“For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. The law came along to multiply the trespass. But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness, resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:19-21 HCSB)
Math is not one of my strong subjects. I get the basics just fine and I even did pretty well in Geometry (it seemed to fit my visual learning better) but I get lost when I get into higher math like Trigonometry and Calculus. Some of you may think that’s silly because, for you, higher mathematics is easy but my brain just doesn’t work well in that realm. I do better in philosophy or sociology but today we are going to talk about a form of “higher” math that fits better in my area of knowledge than in a mathematics course. The kind of math I’m referencing is God’s math. It goes something like this: 1 disobedient representative X sin + a multitude of sinful men = temporal death but 1 fully obedient representative (Son of God) X limitless grace = eternal life. Higher math… much, much higher.
I’ve been a pastor for over forty years now and during that time I’ve heard my share of poor excuses for not attending church or for not being interested in godly things. One of the worst and most common is how the church building would collapse if they were to walk in or attend. Anyone who uses this lame excuse is simply basing it on the idea that God only wants “good” people in church and they are obviously not good enough. If you’ve not learned anything during our time in Romans, so far, I hope you will hear and learn this lesson: NOBODY is good enough to earn or deserve God’s love and forgiveness. The flip side of that lesson is also true: NOBODY is bad enough to be excluded from God’s undeserved grace and Jesus’ sacrifice on behalf of sinners. God’s math is still at work in this equation, no matter how large your list of sins God’s grace is bigger still. THAT is higher math. No matter how large the number of sins on your account, when they are divided by the righteousness of the one “God-man” Jesus then multiplied by God’s grace then they always result in zero condemnation and eternal life. See what I mean, higher math.
As a reminder, Paul told us in verse 18 that through the one trespass of Adam, condemnation was added to everyone’s life account but in the same way, the one righteous act of Jesus brought life-giving justification for everyone. Last week we considered just how vast God’s grace and forgiveness really are and how that results in our victory over death as we “reign in life” through Jesus Christ. This week, Paul seems to anticipate a question from his Roman audience regarding the role the law of God would play in this equation. The law’s purpose was never to remove man’s sin or provide a means for justification, it was to demonstrate and expose our inherent sinfulness and inability to meet God’s expectations and demands. It would draw the spotlight away from our feeble and futile attempts at obedience that continually fall short and focus it directly onto the priceless gift of God’s amazing grace and Jesus’ righteousness – right where it belongs.
If you didn’t catch my point in that last paragraph then go back and read it, again. When we focus salvation on our attempts at obedience, our beliefs, our faith or anything other than God’s grace and Jesus’ righteousness then we’ve placed the focus on the wrong thing. Paul says that when we focus on the effects of the law it only highlights our sin and gives grace the opportunity to abound or overflow onto our lives. Don’t misunderstand me, the law of God is good, holy and just but our inability to obey results in more and more sin. The holiness of God’s law multiplies our trespass because of our sinfulness.
Some think that this means that the law draws our attention to the things we shouldn’t do, tempts us and, thus, results in more and more sin. I’m not convinced that is Paul’s point. I believe that in the current context of Paul’s letter he simply means that when you shine the light of the law on our lives it reveals just how disobedient we really are. He had previously stated that men’s trespasses were not “marked on their account” because they were ignorant or unaware of God’s expectations – before the giving of the written law. Now, the law reveals just how disobedient our actions are because we can no longer hide behind our personal ignorance. We are now “accountable” for our actions and our “accounts” are being updated to show the results – multiplied trespasses. One for you, one for you. Oh, another for you. Wait, I can’t keep up. You and you, and you, and you…
Have you ever taken up the task of saving a penny on the first day of the month and then doubling the amount every day? It works pretty well for the first week or two, but then something begins to happen. At the end of the first week, you end up with $0.64. At the end of week two, you end up with $81.92. At the end of week three, you end up with $10,485.76 and in 30 days you would have a whopping $5,368,709.12. Some of you may be doubting my math skills (I did mention that I was mathematically challenged), so you go do the calculations. By the way, 1 raised to the 30th power is still 1 but 2 raised to the 29th power results in that last figure of $5m plus. The sin of one spread to two, which spread to four, which spread to eight… well, you get the picture. When 7.5 billion people sin, the results are catastrophic and deadly. (Just FYI, the global pandemic we’re facing has similar mathematical principles and why isolation, quarantining and social distancing helps.)
But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more!
The phrase could be translated “where sin abounds, grace super abounds!” If one disobedient man’s trespass can result in the mess we now see in our world, then the ONE man’s righteousness will result in a super abundance of God’s grace being poured out upon our sin. Man’s depravity is no match for God’s grace. In my illustration above about saving a penny and doubling it each day, I ended up with over $5.3 million dollars in 30 days. But doubling something is not a “super abundance,” at least in my mind. But if I take that same penny and increase by a factor of 10 each day, then I end up with $1 followed by 27 zeroes. That’s a SUPER abundance and that’s the way God’s grace flows out upon our lives.
Now, here’s the deal with grace… we have a real tendency to want to define or identify the ways in which God’s grace can be expressed and that usually is in some monetary or physical way. For example, I used the illustration of money above in my demonstration and calculations of SUPER abundant grace but I’ve found that God’s grace is seldom expressed monetarily. God’s knowledge, insight and understanding of our deepest needs and desires is very aware of the fact that money never brings deep satisfaction and contentment. How can I be so sure of that? Because no matter how much of it you have you never have enough and are constantly seeking to get more and more. Jesus even speaks to this on several occasions, but this parable illustrates it best…
“Then He told them a parable: “A rich man’s land was very productive. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.” ’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared — whose will they be? ’ “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21 HCSB)
So, how is God’s super-abundant grace demonstrated and poured out into our lives? Actually, Paul tells us in the next verse but we often overlook it… “where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more SO THAT, just as sin reigned in death, so also GRACE will reign through righteousness…” Grace will reign through righteousness or “right living” in relationship to God and man. In the parable I just cited, Jesus says that God is not upset over the man’s wealth, as such, but is upset over the man’s “poverty” towards things related to God (is not rich toward God). The rich man gave plenty of attention to his wealth, his crops, his need for bigger barns but completely ignored and neglected ANY relationship or “richness” towards God. He knew and acknowledged God’s existence but completely ignored the importance of any relationship with God.
When God pours out His grace upon us then its purpose is to make and keep us righteous or oriented in a right relationship with God and our fellow man. Righteousness is “right living” and that is always lived out in proper relationship with God and others. All of God’s commandments can be summarized in the two greatest commandments, love God above all else in life and love others in the same way you love yourself. When grace reigns in our lives through righteousness then grace should dominate our actions and reactions and leads us into living in accordance with the fruits of the Holy Spirit and NOT the works of the flesh.
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance — as I told you before — that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:19-26 HCSB)
Grace will reign through righteousness but do you ever find it hard to give grace to some people? I think we often find it easier to extend grace to people we don’t know (or don’t know very well) than it is to extend grace to people we know very well. For example, it is often easier to extend grace and forgiveness to people who are simply acquaintances than it is to extend grace and forgiveness to family members or even our spouses. When we know someone well then their quirks, habits, choices and annoying characteristics can cause us to deny them the gift of grace in our relationship with them. Some of you know quite well what I’m talking about because you have someone who just knows how to “push your buttons” or irritate you. Maybe it is a son/daughter-in-law, mother or mother-in-law, next door neighbor, cousin or co-worker. Sometimes the hardest person to extend grace to is our nearest neighbor – the one who literally lives next to us, our spouse.
There’s one other group that I would say we often snub or withhold grace from and that’s our enemies or those who are most unlike us in some fundamental way. It could be that they hold different political views, religious beliefs, social status, personal values or even moral beliefs than we hold. Have you ever felt this way? Feel this way right now about someone? Our refusal to extend grace is usually based on the idea “they don’t deserve it” and you would be entirely correct. And that’s really THE point – grace is not something deserved, it is something needed. God never grants grace because we deserve it, that would be merit, wages or obligation. Grace is unmerited favor and love and is precisely what those we withhold it from truly need. How do I know? Because I need a LOT of God’s grace. I need a LOT of grace from Tina, my wife. I need a LOT of grace, period.
Here’s the key to grace, the more you need from God then the more you should be willing to give to others. We all know the words of The Lord’s Prayer, but it seems we seldom pay attention to them. Just in case you’ve forgotten, “Forgive our debts in the same way we’ve forgiven our debtors.” The entire prayer is a cry for God’s grace and mercy, but Jesus ends this prayer with emphasis by telling these disciples that “if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” WOW! Ouch, that hurts! Yeah, go back and read that, again. Go read it in any version, translation or paraphrase you want to use. Jesus’ point CANNOT be overlooked or overstated, grace begets grace. God’s overflow of grace on our sin should result in an overflow of grace from us on others – especially those who least deserve it. That’s “higher math” – God’s kind of math.
Why? Because grace will reign through righteousness, resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord! Let me end with a simple prayer: God, help us to be gracious and forgiving to others, give the same measure of grace to us that we are willing to give to others. We are deeply in need of your forgiveness so help us to be liberal in our giving and forgiving. When our sin is overpowering us and we’re acting like jerks instead of like Christ, may your super-abundant grace flow over us and completely overwhelm and wash away our sin and our bad attitudes. May you be glorified and honored by the results your grace produces in us and may others be see Jesus in our grace-filled actions. Amen, and amen.