Read Romans 5:1-11
It is possible that we are just like the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to John the Baptist – although one hopes not. Last week we saw that many Pharisees and Sadducees believed in the need to escape God’s judgement. They were willing to go through a religious ceremony (even a quite humbling religious ceremony) – baptism in the Jordan River. But they hadn’t repented.
Let’s not be the person doesn’t want to experience God’s wrath and so is willing to be religious –come to church, get baptised, go to prayer meetings – but hasn’t repented.
Repentance is visible because it means living a new life. As John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. And as the Bible teaches, there is a way of life that the people of God are to live.
So, let us again start with the gospel and ask “How do gospel people live?”
The gospel is that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again. It is true that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world but for each one of us, it becomes more personal: Jesus Christ died for my sins and rose again.
When we come to believe that, how do we respond? Someone died for you. I read a news story this week about a woman who, within two days of finding out she was pregnant, was diagnosed with, I think, leukaemia and given little chance of life. She could receive treatment but not while she was pregnant. The advice therefore was to abort the baby. Instead, she decided to keep the baby and delay the treatment but, in so doing, she risked her own life.
Who knows how that is going to turn out. She might live but she might also die having spared the life of her baby. Can you imagine being that baby and growing to learn that your mother did not abort you but died herself instead? If you were that person, what would be your response?
Here are some suggestions:
- love (knowing that you were loved enough for someone to make this sacrifice)
- humility (Why me? I had done nothing to deserve this. She could have easily aborted me)
- a desire to find out more about the mother you never knew
- a desire to live a life that your mother would be proud of
- a desire to understand the values your mother held and to uphold those same values. What motivated your mother to lay down her life for you? What were her values? (Imitation)
- maybe taking every opportunity to tell the story of what your mother had done for you
You might be able to think of others. That list is not exhaustive. There could be any number of ways that you might respond knowing what your mother had done for you.
Someone has died for you. That someone was not just any old someone. The Son of God died for you.
And He didn’t just die for you; He died for your sins. We have all sinned against Jesus. We have rejected Him and been rebellious and selfish. We have hurt Him with our indifference and our pride. He died for us when we were rejecting Him.
Romans 5:6-8 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.
Think of your responses if you knew that your mother had died to save your life. Those same responses are appropriate given that Jesus died for you – only they are magnified a thousand times because it was the Son of God who died for you. And He didn’t just die for you. He died for your sins. When you were sinning against Him, He died for you. As Romans 5 says, “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son.” In fact, He took our sins on Himself. He experienced the wrath of God so that you might escape the wrath of God.
The Cross of Calvary demonstrates the love of God for you. People don’t normally lay down their lives even for good people, although rarely that does happen. But Jesus laid down His life for bad people – as this passage says “the ungodly”, “while we were still sinners”.
Just as that child grows up and one day comes to the realisation of what his/her mother had done, at some point, we too come to the realisation of what Jesus has done for us. “Whoa! Jesus Christ died for me!”
As we sang last week…
And can it be, that I should gain,
An interested in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love, how can it be,
That Thou my God shoulds’t die for me?
When that realisation comes, the question is: How do gospel people live? We could work through all of the suggestions above but we don’t have time for that. Let’s focus on just one: love.
1 John 4:19 19 We love because he first loved us.
If your mother had given up her life so that you might live, would you not be overwhelmed with love for her? It is only natural that, when someone shows great love for us, we have love for that person.
Gospel people love God with a passion. Can I ask: Do you love God with a passion?
That of course is the first and most important commandment Jesus gave. An expert in the law tested him with the question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus answered “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”
Why is it a commandment when it should be a natural response? It is a commandment because it is what God requires. Remember, the law makes us realise how far short we fall. We should love God. Of course, we should love God. But we don’t. It becomes only a natural response when we understand the gospel.
So, how can we love God? An obvious way is to express that love – in our words, in song, in art, in any one of a large number of ways – in other words, to worship Him.
A less obvious, but biblical, way is to obey Him. Jesus equated love with obedience. Three times in John 14, Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” People who love Jesus, obey Jesus. In fact, if you remember the Great Commission, making disciples means teaching followers of Jesus to obey all that He commanded. Obedience is the way love is shown and obedience is fundamental to Christian faith.
That brings us back to the biblical material – to the commands of God. The word of God is so precious to the people of God. And the commands of God cover every aspect of life from our personal morality to our use of money to our relationships to you name it. Gospel people live by the word of God.
I quoted 1 John 4:19 a few minutes ago but look at the context. It is actually not so much about love for God as it is about love for others.
1 John 4:19 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
That brings us to the second great commandment: Love your neighbour as yourself. Loving God is the first response but loving God means loving others because that is what He has told us to do.
We love because He first loved us. We pass on love because we have received love. It starts with the gospel. Just in the previous chapter…
1 John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
How do we even know what love is? It is not what we see in the movies or hear about in the songs. We understand love when we realise that Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. The Cross is the epitome of what love means. But there is a consequence of that. We ought to do the same thing. Not only has God loved us, He has commanded us to love others. Our love for Him means we obey that command and we love others – we lay down our lives for others.
What does love look like?
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
But gospel people also hear the call of God to stand up for the poor and the disadvantaged. For some, love for others means campaigning for the unborn. For others it means fostering children, or opposing human trafficking, or welcoming refugees to Dunedin, or volunteering at a hospice, or feeding children who have not had breakfast, at the local school.
Those things are not the gospel. The gospel is: Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again. But gospel people love – love God and love people.
As you can see, we have taken only one of the many responses to the knowledge that someone died for you. And even that one we have given only cursory attention. We have just scratched the surface. Gospel people are also grateful. Gospel people are humble. Gospel people want to bring glory to God All of those things and more are the natural response of anyone who has come to the realisation that Jesus Christ died for him/her and rose again.
But amongst all of those responses, two are head and shoulders above the rest: loving God with all our hearts, souls and minds, and loving our neighbours.
If those things – that array of responses but crucially love for God and love for others – are not evident in a person’s life, it raises questions about whether or not he/she has come to that realisation. On the other hand, if you know you are a different person from what you were – that you have been transformed by the power of the gospel – then you can be confident. If that change has not been because of your own will power but because your heart has been changed by the gospel, praise God! You love because He first loved you. You love because Jesus Christ died for your sins and rose again. You have responded to the gospel.