FOR me*, the most stunning aspect of faith is grace. Grace is that unmerited, incautious favor of God that most of us never tire hearing about. There is just something about it—whenever it comes, it changes what is into something grander. That is what I love about the gospel. It is a message of grace, and because of that, wherever it goes, it brings change.

But some groups who call themselves “grace” people make me nervous. I get the feeling that they spell grace g-r-e-a-s-e. They don’t talk about grace as something that changes them as much as something that lets them slide by with whatever they feel like doing—even sinful things. But grace yields freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. Justifying sin by appealing to grace sours the grace experience by turning it into something God never intended to be. Grace never says, “Whatever.” It always says “No” to “ungodliness” and “Yes” to “upright and godly” living (Titus 2:12).

I’m convinced that the people who use grace as an excuse to sin aren’t experiencing it at all. They may have experienced grace in the past or they may have just heard about it, but they are not experiencing it now. You can’t experience the grace of God and continue being bad. If you are being bad today, it’s because you are not experiencing grace today. Grace doesn’t promise immunity from sinful consequences; it promises power to live above sin.

It’s true that if you miss grace to prevent sin, you can tap into grace that brings the forgiveness of sin. God has a very effective 911 system. But using 911 is not a thing to boast about. And if you use 911 flippantly, you get in trouble. Grace is never a license to sin.

In fact, it is the grace of God that brings judgment for sin. Just as God tells us to discipline our children, and that if we do not discipline them, we, in effect, hate them (Prov. 13:24), He disciplines us too—because he loves us. But there are folks in the “grace” crowd that think God never does anything quite so negative. He only wants us to be happy, content, always having a good time—even if we are naughty. He is just 'soooo loving'.

But I think they might have God confused with Grandpa. Grandpa tends to overlook wrongdoing, and he always avoids confrontation. Grandpa’s goal at the end of the day is only that all had a good time. But Jesus didn’t tell us to pray, “Our Grandpa in heaven.” He said to pray, “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9).

Scripture is clear. God is our Father, and He “disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Heb. 12:10). God doesn’t just love us with a smile while He distributes playful impulses of joy into our souls. He sometimes gets hard with us and treats us in a way that doesn’t seem “pleasant at the time, but painful” (v.11). We are His sons and daughters. We are the chosen, His sent ones. He believes in us, He trusts us, and He calls upon us to represent Him. You and I matter. He isn’t kidding about destiny. He consistently asks us to be part of His salvation history. We are called to a purpose. The Bible applauds a guy who “served God’s purpose in his own generation” (Acts 13:36). That’s what He wants all of us to do. That’s why we are here.

If we say no to His plan, He will back off. That is a scary enterprise. When Israel said no to God, He said of them, “My people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices” (Ps. 81:11–12).

I don’t want to be left to my “own devices,” do you?

*New York Times bestselling author Ed Gungor has been in pastoral ministry for more than 25 years.

The Christian Messenger