The one trait or attribute of God that almost all Christians will hold up as being of supreme and fundamental importance is his matchless grace. It is a reflection of his great love of course, and is something we all need every day. Yet Scripture makes it clear that we can actually pervert and distort the grace of God.
That is really quite a frightening thought. Such a wonderful gift as the grace of God can actually be abused and misused. Many texts could be cited here. Let me just highlight two. One of the more sobering passages comes early on in the book of Jude.
Consider Jude 3-4: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”
Not only can grace be perverted, passively, but there are actually those going around seeking to pervert it – actively. There are enemies of the flock who have snuck in and made it their mission to sidetrack Christians and derail their faith.
And these false teachers used the wonderful doctrine of grace as an excuse to promote immorality. How often do we see just that very thing today occurring by apostate religious leaders and gullible Christians? They want to justify what God has condemned: all forms of sexuality outside of marriage.
Thus we have wolves in sheep’s clothing telling us homosexuality is just fine, and all Christians should embrace homosexual marriage. And they will try to justify this direct disobedience to God’s word by appeals to grace. I have heard many of these false prophets try to twist and distort grace in this fashion.
I have seen them throw this around for example: “I always side with grace over legalism. It puts me in the company of Jesus.” This sounds very spiritual, but far too often the folks saying this are simply perverting the biblical understanding of grace. Grace is never ever to be seen as divorced from the righteousness, holiness and justice of God.
All the attributes of God stand together, and it is the work of cultists and heretics to try to set one or more attributes against the other attributes. Thus they are being disingenuous in this quote: what so many are really arguing for is license, or antinomianism.
They think grace means we can do whatever we like, because to do otherwise is somehow to be legalistic. Sorry, this is patent nonsense, and there is nothing new about this foolishness either. Paul had to deal with this very same perversion of truth 2000 years ago.
Recall what he had to deal with in the book of Romans. After arguing that the law cannot save anyone, and that our salvation is based on grace, he had to deal with the false teachers who distorted these wonderful biblical truths. Thus twice in chapter 6 we find him having to deal with these truth-twisters;
-Rom 6.1-2: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
-Rom 6:15: What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!
Grace is never meant to be twisted into a pretext for license and sin – just the opposite. The grace of God is what we all depend upon for salvation, and for our daily walk. But we are saved not to be free to sin, but to be freed from sin. There is a big difference here.
J.C. Ryle ?had it exactly right well over 100 years ago when he said this: “When I speak of a person growing in grace, I mean simply this – that their sense of sin is becoming deeper, their faith stronger, their hope brighter, their love more extensive, and their spiritual mindedness more marked.”
And again: “Of all sights in the Church of Christ, I know none more painful to my own eyes than a Christian contented and satisfied with a little grace, a little repentance, a little faith, a little knowledge, a little charity, and a little holiness. I do beseech and entreat every believing soul that reads this tract not to be that kind of man. If you have any desires after usefulness-if you have any wishes to promote your Lord’s glory-if you have any longings after much inward peace-be not content with a little religion.”
Quite so. And this of course has absolutely nothing to do with legalism, as the libertines falsely claim. This has everything to do with holiness, and becoming more and more Christlike. To really enjoy the grace of God means we will hate sin more and more, and not tolerate it or play around with it.
Yet we have false teachers everywhere today telling us that any calls to obedience, holiness, and the deeper life are just so much legalism. They mock those who insist on keeping God’s commands, and denigrate those who rightly see holiness as the distinguishing mark of the Christian.
But obedience is not an optional extra in the Christian life – it is an essential and non-negotiable feature of it. The Bible makes this absolutely clear. And all the great men and women of God who have made such a difference in this world knew this truth as well.
As A.W. Tozer rightly said, “In the New Testament there is no contradiction between faith and obedience. Between faith and law-works, yes; between law and grace, yes; but between faith and obedience, not at all. The Bible recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that does not spring from faith.”
Ryle of course knew the same truths: “Obedience is the only reality. It is faith visible, faith acting, and faith manifest. It is the test of real discipleship among the Lord’s people.” Or as C.H Spurgeon said, “Faith and obedience are bound up in the same bundle. He that obeys God trusts God; and he that trusts God obeys God. He that is without faith is without works; and he that is without works is without faith.”
Grace rightly understood is a beautiful and wonderful doctrine of Scripture. And it is more than a mere doctrine of course – it is a precious reality. But a perverted understanding of grace is toxic to the soul, and poison to the church. Any teaching about grace which is really just an open door for disobedience and license is not biblical grace at all.
It is in fact merely cheap grace at best. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a whole book about this. In it he said: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Christians are quite happy today to talk about grace, preach about grace, and sing about grace. But how many Christians know what real biblical grace is all about? Many somehow think they are going to be more Christlike as they proclaim a watered down and anaemic version of grace.
But that will only take them further away from Christ. As Oswald Chambers once rightly wrote: “If I am going to know who Jesus is, I must obey Him. The majority of us don’t know Jesus because we have not the remotest intention of obeying Him.”
Absolutely. Let us all eagerly affirm genuine grace with all our being. But let us all eagerly oppose false grace with all our being as well.