Antinomianism and the Hyper Grace Error
“There is nothing new under the sun” we are told in Ecclesiastes 1:9. And as Santayana once remarked, those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. The same goes for church history, which is why all Christians should have a basic grasp of it.
To know a bit about theology and church history will greatly help us avoid many errors and dangers along the way. For example, we will be able to see that strange sounding, newfangled doctrines are in fact simply the rehashing of old errors and heresies.
There really is not much new under the sun theologically speaking, and if we understand how the church of old dealt with these various heterodoxies and heresies, we will be better equipped today to both spot them and deal with them. This is certainly true of the hyper grace error.
This is all the rage at the moment, whether by people like Joseph Prince or Paul Ellis or Clark Whitten. But their errors have long ago been dealt with. Those who pushed the line that Christians have nothing to do with the moral law of God, and should not be concerned with it, have been challenged by the Reformers, the Puritans and others.
Thus learning about those earlier debates can really help us as we encounter similar theological errors. I cannot go into all this here, but I can very strongly recommend two books which deal with all this in great detail. The two volumes are:
-Ernest Kevan, The Grace of Law: A Study in Puritan Theology. Soli Deo Gloria Publication, 1964, 2011.
-Mark Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcomed Guests? P&R, 2013.
Both books are absolutely vital in understanding antinomianism, and the modern-day hyper grace errors. The book by Jones is briefer but it offers a superb treatment of the various debates over antinomianism. He deals with the Reformers, the Puritans, and modern day examples.
Thus he examines books like Tullian Tchividjian’s 2011 volume, Jesus + Nothing = Everything. He is quite right to say of it, “his whole book is one lengthy antinomian diatribe, and it bears a striking resemblance to the content and rhetoric of various seventeenth-century antinomian writings.” See also his online review of the book here: http://www.meetthepuritans.com/2011/12/16/jesus-nothing-everything-an-analysis/
The grace of God is certainly a beautiful biblical truth. But if it is pushed at the expense of other biblical truths, then serious error can creep in. Basically all heresies and cults have this in common; they take some of God’s truth and elevate it, but downplay or ignore other parts of God’s truth. This is where distortion and error creep in.
One of a number of errors found in antinomianism is a failure to keep the various aspects of salvation in proper alignment. The long-standing and quite biblical threefold division of salvation is always important to appeal to here. Let me lay it out very simply and diagrammatically:
|We have been saved||We are being saved||We will be saved|
|From the penalty of sin||From the power of sin||From the presence of sin|
|One-off experience||Lifelong experience||Eternal experience|
|God’s work for us||God’s work in us||God’s work to us|
|Perfect in this life||Not perfect in this life||Perfect in the next life|
The problem with the antinomians and the hyper grace folks is they fail to see this properly. They so emphasise the first bit of salvation – justification – which is indeed solely by grace through faith, that they ignore or minimise the second and very vital truth of ongoing sanctification. Indeed, they effectively replace sanctification with justification.
So the hundreds of New Testament commands to live holy lives, to obey, to grow in Christ, to put off the old man, to crucify the flesh, to grow in grace, to be transformed, to resist sin, and so on simply get overlooked or watered down. After all, if it is all of grace, there is nothing left for us to do. So sanctification tends to disappear altogether.
All the theological eggs are put into the justification basket, while sanctification is ignored or basically lost under justification. As Jones puts it, “the antinomians essentially subsume sanctification under justification”. But both are distinct and separate. Sure, along with glorification, they comprise a package deal, and cannot be left in isolation from each other. But they must not be conflated or confused either.
This is where the hyper grace crowd commit so much error and cause so much harm. They preach the glorious truth of justification by grace alone, but then overlook the hundreds of imperatives found in the New Testament which urge these newly justified believers to work out this wonderful salvation by growing in obedience and holiness – sanctification in other words.
These teachers don’t just overlook the doctrine of sanctification, but they often slam it. They poke fun at people who seek to live holy, God-pleasing lives, and rail at them for being legalists and the like. Read many of the books by the hyper grace teachers and you will find these charges being levelled over and over again.
Now, is there some legalism in the churches? Sure there is. But is everyone who preaches and teaches on living a holy life and a life pleasing to God a legalist? No, and if legalism is a problem in some churches today, from my vantage point, the opposite error of license is far more of a problem.
When we have Christians throughout the Western world living no different than pagans, and justifying such carnal and compromised lives, then you know that telling people more about a cheap grace that expects nothing of them is not the solution. It is in fact part of the problem.
Simply consider the number of Christians I have encountered over the past few weeks actually defending the use of porn in general, and sleaze like Fifty Shades of Grey in particular. This tells me heaps about the present condition of so much of the church.
I can see why so many people flock to the hyper grace teachers. Sure, some may come there because they are in need of escaping an overly legalistic past. But why do I suspect that so many more people flock to these preachers because it helps them feel comfortable in their sin, in their worldliness, in their clear lack of holiness.
To be told that Jesus did it all, and therefore we need do nothing, worry about nothing, and just have a nice day (which effectively is the message being received from many of their listeners) is not helping to produce a pure and spotless Bride for the Holy Christ, but is helping casual and carnal believers make excuses for their lack of holiness and growth in sanctification.
Reacting to one error (legalism) by going too far into more error (antinomianism) helps no one, and simply leads the church from one heresy into another. As Kevan says toward the end of his superb book, the Puritans got it right here:
The Puritans saw that Antinomianism – in all its guises – was as dangerous as legalism, and so they stood for the continuance of the Law and the obligation of the Christian believer to keep it. The Puritans were not Antinomians. A. R. Vidler remarks that “The Church on earth has always, as it were, to walk on the razor edge between legalism and antinomianism, between taking the Law too seriously and not taking it seriously enough. It is not surprising that every Church tends to err in one direction or the other.” The Puritans walked this middle path and rendered service to the Christian doctrine of sanctification which cannot be over-estimated. They rejected Antinomianism as firmly as they repudiated Legalism.
As I mentioned, biblical truth, preached in isolation from other biblical truth, can easily lead us into damaging heresy. The hyper grace crowd have picked part of God’s truth and given it a good run. But by refusing to proclaim all of God’s truth, they give us a partial gospel, even a false gospel.
As Jones says at the conclusion of his review mentioned above: “In the end, the issue is not so much about the necessity of preaching salvation by grace. Rather, sometimes error comes in the form not by what people do say, but by what they fail to say. And, as J I Packer has so eloquently reminded us, ‘A half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth’.”
24 Replies to “Antinomianism and the Hyper Grace Error”
Thank you for your research and clarification, Bill.
hi Bill, AMEN! AMEN! I have been studying this topic out recently myself… very encouraging seeing this article! Thanks Bill.
Thank you Mr Muhlenberg for this. In one sense the hyper grace position actually downplays God’s grace, because the indwelling Spirit graciously enables the believer to overcome sin.
The whole point of the new birth is that it enables us to stop sinning and become more Christ like. We do not obtain perfection in this life, but we must always be striving after it. How challenging is 1 John 3:9 in this respect. We must be wary of an ‘I shall always be a hopeless sinner till I reach glory’ attitude. It is effectively a denial of The Spirit’s power to overcome the lusts of the flesh.
Hebrews 12:14 tells us that though saved by grace we shall not reach heaven without actual holiness.
Excellent, thank you!
At my one and only church the senior pastor was always called legalistic and the other, his asistant a female pastor was always, grace, grace, grace while the congregation small though it was in number was like being in the world, absolutely no different.
No wonder then that the enemy ripped it apart quickly and thoroughly. I had to leave. How can you stay when the pastor says from the pulpit – I am not here to adress your sin, that’s God business, between you and him only, after all we’re all sinners – and children and non-believers served communion.
I would speak of holiness and daily sanctification and was hated by some for it, others had not a clue as to what it meant, it was too highly spiritual and all this from people who called themselves christians for about 20-30 years! They were known as ‘christian teenagers’ by the pastors and needed our grace.
Bill, as I read your critique of Antinomianism, I could not help thinking of Rasputin: He allegedly believed that extreme sinning was a necessary precursor to proper repentance and a thorough redemption! The importance of the Holy Spirit’s work of justification in a Christian’s life is underlined by the words of our Lord in Matthew 10:25a “It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master.”
Thank you Bill, amazing article as usual. In the last church I attended, the Pastor preached the Hyper Grace message, and read these books that you mentioned. He made us Christians that wanted to live holy lives feel like we were the freaks! we were looked down upon. Whenever we objected to this new grace message he would just palm us off as being “too legalistic”. How sad the church leaders have turned against those who dare to speak the truth! Since having read your many articles I’ve come to realise that this hyper Grace teaching is nothing new, and just liberal theology rebranded. Our former Pastor thought he had discovered something new and jumped on the band wagon. Thank you for showing me that it’s just another fad to destroy the church. Thank you Bill, really appreciate you speaking out about this, it’s helped me so much!
Thanks Bill, nice and clearly put.
Your Quote: “But why do I suspect that so many more people flock to these preachers because it helps them feel comfortable in their sin, in their worldliness, in their clear lack of holiness.”
Yes, true. Hyper-grace is not only a false doctrine, but it is also a work of the flesh, its within us, and that is why it is so easy for many to leave Christ for it. Its the justifying the fact that one has quit carrying a sometimes heavy Cross, on a road of very few believers holding fast the faithful Word.
This is the ‘great’ apostasy which 2 Thess 2:3 speaks about. Christians will divorce the authority of Scripture for another gospel, refuse to hear sound doctrine and heap up teachers having itching ears.
They do not see, but for a distant prick in their hardened conscience, that they do not have the Holy Ghost within them, they have sold Him out for a familiar spirit.
This noticeable apostasy is the one outstanding sign that the second coming of Christ is nearer than ever.
Good article and thank you, its good to get some air support when your in the pits.
I have heard that D B Knox, one time Principal of Moore Theological College, was asked what he was going to do through his retirement years. His reply was “I am going to repent”.
The diagram of justification, sanctification and glorification is really great! Thank you.
The article states: “After all, if it is all of grace, there is nothing left for us to do”.
Not so. Our life as believers is life in the Spirit. The Spirit of Christ lives in us and through us. We are to understand who we are in Christ (heavily emphasized by the message of grace) and allow Christ’s life to manifest through us. It’s Christ working through us. We are to act holy because we have been made holy in Christ. This gives strength to complete the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. Grace does not promote inactivity, it propels activity – see it for yourself by reading 1 Corinthians 15:10. Paul said as much right there.
Thanks John. The Christian life involves doing good works by the grace of God – just as I explained in my article.
Excellent article, thanks Bill.
thanks again Bill. We should spend more time, well lots of time really, teaching The Way rather than teaching opinion and feel good quick snippets.
Hey Bill, that was a really valuable teaching with references to follow up with. Thanks for your work in this area.
Excellent article! I would like to add that the Tabernacle is a type and shadow. John 14:6 “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one goes to the Father except through Me”. The 1st door is “I am the Way” (Jesus) who justifies us from our sins = Justification. (the outer court of the Tabernacle)The 2nd door is “the Truth” (Holy Spirit) = Sanctification. (the Holy Place of the Tabernacle).The 3rd door is “the Life” (God the Father) = Glorification (The Holiest of Holies)
As the priests who performed within the tabernacle couldn’t jump from the outer court into the Holiest of Holies without first going through the Holy Place. The same applies to us.
Any attempt in the new covenant of Grace that separates any part of the Trinity, will be rendered void by God. Any attempt to jump from Justification to Glorification without Sanctification by jumping the line will still not make it. God will say “you jumped the line, you cannot cheat Me!”
Thank you for your article that is rare to find on the internet!
I really appreciated reading this and that it exisits, so I have shared it, via another brother alerting me to it on Facebook.
Thank you. Wendy Anderson. New Zealand
It is way past due that this article get out to people who are being deceived by the hyper grace message..Thank you for sharing.. Susan Arsenault, Canada
Brilliant and inspiring article .
I was doing research on “antinomianism” and ran across your article. What a blessing. You are in the minority; articles like this are hard to find. Thank you.
Maclaren says that Christ is the living embodiment of the law. I believe he’s right.
Hebrews 10:10 states that Christians HAVE BEEN sanctified.
Heb 10:10 “By that will we HAVE BEEN sanctified THROUGH THE OFFERING of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”.
Christ’s perfect sacrifice completely sanctified us.
To say that there is still an ongoing process of sanctification is to say that Christ’s sacrifice failed to completely sanctify us.
Thanks Harold. But I am afraid your short comment is really quite off base, so it deserves a longer reply. Sadly it seems your knowledge of scripture and your understanding of basic theology may be somewhat underdeveloped! Firstly, to pit just one verse against the hundreds of verses in the New Testament urging us on to holiness, to sanctification, to growth in Christ, to making sure we are developing in holiness, etc, is hardly how any Christian should operate. Here are just a handful of such verses:
Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.
1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
2 Corinthians 7:1 Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
Ephesians 5:8-10 Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 4:1 Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.
1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification
1 Thessalonians 5:23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.
2 Timothy 2:21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonourable, he will be a vessel for honourable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
Hebrews 12:14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
1 Peter 1:2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood
1 Peter 2:2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.
1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
There is nothing helpful or smart about seeking to deny one clear biblical set of truths in order to push another. We must always push all biblical truth to get the biblical balance. As to the role we play, we have hundreds of imperatives in the NT commanding us to work out our sanctification, in cooperation with the Spirit. No one actually reading their Bible carefully can fail to see this.
And that leads me to my second concern: you seem to be unaware of one of the more elementary and basic of theological truths: the distinction between standing and state. But I have already written on this, including discussing the very verse you refer to. Here is part of one article:
Unfortunately you offer us nothing biblically helpful here when you wrongly insist on pushing just one side of the equation, resulting in a distorted and even heretical message. Sorry, but I will stick with all of Scripture here, and not just pick a few bits to fit a particular narrow theological system.
And as to your claim that “To say that there is still an ongoing process of sanctification is to say that Christ’s sacrifice failed to completely sanctify us” I simply say this: don’t be ridiculous. Everywhere in the NT we are commanded to grow and develop in our sanctification. That is not just a theoretical sanctification but an actual one. We actually ARE to become more holy, more Christlike. And that has absolutely nothing to do with undermining or taking away from the perfect and finished work of Christ.
From Dr. Paul Ellis:
If We’re Holy, Why Does God Call Us to be Holy?
Why Christians are like Oak Trees
Posted on August 22, 2014 by Paul Ellis // 38 Comments
Here’s a question grace preachers hear a lot: “If we are already holy, then why does God call us to be holy?”
Answer: He’s calling us to be who we truly are. He is saying, “You are my sanctified children. Act like it. Be who I made you to be.”
As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said:
Holiness is not something we are called upon to do in order that we may become something; it is something we are to do because of what we already are…
“Paul, I’m still confused. It seems there are a lot of scriptures exhorting us to become holy. How do we reconcile those with other scriptures that say that we are already holy?”
Perhaps the best answer comes from Bill Gillham, who compares Christians to oak trees:
Are Christians a truly holy people, or are we trying to become a holy people?… As an oak sapling grows, it doesn’t get “oakier.” Oak is oak. It simply matures into what it is, a full-grown oak tree.
You don’t become an oak tree by acting like an oak tree; nor do you become holy by acting holy. Jesus makes you holy. Your part is to mature into what he has already made you.
This takes time, but just as a baby never becomes more human as it grows, you will never become more holy as you mature. You simply grow into who God has already made you to be.
Here’s Bill Gillham again:
Needless to say, maturity doesn’t occur in one giant leap, but through a process: “But we all … are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Notice it’s “from glory to glory,” not “from garbage to glory.” You are already holy in Christ … Just as an oak sapling does not get oakier as it matures, neither does a new creature in Christ get holier, more forgiven, more accepted, etc.
Critics of the grace message say we who preach it are opposed to holy living. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What we are opposed to is the old habit of trying to make yourself holy by acting holy. You just can’t do it. The standard is too high.
But the good news declares God makes us holy. He takes the shards of our broken lives and makes something beautiful, pleasing, sweet-smelling, and Christ-like.
Now that we have a good understanding of why the Bible calls us to be holy, we can look at some of the NT scriptures on holiness:
To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints. (Romans 1:7a)
In other words, be saintly because you are saints, as Paul says many times in his letter to the Romans.
Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness (Romans 6:19b)
Given that Christ has already sanctified us, a more accurate translation might be “unto holiness” as in, “Just as you used to live unto wickedness when you were wicked, live unto holiness now that you are holy.”
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Rom 6:22)
A better translation may be, “have fruit unto sanctification.” Holy fruit are reaped not manufactured. Like eternal life, fruit are gifts, not wages (John 3:16, 5:21).
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be His holy people … (1 Corinthians 1:2a)
You are sanctified so act like it.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity … (Colossians 3:5a)
If you’re a butterfly, don’t act like a caterpillar. If you have been given a new nature, don’t act in accordance with your old one. That’s hypocrisy. It’s pretending to be someone you are not.
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality … (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified in your conduct, not because your salvation hinges on it, but your wellbeing does. Sin is destructive.
Each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God (1 Thessalonians 4:4–5)
You know who your Father is so don’t act like someone who doesn’t.
May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through (1 Thessalonians 5:23a)
Sanctification is God’s work, not yours. Just as His gift of salvation is something to work out in your life, so is His sanctification. You already have it, so enjoy it!
But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do (1 Peter 1:15)
You are not holy because you act holy. You are holy because you are children of a holy Father. You are a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). Be who you truly are.
Exhortations to live holy should not be read as a self-help guide to holiness. Rather, they are pictures of the wholesome, healthy life we get to enjoy as we allow Christ to express his holy life through us.
New Testament exhortations to live holy are advertisements for the abundant life that is already ours in Christ.