The Present Grace of Future Grace
Sometimes when people talk about living in holiness, they use the phrase “remember the gospel!”, or something along those lines. It comes across sometimes as if all we have to do is rehearse the facts of the gospel to ourselves in order to live changed lives. But that’s not my experience, nor is it yours, probably. So how exactly does remembering a set of facts (the gospel) cause us to pursue righteousness? In Romans 6, the apostle Paul tells us. He examines two facets of the gospel: the present grace that believers have received in Christ, and the future grace that believers will receive in Christ. Neither of these truths are presented in a particularly encouraging way on their own, but Paul brings them together in a helpful way.
In this chapter, Paul is talking to people who say that God’s free and matchless grace gives them a license to sin, since their wrongdoings have already been forgiven by Jesus’ grace. In verse 1-7, Paul reasons that everyone who is in Christ has been given power over sin, just as He conquered sin at the cross; so, why would we want to be slaves of sin when we have been freed from it? In other words, Paul’s first appeal to keep us from sin is that through the gospel, we are free not to sin!
And yet, let’s be real: we know this, and yet sin is all over the story of our lives. We fail, badly and often. We know that Christ has made us righteous, and we know that that reality ought to change us somehow. But focusing exclusively on this part of the gospel doesn’t show us how believing in what Jesus has done changes us. Thankfully, Paul continues.
In verses 8-11, Paul’s focus changes from the present reality of the gospel to our future hope in the gospel. He argues that since Jesus will ultimately conquer sin, death, sickness and Satan on judgment day, we can trust that we will one day be free from sin, too. That hope, Paul says, should motivate us not to sin. He tells us think of ourselves as dead to sin right now, just like we will be dead to sin in heaven.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t find it particularly motivating to try to visualize a sinless Joe Eaton in heaven and be told that I have to live like that now. I find it discouraging to realize how short I come, compared to that ideal. But in the next half of Romans 6, Paul tells us how looking ahead to future grace begins to change us into the image of Christ now.
See, what Paul does next is remind us how horrible sin is, and of the horrible things that sin does to us. He latches on to the analogy of sin being like a cruel slave master, and he fleshes out what that looks like. Sin forces us to do what it wants us to do (verse 12). Sin leads to death (verse 13, 16, and 21). Sin leads to chaos and disorder in our lives (verse 19). And here’s another theme that he’ll pick up on in chapter 8: sin has cursed us and given us many spiritual and physical limitations (also verse 19).
The lines are drawn in Romans chapter 6. The choice we have is either eternal life or eternal death. Destruction or freedom. Destruction and death is clearly tied to sin, while eternal life and freedom are tied to righteousness. So here’s the argument: you know that sin leads to death, and you know that if you trust Christ, you will one day be free from sin. And as a believer, you don’t want eternal death more than you don’t want anything else, which means that you want eternal life and freedom more than anything else! And not only that, but you are free from sin now. Because Jesus conquered sin, and you are in Him, you don’t have to sin. SO DON’T! Why would you want to? Why would you go back to the pond scum if evil when you’ve been given access to a feast of righteousness through Jesus?
That’s how future grace becomes present grace, propelling us toward holy living. When we understand what’s to come, and when we long for what’s to come, then we desire freedom from what we hate; namely, sin! So, although we fail (and we will fail), we start killing sin in our lives. We start pursuing an abundant life of righteousness in Christ. And we run to His grace every time we fail, asking Him to cleanse us from evil.
Church, this is what we have to preach to ourselves. By God’s grace, we have to cultivate a hatred for sin and a longing for righteousness in our hearts, believing that sin tends only to death, and righteousness tends only to a more abundant life. But let’s not be discouraged in the face of our humanness, because there will come a day when we will no longer sin. There will come a day when we will see Jesus face-to-face. There will come a day when we’ll be truly free.
And that’s what we want more than anything else. So, church, let’s fight sin and pursue Christ together, because in Him, we can.