It depends on who’s asking the question. If the question is voiced by a person who is coming to Christ seeking salvation and the forgiveness for their sins, the answer is a resounding “YES!” When we hear the Gospel message of God’s desire to save us by forgiving us, and how He accomplished that through the death of His Son on the Cross; When we then repent of our sins and trust that the shed blood of Jesus has covered our sins; When we throw ourselves on the mercy of God and cling to the Savior in faith, we discover that, yes, we are saved by God’s grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8) The unmerited favor (grace) of a loving God toward sinners deserving nothing but an eternity in hell is, indeed, Good News! As the great hymn proclaims, His grace is “greater than all our sins.”
However, if the question is being asked by a Christian who only wants to persist in his sin, walking the endless treadmill of “sin, confess, sin, confess,” without ever repenting and forsaking his sin, then the answer is a resounding “NO!” We cannot count on the unmerited favor of God to cover our sins when we stubbornly refuse to forsake them. God’s grace cannot be used as an excuse to remain in sin when it is, in fact, the way out.
Paul posed this question in the sixth chapter of his letter to the church in Rome: “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” And then he answered his own question. “May it never be!” (Romans 6:1-2) He was asking the very same question, for apparently it was being asked by new Christians in the early Church. “If God covers our sins by His grace, shouldn’t we continue in our sin so that God’s grace would multiply?” His answer is so strongly negative that it is often rendered as “God forbid!” And here’s why.
Paul asked a follow-up question in Romans 6:2. “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” In other words, the purpose of God in saving us is not simply to provide our much needed forgiveness. The purpose of God in saving us is to set us free from the power of sin over us, so that we no longer have to live in it. Paul’s argument in Romans 6 looks like this:
- We were spiritually united with Christ Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection. Our sin nature was crucified, died, and was buried in Him. (6:4-7)
- Sin has no power over a dead man. (6:7)
- We can reckon ourselves (by faith) to be dead to sin, but alive to God through the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead. (6:11)
- On the basis of the Cross, and in identification with Christ by faith, we can present (consecrate) ourselves to God as a servant of righteousness (and no longer a slave to sin), and our members (body parts) as instruments of righteousness. (6:12-13)
The effect of this is that we have been given, by the unmerited grace of God, freedom from bondage to sin, and the power of the indwelling Spirit to overcome the temptation to succumb to sin (Romans 8:12-13, Galatians 5:16).
Now, from time to time, will we sin? Sure. We still have a flesh nature that never changes, and we will constantly be attacked by the Enemy. The World will only get worse. When we do sin, we have the promise of Scripture, that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) It is also necessary to repent to God for our sins, for the Word says, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19) This is only one of dozens of references in the New Testament to the need of true godly sorrow and real repentance. True heart change keeps us from falling into the endless “sin, confess” cycle.
But we should never forget that the grace of God is available, not just to cover us when we do sin, but His grace sets us free from the power of sin, and delivers us when we are tempted to sin. Jesus doesn’t just forgive us from the guilt of sin after the fact. He actually saves us from the power of sin, so we don’t commit it in the first place.
Jim Lewis is a Biblical Counselor at Pure Life Ministries. He received a B.A. in Religion from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, FL and both the M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Dr. Lewis served as a pastor for 30 years.
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