Pastor David B. Curtis


Grace - Part 6:
Grace, Liberty and License

Selected Scriptures


to God's law. We saw that the way we love God is by obedience to his commands. But our love for God, expressed through obedience to Him, is to be a RESPONSE TO HIS LOVE, not a means of trying to earn it. Love provides the motive for obeying the commands of the law, but the law provides specific direction for exercising love. If we did not have specific commands, how would we know how to love God or our fellow man? God's moral law give us a description of love in action.

God's law is holy, just, and good. And God's law is not opposed to grace, nor is it the enemy of grace. To live by grace means that we understand that God's love is not conditioned by our obedience or disobedience but by the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. It means that out of a grateful response to the grace of God, we seek to understand His commands and obey them. Not to be loved, but because we are loved.


To live by grace is to live solely by the merit of Jesus Christ. To live by grace is to base my entire relationship with God, including my acceptance and standing with Him, on my union with Christ.

To live by grace is to recognize that in myself I bring nothing of worth to my relationship with God, because even my righteous acts are like filthy rags in His sight:

Isaiah 64:6 (NKJV) But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.

Even my best works are stained with mixed motives and imperfect performance. I never truly love God with all my heart, and I never truly love my neighbors with the degree or consistency with which I love myself.

A Christian realizes that he is justified, declared righteous, solely on the basis of the righteousness of Christ imputed to him by God through faith.

Romans 3:21-25 (NKJV) But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,

But I think that very few Christians realize that we are also sanctified by grace through faith in Christ.

2 Peter 3:17-18 (NKJV) You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

It is by God's grace that we are saved, and it is by God's grace that we grow or are sanctified.

Sanctification is synonymous with the word holiness. The word "sanctification" means: "to make holy, separation from sin." The Bible speaks of sanctification as the possession of every believer, and as something which we are to grow in. One is the objective holiness that we have in Christ, the other is the subjective holiness produced by God in our lives.


1 Corinthians 1:30 (NKJV) But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God; and righteousness and sanctification and redemption;

We understand that Christ is our righteousness and the basis for our justification. But Christ is also our holiness. All believers are sanctified in Christ, even as we are justified in Christ.

Hebrews 10:10 (NKJV) By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Believers" have been"-- it is a completed work, made holy.

Ephesians 1:4 (NKJV) just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,
Colossians 1:22 (NKJV) in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight;

How can we, who's righteousness is as filthy rags, be seen by God as holy, without blame and above reproach in His sight? Because of our union with Christ, God sees His holiness as our holiness. A. W. Pink said, "In the person of Christ, God beholds a holiness which abides His closest scrutiny, yea, which rejoices and satisfies His heart; and whatever Christ is before God, He is for His people." The Doctrines of Sanctification.

Many Christians base their standing with God on their performance. Due to this, they never really feel like they are accepted by God. Their performance is never good enough.

Jay Leno tells this story about his mother:

As an immigrant, my mother lived in constant fear of deportation. You could miss up to four questions on the citizenship test, and Mom missed five. The question she flunked on was: 'What is the Constitution of the United States?' The answer she gave was: 'A boat.' Which wasn't entirely wrong. The USS Constitution was docked in Boston. But the judge instantly denied her citizenship. My father stormed up to the judge. 'What is this? Let me see the test! She's not wrong--the Constitution is a boat!' The judge rolled his eyes and said, 'No, the Constitution is our basic governing--' 'It's also a boat in Boston! The Constitution! Same thing! Come on!' The judge finally couldn't take any more. He said, 'Fine. She's a citizen. Now get out of here!' So my father said to my mom, 'You passed! 'No, I didn't pass,' she whimpered. 'They're going to come after me!' >From then on, any time my mother was even in the proximity of a policeman, she quaked with fear. When I took her to Scotland in 1983, she asked me, 'Will I be able to get back in?' 'Ma! Don't worry! That was 50 years ago!' It never ended.

Jay's mother never had the assurance of her citizenship because her performance on the test was poor. Many Christians live in fear of deportation, so to speak, because they think that their standing with God is based upon their performance. Thank God our standing is based upon the work of Christ. If we would realize that our acceptance is based upon Jesus Christ's performance, and not ours, we would see our selves as accepted by God. Jesus said:

John 8:29 (NKJV) "And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him."

You and I certainly can't say that, can we? Do you always do those things that please the Father? No, we don't, but Jesus did. And when God looks at us, He doesn't see our failing performance. Instead, He sees the perfect performance of Jesus.

Ephesians 1:6 (NKJV) to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.

That is where your acceptance lies, believer. You are accepted with God because of your union with Jesus Christ. Don't ever forget that!

So, the Bible teaches that you are already holy because Christ's holiness in imputed to you. You have been made perfect forever. This is Positional sanctification. But, it also teaches that you are being made holy day by day through the work of God in your life. This is Practical sanctification. Both aspects of sanctification, however, are gifts of God's grace. We do not deserve our holy standing before God, and we do no not deserve God's power working in our lives to make us holy. Both come to us by His grace because of the merit of Jesus Christ.


Practical holiness should be an objective for your daily life. But to live by grace, you must never look to the work of God in you as the basis for your relationship with God. You must always look outside yourself to Christ.

A. W. Pink said, "The great mistake made by most of the Lord's people is in hoping to discover in themselves that which is to be found in Christ alone." The Doctrines of Sanctification.

Progressive sanctification is subjective or experiential, and is God working within us, giving us the power to live a holy life. It continues all our lives until we go to be with the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 (NKJV) For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,

We saw in our last study that God's will is expressed in his Word. To walk in a way that pleases God is the same thing as keeping His commands, which is the same as doing God's will.

The word "sanctification" here is the Greek word hagiasmos, it means: "to make holy, separation from sin." This is referring to our progressive sanctification, our spiritual growth. As we grow spiritually, we see a decreasing frequency of sin in our lives. As you separate your life from sin, you honor God and bring him glory.

Positionally, we are sanctified, we are as righteous as Christ. Our progressive or practical sanctification is the working out in our lives what we are in position.

The progressive nature of sanctification is implied throughout the New Testament epistles in all of those instances where we are exhorted to grow, to change, to put off certain deeds, and to put on Christ-like character. Romans 12:2 teaches the progressive nature of sanctification:

Romans 12:2 (NKJV) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

The verb "transformed" is in the present tense, indicating that the action is continuous. The verb "transformed" is also passive, indicating it is a work done in us, rather than by us. This tells us that the transforming work of progressive sanctification is God's work in us.

However, although the verb "be transformed" is in the passive voice, it is in the imperative mood; that is, it is a command to do something. This indicates that we, as believers, are not passive in this transforming process.

Philippians 2:12 (NKJV) Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

The word "salvation" is used here for progressive sanctification. This verse emphasizes our responsibility to grow in practical holiness. We must discipline ourselves to grow.

Philippians 2:13 (NKJV) for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

This verse emphasizes our dependence upon God's power to help us grow in grace.

How are we to work out our sanctification? We are to do it by Dependant Discipline. "Discipline" sums up our responsibility to put away sin and live a holy life. "Dependant" emphasizes our need for God's power to do anything.

If you read through Psalm 119, you will see David's dependence and his discipline in his spiritual growth.

Psalms 119:4-5 (NKJV) You have commanded us To keep Your precepts diligently. 5 Oh, that my ways were directed To keep Your statutes!
Psalms 119:8 (NKJV) I will keep Your statutes; Oh, do not forsake me utterly!
Psalms 119:10 (NKJV) With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!

This is how we are to grow in the Christian life, dependent discipline. Progressive sanctification very much involves our activity. But it is an activity that must be carried out in dependence on the Lord. So get busy trusting God!

A danger in working out our progressive sanctification is the tendency to forget about our dependence upon God and trying to live the Christian life in our own strength.

We saw in our last study that we are to obey God's law, which is holy, just, and good. The law is not opposed to grace. The law provides specific direction for exercising love. The problem comes when we think we can earn God's favor by our obedience to the law. Or when we begin to obey out of duty, instead of love. If we are going to live by grace, we must guard against legalism. Legalism is opposed to grace.


First of all, anything we do or don't do in order to earn favor with God.

Second, legalism insists on conformity to man made religious rules and requirements. It requires conformity to the "do's and don'ts" of our particular Christian circle. It is conformity to how other people think we should live, instead of how the Bible tells us to live. Many legalists put the emphasis on what they don't do. "I don't go to movies, or the beach, or pool halls, or dancing. I don't drink, chew, or dance." Not only do they not do certain things, but they try to impose their standards on others also.

These two descriptions of legalism are closely related. More often than not, we try to earn favor with God in the area of manmade rules, or we feel guilty because we have failed in keeping them. Have you experienced this?

The approach of the legalist centers only on rules. He leaves no room for liberty. He has formulated a code of rules and regulations that cover every area of his life. For him, every aspect of life fits under one rule or another. Everything is either black or white. He has formally arranged the external aspects of his life in order to gain some kind of righteousness with God, or in order to appear righteous before men and women.

Legalism reached its epitome in Judaism in the days of the New Testament. They had gone through the Old Testament and codified all of the scriptures so that they had their 613 laws. And then, to those they added literally hundreds of rules and regulations and traditions. So that in the minutest area of life, the rightness or wrongness of an action was determined by a rule. They took biblical law and added to it. For example:

Exodus 31:15 (NKJV) "'Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death."

Therefore, one must not labor on the Sabbath. So the Rabbis attempted to apply the law in its minutiae and had divided work into thirty-nine categories. One specific labor forbidden was that of plowing on the Sabbath. So if you were sitting in a chair and as you got up the legs made a furrow in the ground, you were accused of plowing on the Sabbath.

Legalism is alive and well today among many fundamentalist Christians. Many of the legalist's rules have no real Biblical basis, there are many things that we face every day to which the Bible does not speak.

Shortly after David Bailey became a Christian, he asked to be baptized. So, we set up a date for a baptism service. A man in the church approached me, looking very serious, and said, "Are you going to baptize David Bailey?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Do you know that he smokes?" I replied, "Don't worry, the cigarette will go out when I put him under water." This, folks, is legalism! Because he smoked, this man felt that he should not be baptized. Does the Bible say, "Thou shalt not smoke?" No, I think that smoking is a matter of Christian liberty, unless you live in my house, or someone else's house who forbids you to smoke. I don't think smoking is a sin, but I do think it is very unwise. Let me just say to you teens that if your parents tell you that you cannot smoke, then smoking is a sin for you. You are to obey your parents.

Let's look at Romans 14 which deals with Christian liberty and our response to it.

Romans 14:1-3 (NKJV) Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat ,and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.

These verses are dealing with Christian liberty. The weak tend to condemn the liberty of the strong because they don't understand it. They usually view liberty as sin.

Notice what the end of verse 3 says, "For God has received him." Who is this speaking of? The "him" is the person with liberty. Paul is saying, "Don't judge the person with liberty; because God has received him." Of course God has received them both, but here it is speaking of the one who has liberty.

Paul understands how you and I think. In our minds, it seems so much more difficult for God to receive the person with so much liberty than to receive the person who is very strict and regimented. This is because we are so "works" oriented.

There is very little emphasis in Christian circles today on the importance of Christian freedom. Instead of promoting freedom, we stress our rules of conformity. Instead of preaching living by grace, we preach living by performance. We are much more concerned about someone abusing his freedom than we are about his guarding it. But Paul was very concerned that the Christians at Galatia guard their freedom.

Galatians 5:1 (NKJV) Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

The expression "in the liberty" indicates the goal of the redemptive work of Christ. Christ freed us in order that we might be free. Bondage is the opposite of freedom, and thus, since legalism produces bondage, living under it is inconsistent with the gospel. "Stand fast" indicates the diligence and commitment required to maintain our freedom. Unless we diligently guard our liberty, we will be drawn into bondage.

"Do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage"implies that there is personal accountability for falling back into bondage. We fall back into bondage because we allow ourselves to do so.

As we walk with God and seek to grow in practical sanctification, we form private convictions about what is right and wrong for us to do. We must not try to bind the consciences of other believers with our private convictions. John Owen wrote, "Only what God has commanded in his word should be regarded as binding; in all else there may be liberty of actions."

All Christians have their list of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. What we must understand is that God has not appointed any of us to be the "moral policeman" of other believers.

If you know me at all, you know that I think that spiritual disciplines are very important for our Christian life. By spiritual disciplines I mean: having regular private devotions (by that I mean time reading the Bible and praying), studying the Bible, memorizing Scripture, and gathering with other believers for corporate worship. We grow through spiritual disciplines, but we must not come in bondage to them. They are privileges to be used, not duties to be performed.

Spiritual disciplines can easily become a performance measurement by which we gauge whether to expect God's blessing or not. We can begin to think, "I've been doing pretty well, having a regular quiet time, studying my Bible, and so on; so I'm hopeful about God's blessing." On the other hand, if we haven't been doing well, we think God is going to zap us.

When I was a young Christian we were on vacation, and I always have trouble maintaining my Bible reading when I'm out of my routine. I started to get sick and immediately thought, "I haven't been reading so God is punishing me." So, I began to read my Bible. I still got sick. I was reading to earn favor with God. That is legalism. I wasn't reading my Bible to get to know God better or to learn how to live in a way that honored Him; I was reading to earn brownie points.

Now please listen carefully, I think that spiritual disciplines are very important and should be promoted. They are absolutely necessary for growth in our Christian lives. But they should be promoted as benefits, not duties. In the spiritual disciplines, we have the PRIVILEGE of spending time with the God of the universe, and being consistent in that practice is of great importance for our own sakes.

We should encourage the use of spiritual disciplines and do all we can to help others succeed in them, but we should never require them as a condition of acceptance-- either by God or by us.

Freedom and grace are two sides of the same coin. We cannot enjoy one without the other. If we are living in bondage, we are not living by grace. If we are to truly live by grace, we must stand firm in the freedom that is ours in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 5:13-14 (NKJV) For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

We have been "called to liberty." But, we are not to use our liberty as an opportunity to sin. We need to learn to live within the right relationships of law and liberty, and liberty and love. Grace keeps the law, love, and liberty in right relationship to one another.

So the Christian who is living by grace must guard against legalism that is always trying to pull him to the right. But he must also guard against moving too far the other way. Paul said, "do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh." This is license!

Some folks pervert grace by saying, "Since God's grace is unconditional, I may live as I please; I may sin as much as I want because God will still love and forgive me." That is the attitude of license. It results from focusing exclusively on liberty and denigrating God's law. To counteract this sinful attitude, many Christians have fallen into legalism. We have taught, either directly or implicitly, that God's grace is conditional, that there is a degree to which it is based on our performance.

The person who practices license is not living by grace, they are Antinomian. His principle and philosophy of life is one of total freedom. He does not consider law, he is lawless. He does not consider love, he is selfish. His basic philosophy of life is one of total freedom. This was the philosophy of the libertines in the days of the NT. It is the philosophy of Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine. There are no absolutes, no laws. Things of life involve a total freedom and a total liberty.

License or antinomianism is just as wrong as legalism, they are both unbiblical. The Scriptures give us absolutes and laws that we must live by. We are not without law.

Anyone who is prone to use grace as a license for irresponsible, sinful behavior, surely does not appreciate the infinite price God paid to give us His grace. But anyone who tends to use legalism as a hedge against license, just as surely forgets that grace cannot be earned by our behavior.

To live in grace is to avoid both the extremes of legalism and license. We are free, but we are not to use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. We are to live in obedience to God's law out of loving gratitude for all that He has provided for us through grace.

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