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Why Grace is Not a License to Sin: Perverting the Gospel?

Grace is not a license to sin

Have you ever heard the saying, “Grace is not a license to sin”?

We know what grace is - unmerited favor from God. We have salvation, justification, and favor based on nothing we’ve done. That’s grace.

Grace is the Gospel and the New Covenant. Grace is the best thing!

But it seems that there are some believers who feel we must be cautious with it, and they criticize the “grace movement” in the church today by saying two things:

  1. Grace is good, but we also have to do good things and obey God’s laws to “keep” our right standing with Him.

  2. Too much grace is a bad thing because these people feel that they can now do whatever they want and have a license to sin.

Because of this mindset, you might be hearing a “mixed message” on Sunday mornings.

Sometimes, you have favor because of what Christ did, and other times, it’s because of what you do.

Sometimes, God is pleased with you because of grace, and other times, He’s mad at you because you haven’t been doing so well lately.

Sometimes, you’re saved, and other times, you’re not.

Why “Too Much” Grace is Not a License to Sin, and Where We Get This Idea From

“Too much” grace is a Biblical thing that we should embrace, not reject:

Romans 5:20 ESV

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more

The Greek word for “abounded” is  ὑπερεπερίσσευσεν (hypereperisseusen), and it means “to overflow,” “super-abounding,” and “exceedingly abound.”

So, grace “super-abounds.” It is overflowing. It’s like saying “hyper-grace.”

If a waiter pours your drink, and it starts to overflow, wouldn’t you say that’s “too much?”

Therefore, “overflowing” grace (“too much grace”) is scriptural and leads to goodness in a believer's life.

But the idea that “too much” grace becomes negative comes from this verse:

Jude 1:4

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Someone might say, “You see? Too much grace became sin for these people. They got grace and then went wild with it!”

Here’s how these people read this verse:

For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who have too much grace in their lives, so that grace becomes sensuality and they deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

However, this scripture does not teach that people who embrace super-grace will end up “perverting” the Gospel and going wild in sin.

A closer look at this verse in Greek will clarify and show that grace is not the culprit.

The Greek Behind Jude 1:4

The Greek word for the verb “pervert” is μετατιθέντες (me•ta•ti•then•tes). Here’s what it means:

From meta, denoting change of place or condition, and tithemi, to place. To transpose, put in another place and hence to transport, transfer, translate. Metaphorically, to transfer to another use or purpose, pervert, abuse (Jude 1:4, “perverting the grace of God into licentiousness.” [1]

to change… figuratively, τήν ... χάριν εἰς ἀσέλγειαν, to pervert the grace of God to license, i. e. to seek from the grace of God an argument in defense of licentiousness, Jude 1:4 [2]

In the broadest, simplest terms, the word just means to “change.” And when something “changes,” it goes from being one thing to another.

Really, you don’t even have to go into the Greek to see what is happening here in Jude.

Grace was not “becoming” sin because there was too much of it. The people themselves were “changing” grace into sin.

According to the definitions we saw, when you “change” something that was meant for good into something wrong, you “pervert” it.

The critical thing to see is that grace itself does not “become” sin when there is too much of it.

In order for grace to metaphorically be changed, it has to be done by people who wish to pervert it so they can sin. Usually, people who do this have never really understood or received grace in the first place.

I say “metaphorically” because God’s grace cannot literally change. It is an everlasting covenant.

But still, grace can be figuratively changed out for something else in an individual’s life. It doesn’t become sin, but it can be changed out for it.

For example, we’ve all heard the phrase, “Don’t take my kindness for weakness.” And indeed, this does happen all the time, even in my life.

The kindness I have for people just is. It doesn’t change. But when a person sees that kindness as weakness, they’ve perverted it. They’ve “changed it” for themselves.

The Participle of Change

Now, we don’t need to go further into the Greek, but just for fun, let me show you something else.

μετατιθέντες (me•ta•ti•then•tes) is a participle that is tied to the plural noun “certain people” and the verb “have crept in.”

This further proves that the people who crept in were the ones changing grace for themselves.

Was the grace changing itself because there was too much of it, or were the men changing the grace of God in their lives?

The verse could be read:

Certain people have crept in while changing the grace of our God into sensuality and denying our only Master and Lord.

Do People Change God’s Grace Today and Make it a License to Sin?

Again, this question depends on what you mean by “making grace a license to sin.”

I have never met anyone who has honestly received grace and then said, “Now I can go crazy in sin because there is grace.”

When someone truly receives grace, they might struggle at times, but they’re not going to view that grace as an opportunity to sin. They’ll view that grace as an opportunity to allow God to change them.

I have seen people who, in my opinion, have heard about grace but have not truly received it.

They then seem to drift further away from the message, possibly distorting some of the things they heard about grace, believing that as long as they’re “good” according to their definition of “being good,” they’re OK with God.

They might say a two-second prayer once a month. They might believe that God exists. They don’t live as a saved person would live, but as long as they say a little prayer every now and then and try to be “good,” all is well.

Then they might say, “I live this way because I heard something about this “grace” thing a long time ago at church…”

Even in this scenario, grace is not the culprit.

The problem is that this person did not fully understand or embrace grace. And in a way, yes, I do think that they’ve sort of perverted God’s grace.

I don’t think that this person sees grace as an excuse to go wild (as they did in Jude), but they might use it as an excuse to not entirely give themselves to Christ or do what he would want them to do.

And that would be a perversion of the truth.

Anyway, that’s just my two cents. What do you think?

[1] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chatanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1993), 973.




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