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Legalism, License, and Liberty in Jesus Christ

by David A. DePra

     There is always a risk when you preach the gospel of grace in

Christ Jesus. The risk is that people who do not fully grasp it will

think you are preaching LICENSE. Why? Because the grace of

God results in LIBERTY. And to some, this "looks" or "sounds"


     Of course, LIBERTY isn't LICENSE. Ever. Neither is it

LEGALISM. But what is the difference between these three

motivations for walking with Christ? And how can we be sure that

we are walking in the liberty and Truth of Jesus Christ?

Legalism, license, and liberty are the three motivations which we

commonly find among Christians. Here is a good way to compare


Legalism -- Faith in my works.

License -- Faith without works.

Liberty -- by grace through faith unto good works.

     We must, of course, clarify these definitions, for the words used

can themselves be distorted and twisted as to their meaning.


     First -- legalism. Legalism is not a term found in the Bible. The

Bible uses the term "under the law." Being "under the law" means

that I use my law-keeping to make myself righteous. Or more

subtlety, I use my works to secure, maintain, or enhance, God's

attitude towards me. In a nutshell, I am walking in legalism when

what I DO supercedes what Christ has already done for me.

     Now we must be clear about something here. Legalism is NOT

law-keeping. No. Keeping God's law is something we should be

doing! Rather, legalism is the USE of my law-keeping to do for

myself what Christ has done. Christ has secured forever my

forgiveness, justification, and access to God. When I use my works

to try to do this, I am walking in legalism.

     There are two kinds of "legalists." First, there are those who

actually believe they have achieved a certain amount of justification

and righteousness by their works. Thus, while they don't really live

in condemnation and guilt, it is only their works which keep them out

of it. They have never really come to terms with their complete

spiritual bankruptcy. They have themselves convinced that they

must be ok, because their good deeds prove it.

     The Bible says that folks like this are "self-righteous." They are

that because their so-called righteousness is "self-made." And it is

a fact that this deception can be very subtle. No legalist thinks he is

one. They ALL say they are saved by grace. They ALL say they

have faith in Christ. And they ALL say they obey God because they

love Him. Of course, we ALL know the right vocabulary! We ALL

know what we are supposed to say!

     The issue is this: Where is my faith? Not my "on paper" faith.

Not my "said faith." But my real, operative, daily faith. Is it solely in

Christ for salvation AND for daily living? Or is my faith really in my

works -- in me -- in what I do and what I think I am?

     The second kind of legalist has just as much faith in his works

as does the self-righteous legalist. But this kind of legalist doesn't

think he has done a good job of achieving self-righteousness.

Thus, his self-righteousness is a frustrated one. He moves in and

out of condemnation and guilt -- based on his works. He lives in

fear of his own deficiencies. He never seems to be able to "make

the grade" with God, and often despairs that he ever will.

     Again, the issue is: Where is my faith? Is it solely in what Christ

has done, or is it in what I DO? Have I ever come to the place where

I happily and joyfully am able to say: By your grace oh God, and

only by Your grace."?

     Anyone who has truly received the grace of God in Jesus Christ

will not use it to practice license -- use it as a license to sin. Why?

Because the WAY we receive grace is by renouncing sin! Thus, I

cannot receive grace by renouncing sin, only to use it TO sin. It is

morally impossible to do so IF -- and this is the point -- my

repentance and conversion were real.

     There is a self-deception about legalism which is amazing. Most

legalists usually say: "Yes, it is all by God's grace. But God

requires obedience for His grace." But incredibly, this statement is

exactly what legalism IS! God cannot "require" anything for His

grace. That is why it IS grace! It is free. There are NO conditions

or requirements.

     The reality is, obedience is not a REQUIREMENT for grace.

Rather, obedience is the OUTCOME of grace. Until we see this,

and understand why, we are never going to see the Truth.


     "License," or "lasciviousness," is a Biblical term. In fact, Jude

shows us the possibilities that people would turn the grace of God

into license:

For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of

old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace

of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and

our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)

     "License" is nothing more complicated than saying that because

all if forgiven, I can sin. It is saying that when Jesus stamped my

debt to God, "PAID IN FULL," that He was issuing me a license to

keep on sinning. Afterall, if all my sin is permanently paid for, then

why obey God? Why not sin, if grace covers it?

     Most people who practice license have never seen their need.

They have never truly seen they are sinners. They think Christianity

is a religion, or a list of teachings to follow. They know little of real

repentance or conversion. Thus, they say they believe, but there

has never been a new birth.

     The term "lasciviousness" means "without restraint." In other

words, those in license see no problem in restraining the sin which

easily besets them. In fact, they would say that because grace

covers and abounds over their sin, why not sin? There is no reason

not to. Jesus paid it all.

     Of course, there is no way that a true Christian could practice

license for long. Why? Because the way you become a real

Christian is by repenting of unbelief and surrendering your sin to the

finished work of Christ. Thus, how can you surrender your sin, yet

live in it? You can't. You cannot take two opposing moral positions

at once.

     While Paul the apostle commonly dealt with the heresy of being

"under the law," James deals with license. The two are in total

harmony. And if I don't think they are, I don't understand the Truth of


     One major point of clarification is James' statement, "faith without

works is dead." (see James 2:17-20) This passage is often

misunderstood because we read it under the assumption that

is taking about REAL faith. He is not. He is not saying "REAL faith

in Christ without works is dead." Nope. Why? Because REAL

faith cannot be without works. It ALWAYS results in works.

     James is talking about a fake faith. It is nothing more than an

intellectual assent to true facts. But it is not a surrender to the Truth,

or an embracement of Christ. That is why he is able to ask, "Do you

believe in one God. You do well. The demons believe and they

tremble!" (James 2:19) In other words, even the demons

themselves can have the kind of dead faith James is talking about.

     James says, "Faith without works is dead." He is saying that if

my faith does not result in good works then it is a dead faith. But

ask: Can a DEAD faith save? Can a DEAD faith be faith in Jesus

Christ? No. A "dead faith" has absolutely no life in it at all. It is

NOTHING more than words.

     So James is saying, "If your faith does not result in a changed

life, in a on-going process of sanctification which results in

obedience to God, then this means your faith is dead."

     But many of those who are in legalism get off the track when they

read James. Many of them think that this means that if we do good

works then we can bring our dead faith to life! This is impossible.

You cannot make a dead faith alive through works. It is either dead

or alive to begin with -- based on WHO we place our faith in!

     The point is this: A living faith in a living Christ produces good

works. A dead faith cannot produce anything. Thus, instead of

trying to bring faith to life through works, we need to bring works

alive through faith. We need to get a living faith by placing it in the

living Christ.

     Notice how "license" is at the opposite end of the moral spectrum

than is "legalism." Legalism is "righteousness BY works." License

is "righteousness WITHOUT works." Or as noted, legalism is "faith

in my works." License is "faith without works."

Liberty: The Grace of God

     We must be clear we understand exactly what grace IS. Grace

is not a "force" or a "thing." Grace is a word which is representative

of God's attitude and motivation towards us. Thus, when the Bible

says, "God gives grace," it means God gives Himself. God gives

to us whatever we need of Himself, and of His Spirit -- freely and

without cost. Because He loves us.

     Grace is God's unmerited favor. Thus, it is really a distortion to

say that grace is like a bucket of "spirit stuff" which God dispenses

out to help us, or forgive us. No. Don't depersonalize grace. Grace

is of the very Person of God -- it is His gift of Himself in us -- as

the Holy Spirit ministers to our various needs.

     We see this with salvation. Salvation is a free gift. But salvation

or eternal life isn't some "thing" God hands to us, or puts in us. No.

Salvation is the very life of God Himself. Through salvation we are

made one with Him.

     If you give someone a free gift, it can be said you gave them the

gift BY GRACE. But the gift isn't grace itself. No. The motivation

behind the gift was grace. Grace is that part of yourself which

carried the gift from you to them. And as anyone knows, that "grace"

is even more important than the gift. "It's the thought that counts."

     Grace speaks of the fact that everything God has for us is

finished, in place, and ours free of charge. There is nothing we must

do, can do, or should do, to try to earn it. Rather, we must believe

and embrace it by faith.

     But there is more. This is not merely a "doctrine." Grace speaks

of a RELATIONSHIP with God. We must not try to maintain the

grace of God once we are saved by any of our own efforts. Rather,

we must live IN the grace of God. For once God gives us Himself

through Christ, He never takes it back.

Grace and License

     Legalism and license are heresy. Legalism is blindness to the

grace of God. License, however, is more of an abuse of it. Few

people would ever get legalism and grace mixed up. But many

people do mix up license and the grace of God. It is here that most

of the confusion arises.

     Clearly, the way people misrepresent the grace of God does not

take away from the Truth about it. But the fact is, there must be

something about the grace of God which lends itself to the

possibility that people could misinterpret it as license. The fact that

so many people who hear a true message of grace wrongly

interpret it to mean license tells us that. Why does this happen?

     We begin to find the answer if we turn to Romans 6 and read

the most important passage in the Bible on this issue:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may

abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any

longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized

into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are

buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised

up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should

walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4)

     Before we discuss Paul's answer to this important question, we

need to notice something about the question itself. Note: Only if

grace DOES abound when we sin could Paul ask the question,

"Shall we continue in sin BECAUSE grace abounds?" Do you see

that? Paul is saying, "Grace ALWAYS abounds when we sin. But

then he asks: "But does this mean we should sin because it does?"

Read that again. It is vital to see. Only if grace DOES abound

when we sin could Paul ask, "Shall we continue in sin BECAUSE

grace abounds?"

     Actually, any other option is nonsense. And there are only two

options here:


Grace abounds ESPECIALLY when we sin. (Truth)


Grace abounds EXCEPT when we sin. (Error)

     If grace abounds EXCEPT when we sin, then really, there is NO

grace. Why? Because when we sin is when we need it! Do you

see that? If grace abounds EXCEPT when we sin then there is no

grace at all! Grace is not needed when we obey.

     But if grace abounds "especially" when we sin, then things make

sense. For it is when we sin that we need the grace of God. But this

is also why Paul asks his question, "Shall we keep sinning because

grace abounds?" He knows grace does abound -- especially

when we sin -- and wants his readers to understand that this does

not mean that we should use the fact it does as an excuse to sin.

So what a doubt, grace DOES abound when we sin -- especially

when we sin. Always. Every time. And it is all because Jesus Christ

paid the full price for each and every sin on the Cross. It IS finished.

Dead to Sin

     So how did Paul answer his own question? WHY should we not

"continue in sin since grace abounds?"

     Read his answer. Does he say, "We shall not continue in sin,

even though grace abounds, because God will punish us? No.

Does He say, "Because the law tells us not to sin?" Nope. Does

He say, "We shall not continue in sin, even though grace abounds,

because if we do, it will reduce our reward when we get to heaven."?

Nope. Actually, Paul doesn't mention a thing about any rewards or

punishments. They have NOTHING to do with why we should not

continue in sin. They do not enter the picture at all.

     So why does Paul say a Christian should not "continue in sin --

despite the fact that grace always abounds?" Just one: He

says: We are dead to sin. Let's repeat that: Because we are


     Does that surprise you? We shall not continue in sin, despite

the fact that grace does abound -- because we are DEAD TO SIN.

Then Paul adds, "And how can we, who are dead to sin, live any

longer therein -- live any longer as if we are ALIVE to sin?

     What does Paul mean by this? He is talking about the fact that

the way you and I BECAME a Christian was by forsaking sin and

embracing Christ. So, in effect, we only became a Christian in the

first place because we wanted to forsake sin. How, then, can a

person who wants to forsake sin also want to sin? Impossible

morally. The two are opposites. They cannot co-exist.

     If I am "in Christ," and a "new creation," I got that way by dying

to sin! Note that: I GOT THAT WAY BY DYING TO SIN through

Jesus Christ. Not just "positionally." But really. Thus, having DIED

to sin, how can I continue in sin? I cannot. I must not. To do so is

not consistent with the new nature.

     We see this in the words, "repentance," and "conversion." To

"repent" means to "change one's mind." To be "converted" means

"to change direction." Both mean CHANGE. But if you CHANGE,

then by definition, you are not the SAME. Thus, you cannot "want

to sin" and "not want to sin" at the same time. You cannot, having

repented of sin, then "sin because grace abounds." Your entire

attitude of mind and heart towards God, and towards sin, has

changed. You have been converted. You cannot act the same as


     All of this would be IMPOSSIBLE if Christianity were not real. But

because it is real, when you and I came to Christ by faith, more

occured than just a religious exercise. Something supernatural

happened. The control which the sin nature had over us was

forever broken: I am not DEAD to it. Dead to sin.

     Being "dead to sin" means that when it comes to the sin nature,

I am like a dead person. I don't have to respond. The sin nature

no longer can force me to sin. I am DEAD to it -- DEAD to sin.

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of

sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Romans 6:6-7)

     THAT is why we won't "sin that grace might abound." We have

already repented of wanting to sin. We have already surrendered

ourselves to Jesus Christ by faith. We are DEAD to sin.

But that is only the negative side of things. There is more to

Christianity than what we are dead to. Besides being dead to sin,

we are ALIVE to God.

Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with

HIm. Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more;

death hath no more dominion over him. For in that He died, He died

unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. (Rom. 6:8-10)

     Christianity is not merely a matter of being "against sin." You and

I cannot get far in Christ if all we ever do is fight sin. No. We must

LIVE FOR GOD. But as we do, then the sin will fall away. Why?

Because we are dead to it. This does not mean we never struggle.

But what it does mean is that the key to walking in freedom is to stop

fighting what God says has no power over us. We need to focus on

the fact that we have new life in Christ -- and a power to obey God as

we grow in practical freedom.

     Now, notice what all of this adds up to: A new birth. A new

creature with a new nature. We won't sin that grace might abound,

because we embraced grace when sin did abound. We came

to Christ to escape sin and find life. And if it was real, we won't go


A New Birth

     Once we realize that Christianity is a new birth -- not just merely

as a figure of speech -- but REALLY -- things begin to fall into place.

A new creature does not sin to the disregard of God's grace simply

because the way he BECAME a new creature was by repenting of

his disregard for God's grace. He has embraced the grace of God.

A new creature does not want to sin. He wants to obey God.

     Now perhaps you think such a statement is too dogmatic. It is not

too dogmatic. A new creation in Christ Jesus does not want to sin.

Indeed, if you and I still WANT to sin, then we are NOT new


     How do I dare say such a thing? Because the Bible says it:

Whosoever abides in Him sins not: whosoever sins has not

seen Him, neither knows Him.....Whoever is born of God does not

commit sin; for his seed remains in him: and he cannot sin,

because he is born of God. (I Jn. 3:6, 9)

     John obviously does not mean to say that once you are born

again you will never sin again. No. The Greek reveals that John

is talking about a continuous, habitual, willful sinning. Wanting to

sin. THAT is something which is impossible if you are born again.

     Why? Because you repented of that very thing and embraced

Christ. And you repented of it ONCE FOR ALL. Conversion is not

something which happens over and over again. Neither is

repentance. You repent ONCE FOR ALL of refusing or neglecting

Christ -- of unbelief -- and ONCE FOR ALL you embraced Him. And

you are ONCE FOR ALL born again.

     It is a simple way of saying it, but it is the Truth: There is only

ONE sin you and I must repent of in order to receive Christ. It is the

sin of refusing Christ. Unbelief. And if we repent of unbelief, we

will BELIEVE, and pass from death to life. It is irrevocable and

cannot be reversed.

     Can you be born-again backwards? Can a person who has

passed from life to death, then pass from death to life? If old things

have passed away, and all things are become new, then how do

you go back to what has passed away? Can you actually LOSE

your salvation?

     This is the wrong question. It is not possible to LOSE your

salvation in the sense that you can DO something which will cause

God to take it away from you. Why? Because it never depended

upon what you DID to begin with! Thus, rather than LOSE your

salvation, the question is what you BECOME because of it. This

is the real judgment -- if we would only understand it.

     John gives us the REASON why someone who is born again

cannot continually and willfully sin." It is because "His seed remains

in him." Whose seed? GOD'S. In other words, there is a new

nature and a new heredity.

     Christianity is not a matter of "getting religion." Neither is it a

matter of being given a list of doctrines to believe in, or a list of

laws to follow. Christianity is a new birth. It is real. And it results in


When We Sin

     Does the fact of the new birth, and John's words, mean a REAL

Christian will never sin? Obviously not. In fact, John says:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is

not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us

our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that

we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

(I John 1:8-10)

     Despite the fact that we are new creations in Christ, who do not

want to sin, we are going to sin. Why? Because it is only the

fundament of our being -- the "real us" -- that is presently saved.

The physical part of us is not yet saved. Neither are our emotions,

our minds, or many other aspects of our being. These are to be

brought under the power and control of the Holy Spirit through


     Now if you doubt that, look in the mirror. If your body was saved,

it would be perfect. You would not age. You would never get sick.

If your emotions were totally saved, then they would operate without

flaw. Same as your mind. But none of these are the REAL YOU.

The REAL YOU is most profoundly identified in your will.

     But this does not mean that we can trash our body, emotions, and

mind. No. In fact, note what Paul says about these:

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your

whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the

coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Thes. 5:23)

     Sanctification is a process whereby about me is brought under

the Redemption. To "sanctify" means to "make holy," and to be

"made holy," means to be "set apart for God's use." In other words,

I am NOT my own -- I am bought with a price. So now I have to start

acting like it. I have to start acting like every part of me belongs to


     All of this, of course, starts when I give myself to God by faith. I am

then a new creation. But the REAL ME then must choose to believe

and obey God. As I do, I will spend my lifetime "working out the

salvation God has worked into me." There will come a spiritual

healing and a restoration of the human personality by the power of

the Holy Spirit.

     Paul spoke of this necessity of bringing into obedience the rest

of me:

Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin,

but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin

therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts

thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of

unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those

that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of

righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you:

for ye are not under the law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:11-14)

     But Paul also made it clear that the flesh does not give up easily.

He, Himself, struggled the same way that we will all struggle with

this issue.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave

to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not

do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree

that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it

is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in

my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I

cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no,

the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I

do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me

that does it. (Romans 7:14-20 NIV)

     So we have the "real Paul," who does not want to sin. But then

we have the reality that while Paul is freed from the power of sin, it

is going to take a lifetime to learn how to walk in that freedom.

     The good news is that when Paul, or us, DO sin -- grace abounds.

Always. Completely. The Blood of Jesus Christ has already paid

for that sin, and we can be sure of it. Again, John writes:

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if

any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the

righteous. And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours

only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (I Jn. 2:1-2)


     Ok. So we ARE going to sin. But grace DOES always abound.

So WHY obey God?

     Some of us think the reason to obey God is to earn something

from Him, even if it is only His blessings. Nothing wrong, of course,

with the blessings of God. And make no question, there are going

to be consequences for both obedience and disobedience. But

are we to obey God only for what we get out of it -- even if it is a

good thing?

     There is a higher reason for obeying God: LOVE. God wants us

to obey Him because we value Him and revere Him so much that

we would not want to do otherwise. He wants us to obey Him

because it is RIGHT, and because we belong to Him. And the

reality is, if I am truly converted to Christ, that is why I will obey Him.

At least I'll be growing in that direction as to my motives.

     The irony here is that if I truly obey God because I love Him, I get

as a "reward" more than I could imagine. And it is real. What do I

get? GOD! God Himself. I get a love relationship which is eternal.

The Law

     What should a Christian obey? This is a good question because

despite the fact that a converted person will want to obey God, often

we don't know how to obey. We need instruction in righteousness.

And this is one of the reason God gave His law.

     The law of God is a written representation of His righteousness.

It is holy, just, and good. AND -- it has never been abolished. The

law tells us what to obey and how to do it.

     But this creates a problem: Every time I look into the holy, just,

and good law of God, I see how UNholy, UNjust, and BAD I am!

Thus, despite the fact that the law provides instruction in the true

righteousness of God, there is yet another purpose for it: To push

us to Christ. The law will stop our mouth and show us our only hope

is not obeying it, but the free and unmerited grace of God. (see

Romans 3:19)

     Yet what of the law AFTER grace? Do we trash it? NO. We

obey it. Or try to in the best of our intentions. But here is the point:

When we fail, we know our salvation is not in jeopardy. God's love

for us does not depend on our obedience to law. NOTHING

has changed between us and God if we sin.

     Again, we read the verse from John:

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if

any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the

righteous. And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours

only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (I Jn. 2:1-2)

Love Fulfills the Law

     Notice John's words to his readers about obedience to the ten


Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and

every one that loves Him that begat loves Him also that is begotten

of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we

love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God,

that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are

not burdensome. (I John 5:1-3)

     It is one thing to try to keep the commandments. It is another to

not consider them "burdensome." Note that the word "burdensome"

suggests that the commandment is a pain. In other words, those

who love God obey Him because they want to. There is no burden

to it.

     Jesus and Paul said the same thing:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy

heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first

and great commandment. And the second is like it, Thou shall

love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang

all the law and the prophets. (Matt. 22:37-40)

Love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom. 13:10

     Here is the crucial point: It is NOT that by keeping the ten

commandments that I can love. No. But if I love, I will seek to keep

the ten commandments.

     But how do we come to love? Well, love is one of the fruits of the

Spirit. So as we grow to allow God to possess us, we will possess

love. The point is, love is IN the new creation that we are. So it will

eventually come to the surface -- if we believe and walk with God.

The more we embrace the love God has for US, the more we will

be able to love God and others.

     If I love God, I am going to keep the ten commandments. And

when I fail to keep the commandments, and I will fail, then I know that

it is by the grace of God that I stand to begin with -- not my works.

What a freedom -- if only we could see it.


     Suppose you walked into someone's home for a visit. Maybe

they had to leave the room. As you glanced across the room, you

noticed a one hundred-dollar bill on the dining room table. You

were really short of cash right now. Why would you NOT steal it?

     There are a number of reasons that people of this world might

not steal it. First, fear of getting caught. Second, fear of looking

bad. A Christianity might, sadly, refuse to steal for those reasons.

But a Christian might not steal for yet another reason: The law of

God says, "Thou shall not steal." They are afraid of breaking

God's law.

     Now, there is certainly nothing wrong if a person has a reverence

for the law of God. That is better than NOT having one! But when

all is said and done, none of our three reasons is the RIGHT one,

including the choice to not steal to simply obey the commandment.

All of those reasons carry the motivation of reward and/or


     The reason I should not steal the money is because it is right

NOT to steal it. Righteousness. I should not steal it because I have

a love and reverence for God which I do not want to violate. Or, to

put it positively, I have a love for God which I want to honor. This is

not something I debate about. There is simply nothing in me which

wants to steal the money!

     Now, if you will notice something, my choice to NOT steal this

money is EXACTLY what the commandment says. But I did not

refrain for being a thief merely to keep a law. In that case, I might

still BE a thief, but simply didn't steal this time! No. I didn't steal

because I'm not a thief. I'm a child of God, and I don't do that.

     So we see that LOVE will obey God -- in accordance with the

law of God. How could it not? But with the rewards/punishment

system taken out of the picture. The law remains as a guideline

or instruction. It remains as a tool to point me in the right direction.

But that is all. My motivation is love and grace.

     Legalism and license are BOTH the result of unbelief. But if I

believe and embrace the grace of God in Jesus Christ, I will

possess LIBERTY in Jesus Christ. Liberty is the desire and will to

obey God because I love Him. It is true freedom.

     There is probably nothing God wants more for any one of us.

Thus, if we ask Him -- unconditionally -- to reveal to us the Truth, He

will not fail to do so. But be warned -- expect some of your patterns

of religion and walking with God to be disturbed. Coming into true

liberty through Christ is a dynamic upheaval. But a good one.

The Need for Teaching

     The reason some people misinterpret GRACE as LICENSE

should now be more clear. Grace puts no requirements upon us.

License an abuse of that -- uses it as a license to sin. The "missing

piece of the puzzle" here, however, is the reality of the new birth.

One who is born again by God's grace obeys God because he is

dead to sin and alive to God. Or to put it more directly, if I am born

again, I will obey God from the heart even if there is no requirement

upon me to do so -- even without the dynamic of a reward and

punishment system of works. I will obey out of love.

     Now, someone will ask, "What about all those teachings in the

Bible to Christians, exhorting them to obey God? Some of these

people were sinning and deceived. If a person who is born again

won't "sin that grace might abound" then why all those epistles to

troubled churches."

     First of all, we all need instruction in righteousness. We all have

old habits which initially may not seem to us to be wrong. Seeing

the Truth about these things is part of what it means to grow. The

fact is, the Christian life is a continual renewing of our minds

according to the Truth.

     Some of those churches in the Bible had been exposed to

destructive heresy. Born again believers are not immune to this.

But the point is, a born again believer will WANT to do what is

right, even if he is presently deceived about what is right. That is

the point. Thus, a born again believer may be walking in legalism.

But he will WANT the Truth. A born again believer may be

practicing license. But he will WANT the Truth. And God will find

a way to bring it. It is how people respond to the Truth when God

brings it that determines whether they are genuinely born again.

Jesus said so. He said, "He that is OF God, hears the words of

God." (John 8:47)


     What is real Christian liberty? It is the reality that NOTHING we do

determines anything about our standing before God -- but we strive

to obey Him anyways -- simply because we love Him. The freedom

is a freedom FROM sin -- and it's penalty -- but freedom TO obey

God. No one is free until they obey God out of simple LOVE for Him.

No person can give themselves the ability to obey God for only

love's sake. Yet love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and will grow to

dominate us, the more we walk with Christ. God is love, and we are

to be conformed to His image.

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