Most errors circulating in the Christian world today can be found in the New Testament era. In particular, the two main enemies of the gospel—legalism and libertinism (license to sin)—were both present in the early church.

Galatians was written to legalists—hence the strong emphasis on liberty, freedom, and grace. James was written to libertines, those who presumed on the grace of God and turned it into a license to sin. Thus the book of James is strong on obedience, faith that expresses itself in works, repentance (for the believer), and false faith (or presumption).

The grace of God that is envisioned in the New Testament is amazing, radical, and beyond belief. However, in their reaction to legalism, some Christians have distorted the grace of God into a license for sinning. Interestingly, this same thing was happening in the first century:

They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (Jude v. 4 NIV)

Many years ago I was part of a new church plant where most of the members came out of a religious-based, duty-based, law-based form of Christianity. The person who planted the church was strong on “radical grace.” However, there was no balance in his message, and he ended up ignoring many New Testament texts that show us that God’s grace is not a license to sin but rather an empowering force that teaches us to defeat sin:

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. (Titus 2:11–12 NIV)

The result was that licentiousness broke out everywhere in the church. People would flaunt and even evangelize their sin under the banners “we are free in Christ” and “we’re under grace, not law.”

Point: if you’re preaching grace and immorality breaks out everywhere you preach, then you’re not preaching grace. You’re preaching something else.

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