I've been thinking about grace a lot in the past few weeks. My mom and I are in a women's Bible study at our church this spring, and we are going through Grace to Stand Firm, Grace to Grow, by Carol J. Ruvolo. As evidenced by the title, the study is on grace, more specifically Peter's perspective on grace in I Peter.
I realized that I've been confusing grace and mercy and sort of lumping them together even though they are different. One lady at the study on Tuesday described grace and mercy this way: Grace is giving to someone what he doesn't deserve, while mercy is not dealing to someone what he justly deserves.
I like D. James Kennedy's simple yet profound definition of grace: God's riches at Christ's expense. Jerry Bridges described grace as God's free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment. To put it personally, I, who was once poor in my filthy rags of sin, have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ.
I think it is easy to see grace as a one-time deal; we "make a decision", Jesus comes into our heart, and extends grace to forgive our sins. What we tend to miss is that grace is also a continual process, a renewal and a sanctification. Jerry Bridges recognized two dimensions of grace: God's free and unmerited favor that is granted to us by salvation, and a continual sanctification by the Holy Spirit, as an ongoing release from the bonds of sin.
When we are saved by God's mercy and favor, the journey has only just begun! God is not finished with us, and he will continue to remold and refine us to become more and more like Him. Romans 6 is an excellent passage on righteousness and sin. I memorized Romans 6 a few years ago, but unfortunately it has mostly flown the coop, so I was reviewing it and recommitting it to memory today.
(As a side note, does anyone have advice on memorizing scripture and having it "stick"? I can memorize a whole chapter of scripture in a day or two if I press myself, but it doesn't last, even with continual rehearsing for several days or weeks. A few weeks of no exposure to the passage, and it's mostly gone. When I was younger, scripture - and the catechism - just stuck in my brain with very little effort. I still remember scores of verses and catechism questions that I memorized in elementary school but haven't rehearsed in years. I think my myelin sheaths are wearing down. . . )
The aforementioned passage is an entreaty to continually die to sin and walk in newness of life (v. 4). 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 (v. 6). The first 13 verses of the passage continually expound on the truth of our death with Christ and our resurrection with Him. Verses 15-23 carry the same message as the earlier ones.
Stuck right in the middle is v. 14:
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Verse 14 is one of the most oft' mis-quoted portions of scripture. Reading it in context today, I was especially struck by the irony of its use as a proof text for antinomianism. The verse is surrounded by a treatise to righteousness, to continued sanctification. We are not under the weight and the guilt of the law, but we are slaves to righteousness (vv. 16, 18, 19, 22)!
Paul even answers the antinomians of his day, first at the beginning of the chapter, then immediately after v. 14:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (vv. 1,2 )
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? 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? (vv. 15, 16)
We are slaves of righteousness! Our guilt is gone and we are free from sin in Christ, even as we are slaves of righteousness. We are no longer under the weight of the law (v. 14) but that does not mean we can do "whatever we want" just because our eternity is secure. I was saved (justification), I am being saved (sanctification), and I will be saved (glorification). Thanks be to God!