“Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Nearly 2000 years ago, Paul wrote that to Christians, to people he included with himself when he said, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4-5).
Because of how God brought us into the benefits of his plan, because of the resurrection Jesus’ death and resurrection proves we will have, Paul says, that affects our lives now. Now sin is not our master. Now we are “not under law, but under grace.”
These are some shocking statements when you think about it. If you’ve ever battled with an addiction, if you’ve ever wondered why on earth you said something so harsh to someone you love, if you’ve ever looked around and wondered how you possibly ended up here, at the end of a road of bad choices and failed dreams….you may wonder if Paul knows what he’s talking about. “Sin shall NOT be your master?” Really, Paul? It certainly sometimes looks like sin makes us do things we didn’t want to in the heat of the moment, in the wave of emotion. Sometimes it looks like sin is master.
But, no, Paul says, not for you Christian. And then he tells you why. After explaining how Jesus defeated sin with his payment for it and his resistance against it, he reminds us we’re living in a whole different state, a state of grace. In his words: “you are not under law, but under grace.”
Let me explain. In my younger life, I had so many jobs, often several at a time, working way too many hours to try to put myself through school. And just about every one of those jobs reminded me why I was going to school, so that I didn’t have to do that particular job every day for the rest of my life.
Anyway, I’ve worked under a bunch of bosses. One of the first was one of the meanest. I’ll call her Carrie. She managed through fear and threats. You’d better not be late or else. “Don’t break that dish or you’ll get yelled at and the cost taken out of your paycheck.” “Talk back and you’re fired.” Working for her, you wanted to do a good job only because you didn’t want to get in trouble. Not knowing any better, I put up with that for several summers. And I worked hard because I wanted to keep my job.
By the time college rolled around, I had gotten a job at an architectural woodworking place. This boss, Jack, had many more employees, but he knew more about me within the first week than Carrie did in all the years I worked for her. Jack would regularly walk among the workers asking how they were, how their family was doing — and he seemed to always be doing something nice for people. One friend, who was also just a summer worker like me, drove one of Jack’s brand new delivery trucks under a bridge that was shorter than the truck and earned the nickname “sardine” because of the effect that had on the truck. Jack never once raised his voice, but said simply, “Accidents happen. You’ll know better next time, right?”
Jack’s workers wanted to do a good job, too, but it wasn’t because we were afraid. It was because we loved him and wanted things to go well for him.
Do you see the difference? In both situations the outcome was the same. We wanted to do a good job — and did. But it was as different as night and day.
In your relationship with God, are you working for Mary or for Jack? Do you do what you do out of fear, or out of love? Are you living under law, or under grace? Now, both might end up looking the same — but they are not. Both might lead to you doing your best and being a good neighbor and a good friend and a stand-up individual. But – they are not the same.
Under grace there is peace and hope and joy. Under law there is uncertainty, because there is always the wonder whether you’ve done enough. Under grace there is a relationship with God. Under law there is simply obedience, and not usually very good obedience.
So where would you rather be living? By God’s grace, through Christ’s work — God wants you living under grace — forgiveness for your failures, comfort for your fears, peace amidst your stresses. You see, Jesus already lived under the law and fulfilled it. And only because he is love — he gives that perfect record to you who believe in him, so now you are under grace. What a difference that makes!
And the sooner you understand that, the better your life is. Now, I’m not saying it will necessarily not have problems or be filled with wealth and power and prestige. I’m saying it will be better because, while you’re going through the same things — at both jobs I had to show up every day and work hard — you’ll be going through them with a different attitude – with confidence and peace and hope. That’s the difference.
I bring all this up because that’s the theme we’ll be using for our “Gangway to Gallilee” Vacation Bible School June 16-20 and for our Father’s Day Worship on the 22nd. All the stories, games, crafts and Word will be teaching what it means to be living “Under Grace.” I hope your kids can join us for the VBS (9-noon each day) and your whole family can celebrate that grace on Sunday. You can register for VBS at vbs.abidinggrace.com.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday at 8 & 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.