What Grace Is Not

It is amazing, the advances in medicine in just the past 100 years of human history. Before the discovery of antibiotics, for instance, bacterial meningitis claimed the lives of most of its childhood victims, and more recent inroads into cancer treatment are amazing. Once limited to the offer of palliative care—relief to the symptoms of serious disease—in many cases we now live in the abounding hope of an astounding cure. Which would you prefer—merely to be made comfortable in your disease, or to overcome it entirely? (It’s a rhetorical question.)

I think sometimes we look at grace as though it were some sort of palliative care—that because God loves us and freely forgives, we can be contented to linger in sin and do so more comfortably. This notion is not new, for it plagued the early church, as well. Writing to the believers in ancient Rome, Paul exhorted them on the power of grace—“For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace”—then continued with a rhetorical question of his own: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!”1 Sin is still sin, and it is not OK. On the topic of grace, the bold apostle instructed another early church, “For the flesh [sinful nature] desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. . .  The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”2 Grace is not license to do what is wrong, nor does it wink at wrong as though it were right.

Grace is the power by which we overcome sin. Again to the Galatians, Paul writes, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh.”3 “How?” we ask. “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”4 Follow the Spirit—give ourselves over to Him—for He will always lead us in the ways of God, and “against such things there is no law.”5 So, how does God show His love—by leaving us to dwell in our sin more comfortably, or dwelling in us as our power to overcome sin? (Another rhetorical question.)

“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”6 —Jesus, to the woman accused of adultery

Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Send Your Spirit to lead us in Your ways, and grace us to follow Him. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 Romans 6:14-15
2 Galatians 5:17-21
3 Galatians 5:13
4 Galatians 5:16
5 Galatians 5:22-23
5 John 8:11 ESV


The Door to Grace

It was his turning point. Presented with the gospel one day, Ray responded to his friend that he had led a good life and that was good enough. So, when his friend dared him to go one day without sinning, Ray eagerly accepted the challenge. “I didn’t even last one hour,” he recalled years later, “That’s when I realized I needed a savior.” It is the most blessed grace to come to the empty end of ourselves and to entrust our all to the atoning work of Christ on the cross. For as Paul wrote, it is through our Lord Jesus Christ that “we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”1 Such comfort! We need grace! But what is it about faith that God establishes it as sole access into His grace?

Coming to faith in Christ Jesus aligns us with two eternal and inescapable truths: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”2 Further, our humble submission to Jesus trumpets to all creation—seen and unseen—just who He is: “The Son is the image of the invisible God . . . All things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”3 Life itself is found in Him. And perhaps above all is this: “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.”4 We have nothing to add, no compensation to offer Him, just ourselves in need of grace.

Then grace is not a matter of our goodness, but Christ’s fullness, for “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”5 For “righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”6 And “through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”7 By grace we have been saved through faith8 (and faith itself a gift from God). “Through faith in [Christ] we may approach God with freedom and confidence.9By faith we . . . receive the promise of the Spirit. 10 And having “gained access by faith into this grace . . . we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”11 This is grace upon grace—grace in its various forms. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”12 For we need grace; we need the Savior.

We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. —John 1:14

Father, we turn to You for grace. Strengthen us in faith that we would always flourish in Your favor generously poured out on us and through us in its various forms. Be glorified in us. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 Romans 5:1-2
2 Romans 3:23-24
3 Colossians 1:15-17
4 John 3:35
5 John 1:16 ESV
6 Romans 3:23
7 Romans 5:1
8 Ephesians 2:8
9 Ephesians 3:12
10 Galatians 3:14
11 Romans 5:2
12 Hebrews 14:6 ESV


The Great Cost of Free Grace

Author Dan Kennedy tells the story about Fred Herman, broadly known in his day for his unmatched sales skills. Catching the attention of “The Tonight Show,” Fred was invited to appear as Johnny Carson’s guest. Johnny welcomed the renowned salesman to the show, and soon thereafter challenged Fred to sell him something on the spot. Kennedy’s account: “Carson said ‘OK, since you’re the greatest salesman, sell me this ashtray.’ Fred picked it up, examined it, and asked, ‘If you were going to buy this ashtray, what would you expect to pay for it?’ Carson named a price. Fred said, ‘Sold!’”1

Over the past four weeks, we have been talking about God’s grace, both His nature of grace and His outpouring of “grace in its various forms”2 to us through acts of love. From His own lovingkindness, God lavishes the riches of His favor upon us,3 not as our due, but as His gift. But while grace is free to us, God has extended it at great cost to Himself. Paul explains, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his bloodto be received by faith.”4 Moreover, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”5 And Jesus “suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”6 Again, grace is free to us, yet quite costly to God. Paul reminds us, “You were bought at a price,”7 indeed it is the price of justice, for we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”8

Then what does this tell us about our worth to God? What must we conclude about His regard for us—both as individuals and collectively as the people of His redemption? John tells us plainly, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”9 Our life, to Him, is worth His life for us. Then let no one, especially you, convince you otherwise. And in this glorious truth may we give ourselves entirely to Him who gave Himself entirely for us, for “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness”10 —the great cost of free grace.

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. —Revelation 5:9

1 Dan Kennedy, No B.S. Sales Success: The Ultimate No Holds Barred, Kick Butt, Take No Prisoners & Make Tons of Money Guide, (Entrepreneur Press), 63.
2 1 Peter 4:10
3 Ephesians 1:7-8
4 Romans 3:25
5 Galatians 3:13
6 Hebrews 2:9
7 1 Corinthians 6:20
8 Romans 3:24
9 1 John 4:10
10 1 Peter 2:24