What if we have misdiagnosed the problem and therefore have come up with the wrong solutions in all the history of religion and moral philosophy? One man turned the problem and solution on its head.
One of the most remarkable verses in Paul’s epistles is Rom 6:14.
For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Let’s see how grace is qualitatively different from the standard solutions offered over the centuries by rewriting Rom 6:14.
A standard Christian: “For sin shall not be my master because I don’t live in sloppy hyper-grace, but I follow the Ten Commandments! And for good measure I repent from every little bad thought I have! All my mental energy goes to muttering words of repentance under my breath minute by minute! I follow this endless sequence: Sin – ask – sin – ask -sin – ask!”
A devout Muslim: “Grace? What’s that? To avoid sin, I follow the countless rules in shariah!”
A devout Jew: “New Covenant grace? Sorry. To avoid sin, I follow the 613 laws in Judaism, especially the Ten Commandments!”
A Buddhist: “I will retreat from the world and meditate, and perhaps I will achieve Nirvana. All other humans will simply have to do enough good to advance themselves to a better existence in their next life here in this earthly realm.”
A moralist: Grace, divine or otherwise, is not needed. I use reason to figure out the moral law in order to embrace virtue and avoid vices.
A Marxist: “To avoid the vices of greed and the love of money (the root of all evil), I will redistribute the resources in society and achieve perfect equality of outcomes. This equality will produce a utopia of goodness and smiles!”
An unfettered capitalist: “Greed is good. Making money is virtuous. Losing money is vicious.”
An egoist in the spirit of Ayn Rand: “Grace is a religious concept for the weak. The only virtue is selfishness, looking out for number one. The only vice is weakness that gives in to religion and guilt-tripping from priests and pastors.”
A professor of education: “We can teach students how to be virtuous and avoid vices.”
A scientist: “Science can experiment with morals and behavior and figure it out.”
Atheistic evolutionist: “Much like the scientist, we can figure out what virtue is. It is rooted in the survival of the fittest. People with brainpower rise to the top. Maybe that’s what virtue is–strength and in the philosophy of Nietzsche, virtue is embodied in the blond hair, blue-eyes beats.”
A self-helper: “I can use willpower to avoid vices and move towards virtue. Grace is not needed.”
A modern psychologist: “Embrace who you are. There is no vice or sin. It’s simply your identity! You’re already good!”
An intellectual: “Indubitably and other big words! Much like the scientist, I can avoid vice by brainpower! I can use a cost-benefit analysis to figure out how to do the good and avoid the bad.”
A utilitarian: “Much like the intellectual and moralist, I too can use brainpower to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest number in society, and this means people will seek to do good, which is the best path to maximum happiness.”
A virtue ethicist: “When people live in excellence and in balance, they move towards virtue, like courage, and avoid vice, like cowardice. Practice makes perfect.”
A Kantian: “To achieve goodness, one must have good will and use reason to figure out the universal law that binds people to do the good and avoid the bad.”
A Platonist: “One must have a soul that functions in excellence. Be good and then do good.”
All these alternatives to Rom 6:14 place their followers under a kind of law: The law of willpower, the law of self-effort, the old law of Moses, the law of Muhammad, the law of brainpower, the law of egoism, the law of brute power, the law of the jungle, and so on.
The fatal flaw in all those alternatives is contained in this simple addition:
Human nature + religious law = Human inadequacies and ultimate failure
Human nature + moral law = Human inadequacies and ultimate failure.
Human nature is the problem.
Instead, Paul said (paraphrased), “If you don’t want sin or vice to dominate you, get out from under old religious law and moral law and come under grace.”
Here’s a suggestion, if sin dominates you. It comes from 2 Cor 5:21 and even the first three chapters in Ephesians.
Here’s 2 Cor 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
And here’s a sample verse from Eph. 2:6-7: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
In those verses, we are supposed to confess who we are in Christ. That’s the gospel, the good news. And the gospel = grace.
In him, we are his righteousness. In him, we are now seated with him in heavenly places. We should confess those truths even while we’re sinning!
Let’s say your sin that easily ensnares you is one of these: Porn, gossip, bad temper, intoxication, or whatever. While you’re smoking weed of getting drunk or checking in on your favorite porn site, confess who you are in Christ. (Yes, you can repent too, if you want.) But the main thing is to say out loud (confession) your position in Christ, even while or before or after you sin. Watch how that domineering sin of yours fades away after a while!
Objection: “That’s hyper-grace! If weed smoker confesses he’s righteous while he lights up a joint, he’ll be deceived! We must use the law to scare him to become righteous and good!”
Reply: The law has its place, but consider this verse: “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20). An angry preacher angrily preaching an angry message cannot accomplish the righteousness of God. Rom 2:4: “God’s kindness leads you to repentance.” Apparently the objector believes in the power of the law to transform the weed smoker more than the power of grace. No, only grace can change him from the inside out.
All that is being asked in this post is for a Christian (or a sinner) to confess the gospel he has already received (a Christian) or is about to receive (a sinner). To believe the gospel is not a work. Belief in this case is simply a surrender that receives the gospel. Then the power of grace will transform him thoroughly, either instantly or gradually.
Alternatives to grace? Reject them. Receive the gospel instead.
The gospel = grace!