The grace message is one that is often bashed and criticized as promoting sin. It is often summarised by critics as such, “Jesus Christ has died, let us do whatever we want then!”. In support of this point, critics of the grace imessage run to Romans 6:1, “Shall we continue in sin so that grace will abound? God forbid!”. If there was an Olympic games for the verses of the Bible that are most quoted out of context, This verse would sweep all the gold, silver and bronze medals up for grabs. But does this verse in any way at all support their criticism?
First, understand that there is absolutely no such thing as the grace message. The gospel itself is grace, anything that is not grace is not the gospel, it is that simple. There is a reason almost every New Testament epistle ends with a brief prayer that the grace of God or the grace of the Lord Jesus be with the reader. Matter of fact, the person of Jesus Christ is grace and truth personified (John 1:17). Over and over again in the New testament, this theme is consistent. Grace and the gospel are inseparable, so much so that Paul wrote the following words,
“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:5)
From these words, it becomes abundantly clear that a person who is not proclaiming the grace of Christ is proclaiming a different gospel. In other words, the critiques of “grace” usually view it as a different gospel when they are in fact the ones preaching a different gospel. This was so uppermost in the heart of the apostle Paul that he proceeds to place a double curse on whoever preaches a gospel that is not grace(Galatians 1:6–7). Judging from the fact that it is this same Paul that wrote Romans 6:1, critics of grace are not particularly off to a flying start.
Secondly, the gospel apart from being grace, is grace alone! This means it is not grace plus something else or grace in conjunction with something else. It is grace alone. The only thing grace needs to be mixed with in other to effect salvation is faith.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8–9)
Grace is God’s provision independent of man’s effort, faith is man’s response. If this is the case, works of any kind (good or bad) neither add to it nor subtract from it.
Still on this point, there is a clear dichotomy between works and grace. Now at this juncture, there is need to extract a working definition of grace for our purposes. The writer of Hebrews states,
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:9)
So the true gospel of grace emphasizes Jesus and His death on the cross. Now there is a dichotomy between the cross and a man’s works such that salvation MUST be by either one or the other. As Paul (same guy who wrote Romans 6:1) writes,
“And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” (Romans 11:6)
The problem with grace critics is that they want to have the best of both worlds. On the one hand, you really need to straighten your life up to get into heaven and be accepted by God, but on the other hand, Jesus Christ died on the cross so that you can get into heaven and be accepted by God. The question is “WHICH IS IT?”. This approach tends to confuse both preacher and listener alike. Has God forgiven you your sins or is He still counting them against you? What exactly did Jesus Christ die for? Paul lost his cool on the Galatian church for trying to mixe and matched the gospel and the law, he called them fools and bewitched (Galatians 3:1–3). He furthered assured the church that as many of them are seeking salvation by their works were fallen from grace and Christ did not profit them (Galatians 5:1–4).
Grace critiques seem to relegate Jesus death to the footnote of the Christian walk, first accept Jesus Christ and on that basis, you now build your works (or do the rest) in order to perfect your salvation. Paul calls this foolishness(Galatians 3:1–5). The cross of Jesus and the cross of Jesus alone is what saves, this was Paul’s message .
Now, we go to Romans 6:1. Why did Paul have to ask that question? If you read Romans 3–5, you would see the extremity and radicality of the grace message Paul preached. He emphasised that salvation is never and could never be by works. He emphasized that God does not, will not and would never impute sin to the believer, hence he quotes David’s Psalm where he says, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord would not impute sin”. (Romans 4:6–7). He emphasized that God justifies the ungodly who do not work for it (Romans 4:5). He had emphasized that if God sent Christ to die for us while we were yet sinners, how much more would God be in our favour and not be angry with us afterwards (Romans 5:1–11) and as if that was not radical enough, he went on to draw an analogy between Jesus Christ and Adam. Just as the whole of mankind became sinners not of their own doing but because of Adam sin, the same way the whole of mankind can now be made righteous not because of their own doing but because of Christ’s righteousness. He further amplifies this message by making the assertion that just as the law came in and sin increased, where sin increased, the grace of Jesus Christ increased much more in relation to the multitude of sin. This is why he comments that the gift of grace is exceedingly more abundant than the sin that occasioned it(Romans 5:11–21). Now, what question naturally comes to mind?
Exactly! Do we now live anyhow we want in light of this? You see where the issue is? Grace critics have not preached half of the radical grace that Paul preached and yet they want to use his “shall we continue in sin" statement authoritatively. My friend, if you have not preached the gospel (i.e the cross of Christ)so radically to the point that the next logical question is, “Am I then free to continue sinning?”, you have absolutely no right to quote Romans 6:1.
To be continued…