Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Purpose of Grace

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14 NIV)

When I arrived to take my current ministry position, the atmosphere among many Christian students was one of grace and freedom, particularly when it came to drinking and sexual activity.  There was the belief that since you were forgiven, or could receive forgiveness, you could do pretty much anything you wanted.  One ministry had a “kegerator” in their building’s kitchen and students would have weekly parties.  Two other ministries were well known to have leaders who loved to party.  And we had students in our ministry who would come to our large group meetings and, before leaving, would be planning parties for the weekend.  To Paul’s question, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1), they answered a resounding, “Yes!”

The fact Paul posed that rhetorical question to the Roman believers indicates the problem of followers of Jesus taking advantage of the Lord’s grace for their own selfish desires has been around since the beginning of the Church.  The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it, “cheap grace.” 

It is easy to see the struggle.  The truth is, when we sin, we can be forgiven (I John 1:9) No sin, be it drunkenness, sexual immorality, or any other you can think of, is beyond the reach of God’s grace.  But, as Paul clearly states to the Romans and to Titus, the ultimate purpose of grace is to lead us away from sin instead of further into it.  Typically, the church falls into one of two traps, emphasizing obedience over grace or emphasizing grace over obedience.  The former is legalism; the latter is Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace.  And it is difficult to keep the balance, as two millennia of church history will attest.  Yet, we must attempt to do so.  

As I began to understand that our students had veered into “cheap grace” territory, I confronted them with these words from Paul (as did other campus ministers).   The purpose of grace is not to condone sin or to allow us to maintain living as we please, but rather to instruct us on how to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live lives that are self-controlled and honoring to God.

Today, know that God’s grace covers your sin.  But don’t use this wonderful gift as an excuse to do what you please.  That just cheapens the gift and misses the point of it all together.  

© Jim Musser 2018

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