Grace Abounding

BY GERHARD FORDE

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. -Romans 5:20-21

The law does not end sin, does not make new beings, it only makes matters worse. Where the old continuity is maintained, sin does not end. No matter how much religious pressure is applied, sin only grows. But, Paul has the audacity to say where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more. But this is disaster for the old and its thinking. For then, it seems, the floodgates of iniquity are opened! Shall we not sin the more that grace may abound? Here we arrive at the crucial point. Here the pious old Adam can only recoil in horror from the thought of unconditional grace and try to protect the continuity of the old self by making compromises: some fateful mixture of grace and law, a little bit of human cooperation, perhaps the addition of a third use of the law, some heavy breathing about sanctification, and so on. But the radical gospel will have none of that.

Shall we sin the more that grace may abound? By no means! Why? For you have died and how can you who have died to sin still live in it? The reason why abounding grace does not lead to sin lies in the fact that in its radicality it puts an end to the old, not in some species of compromise with the old. Furthermore, we miss the radicality of that if we do not see that this death is announced as accomplished fact: you have died. The death is not something yet to be done, one last act of spiritual suicide for “free choice.” If Jesus died for all, then all have died (2 Cor. 5:14).

There is too much timidity, too much worry that the gospel is going to harm someone, too much of a tendency to buffer the message to bring it under control. It is essential to see that everything hangs in the balance here. Faith comes by hearing. Will the old persist? Will we understand ourselves to be continuously existing subjects called upon to exercise our evanescent modicum of free choice to carve out some sort of eternal destiny for ourselves? That depends. It depends on whether someone has the courage to announce to us, “You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God!”


[This is an excerpt from an essay by Gerhard Forde]

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