IntroductionGod's Gift Of Grace
Someone who has no concept of sin has a corresponding inability to understand mercy. Those who are stricken with remorse for their sins and then are offered mercy instead of justice, they are people who understand mercy at a level that many others will never attain.
The foundation of mercy is "grace". We live in a world that is not accustomed to this concept. We live in a world of rules and law; of reward and punishment; of success and failure.
Even the church is rich in this kind of "ungrace". We have are agendas to be pushed and there are theological battles to be won or perhaps there may even be a windmill to two to overturn.
Those who understand grace and mercy acutely and actually practice this in the church are viewed with suspicion. They often are seen sympathetic to the sin instead of gracious and merciful to the sinner.
I have heard the slanders myself toward people who love Jesus more than life; who have been forgiven great things; who are truly rich in grace and mercy and live accordingly. Often they are called "liberals" with "bleeding hearts" this though they uphold all the tenets of the ancient creeds and and accept Jesus as the only way of salvation. But they truly understand grace. They lives have been transformed by that knowledge and they are viewed with suspicion by the judgers among us.
Paul was such a person like that; he understood right from wrong but he understood even more the grace of God and his extraordinary mercy in Jesus Christ. As we look today at Romans chap 5, we must remember that while sin and mercy live side by side in our experience Gods gift of grace through Jesus Christ will always have the upper hand in what is the ultimate reality.
Grace . . . and only grace will speak comfort to the soul ravaged by sin
If there is such a thing as a common human experience it is the experience of sin
Some would use the language of the Social Sciences and proclaim that suffering is the common human experience. But in the words of the theology and the Bible the commonality lies in the experience of Sin particularly in its dreadful effects of war & hatred and ultimately death.
Sin and death are kissing cousins they have been from the very beginning. What seemed so innocent and right at the time had consequences that Adam or Eve could not have foreseen. So often we sit back and never really see ourselves doing the very same thing as the first couple in the Bible. We may not eat from a tree of knowledge of good and evil, but nevertheless, we seek that which we should not have we bend the rules when it suits us; when our desire for something, perhaps even something good speaks louder than Gods imposed limits.
We may know that if we spend too much time at work and too little time at home with our families. We disobey the teaching of Scripture. We may even agree with that teaching but as our minds get moving at high gear we find some dissimilarity some unique aspect to our situation and we go against what God has made clear to us
We grab the fruit . . . and we eat
The cycle of sin and denial continues. Whether people believe in a literal Adam or not, there can be no confusion about the fact that people are trapped in this cycle of sin, shame and denial. It is a deadly circle and it is a common human experience. This passage makes it plain that we belong to a collective and that collective is humanity. Jew and Gentile; people of every language, culture and colour all belong to this Adamic Collective. As Paul has already expressed in Romans, "all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God" and as v. 14 of our present chapter states: "death reigned" or periphrastically: "Death was King"
Hatred, violence, loneliness, abandonment all of these are the children of sin. Many of us have experienced these ourselves for we are sinners, each and every one of us. I may have two masters degrees in theology but I am still a sinner. You may have 25 years experience on the job, you may even be heralded as genius on the job, but at the end of the day you are just like me: all of us -- sinners and members of Adams sinful race.
We can thank our God for the Good News. Thats what the word Gospel really means. But when we look at our situation as sinners our dismal inheritance under the reign of death; Paul says the gift is not like the trespass.2) The Experience of Grace
Indeed that is true. Sin is natural for us, we do it as naturally as drawing breath. It is the consequences that we struggle with for the sinning comes easy. Not so with grace. Grace is as unnatural for us as breathing at a high altitude; it can be done but it is by no means easy; we struggle and we gasp when we try to live a life of grace.
One of the great ironies of life for me is watching broken people, myself included literally dying for need of grace, for someone to love unconditionally. Someone to to see the brokeness of lives and accept us and love us in spite of it. Yet the very same people, people who crave grace in their own lives will mercilessly judge and criticize other who do not measure up to their standards for living.
People who would be nowhere if not for the lavish grace of God; we have the audacity to condemn others around us -- we actually live Law instead of Gospel. To highlight Sin instead of Grace is the natural thing for us to do. Unfortunately that is one of the greatest obstacles to overcome in our quest to become more like Jesus Christ. We quickly forget that God calls us to lives of grace.
God has graced us, when he sent his Son Jesus. All around Jesus was faced with Pharisees, Saducees, Scribes every corner had a religious scholar pointing out those who did not fit in; those marked by sin
Yet Jesus visited those people; Jesus sat and ate with them; Jesus lived a life of grace and forgiveness.
He told a story about a son who rebelled against his father had left home and squandered all he hand on reckless living when the Son realized his sin; he returned to the father who embraced the son and welcomed him back -- It is a story about Grace.
He told of a woman who jumped up and down and celebrated because she found a coin that was lost.
Or a shepherd who located a lost lamb. That shepherd did not kick or curse at that lamb that ran away. Because this is a story about grace not law. The shepherd picked up the lamb and took it back to the others. These are all stories of Grace.
Law points out our faults but is powerless to change us. But knowledge of God's grace can change a heart. If we are to call ourselves Christians we must be a people who not only accept the Grace given in Jesus Christ but we must aspire to be those who live it as well.
A prostitute, a wealthy exploiter, a demon-possessed woman, a Roman soldier, a Samaritan with running sores and another Samaritan with serial husbands I marvel that Jesus gained the reputation as being a "friend of sinners" like these. . . so writes Philip Yancey in his book "Whats so amazing about Grace".
I marvel as well that most of us, if we were honest would be scared to befriend such people because of how people in the Church would treat us. We are scared away from lives filled with Grace by the very people who have received God's grace most abundantly. Helmut Thielicke says of Jesus:
Jesus was able to love people because he loved them right through the layer of mud.
The mud of course is sin. That is what Grace is isnt it! The ability to love through the layer of mud that obscures the beauty of our created purpose in Christ. No wonder Dostoevsky noted that:
"To love a person means to see him as God intended him to be"
Love is to see people as God's does and grace is to forgive them for not living up to their created purpose. It is to treat people as God treats us in Christ Jesus.Conclusion
Sin reigns through death but grace reigns through righteousness
We are called to turn our backs on Sin particularly the sin of unforgiveness which is singled out in this context as a vestige of Law and death. As we think on these things let us hear afresh the words Peter:
Grow in Grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. (2Peter 3:18)