Grace “License” or “Legalism”?
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Grace is neither “License to Sin” nor “Legalism” (Part 1)
Romans 5:21 – so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
What Grace is not
These two erroneous ideas about grace. One of them fails to take into account what we have seen about God. The other does not deal with the truth we have observed about ourselves. These are the twin errors of LICENSE and LEGALISM.
Grace is not “legalism” or “Merit”
Grace is not legalism. Legalism does not mean trying to please God. It is not legalistic to seek to do God’s will as accurately and exactly as possible. Trying to strictly obey God’s commands does not make one a legalist. An obedient and careful person might be a legalist or might not be. But the desire or attempt to please God precisely is not the determining factor.
Legalism is not law-keeping, but law-depending. It is not the idea of doing God’s will and obeying his commands but of trusting in one’s performance for salvation. One falls prey to legalism who supposes that he or she will be saved because of a personal record of obedience that is pleasing to God.
One is prey to Legalism when he/she believes that salvation depends on merit, performance or personal record. Legalism is not Grace. It is a perversion of the True Grace of God
According to those who have studied Jewish thought of the first century, the ordinary rabbi of Jesus’ day would have said that he strongly believed in the grace of God. But he would have described it something like this. God’s grace, the rabbi might have said, means that “God gave us his Law. Of all nations on earth, we Jews alone were given this Law. If we keep it, God will bless us. If we do not, he will punish us. But we have God’s grace because we have his Law.”
What this rabbi would have failed to consider — and what many today fail to see as well — is that neither the Jew then nor anyone today ever does keep God’s law perfectly. Legalism says in effect, “keep the rules perfectly and be saved; good luck!” But legalism fails to deal with the eternal principle that fallen humans do NOT keep the rules perfectly! We are sinners, you and I, and everyone else we know. Since Adam, we have been. We are now. Left to ourselves, we always will be. Grace is not simply God giving us his laws and saying, “Keep the rules and be saved — good luck!”
LEGALISM ignores our own fallen nature. No one could EVER be saved by that kind of “grace.” No man or woman has ever kept the rules perfectly — either before becoming a Christian or after –except Jesus Christ. Legalism FRUSTRATES the true grace of God and ignores fallen human nature.
The rabbi might respond to what I have just said by saying, “Oh, I realize that we do not keep all the rules, and that we do not keep the rules perfectly. But God’s grace will surely overlook our shortcomings. For we do keep the IMPORTANT rules — and just look at the other nations of the world!”. In reality, however, this statement begs the question. It misses the whole point.
We are agreed that we have not kept the rules right. But if grace is no more than legalism, no one can be saved. For not one of our race, except Jesus Christ, has kept the rules perfectly — which is but another way of saying that we have not “kept” them at all. And if salvation is by LAW, there is no room for grace. One either DESERVES to be saved or does NOT DESERVE salvation. Salvation is either EARNED or it is an undeserved GIFT — but it is not both those things.
Legalism says that we will be saved because we have kept the rules. It makes excuses for our shortcomings, it rationalizes our mistakes and errors, it talks all around the matter. It picks out certain rules and says that they are, after all, the IMPORTANT ones — it makes all kind of maneuvers. But in the end legalism says: “Here are the rules. Keep them and be saved. Good luck!” Grace is not legalism. Legalism ignores our true fallen nature. No one can be saved by keeping the rules because not one of us ever does that. The grace of God is something else.
It is a cold, hard fact that we always come short of God’s perfect standard. This is undeniable reality — stated in God’s word and verified by all human experience. Scripture is very plain along this line. The law — any law — is weak through the flesh (see Rom. 8:3). That is, no one ever keeps law perfectly, and therefore no one can ever be saved by law. The weakness of the Old Testament was not in the Law of Moses. It was ordained by angels and given by God Himself (Gal. 3:19). Indeed:
Galatians 3:21-22 – 21. Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
No, these words do not apply just to the Law of Moses. If ANY law could have given life, Paul says, surely the Law of Moses could. But even it could not. The law was not bad — the people were. It is impossible — because of the way we sinful humans are and always have been — for law to save. God’s grace is not just giving a law which we can keep and be saved.
Peter was one spokesman in the Jerusalem assembly. His answer to the legalists highlighted the same truth we have been talking about: the nature of man — the fact that we are sinners, that we have never kept the rules perfectly and that any hope of salvation on the basis of our own performance is doomed from the very start.
Acts 15:10-11 – 10. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11. No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
Though Peter had stood firm on this occasion, even he was to play the hypocrite under different circumstances because of the pressures of party-men from Jerusalem. At Antioch, Peter was eating with the Gentile saints –accepting them fully as brethren in the Lord, worthy of sharing in the common life. But when certain men came down from Jerusalem, Peter was intimidated by their presence and did not continue to eat with the non-Jewish Christians. This was not merely racial discrimination in a social sense, but was based on the thinking of some Jews that the Gentiles were not really accepted by God because they did not keep the Law of Moses.
Paul rebuked Peter to his face for this, and said that he was not walking according to the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:11-14). In writing to the Galatians, Paul relates some of his remarks to Peter on that occasion.
Galatians 2:16 – know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
Legalism is not law-keeping, but law-depending:
One is prey to Legalism when one believes that his Salvation depends on merit, performance or personal record.
Legalism says in effect, “keep the rules perfectly and be saved; good luck!” But legalism fails to deal with the eternal principle that fallen humans do NOT keep the rules perfectly!
Legalism ignores our true fallen nature.
Grace is not “license”
Grace is not license! The doctrine of “license” says, “Ignore God’s law and count on his grace.” This doctrine teaches that “our attitude and actions toward God do not matter at all” — that we can deliberately live in knowing and willful rebellion against God if we wish –and that somehow God’s grace will take care of anyway when we face God in judgment. There are those today, and were in New Testament times, who taught LICENSE in the name of grace. But Scripture plainly teaches that grace is not license.
License is a perversion of God’s grace. It denies what we have seen already about God: that he hates sin and always punishes it. This error ignores God’s just demand for a sinless life. It perverts the true grace of God. It is wrong, and always has been. License is not grace, because license does not take into account the eternal principle which grows out of God’s very nature: God demands a sinless life and always punishes sin with death.
But these will be enough to clearly demonstrate to any honest person that the grace of God is not LICENSE. Grace does not mean “do as you please and somehow God will forgive everything.”
The first witness is the Apostle Paul. When Paul preached on grace, sometimes his critics accused him of preaching license. He answers this charge very clearly in his epistle to the Romans. Paul speaks there of God’s grace to man in these words:
Romans 5:20-21 – 19. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. 20. The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21. so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In these verses Paul magnifies the grace of God. As much as Adam did for harm to the human race — Christ did so much more for mankind by His own life of obedience to God. Where sin increased, Paul says, grace increased even more! Satan could not have the last word! His most horrible evil is overshadowed entirely by God’s kindness to sinners through Jesus Christ. Some of those who heard Paul preach these things responded by accusing him of teaching license. They said that his teaching would encourage people to go ahead and sin, counting on God’s grace to save them. Paul responded to this charge in the very next verses.
Romans 6:1-2 &12 – 1. What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2. By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? … 12. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
Grace does not mean LICENSE! Grace is NOT permission to go on sinning. To Paul’s testimony we can now add the words of the Apostle Peter. His second general epistle was written for the express purpose of warning in advance of false teachers who would scoff at Christ’s promised coming and would advocate lustful living now (2 Pet. 3:1-4). In response to these evil men, Peter admonishes saints to live holy lives — to be ready for the Lord’s return. Listen to his words:
2 Peter 3:11, 14, 17-18 – 11. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives ….14. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. … 17. Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.
Peter warns against the doctrine of license. In direct contrast to it, he admonishes in verse 18:
18. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, began to write a joyful epistle celebrating salvation in Jesus. Because of some who were teaching license, however, he felt compelled to change his plan, writing instead to warn believers against those perverters of grace.
Jude 3-4 – 3. Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. 4. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
Grace is not “do as you please.” It is not license. It is not divine tolerance of sin. License denies the fundamental truth of God’s holy nature. It ignores the fact that He punishes sin and that the wages of sin is always death. No doctrine of the true grace of God can conclude that grace is simply license.
LICENSE ignores the nature of GOD (ignores His Eternal Righteous Requirements)
LEGALISM ignores our own Fallen nature.
Just as license ignores and fails to reckon with the fact that God, by nature, hates and punishes sin, so legalism ignores and fails to reckon with the fact that fallen human beings, which includes us all, are sinners. If the Gentiles were especially prone to the error of license, the Jews seem to have been especially prone to the other error of legalism.
Grace is not LICENSE. License says “do as you please and God will overlook it.” That perverts the grace of God. It ignores the fundamental fact of God’s nature, that He is holy and always punishes sin with death.
Grace is not LEGALISM. Legalism says “here are the rules; keep them and be saved — good luck!” Legalism frustrates the true grace of God. It ignores the fundamental fact of our nature, that we are weak in the flesh and always sin. We never keep the rules perfectly.
Grace should lead to repentance..
Illustration: When Billy Graham was driving through a small southern town, he was stopped by a policeman and charged with speeding. Graham admitted his quilt, but was told by the officer that he would have to appear in court.
The judge asked, “Guilty, or not guilty?” When Graham pleaded guilty, the judge replied, “That’ll be ten dollars — a dollar for every mile you went over the limit.”
Suddenly the judge recognized the famous minister. “You have violated the law,” he said. “The fine must be paid–but I am going to pay it for you.” He took a ten dollar bill from his own wallet, attached it to the ticket, and then took Graham out and bought him a steak dinner! “That,” said Billy Graham, “is how God treats repentant sinners!”
Now that is grace!
Did Rev. Graham’s penalty get excused? NO!! Someone had to pay the penalty for Mr Graham. Similarly, when we sin, someone paid the price on our stead. The punishment never gets wavered, someone must pay the price. The penalty of sin is always death & that penalty was paid by our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why we call Him our savior …because He has saved us from death.
Would Rev. Graham receive the penalty if he speeds again? YES!! Just because he received grace from the judge the first time does not mean he will escape punishment. Punishment has nothing to do with the grace he received the first time.
Would the Judge be graceful to Rev. Graham this time? DEPENDS. It all depends whether the judge will be kind enough to extend grace once again. Nevertheless someone always has to own up and pay the price. But thanks be to God, we have a merciful savior who can extend grace far more than any judge in this world can. Grace does not negate the requirement of abiding by the Law. Law has to be fulfilled always, one way or the other.
Should we keep on sinning to receive grace? Shall we keep on sinning so grace may increase?
Rev. Graham should not keep on repeating his crime to receive the steak dinner (i.e Grace). Should we now take this great and wonderful thing called the Mercy & Grace of God and take it for granted. Wouldn’t it be wrong, let along awkward for Mr. Graham to expect grace time after time? Shouldn’t the first time he received grace lead him to a stronger resolve to abide by the law and meet the standards expected of him?
Hebrews 10:26-27 – 26. If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27. but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
Shouldn’t God’s kindness lead us to repentance?
Romans 2:4 – Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?
True Repentance does not stop with a simple “I’m sorry” but it should much further.
TRUE REPENTANCE: ACKNOWLEDGING/REALIZING OUR FAULTS; TAKING FULL RESPONSIBILITY; SEEK FORGIVENESS; TURN AWAY FROM SIN; TURN TO GOD
Romans 5:21 – so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Titus 2:11-14 – 11. For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.
Grace of God brings Salvation – Leads to Eternity (Titus 2:11)
Grace has been offered to all men – it is completely Inclusive (Titus 2:11)
Grace has been lavished upon us – It is a gift of God
Ephesians 1:7 – In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8. that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
We have been justified by His Grace (Titus 3:7)
Titus 3:7 – so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
– Justified through Grace
– Became heirs through grace
– Received hope of eternal life through Grace
Endure Hardship like a good soldier (2 Timothy 2:3);
Stand your ground – Ephesians 6:10-13;
Remember where your strength comes from. (Ephesians 6:10);
Remember why you are fighting. (Ephesians 6:11)
Because you will fall if you don’t fight
Because the enemy is tricky – “against the wiles of the devil”;
Remember the world hates you (1John 3:13);
You will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12);
Children of God, Children of devil (1 John 3); Children of Devil do not understand us – In fact they hate us
No one born off Him will continue in sin (1 John 3:9);
Contend for your faith (Jude 3).
Do not conform to the World;
Do not use the Grace of God as a license to sin;
The Grace of God helps us to be victorious;
No one who lives in Him will continue in sin (1 John3:6);
Everyone born of the Lord Overcomes the World (1 John 5:4-5);
Be Strong!! God has overcome the World (John