by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 8 Paragraph # 2 Study # 3 August 14, 2007 Lincolnton, N.C.
12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
1901 ASV Translation:
12 So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh:
13 for if ye live after the flesh, ye must die; but if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
I. The "Debt" Imposed by Grace.
A. Perhaps no issue looms larger on the theological scene than this one.
1. When it is all said and done, justification by grace through faith is a bed-rock doctrine.
a. In Paul's letter to the Galatians, he did not establish the identity of Jesus as the Christ as a "make-it or break-it" doctrine (as did John in 1 John 2:22) for one reason: that question was not on the table. The "Galatianists" did not declare some fault in Jesus that made Him unfit to be the Redeemer. Their problem was the corollary issue of how His redemption was appropriated. Their solution was "Jesus plus...".
b. So when Paul wrote Romans 8, he set up a different "make-it or break-it" scenario: "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." In this scenario, it is not whether Jesus is the qualified Son of God that is on the table. Instead, the issue is whether the Spirit of that Son of God has taken up residence in the bodies of those who profess salvation by His name. By this means the apostle has brought a very crucial issue to the discussion: by what means does one "obtain" the Spirit of that Son of God? But, this is a question that he has already answered. He spent the entire text of Romans 4 explaining the "faith" issue as the key "methodological" issue of "justification" (which is the immediate corollary to whether the Spirit of Christ dwells within a man or not). Now, this question/answer raises another question: "faith" in exactly what? But, again, Paul has already answered this question: [Romans 3:24 ("...justified freely by His grace..."); 4:4 ("...to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace..."); 4:16 ("Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed..."); 5:2 ("By whom we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand..."); 5:15 ("...much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace..."); 5:17 ("...much more they which receive abundance of grace and the gift..."); 6:1 ("Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?"); 6:14 ("...ye are not under the law but under grace."); and 6:15 ("...shall we sin, because we are ... under grace?"). So, it is by faith in the grace of God as it is specifically provided in Jesus Christ.
2. Being, therefore, a bed-rock doctrine, the specific nature of grace becomes the crucial issue by Paul's declaration in the text before us in this study: he says we are "debtors".
3. But, what aspect of "grace" is involved in the creation of debt on the part of those who are recipients of it? One of the most enduring hymns of modern Christianity has these words in it: "O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be." In what sense does grace produce a debt?
4. It is the answer to this question of grace's imposition of debt upon its recipients that makes this a large issue on the theological horizon.
B. Grace imposes a debt.
1. There seems to be no other way to take Paul's words in 8:12 ("...we are debtors...").
2. What, therefore, is "grace" so that it creates debt? Is this not precisely what the Galatianists argued; that the grace of God "requires"? Did they not say that the grace of God in providing redemption in Jesus Christ had to be met by man's willingness to submit to the Law of God as his side of the "debt" issue?
a. The question really boils down to this: what happens to those who do not fulfill their "obligation"?
b. It can be asked another way: how does grace respond to those who seek to receive its benefits without accepting its obligation(s)? Or, are there "benefits" in grace that are given regardless of whether one accepts the "obligations"?
1) 2 Chronicles 32:25 illustrates at least part of the answer. In that place we are told that Hezekiah did not "give any return for the benefit he received" and "wrath" came upon him. In that record, the "benefit" he received was not rescinded. There were impositions placed upon him as reactions to his refusal to be a good debtor, but none of them actually rescinded the original grace given.
2) The New Testament concept of "grace in the milieu of daily life" assumes the rather consistent failure of man (grace is unnecessary if man is not a consistent failure), but it also challenges that consistency by arguing that its presence is indicative of a greater willingness in God than man "believes". Failure is a fact, but it is not a necessity. God is willing; man is not.
3. The conclusion seems to be this: Grace extends an irrevocable benefit, but it establishes, by that extension, an obligation so that there is nothing more extended if the "debt" of the former extension is unmet. God does not, apparently, rescind what He has given, but He does not give more if what has been given is unappropriated. Is this a subtle return to "Law" in that man "must do" in order to "obtain"? Paul's doctrine is this: Grace must be met by faith; if it is not, the benefit is not extended. If Grace is met by faith, the benefit is given, but that extension of benefit sets up a new cycle wherein man is faced with "necessity" and Grace offers to meet it. But Grace must be met by faith. So, if the new level of Grace is rejected, the benefit is not extended. There is no recinding of former extensions; there is simply no further extension if the "debt" goes unmet. Some clarity arises once one simple reality is understood: the experience of Life is not an all-or-nothing issue as if Life is a totality of interconnected inevitabilities that automatically arise out of any one part. Life, even in the Kingdom, is a piece-meal reality that can be experienced piece-meal and without any sense of totality. Not everyone in the Kingdom is going to experience the same degree of Life when Life is understood to be the outworking of "the believed Truth about God". Since God is beyond creation's grasp in terms of a comprehensive knowledge, the totality of Life as the outworking of what is known and believed about God is never going to be the creation's experience. Creatures will experience the degree of Life that arises out of what they know and believe about God.