Grace can be just a word to fill a part of a theology, or it can be something so precious that most are blind to it until when the eyes are opened to its wondrous life transforming power. A Christian whose root grows deep in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18) is still, and always has been, a rare breed, and yet here we’re talking about "not abusing God’s grace.
There have been many sermons preached and books written on various subjects; but no matter what the titles are and however many angles from which they came, the underlying teaching is a focus on sins and the warnings against falling into them. More often than not, Romans 6:1 is used as the basis for such teaching: "What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase?"
There is clearly an assumption that the majority of Christians needs to be reminded that they should not abuse God’s grace; this assumption is reflected in the amount of sermons and writings. This article attempts to show that such warnings are both misplaced and show perhaps a lack of the knowledge of God’s grace on the part of the writers or preachers.
A false assumption
Do people really need to know God’s grace before they can start taking advantage of it? If it is true that people do take advantage of God’s grace, then the world may be better of without Christianity, because then they would not have known God’s grace to abuse it, or to find a license to sin. Of course we all know that people sinned long before they knew of the concept of God’s grace. Consider how much man sinned before God sent the great flood, and that was long before Christ came to freely give salvation to those who believed.
We’ve heard many testimonies and stories of changed lives, of those who led such lives controlled by sins and then changed for the better. If these testimonies are true, and if these positive stories of changed lives are reliable, then what is the rationale for such teaching? What necessitates the constant preaching against the abusing of God’s grace which defies the very guarantee of God that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6)?
Before the message of “Do not abuse God’s grace” should be widely preached, if it should ever be preached, the seed of faith must have been firmly planted in the hearts of listeners so that they became fully convicted that God’s forgiveness through the cross can cover their multitude of sins.
Before such state of faith can be established, there’s no point worrying about the abusing of God’s grace, because how can someone who does not have the assurance of salvation, the salvation that is by grace through faith, do the very thing they’re being accused of?
In the book “The Grace Awakening,” Charles Swindoll asserted if you don’t preach grace until you’re accused of giving people a license to sin, you haven’t preached anything of great value at all. The great preacher Martyn L. Jones also expressed virtually the same idea years before C. Swindoll. But both these men simply recapitulated what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans of accusation against his preaching too much of God’s grace: “What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase?”, to which he responded “Absolutely not.”
In reality, a survey of all material ever written through the ages shows a disproportionate focus on sins, not grace. Therefore we can safely assert that the “do not abuse God’s grace” type of preaching is not based on the true assessment of the believers’ faith at all.
In short, the glaring contradiction lies in the fact that little time is spent on preaching God’s grace, and yet much time is spent in warning against abusing it.
God’s grace promotes sin?
The preaching of “do not abuse God’s grace” is only valid if God’s grace does in fact cause an increase in sins. But this is not what the Bible said. It said that the sinful passions were aroused by the law (Romans 7:5), not by God’s grace. It is the misdirected focus on sin that puts people in a downward spiral. The more they try to avoid sin, the more they’re drawn to it like a dog returning to its vomit (Proverbs 26:11).
In 1 Corinthians 15:56 Paul states in no uncertain term that the power of sin is the law. This is quite an unexpected thing to most students of the Bible; because they will almost always resort to using the law to restrain the flesh, but in reality it produces the opposite effect, it arouses the sinful passion of the flesh.
Let us revisit Romans 7:5 in a slightly larger context.
5For when we were in the flesh, the sinful desires, aroused by the law, were active in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6But now we have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code.
We read from these verses a study in contrast, on one side we have the law and its deadly fruit, on the other we have its opposite, grace, and though its fruit is not mentioned, we know it must produce fruit for life. We used to be under the control of the law, now we are released from the law. We have died to what controlled us—namely the law, the old written code—, now we live in the new life of the Spirit. And finally, in order to serve in the new life of the Spirit, we must have died to the law.
Therefore if our goal is to overcome the lust of the flesh, we actually needs God’s grace instead of warning againts it. It is the law that gives sin its power. It is the law that arouses the sinful passions in us. Not grace. Far be it from us to be leary of what is as beautiful as the grace of God.
Do our church’s people really know God’s grace?
As stated earlier in this writing, it doesn’t make sense to warn people of the danger of the abusing of God’s grace if they don’t have a full grasp of what it means. One practical question we must ask ourselves is: Do our church’s people really know God’s grace? How can we tell?
We don’t have to look further than the context of our own body of Christ. Very few churchgoers, even those who regularly attend Sunday Schools, are sure of their salvation. When asked whether they know where they’d be once this life is over, or when the Lord returns at the sound of the trumpet (I Corinthians 15:52), the answer is usually: “We can only try our best,” or something else of equal or even less certainty.
If they had had a full knowledge of God’s grace they would have had no such doubt of their salvation. Their answers to the important question of their eternal place in the heavenly realm would have been more certain if not absolute, because this salvation is based not on human ability but on the promise of God. Therefore it makes no sense to warn them of the negative side of the dangerous “grace” if they had not possessed it in the first place.
The preaching of “do not abuse God’s grace” is like a fly in the ointment. Jesus died on the cross to showcase God’s matchless grace to mankind, but it is man that attempts to put a lid on this bright light that gives hope to wretched sinners. Their message amounts to: God’s grace is amazing, but it has a dark side.
Preachers of “Do not abuse God’s grace” should begin to trust in God, in the indwelling Holy Spirit who will take care of his own, who will continue His work of preparing them for the kingdom of God. They should instead make up their mind to only lead people to Christ and leave the work of transformation in the hands of the One who made living being out of inanimate clay.
They should trust that if God had not put a leash on His grace, neither should they. But to be fair, God does put a leash, a different kind of leash, on His children: the Holy Spirit. He will shed His love—grace—abroad in their hearts, and this love will constrain us as it did the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 5:14).
There is no “thou shalt not abuse God’s grace” teaching in the Bible.
- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen
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