Proof of the Father's Love
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, December 7, 2008
Copyright © 2008, P. G. Mathew
People are always making promises. A young man may promise a young woman that he loves her and wants to marry her, but if she has any sense, she may say, "Prove that you love me."
I have heard many promises, agreements, and confessions that later proved to be meaningless. But Romans 5:6-8 declares that God the Father is not just making a promise when he says he loves us; he has proved his love for us beyond disputation. Paul writes, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).
Definition of God's Love
There are four words for love in the Greek language. Storgê speaks of affection within the family between parents and children. Philia means love between friends. Eros refers to sexual love. Agapê describes the highest form of love. It is very rarely used in classical Greek but commonly found in the New Testament. Agapê speaks especially of the holy, gracious, sovereign, everlasting, sacrificial love of God to sinful man. It is the type of love Paul is speaking about in Romans 5. Elsewhere he states, "Christ loved the church and gave himself for her" (Eph. 5:25); "The Son of God . . . loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). John also speaks about it: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son" (John 3:16).
Agapê love gives, serves, sacrifices, and dies for another. It is the type of love Jacob demonstrated when he worked seven years as a shepherd for Laban to gain Rachel as a wife (Gen. 29:30). Othniel similarly proved his love for Achsah by conquering Debir (Judges 1:12-13). David proved his love for Michal, King Saul's daughter, by killing two hundred Philistines (1 Sam. 18:20-27). But the greatest demonstration of agapê love is that of God the Father, who showed his love by not sparing his only Son but giving him up to die on the cross to secure our salvation. Christ's death on the cross is the proof of God's everlasting, unchanging love, a love so great that it is beyond human comprehension, a love that is better than life here, a love that even our death cannot destroy. It is this love of the Father that has enabled saints of God throughout history to suffer cruel persecution and death at the hands of their enemies.
Have you experienced this love of God the Father? Paul states this love of God is poured out in abundance in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us (Rom. 5:5). Every true Christian can experience it. When we do, we will know it with our minds, feel it with our emotions, and be motivated to love God and obey his commands with joy. This love motivates us to share this good news with others with confidence and causes us to rejoice in tribulations also. Let us, then, consider three proofs of the love of the Father from this passage.
God's Love Seen in the Love of the Father
The first proof is the Father's own love for us. The Father himself loves us. This is love that goes beyond common grace, which speaks of the love God has for all of his creation.
Under his common grace, God the Father shows love even to those who hate him. Jesus instructs, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matt. 5:44-45). Paul also speaks of God's common grace: "He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy" (Acts 14:17).
God gives food and shelter to all his creatures. He feeds the birds and clothes the lilies of the field (Matt. 6:26-30). James says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17).
But God loves his elect with his special love that saves them from their sins and makes them beloved saints. The Father gave his only Son to die in behalf of them only. Isaiah tells us, "'Come now, let us reason together,' says the LORD. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, ?they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool'" (Isa. 1:18). Isaiah also says, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6). In light of this great love of God, Daniel prayed in Babylon:
Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name. (Dan. 9:17-19)
In response to God's love, we are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And God may test our love for him as he tested Abraham (Gen. 22). At the last moment God spared Isaac from being sacrificed, declaring: "Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son" (Gen. 22:12). But herein we see the love of the Father for us: he did not spare his only Son, the Son of his bosom, but handed him over to wicked men that he may be crucified. So Paul says, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32). God's love shed abroad in our hearts is the love manifested on the cross.
Elsewhere Paul says of this love, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves" (Eph. 1:3-6). He also says, "For those God foreknew [foreloved] he also predestinated to be conformed to the likeness of his Son" (Rom. 8:29). Again, Paul declares, "'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him'-but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit" (1 Cor. 2:9-10). Of this great demonstration of God's love, Peter declares, "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge: and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross" (Acts 2:23). Jesus himself says, "Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). Our names are written in the Lamb's book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world.
The height and depth and length and width of God's love for us is beyond human comprehension (Eph. 3:18-19). Yet we can in a measure understand it through Christ's sacrifice on our behalf. John says, "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:9-10).
It is true that there is going to be a day when God will pour out his wrath in his righteous judgment: "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and the wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness (Rom. 1:18). But that is not all. Not only is the wrath of God being revealed, but the love of God is also being revealed. That is what Paul is declaring in Romans 5:8. Through the cross of Christ, God the Father reveals and proves clearly to all thinking beings of the universe his own unique love for sinners. Paul writes that God the Father presented Jesus Christ "as a sacrifice of atonement" (Rom. 3:25). Let us, therefore, survey the wondrous cross, and be amazed and impressed, not only by the Father's promise of love, but by his proof of it.
"God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Paul uses the present tense-sunistêsin. The cross is constantly unveiling and placarding the love of the Father for us. May we look to it and be saved. The Lord says, "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other" (Isa. 45:22). Jesus tells us, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life"(John 3:14-15). When Paul came to Corinth, he determined not to know anything but Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). To the Galatians he said, "Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified" (Gal. 3:1). The charge of every preacher is to declare to all the Father's love for sinners, that he would sacrifice his own Son on their behalf.
Salvation is not a joint venture in which we have fifty percent interest and God has fifty percent. It is not even a matter of us having one percent and God ninety-nine. Salvation is all by grace from first to last. Salvation is of the Father. Hell-deserving people are given heaven; death-deserving people are given eternal life. And because our salvation is all of grace, it is totally secure. If the Father loved us because we loved him, he would only love us as long as we love him. There is no security in such an arrangement. But our salvation depends not on our loveliness or holiness, but on the constancy of the love of the Father. God is not promising to love us; he has proved in history that he loves us. The greatest love is the Father's own love for his enemies revealed in Christ's death on the cross.
Paul prays, "May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love" (2 Thess. 3:5). I hope we will pray this when we are down and out: "Lord, direct my heart into your eternal, everlasting, sovereign, unchanging, constant love for me." Elsewhere Paul encourages us: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39).
God's Love Seen in Christ's Death
The second proof of the love of God is the death of his Son. Paul writes, "For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!" (Rom. 8:10). This verse, first of all, tells us that Jesus Christ is God's Son. He is not just a prophet or an angel, but the one and only beloved Son of God. Jesus was not a mere sinner dying on behalf of another sinner to spare him temporarily of his physical death. No, the Son of God died for sinners to give them eternal life. He is the sinless God-man, the eternal Deity who became mortal. God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to die our eternal death for our infinite sin. Four times Paul uses the word "huper" (in behalf of) in Romans 5:6-8, stressing the point that while someone may dare to die in behalf of a good man, Christ died huper asebôn, in behalf of the ungodly.
The emphasis in this passage is not on Christ's life, teaching, or miracles, but on his death. The Bible teaches that all have sinned and must die. We all became sinners through Adam's one sin. Every human being is conceived in sin, born a sinner, practices daily sin, and must die eternal death and go to hell, unless God intervenes. But whose death is Paul speaking about? He is speaking about the death of the sinless Son of God. We are spared because Christ died for our benefit, in our interest, as our substitute. We sinned, but Christ died. He did not die as a martyr, nor did he die for his own sins, for he was sinless. (PGM) He died so that we will not die eternally. And because of his death, those who believe in him have crossed from death to life (John 5:24). Jesus said, "Whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:26).
Four times in John 10 Jesus spoke about laying down his life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15, 17-18). For example, in John 10:17-18 he declares, "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life-only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." Laying down his life was the assignment the Father gave the Son because the Father loves us. In the death of Jesus Christ, we see the love of the Father.
These are not just promises without fulfillment. When John saw Jesus, he declared, "Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). When Dr. Karl Barth came to this country, he was asked, "What is the greatest thought that ever went through your mind?" He simply said, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."1 The entire Old Testament sacrificial system pointed to Christ's substitutionary death. That is the meaning of huper hêmôn. The Son of God became incarnate to taste death for every man (Heb. 2:9).
Paul says, "For Christ's love compels us, because we convinced that one died [huper] for all and therefore all died." There it is-the idea that Christ's death is in place of the death of another. "And he died [huper] for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died [huper] for them and was raised again" (2 Cor. 5:14-15). Compelled by the love of God, we henceforth live for him who died for us. Living is easier than dying.
The love of the Father is seen in the death of his Son. That is clear proof that God loves us. And we are told that Christ died kata kairon (at the right time). It was God's plan that his Son take on human flesh in his appointed time and die for the sins of those the Father foreloved and predestinated. When all human efforts for self-salvation failed, whether false religions or human philosophies or social action, Christ came. "'The time has come,' [Jesus] said. 'The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!'" (Mark 1:15). Paul says, "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those who are under the law" (Gal. 4:4-5).
Christ died and went to hell on the cross in our place for our salvation. Therefore, we will not die but will live with God forever in heaven. We are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Jesus Christ in heavenly places before the creation of the world.
God's Love Seen in the Salvation of Sinners
The third proof that God loves us is that he saves wicked people. Christ did not die for the righteous. Human beings do not die for one who is legally just, one who is a Pharisee like Saul of Tarsus, who said that he was perfect as far as the legal righteousness was concerned. Such legally perfect people are not loved; therefore, no one will want to die for them.
Christ did not die for good people either. Good people move beyond legalism. Such people can be benefactors, showing kindness to others. Paul says some people perhaps may dare to die for good people. Citing Donald Grey Barnhouse, Dr. James Boice gives this illustration:
Two men were trapped in a mine cave-in, and poisonous gas was escaping. One man had a wife and three children. He also had a gas mask, but his mask had been torn in the underground explosion and he would have perished apart from the act of the man who trapped with him. This second man took off his own mask and forced it on the man who survived, saying, "You have Mary and the children' they need you. I am alone and can go."2
Of course, such substitutionary deaths can only avert temporarily the physical death of the beneficiaries. They still are liable to an eternal, penal death.
But Christ did not die for such nice people either. What the Holy Spirit is saying in Romans 5:6-8 is that Christ died for wicked sinners. Such an act of love never happened in history until Jesus Christ came and has not happened since. A man may die for his family or friends, but not for wicked people.
God proved his love for us because his Son died for us when we were helpless, ungodly, sinful, and at enmity with God. Paul calls us helpless ones (ontôn asthenôn): "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6). Suffering from total moral inability, we could do nothing to please God; we could only do dead works. We were not well or merely sick; we were dead in trespasses and sins and thoroughly regulated by the devil. We were sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:1-3). Yet although it was impossible for us to save ourselves, we did not understand that truth because unregenerate powerless people cannot understand spiritual things. We could not see or enter the kingdom of God, nor did we seek God. So God himself provided a solution: "But because of his great love and rich mercy, God made us alive with Jesus Christ" (Eph. 2:4).
Not only were we helpless, but we were also ungodly (asebôn ontôn). By nature man is ungodly and the wrath of God is justly directed against him. As a fool, he says in his heart, "There is no God" (Ps. 14:1). He is godless, lawless, and refuses to worship and serve God. He always does the opposite of God's will. Yet in this we also see the love of the Father: God sent his Son to die for the ungodly, pouring out his wrath, not on us, but on his own Son.
Additionally, we were sinners. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Sinners relish in challenging God's sovereignty and violating his laws. A sinner actively opposes God's attributes-his wisdom, sovereignty, holiness, and power. How can God love such unlovely sinners? If he were but a man, he could not, for human love is based on the attractiveness of the object of love. But God demonstrates his special heavenly love by loving terrible sinners like us.
Finally, we were at enmity with God (Rom. 5:10). Not only were we were helpless, ungodly sinners, we were also God's sworn enemies. We declared war against God, and God declared war against us. "The sinful mind is hostile to God" (Rom. 8:7). And as God's enemies, we wanted to kill him. In fact, the essence of sin is enmity against God. That is why Jesus was crucified. Yet Christ's death was part of God's plan. The Father handed his Son over to be crucified. The wrath of God that was due us was poured upon his own Son. He did not spare him that he may spare us from eternal damnation.
How much more proof could you ask for that the Father loves us! Therefore, survey the wondrous cross. Study the Bible carefully. Fill your mind with God's word, and your heart will be filled to overflowing with the love of God, so much so that you will be able to rejoice in tribulations and will live to please God. This love of God the Father and his Son will motivate you to daily proclaim the good news of the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Roman Christians were like us-helpless, ungodly, sinful, enemies of God. Yet because of the love of the Father and the Son applied to them by the Holy Spirit, Paul addresses them in Romans 1:7 as "beloved" (agapêtois), "effectually called" (klêtois), and "saints" (hagiois). And not only were they beloved of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but we are too. We were helpless, ungodly, sinners, enemies, but no longer so. We have been justified and redeemed. Now we are God's beloved children, called effectually, saints.
This is good news, and I believe it. The Father loved me, he loves me, and will love me throughout all eternity. Even when I falter and fall, he will come and pick me up. He may discipline me, but he will never stop loving me.
This love of the Father is everlasting and unchanging. Therefore, I urge you to believe it and live forever in joy unspeakable and full of glory. And if you are not yet a believer in Christ, may you confess to God, "I am not righteous or good. I am a morally corrupt, ungodly sinner, and a sworn enemy of God. But I understand that you love sinners with an everlasting, unchanging, great love. I believe in your Son, Jesus Christ, who died in my place on the cross in history. Lord Jesus, save me, both now and forever." Jesus saves only sinners. Come to him as you are, and he will receive you and save you. Jesus justifies the ungodly.
May God help us to be convinced of the unending, unchanging love of the Father proven to us in this passage and may we experience it daily.
1 James M. Boice, Romans Vol. 2: The Reign of Grace, Romans 5:1-8:39 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 539.
2 Ibid., 538.
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Copyright © 2008, P. G. Mathew
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