God forbid

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Romans 5:1-6:14

It’s a far from literal translation, but it traces all the way back to Tyndale and even to Wycliffe before him. “May it never be” would be a stricter rendering of the Greek, but “God forbid” has endured as a statement of indignant resolve. It occurs 26 times in the Bible, the majority of the uses are from Paul.

It was a common rhetorical device of Paul’s to voice a possible objection to his teaching and then to reject it firmly:

“Is the law sin?  God forbid.”  (Romans 7:7)

“Is there unrighteousness with God?  God forbid.”         (Romans 9:14)

“Hath God cast away his people?  God forbid.”  (Romans 11:1)

“Is therefore Christ the minister of sin?  God forbid.”   (Galatians 2:17)

In today’s phrase, both the question and the emphatic answer are vital to understand:

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.” (Romans 6:1-2)

Paul expects an objection to his teaching.  It’s an objection for which every gospel preacher must be prepared.  If a preacher is not faced by this objection, we may question whether they are really preaching the gospel.

The objection is this:  “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”

If we preach Paul’s gospel, people will ask us this question.  Because it might sound to them as though God’s free gift of salvation is magnified if we commit more and more sins.  If Jesus ‘picks up the tab’ for our bad behaviour and if His payment on the cross is His glory, then we can make Christ look more glorious can’t we?  We can rack up an even bigger debt for Him to cover.  Thus we might continue in sin so that His grace may abound.

Paul’s answer to this is emphatic:  God forbid!  He rules such thinking out of court.  But notice why such thinking is rejected.  He continues…

“How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?  Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death:  that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:  Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  For he that is dead is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:2-7)

So often we think of salvation individualistically and impersonally.  We think that God gives each of us a “thing” called “grace” or “salvation” or “forgiveness.”  It’s like a blank cheque handed from heaven, underwritten by the infinite worth of Christ’s blood.  And so we run off to spend God’s grace on our sinful pleasures.  But no, God gives us a Person called Christ – a Person with whom we have been united.  We have been baptised into Him, planted together with Him, crucified with Him, buried with Him and raised again to newness of life.  We are not individuals with a “get out of hell card”, we are members of Christ Himself, in Whom our sin and its consequences have been dealt with once and for all.  We have been brought through sin and death out into new life.

We have not been saved to sin, we have been saved from sin – freed to live a new life.  And not as individuals.  We are in Christ, united to Him like a bride to a Bridegroom.  And our heavenly Husband loves us to death.  In that context sin is unthinkable!

Imagine two couples.  Both of them have husbands who travel for business.  Wife A says to her husband, “I know what happens on business trips.  Your clients will take you to the restaurant and then the bar and who knows where from there.  I’ve heard about these things, and you need to know that if you even look at another woman, this marriage is finished.  Don’t bother coming back.  I’ll change the locks, it’s over mister!”

Wife B says “I know what happens on business trips.  And if you stray I would be truly devastated.  But when I said ‘Till death us do part’ I meant it.  And whatever happens I want you to come home and be honest and I want you to know I love you always and we’ll work it out.”

Question:  Which husband is more likely to cheat?  Husband A every time.

We imagine that the way to make people good is to add conditions to the love of God.  “God loves you a lot.  But if you sin, the love cools and you’ll have to mope around on the outskirts of His presence.”  Actually conditional love does not “keep us honest.”  Conditional love turns our hearts away from the Lover and towards other things.  It’s unconditional love that captures the heart.  Christ grips us with a love that says “No matter where you go or what you do, I am with you and I am for you.  We have an unbreakable marriage-bond and I love you come what may.”

More than this, Christ has taken us through sin and its consequences and out into freedom.  However we might muck around in the pit, Christ has lifted us to the throne.  And whatever promises which sin makes – they are lies.  The desires we seek to satisfy are truly met in our Loving Bridegroom.  And He will never leave us or forsake us.

Therefore, shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid!

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