Grace is not License

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2).

The central theme of the entire Bible can be summed up in one word: “grace.” Purely from the goodness of His heart, God has extended mercy to a race of creatures who were so undeserving of it. He has made provisions for our sins and imperfections to be totally forgiven and forgotten, no matter how horrible. He will treat us as though we had never sinned at all.

Unfortunately, some take the concept of grace farther than God intended. They define grace as not merely the forgiveness of infractions of the law, but as the removal of law itself. In their view, we are no longer treated as sinners, because there is no longer any law to transgress. We are free to do generally whatever we please, and God will not hold anything against us. Grace, in other words, has become a license to sin.

It is true that the new law of Christ is less restrictive than the old law of Moses. For example, we no longer must observe a host of regulations about ceremonial cleanliness. But saying that the law we live under is more lenient is a far cry from saying that we live under no law at all.

The epistle of Romans is Paul’s exposition on the subject of salvation by grace. The first five chapters of the book explain how grace works. In this opening section, Paul argued that “sin is not imputed when there is no law” (5:13); that is, you cannot transgress law, if there is no law to transgress. This definition of sin is important in the discussion of grace and law that follows.

Beginning in chapter six, Paul addresses the question of grace and law. His opening question, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” goes immediately to the core of the question. Does grace not only forgive sin, but also excuse it? Can we keep on sinning, knowing that God’s grace will cover everything we do?

To refute this mistaken notion, Paul explains the radical change that takes place at baptism. When one obeys the gospel in repentance and baptism, it is as though he has died to the life of sin that once enslaved him, and has been resurrected to walk in a new life (v. 3-7). This change is marked by a definite change in behavior: “Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts” (v. 12).

In other words, as recipients of God’s grace, we are expected not to violate God’s law. Whatever the details of that law might be, we have an obligation to glorify God by obeying it. “For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness” (v. 19).

God’s grace does not change the essential nature of our relationship with Him. He has created us to serve Him, and provided guidelines to define that service. The guidelines themselves are not the problem; it’s our violation of those guidelines that creates the problem. God’s grace forgives those violations, and gives us a fresh start toward reaching our potential. Grace is not a license to sin; it is an encouragement to forsake sin and obey God.

by David King

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