Grace and Life
by Charlie McCall
Grace is a big deal. We are saved by the grace of God (Eph. 2:8-9). We are sustained by the grace of God (II Cor. 12:9). We stand in the grace of God (Rom. 5:2). It would be hard to overestimate the importance of the doctrine of grace. It is essential to the Gospel and all that we believe about salvation and the Christian life. But did you know that grace is not an end in itself? Romans 5:21 says that the purpose of grace is to lead us to eternal life. A person can know the grace of God without knowing eternal life.
Whenever sin is on the increase, grace abounds all the more (Rom. 5:20). God is gracious to everyone. He causes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. You don’t need to be a Christian to know the grace of God. You don’t need to be a good person to know God’s grace. All unbelievers, all who sin, experience God’s grace, although they may not acknowledge it. The more they sin, the more His grace abounds. You don’t need to be saved to know God’s grace. However, God’s grace is not the end goal. Eternal life is.
Paul asks in Romans 6:1, “Shall we continue in sin that grace might increase?” His answer: “May it never be!” Paul hates the question. He does not, though, reject the premise that he established in Romans 5:20 that with increased sin comes increased grace. What he rejects is the proposition that we should sin more in order to see more grace. His response to that proposition is in two parts.
First, Paul argues that the purpose of being saved is so that we would be delivered from sin, not so that we would continue in it. Some people believe that a person can’t be saved and continue in sin. In Romans 6:12-14 Paul exhorts Christians to not let sin reign in their mortal bodies, to stop presenting themselves to sin, and to stop living with sin as their master. Clearly, Paul is saying that people can be saved and yet have sin reigning in them and ruling over them. But that shouldn’t be the case! We weren’t saved simply to know the grace of God. We were saved so that we would be delivered from sin.
Second, we were saved to know life. Paul says that we were crucified with Christ, buried with Him, and raised to the newness of life (6:4). At the end of the chapter he says that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord (6:23).
Here’s what I believe Paul is saying: We haven’t been saved to simply experience God’s grace, we’ve been saved so that we can be set free from sin and so that we might experience His life, the newness of life.
God wants you to have life and experience life. He doesn’t just want you to know His grace. You can live in sin and experience God’s grace but you won’t experience His life because the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Keep in mind that Romans 6:23 is spoken to Christians, not unbelievers. It is the climax in Paul’s answer to the question why a Christian shouldn’t continue in sin.
Jump over to Romans 8:13 and Paul says to the Christian that the one who is living according to the flesh must die, but the one who is living according to the Spirit (“by the Spirit putting to death the deeds of the body”) will live. So Paul again says that a Christian, one who has eternal life, can live in such a way as to not experience the life that he received when he received Christ. That is because he is living from the flesh (his own resources, ability, humanity) rather than from the Spirit. Present yourselves to Christ and you will experience His life. Continue in sin and you will experience death, while also experiencing God’s grace.
People are great on preaching grace. That’s a good thing. We are saved by grace, stand in grace, and are sustained by grace — but grace was meant to lead us to eternal life. I personally want to know more than grace. I can know grace by simply continuing to sin. I want to know His life. I want others to know His life. We are offering people nothing if our grace-talk is not bringing people to eternal life in Christ – positionally (salvation) and experientially (sanctification).
Grace is a big deal. Life is an even bigger deal. Grace is meant to lead people to eternal life. May we each know God’s grace for leading people to life in Christ.
This article was originally published in our Fall 2018 Newsletter. To read and subscribe, visit hishill.org/his-hill/newsletter