Note: This post deals with Paul’s use of the phrase under grace in Romans 6. But I think to understand this post in context you should first read the post that deals with Paul’s preceding phrase, not under the law. It can be found here.
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
I believe in grace. I must, for God does. Grace, loosely defined, means unmerited favor, undeserved blessing, unearned goodness, and complete acceptance. The word has the idea behind it of some wonderful blessing or favor given to me in spite of the fact I do not deserve it in the least.
God dispenses grace in many different forms and in a variety of applications. In his first epistle, Peter described our responsibility to understand and apply this when he said as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10) “Manifold” means something that is marked by diversity and variety which makes it a perfect adjective for grace.
How is the grace of God a manifold thing? Namely in this: grace brings us salvation but then grace brings us everything else as well. We see this illustrated in Paul’s interactions with the church at Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 8 he is calling on them to fulfill the promises they made in reference to giving money to the needy in Jerusalem. Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also. (2 Corinthians 8:7) Paul as much as states that we exercise each of these spiritual disciplines not in our own strength but by the grace of God. The Corinthian church had a strong faith. Why? Because the grace of God enabled them to do so. That was true as well of their fervor in witnessing, the depth of their knowledge of God, the fact they worked hard at their Christianity, and even their very affection for Paul himself. In their own power, the Corinthians were unable to do any of these, but with the grace of God they could do them all. Thus, Paul’s point is that this same grace was available to help them to give sacrificially and cheerfully as well.
I call this idea helping grace. My father, who pastored for thirty eight years, calls it spiritual guts. The basic premise is that just as I cannot save myself so I cannot be what God calls me to be or do what God calls me to do in my own power. God has to grant me the strength, the ability, the power to be and do what His children ought to be and do. So I go to Him and ask for it. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16) What do I need help with? The answer does not really matter for every spiritual truth and application is in view here. Do I need God to help me to be what I ought to be? At the throne of grace I will find the enabling grace I need to be that. Do I need God to help me to do what I ought to do? At the throne of grace I will find the enabling grace I need to do that.
How does this fit with grace’s standard definitions? Perfectly. I do not deserve God’s enabling power, His grace to help in any area of my life. He gives it to me all unmerited. In this, we see how it is exactly similar to its saving work in my life. I am saved by grace. I am enabled to live out the will of God, the commands of God by grace. How did Jesus face Calvary and redeem humanity? But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour, that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. (Hebrews 2:9) How did Paul build such an amazing life and ministry? By the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward. (II Corinthians 1:12) How will you and I serve God in a way that is acceptable to Him? By the same enabling grace that Paul used. Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. (Hebrews 12:28)
We see here an absolutely key point: grace is not permission; it is enablement. God did not design grace as a catch all to allow me to choose for myself what the Christian life ought to be. No, He designed grace to be the power that enables me to grow into His image. Peter did not say, “Have fun in grace.” He said grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18) It is ungodly to view grace as God’s liberating permissiveness because this turns the grace of God into lasciviousness. (Jude 4) Grace does not allow us to live how we want to live and to do what we want to do. To the contrary, grace is what helps us to deny ourselves and follow Him. For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. (Titus 2:11-12)
It is precisely this idea that Paul is communicating in this highly misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misapplied passage in Romans 6. Grace does not produce more sin by giving license; it produces less sin by making holiness possible. (Romans 6:1) Our identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection frees us from the consequence of sin – hell – and the curse of sin – its dominion over us. (Romans 6:2-10) When we understand and believe this we realize sin has no power over us. Formerly, we could not not sin. (No, that is not a misprint.) Now, we can not sin by choosing to yield ourselves to God to do His will. (Romans 6:11-13) “But,” Paul knew his opponents were muttering, “you already said no man yet has ever kept the Law. It simply cannot be done.” Right. It cannot be done if the Law is all you have, and that is all the unsaved man has, just the school master to point out his errors. But the saved man has more. He has so much more. He has grace, the manifold grace of God to help him do whatever it is God wants him to do. (Romans 6:14-15) This gives him the strength to obey God, and to serve Him. Thus, under the enabling power of grace, you can now live a life of holiness in a way you never could under the administration of the Law. (Romans 6:16-22)
When you set this wondrous pearl of a phrase not under the law but under grace in its context this is precisely what it must mean. On the other hand, if you define its terms carelessly and then yank it out of its context you get the permission to enjoy whatever you want to enjoy as long as you feel close to God. Beloved, such an approach to God and to the Christian life is an appalling one. It does a terrible injustice to Him, and to His purpose in our lives. It produces Christians – sincere, yes, but highly misguided nonetheless – who think this passage lets them enjoy what they have always wanted to enjoy and to live how they have always wanted to live.
In 1871, three sound Scottish ministers published a commentary on the entire Bible that was well received and has come down to our generation not a little respected. In their discussion of Romans 6:14-15 Jamiesson, Fausset, and Brown had this to say: “The curse of the law has been completely lifted from off them; they are made ‘the righteousness of God in Him’; and they are ‘alive unto God through Jesus Christ.’ So that, as when they were ‘under the law,’ Sin could not but have dominion over them, so now that they are ‘under grace,’ Sin cannot but be subdued under them. If before, Sin resistlessly triumphed, Grace will now be more than conqueror.”
In short, I do not have to become a proselyte, a Gentile convert to Judaism. I do not have to follow the ceremonial strictures of the Old Testament. I do, however, have to obey the moral commands of God that have applied to every generation in every age. Crucified, buried, and risen with Him I have the freedom to do so. Under grace I have the enabling power to do so. And this, this is what produces holiness in my life. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. (Romans 6:22)