To not understand the gospel is to not understand either Law or grace. When this is the case one will either resort to legalism or license. Legalism never gives victory over sin because the flesh is corrupt and weak and so the Law arouses the sinful passions of the flesh rather than arresting them. The Law is that which gives power to sin (1 Corinthians 15:56) and not that which gives victory over sin.
License never gives victory over sin because it turns God’s grace into an excuse to remain in sin by adding the demonic doctrine that you can be saved and still live in sin; that you can believe but you don’t have to behave; that you can be justified and still not be sanctified. In this case people use grace as a license to live in sin.
Legalism tries to behave without believing; license tries to believe without behaving; Christians behave because they believe and therefore are sanctified because they are justified. God’s grace is that which gives the power to behave (Titus 2:11-14) and never that which gives a license to sin (Jude 4).
The gospel of justification by grace through faith stands in direct opposition to both legalism and license. The gospel always gives victory over sin where legalism and license never do. Being justified by faith in Christ through the gospel always issues in being sanctified in life by living under His Lordship. Justification (having been declared holy) always issues in sanctification (being made holy) and therefore there will be progressive victory over sin in the life of the saved person.
Notice that in legalism and license that there is a reversal or a removal of sanctification in relationship to justification. In legalism (attempting to be justified by works of the Law) sanctification precedes justification and this can never be because the Law does not give the power to live a holy life but is in fact that which gives power to sin. So in legalism there is a reversal of the relationship of justification to sanctification. In license justification stands alone with absolutely no connection whatsoever to sanctification following or flowing from that justification and this can never be because grace is not that which gives a license to sin. So in license there is a removal of the relationship of justification to sanctification.
However, salvation with its various aspects is a seamless garment that cannot be divided, rearranged, or have any one aspect removed and still be biblical salvation. People who distort the gospel by distorting the aspects of salvation do it to their own destruction. Salvation has three aspects: (1) justification (past tense), (2) sanctification (present tense), and (3) glorification (future tense).
In justification we are set free from sin’s penalty; in sanctification we are being set free from sin’s power and pollution; and in glorification we will be set free from sin’s presence. Sanctification – being set free from sin’s power and pollution is something that neither legalism nor license can accomplish. Why not?
The missing element in both legalism and license is love. Jesus said, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Our obedience to Jesus is based on our love for Him which is based on His love for us which was demonstrated to us through the gospel. We love Him because He first loved us and we obey Him because we love Him.
Legalism and license are both perversions of love. Legalism is feigned obedience without love and license is feigned love without obedience. Lordship is true obedience because of true love – love is the power source of sanctification. We read of faith working through love (Galatians 5:6); that love constrains us or controls us – “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15); and that love fulfills the Law (Matthew 22:37-40; Galatians 5:13-14; James 2:8).
Loving loyalty to Jesus as Lord gains victory over the power and pollution of indwelling sin. The Law cannot do this – it gives the command to obey but not the power to obey. The gospel of God’s grace gives the power to love and therefore the power to obey – we are not under Law but under grace – we are under the Lord.
"For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14).