In his new book, Blood Work, Pastor Anthony Carter tackles the question: For whom did Christ Die? Pastor Carter writes:

The question is often raised, “For whom did Christ die?” In Romans 5:6–9, the Bible tells us that Christ died for those who are “weak,” “ungodly,” and “sinners.” “Weak” speaks to our inability to save ourselves. It indicates that we are without strength and power. It brings to mind someone who is incurably sick. The illness has debilitated him to such a degree that all power of recovery has left him and death is inevitable. He is unable to save himself from this pending end. Jesus declared that these are the ones He came to save (Mark 2:17). As weak spiritual invalids, we not only could not save ourselves, we had no idea that a cure was possible.

“Ungodly” speaks to our activity in opposition to the ways of God. It is the designation of sinners as impious, refusing to worship the God who created them while living and loving contrary to His holy character and commands. It is reflective of what the Bible means when, speaking collectively of humanity, it says: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’ . . . ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes’” (Rom. 3:10–12, 18). Thess verses remind us that the weak and the ungodly are such because they are sinners—transgressors of God’s law.

“Sinners” is the summation of what we are in relation to God’s Word and will. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines sin as “any lack of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”25 Sin is manifested when we do what God commands us not to do and when we fail to do what God has commanded us to do. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, humanity has been in a downward spiral of sin. We have moved further and further away from God and His laws. Consequently, the greatest advancements in human history have not been in medicine, science, or technology, but in humanity’s ability and willingness to sin against God. This is not an assessment of those we would deem to be the worst of us; this is the condition of every man, woman, and child: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory God” (Rom. 3:23).

Remarkably, it is such people whom Christ came to save. Jesus died to save the weak (those who could not save themselves), the ungodly (those who did not even know they needed to be saved), and sinners (the weak and ungodly who live in open rebellion against God’s Word and will).

As the Bible plainly states, “Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). Here are five of the most heart-humbling, aweinspiring, and joy-producing words we will ever hear. As many have said, “Here is the gospel in five words.” Those who are justified are those who willingly admit to being ungodly, and thus are willing to trust in Christ alone for their godliness. They understand that their ungodliness is such that self-justification is not possible.

Most of us abhor self-justification when we hear it in others. Excuses like, “Well, that’s just the way I am,” “I couldn’t help myself,” or even, “The Devil made me do it” do not carry much weight in the courts of our land. These excuses carry even less weight and validity in the courts of heaven. We have often heard it said, “The one who serves as his own attorney has a fool for a client.” If this is true in our courts, how much more true is it in the courts of heaven? Self-defense may be plausible when we are standing before human judges. It is self-destructive when we stand before God.

Job understood this when he asked, “But how can a man be in the right before God?” (Job 9:2). Self-justification is not the answer. As Job went on to say, “If one wished to contend with [God], one could not answer him once in a thousand times” (v. 3). Even more than we do, God abhors self-justification. Yet, God does not simply abhor self-justification; He graciously has provided a way of justification outside of ourselves. We need not try to justify ourselves, for God has provided a justification by faith. We need not plead our case with God, for He has provided Christ as our Advocate (1 John 2:1). Jesus’ blood pleads for us. He is the Advocate and His blood is the plea. Ours is only the faith to trust Him. As the songwriters remind us:

Let Your blood plead for me,

Let Your blood wash me clean.

I believe, Lord, I believe

Your blood has covered me.

At the heart of this gospel is the blood of Christ, which secures our justification. It pleads our case and secures our pardon.

-Anthony Carter, Blood Work (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Reformation Trust, 2013), 36-38.

Interested in more from Pastor Carter? We recommend:

On Being Black and Reformed: A New Perspective on the African-American Christian Experience

Experiencing the Truth: Bringing the Reformation to the African-American Church

Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity