Grace is the Answer to its own Abuse

Most of my study time lately has been taken up preparing for a Latin placement test. But I have also been working on a review of Kevin DeYoung’s helpful new book on holiness, which has had me thinking about how the gospel and the pursuit of holiness relate. In thinking about this, I’ve been lead me to a deeper understanding of Paul’s flow of argument in Romans 6. First of all, its significant that the first objection Paul anticipates after his proclamation of scandalously free grace for sinners in 3:21-5:21 is the charge of antinomianism. This means that Paul’s gospel, right here in its most systematic presentation in Romans, could readily be misunderstood as antinomianism. So extravagant was his emphasis on the abundance of grace in Christ that he had to face this threat immediately. I am left wondering: do I preach grace like this? To my heart, and others? Could my preaching of the gospel misunderstood along these lines?

Second, I am struck by the way Paul rebuts this objection. His argument comes into two phases: first, a death/life metaphor to show we should not sin to multiply grace (6:1-14); and second, a slavery/freedom metaphor to show we should not sin because we are under grace. In each section, his answer climaxes with an assertion of further grace for his readers. So in 6:14, his readers are freed from the dominion of sin because they are “not under law but under grace;” and in 6:23, his readers are slaves to righteousness according to “the free gift of God” in Christ Jesus. In other words, Paul directs his readers away from idleness in grace by drilling down further into their grace-established identity. What stops the abuse of grace is … more grace. Grace is the equally the solution to antinomianism as it is to legalism. I’d not seen this so clearly before. The pastoral and personal implications are massive. I’d like to keep wrestling with Romans 6. Its such a deep and knotty passage.

My brother Dane’s article on Bavinck and Berkouwer on how justification feeds sanctification is quite helpful on these issues. If you haven’t read it yet, it deserves a careful read. As he puts it: “it is deliberate, self-conscious focus on justification, in all its startling freeness, by which one experiences spiritual progress.”

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  1. 1. I agree with DeYoung that we can’t say that only knowing the gospel
    (better and deeper) will cause us to sin less.
    2. But I disagree with him, because I deny that most people he thinks
    are Christians even know the gospel at all. Either you do or you
    3. And even some of the ones who do know the gospel are like DeYoung
    in this respect—-they don’t understand what Romans 6 is saying. They
    think being “dead to sin” is about their not sinning because of
    some “union” with the redemptive-historical risen and justified Christ
    which causes a “dispositional break with sin”.

    Like the guys who wrote A Faith Which is Never Alone (Sandlin, Shepherd, Lusk, Armstrong), these “the dominion is not the guilt” folks think that the only reason people ask the Romans 6 question (why not sin) is that they are in the middle of the gospel and haven’t heard the rest, that the “positional break with
    sin’s dominion” makes it safe to talk about the justificiation of the ungodly (because you see, they are not ungodly sinners anymore!).

    And here some of us thought that the objection (why not sin) was because
    Romans 5 (and 6) was saying that people are justified from the guilt of sin by imputation of Christ’s death, so that God counts Christ’s death as their death! Turns out, the objectors just weren’t patient enough to wait until the end, where they get the full gospel with no holes, adjusted with the right amount of legalism based on the situation or person to be addressed…. …

    In short, we are all still sinners, even those of us know the gospel. If you are looking for an answer that will cause people to stop being sinners, the gospel is not that answer, at least not until our glorification. But if you are looking for the forgiveness of sins and the gratitude that goes with that, then you need to know the gospel.