From time to time in the body of Christ, teaching about a core biblical doctrine seems to swing to extremes and needs to be restored to the scriptural boundaries for that concept. For example, it’s common today to hear grace, the unmerited favor of God, described as some kind of license to sin, when in reality, it is the power not to sin (Titus 2:11), and the provision of mercy when one does sin (1 John 1:9). A growing number of believers have also been bamboozled into believing that the sacrifice of Jesus is not enough. Advocates of this syncretism between Christianity and Judaism teach believers they must keep the law as well as accept Jesus.
The Scripture, however, is plain: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). Jesus described the obligation or duty of the believer as believing “in the one he sent” (John 6:29). The Apostle Paul described the Judaizers as practitioners of witchcraft for confusing the people with an emphasis on the law over the efficacy of Jesus’ sacrifice (Galatians 3:1). In other words, as we focus on Jesus we are walking in grace. Pope Francis recently said, “Some believe they can have a personal, immediate, and direct relationship with Jesus Christ without the communion and mediation of the Church” describing this as wrong, absurd, and dangerous. I understand he is challenging believers to maintain or restore their relationship with the Church, but neither the Church, nor any man can take the place of the true mediator between God and man, Jesus the Christ. We need a personal, immediate, and direct relationship with Jesus as well as a connection to the local church that springs from our relationship with Jesus.
We also walk in grace by focusing on love. Jesus reduced the 613 old testament laws (civic, ceremonial, rabbinic, and moral) to the command to love God and love people (Matthew 22:34-40). He taught that all of the law and prophets hang or depend on the love commandment. This means when we truly love God and others we are actually living consistent with the very heart of God. Choose to love the haters when they treat you wrong or say ugly things about you. Jesus, with lips anointed with grace (Psalm 45:2), loved no matter what they said or did to him.
Finally, we walk in grace by focusing on the Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit because grace sets a much higher standard than the law. The law said we should not murder. Jesus said a person with anger seething in the heart is just as guilty. The law said we should not commit adultery. Jesus said a person who looks at a woman to lust after her in his heart is just as guilty. Grace means that through the new birth we have the presence of the Holy Spirit operating in us 24 hours a day to help us and guide us. The law tells us the what to do or not to do, the gospel tells us the why, but the Holy Spirit tells us the how and empowers us to do so. For example, the law forbids murder, Jesus exposes anger as the root of murder, and the Holy Spirit tells us in real time how to specifically apply Jesus’ admonition to do good to those who mistreat us.
No, grace is not a license to sin or merely God’s merciful response to us when we do sin. Grace is not lacking and in need of support by a return to the bondage of the law. Grace is not sloppy living because we are no longer under the law. Grace is a much higher standard than the law only realized by focusing on Jesus, focusing on love, and focusing on the daily leadership of the Holy Spirit who guides us into a lifestyle far surpassing life under the dictates of the law.