Tag Archive | grace

Less than our Sins Deserve

“What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved” (Ezra 9:13).

I remember throwing the football in the house as a kid. I was throwing the touchdown pass to my sister but she didn’t catch it. I threw it over her head. And hit my mom’s collection of fancy things. And I broke a bowl that her mom had passed down to her.

What happened was my fault. I couldn’t blame it on my sister and I certainly couldn’t blame it on my mom. And yet my mom was not angry with me. She was upset that the bowl was broken. It was special to her. But she didn’t take it out on me. And she even cleaned up the mess I made, the broken shards of her bowl I broke.

I’m thankful my mom showed kindness even though I didn’t deserve it. But I’m especially thankful that God shows kindness even when we don’t deserve it. God, since the beginning, has punished us less than our sins deserve.

God even takes the consequences of our sin upon Himself in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ. Upon Him was the punishment that brings us peace (See Isaiah 53). The wages of sin is death and eternal separation from God in whom alone there is life, yet Jesus takes the wages upon Himself and pays the price we owed.

God has compassion on us and through Jesus casts our sin into the depth of the sea (Micah 7:19). Jesus removes our sin from us, as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). God does not give us as our sins deserve. He gives grace.

We deserve to be paid death for the sin and ruin we’ve worked (Romans 6:23). That’s our due. Yet, God has “punished us less than our sins deserved” (Ezra 9:13).

Every day and every good thing is an undeserved gift of God. From the smile of a dog to the sip of cider, it’s all an undeserved gift from God. Every good and perfect gift comes from our Father above (James 1:17). And it’s a gift because it is underserved. We did not earn it.

*Photo by Alvan Nee

All His Benefits

“Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:2-5).

If we are to rightly praise the LORD then we must know the LORD. We must know things about Him. We must know things about what He has done. We must know and not forget all His benefits.

“All His benefits.” I like that phrase.

When someone is thinking about taking a job they consider what the benefits of the job are. “Will I get enough vacation? Is the health insurance good enough?”

Yet the Lord gives “all His benefits” for free! Not as payment for work. The LORD heaps benefits on all those “who fear Him” (v. 11) because God is a God of “steadfast love and mercy” (v. 4).

God does not pay us for our sins as we deserve (v. 10). If He did that would be bad news and we certainly wouldn’t get all the benefits we enjoy. Just like a good Father, however, God shows great compassion and care to all who fear Him (v. 13).

The LORD forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies, and strengthens (v. 3-5). The LORD is merciful and gracious and slow to anger (v. 6). The LORD’s love is vast beyond comprehension. It is high—higher than the heavens, it is vast—further than the east is from the west, and it is long—from everlasting to everlasting (v. 11, 12, 17).

So, praise the LORD! Praise the LORD because He shows mercy and withholds the punishment we deserve. Praise the LORD because He shows grace and heaps on all sorts of blessings we don’t deserve. Praise the LORD because of who He is and all He has done.

Proof of God’s Grace #3: Overcoming Grace

Scripture teaches that it is the Spirit that overcomes people’s hardness of heart and gives spiritual life. So, John 6:36 says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (see also Ezek. 11:19-21; 36:25-27).[1] Notice it says, “the flesh is no help at all.” The Apostle Paul also says it is “the Spirit that gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Thus, salvation does not come from “human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). So Paul says, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

James 1:18 says, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” Whose will was it? It was “His will.” Of course, God uses means to accomplish His will. People are brought to new life through “the word of truth” (cf. Rom. 10:14; 1 Pet. 1:23).[2]

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). That is because, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (v. 6). It is the supernatural work of God that makes a person a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). That is why we “must be born again” (Jn. 3:7). And of course, no one can make himself or herself be born, let alone born again. It is the Spirit’s prerogative; the Spirit works the way He works (Jn. 3:8). We also see that even faith is a gift from God (1 Chron. 29:14; Jn. 3:27; 1 Cor. 4:7; James 1:17). No one would believe without God first giving the gift of faith. Therefore, Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn. 15:16 cf. v. 19).

So, we say with Peter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). Peter says that God “has caused us to be born again.”

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Proof of God’s Grace #2: Resurrecting Grace

In this series of posts we are looking at proof of God’s grace (Planned, Resurrecting, Outrageous, Overcoming, and Forever grace [1]). In the previous post we looked at Planned Grace. In this post we are looking at…

Resurrecting Grace

The Bible teaches that people need resurrected or brought to life spiritually because they are spiritually dead and don’t go to God apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Why is this the case? And where does the Bible teach this?

People do not turn to God apart from the Spirit’s intervening grace of regeneration because they are dead (Eph. 2:1-5), slaves of sin (Rom. 6:20), deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9 cf. Gen. 6:5; Ps. 51:5), and blinded by Satan so they don’t see the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4ff).

In our natural state since the Fall we are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). We follow “the course of this world,” “the prince of the power of the air,” and “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (v. 2). That is how “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh” (v. 3).

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Proof of God’s Grace #1: Planned Grace

The Bible shows us over and over again proof of God’s abundant grace. Here we are going to look at the acronym PROOF[1] to look at God’s grace. We are going to look at: Planned grace, Resurrecting grace, Outrageous grace, Overcoming grace, and Forever grace.

Why is it important that we consider the proof of grace? First, because when we understand all the proof of God’s grace we praise and glorify God for His abundant grace. Second, anything that is the teaching of Scripture is important and profitable for us to understand (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Third, when we understand the extent of God’s grace it humbles us. Fourth, when we understand more of the extent of our desperation we will (or should) love God more (Lk. 7:47). 

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A Monopoly of Outcasts

The church is a gathering of the redeemed. We are made holy. We were not innately holy. The church is a place where those who know they are sick come to the Great Physician (cf. Lk. 5:31). The church is a monopoly of outcasts. It is filled with struggling ex-thieves, ex-drunkards, ex-adulterers, and ex-revilers (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

The church is (or should be!) a welcoming place for all because we have all been welcomed at Jesus’ own expense. Colossians radically says that in the church “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).

The church is filled with all sorts of people with all sorts of problems. Let’s not be prideful about our problems and prudish about the problems of others. 

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All-Gender Bathrooms, Prosperity, Love, & the Question of Kingdom

Our discussion here should not be limited to bathrooms. It’s not just a problem of bathroom signs and who comes in those bathroom doors. The problem is not just political. If we leave it there we miss the heart of the issue and we fail to care about hearts.

It’s a matter of concern for people and prosperity. It’s a matter of love. And yes it’s a matter of truth. But I feel and fear that the latter has received the emphasis. And it sounds kind of like a noisy gong. 


How is this issue related to prosperity? As we think about all-gender restrooms we need to consider the matter from the perspective of love for neighbor and not just moralism or concern for ourselves or even our kids. We need to look at Jesus as the standard of how we interact with people. We should desire to represent Him in this conversation. Not the Andy Griffith Show.

We should have a concern for our neighbors, whether monogamous, transgender, all-gender, because they are fellow human beings created in the image of God. And we don’t want them to miss out on the good design that God gave. 

Thus the issue at hand is an issue of prosperity. How do humans prosper and flourish? How and what were we created for? What leads to our ultimate prosperity? What is our ultimate good?

Obviously, what blurs the issue is many believe we weren’t created and we thus have no ultimate purpose. Yet, if God did say in the beginning “it is good” and intends the world to function in a certain way then we shouldn’t want others to miss out on the good God intended even as we realize the world is broken (physically, spiritually, emotionally, etc.). If, however, many of our neighbors our right, if God is not there and He is silent, then it doesn’t matter. Let us eat and drink, let us gloat and indulge in gluttony, let us define our own identity, let us do what we want for tomorrow we die.

But, if as I believe, God did create the world in a certain way, to function according to to certain physical and moral laws then this conversation matters. It matters not just for me, my family, and those that have my same worldview. It matters for all people. It is a matter of being inlined with the laws of the universe, ever as much as we must account for the laws of gravity. 

Yet, if we are Christians having this conversations with others, no matter who those others are, we must not be prideful. We must have the conversation in humility and love. We must have it knowing that all of creation groans with longing for redemption. We are all broken. We all struggle (Rosaria Butterfield’s words are helpful).

Love and Concern for People

As we think of and discuss this issue we shouldn’t do it detached from real people. Real people that have real struggles. We should not demonize other people, no matter who those people are. I don’t think Jesus would have done that even if they were putting up new signs on the restrooms at schools. I think Jesus would have seen the masses as blind sheep without a shepherd.

My reading of Scripture leads me to think Jesus would have loved and reached out in love to all people even transgender people (cf. Matt. 23:37). What people still need today is a shepherd, the Shepherd. A loving Shepherd that will lead His sheep to truth. 

We must imitate the Good Shepherd. We must love our neighbors even as we disagree with our neighbors. We must be motivated out of love and not out of fear.

How can we who have been loved so much not reach out with love to others?! Are we in a position to judge? Have we removed our log when we reach for another’s speck (cf. Matt. 7:1-6)?

The Kingdom Question

“Hypothetically” if a certain potitical leader did things that didn’t line up with biblical morality and said things like “What is truth?” I don’t think Jesus would have lambasted the political establishment. I think He would have remembered and perhaps reminded us that as Christians our Kingdom is not here. We should not expect it to be (cf. Jn. 18:33ff).

Are you thinking more about the Andy Griffith Show and what our world should be like? Or are you looking at Jesus and what He acted like? Are you expecting to build your kingdom here or are you looking to Christ’s coming Kingdom?*


*Of course, we should not have an uninvolved escapist mentality. We should hold to our biblically informed views (see Politics?). 

Legalism and License

Too often legalism is not really legalism but a mere cop-out. If we are confronted with something difficult we know we should do (or shouldn’t do) it is easier to label it legalism and thus not have to worry about doing it. We often, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, excuse “ourselves from single-minded obedience to the word of Jesus on the pretext of legalism and a supposed preference for an obedience ‘in faith.'”[1] We should not use are freedom as a cover-up, or copout, but we should live as servants of God (cf. 1 Peter 2:16) and servants do whatever it is their master tells them to do.

In Romans, there were two ditches that Paul wanted those on the gospel road to avoid; the ditch of legalism and the ditch of license (i.e. antinomianism which basically means anti-law[2]). One of the main things Paul was addressing in his letter to the Romans was legalism and the opposite of legalism, license. Thomas Schreiner points out that “the Jews of Paul’s day had distorted the law and used it for legalistic purposes.”[3] He was writing to Jews and Gentiles and defending the gospel to them. Some of them, to whom Paul wrote, believed that they were saved by works of the law while others believed that instead of keeping the law, even the law of Christ, they should sin and let grace abound.

Paul told the two groups that they were both wrong. He told them that no one is saved by works but that salvation comes by faith in Christ. He told them that people are saved by faith but faith is not passive, it is active. He told them that they are not to sin that grace may abound. He told them that none are saved by works but he called them all to works. Here we will seek to apply Paul’s dealing with the Jews and Gentiles to the problem of legalism and license in our present day. Often times in today’s day we go over the rumble strip on the gospel road and then we overcorrect and go into the ditch of legalism or the ditch of antinomianism but Paul exhorts us to stay out of the ditches and keep to the gospel.


There are two types of legalism: salvation by works and extra-biblical commands that are not found in Scripture.[4] The first, salvation by works, is a grave and damning doctrine. Robertson McQuilkin says that:

“Relying on obedience to moral law or observance of ceremonial law for salvation (Rom. 3:20, 28; Gal. 2:16; 3:11, 21) has been the historic theological meaning of legalism. Much of what Paul wrote to the churches in Rome and Galatia was to combat this deadly heresy… It has ever been man’s method of attempted salvation.”[5]

This type of legalism is grave and damning because, as Thomas Schreiner says, it “has its origin in self-worship. If people are justified through their obedience to the law, then they merit praise, honor, and glory. Legalism, in other words, means the glory goes to people rather than God.”[6]

“Legalism claims that the death of Jesus on the cross was either unnecessary or insufficient. It essentially says to God, ‘Your plan didn’t work. The cross wasn’t enough and I need to add my good works to it to be saved.’”[7] This is a despicable thing. Imagine going to a king who you have severely rebelled against and offering a dirty, nasty, bloody rag, as payment to fix your rebellion. This king would surely be insulted and not forgive you your rebellion but rather count that as further rebellion. He would send you, the rebel, to the racks to be tortured. The insult to the king would be all the more insulting if he had provided a way for you, the rebel, to go free from your due punishment by suffering the punishment himself. We serve a King who suffered the death and punishment we deserved; we can but except His gift of righteousness. We cannot offer our own righteousness to Him. Our righteousness is but bloody rags.[8] However, praise the Lord, Jesus canceled our debt and nailed it to the cross (Col. 2:14)!

The second form of legalism is extra-biblical commands that lead to “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). This type of legalism doesn’t come right out and say your saved by works but it does teach as doctrines the commandments of men (Matt. 15: 1-9; Mk. 7:1-7). To say that we must obey things that scripture doesn’t say we must obey is the second form of legalism that I am addressing. Many in this camp, as Bryan Chapell has said, think of God as a “perpetual Santa Clause who is making a list and checking it twice to punish the naughty and reward the nice.”[9]

McQuilkin points out that “it is quite possible to teach salvation by grace through faith alone and yet be legalistic.”[10] This is the group of Christians who are known more for what they are against rather than what they are for; namely, the good news of Jesus Christ. This group’s slogan tends to be something like; “we don’t dance, we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls that do.” Paul would rebuke both of these groups.

We find in scripture that the law was made to increase transgression so the power is not in more laws but in Christ who has fulfilled the law perfectly. It is in and through Christ that we keep the law. It is also by God the Spirit’s empowerment that we can work to fulfill the law of Christ. We do not need more commands or works to make us righteous, rather we need Christ our King to make us righteous.

License (Antinomianism)

License (antinomianism) in our present day is at least partially an overcorrection to legalism. Legalism is a grave teaching, in part, because it casts a long dark shadow over the implicit and explicit commands in scripture. “Legalism” as Randy Alcorn says “can be a convenient label to cover our unwillingness to obey God.”[11]

Antinomianism is often a reaction and repulsion to legalism; however, antinomianism does not get the gospel right either. Antinomianism also stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel just as legalism does; however, they are different misunderstandings. Often times our reaction to being saved by faith alone is to leave it alone but as we know true faith is never alone. We, in fact, are saved by faith alone but true faith can never be left alone. Legalism gets the “faith alone” part wrong, whereas, antinomianism gets the “never alone” part wrong.

The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms says,

“Generally, Christian theology has rejected antinomianism on the basis that although Christians are not saved through keeping the law, we still have a responsibility to live uprightly, that is, in obedience to God’s law of love in service to one another (Gal 5:13-14) as we walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16) who continually works to transform us into the image of Christ the Creator (Col 3:1, 7-10).”[12]

So, typically within evangelicalism antinomianism is denied. It is denied on paper but often times in our hearts and heads we reject not anti-law but the law of Christ.[13] It is because it is too difficult to live and love as Christ that we are anti-law of Christ. We often feel it is too hard to live radically and be like Christ so we do not even heed the exhortations to be like him we instead deny them as legalistic. What we do not realize is that by Christ’s death and resurrection we do have the power because we have God the Spirit indwelling us.

Often those that are anti-law (though, they may not say they are anti-law) say that to uphold biblical commands, especially, some of the more radical commands is legalism, however, this does not fit either definition of legalism. We are in fact to uphold all the biblical commands and admonishments, however uncomfortable they are and however radical they are.[14] McQuilkin similarly says, “The term legalism is applied by most people to attitudes and activities that are thoroughly biblical or at least legitimate.”[15] It is antinomian to label things legalistic that are legitimate mandates for the Christian. This reaction to what we are called to as Christians has given us an excuse to avoid a life of joyful conformity to the life of the cross, the Christ-like life. McQuilkin further points out that:

“The existence of a set of rules and regulations or a code of law does not constitute legalism (Gal. 6:2; 1 Tim. 3:2; Rom. 8:2). If on the basis of our spiritual blessing in Christ we are expected to walk worthy of our calling and obey the commands of God, then a desire to obey God does not constitute legalism (Eph. 1:3; 4:1; 5:8; Phil. 1:27). Having to do something is not legalism (1 Tim. 3:2; Eph 5:28; 2 Thess. 1:3; Rom. 15:27). Paul spoke of owing, being indebted, obligated-having to do something. Having a list of don’ts is not legalism (Rom. 12:2; Col. 3:9; Gal. 6:9; Eph. 4:25-5:18; 1 John 2:13).”[16]

If we feel as though we do not have to obey God’s Law, we will disobey God’s Law; the opposite of the law is lawlessness. We must obey because to not obey is to disobey. The problem we face in our discussion of legalism is people’s misunderstanding of what and why we are to obey. I cannot tell you everything that you must obey but I do believe that far too often we label things as legalistic when they are rather legitimate commands and exhortations from scripture.

Two groups are anti-law. The first group is against any law and only believes in grace and freedom to do whatever the heart desires; this extreme is not very common. The second form is much less extreme; they simply do not believe that it is necessary to live out the commands and admonishments of scripture and often instead paint them as legalistic although they are legitimate and do not claim to bring justification in any form. Just like legalism both of these groups that are anti-law would be rebuked by Paul. What then is the answer that Paul gives to the two opposing ditches of the gospel? In the next section, we will see his solution.

Paul’s Answer

How did Paul deal with those that insisted that people are saved by works and how did Paul deal with those saying that works are of no significance? This is what we hope to discover, explain and apply to our present situation. I hope to apply this to the two groups of legalists and the two groups that are anti-law.

Paul repeatedly says that no one is justified by works and in fact if people were than Christ would have died for no purpose (Gal. 2:21). If one reads and rightly understands Romans 3:9-19 they will understand what Paul says next; that “by works of the law no human being will be justified” (Rom. 3:20). Part of the reason why we cannot be justified by works is that nothing good dwells in us, that is, in our flesh. For even if we have the desire to do what is right, we do not have the ability to carry it out (from Rom. 7:18). Schreiner says that “Paul rejected the law as a way of salvation because human inability to obey it. No one can be justified by works of the law because no one can keep the law perfectly.”[17]

Paul says that salvation is by grace, which is unmerited favor, so it is not on the basis of works, otherwise grace would not be grace; it would not be unmerited (from Rom. 11:6). Paul says that no one is saved by works but that anyone that is saved is saved by Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. The righteousness of God is obtained not by our obtaining it on our own but rather it is through faith in Jesus Christ (3:22). We are justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus as a gift (3:22) and gifts are given, they are not worked for. Through Jesus, we have obtained access by faith into the grace in which we stand (5:2); it is through Jesus by faith not by our works. “There is no salvation by balancing the records. There is only salvation by canceling records.”[18] It is the very fact that God the Son once and for all balanced our records that causes us to live radical God-exalting lives. It is not the other way around. God does not balance our records because we live for him, we live for him because he eternally balanced our records.

We have been justified by his blood (5:9) and not our works. That is why Schreiner says “we do not gain righteousness by working for God, but by letting him work for us.”[19] Paul who had been a Pharisee of Pharisees or you may even say legalist of legalists, exclaimed, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:24). Paul, a formal legalist, saw that he could not merit God’s favor so he answers his question in praise “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:25). Salvation is through Christ and Christ alone can deliver us from our bodies of death.

If people are not in Christ no matter how sincere their good works are they are still condemned but there is no longer condemnation for those that are in Christ who trust in Him for salvation and not their works (8:1). It says in Romans 10:9 that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” We are justified by faith alone apart from works (3:28) but then what place do works play? Should we sin that grace may abound (6:1)? If our good works do not save us, why should we perform good works?

The law for Israel was a blessing but part of the reason it existed was to bring knowledge of sin. Paul himself said that without the law he would not have known that coveting was sin (7:7). The law increased knowledge of sin (3:31) and the amount of sins (the more rules there are the more rules there are to break). Schreiner similarly says, “Sin’s tyranny holds sway through the law and is maximized through the law.”[20] According to McQuilkin until a person

“Understands the just requirements of the law, a person will not seek salvation. So long as there is no great problem, one is not concerned about a solution. Until the ears of the heart are opened by the thunders of Sinai, one does not truly hear the beautiful grace note of Calvary. Thus the law and grace are two sides of the single coin of God’s salvation. Without grace, law is a terrifying destroyer. Without law, grace is meaningless.”[21]

The law points us to our need for Christ because we cannot uphold the law; however, Christ perfectly fulfilled the law and brought to us a new covenant. Augustine said, “The law was given that grace might be sought; grace was given that the law might be fulfilled.”[22] Christ changed the law, and I believe in doing so upped the ante.  For we have always been commanded by God to be holy as He is holy but now after His incarnation, after His life on earth, we see more clearly what that means. We are to be like Him in His life and in His death.

We are now released from the law and now we serve in the new way of the Spirit (7:6). We still serve but now we serve by the empowerment of the Spirit. Douglas Moo points out that some Christians have taken the fact that we are not under law, but under grace “to mean that believers are no longer obliged to any set of commandments. But again, Paul is talking about the law—the law of Moses—and not any law in general.”[23] Romans 7:4 says, “you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him [Jesus] who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” We are now released from the law but we now belong to Jesus and we are called to bear fruit for God or you could say we are called to good works for God.

We fulfill the law ultimately because we are in Christ and he has fulfilled the law. We have fulfilled the law because Christ has taken our sin upon himself and given us his righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21) but we are still to uphold the law, that is, the law of Christ. We are still commanded to do good works. We fulfill the law because we are in Christ but we are also told to, by the Spirit, fulfill the law by loving. Love is fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:10).[24] We fulfill the law by loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind; and our neighbor as our own self (Matt. 22:37-38). Jesus said in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you.” We are to love others just as Jesus has loved us (1 John 3:16-18; 4:9-12). This is no easy charge but by the power of God the Spirit indwelling us we can be equipped and transformed to love as Christ loved.

Romans 3:31, has been a difficult verse for commentators to understand, it says “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” Various understandings have been put forward about what it means to “uphold the law.” Moo says;

“Most interpreters think that the very next chapter supplies the answer. Paul’s stress on faith upholds the law because the law itself teaches that Abraham was justified by faith (Gn 15:6, quoted in 4:3). This might be right. But note that the word “law” is not being given its usual meaning… We therefore are encouraged to look for other possible interpretations.”[25]

Schreiner says that this verse “recalls (Rom. 2:26-27) and anticipates his [Paul’s] positive comments on keeping the law (8:2-4; 13:8-10). The moral norms of the law still function as the authoritative will of God for the believer.”[26]

Moo adds that this verse

“might mean that Christians uphold the law by obeying the command of love that Christ  made the heart of new covenant ethics. But a better alternative is to look to Romans 8:4 for elaboration of 3:31. In this verse, Paul claims that the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in believers. How is it fulfilled? Not by us, for we always fall short of the law’s demands, but by Christ, who perfectly obeys the law. Those who are “in Christ” therefore fulfill the demand of the law.”[27]

Schreiner chimes in again and says, “The idea is not precisely that the law is fulfilled by faith in Christ (contra Moo 1991: 257), but rather that those who have faith in Christ will keep the law. Schreiner points out that Paul

“Wants to guard against a common misunderstanding here: some may have objected that if righteousness is not through the law, then the law is abolished…” but “…righteousness apart from the law’s commands does not mean that believers can dispense with moral norms of the law.”[28]

I believe the point is that those who have faith will keep the law. “The work of the Spirit (8:2) and the work of Christ on the cross (8:3) enable believers to obey the law.”[29] The believer is empowered by the Spirit to keep the law (7:6 cf. John 14:16-17; Gal. 5:16; Ezek. 11:19-20; 36:26-27) and in fact has kept the law perfectly in Christ. “Obedience to the… law has never been intended as the way of salvation but as the appropriate response to salvation already received.”[30] When Paul, in Romans, proclaims the gospel he is not saying that people are saved by works or that works are not important but he is saying that because Christ saved us we should offer our very lives to God in worship. Moo says it this way, “The ‘indicative’ of what God has done for us does not render unnecessary the ‘imperative’ of what we are to do; rather, it stimulates it and makes it possible.”[31]

Even in the Old Testament obeying God’s laws was not a means of obtaining salvation but rather an act of praise for salvation.

“God and Moses perceived obedience to the laws, not as a way of precondition to salvation, but as the grateful response of those who had already been saved. God did not reveal the law to Israelites in Egypt and then tell them that as soon as they had measured up to this standard He would rescue them. On the contrary, by grace alone, through faith they crossed the Red Sea to freedom. All that was required was belief in God’s promise that He would hold up the walls of water on either side and see them safely through to the other shore.”[32]

It is precisely because we can never measure up to God’s holy and perfect standard that we offer our lives as worship because in Christ we now can measure up. Paul solves the problem of legalism and antinomianism by showing that good works are a response to salvation not the precursor to salvation. The legalist should now perform good works not because it will make him righteous but because Christ has made him righteous and likewise those who are anti-law should live by the law of Christ because Christ has set them free from the damning affects of the law.

Peter said to “live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Similarly, Paul said, “You were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13). In Christ, yes, we are freed from the damning affects of the law but it does not say we are freed from obeying the law (Rom. 3:31). On the contrary, we are now free to obey the law. We are now, in Christ and by the Spirit, free to serve Him because we are now free from the slavery of sin, and are now slaves of righteousness (cf. Rom. 6:18-22). So freedom does not merely mean that the restrictions and commands are gone, though praise the Lord many are, but it means that we have power and joy in living within the purposeful, so called, “restrictions”[33] and commands. We no longer must obey the written code but we must follow the law of Christ and bear the fruits of the Spirit “against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:23).

In Romans Chapter six, essentially the same question is asked twice “are we to sin that grace may abound?” (6:6; 15) and both times Paul’s response was “By no means!” Paul basically gives Jesus’ argument that a good tree bears good fruit. Paul said that you are slaves to whom you obey, either to sin which leads to death or obedience that leads to righteousness (6:16). In other words, if you are a good slave, you will serve God, the good master, and if you are bad slave, you will serve Satan, the bad master. Schreiner rightly adds:

“The illustration from slavery is inadequate because the relationship believers have with God is shorn of all the negative elements present in slavery. We should not conclude, though, that the slavery illustration is a poor one (cf. Schlatter 1995: 149; Moo 1991:619). For the image of slavery rightly denotes that God is our master, to whom we owe total commitment.”[34]

Paul “is not here teaching that a Christian ought to be a slave of righteousness but that every Christian, by divine creation, is made a slave of righteousness and cannot be anything else.”[35] You will know a slave by the master they serve. John MacArthur says, “All men are either mastered by sin, which is to say they are under the lordship of Satan, or they are mastered by righteousness, which is to say they are under the lordship of Jesus Christ.”[36]

We were once slaves of sin but now are slaves of righteousness so we serve God not because it saves us but because we have a new Master and this loving Master gives us the free gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“Those who live under grace show that they are under grace because they have a new master (God) and are liberated from their old master (sin). Paul refuses to accept any abstract understanding of grace separated from concrete daily living. Grace does not merely involve the forgiveness of sins. It also involves power in which the mastery and dominion of sin is broken.”[37]

John Stott says, “Conversion is an act of self-surrender; self-surrender leads inevitably to slavery; and slavery demands a total, radical, exclusive obedience.”[38] Paul does not appeal to the Romans to obey God and perform good works to earn salvation but because in Christ they have obtained salvation. “Obedience neither produces nor maintains salvation, but it is an inevitable characteristic of those who are saved.”[39]

Paul is obviously not legalistic because he defends passionately that salvation is by grace alone and through faith alone; it is a gift of God so that no one can boast. He also tells the Romans that they are not to sin that grace may abound and he calls them to radical gospel living. “Only the Son of God could have paid the cost of salvation. But He calls His followers to pay the cost of discipleship[40] (Note: Matt. 16:24-25).

In the same place, that Paul says that salvation is not by good works (against legalism) he calls them to good works (against antinomianism). So what is meant by good works? Good works:

“Conduct or actions that may be deemed good or morally upright. In Christian thought, such acts are motivated by love for God and flow out of the desire to obey God’s will. They are not intended as means to merit divine favor or means for personal gain, but are expressions of gratitude to God for the divine unmerited favor already received, and they are an integral part of the life of devotion to God and imitation of Christ. Finally, good works are not the products of human effort alone, but are the outworking of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.”[41]

McQuilkin rightly adds to the definition by saying “God appeals to his children to obey both from a hope of a reward and a fear of loss (Ezek. 3:17-21; 33:7-9; Dan. 12:3; 1 Cor. 3:10-15). But the highest motive is love. Obedience out of gratitude for all the gifts of grace is the best antidote to the virus of legalism.”[42]

In Romans 6:19, Paul says “present your members as slaves to righteousness.” John Stott has said, “Conversion is an act of self-surrender; self-surrender leads inevitably to slavery; and slavery demands a total, radical, exclusive obedience.”[43] We were slaves to sin, we obeyed it as our master, but now we are slaves to righteousness, to God, now we serve a new Master (Rom. 6:15-22). We must obey our Master. However, we must be further reminded that our Master made it possible to serve Him, by serving us on the cross, whereby we our obedient slaves (justified) and capable of obedience (sanctification).

Paul reminds the Romans that though they use to belong to another and they used to serve the sinful flesh, now they serve God and are told to bear good fruit (7:4). Paul calls the Romans to present their bodies as living sacrifices but he grounds it in worship (12:1). Martin Luther adds we “owe (God) a reasonable sacrifice and not animal sacrifices, for this is proper according to the new Law (of love).”[44] Radical living out the gospel is a result of worship of God and not trying to earn worth from God. In Romans 12:6-21 we see that Paul is clearly not against the law. He calls the Romans too many good works but once again not to merit grace but because of the grace that God has shown. He calls them to hate what is evil (12:9), contribute to the needs of the saints (12:13), and not to be slothful in zeal but be fervent in spirit (12:11) among other things.

There is almost a paradoxical nature to salvation. We are saved by faith alone but faith is never alone. A good tree bears good fruit and a servant of righteousness will show he is a servant of righteousness by serving God and being righteous. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Luther had taught that man cannot stand before God, however religious his works and ways may be, because at the bottom he is always seeking his own interests…” yet “…grace had cost [Luther] his very life, and must continue to cost him the same price day by day.”[45] Also, look at what grace cost Paul, the author of Romans, himself. It cost him beatings… and his very life. What might grace “cost” us?

Bonhoeffer said:

“The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from the grace. But those who try to use this grace as a dispensation from following Christ are simply deceiving themselves.”[46]

We are saved by faith alone and Jesus is our Savior but he is also our Lord. Christ cannot be our Savior if he is not also our Lord. “The gospel demands that we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and live out the implications of that lordship.”[47]

As we have seen in Romans, as in scripture in general, the author will have a moral command or some sort of admonishment but then will ground it in the gospel. You see this same thing in the Old Testament, for example in Leviticus 11:44-45, God calls the Israelites to be holy and then says for, or because, I brought you out of Egypt. We, as Christians, are not simply given bland commands that we are to follow; we are given reasons why we should joyfully and radically serve God. We are told in Romans 15:1-3 not to please ourselves but instead to please others because “Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’”


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 80. Elsewhere, he said,

“When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person. The grace of his call bursts all bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. It transcends the difference between the law and the gospel. Christ calls, the disciple follows: that is grace and commandment in one. ‘I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy commandments’ (Ps. 119:45)” [Ibid., 59.].

[2] Law in Greek is the word nomos (Greek: nomos) so antinomianism (anti nomos) literally means against law or anti law.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, The Law & Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 93.

[4] The second type may or may not be implied by scripture because peoples understanding of the application of scripture is different. The culture in which we live may be different and therefore reflect differently how we are to respond to different scenarios. Note Paul’s argument on food offered to idols in Romans 14 and first Corinthians 8.

[5] Robertson McQuilkin, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1995), 54.

[6] Schreiner, The Law & Its Fulfillmen,15.

[7] C.J. Mahaney, The Cross Centered Life (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2002), 25.

[8] Isaiah 64:6: Bloody rags refer to rags that women would use when they were on their menstrual cycle.

[9] Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, 298.

[10] Robertson McQuilkin, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1995), 54.

[11] Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity (Carol Stream, Il: Tyndale House, 2003), 187.

[12] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki, Cherith Fee Nordling Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press,1999), 12.

[13] Note: Gal. 6:2; 5:14.

[14] It should be noted here that not all commands still apply to us New Testament believers and I also realize that there will be various understandings of these commands and thus various ways and degrees to which these commands will be lived out.  

[15] Robertson McQuilkin, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1995), 56.

[16] Robertson McQuilkin quotes Paul Wright from class notes on “Legalism” (Columbia, S.C.: Columbia Bible Seminary and Graduate School of Missions). Robertson McQuilkin, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1995), 57-58.

[17] Schreiner, The Law & Its Fulfillment, 44

[18] John Piper, The Passion of Jesus Christ (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 33.

[19] Schreiner, The Law & Its Fulfillment, 97-98.

[20] Ibid., 83.

[21] McQuilkin, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics, 65.

[22] Ibid., 63.

[23] Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 116.

[24] Note: 1 Cor. 13.

[25] Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans, 87.

[26] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 207-08.

[27] Moo,  Encountering the Book of Romans, 87-88.

[28] Schreiner, Romans, 208.

[29] Schreiner, The Law & Its Fulfillment, 151.

[30] Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England –Gen. Editors Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Reference, 2003), 1016.

[31] Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans, 116.

[32] Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England –Gen. Editors Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Reference, 2003), 1016.

[33] I say it this way because if a kid was playing in the front yard and was “restricted” from playing in the road it is not merely a restriction but a loving restriction or loving bondrey.  If we have the outlook that the rules that God gives us are simply commands and restrictions it takes the fatherly love out of the equation; something that is very important to have for any child to obey his parents. So, God’s commands and restrictions should rather be looked at as loving wisdom, though, at times harsh, that a father shares with his child.

[34] Schreiner, Romans, 333.

[35] John MacArthur Romans 1-8 (Chicago: Moody Press,1991),  344.

[36] Ibid., 343.

[37] Schreiner, Romans, 332-33.

[38] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 183.

[39] Schreiner, Romans, 347.

[40] Ibid., 353.

[41] Stanley J. Grenz and Jay T. Smith, Pocket Dictionary of Ethics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 48.

[42] McQuilkin, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics, 56.

[43] Stott, The Message of Romans, 183.

[44] Martin Luther, Commentary on The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 151.

[45] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 49.

[46] Ibid., 51.

[47] Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans, 117.

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