Occasionally I’ve seen the argument made that if we aren’t teaching grace in such a way that people misunderstand and accuse us of permitting sin, then we aren’t teaching it as it should be taught. After all, Paul was opposed over his teaching of grace:
“And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come’” (Rom. 3:8).
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1).
The question, however, is not whether we are being accused the way Paul was, but whether we are teaching grace in truth (Col. 1:6). There may be many reasons Paul was being wrongfully accused, but I seriously doubt that this was due to the idea that Paul rarely qualified his teachings about grace (i.e., that he often taught grace without teaching the need to obey God). I would argue this because:
1. Paul’s teachings about grace and faith (which includes trusting obedience) are generously scattered throughout his epistles. We just don’t find big gaps in Paul’s teaching where we see nothing about the need to trust and obey God, for example, or where we see nothing about grace. Just read the epistles for this point (it’s amazing how just reading the text will answer so many issues). Paul does not do a disservice to his readers by failing to talk about one idea more than the other. In fact, the better way to read Paul’s teachings on this (so I believe) is that grace and faith are intertwined and dispersed ubiquitously throughout what he says. Both grace and faith are integral to everything that he teaches, and they stand under all of his instructions.
2. Paul did, in fact, answer the false accusations (see above). He had no qualms about making himself clear on the matter. He did not camp on vagueness or equivocation. He didn’t fuss at his accusers about failing to teach grace. He simply corrected the misunderstanding. But why was there a misunderstanding? It’s an assumption (and I believe a bad one) to say people misunderstood because Paul didn’t teach much about obedience. I would draw attention to the fact that Paul says the claims were “slanderously reported.” This is the word for “blaspheme,” which does not mean that these are people who simply misunderstood Paul and were seeking clarity from him. There was a willful intent to hurt Paul’s reputation. That brings the issue to a different level.
We do not do a service to the biblical teaching of grace by failing to teach trust (which, again, includes obedience). We don’t do a service to ourselves by trying to teach about grace in such a way that we want others to misunderstand us. Why in the world would we ever want to be misunderstood? That’s not what Paul did. That’s not what we should do. We should, however, teach grace and faith in a way that makes both integral to everything else that we teach and do. The concepts ought to be interwoven and threaded throughout all that we teach.
And we ought to be as clear as we can be. We should be willing to quote Romans 6:1-2 just as assuredly as we are willing to quote Ephesians 2:8-9. If some honestly misunderstand what we are saying, we should willingly and gladly clear it up without insinuating that they are self-righteous or don’t believe in true grace. If others will engage in slanderous reporting (as those who opposed Paul), then we should still clear things up on our end and then pray that these lost souls will repent and come back to the Lord.
Let grace and faith be wedded to everything that we teach. Let these concepts be engrained deeply in our hearts. Let us stand firmly, by faith, on the riches of God’s grace.