“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1). Paul pressed the wonderful truth of grace to the edge of heresy. If our intent is to preach orthodox, gospel grace, we must go just that far. Are you teaching salvation ordained by God alone, wrought by Jesus Christ, and proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit? Then your hearers should be asking the question that was asked of Paul, “Should I not sin all the more so that grace may flourish?” Many of us “tame” the radical nature of God’s grace to the point that we would never have that question asked of us.
The cosmic criminal stands guilty and condemned before God. The holy and omniscient Judge has vindicated the righteousness of His verdict by exposing the sin accumulated by the transgressor minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, and year by year. The sinner stands knowing the truth of the verdict. In desperation he drops to his knees and cries in a flow of tears, “O God, have mercy on me a sinner.” He falls on his face. All is quiet. Nothing can be heard except his sobbing plea over and over. Then he hears what cannot be true. The court declares his innocence. Can this be? Is the Judge unjust, or has He found some worth in the vile man? Then he hears the explanation: “Arise. My Son has taken all your evil to Himself and suffered the punishment that should have fallen on you.”
This is not a vignette taken from the final judgment. Such scenes have been repeated through the centuries as God has worked in the hearts and minds of sinners, revealing to them the heinous nature of their sins, the certainty of His judgment, and the incredible grace of justification through faith in the atoning death and resurrection of His Son. This is a grace that leaves angels and mankind in astonishment and wonder.
Does the reprobate whom we saw sobbing over his sin and guilt at the foot of the cross rise and return to his former life of rebellion and degeneracy, rejoicing that he can now sin without inhibition? Such a thought is alien to the gospel. There is a vast difference between grace and permissiveness. The grace of justification and regeneration brings an objective change to the hearts and minds of sinners. There is a negative attitude toward sin and a love of God that was not previously present. In other words, as Thomas Brooks wrote, “Just as heat is opposed to cold, and light to darkness, so grace is opposed to sin.”
Why do we then see church members who speak of the grace and love of God and yet sin with abandon? The grace they have learned from their pulpits is counterfeit. It is a not a grace freely given by a holy and just God who has sworn a righteous judgment on all sin. Rather, it is a permissive leniency of a god who winks at sin. It is a grace that knows nothing of God’s hatred of sin, the awful justice of Calvary, and the sinner’s redemption from the righteous wrath of God. Thus, the recipient of this pseudo-grace regards his mediocre salvation with a levity that allows him to “enjoy” God and continue his selfish, materialistic, immoral life unchanged. We must ask the church: “Where is the preaching and teaching of the fearsome holiness and justice of God, the odious nature and wages of sin, and the terrible price that was paid at Calvary for the redemption of sinners?” Without such truth, there will be no understanding of true gospel grace.
The genuine, amazing grace of God gives birth to a life consistent with that grace and remarkably different from the previous life centered on self-gratification. It is not a rote obedience to a law code. It is a behavior of supernatural love, joy, and peace demonstrated and bestowed by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit living in us. In Roman 6:14–15 we read that we are not under the law but under grace. The motivation of grace is far more powerful than the motivation of the law.
A young man, recently converted from a life of anger and cruelty in an Aryan supremacy gang, sat in my office. He found himself loving the Jew and the African-American who for years he had been trained to hate. He did not speak of a written law but of the love God had shown him even while he was expressing his hatred in aggressive violence. He met with a powerful member of that dark fraternity who wanted to kill him. Instead of responding in kind, the young man actually gave his foe what he did not owe. There was no law forcing him to sacrifice like that to one who had sworn an oath to destroy him. He said to me, “John, when I first heard of his threat against me I wanted to get a gun and settle it the way I always had. But I could not.” He was not striving to please God by obedience to a law; rather, he was a sinner transformed and compelled by grace to go far beyond the requirements of the law.
“The law detects, grace alone conquers sin” (Augustine of Hippo).