Morality is a strange thing. It’s something that I’ve consistently wrestled with over the past few months. The reason I’ve had such a struggle is primarily because my own sinfulness and the gospel in response to it have become much clearer to me as of late. When the gospel becomes clearer, the questions presented by Paul in Romans 6 begin to (and unquestionably should) pop up, summarized as: Why should I?
If all that the Bible says about being saved by faith apart from works, but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, then what’s the point of morality? If I can do what I want and it has no bearing on my standing with God, then why not? Why not give in to all of my pride, lust, and anger instead of vigorously fighting it? Why should I? I’d like to try to be a small help in the answer of this question in a short series aptly entitled, Why Should I?
More Sin, More Grace
After Paul effectively explains the mystery of the gospel in the first five chapters of Romans, he then moves onto two very similar questions in chapter 6. The first in verse 1 being, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” To this first question Paul’s answer is, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” He expounds more thoroughly on this from verses 5-7:
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.
The second question asked in verse 15 is, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” And Paul’s answer, “By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
I’ve read these verses many a times, knowing the significance of the questions being asked, but trying without much luck to grasp what Paul is saying in return. It seems almost as frustrating as his answer to the question of Romans 9:19, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” which is a blunt, short, and scathing, “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” So much for the deep, philosophical answer I was looking for…
But I really am beginning to think that Romans 6 is much more explanatory IF we have a clear picture of what the righteousness of God is. I think the nature and motivation behind these questions is NOT a misunderstanding of the gospel, but quite the contrary. If we understand the gospel correctly, it should spawn these difficult questions. Instead I believe that the real issue behind these inquiries is a misunderstanding of the law.
The Power of a Free Gift
The flavor of both of the answers of Paul in this chapter is that we are “set free from sin” to “present” ourselves as “obedient slaves” to God, “which leads to righteousness.” But our problem is that…we don’t want righteousness! We want sin! We crave sin. How then does chapter 6 work? Herein is the catastrophic breakdown and misunderstanding of the righteousness of God.
Yes, our flesh craves sin. Yes, we want sin. But what Paul tells us is that we have been freed from being slaves to sin and instead slowly we begin to have the ability to want something entirely different as our satisfaction with sin begins to wain. Even through our struggle with sin, we begin to see the joy staring at us in the background, which is quite surprisingly called righteousness.
Growing up and even often today, I had and have this distorted view that the law of God is a series of oppressive commands from a tyrannical God. But this is quite contrary to the Bible. Take for example (and I would recommend meditate on) one of my new favorite passages of Scripture, Psalm 19:7-11.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Not exactly tyrannical huh? In fact it sounds rather…loving. Now this is a strange way to look at morality. Loving commands from a loving God that we, as sinners, can never completely attain while on earth because we’re too depraved to see the beauty of it.
Therefore, “Why should I?” to the motivation of pursuing holiness may be the wrong question; maybe the better question would be, “Why in the world wouldn’t I?”