5 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
In my ongoing meditation on the relationship between gospel freedom and gospel imperatives, I realized something from Romans 5. Often the ongoing assumption is that when we come to Christ, something happens to us and we are supposed to become magically law-abiding. Habitual sins should fall right off of us if our conversion was true, because we have been made a new creature in Christ. If this were really the case, there would be no need at all for New Testament imperatives, because either you would remain utterly sinless because of the authenticity of your conversion, or you would continue in some form of sin proving you were still unconverted. Your introduction by faith into this grace means that the love of God has been poured out in your heart, meaning you should have love for God now on account of your authentic conversion.
I think this grandly misses the truth. The assumption is that you were introduced by your initial conversion to Christ into a lack of condemnation, but that God remains aloof and afar. It assumes that He expects even more stringent compliance with His command to love Him post-conversion. In other words, you have been introduced through Christ from a less legalistic expectation into a far more restricting and stringent legalistic expectation. Christ died for us so He could become a cosmic demanding monster towards us.
But we were not merely introduced into a temporary suspension of condemnation through Christ. We were introduced into an ongoing persistent love. We were introduced into a world where we are persistently loved despite ourselves and our mistakes over and over and over. It isn’t magic or correct theology which transforms us. It is enormous passionate endless persistent affection for us which keeps loving us when we keep failing which transforms us. It is a love which isn’t conditional upon our transformation which transforms us. It is God’s love for us which is poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Through His grace He keeps beaming infinite sacrificial love at us quite apart from the question of how much we deserve it.
You may well say, that can’t be true! People will take advantage! I know people who have persistent habitual sin in their lives and you can’t just expect the love of God to work this way for them. God is holy.
First, the reason for this is probably that the people you are thinking about have been hanging around you and going to your church. You and your church do not believe in the power of the blood of Christ to save you from condemnation. You disbelieve it. Your demeanor towards sinners and ragamuffins betrays it. So these people have never heard the real gospel and they could never have experienced the things I’m talking about. You probably haven’t heard this either. So you and your sinning people are still walking around trying to avoid condemnation through your obedience and your own righteousness.
Secondly, you are judging these people based on your own standard of law, which conveniently affirms you yet condemns them. If you would judge everyone equally by Jesus’ standards of law, you would see that if you even have a secret thought which is hateful or lustful (even though you don’t “act” on it), you are doomed to the fires of hell (Matthew 5:22, 28-29). You’ve already confessed, by your judgment of these irritating sinful people, that you have transgressed this! You’re exactly like one of the Roman popes in the middle ages who thought he could clean up the church while being a fornicating murderous greedy covetous power-hungry devil.
So suddenly, the tables have turned! I, the sloppy-agape greasy-grace fire-insurance-gospel antinomian, am the one making you squirm. If you are going to do this by the law, that is what you are up against. The real purpose of the law is to make you squirm so hard, to fear so deeply, to despair so thoroughly of your own efforts, that you turn to mercy and only mercy. Mercy is your only hope. You have deeply and genuinely transgressed the law and you can make no legitimate promise to reform. The real measure of your performance is that you are wretched and evil. Own it and fess up. Greasy grace is your only refuge.
And so it is this enormous and fantastic undeserved unearned love, poured out within our hearts, which transforms us. It is not that we have changed into sinless people. It is that we have entered into an environment of love and kindness and affection which is far greater than ourselves. We are in Christ. The idea that we are greatly loved and forgiven is what we believe as Christians! If you take that away and make it again about how well you measure up to God’s standards, you have left the world of belief and love and have gone back to the world of condemnation. Perhaps you have never entered the world of belief in undeserved love. You’ve never heard about this. Believe it!!! It is the persistent love of God which keeps beaming at us regardless of our performance or degree of transformational success which transforms us. Stop worrying about your transformation and believe in the love which God has for you!