Don’t Cheapen Grace
Grace is one of the most wonderful things we receive from the Lord Jesus. It is by grace through faith that we are saved, not of our own doing so that we may not boast. In fact, apart from God’s grace towards us in Jesus Christ, it would be impossible for any of us to know and love God whatsoever. But like any wonderful and glorious thing, we can and often do cheapen it. We make it less wonderful even if our words proclaim it to be wonderful because of the reality of the remaining presence of sin within us. But how do we do this? Naturally most of us in American evangelicalism would say that we cheapen grace by living however we want. We say, “oh grace will cover that sinful choice or action or words, so I’ll be fine if I continue in it.” While that is one way we cheapen grace, I want to unpack for us the two chief ways we functionally cheapen grace, even though we believe it to be amazing.
First, we cheapen God’s grace when we use it as a license to sin.
Certainly most conservative, Bible-believing evangelicals would recognize this as cheapening grace. It’s very clear in the Scriptures, but even explicit in the words of the Apostle Paul found in Romans 6:1-2a. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” After taking chapters 4 and 5 to unpack this wonderful and amazing grace in the gospel that justifies sinners through faith apart from works, Paul anticipates the next question. He recognizes that the gospel is so wonderful and God’s free grace abounds all the more where sin increases, that people will naturally begin to ask if that means they should continue to practice all sorts of lawlessness so that grace would keep abounding more and more. However, Paul’s response is, “God forbid” (KJV). He understands that the grace that justifies, which is free to us, was infinitely costly to the One who paid the price. He also understands that the free grace which justified us also freed us from the dominion of sin over us. As he says in Romans 6:2, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” What Paul draws on here is that God’s grace has united us to Christ in his death and his resurrection. We are now dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11). It is entirely inconsistent for those who have died to sin to continue pursuing it without care. Sure, we continue to wrestle with the indwelling sin in our members, but that is different from this careless living in sin that Paul is addressing here. On top of that, it is even more inconsistent for those who’ve been united to Christ to continue to live as though they are united to Adam. Therefore, this wonderful grace in the gospel and this union with Christ is the strength and energizer and sustainer of our pursuit of holy living. It’s the gospel that strengthens us, not the law, but the law guides us as to what we ought to do with the strength that the gospel gives us. This means that when we receive God’s grace in the Lord Jesus, we cheapen it if we continue in living however we please regardless of what God’s Word has said. But this leads us to the second way we cheapen grace.
Second, we cheapen God’s grace when we emphasize faithfulness over faith.
It’s not surprising for us to swing from one extreme to the other when we realize that we’ve fallen into one side. However, that doesn’t mean that the other extreme is correct. In fact, this way of cheapening God’s grace is one that isn’t as worried about by conservative evangelicals. In fact, this is the manner that I struggled with for years. This way can be very subtle because we can wrap it in the cloak of grace, paying lip service to God’s grace without truly depending upon it. It happens when we collapse the distinction between the gospel and the law. All of a sudden, we think that the gospel has things we do in it rather than simply being the good news of Jesus Christ and what he’s done on our behalf. An example of this is when we begin to say things like, “I need to read my Bible more, and I need to love people more, and I need to pray more, and I need to serve in church more, and I need to check my heart more to make sure there isn’t some sin that needs to be killed,” but when asked how all that happens the response is, “well I need to do it, but obviously by God’s grace.” All those things are great things to do and ought to do, but do you notice the way God’s grace is thrown on as an assumption at the end? So many of us do this all the time. We functionally act as though we’ve moved on from the gospel as if it were the beginning of our spiritual lives and not the entirety of it. Look again at Romans 6:1-11. Paul’s response to the question about sin wasn’t to turn around and tell them to work harder now, rather he reminds them of that union with Christ and calls them to reckon themselves as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Then he calls them to present their bodies to God as instruments of righteousness. Or what about Galatians 3:1-14? Paul reminds them that what was started by faith is completed by faith, not by their works! Yet we so often want to emphasize our obedience in the wrong place, and it absolutely cheapens God’s grace. We want to say that we do the gospel, and in essence tells God, “thanks for the grace to initially save me, but I can handle the rest of this life.” What makes this even worse is that we do this under the guise of trusting grace. Hear me, we don’t do the gospel because there’s nothing left to be done in the gospel! The work Jesus accomplished on this earth in his life, death, and resurrection is completely and utterly sufficient for you. So don’t emphasize faithfulness over faith because that’s to subtly insert works back into our salvation. Rather, always emphasize faith in Christ over faithfulness because any faithfulness that is apart from faith in Christ is vain. Emphasize the glories of God’s grace which justifies us and justifies our good works.
God’s grace is absolutely wonderful. In Christ we have all the saving graces applied to us by the Holy Spirit. This means that our justification is by grace through faith, our sanctification is by grace through faith, and our glorification is by grace through faith. All of salvation is so. But that doesn’t mean that we are to “let go and let God.” Rather, God’s grace is so wonderful in its justifying work as it is in its transforming work, and as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us we bear the fruit of obedience. Our whole being is conformed more and more into the image of Christ and therefore we desire to obey and seek to obey more and more. As the Heidelberg Catechism is formatted, our lives are marked by guilt to sin, grace from God to save us entirely, and our response of gratitude which is our obedience. Let us remember that we have died to sin and our lives are now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). Therefore, let us pursue living in holiness with diligence, but let it be out of our union with Christ, resting in him and his gospel constantly for he has given us all things for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). And as we go through this life, let us remember that for every look we give ourselves in self-examination, let us take ten looks at Christ in his perfection and mercy.