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How Grace Changes Us

Are we to continue in sin, that grace may abound? Romans 6:1

Johann Tetzel was a Dominican monk who went around sixteenth-century Germany selling indulgences. He used a little jingle: "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs!" So one day a thief came up to him and asked how much it would cost for an indulgence to cover all his past sins. "A thousand gold pieces." "And how much to forgive all my future sins?" "Two thousand more." "All right, here's three thousand. Give me the indulgence." "Here it is. Thank you." "Now here's one of those future sins. See this knife? Hand back the three thousand."

I can’t think of a better way to illustrate what Paul is saying in Romans 6. Apparently the Romans had this crazy idea about grace. The more you sin, the more grace you get. So if you want more of God’s grace, you can have it by thinking of creative ways to sin. What’s wrong with this logic? If you truly want forgiveness of your sins, you will also want freedom from your sins. It all comes down to this: If you truly want to be forgiven of your sins, you will want to change. If you truly want to have your sins forgiven, that desire will show up in your life.

Let's look carefully at the question: "Are we to continue in sin?" That question is not as outlandish as it might appear. It doesn't say, "Are we to go wild in sin?" Whoever asked Paul this question is worried about that, but the implications of his question are more far-reaching than he knows. The key is the word continue. That word just means to stay where we are, as we are. In reality the question is, "Are we to continue as we are, while telling ourselves it doesn't matter because we have the grace of God?" That question comes closer to home, doesn't it? That way of thinking wormed its way into the church at Rome in the first century. It flourished in the Middle Ages. And it is deeply embedded in American Christianity: "I don't have to change. I can stay the way I am. And it's God's grace that gives me my excuse. Gospel grace is the kind of acceptance that leaves me alone." That is not Christianity. A Christian does not say to Christ, "If you're really gracious, you will leave me alone, you will let me remain as I am." A Christian says to Christ, "I have failed you so many times. I am a desperate sinner. Thank you for not leaving me alone and not treating me as I deserve. Thank you for giving yourself to me in your death, burial and resurrection. I beg you, let that grace change me more and more." This is what we need today.