TEXT: Romans 5:1-8
SERVICE VIDEO (link)
We’ve been talking about what God is like, looking to scripture to better understand and answer that question. We have looked at God’s holiness, justness, and compassion. And we’ve seen each week that the Lord desires for those of us who trust him and follow Jesus to demonstrate those same traits in the world around us. It’s how God created us, in His image, it’s the obedience He requires of us, and it’s the life of blessing others that he desires for us and for the world.
Today we are going to talk about the love of God. Now if you have a good memory or have been pondering last week’s topic, you may remember that our Bible translation rendered hesed, the Hebrew word behind compassion and mercy as ‘lovingkindness.’ That’s a little confusing if today we are talking about love. Isn’t it the same thing? Well no, our translators used ‘lovingkindness’ to try to get at the complex meaning of hesed by combining love and kindness as a variation on compassion and mercy. But today are talking about a related but different trait: love (Heb ahav Grk agape).
As in past weeks, I first want to talk about God’s love for us, then our love for God and others.
God’s Love for Us (Romans 5,8)
The main verse I want to key in on from our scripture reading from Romans 5 is verse 8, because it describes HOW God shows us that He loves us. It says this:
God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
There is so much more in Romans 5, even in the verses we read today. It speaks of the peace with God that has been accomplished through Christ. It speaks of faith and grace and hope. It even speaks of the trials and tribulations we will face, and says that because of the “love of God” the Holy Spirit has been given to and poured out in us that we might experience that faith, grace, and hope. Lots to dig into and give thanks for! There in verse 5 it is the love of God that gives us the Spirit that leads us to Christ and remains with us because of Christ.
But today, verse 8. God demonstrates His own love toward us in two key ways:
#1 Sacrificial Love: “Christ died for us”
What does it mean that Christ died for us? It is one of the central tenets of Christian faith and it is pre-figured throughout the Old Testament as well, from the near-sacrifice of Isaac to the scapegoat to the sacrifice of a lamb for the sins of the people. Jesus selfless and spotless sacrificial death was to take our place and atone for our sins. And Romans 5:8 says that it is a demonstration of God’s love. And it was a choice on Jesus’ part as well. Ephesians 5:2 tells us that “Christ loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.” God’s love in Christ is a sacrificial love.
#2 Unconditional Love: “We were yet sinners”
What about the “we were yet sinners” part? The previous verse observes that one might dare die for a good person, but that’s not what Christ did. He died for the ungodly. We are all sinful, disobedient, turned from God. And that’s who Jesus came for. We see God demonstrate this same love throughout the Old Testament when He reaches out to Israel, gives laws to protect them, comes to deliver and lead them, and they disobey and turn away again and again. For example, just before the giving of the Ten Commandments the SECOND TIME – because the first generation out of Egypt had turned so completely from God – Moses tells those children that they will see the Promised Land. But he also tells them (in Deuteronomy 4) that once there they will again turn away from God and worship other gods. They will even lose their home and land and be scattered among the nations. But Moses reminds them:
29 “But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. 30 “When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice. 31 “For the Lord your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them. [description of all the ways God has been faithful to deliver]
37 “Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, 38 driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today. 39 “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.
God will not forsake them, nor will God forsake you. God’s love is unconditional. He comes to us to save while we were yet sinners!
And to those two key ways – sacrificial and unconditional – I want to add a third from later in Romans.
#3 Strong Love: “nothing can separate us from the love of God”
God’s love is also strong. Just how strong is God’s love? Just a little later in Romans 8, there is a memorable description of God’s love. We often hear them at funerals because we can’t imagine anything stronger than death, yet scripture says that God’s love is stronger than death and these verses declare that very thing and more.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv. 35,38-39)
You may well need to be encouraged by truth like this. We often feel alone and isolated in life – people disappoint us, jobs go away, our bodies fail, there is war and terror loose in the world. It is easy to lose hope and give in to despair. But did you hear the declaration in those verses? God’s love isn’t a warm fuzzy; it is stronger than war, famine, death, the future, and more: Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Be Imitators of God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Ephesians 5)
I mentioned Ephesians 5 earlier. It said that “Christ loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice.” (v.2b) But as we consider how WE are to love, consider two passages that flesh out the Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor.
#1 Love God: the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
I have referenced the Shema before, and often. It is a core teaching of Judaism and Christianity and is the first part of the so-called Great Commandment. We heard it as our Call to Worship this morning:
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Dt. 6:4-5)
Each of those terms describing how we are to love has a meaning, and the Greek translation of the passage adds “and with your mind.” But my favorite summary of it all is to say that we are to love God with “all that we are and everything we’ve got.” Nothing is left out! One of the New Testament letters (1 John 4:19) reminds us that “we love, because God first loved us.”
The Shema goes on to say that we are to teach this love of God to our children and to live it out, binding it to our heads, hearts, and homes. This is what Ephesians will touch on with the phrase “walk in love.”
#2 Love Others: “walk in love” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
And then consider the full context of Ephesians 5, which describes how we are to love:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. (vv.1-2)
We are to imitate God’s love – remember, it’s sacrificial, unconditional, and strong. And it is to characterize our whole life: “walk in love.” Christ is our model and that makes sense since he calls us with the words, “Follow me.”
I don’t always do this, but I want to leave you with some homework questions.
- How have you experienced God’s love for you?
- Who do you need to love, even if they don’t deserve it? And what does that look like? What’s keeping you from doing it? What are you going to do about it?
Some Music Used
- Good, Good Father
- O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus
- For the Beauty of the Earth