Is grace a license to sin?
Christianity can seem very lenient. But what comfort is that to someone who wants to stop sinning?
Is grace a “license?”
Many churches around the world are quick to assure you that it is impossible for us to overcome sin as Jesus did. But is this really what’s written in the Bible? Or does Christianity offer something more than forgiveness?
“Jesus died for you—He has done everything.” “You have forgiveness, no matter how much you sin.” “Once saved, always saved.”
These expressions, and many like them, are commonly used in Christian preaching. They can sound very attractive and hopeful, and even claim to have basis in the Scriptures. But it almost seems like this is just a license to sin. What comfort is that to someone who wants to stop sinning? Someone who is sick of the way they react, their bad habits, and all the evil tendencies that they just can’t seem to shake? Is there nothing more to Christianity than this?
Grace is more than forgiveness
Forgiveness is something we all need, but not something we can take for granted, and certainly not something we deserve. Jesus says that, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Matthew 9:12.
But a physician is able to heal the sick – to make them better. It’s clear we need a physician. Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we are not tempted to think impure thoughts, to be worried about what other people think, to be angry with someone who has wronged us, etc. But the intention isn’t that we keep giving in to temptation our whole lives. Jesus is the great physician and He has the power to heal us from our sin. Not only can He forgive us for sins we already have committed, but He can also show us the way to overcome the very root of sin, the lusts in our nature that causes us to be tempted to sin.
This is possible because He came to earth in the likeness of sinful flesh, and yet He never once sinned. (Romans 8:3-4) This is also clearly written in Hebrews 4:15-16: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The whole intention with Jesus taking on human nature and being tempted in all points as we are was that He could overcome the sin that dwelt in His own human nature. In this way he opened a way for us to follow Him into freedom from sin! He did not come just to do everything in our stead and leave us with the hope of forgiveness alone. “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: who committed no sin…” 1 Peter 2:21-22. The intention is clearly that we too overcome the power of sin as Jesus did! This is how He “heals” us from our sin.
Overcoming sin: Jesus also requires our co-operation
Just like a doctor will give you instructions, maybe medicines, or exercises to do, Jesus also requires our co-operation to heal us. It is written in 1 Peter 4:1-2, “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” This is the “medicine” that Jesus gives us to be finished with sin. We have to suffer in the flesh!
This means that when we come into a situation where we are tempted to sin, we need to deny that desire and let our flesh with its sinful lusts and desires suffer and die.
Power to resist sin
Many people have tried this by sheer willpower, but they experience time and time again that, in the moment of temptation, they lack the strength to resist sin and end up giving in, whether in thought, word or deed. But when we come to this point and realize that sin is too strong for us to handle on our own, we can go “boldly to the throne of grace” like it’s written in Hebrews 4:16. There God is waiting, ready to answer our prayers.
The grace God gives us is not a “license to sin”—on the contrary! In His grace, He sends us the Holy Spirit to help, guide, and strengthen us in the moment of temptation—the “time of need,” before we fall. The Holy Spirit strengthens our resolve, so we are strong enough to suffer in the flesh and never let the temptation develop into sin. In fact, with the Holy Spirit to give us power, there is no temptation that we cannot overcome. No sin that can get power over us. As long as we are obedient to the Holy Spirit’s leading, He will give us the victory every single time!
We will never leave the throne of grace empty-handed. Instead, we will get power to resist sin until it is destroyed. Bit by bit, temptation by temptation, sin loses its hold in our lives and we are set free. Christianity and the grace we receive as followers of Christ is not a license to sin, rather, it is the key to overcoming sin! This is a life of victory and it is completely possible for all those who hold fast their confession!
If you’re frustrated that grace is often preached almost as a “license to sin,” then stand up, be done with those lies, and take up a battle against sin today!
You may be interested in reading more on our topic pages about temptation and sin, overcoming sin, and grace.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.