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

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