What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
Acceptance is not indulgence, and forgiveness is not permission. We’ve mentioned this before in terms of accepting and forgiving people who wrong us. Because we accept those who sin against us doesn’t mean we’re obliged to endure rampant abuse. We accept them and yet reject what they do. The same holds for forgiveness. It doesn’t include blanket approval for future harms. Sadly, many will repeatedly exploit our acceptance and forgiveness, leaving us no choice but continuing to accept and forgive. We do this because our Father accepts and forgives us no matter how often we sin and take advantage of His unconditional love. Knowing how it feels when others ride roughshod over our love, we should be very cautious about doing the same with God’s love for us.
That’s the key take-away from Romans 6.1. In the previous chapter, Paul eloquently lays out God’s strategy to reconcile us to Him. He explains Christ’s primary objective was replacing arcane Mosaic mandates with a New Order based on grace. Out went our failure and in came His forgiveness. While God’s standards didn’t change, Christ radically reversed the emphasis from means (earning God’s mercy) to ends (receiving it). Here’s Romans 5.20: “The law was added so that the trespass might increase.” In other words, the more it asked of us, the more we failed. “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” After Calvary, there’s more than enough grace to go around; no sinner at his/her worse can max out God’s love and forgiveness.
This raises an interesting question, though, which Paul addresses head-on at the top of chapter 6. Does unlimited grace license us to sin repeatedly? If more sin means more grace, might continuing to sin arguably be a good thing? When does relying on grace end and abusing grace begin? By the time Paul gets to the bottom of this, we see how we treat God’s grace works exactly as how others treat ours. God’s acceptance doesn’t imply indulging behaviors that displease Him, nor does His forgiveness grant permission to persist in wrongdoing.
“What shall we say?” Paul asks. “Keep sinning so grace keeps increasing?” Absolutely not, he immediately answers. “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6.2) There’s something slightly creepy about this that reminds me of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Hitch leads us to believe Norman Bates is the Mama’s Boy of a homicidal maniac. When things go awry at the Bates Motel, Norman blames his mother and begs his customers’ forgiveness. And then comes the stunning twist (spoiler alert): Mama’s been dead for years, but Norman’s kept her alive in his head, acting on delusional compulsions to destroy anyone challenging his devotion to her. Psycho ends with one of the most chilling moments in film history. Norman has completely surrendered his personality to his mother’s. He’s beyond help because it’s he, not Mama, who no longer exists.
When we die to sin, sin’s lure and power are dead to us. Yet if we keep sinning—because we don’t think we can live without it or we love it too much to let it go—we risk becoming spiritual psychos. Sin captivates our imaginations, urging us to act on delusional fear, insecurity, and protectiveness. Over and over, we mess up and beg God’s pardon, weakly blaming what we’ve done on unavoidable circumstances. Yes, God forgives us. He’ll forgive us every time we ask. But what’s the point if we submit to sin’s domination of us again and again? How long will the cycle continue until it spins out of control and, like Norman, we cease to exist so sin can survive? These are grim prospects, yet they can’t be ignored. Habitual sin places us in the only position known to man where God’s grace yields diminishing returns—not because there’s less of it, but because continual sin reduces our desire for it.
Dying to Live
We come to Jesus because we’re dying to live. Our existence so far has yielded little. Purpose and fulfillment elude us. All we know of life is not enough to sustain us. We can’t shake the sense there’s a better way and, once we hear God’s voice, we recognize it leads where our hearts long to go. Dying to live becomes more than an expression—it’s our new reality. Christ’s offer supersedes life improvement. He specializes in life replacement. Paul uses baptism to describe this: “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.” (Romans 6.4) He makes a similar point in Galatians 2.20: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” We’ve been given a choice between two options whose contrast is so stark to make the right decision a no-brainer. Would we rather die to sin to gain new life, or do we abuse God’s grace to keep sin alive? What shall we say?
Do we die to sin to gain new life? Or do we keep sinning until it captivates our minds and we become spiritual equivalents of Norman Bates--controlled by a dead, and deadly, force?
(Tomorrow: A Thousand Generations)