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  • Adam Butler

Why Grace Cannot Be a “Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free” Card

It’s all about grace, right? Grace changes everything. Grace is what permits even the most depraved, unrighteous, fallen people to inherit eternal life in heaven. What a beautiful gift!

But what is grace, anyway? I heard it said this way: justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you do not deserve. The God of the Bible is a God of all three.

So the question arises: if the grace of God is what allows sinners to be forgiven, no matter how far we have fallen, is it possible to continue living in sin even after we have been saved? Can one accept the gift of grace and still live according to the desires of the flesh—those that contradict God’s Word?

Enter: the infamous “get-out-of-hell-free” card. Christ died for me? How convenient! I am saved and I get to be forgiven of all my sin. Perfect. Now I can live my life the way I’m living, with the added bonus of not having to worry about hell!

Those that think grace is merely a card to be played do not truly understand grace. They do not truly grasp the gravity of the Gospel. I do not see how someone can claim to have been saved by the grace of God, claim to follow Jesus, and still live in willful rebellion against him.

The Apostle Paul clears up this issue in two sentences: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it” (Romans 6:1–2)?

Someone who has been genuinely saved and truly follows Christ will have a desire to turn from sin, not make excuses for it. Jesus tells us that if we love Him, we will keep his commandments (John 14:15). If we have truly been born again, this will be evidenced by a desire to follow Christ and keep the commands of God, and a repulsion toward our own sin, leading to conviction by the Holy Spirit (Psalm 38:18; Luke 15:21, 18:23; Acts 2:37). How can one turn from a sinful lifestyle he feels no remorse over? This is why understanding the sinfulness of man is such a crucial point in the Gospel message.

The call to follow Christ is a call to die. This is the unpopular portion of the Gospel, which too many ignore because of the hardness of its truth.

What, then, do we make of the fact that Scripture indicates salvation as achieved by grace alone, through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8)? First, this could not be more true. Salvation is not earned, it is a free gift.

The point to be made here, though, is that one who truly has salvation will be expected to live as such. Jesus speaks in John 15 about the Vine and the Branches. A branch connected to the vine will bear fruit. Do not hear what He is not saying, though. This is not to say when you bear fruit, then you will be saved; instead, He means when you are saved, then you will bear fruit. In other words, one who claims to be saved, but is showing no evidence of change, perhaps this person has not truly experienced the saving grace of Christ.

After all, does not Scripture warn of having a false assurance of our own salvation (Matthew 7:21–23)? The call to be a disciple of Christ is a call to be a completely, committed, follower.

Before you accuse me of drifting toward legalism, such as the Pharisees did, understand that these are not my mere opinions. I am simply espousing what Scripture defines as a true disciple, as opposed to a false one. Does Jesus not say that anyone who does not deny himself and take up his cross is not worthy to be a follower (Luke 9:23)? Does Jesus not warn about those who may appear to be wheat, but are weeds in disguise (Matthew 13:24–43)?

Jesus calls us to REPENT, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17). Repentance, or turning from sin, is a life-long posture; it is not a one-time event.

Therein lies the vitality of a complete, explicit Gospel message. We cannot compromise on the message of what following Christ truly means.

Scripture is clear: grace is not a “get-out-of-hell-free” card. Grace is not an excuse to keep sinning. On the contrary: grace should be the reason we wish to leave behind our sinful lifestyle, not attempt to justify it. Grace should be the reason we are heartbroken over our own sin. Grace should be the reason we rejoice in Christ, having found new life in Him, though we do not deserve it in the slightest.

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