Series: Foundations in Grace -- home
The foundation of your Christian life is grace, which is a free gift. The name of the free gift is the Lord Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life, and his performance is credited to us. His death is also credited to us. The punishment for sin is capital punishment – death. It is as if we died and suffered the punishment for our sins ourselves.
After his resurrection, he poured out his Holy Spirit, who now empowers us to live the life after him that he lived for us. So now we are no longer subject to sin and the laws governing sin. We are no longer necessarily subject to sickness. We can be healed, demons can be driven off, relationships can be reconciled, offences can be forgiven, by the free gift of God’s power. It is a free gift in the beginning, and it is a free gift in the end. Jesus lived his life for us and now lives his life through us, and all of this is free.
The way things are is different from the way things were before the giving of the gift, and the difference produces in us gratitude that motivates us to live the lives that we are to live. Under the old order, we were judged on the basis of our performance. And we didn’t perform well, so we were punished. We were born into a moral universe governed by moral and spiritual laws, and are judged in light of those moral and spiritual laws.
Paul talks about this through the analogy of marriage in Romans 7:1-4. You were born married to the law, and you stay married ‘till death do you part. An obvious question is, “What is so bad about that? Isn’t the law a holy husband?” And the answer is, yes. He is God’s pure, right law. And in its own way, the law is good.
Let me tell you how this husband makes a lousy husband. First of all, your husband the law can only relate to you in a negative way. The law tells you only what not to do – for example, the Ten Commandments; don’t gain weight; don’t lust; don’t spend too much; don’t in any way be unfaithful to the law. The only word that you ever hear from your husband the law is a rebuke, a correction. Law can never give you comfort, encouragement, understanding or praise. It can never take circumstances into account. If you break the law, you must be punished, and that’s all there is to it.
Traffic cops are an instrument of the law. You will never hear a traffic cop pull you over and tell you he liked the way you stopped at that last intersection and compliment you on your driving. He is there to enforce the law – to tell you what you did wrong and punish you for it.
Law only speaks when it is offended. That’s your husband, and that’s what you are born to, and that’s what 99% of all religion is all about.
Like the traffic cop, your conscience is also a function of law. You might get past the speed trap, but your conscience never sleeps. Your conscience is there to accuse you of wrong and to mete out punishment through anxiety, depression or guilt.
To sum up: your husband law is impersonal. He is always right, you cannot appeal to him, he only speaks in condemning tones, and the only time you ever hear his voice is when he has been offended. And he never lifts a finger to help you.
The worst thing of all is that the law never dies. Jesus said the law will never pass away (Matthew 5:18). Your old husband will never die.
This can be confusing, because Paul says we are no longer under law, and Jesus says the law will never pass away. The solution is very simple: if you are married to law until death do you part, one of you has to die. We know that law is never going to die. So you have to die (Romans 7:4).
It’s ‘till death do you part, and you died. You no longer have any obligation to the law. Oh, but it’s God’s law! I know, and Paul says you have no obligation to it. But it’s good! And Paul says you have no obligation to it, at all.
Romans 6:3-4 says something similar. Your old life that you were born into has died. The life that you now live, you live as it were beyond the grave. You live a different life. And this is confusing, because the day after you believed, you could still recognize yourself in the mirror. It appeared that not much happened. But you did in fact die. You died to your old husband.
This death that we die, this death that Jesus died for us and is credited to us, is not logical. This is a mystery, but it’s true. Nobody understands how photosynthesis really works. Nobody has any idea how you get dirt to turn green on a leaf. A much more profound truth is that we have participated in everything Christ did for us, including dying for us. It is a mystery, but it is a true mystery.
So far as God is concerned, you really are dead. And if you act on it, then you will experience it. If you’re waiting for it to make sense, like I tend to do, then you’ll never know it. If you act on it, you’ll know it. And it won’t matter that it doesn’t make sense.
Your conscience acts as though it never happened. Your conscience still comes to you and accuses you because you have broken the law. Your conscience is a function of law, and it doesn’t want to go out of business. Religion is a function of law more often than not, and it doesn’t want to go out of business either. And most of all, the devil doesn’t want you to realize it, because if you do, you are no longer subject to him, either.
Now if this is such good news and this is bedrock gospel, why don’t we hear it more often? Paul said, “I laid a foundation of Christ and him crucified, and his life in you. I laid a foundation.” I can see Paul preaching week after week, making sure that they get this. Because if you don’t lay this foundation, you can’t get to where you’re going.
Look at people going in and out of churches. Do they look like they’ve just had a good thrashing by the good news? No they do not. Why? Because it ain’t the good news. It’s something else.
The reason why religious people preach some form of law – you have to do this, you have to do that, you have to have a quiet time, if you don’t do this then ... – when it’s so obviously not the Bible, is because if people believe this, then they can no longer be manipulated.
That’s it. And I’m going to try to do this so that even if I wanted to, I can’t manipulate you. I only want you here and doing stuff because it’s in your heart to do it, because it’s an offering to God, and because you find joy in it. I want you not to be able to be manipulated.
The law was a heavy burden in Jesus’ day. He never had a campaign against organized crime or slavery or political oppression – he had a campaign against religion (Matthew 23). “You Pharisees, you teachers of the law. You bind up heavy burdens, you make people feel guilty because they’re not living up to some abstract notion of religion, and you don’t do anything to make that burden lighter.” And then he says, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden. Come unto me, all you who are under the yoke of the law, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
This transfer from your old husband to your new husband is a free gift. It cost you nothing. It’s grace. This transfer is cataclysmic and radical. But as I said earlier, this happened to many of us with hardly a ripple. Some of us don’t even know exactly when it happened. And so what I’m saying about coming from death to life and going from the old husband to the new husband doesn’t ring true – it sounds like religious abstraction. Do you know the reason why? Because it didn’t cost you anything.
The beauty of grace is the problem of grace. It doesn’t cost you anything. If, in order to get free, you had to bury your back and let your husband whip you within an inch of your life, or if you had to sweat and scrape and save for two years to buy your freedom, it would be real to you. If it cost you something, it would be real to you.
Ask Jesus dying on the cross if it’s real. Ask him if it’s cataclysmic and radical. The reason it seems so abstract and unreal to you is because it didn’t cost you anything. And that’s the whole point! It’s grace. It doesn’t cost you anything. And in believing that, the real trauma is the overwhelming gratitude that flows into us once we see what has happened. And that happens by the illumination of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12). You stick around here long enough, and you’ll get that too. You’ll get it. It will break in. And that will change your attitudes and your actions from then on. You’ll never be the same.
And to ask you to keep the law would be stupid. Because your heart will be so full, you’ll be doing so much more than the law ever asked you to do anyway. To ask you to go back down to the low level of the law would be ridiculous. It would be superfluous to you.
Read Romans 5:12-19. Look at all the “gift” language (15, 16, 17). Here Paul reminds us that Adam was the head of the human race. In fact, at one point, Adam was the human race. And so whatever Adam did, that was the experience of the whole human race. Paul makes it very clear that our experience is Christ’s experience – the last Adam – and our initial experience is Adam’s experience – the first Adam. When Adam sinned, we all sinned. The whole human race was in his loins, and when he sinned, he took the whole human race down with him, and we all came under the law.
But the gift was the gift of Jesus gathering us up into his loins, so to speak, and being born again through him into a new life, a life no longer subject to the old husband, but subject to the new husband, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are now free from sin and free from the law.
All of this didn’t cost you anything, it is a gift. And that’s where faith comes in. You have to believe it and act on it, and when you do, you experience it.
We all know that there are “gifts”, and there are gifts. A political lobbyist gives a politician a “gift”, but it’s not a gift at all – he expects to be paid back. A “god” who gives its subjects eternal life but then demands sacrifice and obedience to pay him back for that gift has not given them a gift at all. And that’s what Phariseeism is all about, that’s what legalism is all about, that’s what the law is all about, and unfortunately that’s what most of Christianity is all about. “Feel sorry for Jesus, he died on the cross for you, now we’ve got to pay him back by being good.” Be serious!
Unlike all of the above, God doesn’t manipulate us. He just gives it to us. He treats us like adults. One of the problems in dealing with God is that he has a much higher opinion of us than we do of ourselves. We think that we need to be sentimentalised and cajoled and have the gospel dramatised for us, and we need to tug at our guilt to get us to perform. Be serious! That’s not it at all.
A true gift costs the receiver nothing. It costs the giver, but it doesn’t cost the receiver anything. And that is why it is so difficult to received it.
I have talked to people who want to do something, anything, to get even with their conscience before God. You just cannot believe that it’s all given to you. Some of you haven’t been physically healed for one reason : because you simply have to pay for your healing. And your sickness is part of the payment for some sin that you’ve committed that you just have to inflict on yourself. You get this, and not only will your spiritual health improve, your physical health will improve. Your relational health will improve.
Some of our grandparents had a saying if someone did something for them. They would say, “Much obliged.” That is, now I’m obligated to you. Today we would say, “I owe you one.” The acid test of a true gift is if when you give it, you let it go. The gospel and salvation are a gift. Why do you think God allows you to abuse him and his salvation without striking you dead? Because it’s a gift.
Paul said, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). That was categorical. It’s not, “There is now no condemnation for those who are good people in Christ Jesus.” Because the gift of forgiveness and the gift of salvation now and forever is just that – it’s a gift. And when he gave it, he let it go.
When Paul says that freedom from law and life in Christ is a gift, he is saying that it is free to us, and all we have to do is ask. Christ did it all for you and does it all for you. Whether you’re good, bad or indifferent, he stands at the right hand of the Father, continuing to intercede for you.
Let me say this so that you cannot possibly misunderstand it. The life of Christ, the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and everything that flows to us because of all that, is a free gift, and we owe God nothing for it. Gasp! Did he really say that? Yes, I really said that. We owe God nothing. We are not “much obliged”. That’s the gospel truth. That’s how radical it is. That’s how total it is. That’s how complete it is.
Once you realize that, once that sets up in your heart and takes hold of your imagination, that I’m never going to be punished for my sins, you will be knocking yourself out for your new husband, and for the coming of the kingdom of God. And you will do it as sheer joy. In fact, we will have to take your calendar and cut half the stuff out, because otherwise you’ll kill yourself from wanting to serve him.
Look at Luke 23:32-43. The thief on the cross said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”.
Do you understand what just happened? A man asked for a gift, and he got it. Just like that. And what had he done to deserve that? Zero. And how much time did he have to pay Jesus back? None. He had nothing but sin, stupidity, broken opportunities, abuse, neglect, irresponsibility and indolence. That was his life. And the voice that spoke out of that life said, “Remember me, won’t you?” And Jesus said, “Today!” That quick. There’s Jesus himself giving the gift of eternal life.
So get over any notion of earning it, any idea of paying it back.
Series: Foundations in Grace -- home