The Risk of Preaching a Grace-filled Gospel... that your hearers might misunderstand grace to be a license for sin. But that was a risk Paul seemed to be very willing to take.

You see, Paul's letters in the New Testament are not his primary evangelism tool. They are not his first contact with the Romans, Galatians, etc. They are a follow-up to his in-person preaching of the Gospel in those places. So it is worth asking, based on these letters, "What would Paul's original preaching have to have been like?" And what we will find is that Paul must have preached such an emphatic Gospel of grace that he was constantly misunderstood to be calling grace a license to sin.

And Paul considered it worth the risk.

Take the letter to the Romans. Paul says, "Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more" (5:20). This is the Gospel. He follows up, "What then shall we say? Shall we persist in sin that grace may abound? Of course not!" (6:1) Something about the way Paul first preached to the Romans allowed certain people in the community to draw these conclusions. It was the Gospel of Grace. "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? Of course not!" (6:15). Paul makes the clarification because, the first time through, he emphasized grace's power over the law so heavily that people drew the wrong conclusions.

And Paul considered it worth the risk.

And even while offering this corrective to the Romans, Paul can't help himself from returning to the Gospel of Grace: "Hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death (8:1-2)."

I've heard many a Catholic say, "Protestants believe we're saved by faith; Catholics believe we're saved by faith and works." Let it never be said again. We are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ through faith, not by our works. Period. Whatever nuance might be required, we must never let this fundamental truth be obscured.

Did Paul correct those who called grace a license to sin? Yes. But who were Paul's harshest words reserved for? The incestuous, idolatrous, greedy, drunken, slanderous Corinthians? No. It was those "stupid Galatians" who have been bewitched into returning to a Gospel of salvation by works (3:1).

I don't know a single Catholic teacher or preacher who will openly profess a Gospel of works. But far too often, we have taken Paul's corrections and made them into the main thing. We have taken Paul's footnote and turned it into the headline. It is the Gospel of "try harder" -- and it is doing incredible damage.

Better to not be misunderstood at all, you may say. But humanity being what it is, you will be misunderstood. And what is the greater risk - to be misunderstood as preaching license to sin, or to be misunderstood as preaching salvation by works, thereby nullifying the Cross? "For if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing" (Gal 2:21).

Preach grace. Preach it boldly. Risk being misunderstood. "Be imitators of me [Paul], as I am of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1).