Yesterday by Grace, But Today by Labor?

Romans 6:16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, HAVING BEEN set free from sin, HAVE BECOME slaves of righteousness.

19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you ONCE presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so NOW present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.

21 What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and HAVE BECOME slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

The context is Romans 5: we are not first condemned for our sinful conduct but by imputation of Adam’s sin. Even so, in Romans 6, we are not saved by OUR BETTER LIVING. We are not saved BY BELIEVING. We are saved by imputed DEATH: the elect for whom Christ died also died with Him, and we must COUNT on that death (and resurrection) as the only condition of salvation. We do not count on our faith or our labor.

You cannot use labor to get assurance because labor done without assurance does not please God, but is instead an “abomination” to God. Pharisees like Nicodemus got assurance from their labor. But the light of the gospel exposes even our “good” labor as sin.

Romans 8:13. “Put to death the deeds” includes putting to death assurance by works and blessing by works. Before I was converted, I had read this text only in terms of morality. Certainly we are to be moral. But morality can be done in the flesh: I can no longer use Romans 8:13 to create doubt and legal fears. Nor James and I John.

To doubt that you are saved because of what you did or didn’t do is to take the focus off of what Christ did. Living by the gospel is having confidence in the gospel of Christ’s doing and dying. Even though I agree that Christians have both sinful doubts and degrees of assurance, I do not agree that we should attempt to gain assurance ALSO by our labor.

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2 Comments on “Yesterday by Grace, But Today by Labor?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Williams James

    The moralist must hold his breath and keep his muscles tense; and so long as this athletic attitude is possible all goes well–morality suffices. But the athletic attitude tends ever to break down, and it inevitably does break down even in the most stalwart when the organism begins to decay, or when morbid fears invade the mind. To suggest personal will and effort to one all sicklied o’er with the sense of irremediable impotence is to suggest the most impossible of things. What he craves is to be consoled in his very powerlessness, to feel that the spirit of the universe recognizes and secures him, all decaying and failing as he is. Well, we are all such helpless failures in the last resort. The sanest and best of us are of one clay with lunatics and prison inmates, and death finally runs the robustest of us down. And whenever we feel this, such a sense of the vanity and provisionality of our voluntary career comes over us that all our morality appears but as a plaster hiding a sore it can never cure, and all our well-doing as the hollowest substitute for that well-BEING that our lives ought to be grounded in, but, alas! are not.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    The sin which deceives us all by nature is that WE DESIRE WHAT WE PRODUCE TO BE PART OF OUR SALVATION. We will give God’s “grace” credit for helping us produce it. If asked about it, we would even say that “particular election” is the reason we produced it. But, like Cain, we want to take what we produced and offer it to God as some small part of what God will accept it as righteousness.

    We don’t mind of God has to produce some righteousness also to “make up the difference”. But the one thing we want, the one thing which the people who killed Jesus wanted, is the one thing Cain wanted, and that is to have God accept what we have produced and what we sincerely (even if ignorantly) offered to God.

    But God will NOT accept it. It’s either what we do in this life, or what God has already done in Christ. It’s either destruction or salvation.

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