Romans Lesson 72 - Governed by Grace
As you reflect on the complex relationship between holiness and Christian liberty
Governed By Grace
We arrive in our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans at what has become one of his most controversial statements in all of the New Testament.
In Romans chapter 6 and verse 14, Paul says, “You are not under law, but you are under grace.”
That little phrase has divided more believers, split more churches, created more anger and confusion and opinion within the church than perhaps any other phrase.
And the tragedy is that Paul intended it to be a summary statement of joy and praise.
You are no longer under law . . . upo nomon.
The Greek word “hupo” means to be controlled by – in subjection to. In other words, Paul is saying that the believer is no longer under the dominion and control of law, but under the dominion and controlling influence of grace.
You left the kingdom of spiritual fear for a kingdom of spiritual freedom.
Saying that is enough to start a revolution!
Does that mean we throw law aside? Does that mean that every man can do whatever he wants to do as long as he can claim “grace” as his motive and support?
I believe that correctly interpreting this phrase is so important – to err here means to distort every aspect of life; to get it right means to restore and inspire every aspect of life.
Three things quickly . . . Paul is saying that we:
1) are not under the law’s demands for God’s approval.
In other words, salvation is by the grace of God, in spite of the fact that we are all lawbreakers.
There is none righteous, no not one. (Romans 3:10)
Christ died for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8)
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (5:10, 11)
2) are not under the penalty of law
The wages of sin (that is, the penalty for having broken the law) is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
3) we are not under the dynamic of law but under the dynamic of grace.
While we live within the law – we are not motivated by the law.
In other words, while we are law abiding citizens, we find the guiding principle and motivation of our holy living in the dynamic of God’s redeeming grace.
One Jewish commentator that I enjoy reading, writes that Paul does not include the definite article before the word law. He does not say, “For we are not under the law,” but simply, “For we are not under law.” Therefore, Paul is referring to legalism which is defined as a perversion of the Law into a system of rules for earning God’s praise without trusting, loving or communing with God, the Giver of the Law.”
David H. Stern; Jewish New Testament Commentary (Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarksville, MA) 1992, p. 374
I believe that he has a point. Paul has been contrasting the effort of religious mankind to find favor with God, but failing miserably.
Salvation is not given to those who can perfectly keep a list of rules, it is a relationship with the Redeemer, by faith through grace.
That’s what Jesus Christ meant when He said to His 1st century Jewish audience, “Are you tired . . . are you weary . . . are you heavy laden – or burdened down? Come to me and I will give you rest!”
What was he referring to . . . a nap? No. Release from the tiring, burdensome effort of flesh to keep all the observances and not keep all the prohibitions. Come to me, Jesus said, my salvation is free – my yoke is light and easy, he said.
Salvation is not what you can do for God, it is what God has already done for you.
You are no longer under legalism’s burden, you are under grace.
Without a doubt one of the biggest challenges facing the believer is avoiding the extremes. Legalism on one side of the spectrum and licentiousness on the other.
Legalism is the belief that keeping a list of do’s and don’t will produce spirituality; Licentiousness is simply throwing away a list and not having any standards or convictions at all.
Both extremes are dead wrong! And more than that, they are dangerous.
Let me contrast legalism and grace, so that we can better grasp what Paul was encouraging us to celebrate about.
You are not under the principle of law, but under the principle of grace.
Four things that contrast law and legalism with grace.
First, its standard.
The standard of legalism is external; the standard of grace is internal.
Legalism is only interested in outward compliance. Grace is more interested in inward character.
Law does an excellent job pointing out failure to keep it – but it cannot empower you to keep it.
I have never had a State Highway Patrolman stop me and say, “Listen Sir, I just wanted to commend you for coming to a complete stop at those stop signs that have recently been put up in your neighborhood, that between you and me, are absolutely ridiculous; thank you sir! I have never been pulled over and heard an officer say, “Listen Sir, I noticed you were keeping the speed limit, even when you were going down that steep hill, and I wanted to pull you over and give you these gift certificates to the mall . . . have a nice day.”
No . . . that isn’t the role of law. Law stops you when you exceed the speed limit . . . and it does not give you a gift certificate; it gives you what you deserve . . . a summons that immediately causes you to sweat just how high your insurance rates are going to go up.
Law deals with external compliance. That’s the role of law; and the more obedient we are to law, the more orderly our society will become; however it is only external order.
Living under the dynamic of grace however, is a matter of the heart. It’s an internal issue that may never be picked up on radar.
You can keep the speed limit and be an ungodly man. You can stop at all the stop signs and hold the door for women and chew with your mouth closed and clock in at 8 and do your job and follow orders and be absolutely pagan in your heart.
And everyone will sing, “For he’s a jolly good fellow.”
The principle of grace starts on the inside, where no one but God sees.
You discover that you cannot be governed by grace and live in sin.
Paul wrote in Titus 2, “The grace of God has appeared (and it does two things) it brings salvation and it instructs us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live godly in this present age.”
By the way, this struggle between the principle of legalism and the principle of grace is not new.
Controversy and confusion related to the Christian life and walk began to surface almost before the clouds covered over the place where Jesus Christ ascended.
One church Father, writing in the 2nd century to a younger believer on how to live a godly life, recorded these words, “Forsake colored clothing . . . remove everything in your wardrobe that is not white; no longer sleep on a soft pillow and take warm baths; if you are sincere about following Christ, never shave your beard, for to shave is an attempt to improve on the work of Him who created us.”
Legalism always majors on the minors; it always exaggerates the non-essential stuff of life.
The standard for legalism is external compliance; the standard for grace is internal character.
Secondly, since the standard is external, it would follow that the foundation for legalism would be rules, while the foundation for grace is relationship.
In others words, legalism is interested in what people do; grace is interested in who people are.
Paul has made it clear in Romans chapter 6 who we are. We are people who are eternally related by faith to Jesus Christ. We are in Him, at His death, His burial, His resurrection (Romans 6:3-5)
Verse 11, Even so, consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Legalism has spawned its multiplied religions and their system of rules . . . Christianity is a relationship.
One of the reasons Paul wanted us to celebrate the truth of grace was the fact that God related to us as believers in Christ, through grace.
Have you ever thought about the fact that the throne of God is referred to as the “throne of grace.”
That means every command emanating from God’s throne is wrapped with grace. That means you can approach His throne with boldness, knowing who you are in Christ – knowing that God will relate to you in grace.
And as we become more like Him, we also will relate to other people through the principle of grace.
Just as we do not stand in grace before God because we deserve it, we do not act toward others with grace because they deserve it.
But let’s face it. There’s something comfortable about relating to people based on things we can easily compare or observe.
There’s something really comfortable about reducing Christianity to a list of do’s and don’ts. You always know where you stand. This eliminates anxiety about what to do and what not to do.
But it also eliminates wisdom! You don’t have to pray either. Just keep the rules.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Christianity is not a list, it is a life.
Grace will instruct you in holiness; grace will encourage you when you fail; grace will demand your utmost diligence and discipline; grace will remind you that there is a day approaching when every motive will be explored and every idle word and sinful thought exposed, and rewards will be dispensed from that throne of grace for that which we have accomplished that has been profitable for His glory.
You say, okay, a list of rules may not produce or even reveal true holiness and purity, then what are the guidelines.
Let me give you several quickly:
- If the scriptures warn against it, don’t play around with it.
Paul wrote, it’s good for a man not to touch a woman (the context implies who isn’t his wife). Just how far are you gonna play around with that one?
He wrote, put away lying and greed. How much of that are you gonna play with rather than refuse.
- If the scriptures forbid it, don’t try to justify it.
Be careful if you hear yourself justify something that is questionable or perhaps even sinful with the words, “Well, I’m under grace.” Being under grace does not mean that grace will justify impurity, or a lack of discipline or a tolerance of greed or anger or lust.
Remember the beginning of this chapter – “Can we continue in sin just so grace can abound? God forbid.” (Romans 6:1)
- If the scriptures don’t say anything about it, don’t assume it is right or wrong.
The Bible doesn’t say anything about a lot of things.
Grace means that you have a relationship with Jesus Christ and just maybe He wants you pursue Him for wisdom and find the best thing to do . . . and the wrong things to avoid . . .
Over the years, I’ve received criticism through a number of different channels about a number of different things. Some of them written on visitor’s cards, some emailed in, others send anonymous mail.
I’ve never seen a verse attached, but some pretty strong feelings were noted:
I have received disapproval for:
- Not wearing a robe when I preach,
- Not reciting the Lord’s prayer at some point in our service,
- Not giving a traditional alter call,
- Not holding worship services on Sunday night,
- Not crossing myself before and after praying,
- Not having a steeple and a cross on top of our building,
- Allowing drums on the stage,
- Singing choruses written within the last 25 years,
- Singing those choruses with guitars,
- For worship services having too many choruses;
- For worship services having too many hymns;
- For reading scripture during the worship services
- For having guest speakers who were not Independent Baptists,
- For not printing an order of service,
- For not preceding the service with a prelude;
- For not concluding the service with the Doxology.
And I love this job!
No verses came attached . . . which is good, because of my fourth point:
- If the Bible is truly silent about it, don’t try to use it to prove your point.
Two more principles along this line:
- If the scriptures encourage it, don’t try to ignore it.
- If the scriptures teach it, don’t try to live without it.
We’ll get into this entire issue more when we arrive at Romans chapter 14 where Paul gives principles regarding preferences and convictions and questionable things.
Thus far we have learned that:
- The standard for legalism is external; while the standard for grace is internal;
- Secondly, the foundation for legalism is rules; the foundation for grace is a relationship;
Let me give you a third contrast:
The objective of legalism is conformity; the objective of grace is transformation.
Legalism finds great comfort in the fact that other people do the same things they do or do not do. The truth is, we all have a little of that within us . . . it began to show up very early in our teen years, or before, in something we referred to as “peer pressure.”
Legalism is a grown form of peer pressure, but it’s much more dangerous because it attaches the name of God to it.
The trouble is, since legalism is based on external things, it’s possible to conform on the outside without actually being transformed on the inside.
One author wrote, “Conforming to boundary markers to often substitutes for authentic transformation. The church I grew up in had its boundary markers. People could be proud, resentful and gossip, but if they were caught smoking, they were told to leave. Smoking was a boundary marker.
(By the way, I’m not endorsing smoking, you understand . . . you don’t need to send me any email on this one, okay.)
As I was growing up, having a ‘quiet time’ became a boundary marker, a measure of spiritual growth. If someone had asked me about my spiritual life, I would immediately think, ‘Have I been having regular and lengthy quiet time?’ My initial thought was not, ‘Am I growing [in my relationship with Christ] and more loving toward other people?’
(Now listen to this profound statement.) Boundary markers change from culture to culture, but the dynamic remains the same. If Christians do not experience authentic transformation, then their Christianity will retreat within their boundary markers that masquerade as evidence of a changed life.”
Adapted from John Ortberg, “True and False Transformation,” Leadership (Summer 2002), p. 102
The objective of legalism is conformity; the objective of grace is transformation.
Would you believe that in the third century there as an incredible controversy over the posture of public prayer?
In A.D. 220, Tertullian, a well known church father, set down some guidelines for praying. He said if you lifted your hands toward heaven when you prayed, they did not need to be washed every time before prayer - since they were spiritually clean. Tertullian also believed it was wrong to sit when conversing with God in prayer. He also taught that you should never kneel in prayer on Easter because that was the day when Christ arose.
Another famous third century church father, Clement of Alexandria, believed you should pray with eyes open toward heaven.
Other church fathers taught that prayer was most spiritual if you stretched out your arms horizontally in the cross position as you prayed, in order to mimic the crucified Christ.
All these views brought great confusion. To us they sound silly – but to those who lived at the end of the temple era with worship mediated for them, and now they related to God directly, these were good questions. How do you approach God? Do you kneel? Fall prostrate? Do you hold your hands up – without washing them or after washing them? Do you close your eyes – or open them?
The controversy on the posture of prayer raged for more than 2 generations until the Council of Nicea declared that congregational prayer in the church should be offered standing up.
In other words, the council itself missed the point. It promoted the principle of conformity rather than the principle of grace which is transformation.
A transformed heart can find any posture suitable for prayer – eyes open – watching a sunset; eyes closed or blurred by tears; seated, flat on your face, or standing with hands lifted high.
The point is not how you look when you pray, but that you pray.
There are more contrasts . . . but I have time for one more;
4) The fruit of legalism is fear; the fruit of grace is fellowship.
Mt. Sinai did not bring liberty, it brought law; it could bring civility but not saintliness. Another mountain would host that – we call it Mt. Calvary.
The cross of Christ released us from the spirit of fear and gave to us the potential of adoption – fellowship with the Father as legal sons and daughters of God.
The inspiration for the Christian’s obedience and holy living is not fear that God will zap you from heaven if you get out of line. The inspiration for the Christian’s life is the gratitude he has for God who loved him and gave himself for him, in the cross-work of Jesus Christ.
The cross also brings fellowship with one another through Christ.
Legalism brings fear which produces only greater guilt.
Grace brings fellowship which produces only greater gratitude.
I read just this past week the evidence of grace in Matthew Henry’s life. It really doesn’t fit my sermon, but I’ve wanted to stuff it in somewhere, so let me put it here as I conclude our study today.
Paul states in I Thessalonians that grace produces gratitude. Matthew Henry, the famous Bible commentator in the early 1800’s wrote in his diary this interesting entry after being robbed earlier in the day. “Let me be thankful; 1st because I was never robbed before; 2nd, because, although he took my money, he did not take my life; 3rd, because, although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and 4th, because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”
Tony Evans, Totally Saved (Moody Press), 2002, p. 139
This was written by a man who was transformed internally by the principle of grace – and in living such a life, discovered the byproducts of grace – one of its chief byproducts is gratitude.
No wonder Paul endured incredibly difficult things with joy. Grace was his over-riding principle of life and it caused great celebration – and he writes like no other human being could in Romans 6:14;
“We are no longer bound and motivated by the principle of
law, we are under the dynamic, the standard, the foundation, the fellowship, the governing principle of grace.”
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