What a grace it is to be forgiven. What a tragedy it is that we have bent to the temptations of sin.
The opposing realities of glorious grace and the grotesque tragedy of sin can leave us wondering: “Is it better to sin and be forgiven than to never sin at all?”
It is not an easy question to answer and demands the whole of Scripture.
Adam and Eve were created perfect and remained without sin… for a time. God lavished the rich gifts of his presence and companionship upon them in the garden. The greatest of these gifts was himself. They already had perfect, eternal life. One wonders why would God allow sin to enter in?
Such questions can only be answered by seeing how God reveals himself and his plans in Scripture.
Why Would God Let Sin Enter the World?
Before answering the question of sin and grace, we must understand why sin entered the world in the first place.
Theologians have been speculating on this mystery for years. The human perspective is, of course, limited. God is the beginning and the end, and we are bound by time. All the same, the theologians’ best guess is something called the Felix Culpa theodicy. James N. Anderson gives insight into what this is: “The basic idea is this: While the fall was a great evil, it made it possible for God to bring about even greater goods in its wake: the God-glorifying goods of the incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and all the salvific blessings that flow from them.”
The idea that the fall was ultimately something God would use for a higher glory and greater good is something that has captured imaginations for centuries. Even John Milton asked this question in 1663 in Book 12 of Paradise Lost when Adam replied to Michael’s revelations about what would happen after he and Eve left the garden:
“…O goodness infinite, goodness immense!
That all this good of evil shall produce, [ 470 ]
And evil turn to good; more wonderful
Then that which by creation first brought forth
Light out of darkness! full of doubt I stand,
Whether I should repent me now of sin
By mee done and occasiond, or rejoyce [ 475 ]
Much more, that much more good thereof shall spring,”
This isn’t simple milk from a sippy-cup theology, but three-inch-thick aged Kobe beef doctrine. It nearly creates as many questions as answers. God, however, doesn’t always provide the answers to the questions we ask, but we do get the answers we need. Take the scene that plays out in John 9 as Jesus and his disciples walk and come across a blind man as an example, “His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
John Piper teaches that Jesus was more concerned with the purpose than the cause in this situation, so he did not give the disciples the cause as they wished. Instead, Jesus redirected the gaze of the disciples to God’s glory.
If we trust that God is sovereign, which Scripture teaches, we must acknowledge that God allowed the fall. God does not tempt, but he does permit. With this eternal perspective in mind, the question looks more like: “Would the light of the world be just as bright in a world that didn’t need to conquer sin?
Look at Romans 9:21-24 when Paul teaches on God’s sovereignty,
“Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”
It is clear that God has allowed suffering, and even sin, so that his glory may be magnified and known, and our resistance to this idea is simply the clay trying to question the potter. However, when we look at our own sin in the here and now, the answer becomes much clearer.
Should We Sin So That Grace Might Increase?
I am a sinner, no way around it. I’m not ashamed to admit this because we all are. Jesus is the only one who has lived sinless and full of goodness, choosing to pay with his life the ransom for ours. As a result of his life, sacrificial death, and resurrection, we live in persistent, undeserved grace. The delight found in knowing compassion of that degree should make our hearts overflow with thankfulness, and yet we know it would be wrong to go on sinning so that grace may increase (Romans 6:1). In fact, Paul says to that question specifically, “By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:2)
We are called to pursue life as people who live in the light of Christ, and the Christ-exalting aim of that calling is to go and sin no more. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We desire the gifts of God, but that doesn’t mean we must allow sin to enter our lives in order to experience deeper mercy. We were sinners at birth according to Psalm 51:5, so we have always been in need of salvation. And God has always had us in his sights.
Being grateful for the lessons God teaches in the midst of our sins, or as we experience the consequences of them, doesn’t equate sin to being good. It means God is good, even in the midst of our sin. It is evidence that God fulfills his promise of working all things for good for those who love him. We serve a providential God whose goodness prevails, and that should never be misconstrued into believing that everything we do or did is right simply because it will be redeemed. It is God’s goodness on display through his sovereign grace that should keep us captivated, not the evil that shows the depths of humanity’s darkness without him.
We count ourselves dead to sin and do not let it rule over us. Paul teaches, “Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:11-14).
Living under grace means we are freed from the ultimate consequences of our sin so that we can enjoy him more as we grow in holiness. This transforming grace doesn’t allow us to savor our sin, but to see our Savior as worth more than anything we could grasp apart from him.
We do not yet know the full joy of existence absent of sin, in full communion with God; for now, we wrestle and fight against sin daily, even hourly. But one day we will see our Savior face to face, and in full redemption, we will know life is finally free from sin—and love Jesus even more because he has saved us from it. The paradox is not an easy truth, but it is a greater story than we could ever imagine.
Chara Donahue is a co-author of the Bible study 1, 2 & 3 John: Experiencing Transformation and is working on her next book. She enjoys serving as a biblical counselor, speaking to women, and savoring coffee when her four kids are out playing with dad. She holds an MSEd from Corban University, is passionate about seeing people set free through God’s truths, and is the founder and editor of Anchored Voices. She is also the host of the podcast The Bible Never Said That, which you can listen to on LifeAudio.com. Get in touch with her on Facebook or Twitter.