The number one complaint I get about the grace message from people is that they feel it’s giving us a license to sin. I am certain I’ve heard this accusation no less than a million times in the last five years. It usually goes something like this:
“You mean to tell me that I can do drugs, kill people, rob banks and burn down an orphanage and I’ll still go to heaven?”
It amazes me how folks come to that conclusion after hearing that we are forgiven for everything, and He will never leave us or forsake us. You have to wonder what’s in the heart of Americans today when betrayal and debauchery are the first thing that comes to their mind when offered security in a relationship.
Could you imagine going to a wedding and listening to the bride and groom recite their vows: “I will never leave you – through sickness and health – for richer or poorer – for better or for worse – till death do us part,” and some guy on the front row raises his hand and says, “Woe dude, that means you can cheat on her, do drugs, beat her up and burn her parents’ house down.” It’s interesting that this is the mentality that people worry that others will take when offered a forever covenant with God. The separating factor between those who “get it” and those who don’t, is love. People who do not have love in their hearts almost always interpret a forever covenant as an opportunity to sin.
An open hearted human reaction to eternal security is almost never this. Security in a relationship causes the heart to open wide and become transparent and vulnerable. The forever covenant is assurance that every part of a person will be accepted and loved, no matter how ugly or dark. It encourages a person to no longer hide within themselves or live in secret. When they know they are safe forever, they are a thousand times more likely to give all of themselves and hold nothing back. This is the heart behind the marriage covenant of “Till death do us part.”
For any relationship to be authentic, it must start with a forever covenant of eternal security. Unfortunately, today, most relationships don’t have this one foundational element and they are plagued with secrecy, uncertainty, and shallowness. I think that more than anything, today’s relationships are saturated with control. I have found that control is humanity’s antidote to insecurity. This is where the heart of today’s Christian thinking exists.
Most Christian teachings today strip us of our security in our relationship with God. They create uncertainty in the hearts of people as to where they stand with Him at any given time. Once uncertainty has been swallowed, control sets in. It sets in because it is needed immediately. There is a vacuum created with unsureness that needs to be filled with something more powerful than itself. Control is not only needed, but it’s desired as well.
Teachings about accountability partners, spiritual leaders, submitting to authority and church covering are widely accepted with little or no resistance. When a loving God is made to look unpredictable and not so loving, people submit to someone who they think might know better than them. They lose confidence in themselves and their ability to please an unpleaseable God, so they put themselves under the care and control of others in an effort to find security again.
Without security, the Christian life becomes about “NOT sinning.” Every single aspect of a person’s relationship with God is determined by whether or not they have sinned recently. I have found that just about every Christian term is somehow linked to this pattern of belief. Anytime a Christian today is talking about his spiritual struggles, he is most certainly talking about a personal battle with some sin in his life. If a person is struggling to get closer to God, they are usually struggling to conquer a sin or a pattern of sin. When someone feels especially spiritual and close to God, it’s usually because they haven’t committed any of their big sins in the last few weeks. Because they feel as though they got the victory of that particular sin, they feel freed up and confident to approach God.
“Growing in the Lord” is defined by how much less a person sins than they did before they met God. Today, we even consider our “witness for Christ” to be our public abstinence from sin. If a person sins in front of unbelievers, they are told that they “blew their witness.” Almost all Christian “testimonies” are about how a person was caught in a life of sin before they met Jesus. The bigger the sins a person was committing before they got saved, the more they are asked to give their testimony in front of others.
It doesn’t surprise me that when the grace message is preached today, the first thing that comes to mind with the average Christian is sin. The grace message is spoken of as a “license to sin” and the mere thought of that scares people to death. It goes against everything they think the Christian life is about. Finding out that God loves you whether you sin or not, is a bit scary because people aren’t sure what they’ll do.
One person actually told me that it’s safer to deny the grace message because that way they’d know for sure that they would sin less. “Freedom in Christ” sounds too much like “freedom to sin.” It’s just not worth chancing it.
I have listened to grace preachers all over the world respond to the world famous “license to sin” accusation. We all have our own way of trying to get people to not look at it that way, but to see the heart of relationship and what Christianity is really about. My approach to this has become vastly different from most. In fact, I believe it would down right scare the hell out of most pastors.
Do I think the grace message gives people a license to sin?
YES, I absolutely do.
Part of giving someone freedom, is giving them their choice back. Christianity today has stripped us of our choice to sin. When we are told that sin separates us from God and we will be punished, our choice in the matter is taken away. We have an entire generation of people who quit sinning because of the outer voice of their religion rather than the inner personal voice of their heart. In other words, their quitting didn’t come from their heart; it came from their head. The grace message gives people back their right to sin, and it provides an atmosphere in which they can grow spiritually right and find truth in the center of themselves rather than in a system. A license to sin is not an encouragement to sin, but it’s the right to sin. Take away that right, and you take away relationship altogether.
“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything.” –Paul–
Without a license to sin, I don’t believe people will ever know their own heart, much less the Heart of God. The problem is that in the process of molding themselves to fit religion’s requirements, a person learns to deny any and all inner emotions of the heart that might cause them to sin. Things like anger, passion, lust and greed are shut down and the result is that they lose contact with self and eventually forget who they are altogether. Sadly, Christians today stand adamantly against sin, but they have no idea why. They don’t feel a thing in their hearts about sin, other than the memorized knowledge that “it’s wrong.” They believe it’s wrong, not because their heart sings that truth, but because that’s what they’ve been taught. When you shut down some aspects of the heart, you end up shutting down ALL aspects of the heart.
Some people who believe that Christianity is about “not sinning” will inevitably say, “What difference does it make? As long as a person isn’t sinning, who cares what’s behind it?” This is an anti-intimacy mentality. Would you rather have your spouse not cheat on you because adultery is a sin or because they love you? Giving someone a license to sin is the only way to get to the “because I love you” answer. Most fear that answer will never come, so they opt for the “adultery is a sin” card. It’s more controlling and has a better guarantee. They’ll say something like, “If you ever cheat on me, I’ll divorce you” in a feeble effort to guarantee the other person’s faithfulness. Real relationship says, “If you ever cheated on me, I wouldn’t leave you.” It leaves faithfulness completely up to the heart of their spouse. The thought of that is terrifying.
When my six-year-old daughter informed us that she wanted to run away, we packed a suitcase for her and opened the door. Needless to say, she changed her mind and told us she wants to stay with us. I’m not interested in making prisoners out of my children. The only way to accomplish that is to give them a license to run away. The same is true with the grace message. God wants relationship that is based on a heart’s desire for intimacy with Him. He’s not interested in keeping prisoners. The only way to have this intimacy with people is to give them a license to sin.
True freedom comes only when the hand of control is removed and a person is given choice to sin or not to sin. If you have a hundred birds in a cage and fifty of those birds belong to you, but the other fifty do not; how many will fly away if you open the cage?
ALL OF THEM.
However, fifty will eventually fly back. Then and only then, is relationship possible.