Reigning in Life
“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:17)
I remember so clearly my sense of failure and self-loathing in my repeated failures. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, my resolve would vanish and I would experience yet another failure. Of course these failures were inconsistent with my understanding of what it was to be a Christian. Often I thought of myself as a hypocrite, unable to resist temptation, making a resolve one minute but failing the next. My experience caused me to question my salvation. Frankly, “reigning in life” as declared in Romans 5:17 wasn’t my experience. Although I had no lack in desire or effort, each time I would resolve to do better it seemed I set myself up for another failure. My understanding of what it was to be a Christian was very law-driven. Living by rules and regulations, however, ends in failure and disappointment. When I succeeded in following the rules I still failed; it led to pride and judgment of those who didn’t follow the rules. Attempting to live by the law always ends in failure. The law actually seems to make you want to sin. It’s like telling a child not to touch something and then they immediately go and touch it.
It was a most freeing day when I began to understand grace. Romans 5:17 doesn’t say that those who keep the rules will reign in life; it is those who receive an abundance of grace who reign in life. It’s about our already established position. The law is an overbearing husband who finds fault in us but is impotent to help us (Rom. 7:1-6). However, in Christ something amazing takes place; we are made to die to the law through Christ. Now that we have been joined to Jesus we can bear fruit. We are free from our marital obligation to the law through our death. We live in Christ’s righteousness now accredited to us. Even if you don’t feel very righteous you are still righteous, “…so through one act of righteousness the result is justification of life to all… so through the obedience of the one the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:18-19). This is wonderful news: all my failures - past, present and future - have been taken care of. The more this awareness of our position in Christ breaks in upon us, the more we begin to enjoy freedom from failure and freedom to be fruitful. Bearing fruit has nothing to do with the law: it is all about being joined to Christ, having received the abundance of grace and now made able to reign in life. Terry Virgo makes this helpful statement, “the law came to rub it in; grace came to rub it out.”
What joy to know that we continue to be accepted by God as a result of the work of Jesus on our behalf in paying the penalty for our sins and not on the basis of our having kept the law. God’s acceptance of us is a fact, an absolute truth until the day we are presented “before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24).
The secret to reigning in life lies in receiving everything that Jesus has accomplished for us on the cross. “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins he sat down at the right hand of God…For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12,14). Now that I have an understanding of my new position of righteousness being given and not earned, I no longer feel condemned. The desire to obey Jesus and the power to do so has been released to me. With joy and new mercies afforded to me daily, I rejoice. To receive the abundance of grace is to reign in life; you have the ability reign over sin. “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). The awareness of being made righteous through Jesus results in peace, and peace results in joy.
Having received an abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness, I reign in life through Jesus’ finished work on my behalf. This awareness inspires true worship, freedom, and power to overcome. Paul always found himself in worship and rejoicing when speaking about grace: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25); “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Cor. 2:14).
As Phillip Yancey says, “[if we truly grasped God’s grace, then] we would spend all our days trying to fathom, not exploit, God's grace.”