MESSAGE FOR NOVEMBER 8, 1998 FROM ROMANS 5:17,21
This week, we pick up where we left off last week in the second half of Romans chapter five. We have been looking at the contrast which Paul draws between Adam and Christ. He is contrasting the legacy of sin and death left to us by Adam through his sin with the legacy of grace and righteousness and life which has come to us through Christ through his atoning and justifying work for us. As we said last week, one of the main points Paul makes here is that the sad legacy of Adam, as horrible as it is in leaving the world under the reign of sin, is not nearly as powerful as the overwhelmingly positive legacy Christ has left us through his grace. He states in verses 15 and 17 the supremacy of Christ’s legacy of grace by the phrase “how much more.” To paraphrase, though Adam’s legacy of sin and death is intense, how much more powerful is Christ’s legacy of grace. The theme of Paul’s message is simply: The grace of God shown in Christ’s gift of righteousness is far more powerful than Adam’s sin.
Last week, we noted the superiority of grace over sin by contrasting the power of sin involved in making us sinners over against the power of grace seen in the work of Christ to make us righteous. We saw that the power of sin left to us by Adam leaves us dirty, crooked and condemned. Just one sin spiritually spoiled all of humanity. We saw that it didn’t take much work to make us spiritually dirty and defiled. But to clean the putrid stench of sin from our souls--that power seen in the grace of God is much greater. By the same token, it took very little power for Adam, in his sin, to bend our wills away from God and make us rebels. But for Christ to bend our wills back into God-centered compliance to God required Him giving us all spiritual heart transplants. Finally, it took very little for Adam to bring us all into condemnation. One sin brought condemnation--that is God’s holy justice. But the grace of God frees us from this spiritual death row to which we have been confined. This grace not only pardons our sin and deals with our guilt. We said it takes us off death row and completely erases our criminal record so there is nothing there for Satan to hold against us. It places on us a robe of righteousness and enables us to sit at the table of the King who has gone from being our enemy to our Father. That is the overwhelming power and glory of God’s grace in contrast to the power of sin.
This week, we look at the second area where Paul brings out the supremacy of God’s grace. We see the supremacy of God’s grace over sin in this: Christ’s gift of righteousness which results in life is greater than Adam’s sin which results in death. Last week, it was sin contrasted with grace. This week, we look at death through sin contrasted with life through grace. Paul brings this contrast between the legacy of death which Adam brought through his sin with the legacy of life which Christ brought through His grace in verses 17 and 21. Verse 17 says, “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through the one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” Verse 21 says, “so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
In these verses Paul speaks of sin and the death which proceed from it and grace and the life that comes from it in the context of the “reign of death” and the “reign of life.” What does he mean by that? The best understanding is that for Paul, there are two spheres--two dominions with two very different controlling influences. There are two realms with two antithetical and opposing characters. There is a dominion--a sphere where sin reigns--sin exercises overwhelming influence and control here. And the way it controls in this dominion is through death. Sin rules here by means of death. Death is the oppressive terminator, the intimidating 900 pound gorilla who keeps fallen humanity under its thumb. This dominion where sin rules by means of death is fallen, unredeemed humanity and it rules mercilessly over fallen humanity. Everyone is born spiritually dead and everyone dies physically. There is control here and it is ruthless.
Now, we don’t frequently think about it in those kind of dominion-type terms, because these realities of sin and death are so real to us--they seem perfectly natural to us. “Of course everyone sins...of course everyone dies.” But we must never forget that these are intruders and aliens--these do not come from God and although he allowed them onto the scene (as we said last week) to display his love and mercy and grace and patience, they do not originate from Him and they are NOT natural for beings he created. They are invaders who came onto the scene and brought about a very different world than what He will eventually give us. Sin and death were imported into our world--offered by Satan (who is the author of sin and death) and accepted by Adam. They represent a Satanic contribution to the world, admitted in by Adam. When they were introduced, they immediately and completely took over in their oppressive, authoritarian style and have completely dominated fallen humanity.
With the exception of Jesus Christ, everyone has felt their over coming power. On the cross, Jesus became sin for us and so volunteered to place Himself under the dominion or horrific power of sin. He allowed it to dominate Him when he took on our sin. He briefly placed himself under the dominion of sin and death. The reason why sin and death could not hold him down as it does everyone else is: after Jesus had paid the penalty for sin and our sin was then removed from Him, sin and death spent three days (I am speaking figuratively) looking for a hook to anchor his body into the tomb. But the dominion of sin and death could not hold him down because he was without sin and therefore he didn’t have to submit himself to their power and control. They had no way to dominate Him. The empty tomb is proof that He defeated sin and death. After an unfathomable string of unbroken successes in holding dead bodies down and mercilessly corrupting them through the decay sin and death brings, they found One over whom they had no power.
But the rest of the world apart from Christ has no such freedom. The unsaved people we know walk around every day with this authoritarian, oppressive power of sin dominating their lives. And at the end of this dark tunnel of a sinful life, the enforcer, Death, stands waiting with his cords which he uses to forever secure each one who has been totally dominated by sin. Death has a right to them--they belong to Death by virtue of their unforgiven sin and while they are alive, (humanly speaking) death patiently waits for them while his partner, sin does his job in bringing them, bound head to toe, to Him. If you don’t know Jesus Christ, the power of death stands waiting for you and when you die it will forever hold you in its clutches in hellish torment just as sin has controlled the way you think, feel and act in this life. This power of sin and death is awesome and destructive. Let’s contrast these two dominions--first, where death reigns and second, this reign of grace leading to life.
We know from the Scriptures that this dominion of sin and death which every unredeemed person lives under is: Satanic in its origin and is characterized by fear. We see this in Hebrews 2:14-15. The author is speaking of Christ’s work in freeing people from this dominion of death and he says, “...so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil--and free those who all their lives were in slavery by their fear of death.” The author says it is Satan who holds the power of death. Now, we must be clear here. Satan does not have the power to kill anyone outside of God’s will. He cannot at will just kill people. He would love to make people believe he has that kind of control but he doesn’t.
When the Lord and Satan were contending over Job, God laid out the parameters as to what Satan could do to Job and he expressly forbid him to kill him and we know that Job didn’t die. Satan is on a leash and he does not have the autonomy to kill people at will. The Psalmist says, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” It is God who has the power of life and death. If that’s true, then how is it that Satan “holds the power death?” He holds the power of death in the sense that he is the author of sin and sin is the cause of death.
We see that this dominion of death is, in once sense ruled by Satan as the author of sin. But this verse in Hebrews also tells us that the people under the ruthless rule of this dominion are slaves and one of their cruel taskmasters is the fear of death. You may say, “How can that be, I know of people that are confirmed atheists who didn’t appear to have any fear of death?” And this is true. In the months before a well known atheistic scientist died of cancer he wrote of his anticipation of death without any sign of fear. How can this be? Well, all it means is that there are several enslaving powers in the dominion of death and when a person in this dominion doesn’t fear death, it doesn’t mean he is not enslaved. It means that he is enslaved by an even more ruthless master.
The atheists or overtly godless and blatantly evil people in this world are held in bondage to a spiritual blindness which keeps them from seeing the horrific reality of death. Second Corinthians 4:4 says, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers...” You cannot be fearful of what you cannot see and these people have been blinded to the gruesome reality of death. The fact that some people who live under the dominion of death don’t fear death only means that they are even more enslaved than the ones who do fear death. They can’t discern the fact that they are wearing a ball and chain because they have been put in a spiritual full body cast. The greater bondage of spiritual blindness overrides the enslaving fear of death. The fear of death is enslaving, but it is better to have this fear, which might, by God’s grace push you to Christ, then to have your fear covered up with blindness.
Fear reigns in this dominion of death. The book of Job says of the one under this reign of death, “Distress and anguish fill him with terror; they overwhelm him, like a king poised to attack,” Job 18:11 says of these people, “Terrors startle him on every side and dog his every step.” One reason why fear is such a potent characteristic of this dominion is because these people, because they are sinners are under the wrath of God and part of the expression of His wrath on earth is to bring fear to the sinful. Deuteronomy 28:65-67 says of the rebellious, “...the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. 66You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. 67In the morning you will say, "If only it were evening!" and in the evening, "If only it were morning!"--because of the terror that will fill your hearts...”
Part of the expression of God’s wrath is fear. We don’t call it fear today. We have more sophisticated names for it. We call it stress or tension or anxiety, but it is part and parcel of living in the dominion of death. And why shouldn’t people under this tyrannical reign be afraid? Their kingdom is filled with lies. Christian therapists who have done some good research into this area of fear will tell you that all our fears are rooted in the lies we have believed. If we had perfect faith that Jesus Christ will never leave us or forsake us, then we would never have any fears. Our problem is we often choose to believe the lie, for instance, that we are alone in the midst of trauma, so we become afraid. Well, for those in the dominion of death, lies are the currency of their kingdom because it is ruled by the Father of lies. They also don’t have the only resource who can bring peace. They don’t have the Prince of Peace. They don’t have access to the One who says to those who follow Him, “peace be with you” and “my peace I give to you.” It’s no wonder they are filled with various levels of fear. One characteristic of this dominion of death is it is satanic in its origin and is characterized by fear.
Now to contrast this dominion of death with the dominion of grace which brings life, we can say that this dominion has Christ as its origin and is characterized by love. As Satan is the author of death, how much more is Christ the author of life?! Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life...” He is the source of this spiritual life which those in this grace-filled dominion have. This quality of life is spiritual life and it is given only by Christ. I First Corinthians 15:45-46 Paul is contrasting Adam and Christ and he says, “The first MAN, Adam, became a living soul.” Adam possessed a “psuchikos” soulish life. Of Christ Paul says, “The last Adam became a life giving spirit.” Christ possessed spiritual life and he gives that life to those he has chosen to redeem. Regeneration is simply the infusing into a dead sinner the life of Christ in the Person of the Holy Spirit. That is what happens when a person is “born again of the Spirit.”
Another word the New Testament uses for this kind of life which those under the dominion of grace have is “eternal life.” Eternal life tells us that the kind of life Christ gives will never end. But it also speaks of a quality of life that those under grace are given to live. Jesus, in His high priestly prayer defines the essence of eternal life and says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The essence of eternal life is in knowing God the Father and God the Son through the Holy Spirit. The word Jesus uses for “know” means to have experiential knowledge-- “face to face” knowledge. One scholar has described it as having a “personal and confident relationship” with someone. People who have eternal life are those who have this kind of personal knowledge of God.
Just as the furnace of death is continually stoked in the heart of the unbeliever by sin, so too is the heart of the believer continually renewed, and infused with life. Jesus in John six says, “...the Spirit gives life” As the Holy Spirit regularly fills us with Himself, He fills us with life--this eternal life--this knowledge of God kind of life. And this dominion, rather than being characterized by fear is characterized by faith and love. There is no cause for fear in this dominion. First John 4:8 shows the dramatic relationship between fear, a driving force of the dominion of death and love, the driving force of the dominion of grace. He says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
Fear has to do with punishment. This speaks of condemnation or wrath. There is none of that in the dominion of grace--at least, not from God, there isn’t! There is no fear of punishment because in the grace of God, Christ has taken our punishment--the wrath of God on the cross. Although God’s does at times rebuke us when we sin, Christ tells us in Revelation three, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” His rebukes are not causes for fear--the are a sign of his love and when recognized as such can actually drive out our fear because his perfect love casts out fear. Paul says to a fearful Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and discipline.” The word used for fear there is the same word used to describe what the disciples felt when they were in the boat with Jesus in the middle of that storm. Paul says we who are in this dominion of grace have been given a different spirit, one for which it is not natural to fear.
Because of the work of Christ there is no reason to fear death. Paul looks death right in the face in the shadow of the cross and he mockingly asks, “Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Christ has drawn the sting of death--taking it in the cross. Death is like a bumble bee without a stinger. It may buzz alot, but it is harmless to those who are in the dominion of grace. The dominion of grace and the life it brings is (to use Paul’s phrase) “how much more” strong than the dominion of death and the most basic reason is this: Christ, the origin of grace and life defeated Satan, the origin of sin and death. This is all tied up so well in Colossians 2:13 and following where Paul says, “You were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ (how did he do that?) having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Dead people in the dominion of death are given life by the grace of God through Christ because, in part, Satan was disarmed at the cross. What were his weapons--what were the big guns that Christ stripped him of? The law, which condemns us and ...sin and death. For all who would believe in Christ the weapons of sin and death have been defeated in their life because Jesus became sin for us, thus removing our sin and he died in our place, thus defeating death. Satan had two awesome weapons and in the case of the believer, they have been taken away. Oh, he still makes alot of noise, but as it relates to believers, he has been firing blanks for 2000 years. First John 3:8 says, “...The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” What is the work of the devil which Jesus came to destroy?--what he originated, sin and death. The point is made--Christ’s gift of righteousness which results in life is greater than Adam’s sin which results in death.
But the application to this truth is the same as last week in a sense. We have been making a case that true believers have been transported to the dominion of life where Satan has been defeated, where we are regularly filled with the very life of God, and where fear is cast out by the perfect love of God. In light of that, the question is: why do so many of us under the dominion of grace and life still live like so many who live under the dominion of death? One reason is because this is a process. We don’t immediately assume all the characteristics of the dominion of light and we will not adopt all of them until glory. But why is it that we so often fall so dreadfully far in these areas and have done so for a long time?
There is so much that could be said, but the root issue goes back to the essence of this life we have been given in the dominion of grace. “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The reason we act so much more like those under sin than those under grace is because we don’t know Him very well and we aren’t seeking to know Him very well. He IS the life--HE is our sanctification, HE is our righteousness, HE is the way to holiness--knowing HIM.
We spend so much time getting to know batting averages or business trends or decorating tips or the many and sundry other passions in our lives. How much time do we really spend coming to know Him? I’m not talking about reading the Bible for the purpose of checking it off on our “to do” list. I don’t mean listening to teaching tapes for the purpose of filling our mind with theology. Do we spend large amounts of time just with Him--just being in His presence? We need to spend time just loitering around in heaven--being near the throne? Do we do that? What concrete things are we doing with the express purpose of knowing Him? As we come to know Him, we come to know the truth and knowing the truth will set us free--free from fear, free from bondage. Satan will work harder to keep you from that which will bring you to know him than he will work to do anything else in your life. Because he knows if you are cultivating your walk with Christ, he will lose so much of His ground. He cannot touch that which has recently been in the presence of God and glows with His radiance.
The dominion of grace is far more powerful than the dominion of sin and death. May God give us the grace to seek after the Source of life--to “know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.”
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