The Greatest Love of All
By Matthew Barrett—
There are some things that you continually return to as a teacher. For me, one of those things is the greatness of God’s love in light of the greatness of our depravity. I often remind my students that unless you first understand the horrific state you are in as a sinner before a holy God, you will never understand, let alone appreciate, the beauty, the deepness, and the greatness of the love of God.
I have found that those who misunderstand or lack appreciation for God’s grace are those who don’t see the radically offensive nature of their sin. Because they fail to see themselves as absolutely wretched, condemned before God, deserving nothing but his swift justice and judgment, grace becomes something God owes them. It is no surprise then that, for these types, grace is not so amazing.
Scripture, however, tells us something very different. A multitude of biblical passages come to mind, but one of the most sobering is Romans 5:6-8:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Notice, it is for the “ungodly” that Christ dies. It is while we are still “weak.” In fact, says Paul, the greatness of God’s love is manifested not because Christ dies for a righteous person (as some might think of themselves), but rather because Christ dies for us “while we were still sinners.” The shock here is the unconditionality of God’s love towards us in Christ. Nothing in us motivates God to save us. Indeed, we have nothing to offer but sin.
The great Puritan John Owen captures this truth best, and I close with his words as it is nearly impossible to state it better than he does. Commenting on Romans 5:7, he writes:
But the Lord Christ placed his love on us, that love from whence he died for us, when we were sinners and ungodly; that is, every thing which might render us unamiable and underserving. Though we were as deformed as sin could render us, and more deeply indebted than the whole creation could pay or answer, yet did he fix his love upon us, to free us from that condition, and to render us meet for the most intimate society with himself. Never was there love which had such effects—which cost him so dear in whom it was, and proved so advantageous unto them on whom it was placed. In the pursuit of it he underwent everything that is evil in his own person, and we receive everything that is good in the favour of God and eternal blessedness (The Person of Christ, in Works, 1:168).
Or in the words of one contemporary hymn writer:
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of California Baptist University (OPS), as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the author of Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration, as well as the editor of Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology), and Whomever He Wills: A Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy.