Friday, February 10, 2012

The Christian's driver's license

Romans 6:14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

The day I received my driver's license
When I was sixteen years old, I attempted twice to acquire my driver's license.  On the third attempt my parents, sister and Grandmother came with me to the driver's training course for moral support.  As they were watching outside I maneuvered my dad's 1984 Pontiac Pariseene Station Wagon through the slolam course of cones and "invisible cars".  When the test concluded, I got out and the officer informed me that I had passed!

What a thrilling day as my family watched the driver's instructor print out and hand me my driver's license.  My dad even handed me the keys and I got to drive the whole family home.  We were driving around the town after lunch and I decided to take a side street to go the "scenic route".  My family was talking and we were all laughing when suddenly my mother screamed at me "Mahlon!".  Brakes screached and we all stopped 5 feet from a concrete wall - the street was a "dead end".  Needless to say my dad took over the wheel and I learned the true purpose of my driver's license - the right to drive right, and to not drive recklessly!

The Christian life is where God gives you the license to "sin no more" or "live rightly for Him"
When we read what Paul writes in Romans 6:14-23, we discover that sin "is no longer the master" or "the one who is to call the shots" for the Christian life.  In Romans 6:14 we are told why - "because you are not under law, but under grace".  Many people have mistakenly interpreted that verse to mean that as a Christian, I am not obligated to follow any commands, and thus grace gives me the license to sin.  Nothing could be any further from the point of the passage.

In the context of Romans, when Paul speaks of being "under the law", he is referring to a particular function or certain activity of the law.  The law does three main things in the Bible: it curbs disobedience, it shows me condemned and it pictures what should be operative in the Christian life through Christ.  Being that Christians are declared "right" by God through faith, they are thus not subject to condemnation.  Also too, grace sets them free to "live the Christian life" by God's power that before was being demanded by the law.  Therefore though I am saved by grace through faith apart from law keeping, my subsequent faith in Christ is not a lawless, reckless one. 

Before Christ, I could not live for God.  All I knew to do was "freely sin".  However following conversion, the Holy Spirit sets me free to "sin no more".  This is not some sort of "sinless perfection teaching", since the Bible still advocates my need to confess my sins following conversion. (compare 1 John 1:9-2:2).  Rather, in the Christian life I am set free to willingly choose obedience to God's will.  I am given a "license" to live rightly for God in Christ, or stated negatively - "a license to sin no more".    In short, though I'll never reach the point in this life of never sinning again, yet the last time I sinned I did not have to, but rather chose to. 

Why Grace is not a "license to sin"
Paul explains what he means in Romans 6:14 by further elaborating on the "Christian's driver's license".  In Romans 6:17-18 we read: "thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness."  Or how about later on in Romans 6:22 "But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life."

By the ongoing work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Christian is free to "obey God from the heart" (6:17) and desires to be "enslaved to righteousness" (6:18).  Furthermore, the Christian life is designed by God to yield ever-increasing godliness or "sanctification". (6:22)  Far from being a license to sin, grace sets the Christian free to "live rightly for God".

Illustrating the "Christian Driver's License" - John 8:11
Some of you may be familiar with the episode of the woman caught in adultery who was brought to the feet of Jesus by the sneaky underhanded Scribes of the Pharisees. (John 8:1-11)  For our purposes here I want to focus on verse 11b where Jesus tells the woman - "....I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”  When he says "sin no more", He is saying quite literally in the original language - "stop your ongoing sin pattern".  This woman had clearly gotten herself into a lifestyle that functioned as a revovling door in her life.  Christ told her that now as His follower, this woman not only had the obligation, but the Grace available to get out of her ongoing bondage.  He literally told her to "sin no more" or "now you have the freedom to leave your sinful lifestyle and live rightly for me". 

As a friend of mine once said: "Jesus can take your 'have to's' and make them into 'want to's".  The Christian life gives you the license to not go down the side streets of temptation and have near-head-on collisions with walls of sin. 

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