Romans 6:1-11 makes it clear that the grace of God which forgives our sins is not freedom to simply be selfish and self-destructive, or to continue harming others. The Christian life is described in terms of being united with Christ, who died to break the chains of sin upon us and rose to fill us with a new power, sending our lives in a new direction.
I think a part of why we still, despite Paul’s words to the contrary, think of grace as license to do whatever we want to ourselves and others is because we think of grace as simply forgiveness from sin and a get-out-of-hell-free card. But grace is actually the love of God present as an active, liberating, life-giving force in your life. When you experience grace it ought to begin a process, which if you participate with, transforms your life.
I love the way this is put in the statement of faith of the United Church of Christ, the denomination within which I am a minister. They describe grace in a very active way: “You promise to all who trust you forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, your presence in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in your realm which has no end.”. As United Church of Christ minister Reinhold Niebuhr once prayed, God not only gives us “serenity” to accept what we cannot change (such as the past, which God forgives) but also “courage to change” those things we can change, and “wisdom to know” the difference between the two.
I pray all of us come to experience not just the grace of forgiveness which Jesus freely offers, but also the active working of grace in our lives which gives us serenity to accept, the courage to struggle for justice and peace, power through trial to stand, and enduring hope in each moment. That active grace is one that as it becomes alive in your life will lead you not to think “how can I get away with this selfish desire?” but instead “how can I live with courage for others and for the world?”