Romans 6:1-2: "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"
* * *
Stony ruts in the stream-washed road jarred Benson Mason's teeth as he toed the brake. Following a dusty curve, his sage Expedition struck a washboard patch. Even his short-cropped brown hair seemed to vibrate.
Well, this is fun. Grinning slightly, he slowed further still, checking the odometer and a page of scribbled directions. I wonder what he's thinking this time?
He'd made the three-hour trip at the request of his brother, Paul, who had called days earlier in an excited state. Paul, six years younger, lived somewhat remotely on ten acres of brushy hills and fir trees in central Washington. Almost a year had passed since Benson had made the trek to his brother's home, though they talked via phone or email almost weekly. Yesterday's conversation, however, piqued his interest and concern enough to plan a trip...
"Ben! Dude you need to make the drive out. I need to talk to you," Paul had begun when Benson answered the phone.
"Talk to me now, man. What's going on?"
"I've been thinking," Paul started, "thinking about what you told me last week, and I realized something that blew me away! Remember?"
"Yeah, you mean about Romans? Chapter five or six we were talking about, right?"
"Chapter five, yep! But I don't want to talk it on the phone; hop in the car and get over here, Bro! Besides, I want to show you what I've been working on."
The left front tire climbed another hidden boulder, nearly rocking Benson's head off his shoulders. He rolled his window down, noticing the landmark approaching. As he turned into his brother's two-hundred-foot-long driveway, a warm breeze wafted in carrying the scent of pitch.
Benson recalled the discussion they'd had the previous week being very difficult, especially for Paul. Holy Spirit, fill me and speak to Paul through me. Encourage him through me. Thank you.
"Ben! You made it!"
Paul jumped down the steps of his front porch and raised his arms with a wide smile. Two years divorced, he lived alone in the 1,000-square-foot house. Benson had helped him buy it and gradually restore it after the painful end of his marriage. They'd completed a large portion of work during his previous visit, but he could see Paul had since rebuilt the front porch. Thirty feet away, he could already smell the sweet clear cedar trim.
"Hey Paul! Wow, you've been busy on the house!" They embraced heartily and laughed. "I really like the porch."
"Yeah," Paul replied, turning toward the house. "It was a lotta work. Come on in, there's more!"
An hour later, they rested on the front porch on comfortable rattan chairs, listening to the shimmering needles above. Benson waited. He could see Paul's wheels turning, considering as always the best way to start. Mountain Bluebirds whistled above them in the branches. Finally, Paul sighed and picked up his Bible.
"Okay, Ben, here it is. I was really havin' a hard time with what we talked about right? Like the end of chapter five. I mean, I've been going to church since Jan left, but I never heard that part. You know."
"How can God add the Law so that sin increases?"
"That's the one. Just couldn't get that; it didn't make sense.
"Anyway, but then I was looking at the next part in five that says grace increased, too, and that started makin' more sense."
Benson nodded. "I'm with you. That's cool. That's how God provided for us; it really shows how His design for rescuing us started earlier than a lot of people understand."
"Exactly!" Paul stood up, laying his Bible on the chair and pacing a bit. Then he turned to his brother, leaning on the porch railing. "Now, I remember learning in church and hearin' from you that once you're a Christian, you can't not be one, right?"
"You can't lose your salvation, if that's what you mean. God isn't capricious that way."
"Yeah, okay. Well, anyway, so that's when it hit me, Ben! I was just sittin' out here, and it hit me like a tree on the head. Now, don't jump all over me; just hear me out."
"Go." Benson shifted and wondered.
"If you can't lose bein' a Christian, and God just gets nicer when there's more sin, then why the heck should I be tryin' not to do stuff I want to? I mean, why can't I just do whatever I want, stop worryin' about it? It's just gonna make it better, more grace, right?" He clapped his hands. "It just hit me! I heard somethin' about 'freedom in Christ' at church, too; now I get that, too!"
Benson blinked, speechless for a moment. A flock of clouds blocked the sun, dappling beams on the pinewood floor. "Um...," he began, leaning forward.
Paul stopped him. "Okay, now, I know that look. Don't even. You told me to read that over again in Romans; that's what it means!"
"Just a second. Now, that is a hard passage to understand, I know. It's tempting to read it that way, but I want to tell you something that made a big difference to me." Benson paused, considering his words. "The best way to understand what the Bible says is to read more of it. I mean, the Bible clarifies what the Bible is saying. Does that make sense?"
Paul smirked. "Not really. I feel like you're trying to change my mind."
"Of course I am." Benson grinned and they chuckled together. "Seriously, Paul, what I mean is, reading other parts of the same book, or other books, letters, etc., helps us get the right meaning of a part of Scripture." He reached over to Paul's Bible. "Can I show you?"
Paul nodded and returned to his chair. Benson opened to Romans 5 and read the final verses his brother had alluded to. Paul lifted his hands as if to say, "There you go!"
Benson continued. "Sure, but now, read Romans Six, and you get a better understanding, because Paul" -- he lifted an eyebrow and smiled at his brother -- "knew exactly what you and billions of other people would be thinking! The Holy Spirit showed him your argument; if grace increases with sin, then why not sin more?"
Paul grimaced slightly. In his excitement, he hadn't read Chapter Six, and he felt the tug of resentment.
Benson furrowed his brow and stopped for a moment. "I'm sorry, Paul. I know this probably feels like I'm squashing you, kind of ruining your fun or saying your idea is dumb. I don't mean to."
"Whoa," his brother responded, with an odd expression. "How did you know that? I mean, I barely felt that myself."
"That's it! It's the Holy Spirit, man. He showed it to me. But listen -- Romans 6:1-2 says 'What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?' Do you see?"
Paul sat back, nonplussed, squinting at the floor. "I don't know. Why wouldn't I do what I want with who I want if grace is just gonna grow?"
"It's like this," Benson motioned to him. "When I put my faith in Jesus, really trust Him, and He saves me, He makes some changes. He gives me a new heart, changes who I am, sends my sin packing and changes what I want."
He ran his fingers through his hair, sighing. "Now you know, I still do stuff I shouldn't sometimes. But, the difference is, though I sin, I don't want to sin. What I want is to not sin; to do what God wants me to."
Now Paul looked thoroughly confused. "If you don't wanna do it, why do you? That's crazy, man!"
"Are you telling me you don't ever do something you don't really want to? Did you want to...," Benson hesitated, then softened his tone and gaze, "... end up getting divorced? I know you didn't set out for that; I'm betting you didn't even really want to fool around."
Dark pain flickered on his brother's face briefly. "Ben...."
Benson stood and moved to his side. "I love you, Paul. Not trying to hurt, but it's like that."
A few silent minutes passed as clouds fragmented overhead, lightening the house and land, flowing over the distant hills like a flood of bright water. Even the birds seemed to hold their breath. Benson could see Paul grinding through his thoughts, could see a fight going on, and he felt a wave of anxiety rush his soul.
"Paul. Here it is. If you belong to Christ, He will never let you go, will never let you be lost. But... if you are His, then He's already changed what you really want; He's already put that new heart in you. We all still make mistakes, but in our hearts, we want to please God." Then Benson put his hand on his brother's shoulder, and he felt vividly the Holy Spirit inside his own heart, leading the way. The words foamed up out of him like a powerful but gentle spring from the ground.
Paul turned to him, apprehension in his eyes, somehow sensing something hard was coming.
"You said, 'Why can't I just do what I want with whoever I want, if it makes more grace?' It's the Holy Spirit telling me this right now, man, so please hear it. If you still really want to sin, I mean, desire to do something against God, then you've got to take another look and make sure you have truly trusted Christ, truly let Him in, truly given yourself to Him." Benson swallowed the lump forming in his throat as tears fought for release. "Make sure you've truly been saved."
Copyright (c) 2008 Jeffrey R. Snell
Scripture Taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION
Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
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