But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8 NIV).
John Stott writes:
'The more the gift costs the giver, and the less the recipient deserves it, the greater the love is seen to be. Measured by these standards, God's love in Christ is absolutely unique. For in sending his Son to die for sinners, he was giving everything, his very self, to those who deserved nothing from him except judgement.... Some commentators seem anxious to add that there is no doctrine of atonement here, and certainly no substitutionary doctrine, since the preposition in the expression 'for us' is hyper ('on behalf of'), not anti ('instead of'). This is a superficial judgement, however. For what is written is that while we were still sinner, Christ died for us (8), and whenever sin and death are coupled in Scripture, death is the penalty or 'wage' of sin (6:23; cf. 5:12). This being so, the statement that 'Christ died for sinners', that though the sin were ours the death was his, can mean only that he died as a sin offering, bearing in our place the penalty our sins had deserved. This helps us to understand the costliness of the gift.'