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Not Under Law but Under Grace

Jun 25, 2017

Passage: Romans 6:12-14

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Pentecost


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. What to do with our sin? You know that old, archaic notion that hardly anyone ever wants to talk about?! Sin is lawlessness. It is living against our Maker and living against His design. We are broken. We don’t really want to talk about it. It is too overwhelming. We look within ourselves and what we see fills us with a real kind of despair (in 2nd Cor 1:8 there is a kind of despair that even Christians know). We know guilt for what we’ve done and for what we have not done; we know shame for the kind of people we really are in our hearts, and we know fear, because we feel like a train wreck is coming. This condition can’t end well. And, so we are also in pain, and being in pain we spread more pain. It’s like a disease. We cry out – even if just silently -- but who is going to answer? We want to love and be loved, but who is really going to love us if they really knew us?

What I’m describing people of God is not out of the ordinary. Real people know real pain and it all comes from sin. People wonder, “What is wrong with me?” There is a reason that professional counseling and therapy is such an important resource in our lives and we are fortunate if we get connected to good professionals. There is also reason why the pharmaceutical industry has become so important to so many. Depression and anxiety is rampant. And that’s just the top of the heap. So much of our emotional pain and mental anguish translates also into physical pain and chronic disorders. And all of it, at the end of the day, is because of this thing called “sin” that came into the world.

It is a terrible enemy and it is very, very serious. And remember this does not imply a one-for-one correlation between sins that are committed to other maladies (though this is possible), but we are rather getting to core sin (hereditary sin) -- what we call “original sin” -- the sin that is within our hearts. This sin has wracked our entire being and now our bodies experience dying and they experience death. This is how bad this thing called “sin” is.

But just when we thought it was game over, Romans chapter 6 comes around. It describes a different life. A life unexpected, but real; truly amazing when we understand it and know it. New.

Not an easy life, but a blessed life; a life that leads to glory, but the Romans 6 descriptor of this new life comes only after chapter 5 (I know my arithmetic is wowing you), but last week we looked at the life-changing revelation of Romans 5 that when we were weak, ungodly, sinners, enemies of God, Christ died for us. He shed His blood to cover us when we were this horrendous disaster and nothing but AGAINST Him! So, St. Paul teaches us: if this is what our Lord was willing to do for us when we were His enemies, then imagine what He will do for us now that we are declared righteous and have become His friends?!

St. Paul doesn’t waste any time to tell us about what The Lord does for us as His friends and this is where a cataclysmic shift occurs in St. Paul’s writings about the Christian life at Romans 6. St. Paul is now describing what the Lord has chosen to do for us as His friends. He has chosen to change our relationship with sin.

This terrible disease is all-of-a-sudden something that God says no longer has dominion over you (v 14). Oh, you’ve still got it and it’s still very bad, but it can no longer MASTER you!

Everything has changed between you and sin, because NOW you are in Christ. You had – past tense – an old relationship with sin. An old relationship referred to as being “under law,” but NOW there is a NEW relationship with sin (your current one as a baptized Christian) that is called being “under grace.” The two relationships could not be more divergent.

“Under law” meant that sin was your master and controller. All you had to respond to sin was the law, but all the law can do is make sin bigger. The law makes sin known. The law puts a big spotlight onto your sin! The law reveals how you fall short of God’s standard, so it makes your sin stand out!  Even when you try with all your might to keep the law, your sin just keeps popping up! It’s inevitable. This is what the law reveals.

God says for example, “Love me with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind!” And almost the split second that we hear this command, we are already distracted by things in this world that we treat as being more important to us than God. We love so much and God isn’t very high on our list! So, to be “under law” is to always have the condemning voice of God’s law directed at you. It is a miserable place to be, because we keep breaking the law. To be under law is to be under condemnation. And it’s no wonder why a person can feel despair…it’s like that scab keeps getting peeled off. We never heal and we’re always in pain.

But because you are in Christ and because everything that Romans chapter 5 teaches is true (what God did when you were His enemy), chapter 6 begins this tour de force on what God does for His friends! He starts to heal the pain. And He does it by changing your position. He changes your place in the universe. He changes what is over you. He takes away the “under law” status and totally changes it – in your favor for His friend, for you His child – and puts you under a new status. Under law is gone! Now, you are under grace!

So now the law comes around to try to accuse you, but instead of the person dominated by sin, it finds a new you dominated by Christ. Jesus predominates now. He covers you. He wraps you in His righteous robe. He enfolds you in His overflowing love. He pours His mercy on you. Christ is predominant for you now! Christ takes over. And you are in Him. So, when the law now comes to you in Christ and tries to accuse you and condemn you, the law fails! It falls short! Because it can’t accuse and condemn Jesus who covers you!

That’s why things have changed!

Do you see Christian?! You are no longer a slave to sin. It can’t be magnified anymore! It can’t engulf you! It can’t be your master, because the law sees Jesus over you! And with grace, with Jesus, law is only kept. Before, it could only be broken, but with Jesus, it is kept. It is completed. Its demands are met. And all this Jesus has done for you His friend.

That’s life now…life in Christ. So now, when you approach the law, things are different under grace. Law can’t magnify sin, so sin itself has lost its control. O it’s there plaguing us. It is still there to battle. It is still there to confess, but it’s not your master! You are now called to simply believe what God has done. He has put you Christian under grace, pure grace! And grace can’t be dominated by sin! Because grace covers all sin. It points to Jesus whose love and mercy has dealt with all your sin. New ballgame! New life!

So, with this view, St. Paul says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.” It doesn’t dominate you anymore and that’s just a fact. This is what the power of God has arranged. This is His gift to you, His friend. So even though sin is still there, and even though you are tempted to give into it every, single day…you don’t have to. You by the Holy Spirit working through Christ’s Word and Sacrament, have a choice. And that’s just a fact!

Therefore St. Paul can instruct this way and he uses the word “members” to refer to the parts of your body: “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness [that’s what used to happen when you were under law], but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (v 13).” This is what it’s like to be under grace! And that’s you, because you are baptized, because Christ has clothed you into Himself!

Are you still tempted? Do you still feel the strain of sin? Are you still sometimes in-the-midst of the battle feeling – emotionally – even coming upon despair? Yeah, and that’s normal, but don’t forget this truth: sin is no longer in control! Jesus is. Now God gives you in the new life – as a gift to you – the ability to present the parts of your body as no longer an offering to old Master Sin, but now as an offering to Master Jesus, Savior Jesus, your Best Friend Jesus who helps you!

Sometimes we wonder what is wrong with us? It is simply that we forget who our helper and advocate is: Jesus Christ. Turn to Him. He is the answer! He is the healer! He stops the bleeding! And being in Him baptized one, you have a new life…under grace! It’s a whole new ballgame now!

Luther is great here with his practical counsel: “When you have wicked thoughts, you should not on this account despair; only be on your guard lest you be taken captive by them...Wherever faith comes into being, there comes a hundred evil thoughts and a hundred temptations more than before. Only see to it that you act the man; do not suffer yourself to be taken captive; continue to resist and to say: I will not, I will not.” (St. L. IX: 1032 as quoted by Francis Pieper in Christian Dogmatics: Volume 1:565)

And Luther helps us about how to form our expectations now that we are under grace. What it doesn’t mean is that our awareness of sin is less. Much to the contrary, it increases. We are more aware so that we can be more vigilant, more watchful, less shocked by it, and more apt to call on the Lord. What does this amount to? It amounts to a battle, a struggle and this is proof that your faith is alive.

Don’t misread it Christian. Sometimes we are tempted to think that because we struggle, maybe we’re not Christians. No, it’s the other way. The Christian and only the Christian really knows the battle! Luther again: “When in the lives of erstwhile believers the struggle of the spirit against the flesh has ceased and the sins again become dominant, then these believers have fallen from faith.” (Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Volume 1:569) I share  this so that we have formed the right expectations. Sin still confronts us and it is still very painful and we still cry out, but don’t leave out rest of the story!

You are under grace, not under law. You are covered in Christ! Sin no longer has domination. So, Christian, hear…this is what the Lord will help you do:

  1. Don’t let sin reign in your body to obey it (v 12).
  2. Don’t present your body parts to sin to do bad, but to God to do good (v 13).
  3. Sin no longer has dominion over you, because you are no longer under law, but under grace! (v 14)

These are the facts about your new life! These are the facts about what the Lord has done for you, His child; His friend!

And as for our relationship with one another. Let’s not pretend that we don’t struggle, but let us bear one another’s burdens. Let us love each other. We can do it, because Christ already loves us! We can do it, because sin is no longer our boss…yes, we still battle it, but Jesus is with us now. We are under grace!