Grace Should Reign
You say that “God doesn't expect us to be perfect, because we are no longer under law but under grace.” But such a statement makes me concerned for you, that you neither understand what grace is, what it does, nor why it has been given to man.
Most Christians are in agreement about the fact that grace is a free gift of God, but after affirming this truth, they then diverge into a wide variety of ideas and imaginations about what this gift actually is, what it does, and why it was given. Many speak as though the gift of grace is the removal of a law for righteousness, saying things like, “Under the law there were strict requirements and fixed rules for righteousness, but now Christ’s death and resurrection has taken all of that away and given us grace.” Others speak of being “under grace” (Rom 6:14) as though it were a new status or legal position with God where He has removed all sin (past, present and future), doesn’t see it, or at least is far less concerned with it than he was in the days of the Old Covenant. But all of this is a great mistake, and doesn’t even approach the issue.
So let’s start with what grace is. Grace is indeed a free gift. It is an unmerited, heavenly gift from the God of love, given (in some measure, whether embraced or rejected) to every single human being. Paul says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” (Tit 2:11) But knowing that it is free, and knowing that it is offered to all men, still does not tell us what it is. So what is grace? Grace is a gift of God’s power, a measure of His life, light, and Spirit, a seed of His heavenly kingdom, that is given to men in order to grow in them, to work in them, to leaven them and change them entirely, removing every form of evil, sin, darkness, and death, and bringing their newborn, purified soul into a perfect union with its Creator. Grace has nothing to do with a new status or position where God no longer sees or cares about sin. Grace is not a free pass, or an outward legal transaction that somehow declares a person righteous even when they continue living in sin. All of this is pure invention and imagination of man. Grace is a gift of the overcoming life, light, and Spirit of Christ, given to man to work in him like leaven, to grow in him like a seed, to increase in him like a talent, and to reign in him like a king. And when this grace is not resisted or quenched (but is rather cherished and obeyed) it works a death in man to all that is fallen, corrupt, selfish and wicked; and works new life in man in the Spirit, power, and righteousness of God. In other words, when grace is received and obeyed, it “brings salvation.” (Tit. 2:11)
So, VERY far from being a relationship with God where sin doesn’t matter, grace is actually the powerful means by which God removes all sin in the heart. Very far from being a relationship where God has reconciled Himself with sin, grace is actually a relationship in which God reconciles Himself with man by destroying the power and effect of sin, undoing the works of the devil, and cleansing the temple of our hearts.
I say again: Grace is a living and active power. It is a measure of God’s own life, light, and Spirit, that doesn’t tolerate or wink at sin, but rather exposes, confronts, and works against sin, even in its most hidden appearances. The written law gave a description of righteousness, declared a standard of righteousness, to which the fallen fleshly man could not attain. And therefore this law was always a ministry of condemnation to the sinful nature of flesh—describing and requiring what fallen man could not produce. It held up God’s nature as the standard, but gave man no power to do it. Now grace doesn’t lower the standard of righteousness, or somehow change what righteousness is or means, but rather gives you a measure of the power of righteousness, a seed of the life of righteousness, which is able to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law in those “who no longer walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4)
John 1:17 “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” A description of righteousness was given through Moses in the law, but the power and substance of righteousness comes through Jesus Christ. This power and substance of righteousness, this inward working nature of righteousness, this powerful seed of life, light, and purity that comes through Jesus Christ is called GRACE. And to be “under grace” is to be under that power, that is, to be under its jurisdiction, authority, dominion, and influence.
We find in the New Testament that this incredible truth began to be misunderstood and misrepresented even in the primitive church. Jude tells us that many in his day had “turned the grace of God into fleshly license”. (That sounds familiar.) Paul asks, “Should we continue in sin that grace may abound?” And later says, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” But all of these questions and misunderstandings have always arisen from not rightly understanding what grace really is, and what it does.
Consider this question: Does possessing a holy law make a man holy? We see from centuries of Jewish history and from our own personal experience that it cannot. Why not? Because it doesn’t GIVE what it describes. A written law is a description, an illustration, a standard, a declaration of what righteousness looks like between man and God, and between man and his neighbor. But this description of righteousness is not the LIFE of righteousness. That is why Paul tells us, “the law was weak through the flesh.” (Rom. 8:3) Or as he says elsewhere, “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.” (Gal 3:21 NASB)
So here’s the problem with the written law: A holy law cannot impart a holy life. But what was God’s answer to this? Did He say, “Well, let’s throw away the holy law and we’ll call that grace!”? No, He said “Let’s give them the LIFE of righteousness through the person and work of Christ, and then invite them to come UNDER THAT POWER, to live “UNDER GRACE.” Let’s give grace, and invite them to heed the teachings of grace, because grace “teaches us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” (Tit 2:11) Let’s “commend them to the Word of grace which is able to build them up and give them an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32). Let’s tell them to come boldly to the throne of grace, (Heb 4:16) to be “established in grace,” (Heb 13:9) to “rest their hope fully upon the grace that is being brought to them at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:13)
This is God’s solution. Because just as sure as you have felt sin reign in you, manifesting its power, bringing its effects, and changing your heart and life for the worse as it grows; so too grace can now reign in you, show its power, bring its effects, and change your heart and life back into the image of God. Paul says, “As sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Notice what he says here: “AS SIN HAS REIGNED… EVEN SO MIGHT GRACE REIGN”. Tell me something, HOW has sin reigned in man? I would say it has reigned in a way that is very apparent, discernible, and unmistakable. I mean, it reigns in such a way that there is no denying it, no wondering or debating about whether you have sin or not. Why? Because it controls our thoughts, governs our desires, changes our perspectives, and always manifests its nature in everything we do, say, and seek (unless we put forth great effort to hide these from our neighbor’s eyes). It pulls us, pushes us, entices us, embarrasses us, and leaves us disappointed and ashamed as it tears apart our lives. That’s what sin does. It’s a powerful reign. But my friend, there is a sad and strange idea in the church today that, even though sin is powerful, discernible, and grows like a weed to fill our entire garden and change our entire life, nevertheless, GRACE is different. When people talk about grace today they speak of something that is much more abstract, notional, or theological. It’s an “invisible gift,” they say. It’s a “new position” towards God, a “legal transaction,” a “signed pardon” for all past sin. But what did Paul say? He said “as sin has reigned, even so might grace reign.”
Perhaps you have heard a few good definitions of grace. But here’s a question I want you to consider: Do you know the REIGN of grace? Do you know what it means to be UNDER GRACE?...under its dominion, authority, and powerful influence? Because the true grace of God is the living power of Christ. It is a power that should be greater in you, and more familiar to you, than the power of sin. It is a power that can overcome sin, death, and all evil, and create a new creation in holiness and truth. It is a power that can be felt working, wrestling against sin, pulling, pushing, convicting, teaching, awakening, killing one thing and creating another. And, my friend, it is a clear demonstration that something is not right in us when our experience of the power of Christ’s grace is not nearly as real, discernible, or effectual as our experience of the power and effect of sin.
It is true that a man can “set aside the grace of God,” (Gal 2:21) “insult the spirit of grace,” (Heb 10:29) “fall from grace,” (Gal 5:4) or “receive the grace of God in vain.” (2 Cor 6:1) Grace is incredibly powerful, but it is also easily rejected and overlooked when a man will be high and strong in the strength of his flesh. But, those who receive the grace of God, who love the grace of God, and will live “under grace,” that is, under its teaching, government, and influence, these will testify with Paul “that where sin abounded, grace abounded much more; so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 5:20-21)