Which of the below statements would you agree with?
“Emphasising morals and good character like the Bible teaches will reduce sinfulness and make better Christians.”
“Emphasising God’s grace and His gift of eternal righteousness in Christ will reduce sinfulness and make better Christians.”
No prizes to guess that most people would go with the first statement. After all, it’s common sense, yes? If you want people to be good, just teach them to be good. And bring repentance back to the church. If people sin, they need to get right with God.
But so far, trying to do the above hasn’t really brought about the results we want.
In fact, ‘sin’ is fast becoming an outdated word. In the world today, a lot of what most used to consider as sin is now becoming normalised. Living and sleeping together before marriage is no big deal, even in some churches. The acceptance of same-sex unions is higher than ever. And recognition of alternate genders is becoming a must – while filling up a form at a public institution the other day, I noted 3 options under gender: ‘male’, ‘female’, and ‘indeterminate’.
Many Christians think that these sins, especially in the church, need to be called out and confronted, rather than swept under the carpet. And they are absolutely right. If a church member is living and remaining in sin, it is time for the pastor or leader to talk to the person separately and personally about it, but not to simply tell them that what they’re doing is wrong and they need to turn their life around to God’s ways.
Because, do people really not know or think that these things are wrong? Of course they do, otherwise they wouldn’t be fighting so hard to get it normalised and legalised. Ever since the fall of man through Adam, everyone has had a conscience given from birth, which tells us right from wrong, and makes us feel good when we do right and guilty when we do wrong.
And no matter how people may numb their conscience by getting others to join or approve of them, or by trying to appear nonchalant before others, at the end of the day when they’re lying in bed alone, they know it’s wrong and they can never run from the guilt within.
We all agree that sin is wrong. It destroys lives and tears families apart. We all want to see people living transformed lives that glorify God. But constantly hammering away on what man should be doing to please God doesn’t – and can’t – bring about the results we want to see.
Could it be that we are missing something that the Word of God is trying to show us?
Let’s consider what the Bible says plainly in a number of verses:
“The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.” (1 Corinthians 15:56)
“But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead.” (Romans 7:8)
“Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more,” (Romans 5:20)
“For if by the one man’s [Adam’s] offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)
“For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)
Reading the above verses (and the passages they come from) carefully, we see clearly that God’s Word says telling people what they should be doing or how they should live to be pleasing to God – which is basically the law – will only strengthen sin, not reduce it.
But God’s Word also says that His grace is much greater than sin. God comforts us that where there is an increase in sin, His grace is present in much greater abundance. And He tells us that those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through Jesus Christ.
See that little word ‘of’? It is through receiving an abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness, i.e. continuously seeing God’s grace flowing towards us and constantly hearing about and believing the truth of our righteousness in Christ, that will cause us to reign in life through Jesus!
If that’s not enough, God further promises that sin shall not have power or control over those who are not put under law but under grace!
The preaching of God’s grace and the gift of our ironclad eternal righteousness in Christ isn’t making an excuse for people to sin and to continue to sin more. According to God’s Word, it is the power to deliver people out of sin.
And on living holy lives? We won’t go into it here, but a careful study of 2 Corinthians 3:4-18 thoroughly shows us that it is simply by beholding the beauty and excellency of the Lord Jesus and His grace and gift of righteousness by faith that transforms us into the same image of Christ from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord.
Ordinarily, it doesn’t seem to make sense. We all know what the church traditionally has preached and taught, and what makes perfect sense to us. But let’s set aside the traditions of the church and the logical reasoning of man for a moment and open our minds to see the wisdom of God that surpasses understanding, that makes foolish the wisdom of the world and puts to shame the things of the wise and the mighty.
What did Jesus say to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11)? First, He got rid of her accusers by using the perfect standard of the law against them. Then, when only He alone was left, with the power to condemn her for her sin, He said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” It was Jesus’s gift of grace and no condemnation that gave the woman the power to go and sin no more.
What did Jesus say to the Samaritan woman who was living in adultery and had 5 previous husbands (John 4:4-39)? He was the One who first made a deliberate detour to seek her out, waiting for her in the heat of the noonday. He began by speaking words of grace to her, telling her that if she knew the gift of God and who she was talking to, she would ask Him for water instead, for the water He gave would cause the person who drank of it to never thirst again. He called out her sin, but gently, sandwiching it with praise and grace, and even revealing His identity to her even though she was a foreigner. And she ended up becoming an evangelist to her city, causing many to believe in Jesus.
So today, when we meet someone living in sin, what they really need to hear is this: “Do you know how much God loves you? He is not angry with you, neither does He condemn you, because He sent His Son Jesus to be punished and condemned on your behalf. Don’t be afraid, and come home to Love, and the power of His grace will deliver you from whatever you are struggling with.”
Jesus IS the bath. There’s no need to clean up our life before we come to Him. He knows all about what’s in our life and what’s in us, and He loves us just the same. In fact, He loves us so much that He wants to get us out of whatever is destroying us.
And the more we see of Jesus, His beauty, and all that He has done for us, the more we will be supernaturally and effortlessly transformed to be more like Him, from glory to glory. He Himself will make it happen in us.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.