For when we were still without strength…While we were still sinners…For if when we were enemies… – Romans 5:6a, 8a, 10a
The 5th chapter of Romans describes the reconciliation we have with God through faith in Christ Jesus. Those who were afar off are brought near again, having found peace with God through the atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ. That we might know the full extent of God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ our Lord, the Apostle Paul sets before us, first of all, the desperate condition of man prior to his becoming the object of God’s saving grace. This is meant to leave NO doubt in the minds of the redeemed that they were, from every aspect, hopeless and helpless…except for the actions of our Triune God. No redeemed sinner should ever be able to say that he cooperated with God and was thus delivered from his sins. No redeemed sinner should ever be able to assert that there was an ounce of attractiveness in him and that was enough to justify the actions of God in rescuing his sin-sick soul. The causal basis for God’s actions in redemption would have to be based entirely on God’s will, the good pleasure of His own will (Ephesians 1:5).
The description of man seen in these verses, leads one to this conclusion: that we, you and me, were from the beginning, disqualified from fellowship with our holy God. We were born “without strength” having been disqualified at birth by being part of the offspring of the fallen race of Adam. We were born sinners, just as the Psalmist David said, “I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). We can’t undo that, we haven’t the power to undo that. We were and are “without strength” with respect to undoing the crime of Adam and its consequences for all mankind. And furthermore, we haven’t the inclination to do so, for we are carnal, sold under sin (Romans 7:14). We carry around these bodies that get a bit larger as they mature through the stages of life, but they remain by natural inclination, unable not-to-sin. So consider this: when did God act on our behalf? He acted when we were helpless, when we were without strength, when we were not inclined to so much as cry out to God for help.
It is not possible to overstate the corruption of mankind due to sin. It is impossible to overstate the degree to which every single person born into this world is depraved. We are not objects of gold covered with a bit of cow dung. We are sinners! We are criminals, you and I, and we are guilty of insurrection against the King of heaven. And we will remain impenitent and rebellious sinners if left to our own devices. We will not come to our senses, no, never! We are wretched and poor and blind and naked! We are guilty as charged. The gavel is being raised to pronounce our eternal doom. It cannot not be argued that an exception should be made on our behalf by the Almighty, for the Judge of heaven and earth is, first of all, holy and just. He can never act and He will never act contrary to His spotless character for then He would defile Himself. No, the gavel of judgement falls, but the guilt and punishment is laid upon the sinless Son of God and I, the sinner, am set free. I am the villain, I defied the Almighty, I am guilty, yet now I go free. My judgment falls on another who is altogether undeserving yet not unwilling to bear the wrath of God on my behalf. That is the way mercy is to be reckoned. While I was still a sinner, Christ died for me. While I was yet an active enemy of God, being His adversary, I was reconciled to Him through the death of His Son.
Those who see the lost race of Adam in any other way will miss the wonder of God’s long-suffering love and mercy. Any hint of innate worthiness or value or effort that we assert first pried open the fountain of God’s grace that it might flow over us, takes away from the glory of God’s mercy. Our Savior raises dead men and women from the grave. He raises those who are without strength to life eternal. And He does so by His atoning blood, alone. We must never diminish the wonder of this selfless act so that we can claim some part in it!