I normally write in Bahasa Indonesia. But this one is pure gold that I cannot help sharing it in its original form without any modification. It is taken from an expository sermon on Romans 6:1-2, delivered by the great Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) somewhere between October 1958 and April 1959 in Westminster Chapel. For the sake of clarity, the context of this two verses is found way back in the previous chapter:
Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rm 5:20-21)
Without further ado, lo and behold!
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein? (Rm 6:1-2)
First of all let me make a comment, to me a very important and vital comment. The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel. Let me show what I mean.
If a man preaches justification by works, no one would ever raise this question. If a man’s preaching is, ‘If you want to be Christians, and if you want to go to heaven, you must stop committing sins, you must take up good works, and if you do so regularly and constantly, and do not fail to keep on at it, you will make yourselves Christians, you will reconcile yourselves to God and you will go to heaven’. Obviously a man who preaches in that strain would never be liable to this misunderstanding. Nobody would say to such a man, ‘Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?’, because the man’s whole emphasis is just this, that if you go on sinning you are certain to be damned, and only if you stop sinning can you save yourselves. So that misunderstanding could never arise. And you can apply the same test to any other type or kind of preaching. If a man preaches that you are saved by the Church, or by sacraments, and so on, this kind of argument does not arise. This particular misunderstanding can only arise when the doctrine of justification by faith only is presented.
Le me put this in another way. You remember what the Apostle says in chapter 4 in the fifth verse:
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (Rm 4:5)
It is when a man says a thing like that – that God justifies the ungodly – that the misunderstanding is liable to arise. Or when a man says what we found in chapter 5 verses 9 and 10:
Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Rm 5:9-10)
It is when we preach things like that, that this misunderstanding tends to occur. So this is a very good test of one’s preaching.
There is a sense in which the doctrine of justification by faith only is a very dangerous doctrine; dangerous, I mean, in the sense that it can be misunderstood. It exposes a man to this particular charge. People listening to it may say, ‘Ah, there is a man who does not encourage us to live a good live, he seems to say that there is no value in our works, he says that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”. Therefore what he is saying is, that it does not matter what you do, sin as much as you like’. There is thus clearly a sense in which the message of ‘justification by faith only’ can be dangerous, and likewise with the message that salvation is entirely of grace. I say therefore that if our preaching does not expose us to that charge and to that misunderstanding, it is because we are not really preaching the gospel. Nobody has ever brought this against the Church of Rome, but it was brought frequently against Martin Luther; indeed that was precisely what the Church of Rome said about the preaching of Martin Luther. They said, ‘This man who was a priest has changed the doctrine in order to justify his own marriage and his own lust’, and so on. ‘This man’, they said, ‘is an antinomian; and that is heresy.’ That is the very charge they brought against him. It was also brought against George Whitefield two hundred years ago. It is the charge that formal dead Christianity – if there is such a thing – has always brought against this startling, staggering message, that God ‘justifies the ungodly’, and that we are saved, not by anything that we do, but in spite of it, entirely and only by the grace of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
That is my comment; and it is a very important comment for preachers. I would say to all preachers: If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in that way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you really are preaching the salvation that is offered in the New Testament to the ungodly, to the sinner, to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, to those who are enemies of God. There is this kind of dangerous element about the true presentation of the doctrine of salvation.
Now let us look at the answer which the Apostle gives in verse 2: ‘God forbid’, he says. We have already met that expression in the third chapter and have seen that it is not a strictly literal translation. The Apostle did not use the word ‘God’ at all, but the Authorized Version translators wanted to bring out the emphasis strongly, so the said ‘God forbid’. What it really means is ‘by no means’, ‘let it not be’, ‘it is unthinkable’, ‘it should never even be suggested’. It is a very strong term, and in a sense the translators were justified in rendering it as ‘God forbid’.
Why does the Apostle put it as strongly as that? Clearly for this reason, that to put that question, or to raise that matter at all, simply shows a complete failure to understand everything that he has been saying about justification by faith only. If a man raises this question about continuing in sin, it means that so far he has not grasped what the Apostle has been saying in chapters 1 to 5. That is why it is unthinkable, that is why it should not be mentioned for a moment. Such a man has not only misunderstood justification, he has entirely misunderstood the doctrine of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ. If he had understood that, he would never raise a point like this.
Let me make the same point in another way. A man may say to me, ‘You teach that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; shall we therefore continue in sin that grace may abound?’ What this man is really saying is that he has completely failed to understand the whole meaning and purpose of grace. What is that? The Apostle, one would have thought, had put it quite plainly in last verse of chapter 5, ‘That AS sin hath reigned unto death, EVEN SO might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord’. What is the business of grace? Is it to allow us to continue in sin? No! It is to deliver us from the bondage and the reign of sin, and to put us under the reign of grace. So when a man asks, ‘Shall we therefore continue in sin that grace might abound?’, he is merely showing that he has failed to understand either the tyranny of the reign of sin, or the whole object and purpose of grace and its marvelous reign over those who are saved. Or, to put it positively, a man who really understands justification, its meaning and its purpose, will never think like that and will never speak like that. But I want to put it even more strongly. A man who is justified, and who is under the reign of grace, cannot think like that, still less act like that.
You may be wondering why I took the trouble of rewriting the MLJ’s sermon in my blog? It is simply because many devout Christians out there accuse me of sharing a cheap gospel, or a cheap grace just because I share the unconditional love of God to my fellow Christians. They even label the gospel that I believe in as hypergrace, i.e. grace without law, or grace without works which gives a license to sin. Quelle horreur!
To be quite honest, I had the same suspicion when I first heard the doctrine of justification by faith alone in its purest form from the highly controversial (hypergrace) preacher Joseph Prince. Back then, I thought that this whole grace message is so scandalous: too good to be true. But then that is what makes the gospel good news. No, it doesn’t make grace look hyper, but simply amazing!
Please note that the sermon above was delivered in 1958. Joseph Prince, Paul Ellis, and most of the so called hypergrace preachers were not even born yet! And oh, MLJ died in 1981… long before the hypergrace message became notorious. I don’t know about you, but I now wear the label hypergrace with PRIDE! Let’s put the amazing back into grace!
In case you are curious, you can find the full-blown sermon above in this book: Romans: Exposition of Chapter 6: The New Man.