Law and Grace - Part 1

Theme: Grace and Righteous Conduct

This week’s lessons teach that God’s grace, rather than leading to sin or even an indifferent attitude about it, actually leads to a holy life because we are now dead to sin and have been made alive in Jesus Christ.

Scripture: Romans 6:1-14

A number of years ago, when I was preaching through Romans 6 as part of a careful exposition of that book, I was in a Bible college for some meetings and mentioned my upcoming series to one of the Baptist professors. His reply was immediate: “Ah, that is a good Baptist chapter for a Presbyterian.” The comment took me entirely off guard, because the chapter has nothing to do with baptism, as I understand it. In fact, the only reason I can think of that this man might have said what he did is that Paul uses the illustration of baptism in verses 3 and 4 to reinforce his earlier point about our being united to Jesus Christ by God's grace. Actually, the sixth chapter of Romans is a parenthesis dealing with the first and most logical objection that anyone can bring against the gospel: that it leads to lawless conduct.

What is the relationship of grace to law? Is it opposed to law? In one sense it is because, as we saw in our study entitled “Falling from Grace,” to fall from grace is to fall into legalism. A person who wants to be saved by law cannot be saved by grace, and vice versa. But does that mean that grace leads to license, to an utter disregard of God's law? It is here that Romans 6 comes in, for this important chapter teaches that grace does not lead to sinful conduct and, equally important, shows how righteous conduct actually comes about.

Not surprisingly, the answer is “by grace.” The first half of the chapter (vv. 1-14) begins with grace: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (v. 1). It ends the same way: “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (v. 14).

In the last study we were looking at the words “where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (v. 20). We saw how wonderful they are. But they lead to the inevitable question Paul asks at the start of chapter 6: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” If sin is overwhelmed by grace, why shouldn't we keep on sinning? Sin doesn't matter. Or, to make the objection even stronger, why not sin intentionally so that grace will increase proportionately and even more glory will be given to God?

The presence of this question is so reasonable that in one sense it is a test of whether or not a person's understanding of the gospel is sound. Most religious teaching is not. Most religions tell you that in order to get to heaven what you must do is stop sinning and do good works; and that, if you do this well enough and long enough, you will be saved. If a person is teaching along those lines, it is inconceivable that anyone would ever say to him, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” A teacher like this is not talking about grace. He is talking about works, and his whole point is that salvation comes by doing them. To go on sinning is the exact opposite of his doctrine. But teach, as Paul did, that one is saved by grace apart from works, and the objection we are looking at is the first thing that comes to mind.

Yet the idea that God's grace should lead to sin is also irrational and unthinkable. Why is that? There are at least two reasons. First, it overlooks God's purpose in the plan of salvation, which is to save us from sin. What does that mean? Does it mean to save us only from the punishment due us because of our sin? It does mean that, but not only that. We are justified by God in order that we might be saved from wrath at the final judgment, but that is only one part of God's plan.

Well, then, does salvation mean that God is saving us from sin’s guilt? Yes, that too. But again, not only that. Sin brings guilt, and one of the blessings of salvation is to be delivered from guilt, knowing that sin has been punished in Jesus Christ. Still deliverance from the guilt of sin is also only a part of what is involved. How about deliverance from sin’s presence? Of course! But again, that only happens when we are glorified. The important thing here is that God is also saving us from the practice of sin now. No one part of our deliverance from sin can rightly be separated from any other. So if we go on practicing sin now, we are contradicting the very purpose of God in our salvation.

Study Questions:

  1. What is the relationship between grace and law?
  2. What is the first reason why grace should not at all lead to sin?

For Further Study: For an accessible yet in-depth look at the subject of law and grace, see volume two of James Boice’s commentary, Romans: The Reign of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005).

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