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When Does Grace Abound?
By David A. DePra
That as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin because grace abounds? (Rom 5:21-6:1)
Paul is asking a question in Romans 6:1. That question is predicated upon his teaching to this point to the Romans, indeed, it is predicated upon a Truth that he has been getting at throughout the epistle. That Truth is this: God’s grace in Jesus Christ abounds EVEN when we sin.
If we are to understand law and grace, or really, much of Romans at all, we must see this. Paul has established that the grace of God in Jesus Christ is not based on our works. Rather, it is based on the finished work of Christ, and we receive His grace through our faith in Him. This is why Paul is able to say that grace abounds to the Christian EVEN when we sin.
Now, if you doubt that God’s grace abounds to the Christian EVEN when we sin, then when do you think it abounds? Only when we obey? What would you say, that God’s grace abounds EXCEPT when we sin? Well, then of what value IS grace? We sure need it much more when we sin than when we obey! The fact is, if God’s grace doesn’t abound to us EVEN when we sin, then it doesn’t abound at all. Indeed, in that case, we are not under grace, but under law – our works have determined the grace God offers us in Christ.
Of course, Paul was a really smart guy. And because he was preaching the gospel of grace, and many others were not, he had heard just about every argument against the gospel of grace that was possible. And in Romans 6:1, in passing, he does address one of those arguments. It is, in fact, THE argument that has always been presented by those who do not understand the Truth of grace. That argument is this: "God’s grace cannot abound to us even when we sin, because if it did, then we could sin because grace abounds!"
We need to grasp this argument. There are Christian people who believe that if forgiveness is once for all and final, and if salvation is secure and forever, and that if our works cannot undo either, that this will mean that it is possible to deliberately sin – simply because grace abounds regardless. They fear that license will prevail in the church because sin will no longer carry any eternal consequences.
Some of these sincere folks realize that it is possible to buy into the doctrine of grace and use it as a license to sin. This is going on today everywhere – and always has been a problem in the church. But they are really missing the point. Buying into the doctrine of grace, salvation, forgiveness, or any other doctrine, is not the same thing as repenting and believing. Believing the doctrine of grace is not the same as embracing grace. Thus, if I say I have embraced the grace of God in Jesus Christ, but then deliberately sin because grace abounds – and deliberately use grace as a license – the Bible teaches that I have not embraced Christ at all. I am not really converted. I can’t be. Rather, I have taken the things of God and molded them into a religion I intend to use for my own purposes. I am using grace as a license – but not grace I have received. Really, I am using grace that I have rejected – whether I realize it or not.
Well, Paul knew all about this possibility among those to whom he preached. Paul taught, without apology, that the grace of God has NOTHING to do with our works. But as a result of his teaching, he was constantly attacked by those who remained, "under the law." They said, "You are giving people a license to sin. You are telling them that they can sin all they want, because God’s grace abounds regardless."
So how did Paul answer this charge? Well, he answered it with Romans 6 through 8. And he starts the answer right in Romans 6:1. Having established that grace does abound EVEN when we sin, Paul then asks, "Does this mean that we ought to sin BECAUSE grace abounds? Does God’s forgiveness and grace in Christ give us a license to sin?"
A Revealing Question
Before getting into Paul’s answer, let’s look closely at the question, and realize the inescapable conclusion that the question itself demands: Grace always abounds EVEN when we sin. The question itself is based on that Truth. How so? Well, can we see that the question, "Are we to continue in sin because grace abounds?," would be nonsense unless Paul is teaching that grace DOES abound when we sin? Sure. Why ask the question otherwise? If Paul the apostle did not believe or teach that grace abounds even when we sin, then he would not be posing the question as to whether we shall continue in sin BECAUSE grace abounds!
Of course, this should not come as a big revelation to anyone – but unfortunately, it does. There are thousands of Christians who read the epistle to the Romans and conclude that Paul is teaching that even though we cannot EARN our salvation through works, that we must nevertheless MAINTAIN our salvation through works. Incredibly, they come to the exact opposite conclusion that Paul is teaching.
I have known thousands of people in my life who are bound in legalism. I used to be one of them – big time. I have also heard all manner of error taught on law and grace. But I can honestly say that I have NEVER heard of, or met, even one person who said they believed that we have to EARN our salvation through works. I don’t think Paul met many of those kinds of people either, because you don’t find in his writings too much that addresses the error of thinking you can EARN your salvation. It just isn’t in there as a big issue.
But I have met many Christian people who, despite denying the possibility of EARNING one’s salvation through works, nevertheless believe that you must MAINTAIN your salvation through works. I used to be one of those, too. And this is precisely the error that Paul addresses in the epistle to the Galatians, and in this one to the Romans – the idea that you must, through your works, maintain your standing in the grace of God through works.
The irony of this kind of thinking may not be apparent. But the fact is, if I believe that I must maintain the grace of God through my works, then by definition, I AM believing that I must earn my salvation. We must see why this is so. It is so because once I say I must maintain my salvation through my works, I am really saying that I must CONTINUALLY EARN my salvation – continually maintain my saved condition through works.
Let me say that again: If you believe you must maintain your salvation -- your standing in grace -- through works, you do believe you must earn your salvation. You believe exactly that -- whether you realize it or not.
The notion that my salvation is free to START with, but then I must maintain it through works, is self-contradictory. For if I could not earn it to begin with, how can I continually earn it by maintaining it? I can’t. It is all or nothing – either salvation is free from start to finish, or it is ALL of works.
There are other versions of this same error in Christianity as well. For example, there are many who continue to believe that you can lose your salvation. But if this is possible, then it must be stated as to HOW you can lose it – or to put it another way – it must be stated as to HOW you must maintain it. And this will always come back to our works, our performance, or something else that we must DO in order to maintain our salvation – so that we won’t lose it. Thus, to say I can lose my salvation is absolutely equal to saying that I must earn it. It is precisely the same error – for if I can lose it, I must keep from losing it through my works, which equals maintaining it.
I want to say that one again as well: If I believe I can lose my salvation, I am believing I must maintain my salvation through works. Absolutely. But as we have seen, this also equals believing I must earn my salvation, period. These errors are all ONE -- they are all the same error -- the EXACT error of the Galatian church. The Galatians believed that they were saved by grace, but had to maintain it through works, lest they lose it:
O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received you the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministers to you the Spirit, and works miracles among you, does he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (Gal. 3:1-5)
This error was not merely a wrong theological perspective. Paul called the Galatian heresy, "another gospel." Sure. This error strikes at the heart and core of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.
Now to continue the thought, if you think you can lose your salvation through works – by sinning – then if that happens, then would it be possible to get my salvation back?
If you say YES, then how do you get it back? Well, presumably, by repenting of losing it, and then once you get it back, by maintaining it once again doing good works. Well, if you do repent of losing your salvation, aren't you coming back to GRACE? Sure. What other basis is there for forgiveness? Or do you think that all you need to do to re-earn your salvation is to stop doing bad works, and begin doing good ones? Clearly, if you didn’t earn your initial salvation by doing good works, what makes you think you can get it back through good works? The error of this thinking ought to be more than obvious.
But if you say NO, you cannot get salvation back once you lose it through works, then you are contradicting yourself. You are saying that you must maintain your salvation through works, and if you don’t, you will lose it – BUT, you are saying, if you lose it, you cannot earn it back through the same works that were good enough to maintain it.
Now, of course there are some people who say that since we are saved by grace through faith, that you can lose your salvation if you stop believing. They point out that faith is a choice, and if you have a free will, you can stop believing any time you want. What about this?
Well, they are right about being saved by grace through faith. And they are right about faith being a choice. And they are right about our ability to stop believing any time we want to stop believing. But the Bible reveals that a truly born again believer, despite having the choice to stop believing, WON’T stop believing. This is so despite the fact that room is made for the possibility to backslide, sin, and have serious spiritual problems.
The need here is to see what faith IS, and even more importantly, to see what salvation IS. Salvation is not a condition that I maintain through works, or even through faith. Salvation, according to Jesus Christ, is a passing from death to life. According to John, salvation is a new birth – through death and resurrection in Christ – which is the same thought as that of Jesus. Paul says that if we are in Christ we are a new creation, and that old things are passed away. The point is this – you cannot be born again backwards. You cannot, having passed from death to life, pass again from life in Christ back into death. You cannot, having become a new creation in Christ, go back to that old creation which is passed away. You cannot, having been declared righteous because of faith in Christ, and been imparted with the very life of Christ within, undo the whole thing by committing some sin.
If salvation were merely a legal classification that we were given by God, it would be possible to lose it because many of us WOULD sin because grace abounds, and many of us WOULD throw away our faith in Christ at the first sign of trouble. A legal classification could be used as a license. But salvation is more than a legal standing before God. It is CHRIST IN US – it is eternal life in us.
The way in which we are saved reveals much Truth about this. If I am saved, I GOT THAT WAY BY REPENTING OF SIN. If you did not repent, you are NOT saved. Sorry. You might have a RELIGION fashioned around Christ, but you don’t have Christ in you. That is the Truth of the gospel. But what does it means TO REPENT? To repent means I have had a CHANGE OF MIND towards God – from that of rebellion to surrender. My direction and motivation for living is changed from unbelief to faith; from me being boss, to Jesus being Lord. This does not negate the possibility that I will continue to sin in many ways. And it does not mean that I will not have to repent of many other SINS. But repentance unto salvation has to do with my personal attitude towards God Himself. If I repent, that changes – and it changes for good.
Repentance unto salvation is a one time, once for all thing. Repentance is not something I create – it is a miracle of the Holy Spirit once I yield to Christ through faith. The result is repentance on a great number of other sins, because now we are in fellowship with the Light. He will expose. But you have either given your life to Christ or you haven’t. And if you HAVE, you have repented unto salvation. Something has happened to you – you have passed from death to life. And you cannot go back.
The point is this: Salvation is forever because conversion is forever. And because grace is forever. And because the Cross is final. I am not here talking about cheap grace, or the kind of conversion that is often so prevalent in churches. I am talking about the conversion to Christ that the Bible describes.
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Believe thou this? (John 11:25-26)
Paul also teaches, right in Romans 6, that just as Christ died once and was raised, so we too die once IN HIM and are raised.
Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he lives, he lives unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 6:3-11)
The teaching of the Bible is NOT that Christ merely died and was raised FOR us. That is certainly true. But more than that, we die IN CHRIST, and are raised IN HIM. Just as this was accomplished ONCE FOR ALL by Him, it is accomplished ONCE FOR ALL in us.
If you believe you can lose your salvation, then you believe that you can die in Christ and be raised in Him, but that through sin, or unbelief, you can somehow LOSE that – you can somehow pass back through resurrection to death all over again. Worse, you believe that Christ's victory over death through His resurrection – can once again be conquered BY death -- your sin. This is utter nonsense.
Actually, John the apostle addressed this issue of eternal security in his first epistle:
Little children, let no man deceive you: he that does righteousness is righteous, even as God is righteous. He that commits sin is of the devil; for the devil sins from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for His seed (Christ) remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever does not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loves not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loves not his brother abides in death. (1 John 3:7-14)
John was obviously aware of the fact that Christians sin, because he wrote in this same epistle, "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not in us." He would not turn right around and infer that anyone who commits any sin cannot be born again – because this would mean that only the perfectly righteous are born again. No way. So when he says that, "whoever is born of God does not commit sin," he must be referring to something more than the sins we all commit through ignorance, weakness, or even temporary rebellion. Sure. John is talking about the sin of unbelief – the sin of rejecting Christ. Those who are born again cannot commit this sin because they repented of that sin forever when they were saved. Indeed, if I did not repent of rejecting Christ I did not STOP rejecting Him, and thus, how did I embrace Him? I didn’t.
When God brings a person light about their sin of rejecting Christ in favor of themselves, and that person begins turns to God, a Godly sorrow takes place, which the Bible says leads to repentance. That person repents of THE SIN of unbelief at that point – of THE SIN of self-rule. This is the one sin we need to repent of in order to be saved – because if we repent of self-rule before God, we will receive Christ as our Lord by faith. The two always go together: We repent of unbelief by believing, and we believe by repenting of our sin. But when this happens, it is not merely US doing this to ourselves. No. There is a miracle happening because we have been brought into contact with the Cross of Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection. THAT is why it is once for all and forever – we are transacting with God Himself.
Such a person will not, "continue in sin because grace abounds" – this is what John is saying. They won’t continue in the sin of unbelief because they have repented forever of that ultimate sin of unbelief – they would not be saved otherwise. They won’t go back – not because they have lost their free will, but because by their free will they have given themselves over to Jesus Christ.
So we have our answer: A person who has been TRULY converted to Christ won't choose to stop believing. They just won't. Thus, anyone who seems to have forsaken Christ either has not -- they are backsliden -- or they were never converted to begin with.
Incidentally, the Calvinistic doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace are error. The Calvinistic doctrine of eternal security is based on these -- and is technically correct in conclusion, but for the wrong reasons. Our salvation is secure because of what salvation IS -- and how we receive it. Not because we have no choice as to even whether we come to Christ to begin with.
All of the passages in the NT commonly used to try to show that a person can LOSE their salvation are almost all talking about a person REFUSING their salvation. When God brings light, that person has tasted of the eternal, and has been illuminated. But they have the power to reject it. John says that if they do, "THIS IS CONDEMNATION." (see John 3:19)
The bottom line is that if I believe I can lose my salvation, then whether I want to admit it or not, I believe I must maintain, or earn, my salvation. The two are exactly the same – you cannot have one without the other. And this error is precisely the one against which Paul writes – that a person can be justified before God by works, and that this can save him, rather than solely by the grace of God.
Now, it is here that John intersects with Paul. John says that a person who is truly born again will not continue in sin because grace abounds or covers it. And this is exactly where we left Paul. He asked, "Shall we continue in sin because the grace of God abounds?"
Why Not Sin?
Shall we continue in sin because grace abounds? (Rom. 6:1)
God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Rom 6:2)
Of course, Paul is asking a rhetorical question, with the intention of answering it at length. And he gives exactly the same answer to his question that John gives. Paul asked WHY we will not continue in sin because we know that grace abounds? His answer is this: Because we are dead to sin.
We must grasp the ramifications of this answer. Paul does not say, "We will not continue in sin because if we do we will lose our salvation." No. He doesn’t say, "We will not continue in sin because God’s law forbids it." No – although the law does forbid it. Neither does he say, "We will not continue in sin because if we do God will punish us for it." No. None of those answers is the one Paul gives. Rather, he says, "We will not continue in sin because if we are in Christ, we are DEAD TO SIN."
Can we see that Paul is here talking about the reality of our death and resurrection in Christ? That he is saying exactly the same thing as John said – that if we are converted, and our conversion is real, that something has happened in us through the Holy Spirit? That because we repented and believed we have DIED TO SIN IN CHRIST once for all – and that this carries with it a freedom from sin?
The Cross of Jesus Christ broke the power of sin over
us. Get that. The Cross didn’t break the power of some punishment FOR sin from
God. No. It broke the power of SIN! How? Not by killing sin. Rather, by putting
US to death in Christ. Let’s repeat what Paul said:
Read Paul’s words carefully. According to Paul, Christ did more than just die FOR US. He did die FOR US in the sense that He died a death that we will never have to die, as our substitute. But it is because He died that death for us that it was possible for us to die IN HIM and be raised IN HIM. Always with Paul, we have been crucified WITH CHRIST. He repeats this Truth in Galatians:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)
There is a great ONENESS between the believer and Christ. Salvation IS Christ in us. His life is OUR life – truly – this is not just an expression. We are absolutely ONE with Him – and the effects of His death and resurrection are that we are dead to sin, and alive to God.
Now, this does not mean we are free from the presence or possibility of sin. But it does mean we are set free from the POWER of sin. We don’t need to sin anymore. What we do need is to see and believe the finality of the finished work of Jesus Christ – and then as we do see and believe – we need to learn how to walk in the reality of it. This is the teaching of Romans 6, and then Paul elaborates in chapters 7 and 8.
Conversion to Christ is not merely that I believe doctrines about Christ. Conversion means that I become one with Christ – Christ is now IN ME. And if this is true, Christ came to dwell in me because I repented of my own way and came to the Cross. The result is that I will not sin simply because grace abounds. I won’t WANT TO – I repented of wanting to. I am DEAD TO SIN.
Under the Law
What we are seeing in all of this is that so much confusion about law and grace is possible because people do not see what salvation IS. Paul tried to tell the Galatians:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. (Gal. 6:15)
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love. (Gal. 5:4-6)
Salvation, as mentioned earlier, is Christ in us – through our union with Him in His death and resurrection. This cannot be earned, let alone maintained, through works. It cannot be lost. Every attempt to try to construct a pseudo-Christianity that states otherwise falls under the same heading: Legalism. It is, "another gospel."
Of course, Paul had a term for those who thought that it was up to them to maintain their salvation through works. Our more modern term for this kind of thinking is LEGALISM. He said they were, "under the law."
Please note that LEGALISM, or UNDER THE LAW, is not a matter of law-keeping, any more than grace means law-breaking. No. The issue here is whether keeping the law keeps me in grace. Those under the law say it does. The Bible says it does not.
Christians are no longer, "under the law." They are UNDER GRACE.
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:14)
Now, what in the world do we think it means to be, "under grace," if it does not mean that grace abounds EVEN when we sin? Sure. We are UNDER grace. God’s grace doesn’t change EVEN when we sin. But to be, "under the law," means that our works under the law determines God’s grace, righteousness, and our justification – determines our salvation.
Earning our salvation, maintaining our salvation, the possibility of losing our salvation – all of these errors go back to thinking we are, "under the law," instead of understanding what it means to be, "under grace." This is exactly the error of the Judizers, and was the error against which Paul wrote Romans and Galatians, and touched on in a number of other epistles.
But perhaps the most ironic point on this matter is found in the passage we have already quoted from Galatians:
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace. (Gal 5:4)
What makes this ironic for those who believe that you must maintain your salvation through works is that they would tell you that if you don’t maintain your salvation through works that you will fall from grace. But the apostle Paul says the exact opposite: He says that if you try to maintain your salvation through works that THAT is how you will fall from grace!
Do you see that? Paul says that if I try to become justified by the works of the law I will FALL FROM GRACE. Those in legalism will try to say that we must become justified by the works of the law or we will fall from grace. It just goes to show you how blinded people are when they don’t see Jesus Christ, and the Truth that is in Him. They can read a verse that says the exact opposite of their beliefs and it may not faze them.
Of course, to fall from grace does not mean to lose salvation. It means exactly what Paul said it means: Christ is of no effect to you. You are still saved, but you have chosen to live before God on the basis of your works. Salvation is by grace alone, but it may as well be by works for you, because that is how you are living.
What is Christianity?
Christianity is CHRIST IN US. And if Christ is in us, we repented and believed. This means that we will not want to sin simply because we know that grace abounds. Our flesh may want to sin. Our temperament may get the best of us. But we won’t want to sin. We have a new nature.
Paul himself said that about himself. He said:
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter….. for we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom 7:4-25)
Paul is describing the NORMAL Christian – someone who will never be free from the presence or possibility of sin in this life – but someone who is free from the power of sin, but continues to fail. Can we see from Romans 7 the folly of thinking that the moment I sin I have fallen from grace, and am under condemnation? Why, we’d never be out from under it.
Paul does not want to sin. He says so. This is the result of repentance. He is DEAD to sin – dead to the power of sin, and dead to wanting to sin. This is a description of someone fully dedicated to Christ, and who because of that, is headed in the right direction. Are we to continue in sin because grace abounds? God forbid. For we who are in Christ have died to sin and been raised to newness of life. This is also Christianity.
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