This weekend I had the great pleasure of sitting with a group of my brothers, all day, brewing wonderful beer and eating good food and smoking pipes.
It was joy.
In the midst of our discussions came the idea that often bubbles up whenever you gather a few Christians together for anything, really: How do we know what’s permissible under grace and what’s forbidden and where the line is drawn between grace and law?
The usual answers, the good ones anyway, were presented in this discussion.
- Our affections for Christ are the greatest measure against any permissible partaking action. (Alcohol, tobacco, food)
- Anything might be an idol and therefore no reliance on our own intuition is a good idea.
- Even the most heinous use or misuse of any single thing is forgivable with repentance.
These are all true statements and good ones, I would say.
So then we move on, as this discussion usually does, to what we do when someone says, “I enjoy [Sin X] and that’s okay because grace covers that sin.” This, in non-reformed circles, is usually met with a side-eye towards a person losing their assurance and their standing with God. In reformed circles, we usually bring it back to the very nature of whether that person has encountered Jesus at all. (And in both of those circles there is often the murmur of someone “abusing” grace.)
But I think there was a point that occurred to me, this last Saturday, that hasn’t before.
We can turn grace into a Law.
So what could I mean by that? This requires some definition.
Law: whatever actions we perform to affirm or reaffirm our position with God. I earn being okay with Law.
Grace: the unmerited love of God given to us that supersedes all our works. God makes me okay from, through, and with Himself.
So when a person says “I enjoy [Sin X] and that’s okay because grace covers that sin,” the real problem is that like Vizzini, they keep using a word that they don’t know the meaning of. They have redefined grace to be “not grace.”
How is that possible? After all, the Christian tradition is clear and Paul says repeatedly that should we sin more that there would be more grace? God forbid!
Imagine if I understood grace as the process/mechanism by which my sins are forgiven. I use that word “process” intentionally because you need to understand it as a mechanism, in this idea. If grace is a mechanism/process, then it exists as a means to an end. It’s soap. That’s all.
This would be like saying grace is a ladder I climb to get to God. It makes grace into something grace is most definitely not. It completely misunderstands it, in fact. Grace isn’t the mechanism/process.
Grace is God’s attitude/position/opinion.
He has chosen to put our sins on Christ. In spite of all we have done to earn that treatment, He has chosen to count those sins against Jesus. When we say, “I enjoy [Sin X]…” what we really mean is, “I don’t love Jesus more than [Sin X] and have a greater need for [Sin X] than the distance it creates between myself and God, but I use the word grace to feel better about [Sin X] and my love for it.”
Grace becomes a means to get what we really want in that scenario. Grace isn’t just the grease you apply to your already stellar life. Grace is defeating. It deals the death blow to our sin. How? Because it says that the sin doesn’t have to stay in your affections. It says that because of God’s attitude/position/opinion of us, we have the ability to walk away from the worst things, even those things that compete for our affections. That though we stumble after Jesus, on broken ankles, we don’t stop the pursuit or turn forever to someone or something else.
See, I don’t believe it’s possible to abuse grace. I think I could go out, tomorrow, and commit murder and that God would forgive it.
I’ll wait while you catch your breath from the deep and mournful gasping.
Done? Good. That act, that sin, wouldn’t be an abuse of grace because it would be a fundamental misunderstanding of what grace is, means, and does. If I commit that murder and then say, “I enjoyed that murder and that’s okay because grace covers that sin,” then I haven’t encountered the Lord. I haven’t seen another person for who they are to Him. I have, instead, turned grace into a process/mechanism and ignored the attitude/position/opinion of God towards me and, more importantly in that scenario, them.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15
 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (ESV)
Grace doesn’t enable sin, it defeats it. Sometimes all at once and sometimes over a period of time. Let’s not turn grace into a Law by which we coerce God into feeling about us a way that is less than He has chose to feel about us in Christ.