The Gospel Of Grace? (Part 1)
Romans 5 – 6.
“Grace” appears gratuitous and contradictory in our world’s orientation towards achievement, recompense, and entitlements; not that any of these values are intrinsically immoral. Is it any wonder then that the meaning of ‘grace’ seldom enters into our thinking, and if it does, our behaviours belie our appreciation of it. When extrapolated as a gift into the realm of salvation and eternal life, it sounds even more alien, atypical and unattractive, simply on the basis of our individualism. This was Paul’s task, in explicating the elements of the Gospel of Grace in this section of his Epistle to the Romans, as it challenges our human capacity to grasp God’s salvific compassion for fallen humanity.
Paul began by walking us through the results of justification secured by Christ’s death: we have peace with God (i.e., spiritual life compared to death; Rom 5:1); we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory (i.e., knowing God’s Presence instead of dishonour and shame; Rom 5:2; c.f., Prov 3:35); we rejoice too, when we run into problems and trials (i.e., consider suffering as an opportunity to grow in character and hope; Rom 5:3); and we have been given the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with God’s love (i.e., privileged to be filled with God’s agape; Rom 5:5). It is pertinent to note that these unmerited blessings would have been impossible if we stood outside of faith in Christ. Paul, next, expounded the basis of our justification: that it was God’s eternal love for man, despite man’s total depravity, that necessitated His intervention by His self-sacrifice in reconciling man back to Himself (Rom 5:6-11), which led into his dialogue for the theological basis for this Divine redemptive act. He juxtaposed sin’s contamination as represented in Adam, impacting every area of life and death, producing disobedience and condemnation, with the gift of grace for those who have faith in Christ, and characterised by righteousness and justification. At the end of the day, it is again the wonderful grace of God and His gift of righteousness, for all who receive it, enabling them to live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ (Rom 5:12-21). This is our privileged foretaste of heaven on earth!
Having laid down the basis for the Gospel of Grace, Paul anticipates objections from his readers, and in this next section of his Epistle, he clarifies two of the four possible issues. Firstly (Rom 6:1-14), Paul handled an earlier subject he raised concerning the law’s emphasis on highlighting our sinfulness (Rom 5:20), with a rhetorical question, “Do our continuing misdemeanours honour God?” (Rom 6:1). His answer cuts to the core of our individuality! For in Christ, we have all died to sin, and become alive to God – that speaks volumes, and it challenges all our thinking and behaviour, our being. To be able to present our being totally for God’s righteous use imply a radical change to our normal self-righteous way of life.
Secondly (Rom 6:15-23), since we are no longer under the condemnation of the law but under grace, then we can forget about good works. Not so, says Paul, for previously when we were ‘slaves of sin,’ implying a personified Sin controlling us, and converting and imbuing our natural humanity with impurity and lawlessness, leading inevitably to spiritual death, now, Christ has set us free from its power and we become ‘slaves of righteousness.’ Our new position of being in Christ. Due to our innate humanity, we have a remarkable propensity to tolerate our own sinfulness, and are blatantly and unconsciously blind to it; and as a result, our righteous deeds become patchy, grudging, and calculating at times. Freedom from sin frees us to completely obey God, and pursue a selflessly righteous life that springs out of our life in Christ – this is the eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, and it is a generous life. This is life in heaven on earth!