Saturday, January 14, 2012

Living in Scandalous Grace

Reading: Romans 5, 6   
In Romans 4, we have the glorious promise that the Lord will never charge you with sin (Romans 4:8 HCSB). What joy the truth of this glorious grace is intended to bring (See How Joyful Are You?). Romans 5 begins with, “therefore,” pointing back to this glorious grace of righteousness being credited to the one who believes in the Lord Jesus (Romans 4:24-25).
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. (Romans 5:1-2)
We now stand in grace. What does it mean that we have “access to this grace in which we stand”? In what sense do we stand in grace? How do we access that grace?
To say we stand in grace may be restated in Romans 5:5 as “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit...”. This is the love from which we cannot be separated (Romans 8:39). Romans 5:12-21 speak of how death reigned over all because of Adam's sin, and that now, grace reigns for all who believe because of Jesus Christ! So just as we stood condemned and were dead in our sins and destined to perish, now we stand in grace and are alive in Christ and are destined to eternal life! We are now loved by God and cannot be separated from that love.
So how does this reign of grace, this standing and living in the grace of God, filled with the love of God by the Spirit of God in our hearts, effect our lives? How does it transform how I live? How does it produce sanctification (actual righteous living) in me? How do I access this grace? This seems to be the discussion of Romans 6. Paul's answer seems so ridiculously good that it almost appears to just allow people to go on sinning. Paul acknowledges that opponents may bring that very objection (Romans 6:1,15).
As Paul begins Romans 6, he reminds us of the truth that since we believe in Christ we died with Christ, at the cross. Therefore, we are dead to sin. Baptism is where we make this identification by symbolically being buried with Christ in death (as we go down into the water). You only bury dead men. To be dead to sin is to say that sin no longer has dominion over us, and that we are now being made into the likeness of Christ's resurrection (Romans 6:2-11). In other words, we too are being raised into a new life.
But how does all this propose to actually produce a changed life in us? Paul, in Romans 6 is arguing that grace will actually produce changed, righteous lives. For the opponents who think we need a good dose of the law, in Romans 7:5-24 Paul demonstrates how powerless the law was to produce changed, righteous lives. But how does grace actually produce a changed life? If I am reading Romans 6 right, the answer to that question is almost so simple it is hard to catch.
12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14)
Don't let sin reign (even though you still have evil desires)... don't offer the part of your body to sin...instead, offer yourselves to God, because you are not under law, but under grace! Romans 6:14 HCSB says it, “For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace.” It appears Paul is saying, “since your sins aren't counted against you (you are not under law, but under grace) it can't rule over you. So stop fretting sin, and start living for God.” You stand in grace. God's love is shed abroad in your heart (because Christ's righteousness has been credited to you). Now instead of sin reigning in death, grace reigns in righteousness (Romans 5:21).
Paul goes on to say, that just as we once offered our bodies as slaves to impurity which led to greater lawlessness, now we can offer our bodies, our members, as slaves to righteousness which will result in sanctification (our being made righteous in actual living) (Romans 6:20 HCSB). Why will offering our bodies to do righteousness, to obey Christ, actually produce sanctification under grace when it didn't under the law? Because sin was reigning then, no matter how much we tried, sin triumphed. Now that grace reigns, no matter how much we fail, grace triumphs, and so we will indeed have our deeds sanctified through that grace. We access this grace by simply believing it and acting accordingly. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
Now, having been freed from sin, and become slaves of God (and joyfully so), our efforts actually produce fruit, the fruit of holiness, or sanctification (Romans 6:22). How can this be? Because now, our sins are not charged against us; now, we are animated, or empowered by the Spirit of God who lives in us; now, we stand in grace at all times before God. Now, our works can actually be good, even though at times our desires are not!
This is grace at seemingly scandalous levels. This is grace that transforms. Maybe Paul recognizes that when we grasp just how stunning this grace is, it will capture our affection with a power stronger than sins power, and that this will be the ground in which grace takes root, grows, and bears the fruit of holiness.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,