Reading Time: 4 mins

License to Grace

Reading Time: 4 mins

Applying the pressure of law to ensure you do not to take grace for granted squeezes the life and power out of the gospel.

Do you know what Biblical grace is? It’s the unmerited favor of God.

It’s not only having the slate wiped clean but tossing out the slate so you’re not tempted to tally up the wrongs, whether yours or others. This is most profoundly presented to us in the work of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who took all the punishment we deserved and left us with nothing to pay back or earn. Not only does Christ absorb what was meant for us and ask nothing in return, but he brings us a brand new slate written in permanent marker, with every blank space filled up by his immeasurable good works. 

All that was his is now ours. All that was ours is now his. Grace upon grace upon grace. 

Amen! Hallelujah!

Unfortunately, it never seems to be in our ability to stop right there and soak in the full meaning of those words. If we’ve been in church or among Christians long enough, we know what comes next:

“Just remember, grace is not a license to sin.” 

This is the clarion call of any number of pastors, elders, para-ministry leaders, and lay people. Many well-meaning individuals are eager to see you grow in your faith, even if they don’t realize they’re twisting a tourniquet around the good news, cutting off the circulation to the freedom found in the Gospel.

Applying the pressure of law to ensure you do not to take grace for granted squeezes the life and power out of the gospel. Grace is meant to be free, all the way free. It’s not just a leaky faucet but a broken main gushing up from the ground.

Grace means that as mistakes and sins occur, forgiveness will be applied. Not because we can live life without consequences but because there are consequences in life. We don’t become Christians and stop sinning; we become Christians who keep receiving forgiveness. 

No one ever needed a license to sin. I’ve been doing that since before I was old enough to have a license to drive. Instead, the law implied in phrases like, “Grace is not a license to sin,” gives people a license to hide. It gives them a license to keep that sin in their back pocket because if anyone found out, they would be condemned, shamed, and given a roadmap for how to climb their way out of guilt.

Consider the prodigal son, returning home broken by his sin. He’s already got a speech ready to go: he is going to become his father’s servant. He’s going to earn his keep. In Luke 15:21, the son stands before his father and admits his sin. The final words out of his mouth in that passage are:

“I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

We have all had such moments. We come low, humbled by life, by our sins. We’re broken and in need of a restoration. We find ourselves willing to do anything to earn our righteousness back. Our repentance can even feel like a work that we give to God. We all know someone who’s promised God “all of me” if he’d fix this one thing. 

Show of hands for all of us who will admit to being that Christian. Did you get what you wanted? Did you give him all of you, or are you reading this thinking, “Been there, done that”?

I’m not sure if this originates with Pastor and Author Tim Keller, but he once said, “Even our repentance needs to be repented of. Our heart motivations are never truly pure.” 

This doesn’t mean that we have to live our lives in front of a mirror, navel-gazing about our repentance. It means that Christ, by the grace of God, absorbs even our best-flawed attempts.

This is what the prodigal’s father does when he stops the son before he can fully repent, before he offers himself under a law of obligation. He absorbs all of it, and the father calls him son once more. 

But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate (Luke 15:22-24).

He calls him son, but not just a son, a welcomed son, an honored son, a fully-restored-of-all-his-rights son. It would have been correct at that time to punish him severely. It would have at least been expected to make him earn his worth once more. 

But the father would have none of it, and we shouldn’t either. 

Let grace be grace. Let it do what the law could not. Let it abundantly cover sins, even the new ones, as we wrestle with life’s complications. Let it make sinful people righteous just because that’s what it does. Let it freely draw people to God in truth. 

Let’s not take up the mantle of the prodigal’s brother, who was angry that his brother wasn’t treated more harshly. He was mad because in his eyes, it did seem like he was given a license to sin and return like nothing ever happened.  

The Gospel is good news, not good law. It is a license to apply grace to messy lives, lives that haven’t got it all together yet. It’s a license to recognize that no matter where we are on the road, it still applies to us because we still struggle and sin. It’s a license to be imperfect fathers, mothers, spouses, co-workers, and neighbors. It’s a license to be tired and weak and fed up and overwhelmed. It’s a license for us to grab hold of this truth:

It’s in weakness that grace abounds, and we are deemed his.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Grace does not relish in sin. It doesn’t tell us to go do whatever we want. It does, however, recognize and boast in our weaknesses, for it is there that we will find Christ. It’s in weakness that grace abounds, and we are deemed his. It is there where we find forgiveness and hope and another opportunity to be better than the day before, devoid of having to earn it, and forgiven when we fail again.

Grace is yours.
Mercy is yours.
Christ is yours.

You are forgiven today and for all your tomorrows.