Grace is a dangerous thing.

Firstly, it is dangerous not in itself, but in what people wrongly conclude from it.

Paul was very aware of this. He knew that some people responded to the gospel of grace with very wrong conclusions:

‘Why not say – as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim we say – “Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved’ (Romans 3:8).

‘What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!’ (6:1, 2)

Martin Lloyd-Jones comments that the message of justification by faith (gospel righteousness, grace) always stands in danger of such misinterpretations:

“There is thus clearly a sense in which the message of ‘justification by faith only’ can be dangerous, and likewise the message that salvation is entirely of grace. I say therefore that if our preaching does not expose us that that charge and to that misunderstanding, it is because we are not really preaching the gospel ... I would say to all preachers: If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in that way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you really are preaching the salvation that is offered in the New Testament to the ungodly, to the sinner, to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, to those who are enemies of God. There is a kind of dangerous element about the true presentation of the doctrine of salvation.” (pp9,10 Exposition of Romans 6: The New Man, Banner of Truth, 1975)

Whenever the true gospel of God’s amazing grace is preached there is always the danger that people will respond by thinking that sin is okay and the law of God is redundant.

When Paul states in 3:24 that we ‘are justified freely by his grace’ he is speaking of this gift of acquittal from our perspective: it is ‘freely’ in that we do not have to earn, merit or deserve it. It doesn’t cost us anything. We receive it from God as sheer gift. Unearned. Unmerited. Undeserved. Without cost to us. Without payment by us. Without a cause in us. It is unconditional.

But it is not free to God. And not free to Jesus Christ the Son of God.

Because grace is actually a dangerous thing in itself. Costly to God. Incredibly costly. And unbelievably heart-wrenching.

From our perspective, being saved by God’s grace is the opposite of being held accountable by God’s law. For us, grace means that we are justified apart from law. By this grace God demonstrates his love for us:

‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8).

‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love... he sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (1John 4:9, 10).

But even as these verses affirm God’s love, they also affirm God’s justice – Christ died for us ... an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Here we are immediately in the context of God’s law and God’s justice: the law of God that exacts sin’s just penalty. God’s law, God’s justice, demands that sin must be paid for. The soul that sins must die. The wages of sin is death.

So Paul says, speaking of God the Father and Jesus the Son of God, that we:

‘... are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice ... so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus’ (Romans 3:24 – 26).

What God planned, and what God did – this ‘freely, by his grace’ - was neither arbitrary nor illegal.

We are saved by God’s grace – because by that same grace Jesus Christ, the Son of God, fully kept the positive requirements of God’s law in his life (Romans 5:10; Hebrews 4:15; 1Peter 3:18), and fully met the negative penalty of the law in his death as our substitute (1Peter 2:24). We are saved by grace only because Jesus Christ fully kept the law.

Grace is not the opposite of justice, rather it upholds God’s law (Romans 3:31). Grace provides the way for God’s justice to be fully met, and at the same time, for us to go free.

‘Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments, and his paths beyond finding out!’ (Romans 11:33)

© Rosemary Bardsley 2019