One of my favorite things about following Jesus is grace. He blesses me with so many good things that I don’t deserve. I can often feel his love for me and sense his presence! But I also experience God’s grace whenever I mess up, and instead of getting divine punishment for my failure or being cut off from my relationship with God, I find that I am forgiven, loved, and have hope of growing and learning and continuing in the blessings and favor of God. I experience God’s grace whenever I get help in my weakness rather than facing the consequences of the letter of the law. He comes in to heal and change me from the inside out so that I can live the way he wants me to live — and the way I want to live — rather than trapped in a pattern of doing things that I don’t even want to do.
God’s grace is huge! I know in my past (and this was while I was trying my best to follow Jesus) I have been trapped in a pattern of sin I hated. And I know I sinned more than seventy times seven when I was trapped — and yet God did not give up on me. He heard my cries, and came and rescued me and set me on a good path.
Yet there is something circulating in our world today that I would call “false grace”. We see such a grace described in Jude 4, which says, “Certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (NIV).
False grace sounds like real grace, because it speaks of forgiveness for our sins. Real grace, however, speaks of forgiveness for our sins in light of trying to follow Jesus and living a life pleasing to him. False grace speaks of forgiveness of sins while intentionally gratifying our sensuality knowingly in ways contrary to God. It is using the “easier to ask forgiveness than permission” mentality with God. It is sinning on purpose, trusting that God will forgive our intentional sins. It is using Jesus (in the sense of taking advantage of Him) so we can live like Hell.
The verse from Jude tells us that when we adopt this false grace, we are really denying our Lord — and we do not have salvation.
The New Testament is full of warnings that embracing sin will keep us from getting to heaven and from relationship with God. Consider, for example, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, which warns us that those who embrace any of the list of sins “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (ESV). The full passage says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (ESV).
The same phrasing is also used in Galatians 5:19-21 and a very similar one is used in Ephesians 5:5-6. In Colossians 3:5-8, it says that because of such embracing of sin “the wrath of God is coming” (ESV). And Revelations 21:8 is even more explicit, saying that such people will find their place “in the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (NIV).
God fully understands that sincere people who are trying to follow him struggle with temptation and sometimes sin. He is very compassionate with us who are like that, and he forgives us and helps us grow stronger. He does not condemn us or reject us, because he is our loving father, and we are his “dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1, NIV).
Growing in faith and holiness is a process. Consider the passage from Ephesians 4:22-24, which says “You were taught… to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (NIV).
Following Jesus is a process that involves changing from the way we were to the way that Jesus made us able to be. This takes time, and often involves failing — and hopefully learning from failing. Just as a child learning to walk falls down a lot, a person following Jesus can fall down a lot. But as we practice, we don’t fall down as often.
The verses that speak of condemnation for sin are not speaking of those trying to walk with Jesus, but those who are doing their own thing without any regard for Jesus.
Even if we ourselves avoid sin to please God, we must also be careful to share the right message about God, so that we do not become like the “godless men” in the Jude verse we read earlier. Certainly our message should speak of God’s immense love, and that he receives us no matter what we have done. But we must take time to explain that the kind of faith that saves us is the kind of faith that longs to grow in a loving relationship with Jesus — and that means that we seek to please him in all of our thoughts, words, and deeds. When we cheapen the message, we ensnare people in a trap that keeps them from finding real salvation through true faith in Jesus.
In my next article, we will examine the issues of salvation, faith, grace, and sin.
This article was written by Timothy S. Thomas. All rights reserved. You may reproduce this article or quote from it freely, as long as attribution is given.
Author’s note: This article is partially based on a sermon I gave at Community Gospel Church in Pasadena, Maryland, USA, on October 26, 2014.