D. L. Stephens



Copyright © Donald L. Stephens

August 2019


 Grace – sin and forgiveness

In the Gospel of John, the scribes and Pharisees put Jesus to the test by bringing a woman before him who had been taken in the act of adultery.

John 8:3 … And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 "Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. 7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" 11 She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

The opponents of Jesus were right when they said the Law of Moses condemned the woman. According to the evidence against her she had no hope, but Jesus found a way to forgive her. Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus is gracious and merciful. He sees no urgency to condemn. He gently points out that all men are sinners; therefore, none is qualified to condemn another.

After He forgave the woman’s sin He warned her that His forgiveness is not permission to continue in sin.

Jesus is gracious and willing to forgive. He is ready to pour out the living water of His grace upon those who would receive it. John wrote in his gospel that as Jesus left Judea to go to Galilee He passed through Samaria. When He came to the city of Sychar He paused at Jacob’s Well. As He sat there a Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus asked her for a drink. His request surprised her because Jews normally avoided Samaritans. She hesitated. Then Jesus said,

John 4:10 "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give me a drink;' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."

Samaria, and indeed all of Palestine, was thirsty land—thirsty for the knowledge of God. Isaiah uses the outpouring of water as the symbol of God's grace,

Isaiah 44:3 For I will pour out water on the thirsty land And streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, And My blessing on your descendants; 4 And they will spring up among the grass Like poplars by streams of water.

So, Jesus is merciful and forgiving and willing to bestow his grace, but one must realize who He is and that He is capable of great mercy—and you must ask.

Definition of Grace

Ask someone for a definition of "the grace of God" and you are likely to get answers all over the board. The correct answer is "unmerited favor." But a cold recital of the definition leaves volumes unsaid. You may then proceed to ask, "How does someone benefit from the grace of God? Or, how has God implemented his grace?”

Some people believe the Grace of God is like the legendary Juggernaut. You can't resist it, it just rolls over you and you receive its benefits whether you want them or not. The Calvinist believes that God's grace is irresistible.[1] Another will tell you that man does the best he can, and grace is what God does to make up the difference. Both ideas are just about equally distant from the Scriptural doctrine, but in opposite directions.

According to my New Testament the grace of God is bestowed upon us in Christ. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians,

Ephesians 1:5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

§  He freely bestowed His grace in the Beloved; i.e., in Christ.

Now the definition of “grace” is clear; it is unmerited favor. And the Apostle Paul pointed out where God bestows it. But why it is necessary?

Two fundamental conditions

There are two fundamental conditions which require God's grace. The first condition is that,

God hates and punishes sin.

This does not mean that God, or His angel, stands near the sinner and using something akin to a cattle prod continually reminds the sinner of his misery. The punishment for a sin is “built in” as it were to the sinful behavior. As in,

Numbers 32:23 “Be sure your sin will find you out.”

Or, as in Proverbs,

Proverbs 11:19  He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, And he who pursues evil will bring about his own death.

And in Job where Bildad said, speaking of the wicked,

Job 18:7 “His vigorous stride is shortened, And his own scheme brings him down. 8 “For he is thrown into the net by his own feet,

Remember what Paul said to the Galatians,

Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

§  The result of sin is corruption.

§  Note also that “corruption” is set opposite “eternal life.”

§  The consequences of his sin overtakes the sinner either in this life or in the hereafter.

§  There is no escape from the consequences; otherwise, God would be mocked.

The wrath of God falls upon all sin.

And Paul to the Romans,

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

§  The wrath of God falls on all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

Romans 2:9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God.

§  Tribulation and distress for every one who does evil.

Punishment for sin is both short term and long term. God has appointed government authority to punish wrongdoers in this life.[2] Further, sinful behavior has its own punishment built into the behavior. Consider the plight of drug abusers, or alcoholics. Also, sexual disease attends the fornicator and adulterer.

Longer term punishment, or suffering for wrongdoing, is not merely imposed on a person in judgment; it is the behavior itself full grown. The punishment is what a person reaps for a life of sin. This end of sin is on the sinner; it is not on God. God holds out his hand of love and mercy all the days of a person’s life. The sinner who refuses the mercy of God has no one to blame but himself.

The Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible observes concerning Revelation 22:11 where it says,

Revelation 22;11  “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.”

The punishment of sin is sin, the reward of holiness is holiness. Eternal punishment is not so much an arbitrary law, as (it is) a result necessarily following in the very nature of things, as the fruit results from the bud. No worse punishment can God lay on ungodly men than to give them up to themselves. The solemn lesson derivable from this verse is, Be converted now in the short time left (Rev 22:10, end) before “I come” (Rev 22:7, 12), or else you must remain unconverted for ever; sin in the eternal world will be left to its own natural consequences; holiness in germ will there develop itself into perfect holiness, which is happiness.[3]

The immediacy of separation that follows sin.

In God's instructions to Adam in the Garden of Eden. God told Adam, when referring to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,

Genesis 2:17 " the day that you eat from it you shall surely die."

On the day that Adam and Eve sinned God drove them out of the Garden and they lost communion with God. God banished them, and thereafter they suffered from the consequences of their sin. Spiritual “death” in the Greek is the separation of man from God.[4]

Violation of God's command is wrong. Sin is followed by swift punishment. It is because of the complete holiness of His character that He will permit no sin. Sin is utterly impossible in Him. It is not tolerated in his creation.

The Psalmist said,

Psalm 5:4 "For Thou art not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with thee."

And in verse 5,

Psalm 5:5 "Thou dost hate all who do iniquity."

And of the Messiah the Psalmist wrote,

Psalm 45:7 "Thou has loved righteousness, and hated wickedness..."

Paul wrote,

Romans 6:23 "...the wages of sin is death..."

The second condition that we find existing in the world is that man is a slave to sin.

Man is a slave to sin.

Ancient Rome had a law that said native born citizens could not be sold into slavery. The law was intended to benefit the citizens of Rome, and it did. But there were some who took advantage of the letter of the law to make money. They sold themselves into slavery. Later they brought a friend who testified that they were citizens of Rome. The law then forced the buyer to free them immediately. Many people profited handsomely from this practice because they kept the money they had received for their own sale.

Augustus changed the law, and said if you sell yourself into slavery, you are a slave. Paul surely knew this when he wrote in his letter to the Romans,

Romans 6:16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?

The man who sins becomes a slave to sin. Worse, when man becomes enslaved to sin he cannot free himself. As Paul said to the Romans,

Romans 6:20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Romans 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

·         Man is a slave to sin and as a result is subject to death.

"Body," in the Greek, is a word that the people of Paul's time used as a synonym for "slave."[5]

The Demands of Justice.

The Easton Bible Dictionary says,

Justice—is rendering to every one that which is his due. It has been distinguished from equity in this respect, that while justice means merely the doing what positive law demands, equity means the doing of what is fair and right in every separate case.[6]

Man's Justice.

The justice of man is at best flawed, at worst misapplied, deliberately distorted, and skewed by favoritism. God said to man,

Leviticus 19:35 You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement or weight, or capacity. 36 You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the Lord your God..."

Another time He said,

Deuteronomy 16:18 You shall appoint for yourselves judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

§  God’s commandments insist on justice in the courts of man.

§  Yet, justice seldom happens in man’s courts.

The main complaint against the courts of the land is that they are too lenient on criminals. People believe the sentences handed down, more often than not, are like slaps on the wrist, whereas the crimes committed deserved the severest punishments. Many of us quite agree with the Edinburgh Review which carried the following epigram on its cover: "The judge is condemned when the guilty is acquitted."

Complaints about the leniency of the courts invariably come from people who are not on the receiving end of the sentence. Stiff sentences ought to be imposed on criminals, especially other people who are criminals. But when we are caught doing something wrong mercy is what we want for ourselves.

In fact, people are willing to go to great lengths, spending time and money to protect themselves from lawsuits, indictments, and jail time. It is possible to escape punishment in a human court because evidence can be hidden, witnesses can be silenced, and juries rigged. It is even possible to deceive and mislead a court into a wrong decision—in a human court, that is. However, it is not possible to escape justice in the Divine Court. God’s justice is perfect.

God's Justice.

Justice of Godthat perfection of his nature whereby he is infinitely righteous in himself and in all he does, the righteousness of the divine nature exercised in his moral government. At first God imposes righteous laws on his creatures and executes them righteously. Justice is not an optional product of his will, but an unchangeable principle of his very nature. His legislative justice is his requiring of his rational creatures conformity in all respects to the moral law. His rectoral or distributive justice is his dealing with his accountable creatures according to the requirements of the law in rewarding or punishing them (Ps. 89:14). In remunerative justice he distributes rewards (James 1:12; 2 Tim. 4:8); in vindictive or punitive justice he inflicts punishment on account of transgression (2 Thess. 1:6). He cannot, as being infinitely righteous, do otherwise than regard and hate sin as intrinsically hateful and deserving of punishment. “He cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). His essential and eternal righteousness immutably determines him to visit every sin as such with merited punishment.[7]

Moses said of God,

Deuteronomy 32:3 For I proclaim the name of the Lord; Ascribe greatness to our God! 4 The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.

God’s vengeance upon wrongdoing proceeds out of His divine justice. As the scripture says in Romans,

Romans 12:19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.

Vine says that God’s vengeance is that which proceeds out of justice, not, as often with human vengeance, out of a sense of injury or merely out of a feeling of indignation. The judgments of God are holy and right (Rev. 16:7), and free from any element of self–gratification or vindictiveness.[8]

·         God’s wrath falls upon wrongdoers.

·         God imposes justice impartially.

The Great Dilemma

Such a righteous and just God will not overlook sin in any degree or form. Yet it is universally known, and emphasized, that God is a loving God. So then how does God resolve the problem of justice and righteousness with His loving character? How can God punish man's sin, and save him at the same time? Or how can God be just, and the justifier of man?

God's Grace is Pardon and Mercy in Christ.

The resolution of the dilemma:

“How can God both punish sin, and save man?”

 God is just because the penalty due to sin is carried out in the vicarious suffering of Christ on the cross. Christ is the means of satisfaction for sins. Christ’s death is a propitiation[9] (an appeasement) of God through the death of His Son. Justification on such grounds has nothing to do with man’s moral effort, nor his spiritual merit. It is bestowed freely by God; i.e., His grace is seen in His unmerited gift. By this method God is not only just (as always), but He can also justify, or put into a right relationship, those who have faith in Jesus. Correspondingly, apart from Christ they have no right to such justification.

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

·         It is the believers in Christ who are justified; that is, acquitted of the guilt of sin.

·         Believers in Christ—through their faith in Him—suffer His death by substitution and are therefore acquitted of the guilt of sin.

·         This justification is free through the grace of God; it is not earned.

·         God did this to demonstrate His righteousness, not a righteousness of anyone else.

Justification is by faith in Christ.

Galatians 2:14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? 15 "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 "knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

·         No one is acquitted of the guilt of sin through performance under law.

·         Acquittal from the guilt of sin is through faith in Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

·         Christ took upon Himself the guilt of the sinner so that the sinner might be acquitted by faith.

Philippians 3:8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

·         A sinner does not practice the law in order to be judged righteous on his own account;

·         Righteousness comes from God for the one who has faith in Christ.

Dead to sin, alive to God -

Romans 6:11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

No condemnation -

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

§  The believers in Christ, those who enjoy the special relationship that comes from being His disciples and servants, have escaped the condemnation that comes from sin.

Approval is in Christ -

Romans 16:10 Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus.

·         As Apelles was approved in Christ so are the loyal disciples and believers in Christ.

God forgives us in Christ.

Ephesians 4:32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.

·         Forgiveness of sin is in Christ.

Justification is a gift in Christ based upon the meritorious work of Christ.

Man's inability to right a wrong.

The story is told of a young man who lived during the Middle Ages. He slandered another man, and later regretted it. So he went to a holy man—a monk—to ask how he might make amends.

The monk said, "Put a feather on every doorstep in town."

The young man did it. Later, he returned to monk and said, "Now what should I do?"

The monk said, "Go back and pick up all the feathers."

The young man replied, "But that's impossible! By now the wind will have blown them all over town."

"Yes," the monk said, "And just so has your slanderous remark become impossible to retrieve."

It is impossible—in human terms—to correct the damage done by our sins. The damage is to others, and to ourselves. Perhaps foremost of all though is that in doing wrong we sin against God.

God's mercy arises from Himself,

God's mercy arises from Himself, from His own will, and has no cause other than His will. It is not that we could be nice to God and gain his favor; it is not that we can do good things that God will see and become favorable toward us. God’s mercy arises from Himself.

Romans 9:15 For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."

Even when the world was lost in sin His love caused Him to send His own Son.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Salvation is by grace.

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.

Love and mercy are in Christ.

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

The grace of God is in Christ.

Grace comes through Christ.

Apart from Christ there is no other way by which God's mercy and forgiveness are conferred. Peter said of Christ,

Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.

Paul said,

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the ages to come he might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

§  The Christian is saved by grace through faith.

§  The Christian did not earn it.

§  Salvation is God’s gift in Christ.

§  Salvation is not wages we have earned, so boasting is ruled out.

§  God created us in Christ to do good works according to the will of God.

And as the Apostle Paul wrote,

Romans 1:4...Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship...

Romans 5:1 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into the grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

Grace is given in Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:4 I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus...

But there is another side to grace,

Grace is not license.

God, under the Law of Moses, provided a system of sacrifices whereby Israel could offer up animals to atone for their sins. The blood of the sacrifice representing the life of the animal brought about forgiveness on the basis of God’s decree.[10]

As with any system of substitutionary sacrifice the recipient of the benefit may begin to think that his behavior is irrelevant to the outcome: i.e., the sacrifice dies and he receives forgiveness through the sacrifice and that ends the matter. But that is not true.

The death of the sacrifice may indeed be accepted in atonement for sin, but God expects the recipient to observe good behavior afterward.

Amos wrote concerning the hypocrisy of the Israelites,

Amos 5:21 “I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. 23 “Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.  24 “But let justice roll down like waters  And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 25 Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? 26 You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves.

In the wilderness the Israelites thought they could observe the Law of Moses—be in good standing with God—while at the same time they carried their sins with them.

God does not accept that kind of behavior.

The prophet Amos also said to them in the same chapter,

Amos 5:14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live;

         And thus may the LORD God of hosts be with                               you,

         Just as you have said! 15 Hate evil, love good,

         And establish justice in the gate!

         Perhaps the LORD God of hosts

         May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

The New Bible Commentary has the following entry concerning Amos’ admonition,

The judgment of God is provoked by the state of society, not just by private sins. To fail to maintain true principles (righteousness) and sound practices (justice) is to promote social and national ruination. The ‘righteous Lord loves righteousness’ (Ps. 11:7).[11]

A member of the church I know once confronted an elder about a practice of the church that the elder had encouraged, along with the other leaders of the church. “This practice is not biblical, and is contrary to the Apostolic doctrine,” the member said.

“We know what the scripture says,” the elder answered, “but we’re going to do it anyway.”

It might not be readily noticeable, but the elder committed a serious sin.

Under the Old Testament Law of Moses there were two broad classes of sins: sins of ignorance, and high handed sins; that is, deliberate sins performed while in possession of the knowledge of the law.

Sacrifices were to be offered for the sins of ignorance; but for the deliberate, defiant sins no sacrifice was to be offered because none would be accepted.[12]

While it is true that these were regulations imposed under the Law of Moses, similar provisions are made under Christ.

The writer of Hebrews said in the 10th Chapter of his letter,

Hebrews 10:26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27  but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.  28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29  How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?

30 For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Paul the Apostle was talking about grace in Romans when he said, "Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?" (Romans 6:1) Why would the Apostle put these two subjects side by side? Why would someone think that grace might be increased by violating God's laws?

By definition, sin is a transgression of the law. Sin also could be a deliberate act of disobedience taken in full knowledge of what God has said; it might also be disobedience done in ignorance of God's wishes; it may also involve the omission of a deed when conscience would require it.

The grace of God obviously does not include a sanction for acts of lawlessness. It does not promote ignorance of God's will, and always asks man to act in good conscience. But some people had thought that the grace of God could be the basis of a permission to commit sin.[13]

What is license? Simply stated, license is permission to do something wrong; i.e., sin. For example, governments are sometimes asked by citizens to grant permission (i.e., license) to practice a vice. Some human rights ordinances fall into this error. God has clearly prohibited homosexual practices, including them with fornication, adultery and idolatry. These are sins which will result in spiritual death; yet today people have managed to get laws passed which would protect the behavior of homosexuals, as in the case of San Francisco, California, or of prostitutes, as in the case of Las Vegas, Nevada.

But some argue that those are secular laws that apply to sinners. "God has nothing to do with those who are outside the church." Quite the contrary. Lawful behavior is expected of everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike. Else, why did God establish government? Notice what Paul said to the Romans,

Romans 13:1 Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.

Paul argues here for order. Proper behavior of citizens is a characteristic of a civilized society. Any willful act of lawlessness defies not merely secular law, but the ordinance of God. Paul's admonition is not limited to Christians, neither is it limited to the ordinary citizen. Else, why did John the Baptist condemn Herod for having the wife of his brother? The point is: no one, king or commoner, is given permission to sin. A corollary is that human governments are expected to uphold good morality since they are the extension of God's government.

It is true that those outside the church are not under the grace of God. But they are still under the ordinance of God, and are accountable to Christ. Good and lawful behavior is still expected both of the government administrators and of the citizenry.

But some behaviors are difficult to change. Some behaviors appear to be impossible to change. Should the church accept them anyway? Can the church accept them anyway? There are churchmen who argue that homosexual acts are natural and ought to be accepted even though the word of God says otherwise. The answer is that the church does not legislate as to who is to be accepted, and what behavior is to be tolerated—God does, and the scriptures tell us what God has legislated. This is a case of prospective converts to Christianity asking for permission to do something wrong: license to sin, and that in defiance of the word of God.

·         The grace of God is not license to commit sin.

To become Christians, sinners are required to repent, to adopt a different walk of life in accordance with the new life which is extended in Christ. It would be presumptuous to suggest that we stretch the grace of God in order to include lawless behavior. The grace of God does not increase to include willful acts of sin according to our wishes. God determines His own grace!

Most Christians have no trouble in seeing that the grace of God does not permit such vile acts as murder, armed robbery, and adultery. The difficulty develops when we have to decide "lesser" sins. Which ones of these shall be cataloged with the major sins in order to tell who is in the grace of God and who isn't. Is a Christian able to do just a few minor sins each year, each day, and still remain in God's favor? Don't we think that if a Christian does the best he can, keeps away from the major vices, prays regularly, attends church, participates in the Lord's Supper, contributes of his means, doesn't swear (too much) that he will probably be okay? If we believe these ordinary, "human," Christians are okay "because they are under God's grace" we have missed the point in the meaning of license. God does not want Christians to commit any sins no matter how large or how small. (Romans 6:1, Hebrews 10:29) And He decides if his grace and forgiveness are to be extended, and not we ourselves.

Indulgences as License.

An indulgence was, according to the Roman Catholic Church, a remission by the pope of the temporal punishment due to sin. According to the teaching of the Catholic Church in the middle ages the sinner would either undergo punishment in this world, or in purgatory. According to the teaching, Jesus Christ and the "saints" accomplished much more than was needed for salvation. The excess constitutes a spiritual treasure of which the pope was the trustee. He was able, they said, to draw on this excess to meet the needs of individual believers.

In the year 1517, John Tetzel, a Dominican monk, came to Germany selling indulgences; that is, permission to sin for a price. Great crowds of people flocked to Tetzel to purchase an indulgence. The monk offered to them, through the operation of the market, a "pardon ticket." The ticket guaranteed the purchaser a release from all the penalties of the sin named on it. Permission for murder, robbery, and other crimes was sold at a price. These indulgences were sold in the same way as government bonds, and could be used for current as well as future sins.

The use of indulgences was presumptuous in its conception and pernicious in its effect. It reduced the practice of good morality, and encouraged criminal excess. Indulgences became license to commit sin.[14]

Moral law, the Law of Moses, or the law of Christ can never be construed as permission to commit sin. That would be license. Paul condemned the doctrine of license in Romans chapter six. He said, "Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be!" The KJV is stronger as it says, “God forbid!” (6:1-2.)

When a sinner responds to the call of the gospel to become a Christian he is expected to leave sin behind. The grace of God in Christ does not provide for a continuation of sin.

While it is true that God has promised forgiveness to the sinner who genuinely repents one must bear in mind that the forgiveness of sins never rests upon the repentance itself. Forgiveness of sins always rests upon the work of Christ upon the cross, and the willingness of God to apply that sacrifice to the sin. Remember the words of Peter to Simon,

Acts 8:22 "Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you."

If possible! Forgiveness of sin depends on the Lord, not on an action by man. Paul echoes this thought in his letter to Timothy,

2 Timothy 2:24 And the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition; if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

§  "...perhaps God may grant them repentance..."

 Grace is not legalism

Muslim performance vs grace in Christ

For many years the citizens of the farming community, Qalioub, Egypt lived together in peace. This was unusual, because the population consists of Muslims and Christians. A few years ago, however, riots broke out when as many as 10,000 demonstrators took to the streets, refusing to disperse, and had to be scattered with tear gas. A church building was gutted, and seven policemen were hurt. More than 50 people were jailed. Dozens of riot police stood guard outside churches and in Christian neighborhoods afterward.

The trouble started when Carmen Suliman, 16, complained that a tape played in her high school class was offensive to Christians. Carmen said the tape talked about how a, "Muslim had to pray and do good things for God to forgive their sins. Then it said that this was more correct than what Christians believe—that Christ will pay for the sins of Christians." (A Muslim girl produced a tape to be played during a discussion about Arabic literature and the Koran.) Carmen complained about the tape to her parents, and to a Christian teacher.

Since the riots, Carmen says, Muslim neighbors spit at her family. Other Christians say they live in fear for their lives. The reason for this antipathy is that the Muslim faith teaches that individual Muslims are responsible to atone for their own sins by their own personal deeds.[15] In the Muslim view the eternal reward from God is attained by individual merit. Christians teach that eternal reward is obtained through the merits of Christ, and that it is Christ by His work on the cross who obtains remission of sin. This is a wide and irreconcilable difference in religious belief.

The difference between Muslim and Christian belief on this issue gets to the heart of the issue of legalism.

The grace of God is not legalism; that is, the grace of God does not have as its basis the performance of the individual Christian. The basis of the grace of God is the performance of Christ. An important distinction to recognize, however, is that the person who thinks that he must live according to law is not necessarily a legalist. A legalist is a person who thinks that if he keeps the law that God will accept him on basis of his good behavior. There is a subtle difference between obeying a law because the law is from God, and depending upon one’s observance of law in order to be saved. A person does not do a good deed so that God will recognize him, ignore his moral failures, and save him. A person does a good deed because it is the behavior that is expected of him.

The unprofitable servant.

Luke wrote the following which Jesus said to His disciples,

Luke 17:10 too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, "We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done."

·         Keeping all of God’s commandments is what we ought to do.

·         The servant is still unworthy.

The Pharisee.

In the time of Jesus the Pharisees believed that a Jew could so conduct his life under the Law of Moses that he could establish his own righteousness, and by his performance cause God to be obligated to him. The Pharisee believed that by his performance under law he would become the cause of his own salvation. Paul the Apostle did not accept this idea. He said,

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets; 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.

End of the Law for righteousness.

Paul said that justification, that is: acquittal of the guilt of sins, is a gift. The gift is by His grace, his mercy and favor, which are conferred on the basis of the ransom payment which is made in Christ.

Also Paul said that the righteousness that comes from God is not something man has obtained by his own efforts, or by his own deeds. It came to us because God brought it to us.

Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. 5 For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. 6 But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or 'Who will descend into the Abyss?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)." 8 But what does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heartthat is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

The benefits of being a child of God are extended to believers in Christ. If it were possible for performance to decide whether man goes to Heaven or not, then the performance must be flawless from birth to death, and under a legal contract which guarantees such a reward. But this quality of performance has never been done by any ordinary person, and there is no such contract by which God would guarantee salvation based upon individual performance under law.[16]


As practiced by the Roman Catholic Church, penance is a ceremonial observance by which sins are forgiven. By it the penitent is absolved of his sins by his confessor to whom he recites verbally the serious sins he has committed since his last confession, or since his baptism. The confessor must be a priest or bishop. The person benefiting from the ceremony must be truly sorry, and determined to amend his life. The penance involves an act of self-abasement, mortification, or devotion either voluntarily performed to show sorrow or repentance for sin, or imposed as a punishment for sin by a church official.

The doctrine of penance departs altogether from the Scriptural doctrine of atonement. In the New Testament there is atonement (forgiveness of sins) only by the work of Christ upon the cross. His blood alone pays the debt for sin. Human merit is eliminated completely.

The Apostle Paul argued in many of his letters that Jews who were attempting to establish their own righteousness under the Law of Moses were entering upon an exercise in futility. It was not possible. By the teachings of Paul we understand that forgiveness of sin is granted only in Christ, and that by the grace of God. It is a gift. It is not earned. By the clear teaching of the New Testament we understand that the grace of God is the mercy and forgiveness which are freely granted in Christ.

The Time of God's grace will end.

The grace of God will not continue indefinitely. The time in which we live is the time when the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is being preached. This is a time when men have opportunity. God's mercy is now extended in Christ, but will one day be withdrawn.

Hebrews 9:27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment; 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time, not to bear sin, to those who eagerly await Him, for salvation.

At His Second Coming He will not "bear sin." His return will be to bring the full benefits of God's grace to those who are the present recipients of it. Those who have not accepted God's offer of grace in Christ will have lost their opportunity to see their sins borne by Christ. Alas, they will bear their own sins unto eternity.

Concisely put, God's grace is His pardon and mercy which He freely gives us in Christ. The grace of God does not permit willful sin; neither does God's grace provide for goodness on human terms. One day, God's grace will no longer be extended to rebellious men.

The lesson is clear. Receive Christ and stop sinning.



1. What is the meaning of "grace?"

2. Does God tolerate sin, ever?

3. Is any man free of sin?

4. Does God reward sin?

5. Can one sin and escape God's notice?

6. Under what relationship is God's grace extended to man?

7. Does God's grace allow a person to commit a sin?

8. How much of man's salvation is accomplished by the work of Christ?

9. Is God's grace given under any other name than Christ?

10. When will God's grace in Christ come to an end?



[1] Steele, D. and Thomas, C., The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 18.

[2] See Romans 13:1-4.

[3] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 604). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[4] Vine, W. E., & Bruce, F. F. (1981). Vine’s Expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (Vol. 2, p. 276). Old Tappan NJ: Revell. Θάνατος.

[5] swma, (i.e., soma: body), means slave. Deissmann cites in an example of a letter from Demophon to Ptolemaeus. Deissmann, A., Light from the Ancient East, p. 165.

[6] Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

[7] Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

[8] Vine, W. E., & Bruce, F. F. (1981). Vine’s Expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (Vol. 2, p. 184). Old Tappan NJ: Revell.  See: ἐκδίκησις, vengeance.

[9] HILASKOMAI (ἱλάσκομαι , (2433)) was used amongst the Greeks with the significance to make the gods propitious, to appease, propitiate, inasmuch as their good will was not conceived as their natural attitude, but something to be earned first. This use of the word is foreign to the Greek Bible, with respect to God, whether in the Septuagint or in the New Testament. It is never used of any act whereby man brings God into a favourable attitude or gracious disposition. It is God who is propitiated by the vindication of His holy and righteous character, whereby, through the provision He has made in the vicarious and expiatory sacrifice of Christ, He has so dealt with sin that He can show mercy to the believing sinner in the removal of his guilt and the remission of his sins. Vine, “propitiation.”


[10] Leviticus 17:11.

[11] New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 1994 (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham, Ed.) (4th ed.) (803). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[12] Thus, this legal case and the laws that precede it share a common theme: the role of intentionality in determining the degree of guilt and punishment. Sins done unwittingly bear less guilt and can be atoned through sacrifice (v. 28), while a blatant and intentional act of disobedience (v. 30) involves great guilt and severe punishment.  Harpers Bible commentary. 1988 (J. L. Mays, Ed.) (192193). San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Numbers 15:30–31. The last regulation deals with a case of defiant sin, committed knowingly and deliberately. Such sin is described as blasphemous because it was an arrogant act of insubordination, a challenge to the lordship of Yahweh and His covenant demands. Anyone guilty of this kind of sin must be cut off from his people. As elsewhere, this means both excommunication and death.  Merrill, E. H. (1985). Numbers. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Ed.) (Nu 15:3031). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.


[13] Romans 6:1.

[14] R. H. Brumback, History of the Church through the Ages, pp 141,2.

[15] Strictly speaking the Muslim doctrine of sin is different than that of Christianity. “The Christian witness that the rebellion by our first parents has tragically distorted man, and that sinfulness pervades us individually and collectively, is very much contrary to Islamic witness.”

“Islam teaches that the first phase of life on earth did not begin in sin and rebellion against Allah.”

“Although Adam disobeyed Allah, he repented and was forgiven and even given guidance for mankind.”

“Man is not born a sinner and the doctrine of the sinfulness of mankind has no basis in Islam.”

Kateregga and Shenk, as quoted in Answering Islam, p. 42.


[16] Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 10:1-10.