One of the things to understand about me is that I’m working through the idea that maybe, in Christ, we are really totally and absolutely forgiven and accepted. It is real. The single condition is belief in His favor and forgiveness, in the sufficiency of His blood. If that is true, what does the Christian life look like? I began by asking, what is then the engine our our virtue? Shall we sin all the more? If our understanding of what we think “the gospel” is doesn’t raise this question we may not be thinking about what “the gospel” is in the right way. This is why I think the term “gospel imperatives” is so off-base; it seeks to remove this question. Paul’s answers seemed so cryptic in Romans 6 and 7. I’ve come around to thinking that we place far too much emphasis on personal virtue. The idea that we measure our success in Christ by the degree of moral change we display is perhaps a tempting but misplaced standard. I posit from Romans that the question itself places us under law.
We see this in Romans 8 and many many places in Paul’s epistles:
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8, NASB).
First, notice that there is no imperative here. Romans 3-8 – few if any imperatives. Paul thinks our identity is primarily important as Christians, and the practical application only comes after a lot of teaching about this. Calvinists should understand this more than anyone I would think. I don’t really understand the Calvinist world though.
Second, notice that when Paul says “the flesh” he does not mean you should stop obsessing about sinful desires. What he means is, you stop thinking about being virtuous by non-supernatural means. You stop dwelling on the battle described in Romans 7. You stop measuring yourself by standards of obligation. We begin to constantly expect manifestations of grace from the Spirit: revelations, joy, insight, promptings, and supernatural giftings to do this or that. Outwardly this will end up looking like virtue, but the target has ceased to be virtue – it is relationship with Jesus via the mind set on the Spirit.
We see clues to this elsewhere, as here:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:9-12, NASB).
Isn’t this strange? All things are lawful, under grace! In Christ, you can tell if someone is setting their minds on the things of the Spirit, walking with Christ, from the arc of their desire. To the saved, to the grace-driven, fornication isn’t UNLAWFUL, more importantly it is UNPROFITABLE! We have moved on to a greater profit, because through Christ, by the Spirit, we love things that count as holy. Not because we went out with our gun hunting down holiness. Because the sweet fragrance of holiness, the butterfly of virtue, has landed on our shoulder. The moving of the Holy Spirit has all the gravitas now, because we are under grace. We have developed new tastes, God is talking to us, God is blessing us, people are getting touched and changed and healed through us as they come to believe that they are God’s pearl which He sold all to get, because He has such joy over us. Fornication just seems gross now, and it is the furthest thing from my mind. When I sneak a peak at some Victoria’s Secret ad, it makes me feel dirty and gross. It is unprofitable, the Spirit of Christ in me gives me no joy in it now. It no longer masters me, I hate it in my heart. A new love governs me.
I try to put it into words, but it comes out wrong. I tell people I don’t even think about ‘sinning’ or ‘not sinning’ any more. They think either I am a ‘lawless’, unrepentant person, or they think I am an arrogant, think I am soooo much better than the rest person.
This article goes where I want to go.
Thanks for the encouragement! If someone is under law, it is really hard to get this idea across, you’re right.
Yes, in Christ we are absolutely accepted!
That’s why it’s the good news!
If we had to do one little thing for acceptance, then it wouldn’t be so good and it would make the work on the cross incomplete.
And thanks for your great comments on Pastor Tullian’s site, as well.
Thanks Steve! I appreciate your comments too. If you are ever in the pacific northwest US, let me know and we can get together and have a beer and talk about God. You’re one of those “grace guys,” I’m starting to think there ar more of us than it seems like. Thanks for the encouragement!
One needs to read chapter 5 in order to make sense of what Paul is saying here. He couldn’t be more clear about a tivitoes that with seperate you from Gods Kongdom. In context Paul was talking about our being under a different law than the laws in Corinth.
Example: Homosexuality isn’t illegal in Texas but it isn’t okay with God. Breaking Gods law isn’t profitable or expedient.
Howdy! I’m not going to say anything about what God’s Kongdom is, heh heh. I don’t know what a tivitoes is, or why that would separate you from God’s kingdom.
In 1 Cor 5-6, in fact the whole letter, there is a very clear context. The Corinthians are carnal. They are using their freedom in unprofitable ways. Here he is talking about sexual immorality, in fact that there was someone in the church that was engaging in some extreme behavior, and this led into an extended teaching about sexuality. It crescendos, one might say climaxes, when here he goes into a rather extensive list of sexual and generally heinous other sins. As usual, I listed as much of the direct context as possible – he is not talking about Corinthian law, he is talking about these heinous sins, and that is what he means by lawfulness and profitability.
I think you are implying that being a thief, a swindler, etc. was lawful in Corinth. What society doesn’t make thievery unlawful? That just doesn’t make sense. For more, here’s a site I googled on ancient Greek law:
Clearly, Greek law was fairly sophisticated, and did not condone things like swindling and thievery.
I agree with you, if this is what you’re saying, and I think it is clear that Paul is saying, that profitability is more powerful than lawfulness. Under the law, we only know that sin is mysteriously bad, but very desirable unless we get caught and punished. Under grace, sin becomes undesirable – we no longer imagine that we can derive profit or pleasure from it. We see raw pleasure in the things of God. It is not from fear of punishment that we live, under grace.
If this wasn’t true, why else would he throw in this crazy idea that all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable? Do we measure the righteous as being those who don’t sin? Who doesn’t sin? I for one am counting on a lot of grace and mercy. It sure greases the gears! Righteousness is easier and a lot more fun under grace, without the fear of punishment. It also has the advantage of being biblical.
Wow IPhone typing at it’s best! LOL Should have been activities and (more obviously) kingdom.
Paul even goes as far as to say not to associate with a brother who lives in sin. He said that sinning in the ways he mentioned excludes you from Gods Kingdom. That isn’t exclusive to the “New” Testament. Grace just isn’t a get out of jail free card!
And as an aside his list seems to contradict the Acts 15 list. Where did Paul come up with this list of sins? It even seems he demands righteousness from the body of Christ.
All have sinned (disobeyed God) but those under Christ repent and strive harder to live in obedience to him with the help and guidence of the Holy Spirit. Grace doesn’t cancel the fear of God. Do I fear Gods wrath? Damn right I do! Do I feel terrorized by God? Heck No, he has provided the blood sacrifice required even in the absence of the temple and despite my Gentileness(if that is a word)! Now that is some serious Grace. My response to that grace is to be obedient. T
Deuteronomy 30 tells me that obedience to God isn’t impossible. I find that obedience is unpopular and inconvenient.
I figured it was iPhone typing! I like the Kongdom of God, really.
We’ve gone around on this before, so here are a few questions rattling around in my brain:
A. Do you think that Paul’s message is from God, and is rightly included in the canon of Scripture?
B. How do you think I am going to respond? Do you suppose these questions haven’t occurred to me? I have a whole book on this – click on the “Book: Scandal of Grace” tab up top. Seriously, I’m curious what you think I’m going to say.
C. Do you think I am saying that grace is just a “get out of jail free card?” What am I saying that grace is? Is grace NOT that? What is it then?
A. The short answer is yes. However if Paul actually preached that Gods perfect Torah no longer applies then I would say no. I believe that the mystery of the Gospel (ie. the inclusion of Gentiles in the kingdom) helped make his message harder to interpret. Add to that the huge influence of Rome (with their hatred for all things Jewish) on what is canon and what is not and it shouldn’t be suprising that Pauls message to the Gentiles has been twisted up.
B. When I bring up scripture that seems incredibly straight forward and contradictory to what is being claimed as Pauls teaching I hope for some additional evidence outside of Pauls writings and in the Tanak.
You are one of a handful of people I know who is able to think on his own and willing to question the status quo. Therefor I expect you to have discourse (public or private) somewhat unhindered by anyones pet idea.
C. I guess Grace IS a get out of Jail free card. It is not however a I can do anything I want and still inherit Gods Kingdom card.
A. Clearly I differ with you on the nature of Paul’s message.
B. I appreciate the compliment! I don’t know what the Tanak is. However, I have written reams and reams about this, and much of my thinking comes from the gospels, from hebrews, from 1 John, from James, from psalms, etc. I have also done a lot of thinking simply on the nature of freedom and virtue and grace and what that all ends up logically implying. One of the main tenets is that the message of scripture is monolithic – you can’t interpret the gospels or other passages in a way that contraindicates Romans 3.
C. Well, is grace a get out of jail free card or not? If it is, it is indeed a “do anything I want and still inherit God’s Kingdom” card. If you are still wanting perversion and sin, that is something the Holy Spirit is going to want to work on, right? As someone else has commented on this blog, you can cut off your leg and still be saved, but that doesn’t mean the gospel encourages self-amputation. As I’ve said many times before, those under law look at grace and only see license to sin, but those under grace see freedom to fail, but also freedom to succeed. What kind of fool aims only to fail?
Hey guys, Lee here.
as for sin and the idea that there are more or less sins. the idea must be the object of the offence, that is God, the perfect, ultimately unsurpassably morally good. this means that any offense is complete and deserving of a complete punishment. So whether we sin before or after salvation the punishment due is still held to the same standard. So grace then is and must be complete as well. This means that Jim is correct and that our behavior is not the standard for salvation.Faith and Grace are wrapped up in Salvation. Salvation then is the free gift and grace and faith tools included in the package.
 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
The object word here is Saved, not faith or grace. The gift is salvation. This is what we are all talking about isn’t it?