The Corruption of Grace

5 July 2013 by Rev Dr Steven Kau-

 

I am amazed to what length some people will go to make the Christian faith and life more bearable or livable. I have always said the Christian life is a very demanding life. It is so demanding that Jesus warned that unless we carry our own cross, one is not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:38). In an age where absolute truth is all but a faint memory of yesteryears and tolerance is the new “idol” of the 21st century, dogmatic biblical doctrine will inevitably suffers an extreme make-over. Christianity espouse the concept of the death of self (Matthew 16:25) but we do not want to die, we want to live, like right now. And to do that we need to make “adjustments” to our faith and doctrines so that we can live anyway we want and not have our conscience bother us.

 

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One of the doctrines that really demonstrate the love of God is grace. Knowing our human frailty, God in His grace made provision to forgive and show mercy and compassion upon sinful man. But we took this beautiful element of God’s love and made it a license to sin.

This is what’s happening today. Men are cheapening God’s grace in order to accommodate sin. Instead of teaching that we must crucify the flesh and its desires, many are saying that we are “covered” by grace even while willfully in sin. This contradicts God’s Word in Titus 2:11-12.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age.

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God may be merciful to those who sin, giving them time to repent and turn away from it but grace does not cover you while you are in sin. Grace is extended to those in sin and pulls them out of sin into a right relationship with God. Often times, Christians will say, “I am just a sinner saved by grace.” This is one of the examples of the cheapening of God’s grace. Christians were sinners, but now they are called saints – saved by grace through faith. You cannot be a sinner and a saint at the same time. If you examine the “true” grace of God as defined in scripture, you will see that what many people are calling grace is far from the mark.

How many times have you heard someone define grace as the 'unmerited favor of God'? While this is true, many misunderstand what this means. Just because you cannot earn God’s grace (unmerited) does not mean that there is nothing necessary for the gift to be received.

Let’s say that I purchase a gift for you and then tell you how to get it. Your following my instructions to retrieve the gift does not mean that you have earned it, nor that you now deserve it. Likewise, refusing to retrieve the gift does not nullify the fact that I have given it to you. The failure to distinguish this difference is one of the most common flaws with those who aspire to a “grace only” or “grace alone” doctrine.

 

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God Himself never says that grace is unconditional. On the contrary, He identifies two attributes necessary for those who would receive grace. Proverbs 3:34 states that God “scorns the scorners: but he gives grace unto the lowly.” Similarly, we see that He “…resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5; James 4:6) The Bible also states that it is faith which gives us access to the gift of God’s grace. (Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:8) In order to receive God’s gift of grace that brings salvation we must first recognize the fact that we need the gift (humility) and then trust that God is the only one who is able to redeem us (faith).

Do we receive grace, get saved and that’s all there is to it? Not according to Scripture. The Word of God shows us that just because we have received grace does not mean that is all the grace to be received. We are expected to grow in grace just as we are to grow in other aspects of our salvation. (2 Corinthians 8:7; 2 Peter 3:18; 2 Timothy 2:1) We must be good stewards over the grace that God has given us, understanding that we may each experience different forms of this grace. (1 Peter 4:10; Romans 12:6; Ephesians 4:7).

The Bible urges us to continue and be strong in the grace that God has given us. Yet Scripture also shows that God’s grace can also be resisted, even by believers. One of the most prominent verses on this is Galatians 5:4

You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Those who seek justification by the law after having been saved make Christ of no effect and have fallen from grace.

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Les Miserables depicting Grace versus Law

 

Additionally, we see that after admonishing us to seek holiness, Paul says in Hebrews 12:15,

“Looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble and by this many become defiled.”

Friends! This is so important! Failure to be diligent to the things of God can cause us to fail in God’s grace. We are told that such individuals have received God’s grace in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1; 1 Corinthians 15:10). How can we frustrate God’s grace – which in the Greek means “to do away with, to set aside, disregard, to thwart the efficacy of anything, nullify, make void, to reject or to refuse” as referred to in Galatians 2:21? God is not directing these comments to those who are lost. In each instance, He is speaking to the believers, the church, the brethren.

If the “grace only” doctrine is correct, then the Bible is wrong. For Scripture is clear that we can fall from God’s grace, frustrate His grace, be removed from His grace and have received His grace in vain based upon our actions after receiving salvation. (1 Peter 1:13)

There is a little book that may be in our book stores now and if not, it eventually will come, entitled “Pure Grace” by Clark Whitten that teaches Antinomianism. Antinomianism in Christianity is the belief that under the gospel dispensation of grace, moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation.

 

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Antinomianism has a long pedigree. It first pops up with a lovely chap called Marcion who taught that you could basically tear out of your Bible most of the Old Testament because it was really all about a nasty God whom we didn’t have to deal with. Marcion taught that because we are saved by grace, it doesn’t matter what you do afterwards; you could live a life of absolute depravity and it really wouldn’t affect your final heavenly destination. He was followed by the Carpoeratians who taught that Christian didn’t even have to obey human laws, let alone the moral laws of the Old Testament.

During the Reformation, when Luther “rediscovered” the truth of salvation by grace, antinomianism was taught by men like Johannes Agricola and others who preached that Christians were freed from any obligation to obey the moral laws laid out in the Bible. Luther was so troubled by this that he wrote six dissertations against Agricola.

 

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Martin Luther


What Luther understood was this – God reveals His moral law and expects us to abide by it. We are not saved by obeying the law but obeying the law reveals that we are saved. Crucial to Luther’s understanding of salvation was not just the forensic act of God in declaring us righteous but God then sending us the Holy Spirit to regenerate our very being.

This means that those who are saved are changed creatures who not only recognize what sin is (as opposed to having been rebels with scales over their eyes who rejected the notion of sin in the first place) but also hear and respond to a Divinely originated call from beyond themselves (but placed deep within their being) to walk away from sinful practice and to crucify the broken and fallen self. Luther argues that the evidence of salvation is a changed life – trying to reject sin and walk in holiness does not earn salvation, it demonstrates that salvation has been given, because those who consistently walk in sinful practices are by their very nature unsaved.

 

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So you see then why antinomianism is such a big and dangerous heresy. Many churches today readily embrace this doctrine and many are flocking to it because it makes living the Christian life such a breeze. But it crucially misses a number of key aspects of classical discipleship which are shared across the main Christian traditions.


1. It confuses justification and sanctification. Justification is the forensic act entirely of God’s free will, whereby He regenerates through His mercy the rebellious sinner. Sanctification is the process by which that regenerated sinner responds in conjunction with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to that salvation in offering day by day and more and more of his fallen self to God and sees in return for that sacrifice a transformation of his desires and actions. As the writer of Hebrews proclaims:

And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of god, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14)


2. It minimizes the struggle of countless Christian down the years to conform their lives to the will of God. Antinomianism ends up telling those who have fought day by day to surrender their broken sinful nature to the transforming work of the Spirit that they didn’t need to bother. Antinomianism ultimately ends up teaching Christians that they don’t need to seek to glorify God in their lives by crucifying the flesh because those actions have no eternal consequences. And whilst many antinomians might claim that they don’t tell people not to struggle against the desires of the flesh, in practice this IS the logical consequence of their theology. They do well to bear in mind what Jude 5 says:

"But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”

 

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3. Very often antinomianism, in declaring that the sin of the believer is unimportant, also teaches that confession in the life of the believer is not important. Thus, Clark Whitten on page 20 of his book endorses this belief. Confession, he claims, is for healing not forgiveness. (Pg 95)

Clark is so fixated on positional truth that he finds it most difficult to admit the practical necessities of Christian growth. But as I have said before, this is an unbiblical concept.

The concept of coming in front of God and agreeing with Him about both our sinfulness and His holiness is crucial to the growth of our relationship with Him. Without private confession, we begin to recreate that very spiritual wall between us and God that first cast us out of His presence.


4. Antinomianism undermines evangelism. If believers do not need to transform their behavior, what possible alternative choice will they be offering to unbelievers? By contrast, often people are drawn to Christ because they see in the community of believer’s evidence that lives can be changed and transformed by the power of God. The problem with the antinomian community is that there is no need to transform life and so why should an unbeliever see the need to change?

 

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5. Perhaps most crucially of all, antinomianism can lead Christians to believe they are saved when they are not. Because there is no need to demonstrate any form of transformation and because the notion that a believer, regardless of what they do, cannot lose salvation, antinomianism provides no encouragement for transformation. If God loves me just as I am, why do I need to change? This can encourage people to carry on in their sinful behavior in open rebellion against God and show no evidence of being saved and regenerated. But the problem is that those who behave like the unregenerate ARE the unregenerate. This is why Paul so often exhorts his readers to live like Christians should – this is the thrust for example of 1 Corinthians 6 where Paul states very clearly that believers are not free to do what they want but rather their lives should evidence the rejection of sin.

 

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Antinomianism is cheap grace, the idea that one can be saved and then do nothing at all. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession”

Let me add to that. Cheap grace is the calling on the name of Jesus without ever evidencing that that calling was efficacious. By contrast, true saving grace, evidences the fruit of the transforming regeneration of God in the witness of a life that daily grows to acknowledge and confess sin and to be a living example of increase in holiness. Ultimately, antinomianism teaches that nothing a Christian can do is unrighteous or unholy. It teaches that it is not necessary for Christians to evidence a transformed life, to seek purgation of the fallen self that God doesn’t care at all if believer’s sin and that Christians shouldn’t need to confess their sins to God.

A.W. Tozer once said, “Antinomianism is the doctrine of grace carried by uncorrected logic to the point of absurdity. It takes the teaching of justification by faith and twists it into deformity.”

 

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They advocate a “grace” that alters a believers standing without affecting his state. It is a grace that calls sinners to Christ but does not bid them surrender to Him. The New Testament uses the word for “Lord” (kurios) 748 times and 667 of those times are used in reference to God or Jesus. In contrast, the New Testament uses the word for “Savior” (soter) only 24 times. It seems clear that the emphasis in the New Testament is on Jesus Christ as Lord, not as Savior. Now in saying that, it is not meant to downplay or denigrate the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. What a glorious and gracious provision God has made for His people in providing Jesus Christ as our atoning sacrifice who thereby guarantees salvation and eternal life for those who believe in Him. Jesus Christ is most certainly our Savior but this cannot be separated from the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord and as Lord, He commands and we obey.

No wonder Christians are confused. Christian churches mirror the world; Christian leaders follow the culture and Christian theologians provide the stamp of approval. The situation is nothing short of deplorable.

 

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In His divine wisdom, God knew that the grace of God would be cheapened by men in an attempt to accommodate their own sinful nature. Jude 1:4 states,

For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Those who champion “grace alone” likes to quote Paul’s words in Romans 5:20-21 for their support. Yet, right after writing that, Paul follows it with this:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no mean! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)

By contrast, biblical Christianity teaches that believers live a day to day struggle against temptation and sin and that the journey of discipleship involves recognizing our sin, confessing it and letting God transforms it. At the heart of the antinomian is a false assurity that he can do whatever he wants now that he is saved.

Well known biblical commentator Arthur W. Pink once mused: “Never were there so many millions of nominal Christians on earth as there are today, and never was there such a small percentage of real ones…….We seriously doubt whether there has ever been a time in the history of this Christian era when there were such multitudes of deceived souls within the churches, who verily believe that all is well with their souls when in fact the wrath of God abideth on them.”

We are not saved by a profession of faith. We are not saved by praying the Sinner’s Prayer. We are not saved by signing a card or walking an aisle. We are saved by a living and active faith (James 2:14-26), a faith that manifests itself in repentance, obedience and love of God and our neighbor. Salvation is not a transaction; it’s a transformation. Paul says it best when he said we are “new creations” in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:17) There is nothing cheap about grace!

 

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References for pictures:

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2 Comments

  1. Well written, Rev Dr Steven Kau. The failure of pastors and preachers to understand the core Gospel doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ's finished work alone is behind the corruption of the grace doctrine. The core problem has always been, since the garden of Eden, with man's need to get his self involved in what is essentially the work of God. So, if Eve added to God's word, and thereby the birth of legalism, the serpent detracted from God's word and denied the need to obey God explicitly.

    The doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ's finished work alone is the deterrent and immunity to both extremes of legalism and antinomianism. Unfortunately, even in our most esteemed bible schools, no attempt is made to connect this glorious doctrine to all other doctrines. The church thus ends up highlighting and emphasizing prayer, worship, evangelism, morality, missions, children's ministry, healing and deliverance, and a host of other ministries, far removed from the life of Christ found in the faithful exposition of this doctrine, the faith once delivered to the saints.

    Sadly, and I speak from my 36 years of being a believer among the ranks of charismatic pentecostals, and even with exposure to other traditions, that this doctrine is solely neglected. It is either stressed in its doctrine without application or vice-versa. And to think that both Luther and Calvin said that the loss of this central gospel doctrine would be the loss of the church!

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