You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13
In Martin Luther’s day, studying the New Testament book of Romans brought life to a stagnated church which had begun to trust its own strength instead of the grace of God. But rediscovering the truth of Paul’s letter brought new life and energy. I, for one, say it’s time to rediscover the grace of God and how it applies to society and the church today.
In his penetrating letter to this newly formed church in the city of pagan Rome, Paul outlined two powerful forces which do battle with God’s provision of grace: law, and license. Law showed the helplessness of man’s efforts to satisfy the justice of God. The other extreme, license, represented the hedonistic position that God, through the death of His Son, provided forgiveness for His children, so anything we do is OK–all covered by the blank check of redemption.
Both, contended Paul, are wrong! Human nature doesn’t really change, and, believe it or not, the same two forces are prevalent in society today. The same answers, however, which Paul gave in his Roman letter apply to our problems today.
First, the bondage of laws and regulations. Paul wrote forcibly: “You are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). God gave the Law to show mankind that our best efforts would fall short of His expectations. Paul described law as a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” (Galatians 3:24). It was impossible to keep the law, yet some today still teach that salvation depends on what you do: going to church, saying a precise number of prayers, giving money to the poor. In his day, Paul said, “It can’t be done!” Nor can it be done today.
Paul uniformly insisted that salvation depends entirely on what Christ did. He wrote to Titus and said, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5). If doing certain things–acts of kindness or moral goodness–could satisfy the demands of God, the law would yet be in effect.
The second formidable attitude, which maligns the grace of God, is license–doing whatever you please because you know “God will forgive me!” This mentality, which has become so prevalent today, presumes on the grace of God. It is the mentality which has caused so many, including Christian leaders, to walk out of a troubled marriage, then reappear in a couple or three months with another marriage partner, talking about restoration and forgiveness. “If God has forgiven me,” he says, “why shouldn’t you? Now, give me back my good-paying job with benefits and retirement.”
Nowhere does Paul write more pointedly and forcibly than when he attacks this attitude. The quill of his pen must have smoked as he angrily wrote, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2). Those words “By no means!” are also translated, “God forbid!” or “Absolutely not!” No stronger expression existed in the Greek language.
Another group of believers in central Asia Minor struggled with these same two issues, and to them Paul wrote, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Galatians 2:21, NASB). A final and sobering thought: If I nullify God’s grace, could I find myself in the company of those whom Paul described as having “fallen away from grace”? And if so, what other hope is there?
RESOURCE READING: Galatians 5:13-26.