The Reign of Grace
I had originally intended to move on this morning to Romans 6, but as I worked and studied, I realized more and more that to do so now would be premature. It could be done, but it would create an artificial jump which the apostle Paul himself would not tolerate. Why is that? If we were to simply jump into Romans 6:1, reading...
Romans 6:1 (LSB)
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?
...there is an immediate problem – about what? What shall we say, about what?
And so, I invite you to return to Romans 5:20-21 with me, so that we may understand that which the apostle Paul has declared for us:
Romans 5:20–21 (LSB)
Now the Law came in so that the transgression would increase, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And last time, you remember, we said that the purpose of the Law was never to provide salvation. Instead, the Law in all its parts came in for the purpose that transgression and sin would increase. It reveals to us the things we do which we should not, it reveals to us things we do not do which we should - in other words, both sins of commission and also sins of omission.
Where once I was ignorant and acted without reason or knowledge, with the coming of the Law, I now sinned with knowledge, knowing that I violate God’s holy standard, and yet still doing so all the same. I was completely unable to bring myself into alignment with that standard of holiness, no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I desire to do so - my spirit within me so very much desires and wills to do that which is right, and yet I cannot go so much as a single day without utterly failing, if I am truly honest with myself. And so, sin abounded, it increased and added to the sin and condemnation which was already there on account of the one transgression of Adam.
And it was not just myself and a handful of others in this state! Instead, the apostle repeatedly declared, it was all men. “Death spread to all men, because all sinned”, he said in v12, “death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned int he likeness of the trespass of Adam” in v14, “by the transgression of the one the many died” in v15, referring to all who are in Adam, “by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one” in v17.
And then, in Romans 5:18-19, he declares...
Romans 5:18–19 (LSB)
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were appointed sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be appointed righteous.
Now what does this lead to? What is he saying?
In Adam, Sin Reigns
In Adam, Sin Reigns
He’s declaring to us that each and every person does not simply sin, but rather that we are born into and under the reign of sin. We are within its dominion, it has rule over us, it is our true master and commander.
Man’s popular thinking is contrary to this, man thinks that a sinner is someone who has made a conscious choice and decision to sin - I even recall secular songs written that allude to sin as much a choice as choosing to ride on a train, and yet nothing could be further than the truth.
What the apostle says in verse 21 is that sin reigned in death, just as he had declared that death reigned from Adam until Moses in v14. And I think that 14th verse very much helps us understand the 21st. There in v14 we read
Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the trespass of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
Understanding what the apostle is saying here is vital to our understanding v21, we must realize that even though all of those generations from Adam until Moses didn’t have a direct command from God which they could either follow or violate, they still all died – it wasn’t simply a possibility, it wasn’t a chance, it wasn’t even a likely thing. No, it was a certainty; each one that lived, surely died, with the sole exception of Enoch who was, and then was not, for God took him. And why did they die? It was due to the transgression of Adam.
Death is the result of sin. It is not its own thing, but is the due punishment for sin, just as God had told Adam it would be before he ate of the forbidden fruit. And if death is so described as reigning, then of course sin must likewise also reign, for death is the result of sin. So when God appointed all in Adam as sinners, constituting them as such, making them as such, sin then of course reigns. It is our master, not we ourselves.
We are not “free to sin”, that is, free to choose to sin; instead we are governed by it, controlled by it. This is the meaning and purpose behind “through the one man’s disobedience the many were appointed sinners.”
The control and reign of sin over us is so strong, so defining, so complete that without the revelation of God we don’t even realize we are in thralldom to the reign of sin, people only rarely recognize their enslavement for what it is! For example, consider John 8:31–34 (LSB)
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly My disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s seed and have never yet been enslaved to anyone. How is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”
Here, Jesus has been talking and teaching those who believed Him so far, and even they simply could not understand this idea that they were enslaved, they were offended that Jesus should dare to suggest they were still slaves! After all, I’m certain they thought to themselves, God had even told them when He have them the Law itself in Exodus 20:2, He had declared “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
And Jesus then shows that everyone who commits sin is enslaved to it – they cannot simply stop, they cannot simply choose not to. Sin is their master, and they are sin’s slave. And even with the perfect, consummate teacher, they refused to accept this stark truth.
As much as we would like to think we are morally neutral, that we can choose which way we will go, or that if we do fall into sin we can simply be sorrowful, say a magical word, do the right incantation. and start all over from square one.
But, to believe that ignores that we are born into the dominion and power and control of sin, “in sin my mother conceived me”, David writes in Psalm 51, “I was brought forth in iniquity.” Even our will itself is not free, even it is subdued and dominated by sin, and by Satan;
2 Corinthians 4:3–4 (LSB)
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
The natural man does not think on the things of God, but has made a god of his own making. And thus, the apostle declares, “sin reigned in death” for all who are in Adam, all who are conceived from man and born from their mothers’ womb.
In Christ, Grace Reigns
In Christ, Grace Reigns
But the good news, indeed the great news, is that...
Romans 5:21 (LSB)
so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Without this grace, this favor from God which we can never earn, never merit, never deserve, we would still be hopelessly and endlessly under the tyranny of sin and the sentence of death. Indeed, all who remain in Adam, or more precisely all who fail to come to Jesus Christ in faith – believing in their heart that God raised Him from the dead, confessing with their mouth Jesus as Lord – all who fail to do so remain in the helpless and horrid slavery to the reign of sin.
But, the reign of grace is truly a triumphant reign! Paul wrote in v20 that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, ὑπερπερισσεύω, it super-abounded, hyper–abounded! It abounded so much that it surpassed any boundaries and could not be contained! The reign of grace is much more than the reign of sin; sin increased with the introduction of the Law, but grace increased much more than sin, and indeed grace reigns through righteousness.
From the moment a person becomes a Christian, from the very second they turn to Jesus Christ in faith, grace reigns over them in the same way that sin once reigned over them.
It’s not that in Christ grace is merely offered, but that God established it beforehand to rule in authority, similar to how sin had once reigned over those in Adam, but now grace is more in every regard - more powerful, more abundant, more effective, more glorifying to God!
Don’t bypass this great comparison, that “as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Sin once controlled me, I was bound to it and could never ignore it, it defined my life. But that has now changed, that reign of terror has ended, I have been transferred out of that kingdom.
At each step, in each part, it is not I who have done this, but God, as we read in Colossians speaking of God the Father,
Colossians 1:13–14 (LSB)
Who rescued us from the authority of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Just as we did not cause sin to reign over us, so also we do not cause grace to reign over us. We must understand that we do not do this ourselves! God took the action, God is the one who caused this change.
So, grace now reigns over me when I am in Christ! It isn’t some theoretical concept or feeling, but it is an authoritative power. In Adam, sin had power over our lives, but the moment we come to be in Jesus Christ, grace now has power over our lives. The change has been complete and instantaneous; Grace rules and acts and reigns as monarch; grace now has dominion over us!
Like a leopard completely unable to change its spots, I am completely unable to change myself from the dominion of sin and death to the dominion of grace and life; but what I could never do, God, in an instant, did when He brought me to the point where I believed in Jesus Christ and He saved me. It was entirely of God, it was wholly and completely a miraculous act of God, no man is able to do this, no man can even come close!
But what man is completely unable to do, God did – He has done so for every true Christian who ever was, for only God has the power to transfer us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son! And this is the only way to become a true Christian, there is no other way, every other path is a deception of sin which leads only to an eternity of suffering in hell, separated by God by an unpassable chasm.
If it were up to me, I would fail – each one of us would. If even one tenth of one percent of salvation were left up to us, we would all fail, we cannot do it.
This is why the apostle declared in...
Ephesians 2:8–9 (LSB)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, so that no one may boast.
If I have any part in it, if I have the slightest of control over my own destiny, it is a work of which I can boast. But that is not the case now, I didn’t chose my ruler, just as it was not the case when I was in Adam. As I was in Adam, even so now I am in Jesus Christ my Lord!
In other words, I am no longer enslaved under the reign of sin, its rule and power over me have been removed by God who took me out from under its rule, and placed me under the rule and reign of grace, which is an even more powerful ruler!
And how this happens is truly amazing in itself! There is no putting aside of the Law and a dismissing of sin and transgression, so as to imply the Law is defective in some way, or that God changed His mind or His nature. No!
Romans 3:21–26 (LSB)
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith, for a demonstration of His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The Law is not set aside, but vindicated and honored in the life and obedience of Jesus Christ, it was fulfilled in Him, and because He did that, you and I can be forgiven. So, God remains just – He remains holy and righteous and perfect.
But even greater, He imputes to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ and His perfect obedience; not only does He remain just, but he also justifies the one who has faith in Jesus Christ!
In other words, by the act of God and God alone, as one who believes that God raised Jesus from the dead and on account of that confesses Him as Lord, I have been justified by faith! I have been removed from the reign of sin, I have been transferred into the reign of grace! I am in Christ!
And just as the reign and dominion of sin guaranteed a certain results, so, too does the reign and dominion of grace guarantee its results all the more! For now in Christ, grace reigning through righteousness replaces and overcomes the reign of sin!
Now, sin is no longer my master and commander – that has been replaced by grace and righteousness. Now no longer is death my inevitable end, but the result of grace reigning through righteousness is eternal life.
Now, instead of being governed and controlled by sin, I am governed and controlled by grace and righteousness!
Instead of my will and mind being enthralled to sin, its slave with no choice, I am now made free in grace!
In other words, the entire character and tone of my entire life which I am saved has changed, the sin which once characterized my life ought to do so no longer! Instead, my life ought to take on the nature and peculiarities of grace and righteousness!
But the reign of grace is also like the reign of sin, in that it exists outside of myself; it is greater than myself, it is I who move and am transferred, not grace. Grace does not exist for me and within me, but the reign of grace was foreordained by God,
Ephesians 1:4–6 (LSB)
just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him in love, by predestining us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He graciously bestowed on us in the Beloved.
You see, grace is equally an expression of the sovereignty of God, who declared in Exodus 33:19, “...I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious...”, as Paul will later remind us in Romans 11:29, saying “... the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (if you will pardon my breaking my own rule of not jumping ahead in the book I am teaching).
It is no wonder, then, that at this great crescendo the apostle reacts so very strongly against those who abuse this great certainty and work of God, asking of them, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” And at once rejecting such a notion! "May it never be!”, he exclaims. "How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”
Such people, whether describing themselves as “recovering legalists”, or “New Testament Believers”, who turn back toward a life they know God disapproves of – people who say “I have freedom in Christ to do this thing which I know God said ‘do not do’ in the Old Testament, therefore if I desire to do it, I shall indeed do so”, or others who declare “we are new testament believers, we know the God of love and grace, not that old testament God of rules and laws”, these people only prove that they have not understood the purpose of salvation which Paul has described here!
No, my friends – in Christ, we have been transferred, from the reign of sin, over to the reign of grace. And it is our Lord Jesus Christ who has done this very thing; who has ordained it; who Himself acted righteously, thereby causing it; and in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Let us pray!