A quick look at the modern church seems to suggest ‘grace’ means ‘freedom to sin’. You can get away with anything these days. And if anyone questions you, all you need say is, ‘Don’t judge, where’s your grace?’ Unfortunately, this view does more than promote a non-judgemental attitude; it actually empowers us to sin!
I can remember times of deliberately giving into temptation, content grace would cover what I was about to do. TV evangelists can be convicted of lying, cheating and misappropriating funds and be back on air in no time, all thanks to grace. I know of church leaders and ex-pastors involved in adulterous relationships, and, you guessed it, their favourite topic is grace. Of course, not all church leaders have agreed with this perspective. Hear the words of that great preacher Charles Spurgeon:
Does a sin easily beset us? We are doubly warned to lay it aside. More grace is needed and more grace may be had. Never suppose that God has given to you a licence for any sin, so that you may live in it as long as you please; no, believe that Jesus has come to save us from our sins. I have received no intimation from the Lord to deal delicately with any man’s sins, or to become an apologist for transgression. – 365 Days with Spurgeon, vol. 3 (June 29)
In spite of what Spurgeon says, in the modern church we so often use grace as a licence to sin and drug to help us not feel bad after we have. Even though the Apostle Paul screams in Romans 6:1, ‘By no means!’ we are unable to hear – we are too busy pleasuring ourselves, obeying our passions, enjoying our perceived benefits of grace.
The big question is this: do we actually receive grace when we arrogantly and consistently disregard God’s ways? Are consequences really withheld? Does God’s grace cover those TV evangelists who have multiple affairs, who lie, cheat and embezzle money? The worst thing we can do is presume to have grace when actually we don’t. Presuming on God is a dangerous game. Spurgeon was right when he warned, ‘… let not presumption hold you in its deadly embrace’. The Bible contains some sobering examples of what happens when we presume on the grace of God.
In the book of Judges we read of Samson being chosen by God to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines. For this special task God graced Sampson with supernatural strength. But this strength depended on obedience to a secret vow: Samson was not to cut his hair. Samson knew his supernatural strength was directly connected to keeping the vow, but he became arrogant and revealed the secret to a Philistine woman called Delilah who had already betrayed him several times. True to form, she promptly put him to sleep and cut his hair.
Judges 16:20 says, ‘Then she called, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him. Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison.’ Samson presumed God would cover for him, even though he had broken the vow. He presumed there would be no consequences. He presumed on the grace of God.
How can we be confident the grace of God is covering us? The grace of God has a partner, a companion it never travels without. If this partner is not present you can be quite sure neither is grace. 1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6 make no secret about what it is: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’. Wherever there is humility, there is grace. Humbly admit you have fallen short of God’s glory, that you’ve committed adultery, looked at porn, lied, cheated, exaggerated, stolen, harboured bad attitudes, and God’s grace is yours.
If we refuse to humbly confess and repent of our sin, we are proud. If we justify our sin, blame it on others or use euphemisms to make it sound better, God will resist us. This diabolical position (having God resist you) is reserved only for the proud. Some people indignantly think, ‘God wouldn’t really do that; He is a God of love and grace’. God is also not a liar and His word clearly says that He will resist and oppose proud people. God’s grace will work with drug addicts, prostitutes, gamblers, alcoholics, whoever! The only people God refuses to get alongside are the proud.
Humility makes us irresistible to God’s grace. The foundational virtue of humility and its benefits permeate the Bible. Chronicles 7:14 says, ‘… if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land’. Psalm 149:4, ‘For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.’
The grace of God is more than a safety line to catch us when we sin. The main function of grace is to stop us sinning in the first place. This is what Spurgeon meant when he said, ‘More grace is needed and more grace may be had’. More grace for what? To lay aside the sin that easily besets us! God’s grace gives us power to resist sin. Our depraved nature is so strong. Without the grace of God there is nothing we won’t do. There is nothing we need more than the grace of God! If we sincerely ask for it we will receive.
Grace is not an excuse to sin; it’s the power to overcome it. But this power is only available to the humble. Grace and humility are inseparable. Where you find humility you will find grace. The humble depend on the grace of God while the proud presume on it. If I admit I’m poor in spirit, His grace can make me rich. If I admit I’m weak, His grace can make me strong. But best of all, if I admit I’m a sinner, God’s grace can make me a saint.
(All Bible quotes from ESV)