“What shall we say to all this grace-talk? Some foolishly say ‘Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound?’ I say of course not!” Romans 6:1
If you had a credit card that someone paid off for you every month, would you indulge every whim? Buy whatever you wanted? Spend without concern for the wisdom of the purchase?
Ummmm, probably. I would. I’m just being honest
Some people are suspicious of grace for this very reason. Paul’s earliest opponents said “shall we go on sinning that grace many abound?” (Rom. 6:1). In other words, if God forgives everything then why not just live like the devil?
It’s a great question because, in fact, God does forgive everything. There is nothing I can do that God will not forgive. He’s already paid the balance due. The cross is a limitless reserve of grace. Grace already abounds more than sin. It’s a fact.
So why do I need to “do” anything? What works do I bring to the table? What practical reason compels me to try to live a higher life?
Let’s go back to the credit card illustration for a moment. Frankly, I probably would charge a whole bunch of stuff for quite a while. In other words, I can “go on sinning.” But at some point I’m going to realize that nothing I buy gives me what I need or really want. Every thoughtful wealthy person has been saying this for the last 3-4 thousand years. Money can’t buy you love.
God appears to have decided that grace will end up having the same effect on the soul. A self-centered life eventually collapses under its own weight. Sin doesn’t give us what we really want or need. God forgives because He knows the pull of grace is greater than the pull of sin, and that some day we’ll likely awaken to that plain face. He knows that grace accomplishes what law never can. We can’t work our way into the kingdom. This is God’s huge gamble. He’s all in on grace.
The notion that the grace-life inevitably leads to lazy, indulgent Christians simply doesn’t do justice to the New Testament. Jesus implored to ask, seek, and knock. He warned us away from bad fruit and told us to produce good fruit. He even plainly said that He did not come to abolish the law. Actions are important to Jesus. We’re not to lounge on the altar waiting for God to work out everything and wipe the slate clean. We don’t only hear Jesus’ words. We DO them.
Paul was equally clear. This apostle of an outrageous grace also wrote that we are to work out our own salvation and that we are created for good works. He exhorted us to avoid the works of the flesh. I could go on and on. The point is, no New Testament writer even remotely suggested a laissez-faire approach to spiritual matters.
So what is my proper response to this wonderful grace? What do I do?
First, I make a decision to agree with God. I make the same gamble He did. It’s grace, from first to last. That means I give up the notion of trying to impress Him or gain more of His favor. I stop treating my relationship with God like a contract where I must have every t crossed and every i dotted in order for Him to answer my prayers.
Taking the gamble means that I’m going to regard others with patience, kindness, tolerance, and love even when they’re unworthy of or resistant to each one. After all, what use is it to love only the loveable? If I want to really experience the gamble of grace then I have to go all in with the ones who don’t deserve it.
Taking the gamble also means that am patient, kind, tolerant, and loving of myself. This sounds horribly self-indulgent but in doing this I’m simply agreeing with God. Giving grace to everyone else while withholding it from myself is a form of hypocrisy. Learning to offer grace to yourself is the only way to quiet the self-critical voice most of us have clamoring away inside our heads.
My second response to grace is to engage in the kind of life that allows grace to flow freely.
For years I have struggled to grow grass in my backyard. I’ve used the recommended fertilizers, fungicides, and weed-killers. I’ve re-sodded the entire backyard, and half of it again. Yet every summer I watched the slow death of my precious St. Augustine.
This spring, however, I cut down trees that blocked too much sunlight. Six big trees are gone that were too close to the house anyway. I pruned others. The backyard now gets full sun at least half the day and the grass is absolutely taking over.
My spiritual work in response to God’s grace means pruning away things that block the sunlight of the Spirit. This includes overt sins that clearly don’t honor God, and the bad habits of the mind that cloud my thinking. I pray, worship, read, and meditate because they create a spiritual warmth that comes from within. I let God be God, and resist the temptation to control Him or treat Him like an equation or concierge.
I have to admit there are times when the gamble doesn’t seem to pay off. People don’t act like I want them to, or I don’t get my way, and I’m tempted to fall back into a chest-thumping legalism. But if I just stay in the game, then I “feel” God say to me “I love you, and I’m with you.”
Then I know the gamble is worth it.
Dr. Terry Ellis
April 24, 2016