Grace, Faith and Obedience
by Jim Rower
In Romans 5:20-6:4, Paul writes about how sin came into the world through Adam, bringing death; God’s law was given through Moses; and then grace was given through Jesus Christ:
“The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
One picture of grace in the Bible that most people are familiar with is the parable of the prodigal son. The son spent all his money on worldly pleasures and eventually came back to his father, asking for forgiveness and hoping he could become one of his father’s servants. The father welcomes him back with open arms, throws a party for him, and reinstates him as a full heir to his estate.
But this parable falls short of describing the fullness of God’s grace. Two big aspects of His grace are not portrayed here. The first is that God actively seeks after us when we go astray. The second is that His grace doesn’t end with our first trip back to His arms.
On the first point, when I sin—when I walk away from God our Father as the prodigal son did from his father—God does not just wait passively for me to return to Him. Despite my sins, God is constantly seeking after me. The Holy Spirit convicts me, urging me to turn back to obedience. As much as I sometimes might try to shut out that voice in my head, it is still there. Now, God doesn’t intervene, overturn my free will, or force me to stay with Him, but He is still ever-present with me when I walk away. And, I believe in some instances God arranges events that direct us back toward Him.
On the second point, despite His grace and love for me, I continue to sin. And each time I turn around and come back to the Father and ask for His forgiveness, He is there with His open arms. He fully forgives me and welcomes me back into the family, with a full share of the inheritance.
Paul writes of grace that increases “all the more” than our sin increases. It is an infinite grace, a grace that is given over and over and over again. A grace that never runs out, no matter how many times we turn away and turn back to God.
And with that picture of grace in mind, Paul asks the question, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”
To put it in my own words, if God is going to continually forgive me and welcome me back, what is the big deal if I continue to sin? Why should I try to obey God?
Paul’s answer is this: when we accepted Christ, our old self died and we received new life in Christ. So how can we continue to live in the old, dead life?
What is “dying to the old self”? It is living in obedience to Christ in our new life. That doesn’t mean Satan isn’t tugging on us all the time to drag us back down into our old life, though. Every new day, every new hour, perhaps every new minute, we must choose our new life over our old life.
The Moravian text watchword for this week is Ephesians 2:8: “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
“By grace you have been saved through faith…” What is faith if not trusting and obeying?
In his book, “Eternity is Now in Session,” John Ortberg writes:
Can you imagine Jesus himself teaching [that] ‘Believing that all I teach is true—that’s optional. Believing that I can run your life and allowing me to do it—that’s optional. Intending to actually obey me—that’s optional. As long as you believe that my death paid for your sins, you don’t need to worry about doing what I’ve said as far as heaven is concerned…
Obedience—rightly understood—is what a saved life looks like from the inside. Saving faith is faith that allows me to engage in [an] interactive, grace-powered life with [Jesus] beginning here and now, which death will be powerless to interrupt. It is faith that allows me to know union with Christ.
To ‘trust Jesus’ in the Gospels simply means to think he is right—about everything—and therefore be ready to do what he says, not as a means of getting into the good place but as the best advice from the wisest person possible. In fact, it’s only as we seek to do what Jesus says—to be generous and forgiving and radically truthful—that we discover the Kingdom he talks about is real and can be trusted. [end of quote.]
Jesus calls us to be disciples—followers. Dallas Willard said, “A disciple is someone whose ultimate goal is to live their life the way Jesus would live [it] if he were me.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Grace and discipleship are inseparable. Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship.”
Living in faith, in discipleship, in obedience, is our response to God’s grace, and it is what is best for us. It is the best advice from the wisest person possible, Jesus Christ himself.