We conclude the discussion on law and grace with a reflection on the important doctrinal pronouncements which Paul made in Romans 5 and 6 on this subject. In these chapters he says, among others:
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand… the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us… God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath through Him… For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:1,2,5,8,9,19-21).
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves as slaves to obey, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:1-23).
Through faith, because of the love of God, we have gained access to the grace in which we stand. Because God loves all sinners and desire their salvation, He sent His Son to make atonement for our sins on the cross. Grace and love are, therefore, two closely related concepts: because God loves us He abundantly made His grace available to us through His Son.
The Holy Spirit establishes us in God’s grace by pouring our His love in our hearts. After that, our conduct is not determined by outward acts of law-observation but by the Holy Spirit’s internal conviction of sin and righteousness. If we react to this conviction and walk in its light we will have an undisturbed relationship with the Lord. Everything which is in conflict with the principles of divine love is sin. The driving force in our lives is not the letter of the Old Testament law and all its shadowy practices, but the grace and love of the Lord Jesus which are revealed to us through His Word, confirmed by His Spirit in our hearts, and to which we give expression through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
Our lives in the grace of God have great potential for further growth and development. Paul clearly mentions two works of grace which we should experience if we truly want to please God. The first work of grace is justification through the blood of Christ: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith” (Rom. 3:23-25; cf. Rom. 5:1,8).
After this, we are faced with a distinct challenge for a second work of grace, i.e. to die with Christ so that we can also live with Him. This act of faith demands self-discipline and a radically changed disposition with regard to the old and new life. We should clearly face the realities of our spiritual position in order to take the necessary decisions regarding our lifestyle and actions. The process of sanctification, which is associated with the second work of grace, will be completely nullified if we compromise with sin and refuse to put down the old man. This stumbling block first has to be removed by being united together with Christ in the likeness of His death (Rom. 6:1-5). This alone will prepare the way for unification with His resurrection life.
The important question is: how can I die to my old nature? Paul told the Ephesians that they should renounce it: “…that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24). I should make a commitment in which I surrender my old, sinful nature to be crucified so that I can be spiritually renewed and put on the nature of Christ. Paul says, “…knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:6). The word “done away” (Greek katargeo), which is used with reference to the old, sinful nature can also be translated “to render ineffective.” The Amplified Bible translates this scripture as follows: “We know that our old (unrenewed) self was nailed to the cross with Him in order that [our] body, [which is the instrument] of sin, might be made ineffective and inactive for evil, that we might no longer be the slaves of sin.”
The interpretation of this concept has given rise to different theological points of view. Those who subscribe to the “eradication theory” (Wesleyans) claim that our old, sinful nature is completely eradicated by the Lord. The supporters of the “suppression theory” (Calvinists) contend that the old nature should be continuously suppressed and kept under so that we are only ‘moderate’ sinners. As a result of this view they find themselves in the spiritually unfruitful condition of carnality. Those who entertain the self-crucifixion principle (Andrew Murray and other Keswick preachers) say that the old nature should be kept in a crucified position every day. They warn that the old nature can be revived if a person fails to fully identify with the cross of Christ and then wilfully start sinning again.
In his book, Like Christ, Andrew Murray says: “They secret of holiness is that we, like Christ, should also die to sin. The Christian who does not understand this always imagines that sin is too strong for him, that sin still has power over him, and that he must sometimes obey it. But, he thinks this because he does not know that he, like Christ, is dead to sin… And, if the believer still sins, it is because he does not use his privilege to live as one who is dead to sin. Through ignorance, unwatchfulness, or unbelief, he forgets the meaning and the power of this likeness of Christ’s death, and sins. But, if he firmly believes in what his participation with Christ’s death signifies, he has the power to overcome sin. He truly understands that it is not said, ‘Sin is dead.’ No, sin is not dead. Sin still lives and works in the flesh. But, he himself is dead to sin, and alive to God. And so, sin cannot for a single moment, without his consent, have dominion over him. If he sins, it is because he allows it to reign, and submits himself to obey it. Beloved Christian, who seeks to be like Christ, take the likeness of His death as one of the most glorious parts of the life you want to lead. First of all, appropriate it in faith. Believe that you are indeed dead to sin. Let it be a settled thing. God says it to every one of His children, even the weakest. Say it before Him, too, ‘Like Christ, I am dead to sin.’ Do not be afraid to say it; it is the truth. Ask the Holy Spirit to earnestly enlighten you with regard to this part of your union with Christ, so that it may not only be a doctrine, but power and truth… In order to have the full benefit of this likeness of Christ’s death, notice two things in particular. The one is the obligation under which it brings you: ‘How can we who are dead to sin live in it any longer?’ Endeavour to enter more deeply into the meaning of this death of Christ into which you have been baptised. Regard yourself as dead and therefore released from the power of sin. ‘Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into His death?’ (Rom. 6:3). Let the Holy Spirit baptise you continually deeper into His death, until the power of God’s Word – dead to sin until the conformity to Christ’s death – is discernible in all your walk and conversation” (End of quotation from Andrew Murray’s book).
It is imperative that a believer has full knowledge of his stand in Christ and lives accordingly. Paul uses another key word in this regard: “Likewise you also, reckon (Gr. logizomai) yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That literally means: “Regard yourself to be dead to sin.” You can only do that after you have put down the old man in a complete surrender and delivered him to be crucified. The Lord Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself (the old man) and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Paul said, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).
What happens if a Christian fails to, in faith, surrender the flesh to be crucified? Then he will not be united together with Christ in the likeness of His death, and will find himself in a position where sin and fleshly inclinations are still the main characteristics of his life. That effectively leads to preventing the fruit of the Spirit in his life: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:17). In the church of Corinth there were many of these carnal Christians who did not live victoriously. Paul said:
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still nor able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? … Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:1-3,16).
These people did not reckon themselves dead to the world and to sin, as they had not yet surrendered themselves to be crucified of the old nature, to have their hearts purified, and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. If one fails to identify with the death of the Lord Jesus, His resurrection life will not be manifested in your deeds and you will not be a useful instrument in the hand of the Lord.
It is a common inclination among such carnal Christians to appropriate aspects of the Old Testament law and to observe them in order to at least present a form of godliness in their carnal condition. Their attention is drawn to the fact that they should not be slaves of sin, and that they can only enjoy this liberty and victory through the grace of the Lord Jesus – not through the law: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:12-14).
A strong stand should be taken against the old nature and its lusts. The depraved nature can be defeated and crucified through the power of the Lord. In its place the believer must put on the new life of the Lord Jesus and pray for the filling of the Holy Spirit: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” Gal. 5:16). The next step is to make yourself available for the work of the Lord. Look for opportunities to be a witness for Christ and to extend His kingdom, so others can share in His grace. This is the way of increased service and holiness which we should daily pursue, the result being that we will increase in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).
We should never be among those people who try to supplement a meagre Christian life by observing Old Testament laws, as that would be a complete underestimation of the value of Christ’s grace. Paul says, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Gal. 2:21). He did however subject himself to Christ’s New Testament law of love (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 9:21) as the Saviour’s wondrous grace is offered to a dying world through the preaching of the gospel.
Christ’s law of love allows us to experience complete liberty on how we wish to give expression to it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This service is not restricted to certain days, not to the giving of a fixed percentage of our income, not to a legalistic form of service to God through the mediation of priests, not to compulsory ritualising by ordained officials of the church, and also not to any responsibilities which emanate from humanly-determined dogmas and traditions.
Neither does the Love of God allow us to lapse into passivity by hiding the light of the gospel under a basket. His love has its own dynamics which urges us to find ways in which we can promote the proclaiming of the gospel. We will have a love for God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit; we will have a love for God’s Word; we will have a love for the brethren; we will have a love for the true church of Christ everywhere on earth and play a supporting role in it as far as possible. We will also have a love for a dying world and promote the preaching of the good news of Jesus’ saving grace in every possible way. The love of God must be perfected in us so we can be filled with all the fullness of God (1 John 4:7-21; Eph. 3:14-19).
We are right at the end of the church dispensation and should realise that time is limited to put our spiritual lives in order to be in all respects in agreement with “the doctrine of Christ” (2 John 1:9). This calls for a clear comprehension of the grace of Jesus Christ in our lives – not only to salvation but also towards executing our commands to pray always, to live holy, and to let the light of the gospel shine in a dark world. Soon we will appear before the judgement seat of Christ to give account of our lives as Christians (Rom. 14:10,12; 2 Cor. 5:10).
It is essential that, through our faith and works, we make preparations to confidently answer a few straight questions that will be asked of us. On this occasion we will not be asked whether we are saved or not, as only people who were saved by grace will go along with the rapture to appear before the judgement seat of Christ. The servants of the Lord will have to give account of their lives after repentance to determine whether they walked worthy and executed the commands of the Lord. When we consider the crowns that will be awarded to overcomers it is obvious that they will not be asked whether they observed the law or the Sabbath, as that is not the purpose why we were sent out into the world. Christ will judge and reward us with reference to the following questions:
• “Have we lived holy, laid aside our sins and unnecessary weights and dedicated ourselves to the service of the Lord?” If so, an imperishable crown will be awarded to us (1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 12:1-2).
• “Have we supported the preaching of the gospel and led souls to Christ?” For all of us who were faithful in doing so, a crown of rejoicing awaits us (Acts 1:8; 1 Thess. 2:19; Phil. 4:1).
• “Have we been faithful shepherds?” This question relates to all of us who had others, including children, in our care. We will receive a crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:2-4).
• “Were we prepared to suffer for the sake of Christ, at the same time remaining true to the faith, even under difficult circumstances?” If so, we will receive a crown of life (Rev. 2:10; Jas. 1:12; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Heb. 11:35).
• “Have we loved the appearing of Christ and have we proclaimed it and walked in the light of His promises?” This calls for our preparedness as pilgrims and sojourners in this present, evil world. Such of us who can answer in the affirmative, will receive a crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:7-8; Phil. 3:20-21).
Since these works can only be done with the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, the rewards will be given by grace. That is the reason why the elders in heaven, who represent the glorified church (Rev. 5:9-10), will cast their crowns at the feet of the Lord Jesus. Only He is worthy to receive the glory and honour for that which has been achieved on earth in His name for the sake of His kingdom (Rev. 4:10-11).