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Does Grace Excuse Sin?

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 6:1–2

A proper understanding of God’s grace does not excuse sin; it makes sin abhorrent to us. Indeed, we cannot live a life of sin.


Let me ask you a question today: Is God’s grace an excuse for practicing sin? This is not a new question. Two thousand years ago the early Christians wrestled with it.

We have arrived at Romans chapter 6, where Paul puts that same question this way in verse 1: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound?”

Back in Romans 5, Paul wrote, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (verse 20). Here is a good paraphrase of that: “Where sin piled up, one upon another, grace overwhelmed it still!” In other words, the greater the sin, the greater God’s grace!

And that is true. But Paul knew that somebody was going to say, “Well, I guess I can continue sinning because grace is going to continue increasing!”

That perspective, by the way, created a false doctrine we call today antinomianism—the belief that since God is glorified by expressing His attributes, and since He has the attribute of grace, and since His grace is demonstrated when we sin, well then, let’s sin so that the grace of God will be magnified. We do not have to obey God’s commands.

So, here is the question again: Does the grace of God excuse the practice of sin? Antinomianism says you not only have freedom from sin but you also have freedom to sin. A lot of people are going to like that kind of religion.

Here is Paul’s answer in verse 2: “By no means!” You could render this, “Far from it!” (NASB) or “God forbid” (KJV). You could even translate it, “Don’t even think about committing that sin.” That is the way my mother would have translated it when I was growing up—“Stephen, don’t even think about doing that!”

Paul goes on to explain why, writing, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” In this one question, Paul wants us to ask ourselves two questions that ought to stop us in our tracks from ever going down a path that perverts the true meaning of God’s grace. Ask yourself these two questions when you are tempted to sin:

  • First, have you forgotten what happened to you at conversion?
  • Second, have you forgotten where you belong today as a Christian?

So, when Paul says, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” he is asking, “Have you forgotten what has happened to you? Have you forgotten that you have died to sin? You do not want to go around sinning every chance you get—you have died to that old life!”

But what does Paul mean here that we died to sin if we still struggle with sin? We struggle to obey what is right—and that struggle begins at a very young age.

I remember a live television program, where children were observed being tempted. One at a time they were brought into a room where they were seated. The adult placed in front of them some candy on a plate and then said to them, “I have to leave for a minute. Don’t eat anything, but when I get back, I’ll give you as much as you want.” Then the grown-up left, and the cameras recorded the children’s battle with obedience.

One little girl stared at the plate and then, as if she could not take it anymore, she covered her eyes with her hands. One little boy looked at it, fidgeting in his chair, and then he began to sing loudly, evidently to take his mind off the candy. Another child got up and walked as far away from the plate as he could get and stood in the corner talking to himself.

That was not a bad idea—just get up and walk away. Well, the original sinners, Adam and Eve, did not walk away from the temptation. They walked over to it and took a bite, and sin entered the human race to this day.

But why do we struggle with sin after we are saved? How can we struggle with something if we are dead to it, as Paul writes here?

Well, we have to go back to Romans 5:21, where Paul writes, “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In other words, we died to the reign of sin, in Christ. The word “reign” means, “power, or control.”[1]

The reign of sin is what controls people before they come to Christ. Their master is sin. The reign of grace is what takes over in their lives once they believe in Christ.

Think of being on a pirate ship. The captain is a wicked man who captured you and others during one of his raids. He orders you about like you are an animal. But then your government sends a ship, and it defeats that pirate ship in battle; it takes control of that pirate ship, liberating you and the other captives. The new commanding officer chains the evil captain below deck, and you sail for home. On the way there, that old pirate captain is shouting out orders to you from below, giving you one command after another. He is threatening you and telling you what to do. Now you can obey him if you want, but you don’t have to. Why? Because he is not your captain anymore. You do not have to follow his orders any longer.

So, when you are tempted to sin, do not forget what happened to you. Paul put it this way in Colossians 1:13: “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”

Here, again, is the second question Paul is asking: Have you forgotten where you belong now as a Christian? In verse 2 he writes, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” In the original language, Paul emphasizes it this way: “How can we, being who we are, still live in sin?” Now even though we sin, we no longer want to sin because we no longer feel at home there. We do not belong back there anymore.

We used to have a dog named Patches. We got her as a puppy, and she basically grew up with our four children. Sometimes Patches got loose and began to run around out there in the pasture beyond our backyard fence, where a farmer grazed his horses. Sure enough, Patches would find the first pile of dried horse manure and roll around in it. She loved doing that. She had a great time out there—I think Patches had some serious issues in life. The truth is, dogs love things like that!

Beloved, if people say they are Christians but they want to roll around in sin, and they love every minute of it, they are not doing that because they want to display the grace of God. No, they love the filth of sin, and that reveals they probably are not believers after all.

That doesn’t mean a Christian cannot sin, but I can tell you this: the most miserable person on the planet is a Christian who is sinning. Christians really cannot enjoy sin because they know that it is wrong. They know what it did to Jesus who suffered for it, and they know the corrupting power and danger it is in their own lives.

If you belong to Christ, your desire is to obey Him and walk in fellowship with Him. It might mean you have to walk as far away from temptation as possible. It might mean you start singing loudly to distract your mind from that temptation.

So, does the grace of God give us an excuse to sin? Here is the answer: Not at all. Understanding the grace of God does not mean you sin all you want; it means you never want to sin at all.

[1] James Montgomery Boice, Romans: An Expositional Commentary, Volume 2 (Baker, 1991), 651.

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