A common phrase that gets tossed around in the church and on the interwebs these days is “grace is not a license to sin”. I’m sure some of you readers are tired of hearing that by now.
Some people use this phrase to try and get people to not go too far into grace and somehow think preaching grace that will cause people to become lax and just do whatever they feel like. This saying, in my humble opinion, is usually spoken out of a misunderstanding of what grace is.
Before I get into what grace really is, let’s touch on what sin actually is. A religious surface definition of sin usually is that sin is a violation of a God’s laws. However, we read the following in Romans:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law (Rom. 5:12-13).
So sin is something that spread to all (a disease) and it still infected those who did not have a set of laws to break.
Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come (Rom. 5:14).
Sin is an influence that causes people to do wrong, not just the wrongdoing itself. Sin is an influence that came into the world and influenced all of Adam’s kids.
Think of what Adam did as an atomic bomb (an “Adam bomb”) that blasted waves of sin out of the epicenter. These waves of sin and destruction are what impact what the Bible refers to as the “the world”. It is not referring to Earth itself, but a system that impacts the Earth. It is the realm where “the law of sin and death” reign.
But we also see that Adam was a type of Christ who was to come; the last Adam. The rest of Romans 5 goes into comparing what Adam did to what Christ did. We find out that a greater force exuded from the center of the work of Christ and has an even greater influence on the people in His realm (those who are “in” Christ).
But God’s free gift is not at all to be compared to the trespass [His grace is out of all proportion to the fall of man]. For if many died through one man’s falling away (his lapse, his offense), much more profusely did God’s grace and the free gift [that comes] through the undeserved favor of the one Man Jesus Christ abound and overflow to and for [the benefit of] many (Rom. 5:15 AMP).
What is this greater opposing force that frees people from the Adam world of sin? Grace! The very thing that some people are saying is not a license to sin. Guess what? They are right! Far from being a cover up for sin in which God is just cool with whatever you do, grace is an overwhelming force that propels you into greater and greater depths of godliness (see Titus 2:12). As the good ol’ Amplified Bible says, His grace is out of all proportion to the fall of man!
Before you received the grace of Jesus Christ, you were still under the power of sin. In those days, you might have tried to consistently do the right thing, but the river of sin would end up carrying you away from righteousness.
Now, as a Christian, you might start to sin, but the river of grace is flowing in the direction of holiness. That force compels you back toward right living. In fact, the Bible says that grace is not even worthy to be compared to sin in terms of the influence towards good that it can wield.
Nor is the free gift at all to be compared to the effect of that one [man’s] sin. For the sentence [following the trespass] of one [man] brought condemnation, whereas the free gift [following] many transgressions brings justification (an act of righteousness).
For if because of one man’s trespass (lapse, offense) death reigned through that one, much more surely will those who receive [God’s] overflowing grace (unmerited favor) and the free gift of righteousness [putting them into right standing with Himself] reign as kings in life through the one Man Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) (Rom. 5:16-17 AMP).
Wow! Look at the language used in comparing the power of sin to the power of grace. The free gift is not worthy to be compared. How much more will grace cause us to reign whereas sin caused death to reign.
So it is quite unbiblical for people to think that using the law to keep people in line out of fear of too much grace is the way to approach right living. That is like shooting yourself in the foot since the law actually stirs up the desire to sin! We see here how the law comes into play in this duel between sin and grace:
But then Law came in, [only] to expand and increase the trespass [making it more apparent and exciting opposition]. But where sin increased and abounded, grace (God’s unmerited favor) has surpassed it and increased the more and superabounded (Rom. 5:20 AMP)
The law highlighted and even magnified the sin problem so that the disease would be blatantly obvious, but was never meant to be the cure for it.
Where sin abounded, grace abounded even more (the word used in greek contains the word we derive “hyper” from by the way). This is a verse that gets quoted often in grace circles. It means that the shock waves that emanate from grace will always overpower the waves of sin. There is abundant grace to live free from sin’s power.
Some people confuse mercy and grace. Mercy forgives and cleanses you from the past. Grace propels you into a present and future of reigning over the forces that once subdued you.
This is the good news. Welcome to “Graceland”, where sin’s influence is broken.
So that, [just] as sin has reigned in death, [so] grace (His unearned and undeserved favor) might reign also through righteousness (right standing with God) which issues in eternal life through Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) our Lord (Rom. 6:21 AMP).
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Rom. 6:14).