A friend of mine has an interesting hobby. He loves to clean the house. Now I hope that every husband reading this article helps his wife clean the house. But my guess is that most of us guys are quite willing to let her tell us what to do.
Not my friend! He’s happy to take on the whole responsibility himself. And I’m sure all the wives reading this article are cheering him on!
Now let me tell you about the one part of housekeeping that my friend especially enjoys. He loves to get on his hands and knees with a damp cloth and clean out all the dust and dirt that collects in the recessed area near the bottom of the cupboards in his kitchen. In fact, the more dirt there is under those cupboards, the more fun he has cleaning it out!
How many of the guys reading this article can identify with that?
But I’d like to tell you that God also has a hobby. He loves to clean out dirty, sinful lives.
You may think you’re too sinful for God to be interested in you. No, no, no! It’s just the opposite! He loves to get inside your mind and remove your sinful desires. And, like my friend, the more dirt there is in your mind, the more satisfaction God has cleaning you out!
So the short answer to the question posed by the title of this article is that you can’t be too sinful for God to save you, because the more sinful you are, the more you qualify for His grace.
The long answer is how God’s grace works.
How grace works
In Ephesians 2:8, 9 the apostle Paul gave a short summary statement about how grace works. He said, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Three ideas in these two verses are especially significant for our discussion. First, Paul said we have been saved by grace through faith. In other words, our part is to believe God’s promise to save us by grace. And that can be tough to do, especially when you have just yielded to your inclination to sin. I’ll say more about that in a moment.
Second, Paul said we can’t save ourselves. Salvation is a gift that we receive from God. And third, Paul said our salvation is not by works. In other words, we can’t qualify for God’s grace by trying hard to obey Him.
Here’s where some people get it wrong. They say, “Well, if I don’t have to do anything to receive God’s grace, I’ll keep on doing the wrong things I enjoy and God will forgive me.” The problem is that God does want us to obey Him. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NKJV).* And twice in Revelation the apostle John emphasised that God’s people who live in the end time will keep His commandments (Revelation 12:17; 14:12).
So if God wants us to keep the commandments, how does grace fit into the picture?
Grace in Romans
Paul answered that question in Romans 3:20–22. Let’s analyse these verses one at a time.
In verse 20 Paul said, “No one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Those are different words for the same thing Paul said in Ephesians—that keeping God’s commandments is not what qualifies us to receive His grace.
So if our obedience doesn’t qualify us to receive grace, what does? Paul answered that question in verse 21: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known.”
Let’s focus on just four words: "A righteousness from God.” - “To be righteous” means to be a very good person. Unfortunately, we are not “very good” people. Fortunately, God knows this, so He gives us His righteousness. That’s what Paul meant by “a righteousness from God.” Because we do not have the righteousness that makes us acceptable to God, He gives us His righteousness. That’s precisely what Paul said in Ephesians 2:8: Our salvation is “the gift of God.”
In Ephesians, Paul also said our part is faith—to believe that God gives us His grace. Paul said the very same thing in Romans 3:22: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
The challenge of faith
Earlier I said it can be tough to believe when you just slipped and fell. You feel so guilty! You say to yourself, How can God ever accept me when I keep yielding to this temptation? Or, I have no right to call myself a Christian as long as I keep yielding to this temptation. And then comes the ultimate in self-condemnation: I guess I’ll be lost.
Let’s turn those words around. What you’re really saying is if you could just keep from sinning—if you could just obey God—then you’d be acceptable to Him. But that’s precisely what Paul said will not qualify you to receive God’s grace! He said “no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law.” Even if you could obey God perfectly, you would still not qualify to receive His grace. That’s why Paul said we receive righteousness from God as a gift.
But in order to receive that gift, we have to believe that God gives it to us. The problem is that immediately after we yield to temptation, we’re so full of self-condemnation that we don’t feel like we deserve the gift. It’s what the devil would have us believe, however.
Here’s where we have to understand that faith is a mental affirmation, not an emotional feeling.
Faith means believing in spite of how we feel!
Here’s a prayer I suggest you say the next time you’re punishing yourself with guilt over the temptation that just caused you to fall flat on your face: “God, I confess that I just sinned. But in spite of that, I praise You that I’m still a righteous person in Your sight. I don’t feel like I deserve this gift, but I accept it because You’ve promised it.”
Ask God to help you to overcome that feeling of self-condemnation. You’ll probably slip and fall again, so say that prayer again. Keep saying it each time you yield.
Some people think that what I’ve just described is “cheap grace.” They think it’s “excusing sin.” That’s not true at all! Cheap grace is when you deliberately go ahead and sin because, after all, God will forgive you.
There’s a huge difference between that and people who have committed to doing what they know to be right but yield to the temptation anyway. The very fact that you feel so guilty and self-condemned is evidence that you are not into cheap grace.
That’s why I said at the beginning of this article that the more sinful you are, the more you qualify for God’s grace.
There’s a word for what I just shared with you: it’s the gospel. The Greek word we translate into English as gospel actually means “good news.” And what can be better news than the fact that the more sinful you are, the more you qualify for God’s grace?