Does the Gospel give Christians a licence to sin? No. Does the Calvinistic—and, we affirm, Biblical—doctrine of the preservation of the saints give Christians a licence to sin? No.
Surely, we cannot sin without offending God, without grieving the Holy Spirit, and without the prospect of being chastised with affliction by God in this life as he proceeds to defend the honour of his name and to do his precious children good in that affliction. So, no, we do not believe that Christians have any kind of a licence to sin.
We acknowledge that Christians may, sadly, fall into terrible sins so long as we live in this world—yet we also believe God’s promise that he will never leave us. But God will come after us as our loving Father, to correct us and to bring us to repentance, so that our prayers become like those of king David: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me…Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit” (Psalms 51:1-3, 10-12).
God’s dealings with his children in the New Testament are the same as they were in the Old Testament:
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psalms 103:8-14).
“Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all [Christians] are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (Hebrews 12:6-8).
Remember also the dealings that our Lord had with the seven churches in Asia Minor. Especially remember how he warned the Laodiceans: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
Have mercy on me
Sometimes, the sufferings of Christians are God’s chastening them for their continuing in sin, until we are brought to repentance, sanctifying and maturing in the faith (see Hebrews 12:5-11). At other times, our afflictions are the consequence of the curse that God has placed upon this world (see Genesis 3:16-17). And as we know, this will almost inevitably1 lead to our physical death2.
At all times, we must come to understand that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
We all must learn the lessons that our sufferings should teach us: “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word…It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes…I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me” (Psalms 119:67, 71, 75). And these lessons must draw our hearts closer to Jesus, for as we learn God’s statutes, we re-learn how “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). In the way we live our lives having learned (and re-learnt) the lessons that our afflictions teach us, we must vow to obey God more. All this repentance, renewed promises of obedience, and petitions for God’s enabling, must be in our prayers.
Whether or not we become aware of the correlation between sin and chastisement, we have sins to repent of.
It will not always be this way. A time is coming when God will bring this universe to its end. At the end of history, the Lord will return and gather his own people to be with himself forever and, in the twinkling of an eye, he will give to them incorruptible, immortal resurrection bodies (1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation: 21:4; compare also Isaiah 25:8; 1 Corinthians 15:54-55; Revelation 7:17).
For those people who have had the Good Shepherd restore their souls, and who are being lead by him in paths of righteousness, “the valley of the shadow of death” is the God-appointed means of bringing them out of this fallen world and into his presence in Heaven (Psalms 23:3-4; John 10:11, 14).
God gives us the victory
After this life, for the Christian, “when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).
Therefore, let us learn: every time we struggle with the question of this chapter, we need to shift out perspective to see things how they really are, for the Christian: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it…And [meanwhile, in this world] we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:18-25, 28).
Do you believe all that?
Are you learning?
- The last generation of Christians, who are alive at our Lord’s second coming, will not die. Their bodies will be transformed without physical death (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Besides this last generation only two other people have had this piviledge: Enoch and Elijah (see Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:9-11; Hebrews 11:5).↩
- See also chapter 8, The Redemption of Our Body.↩