May 30, 2010
Grace Teaches Us to Say No
“For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God” Titus 2:11‑12 (NLT).
God’s grace means that we’ve been liberated from the guilt of our past sins and made free to do what is right in the present. It does not mean that we are free to do anything we please. To those who might see grace in this kind of permissive way, Paul asked, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1,2). Grace means that we have “died to sin,” and if we are sincere in seeking God, then this is a truth that we must take very seriously.
There is a difference between “freedom” and “licentiousness.” Our English word “licentiousness,” like its cousin “license,” comes from the Latin licentia, which meant freedom. But licentiousness is not true freedom; it is nothing more than the lack of restraint. It is the stolen freedom of the person who disregards the rules of reality and throws discipline to the wind. But because licentious conduct respects no standards except those of its own pleasure, its effect is not to liberate but to enslave. Speaking of those who taught that God’s grace confers the freedom to engage in immoral conduct, Peter wrote, “They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you” (2 Peter 2:19 NLT).
There is simply no way around the fact that there are some “Thou shalt nots” in the Scriptures. Grace does not mean that we never have to say no – it means that we say no to the things that we should say no to. Teaching us to “deny ungodliness,” grace says that “we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.”
And in this sense grace is the most powerfully motivating force in the world. Forgiven of our past acts of rebellion against God’s love, we respond gratefully. We never lose our healthy respect for God’s justice, but we learn to keep God’s law primarily out of love and appreciation for God. This is “renunciation” in the very highest and noblest sense, and it is by no means an infringement on our freedom. It is simply the kind of commitment that is willing to make sacrifices for the sake of love.
“Renounce everything that does not lead to God” (Brother Lawrence).