August 8, 2010 by

Sunday Meditations: The Big Deal About Sin and Grace


Categories: Sunday meditations

For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” –Gal. 3:10, NASB

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Sunday meditation, but Galatians 3 has been stirring in my soul all week–and particularly the verse above.

The question of grace versus legalism is still a hot button with the church, particularly where sin is concerned. It seems like people sort of fall along a spectrum on this issue, with extreme legalism on one side, and extreme permissiveness on the other. People seem to either pound on the issues of sin and repentance, or they lean so far toward grace that it borders on permission to sin. How do we reconcile the grace of God with keeping the commands of Scripture?

When The Director was a teenager, we really tried to be sensitive to guide him according to the way he thought, and the way he looked at life. We were very aware that being the son of people in “the ministry”, there were some pressures on him to behave a certain way; plus he’d seen a lot of the crap that we went through, as well, in the name of the ministry. We had a sense that if we made a huge deal about the things he should not do–if we focused all our attention on the boundaries he shouldn’t cross, trying to keep him “in line”–he would be more likely to go and do those things just as a reaction. So when he’d make some wise crack for shock value about wanting to drink alcohol or get a piercing or something else he thought would press our buttons, we’d downplay it. We refused to act shocked or disappointed, and instead just talked with him about whatever subject he’d brought up, about what was beneficial and what might cause problems. We never gave him an ultimatum about what would happen to him if he ever (fill in the blank). (Although I must admit at the time it went against everything I felt inside–I WANTED to command him and warn him up one side and down the other.)

Interestingly, the more we treated the topic of sin as not that big of a deal, and the less shocked we acted at his suggestions–the less he wanted to do the wrong thing! It was just the right way to handle him, because when the forbidden fruit element of sin was downplayed, it became unappealing to him. It also helped him have perspective to own the truth of Scripture for himself, without having to measure up to some standard his pastor-parents had set. To this day, he has a very strong moral compass.

On the other hand, I’ve also noticed something else in my own life over the years: the harder I’ve been on myself over my own shortcomings, the harder it seemed it was to me to avoid sin. The more weight I put on the boundaries, the harder it was for me not to cross them. I found myself wishing I’d been as low-key with my own soul as we were as parents with The Director.

I was reminded of this dynamic as I read Galatians 3 and the verse above. In the Book of Galatians, Paul is addressing legalism that has crept into the church, particularly the keeping of some of the Jewish rituals found in the Law of Moses. He isn’t talking just about sin and permissiveness, but the fact is, sin is a breaking of law. So what if this is what Paul means? What if the “curse” he’s talking about is reflected in that the harder we try to keep the Law, the more inclined we are to break it? It reminds me of Paul’s own rant in Romans 7, where he laments that as much as he wants to do good, he struggles with evil.

I’m not trying to establish any kind of doctrine here–just sort of rambling–but this thought process has awakened in me a fresh appreciation and understanding of the grace of God through Christ. I’m beginning to understand more of the heart behind grace. I’ve never believed grace was permission to sin, but I think at different times in my life I’ve walked on one side or the other of that spectrum I described above–sometimes more permissive, sometimes more legalistic. But I think I was missing the point. It isn’t that sin is no longer sin–a boundary is a boundary, and shouldn’t be moved–but maybe it’s that the grace of God weakens the power of sin in our lives. Maybe it answers the question of sin in such a way that sin doesn’t have to be such a big deal anymore–so the allure of it fades from us, and we are no longer captivated by it.

Now some folks might get ruffled at my suggestion that sin isn’t a big deal–because doesn’t that sound like permissiveness? But that isn’t what I mean. Think about the Law, and how severely sin is dealt with in the Old Testament. If you sin, you have to make sacrifice, or you get stoned to death. It’s such a big deal, and so much attention is given to it–and yet it seems like, as Paul says in Romans 7, the Law itself awakens a desire to sin. Drawing the boundary with such force makes us want to cross it. The Law spells out sin and righteousness, but makes it almost a certainty that we will be unable to keep it.

If that’s not a curse, I don’t know what is.

Now think about how the New Testament deals with sin. We are forgiven through the shed blood of Christ, so we no longer have to do animal sacrifices. And if we sin, we confess it, repent, and it’s gone. It’s just that simple. No mention of stoning at all.

No big deal. See what I mean?

The gospel is that Jesus wants us to walk with Him, and that He gave His life to make that possible. The gospel is that God has torn down the barriers so we can be close again, like it was in the beginning. It isn’t that right and wrong, good and evil, sin and righteousness are no longer important; it’s just that they aren’t the main event anymore. In a love relationship, you aren’t as concerned with the boundaries, or what you can get away with. You’re concerned with love, and you look for ways to express and receive that love. I think that’s what God really wants for us. I don’t think “good kids” who always keep His rules is really what makes Him happy. What makes Him happy are people who are so lost in His love that rules and boundaries stop being an issue.

I don’t know if this is coming across the way I’m feeling it–it feels like something so deep that it’s difficult to verbalize. But I do feel that the legalistic approach is counterproductive because of the curse Paul mentioned–it actually awakens the desires it tries to suppress. Maybe the big deal about sin and grace is that sin doesn’t have to be a “big deal” anymore.

I’ll finish these ramblings with the obvious question: If the Law came with a curse, why was there ever a Law in the first place? Paul answers this question, both in Romans, and here in Galatians 3: the Law points us to Christ. It served the double purpose of preserving a people until the appointed time, and showing us just how futile a game it is to try and be “good enough.” But Paul puts it better than I can:

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.–Gal. 3:23-25, NASB, emphasis mine.

That last sentence is worth chewing on awhile… 🙂

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

4 Responses to Sunday Meditations: The Big Deal About Sin and Grace

  1. Kansas Bob

    Thought provoking stuff Jeff! I think that the issue of sin is an issue of keeping our innermost being strong . If we feed and exercise our innermost being then we will be able to defeat sin because sin happens when our outer being is in control. So the issue is one of strength.. if we are strong on the inside then we can exert control over sin.

    My favorite verse about sin is James 4:17:

    "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin."

    Our innermost being knows the right thing to do. Sadly our outer being sometimes wins.. and we sin.

  2. co_heir

    I once heard someone say something to the effect that if the grace we proclaim doesn't cause some to think that we are overly permissive, then it's not grace.

    I was taught that our freedom was a freedom to do what is right. It is that, but now I think that it's also a freedom to do what is wrong. In other words, like you said, sin is no big deal any more. We sin, we confess it and move on. The main thing is the relationship of love and as we grow in that relationship, we will sin less.

  3. Jeff McQ

    There's no doubt, and Paul himself confirms it, that there is an ongoing struggle between inner man and outer man. At the same time, I'm coming to realize that it becomes a matter of focus. If I focus so much time and thought into not letting the outer man prevail (rather than nurturing the inner man)…it kind of creates a vicious cycle. By not fearing sin so much, I think we actually avoid it more effectively. Thanks!

    I think you're right in that as we develop that love relationship, we will sin less. Again, it's not a matter of clouding what is and is not sin–it's the question of where we put our focus. Thanks for the comment.

  4. hub

    what an inspirational post!

    a fresh perspective to the difference of old and new testament paradigms.

    it reminds me of what Rene Girard wrote.
    he said that Jesus broke the circle of violence that had engulfed all Man by going through all the horror without a single act of violence.
    He showed that other ways existed.
    He showed that the focus was not sin, prosecution, self-torturing, etc. anymore, but love, in which those stuff just didn't matter anymore.

    and it also reminds me of some words I heard somewhere,
    "I'm able to love, because I've been loved first by God."

    love fixes anything by not confronting sins with the same evil (violence) that created it, but by acceptance and forgiveness, making it powerless.

    you're right. the answer to sin is not by making it matter.
    maybe that's why mother Teresa was never anti-war, but pro-peace instead.

    I truly apologize for my ramblings.

    by the way,
    I am hub.
    I'm from Indonesia. 🙂

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