Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:1-8 NIV)
We say the word “gospel” a lot around here. We just read the “gospel” lesson. We’re all about preaching the gospel. We encourage you to share the gospel. The apostle Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel…” (Romans 1:16). And we say, “Amen! We’re all about the gospel!”
So what is it? It’s great that we’re all about the gospel. But what’s the gospel? “Gospel” is one of those church words that sounds really good, but if someone were to put you on the spot and say, “What’s the gospel?”, what would you say? I bet some of us could come up with a simple definition: “good news.” The word “gospel” means “good news.” That’s true! But what good news? I’ve heard there might be a Chick-fil-A coming to Green Bay. That’s good news! Is that the gospel? I’ve heard there’s toilet paper left at the Family Dollar on Main St. That’s good news! Is that the gospel? The word “gospel” is starting to mean whatever people want it to mean.
The truth is, there are a lot of different “gospels” floating around today. There’s the “prosperity” gospel. Have you heard of it? It’s a popular “gospel,” and it’s not hard to see why. The “prosperity gospel” is the idea that if you believe hard enough in Jesus, if you just do the right things, you will be wealthy and healthy—prosperous! Sound good? Sure! Then there’s the “social” gospel. Have you heard of that? It’s probably the most common “gospel” in churches today. The “social gospel” is the idea that the Christian church exists to end problems in society. If we do the right things, we will end poverty and inequality and violence. Sound good? You bet!
It’s just that there’s one word in our lesson from Romans that makes those “gospels” impossible. Look at verse 6. How does it describe us? “Powerless.” If the gospel depends on you and me doing the right thing, there’s a problem. We’re powerless. Actually, we’re worse than powerless. What’s the other word that verse 6 uses for us? “Ungodly.” We can’t solve the world’s problems for one simple reason: The problem is us. Why is the world so bad? Because of us. Because we’re envious and ungrateful. We’re selfish and arrogant. We divorce our spouses. We lie. We cheat and steal. We hate. We’re powerless, because we’re the problem. We can’t be the solution.
How do you like hearing that? It’s offensive, isn’t it? This is one of the reasons why people ignore the Bible. It’s not the good news of how great we are or how much we can accomplish. It’s not the good news of empowering us to live out our full potential. Instead, it tells us the truth. You and I are powerless and ungodly. True? That’s why none of the other “gospels” work. If you’ve trusting in the prosperity gospel, this wasn’t a great week, was it? You lost 20% of your wealth in a week. The coronavirus has shown us how powerless we are as human beings.
It’s just that there’s a pandemic even worse than the coronavirus—sin. Know how many cases of sin there are in the U.S.? Over 300 million people have been affected. Around the world, over 7 billion people have caught this “sin” disease. Here’s the worst part. Do you know what the mortality rate is for people with sin? 100%. It doesn’t get any worse than that! And we’re powerless to stop it. Sin won’t stop by quarantine—monks have tried that. Sin won’t stop by social isolation, because it lives in your heart. You’ve already got it. We’re infected with sin to the very core. I am an ungodly sinner who is powerless to save myself. You are too.
We need some good news, don’t we? Huh… Good news… That’s what the gospel is! So what’s the gospel? Here it is: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” At the moment we least deserved it, when we were still sinners, God in his love saved us. And he saved us in a very specific way. Jesus died to pay for sin. Here’s the best part: “Christ died for us.” “For us.” Not just for Paul or Mary. “For us.” Isn’t that good news? “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” This is the gospel—the “good news”—“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
You don’t hear good news like this anywhere else. Paul puts it like this, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die…” In rare cases, people do die for “good” or “innocent” people. But not Jesus. He didn’t die for good or innocent people. Remember the words God uses for us? Powerless. Ungodly. Sinners. Who does that? It’s unheard of. While every other religion in the world coaxes people to be good, the gospel is that even when we were at our worst, Jesus loved us and died for us. That’s the gospel!
We need this. A Hispanic lady who comes to our English classes texted me this week to say that her son was having surgery. I texted back that Jesus loves them and that I said a prayer for her family. She responded, “That’s good, because God listens to good people.” It broke my heart to read that. This is the lie of the devil that’s ingrained in us by nature. “God listens to good people. God loves good people. God saves good people.” It’s just that she knows she’s not good. So God must not listen to her. God must not love her. Does the devil sneak those doubts into your mind? What a lie! “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” For you. For me. There is no doubt.
Think of our Old Testament lesson about the Israelites. God had blessed those Israelites in incredible ways. He used the 10 plagues to free them from slavery in Egypt. He provided food for them every day. And how did they react? They whined and complained like a 2-year-old. They were the most ungrateful, ungodly bunch on earth. If you were God, what would you have done? Here’s what God did: He saved them. He gave them water from a rock. At their worst moment, God loved them. Like he loves you. Even when you whine and complain more than a 2-year-old, even more than an Israelite, Jesus died for you. Don’t you have to say, “Wow!”’?
Think of the woman Jesus met in our gospel lesson. She had lived her life completely against God and his Word. Jesus pointed it out. She had had five husbands. That’s hard to do! Even today, it’s hard to find someone who’s gone through five spouses. On top of that, she was living with another man who wasn’t her husband. Sin on top of sin. She chose her desires over God every single day. She was the last person Jesus should have talked too. So what did Jesus do? He offered her living water—forgiveness and eternal life. Even when you’ve sinned and sinned like a woman divorced five times with a live-in boyfriend, Jesus died for you. That’s the gospel—the good news! “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Is it starting to hit home?
Here’s how you can tell: Peace. The result of the gospel is peace. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” A heart that trusts in the good news of Jesus’ salvation has peace. Peace with God. Are you still not wealthy enough yet? You’ve got the wrong gospel. Are you filled with fear and doubt in the face of sickness and death? You’ve got the wrong gospel. Because the good news about Jesus brings peace. In the chaos of the world, nothing can change God’s love and forgiveness. Whether we live or die… Whether our plans succeed or fail… Whether we get better or get worse…
“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.” You stand in God’s grace. Remember what grace is? God’s “undeserved love” for us in Jesus. You stand in God’s grace all the time. You’re not bouncing in and out of God’s family. You’re not loved and then not loved and then loved. You’re not deserving and then not deserving and then deserving. “Through Jesus we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” We stand every day in God’s grace.
The gospel changes everything! Can you see that? Here’s the final result: “We boast in the hope of the glory of God.” Our world could sure use some hope, couldn’t it? The gospel gives hope. Hope for the past: Every single sin is forgiven. They’re gone! Hope for the future: You are going to see the glory of God! Even if you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go? Heaven! Because of Jesus. Because “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” You don’t have to worry yourself sick about death. To live is Christ and to die is gain!
So why is life still so hard? Here’s why, “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” The gospel doesn’t mean your earthly life will be easy. But the gospel promises peace in the midst of our sufferings. How? Every suffering points us back to Jesus. Every sickness drives us back to the gospel. Every heartache reminds us how powerless we are. And that is a good thing, because “when we were powerless, Christ died” for us. It’s good for our faith to get some exercise!
God’s providing an opportunity right now for us to glory in sufferings. We said that the gospel changes everything, right? The gospel even affects the cororavirus. When we face a suffering or trouble that we can’t control, what are we forced to do? Turn to God. As we turn to God and his Word over and over, what does our faith develop? Perseverance. As our hearts taste and see that the Lord is good, what does perseverance produce? Character. As we recognize that our lives depend less and less on our goodness and more and more on God’s grace, what does character produce? Hope. Are you ready to thank God for the coronavirus yet? Only when you know the gospel. When we were powerless, ungodly, sinful, Jesus died for us. So we have peace. Hope.
That’s what our panicking world needs more than anything else, isn’t it? Not more toilet paper. Not more tests. The gospel. Hope in Jesus. I got to see hope in Jesus in a powerful way over the past months. Emily’s uncle is a pastor of a large church in Watertown, WI. Last summer, he was diagnosed with cancer for the first time. Doctors were optimistic. A rigorous treatment plan was set up. It didn’t work. Not at all. His hair disappeared. His body wore down. He died this week.
But in those final months before he died, do you know what he did? He preached the gospel. He could barely stand, but he preached the gospel. Not some lie about wealth. Not some dream about heaven on earth. He preached the gospel about Jesus Christ. About how when we were powerless and sinners, Christ died for us, so that when we die, we will see the glory of God. As his congregation watched their pastor die, they got to see that nothing else matters. When life robs you of your power and your goodness and your security, thank God! Because then you can see what you have in Jesus. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s the gospel!