Dr. Chris White Aug 4, 2013
Had someone been watching Speedway gas station last week from a satellite and focused on the line at the register, four very similar people could be seen. From a distance we probably looked like four peas in a pod. We were all in this Kentucky small town, all white, and all getting gas. But I was behind a young woman with bare arms, formidable elbows, and an attitude that told us that she did not suffer fools. On those elbows she had tattoos. On one it said, “Loved by Jesus.” On the other it said, “Hated by men.” Religious language aside, I sure did not feel like she and I were in the same pea pod. I did, however, stand on the side of the Jesus elbow. No matter how much we resemble one another, we are not walking copies.
But when it comes to sharing a faith in Christ, we’ve all taken the same big steps of faith. God is the first word of faith, of course, but Sinner is the second word. This word matters because this is where all people start with God. In a general sense all humans are sinners, because all humans sin, but today we are more concerned with Sinner as it defines the person not in relationship with God through Christ. If, as they say, you cannot become a Christian until you realize you are not a Christian, recognizing yourself as a Sinner is a great step of faith. I’d like to use Romans 5:1-8 as our guide.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:1-8
First, a Sinner is one not reconciled to God (v. 1). As far as “justified” goes, the language is of the courtroom and a judge, and one who is “justified” is one who is considered blameless before the judge. This Christ brought to us with his death and blood for our atonement. But peace with God is the over-arching idea. It means that rebels are restored. Not only is a rebellion put down, but the rebels now hold a place in the heart of the king they resisted. It’s like John Wilkes Booth having lunch with Mary Todd Lincoln and sitting especially close so she can show her favor for him. As in Luke 15, the prodigal son comes home with no demands but lots of hope for mercy from his father. Colossians 2:12-14 reminds us that though we were once separated from Christ, we have now been brought near through the blood of Christ. “For he himself is our peace.” On the flip side then, a Sinner is one not justified and not reconciled to God. It is less an issue of the details and abundance of the sins of a Sinner than it is the estranged relationship. It does not take particular poundage of sins to separate us from God. In fact, you may be one of the more moral people on your block, but if in your heart the reaction to God is, “Who are you to question me?,” then you are not at peace with God. This is the picture of a Sinner—not necessarily the sinningest person around, but one not reconciled to God.
Second, a Sinner is one with no hope of glory (v. 2). The hope of glory speaks to God’s glory that is seen when we reach heaven. This glory of God is beyond our eyes in this world, but a time is coming when we will see Him as He is. First Corinthians 2:9 says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” We who follow Christ live with a hope for heaven, for release from these bodies, and for reward for faithfulness. On the flip side, a Sinner is one with unfounded hope for glory. It is not that a person does not personally hope for the land we call heaven, but it is an unfounded hope. If it is based on anything but the exclusive work of Christ on our behalf, repentance and trusting the Lordship of Christ, then it is an unfounded hope. Hope does not save. Jesus saves, and only Jesus is the source of hope for glory.
Third, a Sinner is one disappointed in hope and suffering (v.3-5). Paul’s perspective is always a bit jarring. Not only is there hope in the glory to come when we leave these bodies, there is also hope as we suffer in these bodies. God brings transformative power to all situations, and so suffering can produce perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. We do not disappear under our sufferings. We are weak, to be sure, but our weakness leads us to trust in God for help. We are not disappointed in this hope because we recognize the Holy Spirit’s presence—that peace that surpasses understanding. A Sinner, being unreconciled to God and His will, finds disappointment in the sufferings of life because he cannot see the thread of redemption. Nor might he look for this thread. We cannot speak lightly of suffering. Ever. We can never undervalue the role of disappoint-ment in the lives of this world. Some truly suffer in this world, and when people have a history of disappointments and no perceived sense of purpose in this suffering, you have a toxic brew that most cannot carry.
Fourth, a sinner is powerless and godless (v. 6). Paul’s great line, “while we were still powerless,” points to the pressing problem of Sinners. His death on the cross was an act of love and sacrifice for those who had not the power to save themselves from the penalty and power of sin. We were powerless. Everyone in this room knows that heartbreaking moment when we admit we cannot do what most needs to be done to solve a problem or help a loved one. Accepting Christ is accepting that we have not the answer in ourselves for our deepest needs. It also means to accept that this separation from God was to live in the world as godless, without the power to change or the willingness to be changed. This is the problem of a Sinner. He is without the power to change what must be changed. No offering of right talk or right behavior solves the problem of sin and separation from God. It is life in the house built on the sand (Matt. 7:24-27). The best intentions do not keep a house standing when the storm comes.
Fifth, a Sinner is the loved of God that brought Christ to earth (v. 8). This is the beginning and ending of all conversations of Sinners—the ones we fear as well as the ones we love. We have to speak of separation from God in this definition of Sinner, but God’s demonstration of love is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. God’s great gift of love did not come on this side of reformation. He came to us while we were Sinners and sinning—whether in open defiance or ignorance. One writer explains it this way: “”Though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.” (C.S. Lewis)
Ultimately, then, what we find in Sinners and the sins—be it you, me, or someone else—is God’s reason for coming near. God’s love for Sinners (and sinners) is our first step of faith.