Grace Perverted

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.

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12 Replies to “Grace Perverted”

  1. Thanks Bill. Great article.

    I recently got a copy of a few new books by David Pawson “Come with me through Jude” and “Come with me through Galatians”.

    I’ve been reading through the book on Galatians which has much to say on this issue too. Paul was addressing the problem of legalism that had come into the church but over the course of the book he also warned against the problem of license and talked about true liberty.

    One of the best things to do is to read the Bible, a book at a time. For when we read books like this the message is unmistakable. If however you just pick a chapter to read or a few verses here and there then the whole thing can easily get taken out of context.

    Any other book we’d read a book at a time. It’s strange that we do differently with the Bible.

    Having said that having read a book we can focus in on a section of it, but with knowledge of the whole book we are far less likely to take it out of context, or fail to recognise others doing so.

    Matt Vinay

  2. Bill, John 14:21-24 sets the expectations for those who profess to love Jesus and who wish to be loved by Jesus. In effect Jesus is saying in vs 23, “He will observe all my sayings, and have his affections and conduct regulated by my Spirit and doctrine”.

    I don’t know which bible those false teachers are reading, but my bible which contains the commandments of Jesus is quite black and white about the issues of marriage and homosexuality.

    So Matt is quite right in stating the obvious, however how many ‘Christians’ actually read their bible?

    Fred Merlo

  3. Fantastic article Bill. I spoke on similar things this Sunday gone in one of our churches. Jude 1:3 contending for Biblical Christianity and that being, those who say they are of the faith ought to walk like Jesus walked, obeying the entire Word or they are liars and not in the faith (1 Jhn 2:3-6).

    How those who are not walking with Christ, nor intend on doing so and yet claim to be of our beloved faith are perverting it with their hypocrisy. They call those ‘zealous’ to obey the Scriptures ‘legalistic’!!??!?

    I have a great scripture for the ‘I’m under grace yet not repentant’ crowd:

    Tit 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
    Tit 2:12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
    Tit 2:13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;
    Tit 2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
    Tit 2:15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

    Verse 11 speaks about ‘that grace’ which brings ‘salvation’, thus the grace of God which saves a person from an eternity in hell.

    Verse 12 tells us that IF your truly under such grace then that grace is also ‘teaching’ you something. That something is to live holy, prepared, ready and expectant (v13), being purified from sin and ZEALOUS (hot for God, zealot) for GOOD WORKS (v14).

    Then verse 15 then DEMANDS we teach AND establish these things with our churches. That means we also personally confront the fornicators, adulterers, thieves, etc with the truth in love to see them hopefully repent or get back to the church of the world lest they infect another weak believer.

    In short, if your under the grace of God, then your being taught to live Godly and be zealous for Christ, not an excuse to stay in sin.

    Dorian Ballard

  4. Thanks Bill,
    Yes, the scriptures declare a God that is both grace and truth. But they also declare more to God than just those aspects of His character. I am reminded of the aspects of God celebrated by the Angels as they worship in Revelations. Whilst not denying these other attributes, they repeatedly declare “Holy, Holy Holy”.
    Jeremy Peet

  5. Yes quite so Jeremy. And in later chapters of Revelation we read on a number of occasions of the heavenly chorus and angelic choir erupting into massive praise times. And what were they praising? The fact that Jesus had executed just judgment, by slaying his enemies. The wrath of God is sung about and celebrated, as the opponents of God meet their final and just punishment.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. re Oswald Chambers quote:
    When we obey Jesus, we not only get to know Him, but also make him visible to the world.
    When children obey their parents commands, they reveal the good and just instructions of the parents. Likewise when we obey our Lord, we make His goodness visible to the world. And having been redeemed by Him, is it not our desire to glorify Him? So our obedience and therefore our keeping of the commandments, which is what He told us to do, therefore our obedience, is not in order that we can show how wonderful we are, but how wonderful our God is. Deut chapter 4 and 5.
    Those who only keep the commandments in order to keep themselves on ”
    God’s good side”” or to balance out some of the bad things they enjoy doing, do not “love the Lord God with all their heart mind and strength” and I wonder why they keep any. Sadly of course we don’t keep them well, but if that is not accompanied by a sense of gref and loss, then I question the reality of repentance.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  7. Re your last comment, Bill, yes, he has slain his enemies inside us, thereby making us clean and worthy to stand in HIs presence.
    All glory to His name!
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

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