St. Paul wrestled with the reality of God’s grace. So do I, sometimes. This is what grace means in the New Testament: No matter what a genuine Christ-follower does, it does not alter who they are, namely their standing as a member of the beloved family of God. The Christian has been purchased by God with the blood of Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), adopted into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5) and seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6). Nothing we do infringes upon our standing before God.
Really? Won’t that cause us all to simply do what they want? To lead lives of sin all the while claiming Christ? Paul enters directly into this tension in Romans 6 when he asks “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” His answer is no. He explains it this way: Just as we have been crucified with Christ, so too we have been raised with him in new life. This issue for Paul is not really about our actions (whether good or bad); the issue is with something much deeper, namely our identity. Our identity, our life, has been utterly and entirely transformed by Jesus. We are a new creation. And we have Christ’s righteousness “credited to our account.” In the end, it’s just simply not about us; rather it is all about Jesus and what he has done on our behalf.
Still, doesn’t this grace give us license to do whatever we want? Does being made new by Christ actually change us and by extension our actions? The Belgic Confession of Faith answers it well (via Tim Keller):
So far is from being true that justifying faith makes men remiss. On the contrary, without it they would never do anything out of love to God but only out of self-love or fear of damnation. Therefore it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man, for we do not speak of a vain faith but of a such a faith that is called in Scripture a “faith working through love,” which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in his Word. We would always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any certainty and our poor consciences would be continually vexed if they relied not on the merits of our Savior .