You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
Jesus died for sinners. That is a deeply egalitarian statement. Because it makes all humanity equal before God: equally condemned by our rejection of him; equally loved in him offering Jesus to us all; equally able to be saved if we accept him.
Jesus died for powerless people. Romans 1:18 – 3:20 show how we are all helplessly under the power of sin, and helplessly under God’s rightful judgment. We’re like prisoners in a police van, being taken to sentencing. The prisoner is helpless & trapped – but it’s just & rightful to be trapped like that, because they’ve done something to break the law. That’s why they’re a prisoner, not a hostage. But Jesus, as it were, swings open the door of the police van, and says “don’t worry. I’ve taken the penalty for what you’ve done against God. You’re free to go.”
And Jesus died for ungodly people. This is even more amazing, because Romans 1:18 says:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness [= “ungodliness”] and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…
Romans 1 is about the ‘bad’ people in the world. The word translated "godless" in Rom 1:18 is the same word as translated "ungodly" in Rom 5:6 - the Greek word asebia. Romans 1 goes on to talk about how the world gets messed up because we kick God out of our lives. Chapter 2 shows how it’s a universal problem – everyone does it.
This means Jesus died for wicked, godless people. For thieves and murderers and rapists, who deserve to rot in jail because they’ve destroyed people’s lives for ever. For militant atheists, like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who spend so much time and money desperately trying to prove God doesn’t exist. No-one is too wicked to be forgiven.
It also means Jesus died for nice, godless people. For people who politely acknowledge his existence by being ‘religious’ – like going to church. And who are very upright and moral and nice to their neighbours. But who equally politely reject God’s right to rule their lives, and live their own way. No-one is too nice to need forgiveness.
Jesus died for sinners – which is a very good thing, ‘coz we’re all sinners, in need of Christ’s forgiveness. All humanity stands radically equal before the cross of Christ.