Even a fool should want eternal life! Even an atheist longs for eternal bliss! Some know that they don't deserve it, others believe it doesn't exist, others take it for granted, others misunderstand it and others reject it, although their belief is that it is true.
Life is all about time. From the time a person is born and the eyes are opened to the concept of death is realized, "dread" is the malady for all. It steals contentment, happiness and joy; until it's replaced by "hope". Salvation, or at least "safety", takes all people who will believe, from dread to hope. The process providing hope to the dreadful is "grace". Grace is the flow of love from God to mankind!
Grace is dependent on love. Without love grace cannot be! The fuel which stokes the fire of love in God's "chest" is our own faith. Of course God loves even the unfaithful, but it is faith which makes love flow.
Before we proceed with grace, let's look at "works". Examine verses 19-20. In verse 20 "the law" was given such that sinners are aware that they indeed sin. The Law is there such that without excuse all men know that they are law-breakers, or divine criminals.
Romans 5:18 "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. 20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord."As men sin their degree of criminality increases. It's much more likely that a hardened criminal will seek reprieve of all his many sins, than a person will for "mild" sins, if that word can even be used. God tells us that the one who sins the greatest, when forgiven, shall love him the most! Great sin leads to great grace! Of course it's not that we are to purposely sin greatly to get great grace, but even if we have sinned greatly, grace abounds more!
Since abounding grace is what God bestows and what sinners should desire, the giver of grace is the object of faith on whom the sinner relies. The purpose of grace is for sinners to quit relying on their own limited power for salvation because indeed they are powerless. Divine criminals who are given a second chance are given new life by the Supreme Judge. It's his gift to the criminal! (Verse 18).
Therefore, no person can "work off" the crimes because the judge is willing to decree the guilty person to be innocent. That payment is not an option! It is serve the time or accept the reprieve! That's done because The Judge is gracious and because he loves us so!
It is an insult to God's authority when us divine criminals have the audacity to believe that we can work it off! For instance, when I was a teenager I felt unworthy to be forgiven. Indeed I was! Because of that truth, I tried to "work off" my iniquity by being "good" for a spell. I didn't know how long a spell that would be, but some forsaken angel, told me "No matter... go for it." I waited patiently for the day that I would be "good" enough to face God for redemption. Since only God is good, my efforts were laughable if I had not been so pitiful!
God wanted me when I was "worst of the worst". One day it occurred to me and "WOW!", I gave up being "good" and went for sentencing as a hardened criminal. There grace abounded! I was redeemed by Jesus who paid my bail, and received the hope of salvation. I went from despair because of the futility of trying to save myself, to hope by going to court in my striped uniform, handcuffed to another invisible wicked criminal!
The instant in time when I realized that I couldn't save myself, and only Jesus can, is when I was born-again. My criminal record was destroyed by God's payment of what was due, and I started life again without the burden of being a law-breaker on my record. I was happy because of God's grace, I now had hope! I got a new start and had my life back, just as a new born babe.
It should be obvious that the flow of love, which is grace, is "being forgiven of my sins" although I deserved death. "Grace" is because we have a loving God who gives us millions of chances, but we better take the first one, because another may not be forthcoming. Rejection displeases the Judge and he limits his grace to those who desire it. He is a jealous God and even tires of us trying to save ourselves. "We" are the "gods" who are not to be followed! Salvation is not through ourselves, but is of God.
In verse 21 sin "reigns". By that it means until the time of our death, we are in danger of breaking the law again, but everybody will anyway! However, grace reigns too! It is not the cross-section in time when a person is born again, that grace reigns, but endures until one mortally dies, and lives in Spirit forever! Grace "out reigns" sin.
Grace is abundant, but can never be taken for granted! It's faith which fuels it's flow. Even those with a little faith get grace, but those with no faith get no grace. Grace is a gift of God (verse 18), meaning that those in iniquity must accept the gift, and those living righteous must keep the gift. It can't be accepted then discarded. The faithful by obedience, are those who demonstrate their faith. Faith is the invisible attribute which holds the hand of grace as we walk through life. Faith is ours and grace is God's. In unity they shall arrive to receive the prize. Out of unity there death awaits and hope decays.
In verse 20 it can be seen how faith and grace walk in unity. It is by righteousness. That is the atmosphere in which those with the hope of salvation must walk. If they step out of righteousness into the polluted atmosphere of sinfulness, faith is diminished and grace is taken for granted. Only God knows the time outside righteousness into pollution before faith is suffocated, but we never should want to test the limits. God is patient, but he's does get tired of his own jealousy. He just may hand you over to "you" and see "how that works for ya' "
Being righteous is when one is set apart from the world and becomes a citizen of God's realm. Of course it's on a visa, but it never expires unless a person throws it aside. In God's realm the law is libertarian. Therein it's citizens are allowed to sin at will, but God relies on them to show love by being obedient of their own volition. He is a permissive parent, but his permissiveness is dependent on your willingness to do his will.
The pardoned criminal takes off the striped prison suit, because Jesus wore it and cleansed it with blood. The criminal is given a new white suit and released to the world with new personhood. Rather than undermine God, his new vocation is to tell others about Jesus. He is to sell grace to the world by advertising from whence it comes. Tongue-in-cheek, but true, the righteous person is a commodity salesman. His product is God's grace!!
Those living in God's realm are to be righteous and they are set apart from the world. That separation is called sanctification. That commentary is for another day.
Aint God gracious to save such sinners as we all are? Accept that gift right now and breath that pure fresh air scented with hope! Therein grace abounds and hope is without limit.