On Forgiveness and Permission to Sin

“Should we sin all the more that grace may abound?” This is the question Paul anticipates his hearers to ask after he explains how deep grace goes. I had never anticipated this question – despite spending tons of time in church growing up. Why not? Because most preachers are afraid to preach like Paul.

Today, we think anticipating this question is necessarily sinful. You heathens – we think – of course all you care about is how much you can get away with. And we suppress our own impulse to ponder this question. But what if this question is an indication – the indication – that we are beginning to wrap our minds around the gospel?

If you leave a pastor’s sermon and this question is rolling around in your head, “Does this mean I can do whatever I want?” then your probably beginning to understand.

Like many things in this mad world, asking the right questions is a harder task than having the right answer. But Paul’s answer is important: Should we sin all the more that grace may abound? By no means. Or, colloquially, Hell no! But then, he goes right back to talking about grace. Paul doesn’t say, Of course you idiots are obsessed with what you can get away with – you need to be more spiritual like me! He knows talking that way will only encourage pharisaism, and he also knows that this is the point that will help us see God’s love for us in Jesus at its starkest and most offensive level. The truth is, God just keeps on forgiving.

So, if our impulse is to sin after hearing about grace, what is the cure? More meditating on the gospel. More grace. (Read Romans 6 for yourself, Paul seems obsessed with Christ’s work on our behalf. The climax grows and grows, Romans 8 – there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Jesus Christ. And if you think Paul is, like many pastors, going to point you to your strength and determination to make your life right with God, take a gander at the chapter sandwiched between these two, Romans 7, “I do the things I don’t want to do, who is going to deliver me from this body of death?” Thanks be to God, indeed. We need Jesus more than we imagined!)

So, does God’s forgiveness mean we have permission to sin? Can we just keep on sinning?

Robert Farrar Capon writes:

God, in the act of creating you, gave you permission to do any damned fool thing you could mangage to bring off. Forgiveness neither increases nor decreases God permissiveness; instead, it just fishes us out of the otherwise inescapable quicksand we so stupidly got ourselves into and says, ‘There! Isn’t that better?’

To repeat the central point of this post, and perhaps the bible, God just keeps on forgiving you. Should we keep on sinning? No! But don’t expect God to suddenly stop forgiving you. Christ blood covers your rebellion – all of it.

2 Comments

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  1. Oh man this is great stuff! I need to hear this kind of teaching daily. I am so prone to Phariseeism.

  2. YES!!! Great post! If it isn’t scandalous it probably isn’t grace. If you try to soften the blow to erase the Romans 6 question, you have erased Christ and Him crucified. Killer post!

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