1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? 3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
How does the gospel get cheapened? There are two major ways: legalism and antinomianism. While legalists seek to earn God’s favor for their salvation by keeping the law, those who hold to antinomianism try to convince themselves and others that Christians can live in a sinful lifestyle (or disregard God’s law) because God has already forgiven them of their sins. In other words, they believe that the divine grace opposes the divine law. Thus, they are called anti (from Greek anti, “against”) + nomianism (from nomos, “law”). In today’s text, the apostle Paul specifically refutes the people who embrace and promote such an idea.
Antinomianism Defined: “Let’s continue to sin because God’s grace is greater than our sin!”
Paul’s teaching that, where sin abounds (through Adam), grace much more abounds (through Jesus Christ) (Rom. 5:20) has led some to wrongly conclude that it is okay, or even good, for believers to sin. They reason that, when they sin abundantly, God’s grace would be manifest much more abundantly. What do you think? Of course, you know that kind of reasoning is wrong. Can you then explain why? Before we look at Paul’s answer to the question, we must first understand the proper relationship between the gospel and the law.
The Gospel Grace Functions to Uphold the Law
Yes, we “are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14b). But does it mean that we can reject the law or the rules that God has set for us to live accordingly? What does Paul say in Romans 3:31 after he proclaims that we are justified by faith apart from keeping the law?: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law!” In other words, the law is not antithetical to the gospel. But the gospel functions to uphold the law. When Paul said that we are not under the law and under grace, he never meant that the law is unnecessary or problematic for the Christian life. Romans 7 clearly presents Paul’s understanding of the law. For the apostle, God’s law is not the problem (v. 7). Rather, “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good” (v. 12). Then what is the problem? He says, “for we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.” (v. 14). The problem is not the law, but our sin or our sinful nature.
Moreover, Jesus Christ died in order that “the righteousness [or righteous requirement] of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4). As a matter of fact, in the New Covenant, the law is internalized in believers’ hearts: “For this is the [new] covenant… I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts” (Heb. 8:10; cf. Jer. 31:33). This is the power of the gospel and the wonder of the New Covenant, which was inaugurated by the blood of Jesus Christ (Luke 22:20).
Some people falsely reason this way: “Since God accepts me the way I am, I should not get straitjacketed by the law of God. God wants me to be myself!” This is to say, “God is gracious, and he accepts me as I am, and therefore I will remain as I am!” What is the fundamental problem of their reasoning? They fail to understand how the grace of God in the gospel works!
The Antidote to Antinomianism—Union with Christ
Let us come back to today’s text. What is Paul’s answer to the false idea that we should sin more so that God’s grace would abound more?
How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (vv. 2-4).
Why is there no condemnation for us under the law? Because we are united with Christ through faith in the gospel. But that same faith-union leads us to fulfill the requirements of the law in us through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:4). We must understand God’s grace correctly. Of course, His love for us is not based on our qualification or preparation. But it is wrong to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather, He accepts us despite the way we are. In spite of our sinfulness, He receives us only in Christ and for His sake. God never leaves us the way He found us but transforms us in the likeness of His Son so that we would “walk in newness of life.” This transformation does not happen to some Christians but to all. The root problem of antinomianism is that people separate “God’s law from His person, and grace from the union with Christ in which the law is written in the heart.”1 Therefore, according to Paul, God’s grace in our union with Christ is the antidote to antinomianism. When we understand our relationship with Christ, and what God has done through Christ in us, we will correctly understand the relationship between God’s grace and His law and live our lives accordingly. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
- What is the gospel?
- What is the definition of antinomianism? How does it cheapen the gospel?
- How does the gospel grace uphold the law?
- What is the purpose of Jesus death? (Rom 8:4) What does the fulfilment of the New Covenant do to your heart? (Heb 8:10)
- How does your union with Christ encourage you to reject a sinful lifestyle and embrace a holy life?
1 Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ, chapter 7.