New relationships can elicit a variety of emotional responses: fear, excitement, uncertainty, dread, and depression. A young person who has to attend a new school because his father has transferred job locations may experience many of the above emotions. Others who may experience the same emotions are military personnel, managers, missionaries, and pastors.
Grace and Our Helpless Condition (v. 6)
Throughout the course of Christian history, various conclusions have been reached about humanity’s condition. Tainted, depraved, and innocent are all words that have been examined by believers and theologians to describe our condition as it relates to salvation.
While one’s view of our spiritual condition should be constructed on the Bible’s teachings, there is room for various interpretations. One reason for skewed opinions is abhorrence for what the Bible says about us. Since the Bible’s assessment is not politically favorable, people look in other places to form their opinions. They may do personal observation of their behavior and attitudes and reach the conclusion that while not perfect they are comparatively good. From observation, they may assume they control their destiny and don’t need to lean on a supernatural deity. Self-help books or the works of positive thinkers may teach that everyone will be okay in the final analysis, so how they live is immaterial.
The spectrum of self-evaluation runs the gamut from really bad to not bad at all, from needing supernatural assistance to requiring none at all. The Greek word translated “helpless” is asthenes and means weak, infirm, and feeble. A modern translation renders it “utterly helpless.” A middle position for those who do not appreciate the extremes is that we are somewhat bad and need a little help but can also render some help ourselves.
What is essential is not what others believe, what we want to believe, what we feel like believing, or what we might misinterpret the Bible as saying. It is only important what the Bible actually says. Paul has already concluded all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (3:23). He later adds that the wages of sin is death (6:23).
While we are not as evil as possible—since God’s Spirit exercises a preserving influence even on evil people—we are sinful as borne out by our actions. Whether we are responsible for these actions or, more specifically to a deity, are further questions to consider. The Bible’s conclusion seems clear to those who would accept it: we are sinful and responsible to God for our sins. Sin permeates us to the core. It taints our nature. Further, we are responsible to God because our sinful rebellion is against him and an offense against his holy nature. Since we are his creations, he holds us accountable.
Grace and God’s Cure (vv. 6-8)
God’s cure for our condition was through Christ and at the right time. In another epistle, Paul refers to Christ’s arrival as occurring in the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). Jesus also acknowledged that the time was right for his appearance (Mark 1:15). Both of these conclusions can be enhanced by a brief overview of history.
The Roman political contribution to history aided in making the time right. They provided a universal law leading to the unity of mankind. They brought peace (Pax Romana), which led to free movement within the Mediterranean world. An excellent system of roads enhanced travel, and their conquests led many to lose belief in their gods.
The Greeks also prepared the world for Christ’s arrival. Greek was the universal tongue of the ancient world. Greek philosophy helped destroy people’s faith in the older religions.
And of course, the Jews contributed to Christ’s coming occurring at the right time. In contrast to other world religions, they believed in one God. They looked for a Messiah, and their ethical standards were extremely high. Most important perhaps was that they had preserved the Old Testament scriptures. History had meaning and was God’s story. An institution for worship in the form of the synagogue completed their contribution.
One purpose of God’s law was to display his standards as well as our inability to live up to them. The years between the giving of the law and the coming of Christ provided ample opportunities for people to realize their inadequacy. And in whatever other ways might have been involved, it was simply the right time in God’s plan for his Son’s appearance.
The cure for humanity’s condition was Christ. God’s plan of salvation involved timing, but the timing entailed sending his Son to take our place (substitutionary atonement). We didn’t need just a good example to follow. We needed someone to die for our sins and satisfy God’s wrath against us. Salvation comes only because God took the initiative.
While phileo love gives itself for a brother, agape’ love demonstrates love to those who do not return it or deserve it. It is continuous and sacrificial. The Greek word for “for” is hyper and means on behalf of or for the sake of.
Christ’s cure was uncommon and unbelievable. Paul mentions how rare it was for someone to give their life for another person. According to him, this might take place if someone is especially good. We think of those who volunteer and are paid to rescue people in life-threatening situations (firemen, police, and medical personnel). In some instances, they risk their lives in the attempt. Additionally, those they rescue are good and evil. We might conclude some deserve rescuing while others don’t. Christ’s sacrifice was different in that all he died for were ungodly and beyond saving themselves. We had no strength to rectify our sad situation.
Christ’s cure was made while we were still sinners. God’s decree to send Christ to provide salvation was made after his decree to permit people to fall into sin. Thus God saw all people from the beginning until the end as a group in sin whom he would send his Son to die for. All for whom Christ died were sinners.
That God determined to send Christ while we were still sinners gives great encouragement when we feel uncertain of God’s love. Perhaps we have made major mistakes and bad decisions or committed horrendous sins. God still loves and extends forgiveness because of his grace.
The Greek word for shows or commends is in the present tense and means God is always showing and proving his love to us. While it would not surprise us that God would save those who are earnestly trying to live righteously, it is amazing that he would stoop to save those who want nothing to do with him and who are in a state of rebellion. Christ did not die to make us lovable to God but to bring us closer to him through salvation so we can experience the peace that comes from knowing we have been placed in right standing with God.
God’s willingness to give his Son on our behalf required a number of elements. Jesus had to leave an eternal world for a corrupted physical world tainted by sin. He had to undergo humiliation by taking on human flesh. God had to watch as his Son lived his life with abuse and rejection and then finally observe him crucified. All this because he predestined him to die for us. Because Jesus was actually bearing our sin, God had to temporarily turn his back on his Son. Additionally, he had to pour out his wrath on him rather than us.
Grace and God’s Justification (vv. 9-11)
We are justified by the blood of Christ. We are not actually made holy by Christ’s sacrifice but rather the holiness of Christ is applied to our life so when God sees us he sees him.
Our justification protects from God’s wrath. This is another positive effect of Christ’s atonement and our acceptance of it. Our justification is something that happens now while the wrath of God is reserved finally and completely for the final judgment. We are saved now and will be saved in the future as well. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). This same power that saves is available daily through the abiding presence of God’s Spirit. His Spirit teaches, guides, comforts, and illuminates our mind. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is the same power residing in us, giving us energy to live for him. The power of the Spirit gives courage to face each day with its trials and tribulations.
Through Christ’s sacrifice, we are made friends with God. This takes our relationship with God to a loftier level. Jesus reminds us of the same truth when he says we are no longer servants but friends (John 15:15). It is one thing to be made right with God but something entirely different to have a friend relationship with him.
The word restored brings us to the idea of reconciliation. Our peace with God has legal and relational ramifications. Justification restores the right standing legally for our offense against God while reconciliation removes the threat of God’s wrath and allows us to enter a friend relationship with him (Colossians 1:21-22). The Greek word for reconciliation is katallasso and means to change, exchange, or return to favor with. Two people who had something between them now have that obstacle removed.
The great exchange is that God accepts what Christ did instead of what we did—rebelled against him. Through reconciliation, the hostility is removed and unity is restored. God made the first move toward us through the cross, and we accept his offer by faith (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). Christ’s life in us assures we will be delivered from eternal punishment. Lest we worry, he lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). In Galatians, Paul proposes we have been crucified with Christ so we don’t actually live but Christ lives in and through us (2:20).
As a result of accepting what God has done for us, we have joy. We no longer have to fear the wrath of God but can live in peace because we are confident of his love and acceptance. Anytime we have peace, joy follows. We rejoice over what God has done for and in us and over what he wants to do through us.
How wonderful that God’s grace did not require we wait until we were good enough for him to intervene in our sad situation. In Christ, the enmity between us and God has been removed forever by his grace.