Having affirmed that we have been justified by faith, and therefore have peace with God, access to God’s grace, and a joyful, confident hope in the glory of God, Paul goes on to explain the basis of this confidence, saying ‘You see, just at the right time ...’ Just at the right time ... God saved us when we were totally unable to save ourselves, totally disqualified, totally cut off from him by our sin.

Paul stresses this very strongly, because of our ever present inclination to relate to God on the basis of our own merit and ability, and to assume that God relates to us on that same basis. Paul teaches us that the primary truths of the Gospel make these inclinations and assumptions of ours invalid and ludicrous. Those who believe in his Son have peace with God, rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, and even rejoice in suffering, precisely because our salvation in Christ has absolutely no connection to our own merit and ability.

Christ died for us 'when we were still powerless ... ' God didn't wait for us to improve our behaviour and increase our merit before he took steps to save us. When Jesus died for us we were 'powerless'. This tells us of our utter inability to save ourselves - when we didn't have the strength, figuratively speaking, even to lift our little finger and beckon Christ to come and help us. This reflects the truth taught by Jesus: 'apart from me you can do nothing' (John 15:5). It reflects also a statement in Hebrews 'without faith it is impossible to please God’ (11:6), and it assumes what Paul has already taught us in Romans 3:20 'no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.' In ourselves, as we stand in our humanness, as we stand before God just as we are – ‘according to flesh’ - we are powerless to gain or maintain our own salvation. We do not and we cannot please God (Romans 8:7,8).

Christ died for those whom Paul calls 'the ungodly'. As Jesus said: 'I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners' (Matthew 9:13), and 'the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost' (Luke 19:10). At the bottom line no one is 'godly', but it is only those who recognize that who know their need to reach out and take salvation as a free gift from the hand of Jesus. So here Paul says 'Christ died for the ungodly’. His death, and the grand salvation that it achieves, was not planned and implemented by God for us to merit, but precisely because we will never and can never merit it.

Who are these 'ungodly' for whom Christ died? The Scripture tells us that they are those upon whom God's wrath and judgement are due: Romans 1:18; 11:26; 1Timothy 1:9,10; 1 Peter 4:18; 2 Peter 2:4-6; Jude 15,18. These are the 'ungodly'. But let us not stand in accusation, for we also are included. We are the 'ungodly', those whom Paul has so painstakingly described in Romans 1:18 to 3:18, and we were still the 'ungodly' when Christ died for us, and we were still the 'ungodly' when the Spirit of Jesus moved us to faith and repentance. If we refuse to classify ourselves by this accusing adjective, then we can have no part in the death of Christ: he died 'for the ungodly'.

Christ died for us 'while we were still sinners ... ' Not content with stating that Christ 'died for the ungodly', Paul says it again in different words, and again he emphasizes that it was 'while we were still' sinners '. Not after we had achieved some degree of self improvement, not after we had turned over a new leaf, not after we could show some evidence that we were serious about God and religion. No. While we were still sinners. Paul considers this act of God in Christ on our behalf to be a demonstration of God's love. Who would do such a thing for such undeserving people? Only someone with infinite, immeasurable, unconditional love. It is possible that someone might choose to die for a good man (5:7), but to die for sinners, to die for the ungodly, to die for those who are contrary to everything one is and stands for - that takes incredible love. That takes, and that demonstrates, the love of God (5:8).

Christ died for us 'when we were God's enemies ... ' Not only were we powerless, ungodly and sinners, we were also God's enemies when he did this amazing thing for us. 'When we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son' (5:10). This is sheer, absolute love. Sheer, absolute grace. God planned it. God initiated it. God did it. For us. When we were his enemies. He didn't wait for us to move onto his side and then send Christ to die. He didn't wait for us to change allegiance, and then offer us a peace treaty. All that he did, all that was necessary to reconcile us to him, he did when we were his enemies - when we were opposed and contrary to him in thought, in inclination, in word and attitude and in action.

How did God achieve this? As we have seen in Romans 3, and as we will see again powerfully taught and explained in chapter 6, the death of Christ is means by which salvation is obtained and provided. Again we see Paul using the word 'justified’, that is, legally acquitted; we see also the concept of reconciliation, which is very similar to the 'atonement' we found in 3:25. Paul's purpose here in 5:1-11 is to make sure we understand what the effective cause of our salvation is: it is nothing in us, for we were powerless, ungodly, sinners and enemies of God. The effective cause of our salvation is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, an action, an event, embedded in the will of God, that cannot be undone by any lack of merit or deserving on our part. It is this death, this shed blood, by which we are justified, by which we are reconciled to God.

Just at the right time.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020