MESSAGE FOR NOVEMBER 29, 1998 FROM ROMANS 6:1-2
This week, we turn to the sixth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Chapters six, seven and eight of Romans are probably the most well known chapters of this letter and perhaps of all of Paul’s 13 letters. The reason so many believers are fairly familiar with these chapters is because these chapters have more to say about the daily living out of the Christian life than any texts in the New Testament. These three chapters, perhaps more than any others tell us how to live in grace. Paul has laid out in the first five chapters the earth--shattering truth that we are justified by faith through grace. We have been brought into a new relationship with God through Christ’s work on the cross and all of that has been by grace. We heard back in 1:17, “the righteous shall live by faith.” We know that means that only those who, through God-given faith appropriate this new life offered and will be seen by God as righteous. The very righteousness of Christ has been transferred to our account.
But I believe that text also implies that only those who daily live by faith will live as God intends his people to walk. Only those who believe and act on the truth of Christ’s work on the cross and what that means to them will live godly lives. Hebrews 11:6 says, “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” Now, all of that is well and good. It is crucial to know that faith is central for us to live a faithful life to God. But the question is, what is it we are to believe about Christ and his work for us which will enable us to be free to live this kind of life free from the tyranny of sin and self and the law? A big part of the answer to that question is found in Romans six through eight. If we were to know in our hearts and act out the truths in these three chapters, we would be so much freer than we are now to live a life faithful to God. In these three chapters, Paul gives perhaps his most intense, comprehensive treatment of sanctification--how a redeemed learns to live like Jesus Christ.
In chapter five Paul has resoundingly proclaimed the triumph of grace over sin. Grace and the power of grace is greater than sin and the power of sin. We all say “amen” to that--that feels so good to us. But if we were to be dead honest with each other, how many of us would say that on a daily basis we experience the truth that the grace of God is more powerful than the sin and sinful tendencies in their life? How many of us can, at the end of each day, put our head on our pillow and say to ourselves as we drift off to sleep, “Yes, as I look back on my life today--what I said and did and thought, truly I saw the grace of God repeatedly and consistently triumph over the power of sin?” My guess is, if we are spiritually sensitive and are actually aware of God’s holy will is for our life and what it means to live lives which are faithful to his word, many of us would be forced to admit that those days are the exception and not the rule. But Paul here in chapter five exuberantly heralds the triumph of grace over sin. What Adam did through his sin has been decisively bested by Christ and the grace He has brought into the world.
In chapter six, Paul continues his treatment on the triumph of the grace of God in the gospel--there is no huge conceptual break between chapters five and six. The grace which Christ brought into the world which has defeated the sin of Adam in a cosmic, wide angle, telescopic sense also triumphs over the sin in our individual lives in a personal, microscopic sense. This process of the triumph of God’s grace over the sin of Adam in our lives is called sanctification. The grace of God in the gospel which justifies us--makes us legally right with God, that same grace of God also sanctifies us--makes our daily lives look more like Christ, practically. This is so crucial to know because there are many Christians who have, either because of their own laziness or because they have failed so many times in their pursuit of holiness, they have come to believe a lie. And that lie is this--“God has justified me and made me right with Him, but I will never be much more like Christ than I am right now. I will probably always struggle and fail in the same areas that I am struggling and failing in right now.”
At the root of that lie is the fallacy that the gospel has the power to forgive people of their sins and open the door to heaven for them, but the gospel doesn’t have the power to enable people to conquer the ongoing sin in their life. That is a lie because Paul’s whole structure of Romans screams that the grace which justifies you and forgives you is also the grace which will sanctify you as you cooperate with God. And the main component of our cooperation with Him in this process is to believe. Colossians 2:6 says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,” How did we receive Christ Jesus as Lord? By faith. How are we to continue to live in Him? By faith. Faith in what? Faith in Him and what he has done for us and Romans 6-8 is where a big chunk of that is found. The grace which justifies us and which has triumphed PAST tense is also there to sanctify us--to triumph PRESENT tense.
We see this connection between justifying grace and sanctifying grace in Romans 5:20-21 and Romans 6:1-2. As we said last week, Romans 5:20-21 says, “The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, graced increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We saw last week that the law was given, NOT to restrain sin or hold it back, but it was given to intensify the power of sin. We said that this is only logical when you consider what the law is. The law, being an explicit, specific expression of God’s holy character can only do one thing to sinful people who are in heated rebellion against God. The law, when seen from this perspective can only incite more intense sin and rebellion because the law specifically represents the One who sinners are rebelling against. But Paul’s point is that even with this power of sin strengthened and intensified by the law, even still, the grace of God still triumphs, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”
We illustrated this by the use of water and a float or bobber. No matter how much water you put under it, the bobber still rides above the water. Likewise, no matter how much sin a person commits, the grace of God always is more than adequate to cover--to ride on top of that sin. This grace which justifies and forgives is more than enough to handle any amount of sin. And its on this point which Paul intentionally turns his argument to focus on the power of grace in sanctification. Paul wants to show that this grace which is more than adequate to justify us and forgive us is also more than adequate to sanctify us or make us like Christ. He makes this transition brilliantly by raising a question. He asks, “What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Do you hear that he has just gone from justification, our legal position with God to sanctification--our daily life in Christ. “Shall we GO ON [in our daily lives, habitually, repeatedly] sinning...?” That’s the language of sanctification! Chapters six through eight are not some sort of parenthesis or tangent that Paul goes off on as some have suggested. No, he uses this question to steer his argument to the grace of God in sanctification.
Paul uses this question to transition from the grace of God in the gospel for justification to the grace of God in sanctification. But that does not mean that this question is only a transitional device. This is a very REAL question for Paul and for us. And so, this morning, we are going to focus just on this question. If the grace of God triumphs over our sin, then why shouldn’t we go on sinning? If a person who has had a life of prolonged, extraordinary, horrendous, concentrated rebellion against God comes to Christ and their forgiveness results in praise to God, because of His overwhelming grace, then why shouldn’t we go on sinning so the grace of God seen in forgiving our sin would result in praise to Him? If the more rotten we are shows more and more the depths and wonder of God’s grace, why shouldn’t we be as rotten as we want so our lives will just wreak of the scent of the over coming power of God’s grace?
That was the question Paul asked. Another question which is closely related is this one (and we have all asked this one): If all my sin is covered by grace, then I might as well go ahead and sin in a given situation--it will be forgiven anyway. My sin is serious, but God’s grace will cover it--so its not a huge deal if I just go ahead and sin. It will be forgiven. As we said last week, if someone isn’t tempted to do this, then they haven’t understood grace. This freedom of grace is risky and in some ways lays you open to this temptation, but this temptation is not valid!! And Paul, in a fairly complex and controversial section, develops one reason why it is not valid to abuse grace this way. As Paul states his case as to why we should not respond to the grace of God this way, he grounds his argument in the fact that those who have been saved by grace have been delivered from the dominion of death to the dominion of life by virtue of their union with Christ. Therefore, it is thoroughly inconsistent for a person who has been delivered out of sin and death to live as if he were still in it.
That’s the crux of Paul’s argument and we will not have time to treat it today. The argument is too complex and this morning we needed to introduce this new section of the letter and see the context into which it fits. But even though we will not have time to develop Paul’s reasons why we shouldn’t abuse grace, we will take the question he poses about grace and provide other biblical answers to it. You see, there are many reasons beyond the one Paul gives in Romans six as to why it is unthinkable for a Christian to abuse grace by using it as a license to sin. Paul develops his particular argument so he can speak of how the grace of God relates to sanctification, but in the time remaining, let’s look at three other reasons why it is so wrong for a Christian to go on sinning simply because God’s grace is bigger than their sin. If you are in a pattern of sinning on the rationale of, “Why not, He’ll forgive me” or if you are living a life that is clearly spiritually mediocre, not characterized by sacrificial obedience to Christ--not characterized by self denial and you rationalize that by the belief that, “After all, God is a God of grace,” If either of those are true of you, listen to these other reasons why abusing grace is such a perverse and godless practice.
The first reason it is so heinous to abuse grace by using it as a license to sin or lead a shoddy Christian life is: God is a Person who calls us into relationship with Him. When we go ahead and sin because we know we will be forgiven,--when we treat God like that we are saying something very twisted about who we think God is. When we do this, we make God out to be either an impersonal machine or a fool. The thought process which leads us to sin because there is also grace utterly betrays any kind of understanding that God is a person and our sin offends Him on a personal level. When we sin because grace is available, we are, at best treating God like some sort of cosmic sin processor. Sin and the way we respond to it becomes mechanical and impersonal. Its no longer a personal offense against a personal God who has called us into relationship with Himself. Sin has become akin to hitting the wrong button on your calculator. You just hit the “clear” button and the mistake is wiped away. That provision is built into the machine. God becomes nothing more than an impersonal grace dispenser. We insert our token prayer of confession and out comes a packet of grace sufficient to cover our error. And we don’t need to feel a bit concerned about it--that’s why God is there--to forgive my sins. I rather enjoy living a mediocre Christian life and He is faithful to forgive my sins--its a beautiful arrangement. We forget that sin grieves God’s heart. He’s NOT a divine machine--He’s our Father! If our kids treated us with such disdain, it would break our hearts. Yet, somehow we believe God to be impersonal and detached from His children. The truth is, He love His children far more than we love ours and our sin is far more grievous to Him than our kids’ rebellion is to us.
This view, when its all said and done makes God out to be a fool. He becomes nothing more than a doddering old grandpa who is so far out of touch that he just keeps handing out the treasures of His grace to spoiled children who use it as a shield for their self indulgence and spiritual laziness. They waltz into the throne room and dispassionately call for his grace to clean up their messes and waltz out again without thinking about the fact that God has called them into a covenant relationship that is ultimately for HIS glory, not their license. Somewhere along the line, their selfishness has caused them to forget that they EXIST for Him and HIS pleasure--He DOES NOT exist for them. For those who have drifted into this abuse of grace Paul says in Galatians 6:7 “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. [it is impossible for you to use God or His grace to your carnal advantage] A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” God is a person who calls us into relationship with Him. That is one reason why it is so foolish to abuse grace as a license to sin.
A second reason why it is so foolish to abuse grace flows from this one: God is a HOLY person who hates sin and is to be feared. Every time we are tempted to go ahead and sin because grace is there and anyone who is living a low wattage commitment Christian life is revealing that they have lost the fear of God. If a person has a healthy fear of the Lord, they will not abuse grace. Jeremiah 32:40 says of the new covenant believer, “I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.” The fear of the Lord is present in a person who has an accurate understanding of who He is. Today, people have come more to see God as a therapeutic God who understands our sin more than a holy God who hates our sin. He hates it so much he sent his Son to die to remove its power and to free us from its grasp.
Each time we play this game of cheap grace with God, it shows that we have forgotten that God is holy. Think about Moses. He stands before the glorious sight of the burning bush where God tells Him to take off his shoes because His holy presence makes the ground holy. Do you suppose after Moses had seen God in the bush as he was coming down the mountain he thought to himself, “You know, I really don’t want to go before Pharaoh. I’m gonna stay here in Midian with Jethro’s sheep--God will forgive me--He seemed like a reasonable person?” Think about John the apostle. He sees the glorified Christ in Revelation chapter one-- “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” When John gets up off his face, the Lord tells him to write down the vision of the future He is going to show Him. Do you suppose that John would have at that moment looked into the radiant face of the glorified Christ and said, “You know Lord, my hands are old and arthritic--I’m not going to write down some vision--that’s asking a lot, Lord. And after all, you and I were pretty good friends when you were on earth. I’m sure you’ll understand if I decline your gracious invitation.” Is He going to have the nerve to respond to a holy God that way. Yet, that is precisely the way we respond to God every time we practice cheap grace. Do we know WHO it is we are treating that way? He is holy. He is to be feared and he hates--he detests our sin.
A final reason why it is so foolish to practice cheap grace is: God has brought us into a love relationship with His Him through the blood of His Son. He hates our sin, but He really does love His children. He showed that by giving his only Son. Here’s a God who does not need anything. He is totally satisfied in the beautiful communion of the Trinity. Yet he desires to share Himself with others so he creates humanity and calls them into relationship with Himself. They sin against Him and He loses them. So, He works a pre-conceived plan to buy His back his own using the blood of His Son as payment. People who have done nothing to deserve Him or His grace--yet He wants to relate to them--to share Himself with them. They come into covenant relationship with Him through the cup of the New Covenant, Christ’s blood. He loves them and showers all the spiritual blessings that are in Christ upon them. He seats these one-time rebels in the heavenlies with His Son and makes provision for their sin by His grace.
In response, they use his grace as a license to further their own self-centered, carnal, rebellious desires. What is wrong with that picture? How can we betray His love for us by using His gift of grace to further our selfish, godless appetites? A man and a woman enter into a marriage covenant. They are deliriously happy for among many other reasons, the woman is a fabulous cook and the husband loves to eat. Tragically, the woman is in a horrible car accident and is paralyzed from the neck down. She will never cook another meal, but out of love for her husband, she takes a portion of the insurance money and hires a gourmet cook. This lady can cook up a storm and the wife is delighted by the husband’s enthusiastic response to this wonderful gift. But in three months time, the husband runs off with the cook and abandons the wife. Betrayal. The husband used a gift intended to be a blessing to stab his wife, his covenant partner in the back. This is precisely what we do to the Lord when we use His gift of grace as a license to betray his love and sin against Him.
Conclusion: God’s grace is a glorious thing--shouldn’t feel sheepish about claiming it boldly when we need it and we are in constant need of it. But we should never abuse it. --God is a person---He is Holy and hates our sin--And He loves us and we serve Him out of love. That love is not consistent with using His gifts to stab Him in the back.
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