|Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
I was at a conference and, during a short break, I ran up to Pastor Eva and whispered, Look, I have a concern. I wont be there [at the next Adventist Annual Conference] to bring it up but I would like to share it with you since you are the chairman [of the Church Manual Committee].
We went into my office and I pulled down the Church Manual and I shared with him my concern. It was Baptismal Vow #6. Do you remember your baptismal vows? I copied it from my old Church Manual and Im going to read what it says to you, and then Ill tell you what I had explained to him as my concern. This is how it goes, and Im reading it verbatim:
Do you accept the 10 commandments as still binding upon Christians, and is it your purpose by the power of the indwelling Christ to keep this law including the fourth commandment which requires the observance of the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath of the Lord?
Now the thing that bothered me were those two words, still binding. I said to Brother Eva, This is a contradiction of Romans 6:14, because the impression we are giving in this vow is that a Christian is still under the law. He was under the law before, but its still binding on him, therefore, hes still under the law after he becomes a Christian. Paul tells us that we are no longer under the law.
He looked at me and said, You know, you have a point there. He took down notes furiously; I gave him some arguments, some other passages also in the Bible. I want to read now what appears in our modern baptismal vow, and Im glad for the change:
Loving the Lord with all my heart, it is my purpose, by the power of the indwelling Christ of God, to keep the 10 commandments, including the fourth commandment which requires the observance of the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath of the Lord.
There is a world of difference between those two statements. But Ive been in this country seven years now, and I am convinced that the changing of the baptismal vow hasnt solved the problem. I would say that the majority of Adventists still feel that they are under the law. I realize that this is a difficult area, but we have to face it honestly. We have to ask ourselves, Paul, what did you mean when you said that we Christians are no longer under the law, but under grace?
Now I know why the vow was introduced. We were trying to counteract the teaching of dispensationalism, which was something that was introduced to the Christian church about the same time our church was established, in the 19th century, by a scholar by the name of John Nelson Darby. This is what he taught, and this is what the Christian church has accepted to a large degree, a very strong idea still today.
The idea was that God used the law as a means of salvation from Moses to Christ; in other words, our salvation was based on our relationship to the law from Moses to Christ. That is the Old Covenant dispensation.
Then Christ came along and He did away with the Old Covenant, which means He did away with the law, and replaced it with grace, so that since Christ we are under grace and not under law. Therefore, anyone who teaches that the law is still binding is still under the Old Covenant. And thats one of the accusations that comes to us.
It is true that no way does the Bible teach the concept of dispensationalism. In other words, God doesnt have different methods of saving men in different periods of earths history. There is only one way that God saves man ever since the fall of Adam, and that is by grace alone. Paul made that clear in Romans 4. Abraham was saved not by works, not by circumcision, not by law, but by faith in the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
But as I mentioned to Brother Eva, two wrongs dont make a right. In trying to counteract dispensational teaching, we went to the other extreme, which is legalism, which is just as bad as antinomianism. So we have to come to grips with what did Paul mean when he says we are not under the law. First of all, let us look at what he did not mean:
He did not mean that; nowhere in the Bible does he teach that. Neither does he mean that grace and law are antagonistic. Let me put it this way: Who is the Author of the law? God. Who is the Author of grace? God. If grace and law are antagonistic then God is against Himself, and we have a problem.
The difference is this: that in the Old Covenant man was to fulfill that law in order to be saved. In the New Covenant, God fulfills the law to save us. Thats the difference. The difference is not one has the law and one doesnt have the law. Paul does not mean that when He delivers us from under law and puts us under grace He did away with the law or that grace has nothing to do with law. We shall see that grace and law are compatible.
Now when we come to Romans 7, where Paul spends a whole chapter on this issue because its not a problem that exists only today, it was a problem that existed in his day he will tell us how and why we were delivered from under the law. We are not finished with this study; wait till we come to Romans 7, where Paul will go on into more detail. But we need to look at the facts. What are the facts when he says, We are no longer under law but under grace?
As I mentioned, grace and law are not antagonistic. In fact, when Paul talks to the Christian in terms of Christian living, he uses the law as the measuring stick of righteousness.
Let me give you two examples. (I can give you one from Romans 13 but Ill leave that till we come to Romans 13.) But look at Galatians 5:13,14. Now, to understand that, lets look at verse 1 to get the background. Paul says in Galatians 5:1:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Now Paul tells us that Jesus set us free. Free from what? What is he referring to when he says we are free? What does he mean by the yoke of bondage [or slavery]? Well, he explains this to us in Galatians 4:4,5, so we need to go backwards still so that we can understand what it is he set us free from:
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Christ came here under the law. Why? To redeem those who were under the law. God set us free from under the law through Christ. Romans 6:14:
For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
In Romans 6:14, hes simply stating the fact that we are no longer under the law. Why? Because Christ freed us from under the law. Hell explain how and why in chapter 7 of Romans.
But now, in chapter 5 of Galatians, hes telling the Galatians who had given up the gospel of righteousness by faith and had gone back to under law hes saying to them, Please, you stand fast under the umbrella of grace. Dont go back to under law, because its the yoke of bondage.
Does it sound like Paul is against the law? Yes, maybe. But what hes against is not the law, hes against legalism: that is the yoke of bondage. Ill explain why in a moment. But look at Galatians 5, verses 13 and 14 now with this in mind:
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself.
You, my brothers or, as some translations read, brethren, is referring to Christians. We have been called to be free in the sense we are no longer under the law.
And, Paul is saying, dont misuse your freedom from under law. In fact, he says, you must love one another. In fact, he goes on to say in verse 14, when you love one another, you are obeying the law.
So Paul is not against the law as a standard of Christian living. But what does he mean by, You are free from under the law?
I want to remind you of our study of the sin problem, which began in Romans 1:18 right up to Romans 3:20. I want you to notice the conclusions that Paul came to, two of them:
When you put those two together, you have an awful picture. The whole world is guilty when you put those together. Let me explain to you. Turn to 1 Corinthians 15. Why is it so terrible to be under sin and to be under law at the same time? Here it is: 1 Corinthians 15:56:
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
Sin kills, folks. But sin cannot kill by itself; it needs to get power to kill you. When you put sin and law together, the end result is death. Thats the problem. It was no problem for Adam, before the fall, to be under law. It is no problem today for the unfallen angels to be under law. It is a problem for you and me to be under law, because we are sinners, and a sinner who is under law is a person who is condemned.
Did Christ deliver me only from under sin? No. Because even though you have accepted Christ, even though you have been freed from sin as we saw in our last study, dont you commit sins? Or are you sinless? If you are committing sin, then, if you are under law, the law will condemn you, every time you fall.
That is a result that has happened in our church. Our people are full of guilt. Many have no peace, you have no assurance, because every time you fall youve had it. Then you have to go on your knees and say, God, please forgive me, I did not mean what I did. When all the time you did mean what you did. I dont know who youre trying to kid. God can read your motives; He knows your flesh loves sin, including this rascals flesh. So please dont bluff God. You can bluff your Pastor, and your spouse, and your friends, but you cant bluff God. God knows that. So He delivered us from under law that we might have peace.
Is that good news? Yes, but it is dangerous news. Thats the context of Romans 6. Sin cannot touch you, sin cannot destroy you, thats what Paul is saying, because you are not under law, youre under grace.
Let me give you a little experience. In 1975, when we were on furlough from Ethiopia, we were at Andrews University, and my wife has a sister in Toronto [Canada] so we went to visit her. Of course, the cheapest car we could buy, like it is today, were those big cars, with eight cylinders that drink all the gas, but you can buy it cheap.
So I had this V8 engine under my hood. But I had a terrible problem. The American government had passed a law: 55 miles per hour double nickels thats no speed for a V8 engine. And I had two backseat drivers: my son and my daughter, especially my daughter. Every time that needle passed 55, she told me in no uncertain terms that I was under law, that if I did not slow down, the police would get me.
She was amazed, as I was, that in America they dont catch you speeding by coming and driving along side you. They have a little gun, called radar, that tells them your speed, and they hide in corners where you dont see them. My daughter knew that; she said, This is America, this is not Africa where they chase you. [In Africa,] when you have a faster car, or a faster motorcycle, they have a hard time to give you tickets. That was the freedom we had in Africa.
But we crossed the border, and we were in Canada. In Canada, the roads look very much like Americas. What she did not notice, but what I noticed, was that the speed limit in Canada was 75 miles per hour. Now I was free, no longer under double nickels. So that needle went up, to 65, to 70. And my daughters heart rate went up, and up, and up. She kept screaming at me, and then she looked back and what do you think she saw? A police car, with the lights flashing, coming towards us. I was doing 70 m.p.h., and she thought that the police were coming for me. Now I did not know what he was coming for. I thought for a moment maybe I had done something wrong. But I kept to 70, and she said, Look, hell get you!
I said, All he can do is put me in jail.
And she said, Who will drive? I was the only driver in that car. You can see why my kids suffer. Anyway, the car came, it passed us, and she sighed in relief and said, Daddy, you are lucky. No, I wasnt lucky. I was no longer under double nickels. I was free. He couldnt touch me for speeding because I was not speeding in Canada.
I would be taking advantage if I went over 75. I was free, but I was not free to go any speed I wanted. Under grace youre free, but you are not free to do what you like.
To be freed from under law is wonderful news. You can sleep tonight, not having to worry whether you will make it or not. BUT, its dangerous. Look at Romans 6:15. You will notice Paul is repeating the same question that he does in verse 1, except in verse 1 hes dealing with the other dangerous statement which we covered in Romans 5:20:
The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.
The only reason why hes asking the question in Romans 6:15 is because to be free from under law is dangerous for sinful mankind because they can pervert it. Romans 6:15:
What then? Shall we sin [using the present continuous tense, Let us enjoy sin] because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Is this what it means to be free from under the law, that we can sin, do what we like? And the answer is God forbid! or By no means! (Now hell give a good reason after having made this statement, but that is our next study, verses 16-23.)
But now I want to tell you about the good news. But I want to warn you that, after you hear the good news, if you go out and tell your friends, Isnt it wonderful that we are no longer under the law? Therefore we dont need to keep it, I will come after you, because I am not teaching that. Is that clear?
Paul is not giving us this freedom; neither is your Pastor giving you that freedom. But it is important for us to know that we are free from under the law. Ill tell you why. Because God is not concerned with your performance, Hes concerned with your motive, or why you do what you do.
If you are doing the right thing out of fear of punishment or out of a desire for reward, that is not Christianity, that is Paganism. That is why we need to understand that Christians serve God for a different reason than the Pagans serve their gods. Otherwise, Christianity is no different from other religions. They have very high moral standards too, sometimes higher than ours. But the difference is that a Christian serves God with appreciation, with joy, with peace, with love.
Now what does it mean, what are the privileges to be under grace? First of all, as I mentioned, grace is not antagonistic to law. Secondly, grace has not done away with the law. We are not under the Old Covenant, but that doesnt mean that law has been done away with. I gave you Galatians 5:13,14; now let me give you Hebrews 8:10:
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
What does God do in the New Covenant? He takes the same law that He freed you from under, but He doesnt put you back under it, but He puts it where? Where does God put that law? Not on tables of stone to put fear into you, but He puts it in our hearts. He makes it part of our desires, and thats where He puts it.
Now, what does it mean to be under grace? Let me give you some of the privileges, or some of the advantages. To be under grace, and not under law, means that every time you fall, you do not become unjustified. Is that good news? Yes. But as I mentioned, that does not give you the liberty to do what you like. Is that clear? When you sin under law, who gets punished? Does the law say to you, Well, I love you, and I know you disobeyed me, but, because I love you, I will take the punishment.
The answer is no. The law will never sympathize with you, and the law will never take your punishment. The law will only execute punishment on you. In other words, under law, who suffers when the person sins? The sinner or the law? The sinner. Thats our problem.
Does grace ignore sin? No. Does grace excuse sin? No. Is grace righteous? Yes. Is grace just? Yes. Therefore, it cant ignore sin. But the difference is that, under grace, who suffers, the sinner or the Author of grace, Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ.
Let me explain it, and the way that Ill explain it is basically in terms of the statement we read in Galatians 4:4:
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law....
When God sent His Son, He sent His Son under law. Suppose I have a tithe envelope here, which I hold over my head. Let us say that this is the law; its above me. I was born under the law, you were born under the law, because in Adam all men were placed under the law. Now what did Christ do? Did He do away with the law? No. What did God do? He sent His Son under the law. So Christ came under the law, and I, I am no longer under the law, Im under Christ, or Im under grace.
So Christ has taken my place under the law. If I had a choice of myself being under the law, or Christ being under the law in my place, which one would I prefer? Well, I know that Im a failure, but I do know one thing: that Christ obeyed the law perfectly. And my position in Him does not condemn me because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Is it because Christ did away with the law? No, He did not do away with the law, but He fulfilled the law. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to all who believe.
So if the law says to me, Youre a sinner; you must die! I will say to the law, But I already died, in Christ.
Or, if the law says to me, You must obey me to live, I will not say to the law, Im trying. I will say, In Christ, I have already obeyed you. Because under grace I have righteousness. The righteousness that the law demands from me I already have, in Jesus Christ. Thats good news. I have peace, I have assurance.
Now I gave you Galatians 5:13,14: Do we allow this freedom to lead a licentious life? And the answer is No. Let me give you another text, this time not from Paul but from Peter. Turn to 1 Peter 2:13-16:
Submit yourselves for the Lords sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is Gods will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men....
What does he mean by living as free people? We are not doing good because we will be punished or to get a reward. We are free from that anxiety. Christians dont do good or try to keep the law because they want to escape punishment. They are free from that problem. But then why do we do good? 1 Peter 2:16:
Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.
Paul will expand on this Himself when we come to our next study, Romans 6:16-23. We are servants of God, of Jesus Christ, and Christ is the Author of righteousness, not sin.
Please remember that sin has results. Under the law, sin punishes the sinner. Under grace, sin punishes the Author of grace. In other words, to sin under grace does not mean condemnation, but to sin under grace is saying it is okay for Christ to be crucified. Sin to a Christian is not breaking a commandment; sin is putting a knife into Christ. Because that is what the Old Testament taught the believer about sin. In the Old Testament, when the believer sinned, he brought a Lamb to the sanctuary and what did the priest do? The priest gave him a knife. What did he do with the knife, kill himself? No. What did he kill? The lamb, confessing that, My sins killed you. How then can you treat sin lightly under grace? Sinning under grace is putting a knife into Christ. We must hate sin for what it is and what it does to our Savior.
But I want to bring a third privilege of being under grace, and that is this: under the law, when you did good or when you tried to keep the law, you did it for two reasons: out of fear of punishment or out of a desire for reward. That is what we normally do when we are under law.
Let me give you an example. Yesterday I sent a big fat check to a place called IRS [Internal Revenue Service, to which U.S. citizens pay taxes]. Ill tell you honestly, I did not do this out of joy, or because I love to do it. If I had my own way, I would not send a single penny, especially the way they spend their money in this country for things that I dont agree with.
But when I pay my tithe, I dont pay for the same reason I pay my taxes. I pay my tithe for one reason, I pay my taxes for another reason. I pay my taxes because Im under the law while I live in America. I discovered that an American who travels abroad is still under the law of America as far as the taxes are concerned. I learned it the hard way.
During my years in the mission field, I did not send any tax return. I said, Well, Im living in Ethiopia. When I came here, they caught me and said, Why havent you paid tax? Why didnt you send a return?
I said, Nobody told me; I was living in a foreign country.
That doesnt matter, they said. Youre going to pay a six percent fine for all that you owe.
So I had to bring my papers, and they calculated, and you know how much I owed? Zero. Because six percent of zero is zero. I said, Ill be happy to pay that. Because I wasnt earning enough to pay a single cent [in taxes] in the mission field. Thank God for that part, at least. I could do with more money, but thats a different story.
But why are you trying to obey Gods law? Is it the same reason that you have to pay your tax? Then you havent understood the gospel. When I look at the law, I do not look upon it as dos and donts: You better obey me or else! That no longer applies to me, because I am no longer under the law. But when I look at the law, I look at the character of my Savior, and I say, This is how I want to be.
But I want to give you one more privilege under grace. Grace doesnt only free you from condemnation, grace doesnt only free you from the curse, but grace, as we saw when we did Romans 5:2, is also a POWER that makes it possible for you to keep the law. I am what I am by the grace of God, says Paul to the Corinthians. And the grace that was given to me was not in vain, I labored more than you all [the apostles].
Grace is a power that can give you victory over sin and produce in you the character of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is grace, and that is the privilege that we have as Christians. So it is a wonderful thing to be under grace: no more condemnation, no more insecurity. There is peace, there is assurance, but there is also power under grace.
I want to conclude with the danger of saying good-bye to grace. Let me put it this way: as long as you are living under the umbrella of grace there can be no condemnation, sin has no more dominion over you, sin cant execute you. You know why? Because sin can execute you only when it gets power from the law. But you are no longer under the law. Therefore, sin cant touch you in terms of the wages of sin. Sin can hurt you, yes, but sin cant touch you. Because, under grace, it is not the sinner who suffers, but Christ. And it is only when you have understood this that you can understand the words of David. You know what David said about those terrible things he did with Bathsheba and her husband? You know how he prayed? He said [Psalm 51:4]:
Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight....
What did he mean? Didnt he hurt Bathsheba? Didnt he hurt her husband? Her husband died because of what David did. But what David did to those two did not deprive them of heaven, do you know that? But what David did to Christ was put Him on the cross for his sins. And David realized that the real person that he hurt when he sinned was not Bathsheba, was not her husband, but was a Savior. Therefore, he said [Psalm 51:10]:
Create in me a pure heart, O God....
When Joseph was tempted [by Potiphars wife] he did not say, I better not do this because Ill be punished. He said [Genesis 39:9]:
How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?
Thats how our attitude should be towards sin.
As long as you are living under grace, you are free from condemnation, you are free from the curse, because sin cant touch you, because you are no longer under the law. But please remember that the day you say good-bye to that umbrella of grace, which is possible, you are finished. How do you say good-bye to grace? Not by falling, but by deliberately, willfully, persistently saying, I dont want Christ any more.
There are three ways that the devil will try and get you to say good-bye to grace. So one of the greatest burdens of the devil is to get Christians out of grace. I want to expose you to the three ways. Ill give you one text for each of them.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.
Some men had come and perverted the gospel of Jesus Christ. What was the perversion, found in chapter 3? You were perfect in Christ, through the Spirit. Now youre trying to improve your perfection by works, by circumcision, by keeping the law. In other words, perverting the gospel is making salvation partly of Christ and partly of you. Thats what happened to the Galatian Christians.
I mentioned before that grace and law are not antagonistic; they are in the same camp. BUT grace and sin are never partners. Grace and sin are antagonistic. Therefore, if you try and save yourself by your performance, you are not saving yourself by grace, you are saving yourself by under law. To save yourself by lawkeeping and to save yourself by grace are not compatible; they can never be married together. So Paul says in Galatians 5:4, thats the text Ill give you for that one:
You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
In Christ we have righteousness full and complete, 100 percent. You cant add to that, you cant improve on that. The moment you try to improve on that you are saying good-bye to Christ, youre denying Him, youre rejecting Him. So one way the devil will destroy your position under grace is to put you under legalism, and it is in this sense that Paul says to the Galatians, Please dont give up your freedom in Christ and go back to the yoke of bondage. Thats Galatians 5:1:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
In verse 4, If you use the law as a means of salvation, youve fallen from grace.
The prodigal son is an example. He says, Im tired of living under my father. He discovered later on that living under his father was ten times better than living under the world. So Ill give you a text, 2 Timothy 4:10. Demas was a core evangelist with Paul. But what does Paul, in prison, say to Timothy? He says [2 Timothy 4:10]:
...For Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.
When he deserted Paul, Demas deserted what Paul stood for, the gospel, because Paul was in prison for the gospel. Tragedy.
All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
In other words, how did you come under grace? Grace belongs to God. The umbrella is for all people. But how did you come under it? By faith. How do you leave it? By unbelief. Unbelief is a deliberate rejection of Christ.
It is my prayer that you will never, ever say good-bye to your faith. As long as you are a believer, you are under the umbrella of grace and sin has no dominion over you, because you are no longer under the law. Therefore, sin no longer has the authority to execute you, because the law cannot give sin the authority to execute you when youre under grace. The law, by the way, has already executed you in Christ. (That is what we will cover in Romans 7.)
So may God bless us, that we may understand this wonderful privilege of being under grace. But, at the same time, let us not pervert this truth and use it as an excuse for sinning. May grace control you. May the grace of our Lord be the source of your peace but also the source of your Christian living. It is my prayer that we will learn to enjoy the privilege of being under grace, and not under law. It is my prayer that this grace will be seen in the lives of each one of us. This is my prayer, in Jesus name. Amen.