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Over the past several Grace 101 posts I have focused on the parable of the sower from Matthew 13 to give us a structure for looking at enemies of grace. I started with the trampled or trodden path, the hard ground that would not let the seed take root. But other enemies take advantage of the hard ground to pick off the seed as it lies on top. Jesus calls them the “birds of the air.”
The birds of the air are opportunists. They watch for something to happen and then try to take advantage of it. If you drop your french fries out of your car window in the parking lot, it won’t be long before the gulls or crows are there to eat them. I once saw eight bald eagles eating the carcass of a dead deer alongside the road. So, if the seed of the gospel of grace is scattered among the people, the birds will be there to pick it up.
One of those birds is what I will call the “anti-law crowd.” You know these folks. Since they are under grace, they say, anything goes. I won’t go into details on their behavior, but their attitude is usually flippant, rebellious, and self-serving. They excuse any behavior they choose by arguing that there is no more law over them.
The message of grace has always attracted the anti-law crowd. Paul talked about them in Romans 6. They push the limits of acceptance, even among unbelievers. We are not supposed to scold them or criticize their choices, no matter how hurtful or foolish. Why? Because they are “under grace.”
And when the legalists criticize the message of grace, guess who they point at to make their case? Of course, the anti-law crowd. When grace is confused with “license to sin,” someone will point to a person who has little understanding of grace but wants to have the freedom to exhibit behavior God warns against. We are called “antinomian,” anti-law, because we teach grace—even though we don’t do the things they do.
Now, I understand where the opening is for this error and I would never want to close that door. The law no longer condemns us for our behavior. Grace has freed us from that measurement system. Those who belong to Christ and commit sinful behavior still belong to Christ. That’s because He is the only measure of our acceptance to God. We couldn’t change that if we wanted to.
But listen: no one is more free to sin under grace than he was under law. I chuckle when I hear someone say that people sin more under grace. I have lived under law and I have known very many people who live under law. Sin is still very active under law. It may be more hidden, less admitted, but it is certainly still there. In fact, I could make a strong argument that the only real way to overcome sin is to live under grace. Paul suggests that law only shines a light on sin, never stops it.
There is one important difference. Under the law, sin is seen as evidence that the person needs a Savior. Under grace, sin is evidence that the flesh is leading. Making a Christian feel that he or she is under the law can only result in a life without assurance and more sin. Allowing a Christian to understand grace is the beginning of life in the Spirit, rather than the flesh. We are free under grace.
So what do we do about those who flaunt their behavior and excuse it by saying that they are under grace, when they are really just happy to be out from under the constrictions of the law? Probably nothing. We can warn them that sin still has consequences, I suppose. We can explain that they do not represent our thinking when others point them out. But it is hard to keep the birds away.
The anti-law crowd does not invalidate the message of grace. They are simply confused and they confuse others.
Dr. David Orrison has been a pastor for over 30 years and is now the Executive Director of “Grace for the Heart,” a ministry dedicated to proclaiming the sufficiency of Jesus Christ for all aspects of the Christian life. Dave has served in the Evangelical Free Church and in the United Presbyterian Church, and he holds a Ph.D. in Theology from Trinity Seminary. Dave has unique insights into the struggles of what he calls “performance spirituality,” as he has worked extensively with people who are unsure of their relationship with Jesus because of the burden of legalism and the hopelessness of a “works-based Christian walk.” David has lived in Loveland, CO for 25 years and is happily married to Alice. They have eight sons. David blogs on a regular basis at http://graceformyheart.wordpress.com.