Climate change and environmental disasters are never too far from the headlines these days. Most of us could name at least some of the hurricanes that have wreaked havoc across the world, not to mention the tsunamis that have wrought so much devastation in Asia.
However, one of the geatest environmental disasters of the last hundred years was one that took place in America and it lasted throughout almost the entire decade of the 1930s. It is known as the Dust Bowl. Drought, soil erosion and dust storms or “black blizzards” left what had previously been fertile farming areas in parts of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma as a dust bowl. Crops died. Livestock perished. People were forced to abandon their farms. What should have grown and flourished there, no longer did so because the environment undermined the very best attempts of farmers to farm their land. It doesn’t matter how hard or how carefully you work your land, if the environment isn’t right all you most diligent efforts will come to nothing.
There was an era in church life when you could find lots of sermons, books and articles with titles that began with the words Keys to…. You can still find these kinds of talks, but I don’t think that they are as popular today as they used to be. Perhaps we have found the “three easy steps to…” an approach that feels a little bit shallow in the face of the complexities of life, even though these kinds of talks did often set out good solid biblical principles.
I am sure that many sermons have been preached over the years on the subject of living in victory over sin. And I am sure that, on occasion, the strategy was laid out in terms of a number of keys. Romans 6 certainly lays out principles that are crucial if we are going to live in victory over sin. We need to know who we are in Christ. We need to know that we died with Him and have been raised with Him.
And on the basis of what Christ has done we need to count ourselves dead to sin and offer our bodies to Christ. And there you have it. Boom! Done and dusted.
Well almost. It’s just that often we forgot Romans 6.14:
For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
We forgot that for commitment to Christ to flourish we needed the right environment.
The Greek word translated “under” literally means subject to the power of. We are not subject to the power of God’s law. We are subject to the power of God’s grace. It is important to note that “law” here is not a reference to religious traditions but to the real thing, the real law, as in ten commandments law. The law, good as it was, only defined sin and condemned sinners (Romans 3.20). Grace, on the other hand, enables sinners to become saints and enables saints to live the life – to be like Jesus (Romans 5.17).
We can work out and work through all the Romans 6 principles that I set out above, however, if you believe and practise counting your self dead to sin and offering your self to God without realising you are under grace, you might just find that you are trying to live by grace in an environment of law. It’s like planting crops in a dust storm in a long dry summer. It will yield very little fruit.
How else can you explain the experience of Christians who have worked through freedom courses and discovering your new identity courses and yet they still feel condemned? Still beating themselves up. Still more sin conscious than grace conscious. If you don’t recognise that God has brought you into an environment of grace, you might as well be trying to grow crops in the Dust Bowl.
What does an environment of grace look like? It’s an environment of favour (2 Corinthians 6.2). People who have really discovered grace know that God is for them. It’s an environment of peace (Romans 5.1). People who have discovered grace, have found God as their friend. It’s an environment of love (Romans 5.8). People who have discovered grace are secure in God’s love and secured by God’s love. It’s an environment of freedom (Galatians 5.1). They know that they are free from the penalty and power of sin. And they know that they are free from the demands of the law.
When we pursue our relationship with Jesus and our commitment to Him in an environment of grace it makes all the difference. All the difference in the world.