“Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law, but under grace.” This surely must be one of those Pauline bloopers; the obvious and glaring non-sequiturs one encounters so often in Paul’s writings which seem to defy all sanity. Surely he should have said: “Sin will have no dominion over you for you are not under grace, but under law!” Or at the most, “Sin should have no dominion over you for you are not under grace yet, you know, but still to some extent, at least, under law! Not to mention the “third use of the law!”
Or could it perhaps be that Paul was listening to a “different drummer?” In our weary and despairing ways we get so used to thinking that grace doesn’t amount to much in the practical, rough-and-tumble world. At best, grace is a counsel of last resort, when all else fails – a rescue when we reach the end of our rope.
We live for the most part, on the strength of our moral fiber, under the law, by our zeal for God and all that which tickles our proud fancy.
When a brother or sister, or someone highly placed on our list of virtuous heroes – when such a one falls, or perhaps even we ourselves, we sigh and say, “Well, I suppose there is grace for such a one too.” What we seem to mean is that the person in question has really blown it and now all there is left is grace–—wherever that may be found! We live for the most part, on the strength of our moral fiber, under the law, by our zeal for God and all that which tickles our proud fancy.
And grace? That’s just a stopgap. As Karl Barth put it:
Jesus Christ becomes the indispensable companion, the useful lever arm, and finally and above all the stopgap for all our efforts toward our own justification! Jesus Christ becomes the personification of the wonderful ideas which we always invent for the sake of this justification, according to whatever the spiritual taste of our time may be! Jesus Christ becomes the great creditor who again and again is just good enough to cover the cost of our own ventures in righteousness! This is what becomes of grace, of the gospel.
But Paul was listening to a different drummer. “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law, but under grace.” Paul knew that the sin which seeks to dominate refers to not only the failure we meet “under the law,” but also our so-called “successes” not just our lapses but also our self-appointed “zeal for God.” Paul knew that the difference between the ascetic and the libertine was often only a matter of taste, one’s own particular and quite selfish passions. One has a passion for “being good,” and the other for “being bad.” But it’s only six of one and a half a dozen of the other. The dominion of sin is not ended by mere fluctuations in fancy.
“Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies to make you obey their passions.” Those are formidable enemies. We ought to be aware of that more than ever today now that our attempts to “celebrate the body” threaten to end in the porn shop – or perhaps even in certain celebrated “God-shops.” Somehow we never seem to make it. All the fun seems to be on the sin side of the ledger, and so it has dominion. The idea that sin shall have no dominion doesn’t even seem to be terribly attractive. Our battle is grim and bitter and even the desperate attempts to be religious and righteous and all that only lead farther into the dark.
Paul knew that the sin which seeks to dominate refers to not only the failure we meet “under the law,” but also our so-called “successes” not just our lapses but also our self-appointed “zeal for God.”
Paul was listening to a different drummer. He knew that the only remedy for us was grace. He knew that there is “a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God.” Did you ever think: “wouldn’t it be grand once if you could act purely out of love and joy; do something pure and innocent and true? Not because you had to but because you really wanted to?”
We stumble and grope in our darkness, buffeted about this way and that by our “passions.” And we fail. Paul, of course, knew that well too. But he held out for that vision: There is a river; there is grace. In this dark and uncertain place perhaps it seems naive and unrealistic. That’s what many would say, and do say: a dream with no cash value. To us obsessed with the pragmatic certainties of the law and its dominion, it is of course a tender plant, a flower blooming in the desert – out of place. Perhaps indeed it leads only to a cross.
But for all that, it shall triumph. It shall have dominion. This is a resurrection. And what other hope do we have? “Yield yourselves to God as ones who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” Think of that: as ones who have been brought from death to life!
Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law, but under grace! That’s not a blooper. It is a promise. It will be. Believe it! It will save you.