Category Archives: Jonathan Grothe

Practical Gospel Comfort

It is of the greatest importance for theology and ministry to grasp correctly that Paul is not making ethical exhortation in Romans 6-8. It is of great importance for pastoral dealings with Christian persons in their awareness of their moral failures. For it is an operation of opinio legis that makes people use such phrases as “a good Christian” and “live out your faith” in such a way as to engender the false hope of being able to fulfill works of the Law in current behavior. Such false hope can lead to doubt or despair in believers who are weak both in morality and in faith. It is from the devil himself that come thoughts such as “I must not be a very good Christian if I behave (or even think, or feel) in such and such a way.”

To expect that the baptized Christian will be continually growing less and less susceptible to sin is to fall into a grave trap. It is a sad fact that each child of Adam, even the baptized believer, continually recapitulates and confirms the fall into sin.

So what to do about it? Some Christian groups fell constrained to draw a line around themselves, based on outward manifestation of piety, to demarcate between the holy (or, at least, the “more nearly holy”) and the not so holy, between the “good” (“genuine,” “committed,” “reborn,”) Christians and the “bad” (so-called, delinquent, or “nominal”) Christians. When confronted with their moral shortcomings, these (self-proclaimed) holier Christians tend to say something like “God knows we can’t be perfect, and so he has to accept our best efforts, even if they are imperfect.” Such thinking is still in the realm of the Law.

But in the realm of Law, God expects doers of the Law, not try-ers. He will not wink the eye at sin. Those who hold that the mark of the Christians is that they try their best to behave rightly have put themselves under Law and in an impossible position. All holier-than-thou types who separate themselves (as “the godly”) from the ungodly forget that the God of the Gospel is the God who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5).

But for the ungodly, who have nothing of which to boast and whose experience is all struggle (and mostly a losing struggle) with Sin, the message of Paul brings great comfort. “That’s the way it is,” Paul says, “between baptism and deliverance. Your sanctification, which God is seeing to, has begun with Christ’s death and your baptism. It continues every present moment as you live in the Holy Christian Church in which God daily and richly forgives sins. And it culminates in your deliverance from the old aeon, in the death of the body of sinful flesh and in the purging of indwelling sin and its corrupting power. This brings the resurrection of the body – a spiritual body – and the life everlasting.”

All of this is life “according to the Spirit,” life which has already begun and, as such, makes a foundation for hope.

Jonathan Grothe, “The Justification of the Ungodly”, Volume 1, pages 399-401

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Sanctification, Grace, and The Pattern of Doctrine

[Romans 6:11-23] is about God’s work of sanctification in believers’ lives – also now – as he causes his church to “grow the growth of God” (Col 2:19). The section is about sanctifying and the key words in it are not the imperatives but the great statements which refer to God’s work:

“You are not under Law but rather under grace” (6:14).
You were delivered to a pattern of doctrine (6:17).
You have been set free (6:18, 22).
“The gracious gift of God is eternal life” (6:23).

Paul’s words about sanctifying do not lay on Christians a post-Gospel dose of (guilt-producing!) Law. “Sanctifyingis Gospel talk. The change of lordship transfers sinful man out of that vicious cycle in which he is trapped when trying to be right with God by doing works of Law.

The reign of grace is none other than βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, the kingdom of God. The Savior who calls out “Come unto me, ye weary” (Mt 11:28) has given rest: grace, a gift. Grace shines down from heaven in Jesus Christ, and those who are baptized are justified, standing in it (Rom 5:1), walking under it (6:14). It warms, releases, vitalizes them.

It is the prodigal son who is “under grace.” Will his brother, in whom reigns opinio legis, repent and come into the joy of grace (Lk 15:11-32)? The father who is waiting for his sons is giving a feast in the household where grace reigns; reckoning everything in the way of Law is what keeps one from being joined to that household and its eternal joy.

But those who are under grace are not under Law. They spring up, newly alive, and should never again let opinio legis cause them to doubt the good standing (for Christ’s sake) in God’s sight. Under grace, they are delivered into the power and care of the Gospel, the pattern of sound doctrine. This doctrine is not a moral code, but the word of grace, the ministry of the Gospel, the work of Christ (through his representatives) to guard the Christian and keep him in the one true faith – in the Christian church, where Christ richly and daily forgives sins (sanctifies continually) and at the last will raise the dead and give to believers in Christ eternal life. Through the doctrine, through the Gospel, through the ministry which is the continuation of Christ’s ministry, God is sanctifying. And so the Christian person, under grace, kept in the faith, is freed – to serve (Rom 6:18) and to rejoice (Rom 5:11).

Such is the happy life of the one who lets himself be made a slave of the God who justifies the ungodly and graciously gives the gift of eternal life (Rom 6:23).

– Jonathan F. Grothe, The Justification of the Ungodly, Volume 1, pages 354-355