There once was a middle school student who couldn’t get to class on time, even if his life depended on it. He was late to every class every day. His “tardies” earned him daily after-school detentions and regular in-school suspensions. They even brought the punishment of making him go to school on the weekends. No penalty, no matter how severe, had the power to change his behavior.

His parents, teachers, and the principal met to discuss this pressing issue. What could be done to change his behavior? The principle was a tall, redheaded woman with a storybook-sounding name, Peggy Piper. She came up with a creative and counterintuitive idea. Rather than punish the student when he was late, all teachers would reward him if he ever got to class on time. The reward was simple, a small business card that said “Attaboy.” When he had earned ten Attaboy cards, then the student could obtain a prize at the office. One teacher was outraged by the idea and exclaimed, “What happens if he is late?” To which the principal replied, “He doesn’t get an Attaboy card.”

With the school’s new strategy, the boy was never late again. Never. Late. Again.

Grace can do what the law is powerless to do. Paul says, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Grace can liberate us from the dominion of sin in a way that the law never could. The boy in our story found out the truth of this text. Being under grace instead of under the law doesn’t change the rules. Class still starts at the same time, and God has never changed the definition of morality. Grace changes how we’re treated when we’ve broken the rules. Through faith in Christ, we now live under grace.

More and more punishment can’t change the heart the way grace can. Grace can motivate a middle school student in a way that punishment never could. Would the recipients of grace dare use it as an excuse to live lives of rebellion? Certainly not (Romans 6:13)! Those who have come face-to-face with their own death and condemnation and have seen Jesus take their place would never use grace as an excuse to sin. They see grace for what it is—the extravagant yet freely given generosity of God. They have also experienced the transforming power of God’s gracious generosity in their lives.