Is grace a license to be lazy?

homer_sleepingOne of the complaints made against the gospel of grace is that it promotes sin and slothfulness. However, those who say such things know little about the grace of God that empowers us to reign in life.

Elsewhere I have addressed the misperception that grace is a license to sin. Today I want to look at its evil twin, namely the myth that grace is a license to be lazy.

Here’s the short version: Grace succeeds where law fails. Law leads to dead works and weariness, but grace leads to good works that change the world.

Need an example? Let’s look at an issue that used to be a biggie, namely, the care of widows.

What does the law say about widows?

To be a widow in Biblical times could be a death sentence. There was no social security, no food stamps, and limited employment options. The great need of widows and orphans was recognized in the old covenant with four good laws:

  1. Don’t hurt them (Exo 22:22)
  2. When harvesting, leave crops and fruit for them (Deu 24:19-21)
  3. Once a year invite them to a feast (Deu 16:10-11)
  4. Every three years, share your tithe with them (Deu 14:28-29, 26:12-13)

These laws had teeth (Ex 22:22-24). If you failed to heed them – if you neglected to care for widows – God would punish you with death and make your wife a widow!

With solid laws and clear incentives you might expect that widows were well cared for under the old covenant. They weren’t.

Beware of the teachers of the law… They devour widows’ houses… (Luke 20:46-47)

Instead of being protected by the law, widows were exploited. The very men whose job it was to protect them – the law experts – were robbing them blind.

(Incidentally, this is why Jesus marveled at the poor widow’s offering (Mark 12:42-44). Instead of the rich giving to the poor, she was giving to them! It was an astonishing reversal of the law.)

What does grace say about widows?

The gospel of grace reveals God’s heart for widows. We see this is in the way Jesus related to them. The first time he met a widow, he raised her son from the dead (Luke 7:12-14). Then he told a story about a widow who got no justice (Luke 18:2-8). It’s like Jesus was sending a message. He was saying, “Under law, you widows had no hope, but I am here to tell you that God cares for you. He’s not a corrupt judge who must be pestered. He’s your loving Father who responds to the cries of his children.”

Inspired by Christ, the early church made the care of widows one of its priorities (Acts 6:1-7). Later, the apostle Paul gave practical instructions on how to look after them (1 Tim 5:1-16).

Stories and instructions are all well and good, but wisdom is proved by her fruit. Were widows better off under grace? Is there any proof that grace does better than law when it comes to caring for the widow and orphan?

Two famines

The Bible records two famines, one in the old covenant and one in the new. These two famines allow us to compare the fruits of law and grace. If the law makes people generous while grace makes people lazy, then the widows in the first famine would’ve been better off than the widows in the second. Were they?

I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. (Luke 4:25-26)

The implication is that 99% of the widows in the first famine were starving to death. True, one was saved but only by divine intervention. The law did nothing to help her.

This makes sense because the law doesn’t help anyone. That’s not its purpose. But the law can surely hurt you, and in the hands of the religious it can be a tool for exploiting poor widows and devouring their houses.

But is grace any better?

Let’s look at the second famine which struck Judea and Syria during the reign of Claudius. (Agabus prophesied about it in Acts 11:27-28, and Josephus wrote about it in his Antiquities, Book 20, chapter 2).

This second famine led to a period of great suffering in Jerusalem. According to Josephus, “many people died for want of what was necessary to procure food.” In other words, food was available, but it was prohibitively expensive. If you were a penniless widow, you and your children were going to starve, and your death would be slow and brutal.

In this hour of great need two men stood tall; Paul and James. Paul famously collected money from the Gentile churches for the starving saints in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32), while James challenged religious Jews to dig deep for widows (Jas 1:27). These two apostles of grace inspired generosity without invoking the curses of the law, and as a result lives were saved.

Can see the difference?

  • the fruit of law = dead widows
  • the fruit of grace = widows cared for

The paradox of law is that it provides the strongest possible incentive for you to work (God will punish you if you don’t), yet little gets done and what is done is useless. And the wonder of grace is that there are no sticks and carrots (God loves you regardless of what you do), yet much gets done and the world is changed.

Why? Because grace, by definition, means help, and if you have been helped by the Helper himself, you are more likely to help others.

As a Pharisee, Paul was part of a law-based system that exploited widows, but as an apostle of grace he was their champion. Paul said he was compelled by the love of Christ. That’s the difference. The law tells you what to do and doesn’t lift a finger to help, but those who are compelled or inspired by love move mountains.

Grace is powerful. Grace makes lazy men productive and fruitful. Grace saves lives. All this is to the glory of the Jesus who works in us and through us.


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29 Comments on Is grace a license to be lazy?

  1. in His Love // June 15, 2016 at 1:05 am // Reply

    I think the prime example is the woman at the well in John 4. She was not judged by Christ though living in fornication. Result of Grace? She went and evangelized the whole city.

  2. another good one Paul,ive been thinking how we have a habit of categorising almost everything THIS IS GRACE, THIS IS LAW,I want to be careful not to make a law out of grace,im not sure how to make that call.sometimes I guess the Goats and the sheep are a good example doing something simply because it becomes like breathing and maybe in a way not being conscious of your works.”when did we feed you Lord, we dont remember.”

  3. No, as a Christian I don’t want to be lazy or do what I want, I want to follow God, we sin daily, but we are forgiven because of the cross.

  4. Gerald Owens // June 15, 2016 at 1:59 am // Reply

    The Angle I keep hearing is not that the Grace Message leads to laziness in helping people, but in not “Proclaiming the Gospel”! Often, however, under closer analysis, its the critic’s version of Law+Gospel that they want pushed. Another aspect of “charitable works” that really needs to be questioned is using charity as a substitute for Holy Spirit conviction of the **world** regarding their sin: Muslims accuse Christian charities of “bribing” people into becoming Christians, and I do see situations where charity is made a substitute for presenting the Gospel (grace and otherwise). I take seriously Jesus’ counsel to be wise as serpents: Paul’s counsel regarding widows was given to Timothy, and was with regard to filtering out fake widows from true ones so that Church resources were spent wisely. Note that there were NO calls in the New Testament to give money for medical care and expenses: Having the Spirit heal people and free them from sins that have bad consequences really removes a big drain on resources, AND restores people to a condition where they can work and kick something into the pot (“Let him who steals steal no longer…”)

    It takes some discipline and backbone to REALLY walk by the Spirit, instead of going on automatic and listen to someone’s interpretation of the scriptures that is loaded with a human agenda. Sometimes, being freed from sin requires being freed from a bondage that is physical, mental, and spiritual.

  5. Paul was compelled by the love of Christ. I love that! The law told people they must produce good fruit and there was none, but the love of Christ in our heart compels us to do these things with no outside pressure from law or man.

  6. Anita Sheridan // June 15, 2016 at 2:14 am // Reply

    Love the way you explain it so simply! Truth!

  7. Love this comparison of Law and Grace. I believe that pastors would see more “giving” and more “doing” if they focused more on WHO we are in Christ and expounded more on Him, the One who made/makes it all possible.

  8. Here is a verse showing how grace produces hard work:

    “But by the GRACE of God I am what I am, and his GRACE to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the GRACE of God that was with me.”
    1 Corinthians 15:10.


  9. clement NG // June 15, 2016 at 1:01 pm // Reply

    indeed, the Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing..

  10. Yes. This is so true. Once you experience Jesus love, with no condemnation, only forgiveness , you want to tell others. We were told in a church service “if you do not go out and witness, and people go to hell, their blood is on your head.” I became so scared that I couldn’t witness anymore. Whereas, before, it just came natural to talk about the great lover I knew who was constantly blessing me and answering my prayers. Fear based messages seem to be the way some preachers use to motivate people into action. But how can you believe in and trust a loving Father who threatens you with punishment if you fail to witness?

    • I can totally relate. I’ve been threatened before with the old “if you don’t witness, their blood is on your head” line also, which just gave me the completely wrong motive for “witnessing.” And what was I going to say: “Be saved, and then you can live in fear that if you don’t witness to others, too, you’ll have blood on your head as well”? How is that an attractive option? Who would want to live in that kind of bondage? Plus, I must confess, that fear-based emphasis on witnessing made me an overbearing, pushy jerk, “witnessing” at totally inappropriate times just to clear the blood from my head. But I was being driven, driven, driven, by fear, fear, fear. So glad God’s grace has saved me from that mess, and you can be sure, I’m never going back!

  11. I actually know that some believe that they are ok without doing anything and believe doing something is religious. So, they just sit and do not evangelize at all, claiming believing Jesus is all they need. They have “Do nothing. Be happy” mentality. They really are false grace believers that are miss-presenting the grace of God. They are the ones Michael Brown could warn other people and label as hyper-grace. But Dr. Brown also basically believes wrongly that all grace preachers (hyper-grace in his terminology) are “false”. While I do believe most of them are fine some are really extreme.

    • So someone is a false believer because he doesn’t witness? Where do you get that from? Plot twist: According to your standard, you have to raise people from the dead, top. Jesus said this would be a thing believers do. Now tell me have you done this? Do you really think you are the superiour Christian just because you fullfill this self-imposed law of evangelizing and condeming others who don’t fullfill it? Your view is fleshly. We tell people of Christ when we have it on our heart from God, not because someone condemns us. Jesus IS all we need.

  12. I noted you used “they” five times, and “them” one time. Criticizing how they live or what they believe. . But I noted that you never attributed the sin of “judgementness” to them. I’m guessing you simply overlooked that one.


    (You need to meet some new people, > regarding the few hyper-grace people I encounter, I can’t get them to shut up about Jesus (including myself). 🙂

  13. Well said. Did you notice that the tithe they shared with widows was food, not money? If you look into it, and maybe you have already, you will find that tithing in the time it was for-in the law-it was to be eaten! It wasn’t money at all.

    • Gerald Owens // June 18, 2016 at 8:33 am // Reply

      Absolutely correct. The Levitical tithe was divided into three parts. One part was to go to the Tabernacle/Temple (the Temple “storehouse”). One part was to go into a LOCAL storehouse from which widows, orphans, strangers, and Levites could draw (what you were referring to). The third part was to be eaten by the giver at the Tabernacle IF they were close enough to go there. If they were a bit far, they were to convert the tithe to money (as a more portable medium) and take it there to buy the food to celebrate with. If they were REALLY far away, then the money could be spent “on whatever your heart desires”.

      Confirmation of this practice comes from Malachi, where we have the famous call to “bring ye ALL the tithes into the storehouse”, with the context plain that it was to be the TEMPLE storehouse. In essence, the last book in the Old Testament overrode a thousand years of how the tithe was paid. Interesting that after that came out, God went silent and sent no prophets until John the Baptist. Makes one wonder…

  14. Very comforting Jesus reactions on widows in His time, but our Catholic preachers are maximum in this world and contribution as per bible on widows are abandoned how to influence this church to improve.

  15. I love it, Paul. One example is the rich ruler under the law (Luke 18) vs Zaachaeus (Luke 19) under grace. Under the law, the rich ruler boasted that he did all the requirements of the law. In the end, when Jesus asked him to give all of his possesions, NOTHING came out of his pocket (not even 10%). The very next chapter (Luke 19), Jesus showed abounding grace to the chief of sinners Zaachaeus…. no condemnation. Result? Zaachaeus was willing to give at least 50% (probably more) of his money.

    • Gerald Owens // June 20, 2016 at 9:41 pm // Reply

      Excellent point! Heck, Jesus didn’t even make a hint of a pitch for Zaachaeus’ money, and it just came out. Also note that Jesus left it to the giver to decide how and to whom to give. Given who His treasurer was and that Jesus knew of the embezzlement indicates Jesus wants EFFECTIVE giving.

      This is a keeper, Edwin. Thanks for sharing!

    • How is it Edwin Sianturi – that we get caught by the term “the law” as is openly spoken by Jesus? This law (Rom 7 is the law of Moses) is not “the law” so many in Christendom say brings death; that law is the oral written Pharisaical rule making of priest past & present in church organizations in both Judaism & Christianity. Not once did he (Jesus) say the man was not doing rightly by keeping the law. The law here is something Jesus is telling us is good & right to keep [see: Matt 5:17-19]. Jesus here is explicit in saying he did not come to destroy, annul, abrogate or take away, but he came to fulfil it, (continual, ongoing…). As a matter, Jesus simply concurred & went on to take the man one further by radically, shockingly challenging him with the power that his wealth had over him. This man could not give what he did not possess – the power to say no to the hook of extreme wealth. The law had nothing to do with his weakness to wealth – on the contrary, Jesus agreed with him – he kept it.

      • momzilla76 // July 8, 2016 at 1:46 am //

        (sigh) If fulfil meant (continual, ongoing…) we should still be on the look out for a Messiah as the messianic prophesies were fulfilled(continual, ongoing…) by Jesus. But a Law debate is not really on topic for this article so I will only say that.

  16. Paul, I love your books and blog. Thank you so much. I struggle with porn. As I’m understanding the grace message it’s diminishing out of my life but I still hate it when i mess up. Can you help me understand and encourage me?

    • You will never be free from porn, until you know that no amount of porn can take you away from God, his promises and blessings! If that was the case we would still be under the law, but God has made it clear that this is the time of his new covenant, one based on MUCH better promises! This is what so many churches and sincere children of God dont seem to understand, the idea is that you first have to “clean” yourself up to be able to walk with God or go to church, this is leaving people in bondage as their minds are on their own faults and weaknesses and not on Christ that has made you/them holy, pure and completly accepteble before God our father! Sin has been dealt with once and for all, we will never be punished again for sin!
      There is still bad consequences by sinning, the main one becoming victim of condemnation, either by yourself or the devil.

      So to sum up Sir, you are a deeply beloved king and a priest, holy and blessed, God himself has good and kind plans for YOU! Just focus on this everlasting good truth, and not so much about your weakness. Things will be even better for you Sir 😉

      Hit me up on this mail if you want to talk!


  17. Mr.KG – the Song of Songs sings of two [individuals], who in my estimation are deigned to be addicted to one-another… the man to the wo(man). The love language there is that which reflects an opiate so strong__
    Perhaps pornography, masturbation or other self-2-self musings are more about the absence of God – the Word’s words (discipleship) concerning the plan & design of man-kind before the universe was spoken into place.
    You are right in pointing people to see who they are. How many in Christendom truly know who they are?
    Pornography etc. only suffices to point us back at ourself & to hide from God.

  18. Masika Daphine // June 30, 2017 at 8:46 pm // Reply

    thank u soo much am blessed

  19. Hotzpacho // June 8, 2018 at 3:13 pm // Reply

    Why didn’t the apostles just multiply bread and fish to feed the people like jesus told them to do when he fed the 5000????

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