Beginning Prayer: Show me your way, teach me your path, guide me in your truth.
Passage for today: Romans 6
Today we’re going to discover some overarching concepts that will help guide us through the rest of the study, because let’s be honest, Paul is one smart guy and some of the stuff he is saying can be a little like, “Wait, what?” So, let’s take a quick bird’s eye view.
The first part of his letter to the church in Rome (Romans 1-5) shows us how we get to have access to God because of Jesus; it shows us why the gospel is called, “Good News” because Jesus’ death and resurrection gave us ACCESS to a relationship with God again. Chapters 6-8 (the other three chapters we’ll be looking at for the rest of this study) tell us how this good news plays out in our day-to-day lives--how this good news gives us freedom from sin. As Tim Keller puts it, “they tell us how the gospel is dynamite that produces deep and massive changes in our actual character and behavior.” Basically, what Paul is doing in the next part of his letters is taking us from what grace is to how grace works.
And he starts this transition from the “what” to the “how” in his favorite way--by asking a BIG question; it’s so big, in fact that he actually asks it twice in this chapter.
He writes, “well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?” (v. 1), and, “since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning?” (v. 15).
So, he’s basically asking, if it’s true that God’s grace covers all, and being in good standing with God is not dependent on our behavior anymore, than why should I do the right thing? If grace is free, and I don’t have to earn it, then what is keeping me from just doing whatever the heck I want?
If grace is free, why should I love people who are hard to love?
If grace is free, why should I be honest when everyone else is choosing to cheat?
If grace is free, why should I live by the boundaries that God has set up for sex?
If grace is free, why should it matter if I attend church or serve people or give my life away?
If grace is free, why should I do things God’s way when nobody else is?
Paul takes the next three chapters (and many of his writings to the early church) to explain this to us, but it may be helpful for us as we read through them to really define the three possible responses to this grace that God so freely gives. They have more traditional names, but I’m going to refer to them as Performance, License and Grace.
Performance (or legalism) is all about doing and earning. It’s how most Jewish people (some of Paul’s main audience) lived; the only way they could be in a relationship with God was by following the law that God gave Moses. It was about rules and religion, not relationship.
License (or liberalism) misses the point. License mistakes grace for permission; it operates out of entitlement instead of gratitude. This attitude resists the boundaries that God has set up out of love and for our protection and fights against anything that feels uncomfortable. The most painful part of license is that it feels free, but it’s actually bondage.
Grace (or Gospel) is what Paul is explaining and celebrating, while rejecting the other two. Grace is God’s amazing design and the foundation for how we can live our messy, daily lives in relationship with a Holy, Perfect God. It recognizes God’s boundaries, guidelines and commands as protection and good gifts, and it’s the pathway to freedom.
Here’s a chart that kind of lays it out for ya:
So, why does all this matter? Good question. I’m a coffee lover, so let me try and explain it this way. As much as I love coffee, I would never just sit and eat a bag of grounds by the spoonful. What makes coffee great is being able to use a filter, scoop the freshly ground beans into the filter, pour hot water over it and then it fills my cup with the sweet nectar of heaven.
Paul’s explanation of these responses to grace can become an important and helpful filter for us as we navigate our own behavior and growth. We can all error from one extreme to another. Personally, I’m not much of a rule follower (rules are sort of suggestions for me), so I really like hanging out in the “licence” category. But both extremes lead us to a counterfeit of real grace.
If I feel like I can’t ask God for help with something that is overwhelming me because I should be able to do it on my own or I made a mistake in my planning or process, I am trusting in performance.
If I find myself complacent and apathetic and entitled about my behavior that is hurting the people around me, I am trusting in license.
If I am surrendering to God’s way and trusting that He set it up that way because He’s a good Father and loves me, then I am trusting in grace; I’m managing the tension between receiving His unconditional love and obeying His commands. That’s where I want to stay.
(And just one other quick side note: it’s not our job to be anyone else’s filter. The purpose of understanding this is not for me change anyone else but to be able to take a self-inventory of where I’m at right now. Not one of us is responsible for anybody else’s freedom; we are only responsible for our own surrender.)
Our verse to internalize this week is the last verse of the chapter, and it says “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” I used to read this and think that it meant that if I sinned, I was screwed, and that’s pretty much where I stopped. But there is so much good news packed in this tiny little verse!! It’s just reminding us that sin (going our own way instead of God’s) leads to a dead end, and it’s not where we really want to go. If we invest in going against God’s way, there is just no life there. But what God offers, it’s a gift. We can’t earn it and we can’t lose it; it’s free. And if we invest there, we get real life.
Whew! I know that was a lot! But, I hope it will be helpful for us as we navigate the rest of these passages, and pray that God will keep redirecting you back to His deep love for you, which is His heart behind all this.
God, I surrender to you today, even if I don’t understand it all, what I want to do is trust you. To trust both your great love for me that never changes no matter what, and your plan and boundaries for me, which are designed to keep me living a life that is safe and free. Please give me the courage I need to trust you today.
One of the most amazing ways God gives us to connect with Him is through music. Your challenge today is to check out this Playlist throughout the week of different songs that express both devotion and love back to a God who is so devoted and full of love for you. Enjoy!
(See if you can commit to memory, or commit to remember, this verse this week.)
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NLT)