IS GRACE A “LICENSE TO SIN?” Does God’s grace condone us living in the flesh?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Since I am under grace, can I now live as I please? We will search the Holy Scriptures and see how God Himself answers this question.
Opponents of the message of God’s grace often accuse us grace believers of preaching that message of total-and-forever forgiveness in Christ in order to encourage people to then “live in sin.” If we preach that complete, eternal forgiveness is offered to all the world; and that it is appropriated by one’s faith in Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as the total payment for our sins; that we are not saved by our works of righteousness or law-keeping; are we really condoning sin and telling people to get saved by trusting Christ and then “live in sin?” (Usually, this is said to introduce the necessity of law keeping.)
The most basic doctrine associated with the Apostle Paul’s ministry is the issue of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ. We are saved by God’s grace, we are eternally kept by God’s grace; we are not saved by our works, and we do not have to work to keep that salvation unto eternal life. God does not give us a little forgiveness here and a little forgiveness there (as in confessing to keep “short accounts” with God). God does not save us by grace without works to then deal with us on the basis of our works. It is not our obedience that saved us, and it is not our obedience that keeps us saved. “For as by one man’s [Adam’s] disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one [Jesus Christ] shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). Our performance does not give us a right standing before Father God—our working does not keep us from daily sins any more than our working keeps us out of hell.
We do not have to work to be accepted of God, for He has made us “accepted in the Beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6-7). God’s grace is everything that Father God can do for us through His Son, Jesus Christ: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Romans 3:24-26: “ Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:  Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;  To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
Colossians 2:6-7: “ As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:  Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” How were we saved unto eternal life? “[Our] faith in Christ” says verse 5. Eternal life through Jesus Christ is a free gift, and it is not a gift if we have to work for it! We do not work for gifts; we work for wages. What are our wages as sinful people? “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “ For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
If you want to work for salvation and eternal life, the Holy Bible says that only thing your works will bring is death, death, death! To accept God’s gift of salvation is to trust His Son, Jesus Christ, and His death for our sins, His burial, and His resurrection. “ Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justified the ungodly, his faith in counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5). We are justified (declared right in God’s sight), saved unto eternal life, forgiven of our sins, given a home in heaven, granted fellowship and peace with God, by relying on what Jesus Christ did, not what we did in religion. Colossians 2:6-7 says that our Christian life will operate on the same basis—our faith in Christ, not our performance. This is what Romans 6:14 means when it says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”
It is at this point that people object and say, “So, I do not have to keep the Mosaic Law? I do not have to obey the Ten Commandments? If I am forgiven in Christ, can I now go out and steal, kill, lie, and so on?” The Holy Spirit through Paul anticipated this response, so before we stop reading at Romans 6:14, we should read verse 15 with it: “ For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.  What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” Can we continue living like lost people once we become saved people? Yes! Should we continue living like lost people once we become saved people? NO! Sin is inconsistent with who we are in Jesus Christ. It makes sense for a sinner to sin, but it does not make sense for a saint to sin.
After discussing our glorious salvation from hell and sin in the first five chapters of Romans, Paul begins chapter 6 with: “ What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Verse 20 of chapter 5 had concluded that previous passage with, “ Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:  That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Should we continue in sin so that grace may abound? No! No! No! No!
We read in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: “ For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:  And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again.” As Christians, should we “live unto ourselves?” Should we live lives that are selfish, sinful, and ungodly? No! No! No! We “should live… unto him which died for [us] and rose again.” At Calvary, God put our sin nature to death with Jesus Christ. Romans 6:6a says, “Our old man is crucified with Christ.” Now, we have Jesus Christ’s resurrection life in us. Jesus Christ never committed any sin, so as long as we let Jesus Christ live in us, we will not commit sin either. All of Romans chapter 6 is a good passage to consider in this regard:
“ What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?  Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:  Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  For he that is dead is freed from sin.  Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:  Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.  For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.  Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.  Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.  For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.  What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.  Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?  But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.  Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.  I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.  For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.  What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.  But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.  For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Page after page after page after page of verses from Paul’s epistles could be quoted here to prove that grace living is not about living as we please, living in rank sin, doing whatever we want, being lawless, acting no different from the rest of the world. There are several passages and dozens of verses in Paul’s epistles that make it very clear that grace is never a license to sin. Just because we are under grace, that does not mean that God does not care how we conduct our lives. Many verses have already been presented to indicate grace teaches us how to live right in God’s sight. We have been delivered from the Law, not to be free to do as we please, but to be free to be who we are in Jesus Christ! Rather than being under the strict, merciless system of law, we are under grace, God’s unmerited favor, God’s performance to make us accepted and acceptable before Him.
If you believe that grace is a license to sin, if you think that grace encourages us to live any way that we want, then you need to read the following Bible passages and verses: Romans chapters 6-8, Romans chapters 12-16, Galatians 5:13-26, Ephesians 2:10, Ephesians 4:17-32, Ephesians 5:1–6:9, Philippians 1:9-11, Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 1:9-17, Colossians 3:1-4:6, 1 Thessalonians 2:8-12, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:12-23, just to name a few.
Nowhere in either Corinthian epistle did Paul ever condone their sins because they were under grace; these Christians were the worldliest, most wicked, believers in Paul’s ministry. Notice how Paul did not say about the Christian fornicator, “Let him keep living in sin, he is under grace.” Paul’s instructions were to remove the man from fellowship until he reformed himself (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Paul did not condone the Thessalonians’ sins of being busy bodies and lazy (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). He did not approve of the fighting and bickering between Euodias and Syntyche but rather reproved them of it (Philippians 4:2). Paul never preached grace as a license to do live in sin, and if we preach grace as Paul did, we will not preach grace as a license to sin either; still, as Paul was wrongly accused (Romans 3:8), we too will be falsely accused of preaching grace as a license to sin.
Again, we should clearly see that God did not save us so we could then do whatever we wanted. We were sinning all we wanted before we heard about grace, before we trusted Christ we were already living in sin. To say that God saves us from our sins to then give us a license to sin is nothing more than foolishness, complete foolishness. People who say such things do not understand grace at all, and in fact they may be watching so-called “grace believers” living in sin (who know nothing about God’s grace either). It is also argued that to tell someone that he or she is already forgiven in Christ of all of his or her sins, it will encourage that person to go out and murder, steal, and kill. Paul was wrongly accused on that in Romans 3:8: “And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.” Again, to say that grace is a license to sin is a misunderstanding of grace. Someone once aptly stated, “Because it is grace it can be abused, but because it is grace it should not be abused.”
In one of his earliest epistles, Paul wrote: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). Paul preached grace, and yet he never, ever advocated that we were now free to live in sin. We are not called to selfish living, but to godly living; we have been called to live like God lives (the Christian life is God’s very life!).
Titus 2:11-12 is so plain that we would have to want to miss it to miss it: “ For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,  Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;” The grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. God’s grace does not teach us to sin; God’s grace teaches us to deny sin access to our lives. Sin is inconsistent with Christianity; it is not who we are anymore. We have a new identity in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), and that new identity is to generate good works in us.
People are so used to a strict system of religion—doing a bunch of rules and regulations to get God’s acceptance and blessings—that they naturally shrink away from the idea of God giving everything to them freely by His grace. They like to perform; the flesh loves to perform, and that is why religion is so popular. Our hearts are deceptive because they make us think that we can do enough to please God. See Romans chapter 7 in its entirety, when Paul faced the same miserable dilemma. Paul found the key to victorious Christian living in chapter 8 (more on this shortly.)
The Ten Commandments are very strict but they have no power in themselves to help us fulfill them. Grace not only gives instruction in the way of righteousness, but it also gives us the power of God to walk in those doctrines of grace. The Bible says that the law is weak through our flesh, that it is weak and beggarly. It always leaves us hopeless and begging God for more when in fact He can give us nothing on the basis of our performance but the lake of fire.
Romans chapter 8: “ There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:  That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
Friends, grace gives you the information and the ability to overcome sin, but it does not force you to overcome sin. You are free to walk in your identity in Christ—you are strongly encouraged to remember that you are dead to sin, that sin does not have dominion over you, that you are alive unto God to bring glory to His name. (We read this earlier in Romans chapter 6.) God loves freedom so much that He gives you the choice to follow Him; you are not a robot.
In order to defend the strict religious system they have known most or all of their lives, religionists say that pure grace is “cheap grace” or “grace is a license to sin.” To be free from religious bondage is to be avoided, for religious bondage is all that many people know. Grace is not viewed as something free from God, but still thought of as something that must be merited through various good works. After all, in some groups, “grace” is defined as “what God can do for you after you have done the best you can.”
Dear friends, our best is not good enough and it never will be good enough before God. God is holy, just, righteous, and He can only give eternal life (heaven) to people are 100 perfect. We are not 100 perfect—that is what sin is! To have a perfect standing before God, to be declared righteous before God, is the doctrine of justification, and we are made the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). When we trust Jesus Christ alone as our personal Saviour, we rely exclusively on Him, that He did enough to please Father God, and that we are pleasing to Father God once we are in Christ (members of the Body of Christ).
To say that God saves us from our sins by His grace so that we can then return to our sins, is quite an absurd statement. Grace teaches us Christians that we were bought with a price (Jesus Christ’s blood), so it is only sensible that we should be useful to God in accomplishing His will, not our selfish desires, to live unto Him who died for us and was then raised again to give us resurrection life. As Paul wrote to the carnal, worldly Corinthians in 1 Corinthians chapter 6: “ What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
Preaching God’s grace does not cause people to sin; their being sinners by birth is what causes them to sin. We were living in sin before we trusted Jesus Christ alone as our personal Saviour, before we learned of God’s grace to us in Christ, so we do not need God’s grace to encourage sin. Rather, we need God’s grace to stop sin from dominating us. That is what grace living is all about. If you want sin to dominate your life, the Bible says to place yourself under the law. As soon as you make your performance in religion the issue to please God, you are doomed to fail, for sinners are powerless and always fall short of God’s glory. Romans 6:14: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” God placed you under the grace system so that you could have the ability, the identity in Christ, to overcome sin, to live unto Him who died for you and rose again! Dear saint, you died with Christ, and you were raised again with Christ. You are dead to sin and alive unto God. Now, you can go live by faith in that identity! Oh, the wonderful grace of God, it not only saves us from hell, but also from daily sins! Praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ!