for we reckon that a man is justified by faith, without works of law --Romans 3:28
What then shall we say? Should we continue in sin that grace may abound? --Romans 6:1
I was listening to a sermon from Voices for Christ recently. I'm afraid the vast majority of what I have heard of "ministry" in the last several months has been the product of sloppy exposition, careless reasoning, and wild eisegesis.
The speaker talked somewhat about Romans 6:1, and mentioned that someone to whom he had been speaking said something to the effect that, "if what you're saying is true, then if I believe, I can just do whatever I want."
"No," the speaker responded, "that's not how it works."
Excuse me, but that's exactly how it works.
It seems that more and more Christians have been so afraid of antinomianism, they've been willing to compromise on the very Gospel. The Gospel of the grace of God is very simple:
3* For I delivered to you, in the first place, what also I had received, that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures;
4 and that he was buried; and that he was raised the third day, according to the scriptures;
5* and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
6* Then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the most remain until now, but some also have fallen asleep.
7* Then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles;
8* and last of all, as to an abortion, he appeared to *me* also.
(1 Corinthians 15:3--8).
Whoever believes on Him is justified freely by God: his or her sins are completely forgiven, and he or she has peace with God. That is the Gospel that is repeated throughout the Epistles and explicated most fully in Romans.
There is no room in the Gospel for hedging bets. Romans declares "but to him who does not work, but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness" (Romans 4:5). So there are two requirements of a sinner:
- not to work
- believe on him who justifies the ungodly.
Thus a sinner can exclude him or herself from the Gospel be either working, or by not believing "on him who justifies the ungodly". If a sinner is trying to be better, then he's working: he's not going to be justified. If a sinner tries harder, he may be believing "in God", but he's not believing in the God of the Gospel, the God who justifies the un-godly.
As one close friend puts it: there is nothing to do, only something to believe.
Now the Scripture declares that we are justified "freely by his grace" (Romans 3:24). There's no point in a stingy "gospel". That sort of thing makes for good guilt trips, but it's not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches a Gospel in which sinners are justified "from all things from which ye could not be justified in the law of Moses" (Acts 13:39).
And in a sense, it has to. A "gospel" that relies in the tiniest degree on goodness in a sinner is utterly worthless. A "gospel" that doesn't mean we can "just do whatever [we] want" isn't good enough. That sort of "gospel" can never actually do a sinner any good, because sinners by definition are eventually going to do something really, really bad. Any "gospel" not big enough to cover any sin (no matter how heinous) just isn't enough.
Frankly, the "gospel" hinted at in this sermon just doesn't cut it. It's not enough to rescue the sorts of sinners that the Bible describes. It's not free enough for the sort of sinner we meet in real life. It might be enough for some theoretical sinner: the sort of person who's done "something wrong," but real sinners need more than that. Real sinners sin really bad. Real sinners need a Gospel with no limits: anything less will leave them burning in Hell.
I find it interesting how frequently Romans 6:1 is mis-quoted. People like to think it answers the question of "Can we just continue to sin?" But that's not at all the question Romans 6:1 raises. Romans 6:1 deals with the question: "Shall we continue in sin?"
If a sinner asks, "so can I just believe and then do whatever I want?" the answer has to be "Yes!" Can't we see that any other answer means there is no hope of salvation in the Scripture? Doesn't the Scripture teach that we are justified from all things? Any limit ---any limit--- means there is no hope for you or me. None. Any "gospel" that hedges on that answer is absolutely insufficient for the real needs of real sinners.
But if the sinner asks, "So, do we just keep sinning then?" Then the answer is "God forbid!" The issue is not whether we can just keep sinning---of course we can! The issue is, shall we just keep sinning? And to this the answer is an overwhelming "Of course not!" And that leads into the argument that essentially spans chapters 6--8.