he is incapable of saving himself. In fact, in Ephesians 2, Paul again looks into the past of the believers in Ephesus, he says: 'You who God has quickened, were once dead in trespasses and in sins'. Now my friend this evening, this exposition is in order to help you come to Christ, and the great question is: do you realise that you, as a sinner, are unable to save yourself? Do you know that you're helpless? The Bible goes as far as to say that you are unable to even understand the things of God, and that's perhaps why you're not grasping the Gospel, because you're trying to just reason and rationalise it. Yet Paul, to the Corinthians, who were a clever crowd, said: 'The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned'.
A sinner cannot act on a command of God, let alone understand them. The greatness of God's Gospel and what God has done is that God's love in the past has triumphed over human power and human wisdom that has failed. What man could not do for himself or do for others in mankind, the power of God in the Gospel has triumphed in. This Gospel, what God has accomplished He has accomplished for those who were helpless, those who were without strength - sinners, us. That's what makes what God did in the past great, because He did it when human power, our power, failed.
Here's something else I want you to note in verse 6: 'For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly'. 'In due time', that simply means that at the moment that God had chosen, Christ came and died for sinners. Paul puts it another way in Galatians 4:4: 'When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law'. You could translate it: 'At just the right time, when we were without strength, helpless and hopeless, at just the right time Christ died for the ungodly'. Do you know what Paul's thought is? Christ, when He came, did not come too soon, nor did He come too late. At the appropriate time, at God's time, Jesus came.
Now what is he trying to illustrate for us? What God did in the past is great, not only because it is helping the helpless and those for whom human power has failed; but this is a fact, that it was planned for all eternity. What He did in the past is great because it was planned from ever the earth began. Now why do I labour that point? Simply because sometimes we talk to folk and they say: 'Well, why did God wait thousands of years before He sent the Lord Jesus Christ to die? Why did He?'. All that we can say to that is: God knows why He did it, and all we need to know is that we can be sure He didn't do it in a haphazard way - it was at exactly the right time, the most appropriate time, that God sent His Son.
So there are two ways of looking at the time of Christ's death: He died, first of all, when we were still sinners, helpless and hopeless; but also we can look at it, secondly, that it was at the time that was fitted for God's purpose. The atonement, Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, it was no afterthought; but it is the way that God had intended to deal with our sins through all eternity - indeed it was the only way! So the cross, my friend, is not a cruel tragedy, it is not a miscarriage of justice, it was the execution of God's plan at God's chosen time - that's what makes it great!
Its greatness is that God's love triumphed where human power failed. Its greatness of what He did is seen in the fact that it was eternally planned. Here's something else, this wonderful statement at the end of verse 6: 'Christ died for the ungodly'. This is how we know that God's love is unwavering, that God's love will never fail us in the future or indeed the present: because it is not based on how lovable you or I may be, it is based on the constancy of God's character. God will never let us down, because Christ died for the ungodly. God, in this supreme act of love, came to us when we were most undesirable - that's the whole point! This is the great thing that He did in the past. Now Paul is arguing: if God came to us when we were in our most unlovely state as sinners, how could we ever doubt that God is going to keep on saving us today and tomorrow, right into eternity?
Indeed, in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, the Lord Jesus uttered those immortal words: 'Ye have heard that it has been said, Love your neighbour as yourself. But I say unto you, Love your enemies'. He goes on to explain that there is no real merit in loving your neighbours and your friends. He illustrates it in this way in Matthew 5:46: 'If you love them which love you, what reward have you? Do not even the publicans', or the sinners, 'the same?'. That could be an illustration of the very love of God, the wonder of it all, the greatness of it is that it is love for those who are unlovable, those who are undesirable. Can I emphasise this point: the death of Christ was not for good people, but people, Paul says, who were still sinners.
Now that's important - why? Because there's a lot of folk in Ulster and the United Kingdom, right across the world today on Sunday, who will be at church and they are what we could call 'religious moralists', 'Christians' they would call themselves because they follow Christ, they read the Bible, they pray, they're in communion in some of the Christian denominations - but they are religious moralists, because they actually believe that by following a code of conduct and a denominational ethic, that in some way by calling themselves a Christian, going through the sacraments, whatever they may be, and ordinances of the church, trying to be faithful in the religiosity, that God is going to in some way accept that. But Paul is telling us the opposite: Christ did not die for those types of people, in the sense that He died for those who were still sinners - not people who try to doctor themselves up, not people who try to become acceptable with God, but the death of Christ becomes effective to those who really see themselves still as sinners.
Now, is that you my friend? Or have you swallowed the lie of the religious moralists? In verse 7 he illustrates this in perhaps one of the most graphic ways in the New Testament. What great thing did God do? 'For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us'. What Paul is doing - follow the illustration - is, he's saying: 'Well, an average man, he loves his own life. His life is precious to him and he would never think of discarding it carelessly, throwing it away, especially for someone else who he felt was unworthy'. In other words, would any of you just casually throw away your life for someone that was a terrorist, someone who was an abductor? Would you do it? Paul says: 'No, people don't do that'. But then he goes a step further, as it were, and he says: 'In fact, most people are reluctant to die for even a righteous man'. Now he's talking about people, not who are righteous in God's eyes, but a better person. So he's implying that people would never die for bad folk, they would never throw their lives away for folk who are unworthy, but you can hardly get anyone to die even for someone who is better than that bad person, or even someone who is good, a good man - people wouldn't even dare to die!
Paul's point is this: we as sinners, all of us, are neither of those people - we are neither righteous or good. Yet the wonder of what God has done for us in the past is that Christ sacrificed Himself for us, even though we were neither righteous nor good. Have you come to terms with the fact that you're neither righteous nor good? A famous Bible teacher quite recently was asked the question, a very popular question indeed today: why do bad things happen to good people? Have you ever asked that question? Do you know what his answer was? 'I don't know any good people'. Why do bad things happen to good people? Now I know there are moral people, there are upstanding people, there are people who are better than others on that human level - but what that teacher was saying is right: all of us are sinners in God's eyes.
Paul, what he's doing is bringing out this unexpected aspect of the death of the Saviour - it's unexpected because no one dies for evil people! Do you see his exclamation? You can hardly find a person to die for a good man, the best of men, but imagine someone dying for the worst of men! If you can imagine that, my friend, you've got the Gospel - that's it! The greatness of what God has done: when human power failed He came to the helpless, this was something eternally planned which makes it great, and the greatest aspect as far as we are concerned is that this offer of salvation is to the most undesirable in all humanity. What great thing God has done!
Secondly, what great thing is God doing. This is in verse 8, and remember what he's pushing towards: he's showing us from the past what great thing God has done, what great thing He's doing in the present, to prove what He's going to do in the future to those who have faith in Him. What is He doing now? Verse 8 says: 'But God commends', or demonstrates, 'his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us'. Now in verse 8 that word 'commendeth' or 'demonstrates' is in the present tense - what does that mean? It means that now Paul is not simply talking about something that happened 2000 years ago on a hill called Golgotha, but he is now speaking of the fact that God is presently demonstrating His love to sinners in our world today. Though the cross is an event in the past, it keeps on showing the love of God in the present.
What does God demonstrate today? You ask somebody that and they'll say: 'Nothing!'. You've heard folk say, maybe you've even said it yourself: 'Why does God not intervene in the world? Why doesn't He interpose in my circumstances and sort my life out? Where was God when I needed Him? I don't feel God's demonstrating anything to me or to humanity today'. Paul says: 'He is! He is still demonstrating His completely supernatural and other-worldly love, far transcending any human love that you can know'. That's the greatness about it: in the present, He is presently demonstrating that love. Isn't it wonderful? Sometimes even Christians ask the question and say, reminiscing in their imagination: 'I wish I was on the earth when Moses was here. I wish I could have seen the Red Sea part. I wish I had been on the earth when the Lord Jesus walked among men, saw His miracles and heard His mighty words. If I could have seen Him on the cross' - maybe, like Thomas, we're saying 'If I could see the nailprints in His hands, and His feet, and the scar in His side - it would make a difference to my faith, it really would!'. My friend, listen: Paul says 'No!' - apart from the fact that many people saw that and they didn't follow the Saviour, it didn't give them faith, the point is that this great love at Calvary is still being demonstrated today in the message of the cross, in the message of the Gospel. The big issue is: are you receiving the transmission? God's still communicating it, God is still demonstrating it, but are you receiving it?
This really points to a crucial issue: how you think of God. How do you think of God? Do you think of God as a God of love? Paul is showing us that this God of the New Testament, He is not a remote God, He is not an indifferent God, but He is a God who is full of love - and it is from His love that our salvation proceeds. Notice what he says in verse 8: 'God commends His love, God demonstrates His love' - it's God's love that's demonstrated. Now one might expect him to have said: 'Christ's love is demonstrated for us in that He died for us', but no, he says 'God's love' - why? Because Christ's love is God's love! When you see Christ you're seeing God, you're seeing the heart of God. Many people have a harsh legalistic view of God, they're lopsided in their view of God, He's all a God of wrath who wants to judge you and send you to hell, and that's all He is. Oh my friend, do you see from this verse that it's God's love that is being demonstrated in the death of Christ?
Martin Luther, I mentioned him last week - it's hard to preach from the book of Romans and not mention him, because he was converted through the truths in this book as were many of the reformers - he shares his experience of his lopsided view of God. This is what he says, now listen carefully: 'Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that He was placated by my satisfaction'. Now listen to this: 'I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly I was angry with God, and said, 'As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the Gospel and also by the Gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!' Thus I raged', Luther said, 'and had a troubled conscience'. Eventually through the book of the Romans he saw that it is through faith, faith in Christ alone, faith in Christ's death alone, that the sinner is made righteous in the eyes of God and is accepted - not by any merits of our own, anything we have done, for we have none; but upon Christ's merits, and His only.
My friend, that shows the greatness of what God is doing now. He is presently demonstrating His love, and it is His own divine love that He is demonstrating. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5: 'God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself'. What is your picture of God? How do you see Him? Don't see Him just as a God who is angry with sinners and wants to put you in hell! He is a God of holiness, He is a God of wrath, but it is He who has gone the extra trillion miles in commending His love for us in that, while we were in that sinful, judgment worthy state, He sent His Son in love for us that we might be saved - '...yet sinners, Christ died'. Still sinners! Look at it: God did not wait until we had fulfilled some precondition, and cleaned ourselves up and got right in His sight. He loves us because of what Christ is, not because of what we are - there is nothing in us to call forth the love of God, only one thing can save us: Christ died for us! It's impressive in its simplicity, isn't it? It's succinct. The essence of the Christian message is the greatness that He is presently demonstrating His love, His own divine love is being demonstrated, and at this moment He still requires nothing more of the sinner than to, by faith, claim that Christ died for me - hallelujah! That's it!
The greatness of this salvation in the past is that when human power failed, His grace triumphed. The greatness in the past is that it was eternally planned for us, and it was for the undesirable. The greatness in the present is that it is being demonstrated now through this preaching, and it is God's own divine love being demonstrated. His love does not ask anything more of us than that we turn from our sin, and put our faith alone in Christ. Thirdly and finally, what great thing will God do? Listen, this is his argument, trying to show us that we can be sure that if we trust Christ we will be saved for time and for eternity - because of the great things God has done in the past, is doing in the present, we can be sure of the great things He will do the future. This is what he says: 'Much more then', verse 9, 'being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him'.
He looks to the future, and quite correctly, notice, he inserts God's wrath - we will be saved from God's wrath. God's wrath is real, but it's not a contradiction of His love. Christ's salvation is effective not only now, it doesn't just blot out our past sins - hallelujah for that - and it doesn't just help us get through life today, but it is something that lies beyond this life and goes forth into eternity. Don't tell me that if you're without Christ you're not fearful of death. Don't tell me that you've never thought of the afterlife. Don't tell me that you've stood around an empty grave and not been caused an iota of contemplation over where you will be on the day of your burial. The wonder of what God is going to do for those who believe in Him in the future is: save them from wrath, because Christ bore the full fury of God's wrath in the believing sinner's place, so that there's no more left for him!
Isaiah 53: 'He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities: the punishment of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; but the LORD laid on him the iniquity of us all'. That's why Paul said to the Thessalonians: 'We wait for the Son of God from heaven, who is raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come'. We shall be saved from wrath. Are you worried about the future, where your soul will be? Can I tell you tonight: the only way to be sheltered from future wrath is to be trusting and resting in the wounds of Jesus Christ.
We shall be saved from wrath, secondly what He will do the future: we shall be saved by His life. When we were God enemies Christ was able, through His death, to reconcile us to God - that's what Paul is saying. So now that we're God's children, the Saviour, is He not going to keep us? Because He's alive by His living power - through death He saved enemies, now that He's alive, is He not going to keep us as His children? Our life is bound up with His life! People say: 'I don't know how I could keep salvation if I trusted Christ' - friend, see that it is your life bound up with Christ. It's got nothing to do with what you keep, He's keeping you!
Thirdly, in the future, we see from verse 11 - and this can be realised in the present also - we exalt in God. This salvation, what God has done, what God is doing for us, what God's going to do in the future - it causes us to exalt and to glory in Jesus, and Jesus alone. That's why Paul could say in Galatians 6:14: 'God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ'. The chief end of man, catechism question number 1, is answered: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Are you glorifying God, my friend? Are you enjoying God? Old Martin Luther didn't enjoy God, he grew angry with God because he didn't see God in Christ. He wrote a poem, it goes:
'In the devil’s dungeon chained I lay;
The pangs of death swept o’er me.
My sins devoured me night and day,
In which my mother bore me.
My anguish ever grew more rife,
I took no pleasure in my life,
And sin had made me crazy.
Then was the Father troubled sore,
To see me ever languish.
The everlasting pity swore
To save me from my anguish.
He turned to me His Father-heart
And chose Himself a bitter part,
His dearest did it cost Him.
Thus spoke the Son, 'Hold thou to me,
From now on thou will make it.
I gave my very life for thee,
And for thee I will stake it.
For I am thine and thou art mine,
And where I am our lives entwine,
And the Old Fiend cannot shake it''.
Luther said, after his conversion: 'If you knocked at my heart's door at any time before my conversion, and had asked, Who dwells in there? I would have answered that no one dwells here but Martin Luther! And if I had opened the door, and you had come in, you would have seen a rough-headed monk, with a shaven crown and a hair shirt, with two tables of stone under my pillow', that is the ten commandments, 'and a knotted scourge hanging beside my bed', that he would have whipped himself with. 'But if you were to knock at the door of my heart tonight, I would answer that Martin Luther no longer lives here; Jesus Christ alone lives here!'.
Does He live in your heart? 'God forbid that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world'. My friend, are you glorying in God and God's salvation of grace through His Son Jesus Christ? What you must do is to repent of your sin, believe the Gospel, and surrender your life to Christ - and you will know this experience of certain salvation: past, present, and future. Because God did that, you can be sure that He will do this. The long and the short of it is simply that salvation has been purchased, and it is offered freely to all who will by faith come repenting, turning from their sin, and turning to Jesus and Jesus alone. Friend, you can receive eternal life tonight by faith.
Lord, we thank You that we can come and address You as the God of our salvation, the One who planned it from beginning to end. We come in and through the name of our Lord Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross. Lord, we know that we are the joy that was set before Him. We thank You, Lord, for ever loving us. We often say why You would have loved us, we do not know - the fact of the matter is, there is no reason why, there cannot be, but Your grace; and Lord, we thank You for it, for without it all of us would be lost. We pray for those who perhaps have never realised it, and never come into the privilege of knowing sins forgiven through Jesus Christ. Lord, tonight take a dealing with them, and for all of us - whatever our spiritual condition may be - may we go away from this place tonight exalting in the Lord Jesus, and the reconciliation that He has brought. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the sixth recording in his 'The Gospel Explained' series, entitled "The Certainty Of Salvation: Past, Present, And Future" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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