More About Grace

Having spent the previous post marvelling at the free gift of God’s grace, I have also been thinking about sin - without which it appears that there is no need for grace. But what is sin?

We have a tendency, in the church, to be fixated on ‘sins’ - thinking of them as moral failures - but as we have seen before, I have grave doubts about this interpretation; indeed, I am beginning to feel that sin is actually a failure to ‘live within’ the image of God which we are supposed to bear in the world - in other words, sin is a failure to love.

But if, for a moment, we suppose that sin is ‘just’ about disobeying God, and take a look at the story of ‘the fall’ (Genesis 3:1-13) we see that God has forbidden Adam and Eve to eat fruit from, or even touch, a particular tree… Which they then touch, and eat from, beginning the whole 'sorry tale’ of humanity’s alienation from God.

And I had a thought. The idea, very crudely, is this.

Imagine a child. You forbid them from doing something - such as ‘Don’t touch the cooker because it’s hot.’ That, if the child is anything like me, creates the desire to touch the cooker (even if only to check whether it really is hot)... Even if I hadn’t thought of it before, now I definitely want to touch it - whether because it’s forbidden, or because there must be something there which I want and/or you don’t want me to have, or whatever - the desire is there now. Even if I really didn’t care before, the seed is sown - sooner or later, I’m going to touch the cooker (probably when I think you’re not looking); I won’t be able to resist; indeed, the more I resist, the stronger the desire becomes.

You don’t want a thing until you’re told you can’t have it - then it becomes the most desirable thing in the world.

Isn’t it a bit like that with sin and the law?

And is that how we get to Romans 7:14-20?

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

But now, if we’re ‘under grace’ we should be set free from the law, shouldn’t we? And we have 1 Corinthians 6:12:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say - but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” - but I will not be mastered by anything.

And is that where Grace begins? Nothing is actually forbidden or condemning us to death any more, so whatever was forbidden is no longer forbidden and so, logically, it should lose that ‘forbidden fruit’ aspect, and so perhaps we begin to lose the desire for it? Can this knowledge (that, even if not necessarily beneficial to us, everything is permissible) actually lead to fundamental change?

I think maybe this leads into the concept of unconditional love... God loves us as we are, with all our perceived faults. It is unconditional; it doesn’t matter who we are, or what we have done, good or bad. We might be Adolf Hitler, The Dalai Lama, Pol Pot or the Pope; God loves each one unconditionally. He doesn’t love some of the things we’ve done, but He loves the person. Once we really realise that we are the apple of His eye; we are His beloved; once we realise that we are accepted just as we are, and that we do not have first to change in order to be loved, suddenly the whole nature of the game has changed...

Grace gives us the license to continue (even if it’s bad for us), but in grace we discover the ability to change. It is in experiencing the license of grace, rather than the legalism of prohibition, that real transformation becomes possible. Once the forbidden fruit is no longer forbidden, it is no longer so desirable. Though, of course, we need to remember the first fourteen verses of Romans 6 (and maybe this expresses, in a different way, what I was saying above)...

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin - because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

It’s entirely possible that God, being God, knew how we humans would react to being banned from touching the tree - he ‘foreknew’ that we wouldn’t be able to resist it, once we knew it was forbidden. And so, we can see that God’s ‘reaction' becomes, not really a reaction to our sin at all, but a long-planned action by which ultimately, through Christ, he can demonstrate his great, all-encompassing, love for all of us...

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. Colossians 1:21

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:44-45

God bless you as you discover the freedom which God’s grace brings.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022