Not a License to Sin

Grace is not the last word. The Word is the last word.

Grace: What It Isn’t, What It Is (3)

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. 
Jude 1.3, 4

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! Romans 6.1, 2

Cheap grace
In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against letting anything other than the plain teaching of Scripture serve as the touchstone for our faith.

And that includes grace.

Bonhoeffer knew that, when grace becomes the watchword for all things Christian, grace can easily become misconstrued and misapplied, so that, ultimately, grace becomes corrupted and abused. At such times, rather than being free and glorious, grace becomes cheap and useless. 

Grace is important. Our faith is all of grace, and we need grace to help in all our times of need.

But grace does not trump truth. It does not trump Jesus Christ. We need to keep grace in its proper place – under truth and for Jesus Christ and His glory. Otherwise, grace is cheapened, faith is cheapened, and Christ and the Gospel are betrayed. Anyone who insists that grace is the measure of all things Christian has an axe to grind, an agenda to push, or a preferred practice to protect.

Two situations
Grace is not a license to sin. We see this clearly from two situations in the New Testament, one involving the apostle Paul, and one involving the apostle Jude.

In Rome, apparently some people, claiming to be followers of Christ, had taken grace as the defining principle for Christian life. Then they were redefining grace to make it fit their preferred lifestyles. They were using the idea of grace as an excuse for not pressing on in their faith, not working out their salvation in fear and trembling, and not moving on from their sinful pasts. They even insisted that this was what Paul taught! (Rom. 3.7, 8) They saw themselves as the keepers of grace, and they used their presumed spiritual heritage as a way of treating other believers as second-class citizens.

In Romans 2-6, Paul confronted that perverse and subversive spirituality, and commanded the believers in Rome to get their priorities straight. They needed to put to death everything that stood in the way of progress in faith, and stop using grace as a Get-Out-of-Jail card or a sledgehammer to beat up on others.

Jude warned of an even more disconcerting situation. Some teachers, using grace as their baseline priority, were going so far as to commend moral practices which were clearly contrary to Scripture. They were turning “the grace of our God into lewdness.” Lexicographers Louw and Nida explain the Greek word, α
σέλγεια, aselgeia– lewdness – as “behavior completely lacking in moral restraint, usually with the implication of sexual licentiousness – licentious behavior, extreme immorality.”

In other words, these teachers were endorsing conduct that was, by Biblical standards, immoral. They had put grace above truth, hoping to create a new standard of truth to justify their moral preferences. They said it was gracious to tolerate practices and lifestyles that were contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture. They were making grace a license to sin.

And by so doing, they were denying the one true God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace becomes spoiled manna when we try to make it go further than God intends, putting it in the place of Scripture and Jesus Christ as the defining motif for our views and actions.

Revoking the license to sin
Don’t we see similar situations in churches today, where, in the name of “grace”, sin is downplayed, certain sins are tolerated, we turn a blind eye to immoral behavior, and in some cases even go so far as to condone practices that are consistently condemned in Scripture?

All in the name of grace. As if to say that where sin abounds, grace should all the more abound, refusing to pass judgment, confront, or correct, and blinking at the obvious presence of vile transgression. Where “grace” like this abounds, you can be sure that sin will all the more abound, truth will turn squishy, and Jesus will turn His face away from His people.

Grace is not a license to sin. 

And wherever we have tried to make it so, we need to repent of that mindset, revoke that license, reclaim the true meaning of grace, and plead with God to give us real grace to help in our time of need. 

Only when we understand and practice grace as God defines it, will we know grace as He intends – wonderful grace, amazing grace, grace that is greater than – and not a license for – all our sins.

For reflection
1. Why must grace be defined by truth and Jesus Christ, rather than the other way around?

2. Review the Scriptures that introduce this article. Do you see evidence of this same abuse of grace in the Christian movement today? Explain.

3. Does the idea of grace as license to sin line up well with the idea of grace as a divine disposition? Explain.

Next Steps – Transformation: Meditate on Psalm 139.23, 24. Seek the Lord concerning His grace in your life. Are you using grace as a license to sin in any way? If so, confess your sin, repent of it, and seek the grace of forgiveness and renewal.

Grace flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ. The better we know Him, the more His grace will do its work in us. Our book, To Know Him, can help you in drawing closer to Jesus and increasing in Him. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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