Sin has not changed at all since the Garden of Eden. The same thing that was happening in the first human hearts back then is still happening right now. People are pretty much the same, regardless of their time in human history. When it comes to sin, people want to know how close they can get to the cliff’s edge without falling off.
In the Apostle Paul’s time, there were those who disguised this desire by twisting the teaching of God’s grace to infer that sin was actually a good thing, because it provided an opportunity for grace to be exercised. What better way to honor the Lord than to go ahead and sin, right? It was just one more attempt at pushing the edge of the envelope and determining how much sin they could get away with without getting burned by it. Notice how decisively Paul answers the question: “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”(Romans 6:2). Paul is telling us that we’re missing the big picture if we’re asking what we can get away with. That’s not the issue.
The real issue is this: Grace is something that gives us freedom from sin, not something that gives us freedom to sin. If we don’t see it that way, we have a serious misunderstanding of Grace that needs to be fixed.
When we misunderstand grace as a license to sin, it can actually be traced back to a set of three separate but inter-twinning misunderstandings. The first is a misunderstanding of sin itself. It has been said that we’re punished not only for our sins, but also by our sins. The point is that sin’s presence in our lives is punishment in and of itself, because sin is inherently harmful to us.
That was the underlying principle at play when David cried out, “My iniquities have gone over my head; Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me”(Psalm 38:4). God never created or intended for human beings to be able to manage the effects of sin. It’s simply bad for us all the way around: physically, emotionally and spiritually.
We were never meant to harbor or carry around sin, and yet we often do so, to our own self-destruction. But when we see sin for what it truly is, when we understand how hurtful and hazardous it is, we won’t want to get away with it but, rather, we’ll want to get rid of it.
The second misunderstanding in thinking that grace gives us a license to sin is a misunderstanding of the cross.
God has an intense anger toward sin, and He’s determined to punish it thoroughly. One way or another, He will be faithful to judge every sin ever committed by anyone who has ever lived on this earth. And the only thing that stands between our sin and God’s wrath is the cross.
It was on the cross that Jesus served as our sacrifice and satisfied God’s wrath on our behalf. As our sinfulness was placed upon our innocent substitute—Jesus—God’s fury toward sin was placed upon His pure and innocent Son.
How does that make you feel? When we see the cross in that light, it should make us look at our sin not as a source of pleasure, but as a curse and burden. Sin loses its luster when we recognize what Jesus went through, how He endured the Father’s wrath for the sake of my sin. How can we even entertain the idea of continuing in sin when we consider the cross and what happened there?
The third misunderstanding in seeing grace as a license to sin is a misunderstanding of grace itself.
Grace is humbling when properly understood. Think about it. We were completely powerless to help ourselves as sinners. God, who knows everything, knew that the only way for us to ever be saved was for Him to do it for us... creating a plan for a second chance to be right with Him. Grace—God’s unmerited favor despite our sin—was our only hope. That realization alone should knock you to your knees in tears. It’s humbling.
By very definition, grace is something that cannot be earned or deserved: “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace” (Romans 11:6).
If that doesn't humble your heart, if that doesn't cut to your core and break you down, then you’re not really getting any of this. When we understand grace for what it truly is and how it’s affected our lives, the last thing we’re going to ask is, “What can I get away with?”
Instead, we’re going to wonder, “Lord, who am I that You would be so good to me?”
When we have a proper understanding of these three things, when we see sin, the cross and grace for what they truly are, we’ll have the same perspective Paul did. We won’t miss the bigger picture of what it means to be enveloped by God’s grace.
Instead of seeing grace as something that gives us the freedom to sin, we’ll see it as the very thing that sets us free from sin. If you have availed yourself of God’s wonderful provision of a “second chance” – His Grace, then live in it and be right with God all the time.
Written by Steven Haught