I need to put one thing to rest. I am not advocating sin. The last chapter was a shameless ploy to shock you into thinking. The apparent notion that I am just giving people license to sin seems to be everyone’s chief fear when I talk to them. Pastors, friends, close people, people who see my imperfections and ridicule the message of grace, dispute the message because they think I am advocating sin, or if they like to use big words, they might say that I am what is called in theological circles “antinomian.” I can’t even seem to finish a sentence before I am interrupted and corrected and rebuked. In fact I have had to press on with this work despite the fact that I have been terribly discouraged at times because the obvious and wonderful message of grace is so universally opposed because of this fear.
Let’s look at the way Paul approaches this. In Romans, Paul spends 11 chapters setting the stage, in which there are very few if any direct imperatives. Go thumb through Romans 1-11 some time and check it out – very few imperatives. He spends 11 chapters describing what it means to NOT be a believer, what it means to BE one, and the Christian’s place in the dealings of God with the Jewish nation. He explains grace for 11 chapters! In chapter 12, when he begins to press into the practical applications of this identity, he starts by saying:
“I urge you THEREFORE, brethren, BY THE MERCIES OF GOD, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1, NASB)
We are so worried about not being antinomian that we just like to skip all that drivel about propitiation, our identity in Christ, about being identified with His death, all of that stuff that is so hard to understand, and jump straight to the good stuff, the action, the application. We like to hear the convicting stuff! Yet, look how strange his list of applications are:
- think humbly of yourself
- exercise your gifts humbly, such as prophecy, service, exhortation, giving, leading, mercy
- unhypocritical love
- love good and abhor evil
- brotherly love and honor
Isn’t it telling, and a huge observation in support of the thesis of this book, that when he starts launching into the specifics about living in light of redemption and grace, he starts talking about spiritual GIFTS? It would seem that one of Paul’s main concerns is staying humble in the light of this sudden and amazing giftedness everyone has. Righteous living under grace is really about Holy-Spirit inspired virtue. This harmonizes perfectly with what he was saying in Romans 8 about the mind set on the Spirit being the true seedbed of fruitful living.
Romans 12-15 never really gets to any seriously convicting part; I guess Paul didn’t enjoy trying to make people feel guilty and terrible about themselves. In fact once he gets through this list, he launches into an entire section about being in subjection to the governing authorities, which at the time were actively anti-Christian. Then he launches into the whole section about respecting people’s convictions, even if they aren’t the same as your convictions. What a strange and non-convicting world he projects for believers!
What exactly am I saying? I am saying that real belief in grace, real belief in “the mercies of God”, is the kind of belief that inevitably raises the question “what – should we just sin more? There are no rules at all???” (Rom 6:1) If you aren’t getting that question then you probably aren’t advocating as strong a message of grace as THE BIBLE is! True Biblical Pauline grace is SCANDALOUS! Do sinners like to hang out with you? Are moralistic religious people concerned about you? Then you probably aren’t in the right camp. And it is just this message of dangerous levels of grace, outrageous levels of mercy, total and sustained forgiveness, that is the real soil for genuine holiness.
We see the same pattern in the other letters of Paul. For example, in Ephesians, He spends 3 chapters without any imperative at all, just going on and on about Christ and our identity in Him as believers. Read it for yourself and see if I am wrong! Ephesians 1-3 has no commands and no imperative statements. Starting in chapter 4, he says:
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,” Ephesians 4:1, NASB.
In other words, get it straight that you are the beloved of God, called by grace, given tremendous gifts by grace, and walk practically in the light of that. But we want to jump straight to Ephesians 5 and beat married people over the head. Guess what? None of it makes any sense until you get the first 3 chapters straight!
Ministers with lots of theological brainwashing, I mean training, inevitably try to couch everything in terms of its danger for antinomianism or arminianism or 5 point Calvinism or some other theological mumbo-jumbo, instead of reading the ACTUAL TEXT of scripture for what it obviously really says. I am tired of all the guilt-inducing thinly veiled pseudo-grace double-speak. I believe in a God who truly loves me, in fact who likes me quite a bit. I find the first eleven chapters of Romans interesting. I find that it is better that I did not skip the first 3 chapters of Ephesians before I launched into a study about ministry roles or marriage. I think it is important to know that I am foreknown before the foundation of the world, absolutely secure in His choosing me and establishing me and forgiving me, that I am under His great great love. I am going to live from that place, and everyone who feels compelled to dispute it or downplay it can try that if it makes them happy. I stand today in need of mercy, and I’m getting it!