Paul here broaches on a topic that, at first, seems ludicrous; and yet obviously was quite a cause for concern, as he mentions it various times throughout his epistles. “If God’s righteousness is revealed through our unrighteousness,” he begins. God loved the Jews, who in turn, very much wronged Him. This shows Him to be the victor, in that even in their disobedience and unrighteousness, He responded with grace, mercy and love. Thus, He displayed His faithfulness to their covenant even through their unrighteousness.
“Therefore,” Paul continues, “is God unjust to inflict wrath? (I speak as a man).” See, from a human perspective, a man may argue that since his unrighteousness was the instrument which was used of the Lord to display His own faithfulness, then the man should at the least not be punished for his unrighteousness; perhaps he should even be rewarded for it. See, in our warped, diseased sense of reality, we consider that since the Lord’s faithfulness is displayed through our unrighteousness, then the more unrighteous we are, the more strongly the Lord’s righteousness will be displayed. To put this into a more concrete sense; if I steal a hundred dollars from you, and you forgive me, then your forgiveness is displayed as a result of your response to my transgression. Thus, they reasoned, the larger and more numerous the transgressions, the more that forgiveness would be displayed. In fact, if I steal 100$ from you and you forgive me, then your forgiveness is recognized by those who know about the situation, so if I were to do so again and again and again, then that would give you multiple chances to display that forgiveness, right? In fact, they argued, not only should I not be punished for my transgression, I should actually be rewarded for it, since had I not stolen from you, no one would know how truly righteous and forgiving you are.
It’s absurd when we consider it in human terms, and yet, when we consider this concept in terms of God, we actually force it to make sense. We consider this concept that the Lord will be glorified all the more for His forgiveness and faithfulness to His covenant the more wicked that we are; thus we expect no punishment for our sins. We so often tend to forget the apostle’s admonishment that “the goodness of God leadeth us to repentance.” (Romans 2:4).
And Paul’s response to this? Should we be rewarded for the transgressions that allow the grace of the Lord to shine? Is God unjust for deigning that we deserve punishment for our sins? “Certainly not!” proclaims the apostle. “For then, how will God judge the world?” The exhaltation that the Jews offered would be, in fact, all the greater were it offered the world over. If through the disobedience and forgiveness of His Holy Nation His grace and forgiveness were displayed, how much more glory would He receive if He were to merely ignore and forgive the sins of all in the world?
And yet, how could a “just and righteous Judge” judge any if He allowed the sins of His very children to go unpunished? See, Jude warns us about just this, about those who would pervert the grace of the Lord into licentiousness. Paul here is offering a similar warning. The grace of the Lord is not given that we would have the freedom to continue in sin. His very salvation is a healing from this sin, and we must be willing to surrender those fleshly desires, those impulses to lust, to avarice, to anger, to self-loving, to pride; we must be willing to deny our flesh this desire to please itself and instead bring our bodies into submission. No, this thought that the Lord would neither change nor punish us for our sins doesn’t display the Lord’s grace, it rather paints this false image of the Lord as apathetic and impotent. It imagines Him as being powerless to free us from the bondage to our sin, and uncaring as to the detrimental effect that sin has on us.
I fear that this image of this impotent, uncaring God is the image that we in our generation present to the world. Consider that we preach the God is all loving, all caring, that the Lord wishes that none of us should perish; coupled with the teaching that there is no work that we should ever associate with our salvation, that there is no effort on our behalf, that salvation is nothing more than a one time decision to “accept Jesus into our hearts.” When you combine all of those thoughts, you end up with the image of a God who will save anyone who mentally acknowledge His position amongst the heavens. And then that person, in absentia of true faith, unwilling to work, and yet still “saved,” begins to tell the world that he is a “Christian” and yet his life in indistinguishable from the unsaved in the world. When we combine all of that, we image for the world a God who never seeks to change a person, who never seeks to save them, who allows them to remain in their sin. We image a God who has neither the desire, nor the power, to actually save anything; a God who has no power over our lives. I will admit, it is true that we paint that image of that God, because we create that God. But, the true God actually has the power to save us from our sin. Jesus has the love to rebuke us rather than leaving us to die in our transgressions. Consider this: consider that a loved one is become a drug addict. The least loving thing that you could do for that person is to leave them alone in their addiction. The absolute least loving thing that you can do is say, “it’s bad, but that’s just them, I’m going to leave them to be them.” No, the most loving thing that you could do at that point would be to do whatever you could to get them to quit, to help them to get help. See, our culture has confused tolerance and love. You can “tolerate” the behavior of any, but that doesn’t mean that you love them when you do so. To the contrary, when you “tolerate” the behavior of someone lost in sin, you are displaying apathy, not love. And that, not merely to their detriment, but to your own. James warns us that “whoever knows what is right to do and doesn’t not do it, to them it is a sin.” (James 4:17). The prophet warns us, “woe to those who call good evil and evil good.” (Isaiah 5:20). Our culture has done exactly that; it has taught us to care more about our friendships than our friends and more about our family ties than our families. It has taught us that to love someone is to accept them for whoever they are, and even encourage those very behaviors which are most hazardous to their health. To allow us to sin unpunished would display neither God’s compassion towards us, nor His power to save us; rather it would reduce Him to a benevolent, powerless, old man who has neither the desire nor the power to save us.
Paul ends this passage in quite a sarcastic manner. In response to the many who has already begun twisting the words of his teachings, Paul states, “Why not say, ‘Let us do evil that good may come?'” See, as early as his letter to the Romans, false teachers had already begun to twist his words, his teachings on grace, to state that we can, and in some cases should, abandon holiness so that grace could abound all the more. On the other side were the Jews, whom he is referencing here, who were saying the exact opposite. They were claiming that what he was teaching was that we should be allowed to, and encouraged to, continue in our sin, so that grace may abound. And this claim they made because he was teaching against the man-made traditions; he was teaching against the traditions of the Jews. What they neglected to notice, blinded by their own unwillingness, was that he was never teaching a form of anti-nomianism, but rather he was teaching in accordance with the laws of God, but rejecting the laws of man. He was teaching that we are to be obedient to the Lord, but that obedience can only be gained through faith in our Lord. That there is work to do, there are works that are required, but in absentia of faith in God, those works alone will never be complete. The power of the Law was the power to recognize sin and our need for our continued cooperation with the Lord to break free from the bonds of that sin. It requires us to be fully dependent on the Lord, but still willing and able to put forth the effort necessary to overcome our iniquity; all while fully relying on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to give us the strength, the guidance, the conviction to do so.
We must remember the same thing, my beloved brethern. Think not that through our own works that we can be made righteous; however, neither can we presume that the Lord will hand us our righteousness in absentia of our willingness to respond. The nation of Israel had been promised a land overflowing with milk and honey, led to the border of the land, and promised the victory in battle; however, the Lord still demanded that they take the step of faith of actually going into the land and fighting the victory. That is where each of us stand daily in our walk of faith. We stand at the threshold of righteousness; but we must be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to attain to it. “Whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” Peter admonishes us. And it’s true. To break free from these bonds will require work, and possibly suffering; but, like all of the promises of the Lord, we know that is we are willing to go into the battle in faith, He will guarantee our victory. “For He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
May the grace of the Lord be with you all, my beloved family. Christ is risen!