Paul’s overriding pastoral aim in his letter to the Roman church(es) is to see them unified as siblings in God’s one new family in Jesus. Both groups need to see themselves as vitally connected to the other.
He has already argued that both groups share in humanity’s condemnation and both are justified before God on the same basis. These realities unify them together and eliminate the boasting of any group over another.
In Romans 5:6-8, Paul presses the point more forcefully. He writes that “while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (v. 6).
This would have offended Jewish Christian presumption about their historically privileged place in God’s people. The gentiles were “ungodly,” not the Jews! They were historically God’s people (*ahem*, God’s “favorites”), while gentiles had no connection to the one true God whatsoever.
Paul only intensifies his sarcasm, aiming to unify all in Rome in the category “ungodly,” not only the non-Jewish Christians. He does this by indicating that in order to be included in the death of Christ, one must confess one’s membership in the group of the “ungodly” and the “sinner.”
In v. 7, Paul notes that “one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.”
It’s as if Paul is asking, “oh, do you not belong in the group of ‘ungodly’? Perhaps you’re in the group of ‘the righteous’. If so, why would Christ die for you? You’re already righteous! And those of you who belong to ‘the good’ — maybe you can get in on Christ’s death, but there’s really no guarantee. Again, what need of Christ do you have!?”
It’s humiliating to have to join the group called “ungodly sinners” who are “helpless.” If you’re trying to establish the superiority of your sub-group in a community, you can’t go around admitting your absolute need before God. You might not get what you want! You don’t have any leverage! Other people are “the needy,” not you!
But if you want to get in on the death of Christ, you must own your identity as “ungodly sinner” and “helpless.”Chr
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (v. 8).
“The righteous” and “the good” have no guarantee of participation in the death of Christ. Those who claim the identity “ungodly” and “sinner,” however, are assured of God’s love and are guaranteed that they are those for whom Christ died.
Romans 5:6-8 is something of an aside, but it’s another argument whereby Paul unifies all in Rome in one singular group. Confessing their absolute need before God, they become recipients of the magnanimous love of God poured out in Christ.