What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:15-18 ESV)
The strength of the biblical teaching on holiness is that it synthesizes the biblical teachings on law and grace without doing damage to either. You say, “What are you talking about?” In the history of the Christian church it has been very difficult to keep law and grace together. A classic example is in the Protestant Reformation with Martin Luther. Luther had struggled to be a faithful Christian, and he thought this meant keeping all the commandments of the Catholic Church and of the Bible. But trying to do this, he found himself crushed and broken. So, as he got into the Word, and began to get a picture of the glory of the free grace of God, he came to see grace and law as enemies. Grace frees us from any need to try to keep God’s law, he taught.
This is true, as far as it relates to coming into a saved relationship with God. Nothing we have ever done or will ever do can make us acceptable to God. It is God’s free grace in Jesus that does this. But the danger is that we then begin to apply this idea to the Christian life: “It doesn’t matter how I live; I’m saved by grace!” If the Roman Church submerged grace under legalism, the modern Protestant Church has submerged the holy living that God expects of us under the cover of grace. We say, “It’s alright that I don’t live a life like Christ’s, because I don’t need to.”
But perhaps you are saying, “Wait a minute! You have shifted your ground. We were talking about the law, but now you are talking about Christ-like living.” Actually I have not shifted ground. The core of the law, its ethical requirements, is nothing other than a Christ-like life. The law gives us the content of such a life. And the good news that John Wesley discovered in the Bible is that it is not a matter of law or grace. Rather, as Paul says in the passage for today, grace not only brings us to God, freeing us from the wrong idea that we have to work our way into God’s favor, it is also the means, through faith (“obedient from the heart”), to enable us to live the life of God before a watching world..