Why Should I? – Part 1

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,
enduring forever;
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?”

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6 responses to “Why Should I? – Part 1

  • Jonathan

    Glad you enjoyed it 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement.

  • David

    Oh…I don’t know why we wouldn’t…maybe…because…we’re sinners?

    Pursuing holiness apart from the regenerating work of Christ might actually get us to look better and changed faster, but it’s cutting a crucial “corner,” namely, that our righteousness is Christ’s, not ours. The emphasis in the Romans passage you quoted (very appropriately, I might add) should instead be on “the one who has died is dead to sin.” In the context, that is Christ…not us. So the only hope we have of fighting sin in a biblical way is not through us seeing the Law as sweet, for if we could do that, then men could be saved apart from Christ.

    No, instead we realize that our obedience flows not from us but from Christ…the emphasis is on Christ and must remain there.

  • Jonathan

    Hey Dave,

    First off, I said “should” not “would.” If I had said “would” it would be much more a question of ability instead of a question of motivation. That would be an article solely on the doctrine of regeneration, and not so much on the effects of it as this one is.

    Second, I’m pretty sure that in the second paragraph before the Psalm 19 quote, even though I don’t use the word “regeneration” it’s rather obvious that I’m speaking of that and not moralism or legalism. I completely agree with you that our righteousness is found in Christ and not ourselves, however we are exhorted to pursue holiness. I don’t see how that’s “cutting corners” or simply “looking better.”

    I also don’t believe that seeing the sweetness of the law nullifies our sinfulness or in any way can help us be saved “apart from Christ.” I wrote that we still want and crave sin, but as Romans 6 makes clear, when we do put our faith in Christ and are released from the curse of the law, we are also freed from the power of sin.

    And let’s take a closer look at the first 14 verses of Romans 6. Yes it says that Christ has died and is dead to sin, but Paul says in verse 11 that Christians “also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” So is Paul’s focus still solely on Christ in your mind? I hope so. And if so, I don’t see how I’m saying anything differently.

    Frankly, I don’t see anything in your post that in any way explains what sanctification looks like other than that it “flows not from us but from Christ.” Could you explain to me how that works maybe? Biblically it works in a way that when we are saved we are also regenerated and we begin to produce good works which were created beforehand for us to walk in (Col. 3:10, Eph. 2:8-10). Is it for salvation? No. Are we in control of it? No. But does God use exhortation to prod us along? Absolutely.

    I also think you need to understand that this isn’t an article about salvation, but about sanctification. Biblically, there is a clear distinction made that we need to be able to articulate. In doing so I’m not removing the emphasis from Christ.

    Part 3 of this series will more coherently explain my position on keeping the gospel in focus in regards to sanctification. I understand that our moral efforts are pathetic and this article won’t change that. This first part was simply a primer to hopefully get us to look at the law of God in a more biblical manner instead of the knee jerk reaction that we often have to rules. I understand our need for keeping the gospel in focus, but I hardly think that this article fails to do so.

    Sola Fide my friend.
    Love you dearly.

  • David

    Jonathan, you pointed to the law as the solution to the problem, when the law is NOT a comfort. The Law is *demanding* our obedience…and you sugar-coated it by saying, “Not so tyrannical, huh?”

    Tyrannical, no. Demanding and giving NO WAY of ever obeying it? *Yes*. The “Free Gift” is not the Law, brother…the Free Gift is Christ giving of Himself for my sin and imputing His righteousness to me.

    The passage you quoted, “Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” That’s all well and good, but *you* don’t keep the Law and neither do I. The Law has been kept by Another…that’s the ingredient you’re missing.

    You can say “sola fide” all you want, but with all due respect and love, your post flies in the face of Galatians 3:2-3: “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Sola fide is not just the rallying cry of justification, it is the rallying cry of sanctification and this passage proves it.

    I love you dearly as well. You’re getting very dangerously close to going back to pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps or seeing the Law as sweet in order to obey it more fully. That is *not* the biblical application of sanctification. The biblical application is that it’s fruit flowing from the imputed righteousness of Christ being bestowed upon us by faith.

  • David

    One last comment that I forgot to address: “But does God use exhortation to prod us along? Absolutely.”

    What is the content of biblical exhortation? Certainly not naked, “This is what you should be doing.” No, my friend…it’s “This is the Gospel!” for 3 chapters in an epistle and then instruction on what that looks like, lived out. So you’re turning the process on its head and starting from Ephesians 5 and working your way back to Ephesians 2 (realizing that you aren’t going to Ephesians 5…but I’m showing the error you’re making direction-wise).

    There’s a lot more to address here, but time precludes me from doing so. I’ll give you a call sometime soon.

  • Aaron

    Dave,

    Again, you are missing the point of the post. This is in no way about justification. Indeed Christ has done that work for us and keeping the law cannot add to that. The post is about sanctification, and the gospel is, in fact, the locomotion for our sanctification.

    In Romans 6 Paul talks about not going on sinning because while we were once slaves to sin we are now slaves to Christ. I don’t think anyone would question that there are demands on the will of a slave, no matter how loving or gracious the master is. But there is nothing that says that this justification saves us. But it IS evidence of whose we are.

    Dave, your reaction is all about the gospel for justification. What you seem to have difficulty with is seeing our exhortation to good works in Scripture as anything more than driving our need for a Savior.

    Why did the Israelites rejoice when they received the law? Because they knew what God expected of them. Granted at that time they were held subject to the law of Moses and that Christ has loosed us from those bonds. But does the law not have a third use? Does that third use demand perfect submission in light of the gospel? Of course not.

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