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Christ Died for the Ungodly

Sermon 1848 Romans 5.1-8 March 12, 2023

My dad was the softy when it came to dogs in the family. As a farm boy he always had dogs. So when he got married and moved to the big city of Caledonia, Minnesota (population 3000), we had dogs. He stopped trying to hunt with dogs after Clio, a beagle so high strung she barked away every squirrel within three miles. When we moved to metropolitan La Crescent, only three miles away from the big city of La Crosse, he tried again. He brought a little dachshund home, its two back legs strapped to a roller skate. It had gotten run over and was recovering. My dad was just the man to play nurse to the pup. We got more than we bargained for.

“Why do I even bother to feed this dog?” I would lament to no one in particular every time I put the bowl down in front of Nipper. Yup, we named him Nipper. Earned his name from Day One. He would nip you as you put the bowl of food down before his greedy eyes. Yup, bite the hand that feeds you. That was our last dog, Nipper.

But we kept him. Played with him. Loved him. Dad would have it no other way.

Christ Died for the Ungodly

1. Love for sinners (6-8)

2. Means continued love for saints (1-5).

There is an inner contradiction in the life of every Christian. It doesn’t seem like we are Christians. We don’t live those rose-colored lives the Christians in the made for TV cable movies are living. We don’t have their perfect skin and perfect hair. We can’t climb mountains at age 70 like they do. It makes us wonder if we are really Christians. And we don’t always act like Christians. We shoot ourselves in the foot. Get a little tired, a little under the weather and we growl at people who are trying to help us like a dog biting the hand that feeds it.

We can take comfort that Christ died for the ungodly. His love for sinners means continued love for saints.

“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 (6-8).”

How can people imagine they are going to heaven because they are such nice people? Were they born with halos around their heads? Have they really looked at the Law? When I look at myself I see what a renegade I am. I don’t like anyone laying down the law for me. Who made them boss? I do what I want! And that’s after years of being a believer! What if I had never been baptized by old Pastor Gurgel?

None of that mattered to Jesus Christ. He died for the ungodly. Nobody else does that. For a good man, maybe someone will risk their life. Secret Service agents tasked to protect the President will take a bullet to protect him. But put themselves in front of a gunman threatening a terrorist? Doubtful. Donate a portion of your liver to your loving sister who got hepatitis from a dirty restaurant? Probably. For a raging alcoholic who has squandered every chance? No way.

Jesus did. He died for sinners, Paul says. He died for those who had no power to save themselves. “While we were still powerless,” that is, before we were believers. Sinners. The Holy Spirit must have known people would try to water down sinners so that they were more like adorable losers, like a St. Bernard puppy that keeps chewing up your Nissan compact. The Holy Spirit moved Paul to take it to the limit. Christ died for us. Christ died for the ungodly. We are the ungodly. There is no good in the ungodly. No merit or worthiness in us. No reason in the world for Jesus to stick his neck out for us. His love for sinners moved Christ to die for the ungodly.

So even when I don’t feel Christ-like and holy, I still know I am forgiven. Christ died for the ungodly. He died for me. He died for you.

Now, if Christ died for the ungodly out of his love for sinners, doesn’t that mean continued love for saints?

“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 (1-5).”

We are saints. No, we don’t walk on the clouds in white robes. We are on-earth-saints. We have been justified by faith, declared not guilty of sin because of Jesus’ holy, sinless life and his innocent sufferings and death. We have the Holy Spirit living within us. We are believers. Now that inner tension really shows.

Paul says we have peace with God. Because of that peace we have access to God. We go to him in prayer anytime, anywhere for anything. When peace is far away, we go to our God in prayer a lot!

We have a glorious future awaiting us. We will shine like the stars in the sky when we get to heaven. Then there will be no tension between who we are and the life we live. We will be perfectly and perpetually holy. Confirmed in our holiness, the theologians say. It will be impossible for us to sin.

Because of that hope of glory, we can put up with, no, overcome and triumph over the tension we see in our life right now! We suffer. We suffer from the undeserved wrongs others do to us. For most of you—me, I work at the best place in the world—for most of you, work is where backstabbers and gossips seem intent on bringing you down, often because you are doing what you should be doing—that makes them look bad! We suffer from the wrongs we do. Yes, sin has earthly consequences. God’s forgiveness doesn’t cancel them out. You speed, you carelessly cause a traffic accident, the insurance goes up. And every time we repent of our sins we suffer. We feel the terrors of hell and the grief of hurting God and those around us. You can see the suffering of repentance in the tears of our preschoolers when they admit they have done wrong. We adults cry on the inside.

Because Christ died for the ungodly, that means continued love for the saints. When we are suffering, God is not punishing us for our sins. Jesus suffered all the punishment for sin. He suffered the torments of hell while he was abandoned by God as he hung on the cross. The suffering we go through is discipline, training that makes us stronger in our faith. It deepens the determination to keep walking with Jesus. It develops a habit of resisting the devil’s temptations. It makes the hope burn in us even brighter—our Jesus will get us through.

That’s what Paul says. We keep on going even when we are suffering. We build character through that perseverance. Perseverance means we keep on going. We don’t stop. That Energizer Bunny keeps on going. But perseverance means going on in the face of suffering, moving forward even though it is going to hurt. Every soldier who has faced combat knows that. You don’t back down until the battle is won. You keep ranks. Your section of the battle line doesn’t retreat. It would let the enemy pour in and cut your buddies to pieces. You stick it out. Through perseverance you build a reputation, character.

Character means people can count on us. They know they can count on us. The world? We can count on the world as long as we have something to offer them. Count on them to buy the next round of drinks. Count of them for the good times at the club house. But when the chips are down, when trouble strikes, who are you? That’s not Christian character. That’s not what is in us. The character the Holy Spirit builds in us looks after those in need, befriends those who have lost out on life. Character builds hope tomorrow will be better, because Jesus will be with us and, if nothing else, we will be twenty-four hours closer to heaven. Those without hope run from every rumor and dispiriting lie. We have hope. We can face down an army of demons and defy the prince of darkness.

I know this because

Christ Died for the Ungodly

1. Love for sinners (6-8)

2. Means continued love for saints (1-5).

If Jesus loved us when we were ready to bite his hand, he loves us now that we believe in him. Since he doesn’t change, he will love us forever.

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