Part of the problem in being a twenty-first century American is that the idea that God loves us has been around for a long time. Indeed, that is by far the most popular theological idea even among people who do not think Jesus is anyone special.
The amazing thing is that reasonably intelligent, well-informed people, who read the newspaper and know a little history, would find it next to impossible to give you one good reason why God should not hate humankind in view of how we have behaved!
(NET) Romans 5:6-8
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
This group of three verses is remarkable by any standard. First, Paul uses three words to describe our condition before Christ took action: we were helpless, ungodly sinners. Second, we are told that God responded to our desperate situation with love and death. Indeed, each of the three Greek sentences ends with the same Greek verb for death (ἀποθνῄσκω) — clearly intentional.
From a theological viewpoint — something you should definitely strive to develop — it is vital to see that before we trusted in Christ we were helpless (5:6) to save ourselves from God’s wrath. Osborne says, “This does not mean that human beings are incapable of good — John Calvin, the Protestant reformer, called this ‘common grace,’ the ability of the natural person to do good since all are made in the image of God — but it conveys that they can do nothing that will make them right with God.”
In relation to the word translated “ungodly” (5:6), the Greek adjective ἀσεβής here means “pertaining to violating norms for a proper relation to deity, irreverent, impious, ungodly.” It is more than sad that contemporary American society is filled with such people, who pay no attention whatever to God. Secularism marginalizes God more now than at any time in a thousand years.
We have looked at the bad-news part of Romans 5:6, but the good news utterly overwhelms the bad news: “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6b). C.E.B. Cranfield says, “For Christ’s death on behalf of sinners compare . . . 3:25; 4:25; 6:10; 7:4; 8:32; 14:15 (in the last two of these passages [the Greek preposition] huper is used, as it is here [5:6] and also in a good many other NT passages dealing with the same subject).” Next we will discuss why that is important.
Huper — meaning “for, in behalf of, for the sake of” — is one of the few Greek words that every serious student of the New Testament should know about because it stresses that Jesus died as our substitute. See also 2 Cor. 5:14, Gal. 3:13 and John 11:50. The preposition also occurs three more times in Romans 5:7-8.
Romans 5:7 is a comparative verse in which Paul presents the absolute most you can expect in terms of human love. Rarely, one person might dare to die for some other deserving person, described as either righteous or good. Such behavior is rare enough that we widely honor the sacrifice it requires. Think of the firemen rushing into the burning World Trade Center to help others during the 9/11 attack by terrorists.
But God has done so much more in “his own love” (5:8) than the greatest acts of human love. Christ, the beloved Son of God, keeps on demonstrating God’s love toward us in that he died for the helpless, ungodly sinners — the very ones also called God’s enemies (5:8). Seeing the desperate plight of sinful, lost humanity, God did not sit in heaven feeling affection for us and yet doing nothing. Christ came among us to suffer and die for us.
Grant Osborne rightly says:
This is the primary point Paul is making. Christ did not die for righteous people or for friends; he died for sinful human beings in all their degrading depravity, for those who “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (1:18) and do “not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God (1:28), who are “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil greed and depravity” (1:29). Therefore we deserved to experience the wrath of God and eternal judgment, but Christ took our punishment upon himself and paid the penalty in our place, thereby procuring redemption on our behalf (3:21-26).
God’s love brings death and offers life
An ancient church father known as Ambrosiaster once said: “If Christ gave himself up to death at the right time for those who were unbelievers and enemies of God . . . how much more will he protect us with his help if we believe in him!”
1. We will take a moment to review: (1) the penalty for sin is death (Rom. 1:32), and (2) you may pay the penalty either with your own death or use the death of Jesus instead (Rom. 5:8). Which will you choose? Keep in mind that not to decide is a decision in itself; you are not in a fail-safe position if you have never trusted in Christ! 2. Why do you think Christ was willing to die in your place? How does the extent of God's love for you, expressed in Christ's death, make you feel?
Each day’s lesson begins with a six-word theme. Here is another one:
Jesus Christ died in your place. Praise God forever!
Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 132.
 BDAG-3, ἀσεβής, ungodly, q.v.
 C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 264.
 BDAG-3, huper, on behalf of, q.v.
 Osborne, Romans, 134.
 Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 131.