Is grace too radical in Romans?


In a sermon on Romans 6:1-14, “Are We to Continue in Sin That Grace Might Increase?” Dr. John Piper said,

He [Paul] plays his own worst adversary in Romans 6:1. He has just said in Romans 5:20, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Now he asks, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?”Here is the great objection to justification by grace through faith apart from works of the law. It seems to open the door to rampant sinning. In fact, it seems to invite more sinning because if grace is God’s act to forgive and accept sinners on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, not ours, then would not that grace shine all the brighter if we kept on sinning? The more sin there is, the more forgiveness there is. And the more sinning there is, the greater must be the righteousness of Christ to compensate for it. So doesn’t Paul’s radical teaching on justification open the door to careless living and indifference to holiness?

That is the question Romans 6 (indeed 6-8) is meant to answer. Here is his answer: Verse 2: “May it never be!”

Why Not?

First his answer is,No!” “May it never be!” We are not to continue in sin so that grace might increase. That is a wrong conclusion to draw from his radical teaching on justification by grace through faith alone. But now why? That’s the content of Romans 6 – why do people who are justified by grace through faith alone not continue in sin? You can see how tremendously practical this becomes. Justified people do not continue in sin that grace may abound. Why not? How not? That’s the issue now.

Today I just want to give a very brief overview of his answer. Then we will step back and look at some specifics. So what is Paul’s answer to why those who are justified on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, by grace, through faith alone do notcontinue in sin that grace might increase?

Before we give Paul’s answer, be sure you see what his answer is not. This is crucial. His answer is not that the objection has misunderstood the radical character of justifying grace. Paul did not say, Oh, you misunderstood – I didn’t really mean that justification is all of grace and all based on the righteousness of Christ and only obtained by faith without works. He didn’t say, What I really meant was that justification is really based on your behavior after all. He did not say that justification won’t lead to lawlessness because law-keeping is part of what you have to do to get justified. He might have corrected his opponents this way, if he thought that was their mistake, but he didn’t. That wasn’t their mistake. They saw something correctly: justification is really by grace through faith alone on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone. That is how we get right with God. That is the foundation of the Christian life. It’s this radical view of grace that seems to cause the problem.

So then, what is Paul’s answer to why people who are justified by grace through faith do not continue in sin? His answer is in verse 2. After he says, “No, may it never be!” he gives the basis of his answer in the form of a question: “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” That’s his answer in the briefest form. The rest of the chapter explains.

We Can’t!

Let’s make sure we see this little sentence clearly. It’s a rhetorical question. That means Paul doesn’t expect an answer. He expects us to see the answer already in the question, when he says, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” The answer is, We can’t. In other words, rhetorical questions don’t expect answers; they make statements.

For example, kids, if your dad says, “How are you going to keep your room neat if you throw your clothes on the floor and never hang them up or put them in the drawers?,” he’s not looking for an answer. He’s making a statement: You won’t keep your room neat if you throw your clothes on the floor and don’t hang them up. Or if your mom says, “How can you expect people to be your friend if you’re not friendly?,” she’s not looking for an answer. She’s making a statement. Perhaps a plea. You won’t have friends if you are not friendly.

Well, that is the way Paul is using the rhetorical question in Romans 5:2. He is not expecting an answer; he is making a statement: “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” There is no answer to this “how” question. We can’t live in sin if we died to it. That is his statement. That is his answer to the objection.

So, in summary form:

  • Objection: If justification is on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, not ours, by grace through faith alone, then shouldn’t we continue in sin that grace might increase?
  • Answer: No!
  • Reason: Because if you died to sin, you can’t go on living in it. Or to put it bluntly: Dead people don’t sin.

To read or listen to the rest of the sermon, click here: