This article was originally written for Rooted Ministries. Be sure to visit them for more gospel-centered youth ministry resources.
What’s interesting to note about church history is that Jesus was never accused of being a legalist — he never faced the charge of preaching “too much law.” In fact, just the opposite is true: he was accused of preaching lawlessness or “too much grace” — or what Martin Luther would term “antinomianism” (that is, “against law”) Grace alone (sola gratia) was the doctrine that Luther spent the majority of his life defending and formed the lynchpin for what we now call the Protestant Reformation.
Luther was radically transformed while reading Paul’s epistle to the Romans. In this letter, perhaps the greatest book on the gospel ever written, Paul delineates everything the Roman believers would need to know about the Christian faith — essentially, it’s Paul’s systematic theology of the gospel of grace. It’s a beautiful letter and all throughout its pages are pictures and proofs of the enormity and hilarity of God’s grace.
Paul’s anticipation of the Roman believers’ questions to the gospel within his letter is superb. He’s just been expounding God’s radically free grace by declaring, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” (Rom. 5:20) He then begins to address the charge of antinomianism which was laid against this gospel. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1) Paul predicts their confusion over Jesus’s abounding grace and answers the idea of “too much grace” in a very profound way.
The charge against the doctrine of free grace is that it produces lawlessness — that if we focus too much on grace people will take advantage of it. This, at times, has caused youth pastors to curtail their sermons on grace and reduce them to pithy moralistic messages. This reduction of grace does nothing more than cage and nullify it. By succumbing to preaching nothing more than mere moralism with a sprinkling of Jesus (e.g., “be good”; “try harder”; “be nice”; “do more”; “don’t do this”; “avoid this”; etc.) pastors have made the gospel essentially meaningless. “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Gal. 2:21)
This caging and confining of the gospel in youth ministry within limits we can comprehend and control is dangerous and threatens to undermine the entire message and mission of Christ. By preaching grace with even a hint of exchange or demand, we negate it (Rom. 11:6), and prove the fact that we don’t really trust it. The fact is, if God stopped giving grace the moment we took advantage of it, he would’ve stopped doling out grace two millennia ago! God knows we’ll take his grace for granted even before we do, and he drenches us in it anyway.
What Paul shows us in Romans 6 is that God’s grace in salvation goes even further than you think. Not only is the law completely satisfied and your sin thrown behind God’s back but now you’re brought into union with Christ. It’s one thing to have the threat of condemnation removed. It’s another thing entirely to be brought into relationship with the Father. This is what grace does.
Paul’s answer to “Should we keep on sinning to experience more grace?” isn’t to run from the gospel but to push further into it. Paul doesn’t castrate the gospel of grace by adding qualifiers or footnotes, he goes deeper into it, detailing the oneness we now enjoy with Christ. (Rom. 6:1-14) Grace doesn’t spawn antinomianism — it doesn’t give people a license to sin. Grace produces devotion and loyalty. If you trust in the grace of Jesus, every day you wake up to something infinitely better than a “clean slate” — you wake up every morning being perfectly loved, forgiven, and accepted by God despite our unclean slate.
This “newness of life” that Paul speaks of is a life free from the pressure to save, justify, and validate yourself. (Rom. 6:4) God’s atoning acceptance of us is the power that liberates us from sin; it’s not the reward for having liberated ourselves. Therefore, there’s no such thing as “too much grace.” It’s a misnomer.
God’s grace is so radical that it will often be scandalously viewed as “antinomian” if preached accurately. This isn’t condoning antinomianism (not at all), for the law of God has definite and specific applications for us today. But it does point us to the nature and extent of God’s grace. You can never exaggerate the grace of God. However amazing or beautiful you believe it to be, it’s infinitely more amazing and more beautiful than that! The grace of God has no limitations. God bestows upon us a boundless, fathomless grace. However far you sink into sin, Jesus’s gracious hand can reach you. This leads us to this amazing and scandalous truth: you can never out-sin God’s grace and forgiveness. You’re never beyond the reach of it, nor are you outside of the need of it.
Teenagers need this type of grace that can always be banked on. Even when everything else in their lives is seemingly changing, they need to know that grace doesn’t. They need to be taught that grace isn’t a divine “get out of hell free” card. Grace is that which justifies them, even while they’re clothed with sin. (Zech. 3:1-5) It meets them in the midst of their rebellion and beckons them to fall prostrate beneath the cross. (Rom. 5:8)
The more we realize the radical forgiveness and amazing grace of God, the more we’ll want to do everything we can to live for him.
“It is grace that strives with the sinner, grace that renews him, grace that leads him to the cross, grace that forgives him, grace that heals all his diseases, grace that bears with him after forgiveness, grace that guides him along, grace that fights for him, grace that comforts him, grace that trains him for the kingdom and makes all things work together for his good, grace that keeps his soul in peace amid the tumults of a stormy world, grace that maintains his unbroken fellowship with the Lord, — it is grace that does all these marvels for him and in him.” (Bonar, 283)
It’s grace that carries us, grace that “leads us home.”
Too much grace? There’s no such thing.
Notes & References:
Horatius Bonar, Family Sermons (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1954).