Categories: Paul, Paul
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Can you give some background behind this passage?
First we will do the two-minute background on Romans. It is one of Paul's undisputed works, written in the late 50's CE. The purpose of the letter was his anticipated visit to Rome. He knows some of the Christians in Rome (though he has never been there, and hence, did not start this church), and he is preparing them for his visit. Romans is his longest letter and his most complete treatise on his view of the Christian faith. It is not known whether his choice of topics was in response to information he had received about the situation in Rome or whether he was just putting forth ideas that he thought might be helpful to any Christian community.
Like many of Paul's letters, Romans is comprised of two main sections: chapters 1-11 are theological; 12-16 are more practical. There are dozens of ways of subdividing each section. Suffice it to say that his central theme is all about what God is doing through the redemptive act of Jesus. This letter reveals God's way of righteousness, a divine righteousness that is based on a principle of faith and presented to all for their acceptance by faith. In 1:18-3:20 he puts forth the universal need for righteousness. 3:21-5:21 is God's provision for meeting this need. 6:1-8:39 discusses moral obligations for those living in holiness. 9:1-11:36 addresses the problem of Judaism's rejection of the gospel. Chapters 12-16 discuss the ethics evident in a Christian way of life.
5:8, then, comes in the section of God's provision for meeting mankind's need for righteousness. This is all based on grace, on God's initiative. Those who have accepted God's initiative are righteous, justified by faith. The first result is that they have "peace with God" (v.1) -- another gift from God, given out of love and not based on merit. This peace comes as a gift through our Lord Jesus Christ. V.2 has Christ ushering the faithful into their new state of grace before God, thereby reinforcing their hope in ultimate salvation. And if times are tough, that's fine because they will rejoice in tribulations in the knowledge that such trials lead to patience and strength in hope (v 3-5). The faithful are so without merit here because before any of them got it, Christ died for their sins (v 6). Verses 7 and 8 go together. For whom would you lay down your life? A good man, a really good man? Perhaps. But before any of the faithful were good, God's love is seen in commending Christ to lay down his life for them. Awesome, isn't it?
Paul continues this chapter by noting that if God could do something so remarkable for us while we were all still sinners, how much more will He do now that we have been reconciled! And having been reconciled with God through Christ, we can rejoice in his abiding love every day. Paul goes on to contrast Adam and Christ, saying that Christ is the New Adam from whom we derive righteousness and eternal life.