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License To Grace

Do you know what biblical grace is? It’s the unmerited favor of God.

It’s not only having the slate wiped clean, but tossing out the slate so you’re not tempted to tally up the wrongs, whether yours or others. This is most profoundly presented to us in the work of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who took all the punishment we deserved and left us with nothing to payback or earn. Not only does Christ absorb what was meant for us, and asks nothing in return, he brings us a brand new slate written in permanent marker, with every blank space filled up with his immeasurable good works. 

All that was his is now ours. All that was ours, is now his. Grace upon grace upon grace. 

Amen! Hallelujah!

Unfortunately, it never seems to be in our ability to stop right there and let us soak in the full meaning of those words. If we’ve been in church or among christians long enough, we know what comes next:

“Just remember, grace is not a license to sin.” 

This is the clarion call of any number of pastors, elders, para-ministry leaders and lay people. Many well-meaning brothers, eager to see you grow in your faith, even if they don’t realize they’re twisting a tourniquet around the good news, cutting off the circulation to the freedom found in the Gospel.

Applying the pressure of law to ensure you not take grace for granted squeezes the life out of the power found in the good news of the Gospel. Grace is meant to be free, all the way free. It’s not just a leaky faucet, but a broken main gushing up from the ground. 

Grace means that mistakes will be made, sins will occur and forgiveness will be applied. Not because we can go crazy and live life without consequences, but because in life, there are consequences. We don’t become Christians and stop sinning, we become Christians who keep receiving forgiveness. 

No one ever needed a license to sin. I’ve been doing that before I was old enough to have a license to drive. But, what the law found in that phrase does, is give people a license to hide. It gives them a license to keep that sin in their back pocket, because if anyone found out, they would judge them and demand even more rules for their life, as if they weren’t having a hard enough time with the ones they already have, especially the ones they place on themselves. 

Consider the prodigal son, returning home broken by his sin. He’s already got a speech ready to go, He is going to become like a servant of his father. He’s going to earn his keep. In Luke 15:21, the son stands before his father, admits his sin, and the final words out of his mouth in that passage are 

“I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

We all have that moment. More than one if we are honest. We come low, humbled by life, by our sins. We’re broken and in need of a restoration. We might even be willing to earn it back. Our repentance can even feel like a work that we give to God. We all know someone who’s promised God “all of me”, if he’d fix this one thing. Show of hands for all of us who will admit to being that Christian? Did you get what you wanted? Did you give him all of you, or are you reading this thinking, “been there, done that”?

I’m not sure if this originates with Pastor and Author Tim Keller, but he once said, “Even our repentance needs to be repented of. Our heart motivations are never truly pure.” 

This doesn’t mean that we have to live our lives in front of a mirror, navel-gazing about our repentance. It means that Christ by the Grace of God, absorbs even our best flawed attempts. 

This is what the prodigal’s father does, when he stops the son before he can fully repent, before he offers himself under a law of obligation. He absorbs all of it, and the father calls him son once more. 

But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. – Luke 15:22-24 

He calls him son, but not just a son, a welcomed son, an honored son, a fully-restored of all his rights, son.

It would have been correct in that time to punish him severely. It would have at least been expected to make him earn his worth once more. 

But the father would have none of it, and we shouldn’t either. 

Let grace be grace. Let it do what the law could not. Let it abundantly cover sins, even the new ones, as we wrestle with life’s complications. Let it make sinful people righteous, just because that’s what it does. Let it draw people to God with freedom and truth. 

Let’s not take up the mantle of the prodigal’s brother, who was angry that his brother wasn’t treated more harshly. He was mad, because in his eyes, it did seem like he was given a license to sin and return like nothing ever happened. 

The Gospel is good news, not good law

It is a license to apply grace to messy lives. To lives that haven’t got it all together yet. It’s a license to recognize that no matter where we are on the road, it still applies to us, because we still struggle and sin. It’s a license to be imperfect fathers, mothers, spouses, co-workers and neighbors. It’s a license to be tired and weak, and fed up and overwhelmed. It’s a license for us to grab hold of this truth:

9 But he said to me “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.– 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Grace does not relish in sin. It doesn’t tell us to go do whatever we want. but it recognizes and boasts in our weaknesses, for it is there we find Christ. It’s in the weakness that grace abounds and we are deemed his. It is there where we find forgiveness and hope and another opportunity to be better than the day before, devoid of having to earn it, and forgiven when we fail again. 

Friends, let me end this by saying, I know you. I know you, because I know me. I know the struggles with sin and shame, the failure to be a good “whatever”. I know the urgent need to shove it all down and all keep it in and not tell a soul, because that’s how it’s supposed to work, right? 

Listen to me… 

Grace is yours.

Mercy is yours.

Christ is yours. 

You are forgiven today, and for all your tomorrows.

Peace to you all.

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