This week, we continue in our study of the second half of Romans chapter six. The first half of chapter six tells us that the believer has a new relationship to sin. He is dead to it’s controlling power. In the second half of the chapter, Paul tells us how to live out that new relationship to sin. He tells us what is involved in walking in the liberty from sin Christ purchased for us at the cross. Last week we saw that because we have been made alive to God it is only consistent for us to offer the parts of our bodies to HIM for service. Paul commands us to offer the parts of our bodies to God as instruments or weapons of righteousness. But as he moves ahead to verse 14, he continues his argument. He grounds the fact that we are to offer ourselves to God--that is, he bases that command, in verse 14. As we move on in Paul’s treatment here he says in verse 14, “For sin shall not be your master because you are not under law, but under grace.”
Paul says the reason we are to offer our members to God as weapons of righteousness is because sin shall not be our master. That is, it no longer has to be the controlling force in our lives. We have the freedom to offer ourselves to God because sin, which seeks to enslave us, does not have the power to pin our shoulders down and prevent us from offering ourselves to God. That is, it doesn’t have that power unless we ALLOW it to. We have been liberated by the blood of Jesus Christ so that we can offer ourselves to God and not be brutally enslaved to sin’s controlling power. That is the wonderful liberty in the gospel. What is interesting about Paul’s treatment here is he goes on to root this freedom we have to offer ourselves to God instead of sin (quoting verse 14 now), “because you are not under law, but under grace.”
What does Paul mean by that? He means simply, The reason we are not under the control of sin is because we have been transferred out of the realm of law and into the realm of grace. Now that we have explained what Paul means, we have to explain the explanation. The curious and I think somewhat difficult aspect of this text is, Paul brings in the concept of law here where it has not been found in this entire section. He seems to bring it in from nowhere. Why does he bring in the law, here? It would have made perfect sense for Paul to say the reason we are free to offer ourselves to God rather than sin is because “we are no longer under the power of sin, but we are under grace.” That fits with his whole argument where he is constantly referring to these opposing spiritual forces of grace and sin. We’ve seen several of these different opposing forces juxtaposed in Paul. We saw him contrast the reign of sin and the reign of grace, enslavement to sin versus enslavement to righteousness, death versus life, and on it goes. But now, Paul brings the law of God into that picture. Why does he do this?
The reason Paul imports this question of the law here is because if we are to be faithful in our fight against the power of sin, we MUST know and LIVE OUT the truth about the law and its relationship to sin. So many believers are in bondage and are pinned down by the power of sin because they don’t understand what their relationship with the law of God should be. And by the law of God we mean, the Old Testament Law which show us the moral expectations God has for his people—his standard of righteousness. Jerry Bridges in his book, “Transforming Grace” says that all Christians are by nature, legalists. That is, we all have a strong, fleshly tendency want to be righteous by virtue of our performance. We tend to relate to the law in such a manner that puts us into bondage and keeps us from living out the liberty and grace of God. So, Paul’s comment on the law here is very important to each one of us.
Now, getting back to the contrasts between the two realms. In each one of these pairs Paul contrasts what is of God and his kingdom and what is of this world. But here, Paul shocks us because instead of contrasting SIN and grace as he has throughout chapters five and six, he contrasts LAW and grace. Do you understand how utterly mind shattering that contrast would be for so many whom Paul was writing to? This would sound to some people like Paul is putting the law of God, the Torah in the same category as sin, death and bondage. Now, he doesn’t do that per se, but in fact, Paul IS in some way contrasting the law with grace. In one sense, Paul puts the law in a negative light here.
But how can this be especially in light of several statements Paul makes about the law of God? He says in 3:31, “Do we then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” That doesn’t sound like Paul is putting the law in a bad light. In chapter 7:6 he says, “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be!” In verse 12 of chapter seven he says, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” Again, we see a ringing affirmation of the goodness of the law of God.
Even though Paul just touches on this issue of the law in this text, understanding this issue will bring us near the heart of the gospel. If we understand what the law is and its purpose, it will open up the way for us to understand the gospel. Likewise, if we do not understand the law correctly, there is no way we will fully understand the gospel and this is the missing link for many sincere Christians. This morning, we will only introduce the issue of the law because Paul treats it in detail in chapter seven and then again in chapters nine and ten. We know that the law of God is a representation of God’s holy character. If you want to discover the holy character of God, study the law. It is the outward, propositional expression of His holy nature. The law is good. So, how can Paul here negatively contrast being under the good law with being under grace? We need to feel this tension so that when it is relieved, we will understand the gospel better.
The greatly abbreviated answer we want to give this morning begins with the explanation of what it is to be UNDER the law. Because, although Paul repeatedly affirms the goodness of the law in itself, he just as aggressive repeats that to be under the law is disastrous. This text here clearly implies that to be under the law is to be under the reign and control of sin. We know this because Paul says here in verse 14 the reason we are free from the reign of sin is because we are NOT under law. That means that to be under the law is to be under the control of sin. Galatians 5:18 confirms this. After listing off some of the sins of the flesh which are of this world and opposed to God Paul says, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under…[we might expect him to say here, “the power of sin” or “the power of the flesh.] But he says, “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under THE LAW.” Clearly, for Paul to be under the law means to be controlled by sin. To be “under the law” is contradictory to living under the liberating control of the Holy Spirit.
The reason for this is a person who is “under the law” (as Paul uses this here) is a person who hopes to find their righteousness before God by obeying the law. If I am under the law, it means that I am trying to be pleasing to God by DOING the right thing, or as Paul puts it, following the law. Now, let me ask you something. If I am trying to be pleasing to God by what I DO, am I living by faith in God? No, I am banking on my performance of the law to establish my status with God. The fatal flaw in this system is, God does not recognize any righteousness by following the law because no one except Jesus CAN follow the law. We can’t do that—its impossible. The reason the Law cannot provide righteousness is because no one can keep the law perfectly and James says, “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” The law is like a unimaginably delicate, one piece, seamless garment. If you stain it in just one place, you have totally and irrevocably defiled it. The only currency recognized in the kingdom of God is FAITH.
Paul says in chapter 14:23, “…everything that does not come from faith is sin.” That is an earth shattering statement. Think about this. “…everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Here again, you have these two, black and white divisions. You have works done in realm of faith, trusting in Christ and anything and everything outside the realm of faith is sin. There is no third option. This is why Hebrews 11:6 says, “…without faith it is impossible to please God…” The reason is because if you are not in the realm of faith, you are therefore under law and therefore under sin. Being under the law and living by faith are mutually exclusive to each other. Galatians 3:12 says, “…the law is not of faith.” Being under the law and living by faith are like oil and water—they don’t EVER mix. In Galatians 3:21 Paul says, “…if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.” There is no life under the law. Because being under the law means being under sin and sin brings death. That means the law actually kills. It is lethal to people who try be pleasing to God by following it. That is exactly what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:6. “the letter [the law] kills but the Spirit gives life.” The law brings sin and sin kills—it brings death. That’s what Paul means when he says, “the letter kills.” But the Spirit, which is a gift of God’s grace given when saving faith is present, brings life. And life is one of those hallmarks of God’s kingdom. The currency of the kingdom is faith and not the law because only faith brings righteousness.
So the law, although it represents the holy character of God, was NOT intended by God to be a way for anyone, in the Old Testament or New Testament to be righteous before Him. When Paul says in Romans 1:17, “the righteous shall live by faith” he is quoting the Old Testament, Habakkuk 2:4. God’s way to please him has always been for his people to look at themselves in the light of his holy standard of righteousness, see the horrible evil in their hearts and declare spiritual bankruptcy. Then and only then are they ready to come to him in faith believing that He alone by grace through faith can make them acceptable to Himself. Because the law was not put in place by God to make people righteous, those people who are under it (that is, they are trying to find righteousness through their works of the law) are under sin. Because everything that does not come from faith must of necessity, be sin.
Now, to prevent any possible misconceptions, if there is the presence of true this true God-given faith, there WILL be unmistakable outward fruit. James tells us, “Faith without works is dead.” That is, if you say you have faith and do NOT have Christ like attributes and dispositions in your life, the so called “faith” you have is NOT saving faith—it is not the faith which brings you out from under the reign of sin. That kind of false, unproductive faith is actually PART of the realm of sin and death and bondage because it is a counterfeit, a lie.
With that as background, we go back to verse 14 and it is clearer for us. “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” The reason we are not under the control of sin is because we have been transferred out of the realm of law and into the realm of grace because being under the law always brings sin’s controlling power. The application of this truth to our lives is bracing. The main application point is this: the degree to which we are trying to be righteous or pleasing to God by what we DO for him is the degree to which we are allowing sin to reign over us. That is the inescapable logic of Paul’s argument here. To put it another way, the degree to which I am trying to be righteous or pleasing before God by what I do is the degree to which I am issuing an open invitation to the power of sin to come and control me. The reason for this is because when you are under the law, you have taken yourself out of the realm of faith and grace and that means that you have by default placed yourself under the controlling power of sin.
When we try to be righteous according to what we do, we are in effect summoning the power of sin and asking it, “Come, reign in me—control me, brutalize me—take me away from God and take me away from grace.” One reason for this is because when we try to be righteous by what we do, we are trusting NOT in God and what He has done for us in Christ, we are trusting in ourselves. It is essentially a self-centered religion and is therefore, on a functional level—the level we live on—no better than Islam or Mormonism or any other works oriented, self centered religion. This is why so many sincere Christians have no more fruit in their lives than people in other world religions. Think about it, if Christians are the only people in the world who have access to the enabling, empowering grace of God in the Person of the omnipotent Holy Spirit, how should their supernaturally empowered lives compare with people whose only power source is their fallen, fleshly, finite humanity?
There should be no contest. The contrast between those two lives should be so stark as to be laughable. The grace of God seen in a life controlled by the omnipotent Holy Spirit would be immeasurably more noble, virtuous, godly than a life controlled by the fallen, finite self righteous religion of man. This is why Jesus said, beginning in Mathew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come to fulfill them. (verse 19) For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus knew that life in the kingdom of God was a life lived in humble faith dependent upon God’s grace. That life will bring forth righteousness, not a life lived in dependence upon our ability to imperfectly follow a code of spiritual conduct.
The question is, “How do I know if I am living under the law or by faith through grace?” One test is to notice whether or not we feel like God is always mad or disappointed with us and all those other performance related questions we quoted several weeks ago from Bridges book, “Transforming Grace.” Any time we tie God’s love or approval for us to our performance, we are living under the law. God’s love and approval for us are rooted in what Christ has done for us at Calvary, not in what we can do for Him. If we think or feel differently, we are clearly basing our status with God on our ability to perform for Him. That is a life lived under the law. But that is not the only test. Remember, when we looked at the question, “is sin or grace controlling our lives” we said one way to know the answer is not simply to look for sin, which can easily deceive us or hide, but to intentionally look for areas where the reign of grace is evident. The same test can be applied here. We should not only look at the areas where we are trying to live by the rules. After all, our hearts and minds can be deceived into thinking we are free from the law when we are not. We should see if we are living under the law by intentionally looking for areas where we are living by faith. You see, if we are not living under the law, then the only other option for us is to be living by faith. There is no third alternative.
So one test to see if we are living under the law would be to check for the presence of faith by asking, “Am I living by faith? Am I a person who regularly attempts things for God on the basis of what God has told me, NOT on the basis of what I think is reasonable or possible? Things that could in no way be accomplished apart from his miraculous intervention? What is there in my life that cannot possibly be explained apart from God? When was the last time that happened in my life?” Our problem is that God comes into our lives and tells us to do this or that and we say, “I can’t do that, are you crazy?” “If I do that, it will kill me—no one will like me, I will lose my job, it will hurt my marriage, it will inconvenience my children.” And God gently whispers, “I know you can’t do all that and much of what you have said will indeed happen, but you are to live by faith. Will you do what I ask, trusting me, that I will take care of you and in the midst of the pain, I will make it for ultimate good?” We measure what is the right thing to do, NOT on the basis of some external rule, but on the basis of some internal code rooted in what we can think we can accomplish. That is living under the law!!
Most people think being under the law is simply trying to be acceptable to God on the basis of external rules and that is true. But it is also, as we have seen, living a life devoid of faith because “the law is not based on faith.” Don’t you see? If a person cannot think of numerous things in their life which could not have possibly be done apart from the grace of God, that means they are spending their Christian life doing only those things that are possible in your own strength and therefore do not require any faith. They determine what God is telling them to do on the basis of whether they think that it is reasonable or possible for them to do it. Those things are not from faith and if they are not from faith, but are possible from their own energy, then what are they? They are sin.
People who are under the law try to be pleasing to God by what they can do and for them that means that they follow a set of rules and therefore there is no faith in their lives because the law and faith are mutually exclusive. But if a person lives their life on the basis of what they can do in their own energies, is that person any better off, in terms of living by faith, than the person who tries to keep the law? Both are living their lives without faith and therefore both are under the control of sin. The one has no faith because they are living under law by overtly trying to keep the rules. The other person has no need of faith because they do only what they see is humanly possible for them. They don’t take risks for God because their relationship is mostly devoid of faith which means its often rooted in works. They seldom if ever leave their comfort zones. Even though they may never consciously try to be acceptable to God by rules, they are under the law. Both of these people are devoid of faith. The only difference is the overt legalist thinks he is pleasing God by doing what God has written in the Bible. The other person tries to please God by what He himself determines what God’s will must be on the basis of what is reasonable or possible for them. The law they are under is this: I will do for God what I am able to do. That is the same presupposition the legalist has. The legalist presumes that is able to please God by what he does. But both fail because both have no faith.
Where are we? Are we living under the law, trying to be righteous before God on the basis of what we do? As long as we live that way, we will not know what it is to be free from sin’s controlling power because when we live under the law, we live under sin’s control. The law’s purpose is, according to chapter 3:20 is “that we become conscious of sin.” The law’s purpose is to show us where we are sinning. If we live under something with that purpose, there will be sin because that is the purpose of the law to make us conscious of sin. If we really, sincerely want to live godly lives in the liberty of the gospel, the answer is not to try harder and sweat more profusely trying to follow the law, as much as our self righteous flesh would influence us to do that. The answer is to ask the Holy Spirit to show us our utter inability to please God by what we do and embrace the grace of God found in the gospel. To believe that Christ has done it all and live by faith in Him, in His finished work on the cross AND in His ability to accomplish through us what we could never do apart from Him. This is the life of faith. This is the gospel. May God give us the grace to live it out.
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