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Does Grace Encourage Sin?

Image from Wikimedia Commons

I once was classmates with a young man who was trying to decide if he would align himself with the Roman Catholic church or with a protestant church. The thing that was holding him back about the protestant church was the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. Here's the thing he was worried about: if anyone can just get out of hell by the free grace of Jesus, no strings attached, isn't that just an invitation to keep sinning without consequences? Isn't it better to teach, as the Roman Catholic church does, that the grace of Jesus only gets us part of the way there, but we have to keep being good if we want to remain in his grace and finally reach heaven?  At the time I didn't have a good answer for my classmate. But just this week I was studying Galatians (and stuck on the same part for quite a while, might I add!) when the answer to this age-old question became clear to me for the first time. Paul was writing to the churches in Galatia to confront a group of "legalizers" who were insisting that Gentile Christians need to obey the Jewish law as well as receiving grace from Jesus if they are to be saved. They had the same worry as my classmate, if grace is a "get out of jail free" card that has no strings attached, people will just be encouraged to sin because the consequences of the law are removed. But Paul writes, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Galatians 2:20). Here is the key difference between the true gospel Paul taught and what the legalizers taught: the legalizers considered salvation by grace alone to be merely a legal fiction where Christians are given the status of righteousness when they actually aren't. Paul, on the other hand, knows that the true gospel is something far more supernatural. When we are saved by grace, it is not merely a status change, but a profound supernatural unity with Christ happens in our inner being. When Paul writes, "I have been crucified with Christ" he means that we are so profoundly united with Christ in his death, that the part of our inner being which loved to sin and was condemned by the law actually dies. When Paul writes, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" he means that we are also united with Christ in his resurrection so that our inner being stops even wanting to sin but starts actually desiring righteousness. It will be as though Christ is animating our thoughts and actions rather than our previous sinful self.  If this is true, why do Christians still stuff up and sin sometimes? Paul teaches that although our inner being is completely changed, in this life we still have the same physical body that is tangled in the habits of a sinner. So until we receive our resurrection body the struggle against sin will continue, but not without hope of victory at the end. Will you pray with me this week that the motivation to do what is right in our lives would not be merely avoiding the consequences, but that as Christians we would tap into our profound unity with Christ which through resurrection power leads to real transformation of both our inner desires and outward actions?  Inspired by commentary on Galatians 2:17-21 from Expositor's Bible Commentary (Zondervan).


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