Romans 5:18-21 The Reign of Grace
In the previous study we have been studying the subject of God’s grace. In verse 18 Paul speaks “of one act of righteousness (God’s grace) was justification that brings life for all men.” This is what is called “justification by grace.” But I wonder if that sounds right to you. We already know about “justification by faith.” It was the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther having said that it is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. But if that is so, why should we speak of justification by grace? The answer is that both statements are parts of the same truth, since the justification that is received by faith alone is also by grace alone. A full statement of the doctrine would be: “Justification by the grace of God alone, received through faith alone.” Justification is an act of God as judge by which He declares us to be in right standing before Him so far as His justice is concerned. We are not just in ourselves. So the only way by which we can be declared to be in a right standing before God is on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ for our sins, He bearing our punishment, and by the application of Christ’s righteousness to us by God’s grace. This grace is received through the channel of human faith, but it is nevertheless utterly grace.
This brings us to another important idea: the obedience of Jesus. Paul mentions this in verse 19, and it’s the first time he has used the word. In discussing the obedience of Christ, theologians usually distinguish between what is called the active obedience of Jesus and the passive obedience of Jesus. The active obedience of Jesus refers to His submission to and active conformity to the law of Moses. Do you remember how in Galatians 4:4-5 Jesus is described as having been “born under law, to redeem those under law?” This means that when Jesus became man He deliberately subjected Himself to the law of Moses, so that when He went to the cross to die for our sin, it might be known that He did so as a perfect sin-bearer, “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). The passive obedience of Jesus Christ is something else. It refers to His submission to the cross. This is what Paul is referring to when he speaks of “the obedience of the one man” through which “the many will be made righteous.” Christ’s active obedience qualified Him for this role. But it was His one act of passive obedience, corresponding to Adam’s one act of disobedience that atoned for our sin and made it possible for the Father to credit Jesus’ righteousness to our account.
Let’s now explore Paul’s illustration of what grace is about and show that the drama of “God’s Grace” – Paul would call it “The Reign of Grace” – is as serious as it is real (vv. 20-21).The illustration Paul uses is of two rival kingdoms, and the way he gets into his illustration is by personifying the power of sin, on the one hand, and the power of grace, on the other. The one king’s name is Sin and his rule is death for all persons. The other king’s name is Grace and He has come to save us from sin and bring us into a realm of eternal happiness, eternal life.
This illustration tells us something about grace that we may not have considered. It tells us that grace is a power. We tend to think of grace as an attitude; and of course, it is that. But grace is more than an attitude. It is also a power that reaches out to save those who, apart from the power of grace, would perish. This means that grace is more than an offer of help. To use the illustration of the two rival kingdoms, it would be possible to say that grace is an invasion by a good and legitimate king of territory that has been usurped by another. The battle is not always visible, because this is a matter of spiritual and not physical warfare. But the attack is every bit as massive and decisive as the invasion of the beaches of Normandy by the Allied Forces at the turning point of the Second World War. The Allies threw their maximum combined weight into that encounter and won the day. In a similar way, God has thrown His weight behind grace, and grace will triumph.
What can we say about the nature of the reign of God’s grace? (1) Grace is bountiful. The first thing we can say is that the reign of grace is bountiful. This means that it is overflowing with benefits. Grace sees us staggering and comes alongside to help us and bear us up. Grace sees us destitute and pours the inexhaustible riches of Christ and the Father into our laps. Grace sees us dying and imparts eternal life. Grace says, “What do you need? Tell me. Tell me anything at all.” And then grace provides that need in accord with God’s perfect wisdom, invincible power, and ultimate supply. “Grace always gives, whereas sin always takes away.” (2) Grace is invincible. In this life it is not always true that the good triumph and the evil are defeated. Looking at this life, we might ask, “Can anything as good as grace really triumph in the end? To be sure, grace offers everything. But how can we know that in the end sin will not somehow still be there to assert its rule and snatch God’s bountiful gifts from our hands?”
Ah, but that would be possible only if we were speaking of grace in human terms. If it were only my grace or your grace that we are talking about, sin would snatch our gifts away. We could not stand against this powerful adversary. But it is not my grace or your grace that is reigning. It is the grace of God, and God is the Almighty One. Who or what can stand against God or His purposes (see Rom. 8:31-30)? We can be assured of salvation because, through Christ, we have gained permanent access by faith “into this grace in which we now stand” (Rom. 5:2). For the reign of grace there is no defeat, there can be no end. Let grace triumph in you. Yield to it. Yield to the grace of God in Christ. Open your arms to grace, and let grace draw you to the winning side.
Romans 5:18-21 Reflection Questions:
How do verses 18-21 summarize the entire letter of Romans so far?
The idea of a beautiful and good world, spoiled at one point in time by human rebellion, remains basic to all early Christian, as to all Jewish thought. The picture of humankind in a state of sin is indeed a sorry one. In what ways do verses 18-21 contradict the view of humanity that society today holds?
Think about an area of your life, your community or the world that demonstrates the brokenness of sin. What would that area look like if there was a “reign of grace” instead of a reign of death?