Grace attracts sinners. Since I am someone who preaches radical grace, I get a lot of emails and Facebook messages from sinning Christians. Very few are looking for help in overcoming sin; almost all of them want an assurance that God will continue to love them despite their bad behavior. More often than not, these messages come from young men who are living as though they were married, even though they are not.
Since I grow weary of being an an agony aunt for men who should know better, this post is addressed to all of you who are wrestling with sin, but particularly to hot-blooded young males. Here are my responses to five commonly asked questions:
1. Will God love me if I keep sinning?
Yes, absolutely! I know this is not what manmade religion has told you, but you need to know that God’s love for you is unrelated to your moral performance. He loves us because He is love. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son” (Joh 3:16). Are you part of “the world”? Then God loves you. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8).
There are many variables in life but God’s love is the one constant you can bank on. You can be certain that He loves you. A far better question to ask is, “Do you know and enjoy His love?” The prodigal’s father loved him constantly but the prodigal did not know and benefit from his love for as long as his attention was elsewhere.
Every one of us has needs. These needs are designed to lead us to Jesus (see Php 4:19). If you’re not getting your needs met in Jesus, you will make inferior choices – and this is where the trouble starts.
2. Does God’s grace mean I can continue to live in sin?
No. Grace brings freedom and yes, that includes the freedom to make poor choices, but if you use your freedom to enslave yourself to sin or religion, you have completely missed the point of grace (Gal 5:1).
A Christian who runs after sin is like a prisoner who has been released into the custody of gracious king, who then uses his freedom to re-offend and do all the things that got him imprisoned in the first place. Now our King is extremely gracious. He won’t send you back to prison. But you may send yourself there.
The King of kings didn’t give His life as your ransom just so that you run back to the clay-pits Egypt. That’s going in the wrong direction. Egypt is history. We’ve got places to go and grace is going to take us there. Move on to the Promised Land of His love for that is where life really begins.
3. Will I lose my salvation if I choose to keep sinning?
No. Jesus is your salvation; the Holy Spirit is your eternal guarantee (2 Cor 1:22). If sinning caused us to lose our salvation, then heaven would be empty.
But the question troubles me. Religion has got us so obsessed with making heaven and avoiding hell that we’ve put life on hold. The earth is not a waiting room for eternity. This is the place where Real Life begins (see Joh 17:3)! Don’t put your life on hold by living captive to the flesh. Salvation is not there and then; it’s here and now. God’s will is for you to experience heaven-on-earth today. But choose the way of sin – make dumb decisions, sow to the flesh – and you’ll experience hell-on-earth.
Religion would have us frame the questions of life in terms of good and evil. “Shouldn’t we do good and avoid evil?” But this is fruit from the forbidden tree; it is not the heavenly metric of grace. It’s not that the question is inherently bad, it just won’t lead you anywhere near the right Answer.
We don’t earn grace by doing good; neither do we forfeit grace by doing evil. If anything, His grace shines all the more when we sin (Rom 5:20). The purpose of grace is to give you life where sin has given you death. Grace is the antidote to the poison of sin. Now that you’ve been saved from death, stop drinking the poison. Drink instead from the well of His life.
4. If God loves me and my salvation is secure, then why can’t I keep doing what I’m doing?
Because sin is stupid. It’s like texting on the freeway. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. The world will tell you that “if it feels good, do it” and “as long as it’s harming no one, what’s the problem?” But these two mantras are flawed. Live from your feelings and you’ll end up enslaved to your appetites. You will be a shadow of your real self.
This is the true message of the cross. When we seek to save ourselves by doing what seems right in our own sight, we lose ourselves, but when we trust Him, then we really live. Understand that I am not calling you to take a vow of chastity. Aside from the fact that law-based solutions don’t work, this is not the life God has called us to. Following Jesus is not about starving the flesh – that’s asceticism and it’s as much a flesh-trip as any indulgence. Following Jesus is about reckoning yourself dead to the world and it dead to you and allowing Him to live His life through you. Trust me – His life is way more fun than yours!
“As long as it’s harming no one…” How do you know it’s not harming no one? Do you have perfect knowledge of the future? Do you know for sure that this lady you’re keeping house with is going to be your wife and not the wife of some other man? Will she be the mother of your children or the mother of someone else’s children? If you are certain that she will be your wife for life, then marry her. But if you’re uncertain, then stop playing games and grow up. Be a man. People are far too precious to fool around with.
5. I can’t help myself. I’m not sure that I could stop even if I wanted to.
That’s not a question; that’s a declaration of unbelief in the grace of God that empowers us to say no to ungodliness (Tit 2:12).
In the natural it may be true that you are enslaved to addiction. You may be so deep in a rut that you can’t see the sun. But that doesn’t mean you are without help and without options. Come on – your Helper is God! No one is beyond the reach of His transforming love and grace. I’ve met countless people who have been completely changed from one kind of person into another by His grace. In the kingdom of His grace this happens all the time.
But transformation rarely happens among those who don’t believe. So stop looking at yourself as a victim. Stop speaking lies over your life – that’s rampant unbelief in the Son of God who lives in you. Look instead to your Mighty Redeemer. Confess your true identity in Christ. When you get up in the morning and another day of sin beckons, look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I am my Father’s Son and He loves me! I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. As He is in heaven, so am I in this world!”
I’m not preaching faith plus self-effort. I’m preaching faith in His mighty grace!
Beliefs need to be spoken and acted upon for them to become real in our experience. The world will try and tell you that you are the product of your choices and behaviors. But God says you are His dearly beloved son. So choose who you would listen to and be who you really are.
This is not the place where I talk about overcoming sin. If you would like help in that direction, I recommend, for the younger men, this excellent post by Daniel Silva, and for the older men, this post and this book by Bill Gillham.
For now, I will end with this: Any theology that doesn’t empower you to overcome sin is worse-than-useless. It leaves people worse off because it saddles them with guilt and condemnation. This is why grace is infinitely better than law-based religion. Grace is not a set of rules that condemn, it is a victorious Overcomer living His overcoming life through you.
– Paul Ellis