Grace and Holiness: A Broken Relationship
Grace, Licentiousness, Holiness, and Legalism

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Paul declares, quite famously, that he is not ashamed of Christ’s gospel. God’s Good News, As Athanasius called it, the Glorious exchange. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul elaborates; “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And again, 2 Cor 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Back to Romans; Paul quotes the Old Testament Prophet Habakkuk 2:4- “the just shall live by faith”.
This indicates the true nature of salvation, even within the Old Covenant; salvation is by faith alone, not of works. As Paul uses the phrase, righteousness of God in verse 17, he is demonstrating God’s method of justification of sinners. God judicially positions sinners in right standing with Himself by faith, not by works.
Scholars believe these two verses sum up and introduce all Paul has to say in Romans. Paul announces the theme of righteousness and defines righteousness. To fully understand grace and holiness, let us look at righteousness.
Technically this article is not addressing righteousness; however, understanding God’s work in and through making us righteous is foundational to understanding and receiving His work of holiness in and through us as well.
Righteousness is:
In the Old Testament holiness is understood as God’s nature and His righteousness. It also becomes known as God’s saving activity. His nature and His righteousness are intricately connected His saving activity.
There are two interpretative ways to look at this verse: Righteousness of God-comes from God. Or righteousness which belongs to God—(Greek sentence construction allows for both interpretations: attributive-subjective or objective genitive). OT evidence suggests that His righteousness is more than character or nature… is also God’s saving activity and contains an ethical content. This passage has a strong emphasis on His saving work. Psalm 71:5 demonstrates His righteousness is His saving work. Isaiah 51:5 llustrates the synonymous parallelism between righteousness and salvation. Isaiah 45:21-24 states He is righteous God and Savior. Righteousness and salvation are synonymous.
Psalm 98:2- similar to Romans 1:16-17—God has made His salvation known and revealed His righteousness to the nations.
Paul’s notion of salvation comes from the OT.
1. Signifies deliverance from physical evil—I Sam. 11:9-13 (Phil 1:19—release from prison)
2. Salvation describes the deliverance of the people of God-Exodus
3. Prophecy of Messianic salvation Joel 2:28-32, Matthew 1:21—Save His people from their sins. Not in sins, not to sins.
Paul’s theology is eschatological. (Meaning, he is looking forward, to the end of our time, when God fully redeems and reconciles us to Himself). Indicating that salvation does not end once we enter into life with Christ (Union with Christ) but it begins. Salvation is more than a mere event or an initiation into the church. Salvation is life in Christ.
Three tenses of salvation in Paul/parallels the three OT tenses.
We have been saved.
We are being saved.
We shall be saved.
Sozdo (Greek verb meaning to save) is translated as salvation, healing and deliverance—He died to save me holistically. His work on the cross, and His work alone, provide my salvation.
Paul’s gospel is an exposition of the gospel of deliverance from sin and the grace needed to sustain a right relationship with God.
How can a sinful man come into a right relationship with a holy God?
How can a sinful man sustain this relationship?
These questions are answered or outlined in Romans 1:16-17. Faith alone quickens His righteousness within us and salvation is wrought. Paul further writes in Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NIV)
Paul does not say the gospel has saving power. He says it is THE POWER of God to save. The gospel is power. God’s own power is personal, omnipotent, etc. It is not the proclamation of the gospel that is the power to save—it is the content of the message. There is nothing stronger nor more comprehensive than the message of the Gospel. The Gospel is rooted in grace, and His grace, as the root of the Gospel, produces His fruit. The fruit of peace (which is huge, peace from and peace with God-equally a new identity, removing the need for performance-based acceptance!). Secondly, in a culture of peace, holiness emerges as His fruit in our lives!
Paul’s preaching is merely a witness to the events/actions of God’s saving power. At the same time, we have to deliver the content of the message in the power of the Spirit. It is not either or it is both/and.
The gospel is God’s means of restoring righteous control over a disobedient creation. Paul could have used the Greek word ergon instead of dunamis (for power). Energy would be process, power is source. God’s only means of salvation is the gospel. It is the Source. The Word of God is living and powerful.
Fundamentally, I believe the Body ought to return to preaching the Gospel rather than preaching holiness or preaching grace. Focusing on one particular aspect of the Gospel tends to divide the Body while preaching THE Gospel unites the Body. As we have discussed, His very own righteousness moves Him to graciously redeem us. As we will see, His righteousness and grace move Him to produce holiness within and through us.
There seems to be a lot of confusion concerning grace and holiness within the Body of Christ. Holiness, Grace, Legalism, and Licentiousness are terms that are closely associated in theological discussions. My basic premise is holiness is more closely related (actually produced by) grace than grace’s relationship to licentiousness or holiness and legalism. In fact, grace produces holiness and quite literally preserves holiness. Legalism does not lead to nor does it protect holiness. In fact, legalism actually destroys practical holiness within the life of the believer. Furthermore, licentiousness is neither a product of grace nor holiness. Licentiousness is a second legalism, a pure denial of God’s scandalous and miraculous grace. It is a rebellion against legalism and a denial of God’s holiness which leads to a legalism of the flesh; slavery to sinful nature. Paul speaks to this issue in many of his epistles, none more directly than Romans and Galatians. We will examine a small portion of Scripture to address each of these pressing topics.
As stated before; Licentiousness is a second legalism, a pure denial of God’s scandalous and miraculous grace. It is a rebellion against technical legalism which leads to a legalism of the flesh; slavery to sinful nature.
God desires His people to taste and see that He is good—the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Amazingly, this Old Testament verse is speaking about holiness and joy together. The Lord exhorts the people to not mourn but actually rejoice greatly, to eat, to drink, and to send out portions for the day is holy. (Nehemiah 8:11) God’s holiness is to be enjoyed and celebrated. The modern church has often viewed holiness in such negative ways we have robbed ourselves of His joy and His strength. He and He alone, through grace, can produce holiness within His people.
Our primary understanding of holiness tends to be couched in living a morally pure and consecrated life. Christians view holiness in behavioral terms. This lifestyle tends to focus on doing good, not doing bad; living up to God’s righteous requirements. To be fair, the OT and NT biblical terms for holy (qadosh, hagios) do carry strong moral connotations. (Being set apart-namely, from sin, but primarily set apart toward or for God) However, many preachers and Christians alike have fallen into an easy ditch of believing that salvation, and more specifically sanctification, are primarily about changed lifestyle or behavioral modification. Being a better person often becomes the goal of Christian discipleship. Truthfully, changed behavior should be a fruit of the Christian life.
Galatians 2:17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! Paul, here in Galatians speaks to the issue of licentiousness.
Dr. Matt Richard elaborates
In this verse the Apostle Paul shows us that it is not a fair conclusion to link lawlessness to the freeing message of the Gospel. To put it in another way, the proper effect of the Gospel of Jesus (i.e. justification by faith alone) does not grant a license to sin nor lead us to lawlessness. The Gospel is not and cannot be held responsible for lawlessness. For if lawlessness did come about by the preaching and teaching of the Gospel, then that would make Jesus Christ a promoter, supporter and distributor of sin and rebellion! In other words, Paul is declaring, “God Forbid this rationalization!” So, what does this mean for us as people of the Cross? It means that there is Freedom for the Gospel! We do not have to hold, restrict and condition the Gospel of Jesus. We get to preach the full freeing message of the Gospel without having to fear that by doing so we are bringing about lawlessness. We get to teach and live the full freeing message of the Gospel without having to worry about issuing a sin license to others. Furthermore, we can also know by Galatians 2:17 that if lawlessness and a license to sin exist, that these perverted freedoms can be traced back to something else other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, namely our sinful nature. May our souls resonate today with Paul’s words from Galatians 5:1,
“Christ has set us free! This means we are really free. Now hold on to your freedom and don’t ever become slaves of the Law again.”
Let me allow the Gospel to speak concerning legalism. Legalism becomes a man-made attempt to protect salvation or worse, earn salvation. Often, believers slip into the temptation to believe that grace saves but works maintain our fragile salvation. The following are but a few scriptural examples of legalism being rebuked and damned.
Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, a book written for the entire area of Galatia and intended to be circulated among all the churches, addresses the age-old struggle for believers to fully embrace God’s saving grace and His saving grace alone. Legalism tempts believers to add law and moralism to God’s amazing grace. This is a subtle slide, a casual temptation that seems good and even healthy, however, as Paul demonstrates, it is destructive. At the root of legalism lies distrust and pride. Legalism distrusts the grace and power of God to fully, wholly and eternally save. Legalism displays pride by assuming self-righteousness and works-righteousness are strong enough to save. Legalism embraces levels of self-salvation; trusting in one’s ability to rescue and contribute to one’s rescue. Paul, in the following verses, debunks legalism and its appeal. Grace alone through Christ’s cross can save.
Galatians 1:6-I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.—Legalism has no place within the church. PERIOD.
Galatians 2:16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. 17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I build (work to establish) again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19 For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ: it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now life in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.
But know this; the law is good! The law is holy! But, what purpose does the law serve? What distinguishes between law and legalism?
Galatians 3:19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. …verse 21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law…verse 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
1 Timothy 1:8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners…
“The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those things for which the tempter baits his hooks! –Matthew Henry
Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. 15 Speak these things, exhort and rebuke with all authority, Let no one despise you.
What a powerful passage! Paul teaches Titus that it is grace that teaches. It is grace that leads and empowers the believer to deny evil and to live holy. This one passage illustrates grace’s relationship with holiness. This passage, furthermore, demonstrates how legalism is not the redeemer from lawlessness; it is in fact grace that fulfills the law! A strong allusion in this passage is that Christ is actually grace! For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,….what is the Holy Spirit actually saying through the Apostle Paul? Grace has appeared to all men? Where? When? How? If not, in and through Christ, then I’m not sure. God is revealing that His grace is incarnate in His Son. Jesus is grace. And this grace has appeared to all men. Once His grace gets ahold of us, we experience a new zeal and passion for good works. He redeems, He is our great God and Savior! Praise God that sin and worldly lusts are pulverized by His grace! We are free!
Now, current trends and thoughts about grace are not all congruent with Scripture. Grace is not weak. Grace is not ‘mushy and soft’. Grace is strong; grace is not afraid of sin nor is grace afraid of confrontation. Grace loves, perfect love casts out fear. The Apostle Paul was a strong preacher of grace, this does not mean he turned a blind eye to sin, nor did he leave sin to chance. Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 rebukes sexual immorality in the church. 1 Cor 5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles…Paul goes on to inform them they are puffed up. They assume they are displaying Christian maturity by tolerating this gross immorality while in fact they should be mourning. Paul goes further to clarify that this man is a member of the body, stating it is impossible to refrain from fellowshipping with sexually immoral unbelievers, they are expected to act in such ways. However, this member of the body is to be disciplined. Current trends of misunderstandings of grace tend to fear judging sin or placing legalism on individuals. Grace teaches us to live in holiness. Grace empowers us to live in holiness. Grace crucifies sin. Grace blesses us (through His divine power—not ours!!) with all things that pertain to life and godliness (holiness) (2 Pet 1:3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust)) God loves us too much to simply save us in our sins or to save us to sin. No, we are free and free indeed, it is for freedom sake (not sins sake) we have been set free! We are saved from legalism and from sin at the same time! We are new creations in Christ!
Our self-righteousness is like filthy rags. Our works righteousness doesn’t work. God demonstrates that we can’t, but He did!
Hebrews 13:8 Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 9 Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, by with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.
Grace and holiness are established in a relational tone throughout the gospel. Grace produces holiness. There is no holiness apart from grace. Often behavioral modification and moralism rise to the surface of discussion of holiness because these are much more readily measurable than Christ at the center of our lives. God desires to fully encompass and engulf our lives. He is not simply looking for moral adherence.
Sacrifice – to make sacred. Or, to be set apart from sin for God; this has become our primary working definition. It is accurate, in a sense.

– We are the most human when we are close to God
– Made in God, to image God; in His image.

– We must be separate from all that is unlike God.
– Fellowship follows Grace

– Rather than just one event – Grace is a marriage.
– God has purchased us. We are His.

Recalling God is and was holy before sin ever entered in, allows us to discover a more fundamental understanding of holiness. Holiness is more than simply being removed or set apart from sin. Holiness is, in a primal sense, wholeness.
Christ is our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, Spirit-baptizer and Soon-coming King. As the Word, Spirit and Son sanctify the believer, what does this look like, practically? The Spirit sanctifies us by bringing the whole personhood of Christ into and alive in our entire personhood. Sanctification looks a lot like looking and acting like Christ. Now, this is more than mere behavior modification. Sanctification and holiness are far more than upholding a righteous requirement of the law (Which Christ did for us). Holiness and the process of sanctification are much deeper than outward adherence. The Spirit and the Word, through Christ’s work, sanctify our inner being. We become new creations. Salvation is radical and swift!
Is God concerned with practical holiness? The answer is, of course! Much of the epistles address behavior. However, the structure of the texts gives us beautiful theological insight. Paul lays out a divine indicative in the first half of many of his letters. Meaning, he states doctrinally what God has already accomplished for us through Christ. In short, he re-preaches the gospel via letter to his recipients. Typically, the second half of the letter spells out the horizontal imperative, or how we are now to live in light of what God has done for us.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul prays for the believers in Thessalonica: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” His words reveal three aspects of sanctification or holiness, which is the same as full recovery of the three-part nature of man (spirit, soul and body).
1. Holiness/sanctification is for now.
2. Holiness/sanctification is something God Himself will do in you.
3. Holiness/sanctification involves your peace, completeness and wholeness.
A Story
One of the earliest stories recorded in Scripture beautifully and powerfully outlines God’s grace in action. Genesis 2 through 5 records God’s creation of the first two humans ever. What a moment! Human life begins. One beautiful thing I take from this story is God creates humanity for intimacy and fellowship with Him, based on no merit of our own. God began with grace and mercy. He initiated life because He is love and He desired to share Himself with creation. Adam and Eve neither one earned any fellowship with the Father, it was simply granted. This is a continual ‘wow’ moment for me! Nothing I do grants me His love. I simply receive by faith! Again, wow! (Back to our story….)
Of course, like any good story, the original story has a sad and destructive twist. Introducing; the Serpent. Satan, in the form of a serpent, introduces Adam and Eve to deception, temptation and sin. Eve gives way to the serpent’s cunning lies concerning the tree of knowledge of good and evil and she shares the forbidden fruit with her husband (who by the way is not a victim. Adam was fully aware of the gravity of the situation). Basically, Satan baited our First Family into believing God was not enough, that there is more. More knowledge, more revelation and more freedom than He alone provides. Satan convinced our first parents that God’s law (do not eat…) was prohibitive rather than protective. This lie or half-truth the enemy sold them does bring revelation and knowledge. However, the knowledge it brought was painfully and tragically revealing. Without God’s grace and holiness covering naïve couple, they were naked and ashamed. Many of us find ourselves in the same predicament today. Rebelling against His grace and holiness, naked and ashamed.
Much like our first parents, we tend to lean toward self-salvation. Our own self-righteous works, man-made laws or even (on the other end of the pendulum) our antinomianism (rebellion toward His Law). Adam and Eve sought to hide and fix their transgression by their own ingenuity. Sewing together fig leaves to cover their brokenness. Again, too many modern day examples in my own life emerge to bolster this ancient tendency. Our efforts to cover, pay for or out run our transgression and fractured Father relationship always amount to inadequate and further condemning efforts.
The beauty in this story is God….God will never leave you nor forsake you. A statement I have found myself saying for a year now sums it up: God loves you too much to stay away. God pursues us in loving-kindness. One translation of Psalm 23:6 Surely goodness and love (mercy) will follow me all the days of my life-points to the verb follow as pursue or hunt down. God’s nature of love, mercy and goodness compel Him to hunt us down and to overtake us with His loving-kindness. This is precisely what He does with Adam and Eve.
God searches for our naked and ashamed couple to fix this mess the only way He can. God sheds blood (without which there can be no forgiveness of sin). God, once again, covers His creation. Until Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for sin on the cross animal blood covered the sins of God’s people in His grace and mercy. Now, however, Christ has died once and for all. He has risen as our first fruits of resurrection power! The greatest act and gift of grace has poured out on Calvary through Christ. Christ cried out, ‘tetelestai’ – It is Finished! Paid in full! God continues to make us holy via His grace. There is no holiness apart from His great grace. His precious grace produces holiness within and through us. let us labor to enter His rest and provision of grace and peace in turn producing holiness; a fruit that will remain.
Our holiness is not so much a matter of what we achieve as it is the grace our God provides as we continue to allow Him to live through us. Remember, it’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives through me. Grace is God’s willingness to look at us from the perspective that sees His holy Son in our place.
Church, always remember that while our work for the Lord is important, even inevitable; His work for us is infinitely more important! Remember this too, our work is really WITH Him not so much FOR Him. And, finally, our work should be a worshipful response to His already completed work for us. The Apostle Peter informs us that it is His divine power that has given us ALL THINGS that pertain to life and godliness (holiness) God is so good! He has already provided all you need in Christ! Receive by faith today! His love, joy, grace and power empower me and compel me to work with and worship Him and to partake of His divine nature! Be loved in His peace; be grounded in His grace; be at rest in His Rest. I love you and I am proud of you!
It is my prayer that we have an ear to hear what the Spirit says to the church. I believe divisive teachings have divorced grace and holiness from one another, robbing the body of peace, joy and fruit.
I will conclude with this prayer for us;
Col 1:9-14
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
God bless,
Pastor Jeremy