Apologetics Index

The Modern “Grace Message” — Revolution or Rebellion?

By David Kowalski

The Rebellion of Antinomianism


In the political realm, a revolution is distinguished from a rebellion by which side of the conflict with which one sides. In the spiritual/doctrinal realm, this distinction is determined by whether or not the agitator is faithful to God and His Word. In recent years, enthusiastic proponents have fervently popularized within the church an old teaching that has reemerged in fresh harmony with compatible, contemporary, cultural sentiments. 1

Its advocates 2 claim the teaching is an end-time message of a “grace revolution” while critics see it as merely a fresh spin given to the rebellious, old heresy 3 of Antinomianism — a heresy named in the 16th century by Martin Luther, 4 in which proponents in some manner negate or minimize any application of the obligatory nature of God’s moral law 5 (and/or the implications of that obligation) for believers.

Alexander M. Renwick succinctly defines Antinomianism in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology:

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The word comes from the Greek anti, against, and nomos, law, and signifies opposition to law. It refers to the doctrine that the moral law is not binding upon Christians as a rule of life. In a wider sense, it is applied to the views of fanatics who refuse to recognize any law but their own subjective ideas, which they usually claim are from the Holy Spirit. 6

We should begin by noting the difference generally recognized between two basic forms of Antinomianism. First, there is the less common yet more extreme form referred to as libertine or practical Antinomianism, in which supposed Christians brazenly and unashamedly live in wanton sin with no restraint.

The second and less extreme (though more common) form of Antinomianism is referred to as doctrinal Antinomianism or, as others may sometimes refer to it, Sandemanianism 7 — named after the teachings of Robert Sandeman (1718-1781) who, while not endorsing sinful practices, asserted that mental assent alone was sufficient for salvation. 8

It is this second kind of Antinomianism with which we are presently concerned. Though its immediate manifestation may be less dramatic, its more subtle, long-term effect on the church is often just as harmful — leading to scores of people having false assurances of salvation within a rebellious and ungodly state. John Flavel (1627-1691) warned against the insidious nature of doctrinal Antinomianism:

But others there are, whose judgments are unhappily tainted and leavened with those loose doctrines; yet being in the main godly persons, they dare not take liberty to sin, or live in the neglect of known duties, though their principles too much incline that way; but though they dare not, others will, who imbibe corrupt notions from them; and the renowned piety of the authors will be no antidote against the danger, but make the poison operate the more powerfully, by receiving it in such a vehicle. 9 [Emphasis mine]

This kind of Antinomianism edits out from its system any mention of God’s continuing and binding moral rule over the redeemed. In his critique of Antinomianism, Daniel Steele summarizes the essence of its doctrinal form as follows:

“…A believer is not bound to mourn for sin, because it was pardoned before it was committed, and pardoned sin is no sin [emphasis mine]; that God does not see sin in believers, however great sins they commit…” 10

Consequently, in Antinomian thinking, there is no place for confession of sin, godly sorrow for it, or consciously repenting of it 11 (points to which they go to absurdly imaginative extremes as they vainly try to justify them from Scripture) because in the mind of God these sins essentially do not even exist.

In the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, R. D. Linder describes contemporary, popular Antinomianism as the belief that “Once persons are justified by faith in Christ, they no longer have any obligation toward the moral law because Jesus freed them from it.” 12 Antinomians frequently assert that apart from the Mosaic system, there is no moral law that believers are obligated to obey. I address this misunderstanding in  “Should We Say Should?” linked to below.

Though the Antinomian heresy was named in the 16th century and has experienced a kind of modern renaissance, it is as old as the church itself, as evidenced by such things as John’s apparent rebuttal (in 1 John) of a form of Gnostic 13 Antinomianism that had influenced the church 14:

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:  the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. — 1 John 2:3-6 15

These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. — 1 John 2:26

If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. — 1 John 2:29

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness [Grk ἀνομία]. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. — 1 John 3:4-10

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:2-3 (note the plural form of “commandments”)

Similarly, Paul confronted an arrogant form of Antinomian posturing in the Corinthian church:

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.  Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves. — 1 Corinthians 5:1-12

The term “hyper-grace” has become popular to describe the “grace movement” — due in part, I think, to the writings of Michael Brown (see his book). While I agree with Dr. Brown in essence, I think the term “hyper-grace” falls short as a moniker for the “grace” movement in the same way the term “hyper-faith” did when people once used it to denote the Word-Faith heresy. The problem with the “grace message” is not that it presents us with “hyper-grace” (“hyper” meaning excessive or fanatical) so much as it offers a pseudo (unbiblical and therefore false) “grace” that has for centuries been called Antinomianism. 16

I do understand the current popularity of the term “hyper-grace” since it sounds less academic than “Antinomianism” and is thus a catchier term. I also understand Michael Brown’s reluctance to call the teachings of the “grace” movement a completely false or pseudo-grace. I sympathize with this posture since like him, I do not wish to imply that none of those in the “grace” movement are true Christians. Still, I believe there is a legitimate sense, in which we can say that the so-called grace of the “grace” movement is not true, biblical grace as it is fully explained in the Bible.

As I explain in the article “Why We Should Preach the Whole Counsel of God,” a supposed truth isolated from the larger context of truth in which it rightly fits dies much as an organ does when removed from a body. Just as James said that faith “by itself” is dead (James 2:17, 26) grace removed from the larger context of biblical salvation is dead, and thus not the lively, efficacious, true grace of Scripture.

Sanctification Flows from Justification

Antinomianism errs especially on the doctrine of sanctification, which is an indispensable element of biblical salvation. Sanctification refers to our being made holy in nature but also involves the practical obedience Antinomians seek to censor from public discussion. J. C. Ryle comments on the crucial distinction between justification and sanctification:

In justification our own works have no place at all and simple faith in Christ is the one thing needful. In sanctification our own works are of vast importance, and God bids us fight and watch and pray and strive and take pains and labour. 17

While sanctification must never be confused with justification, it cannot be divorced from it since the grace that justifies also sanctifies in biblical salvation. R. D. Linder expresses this sentiment in the following way: “The Christian community as a whole has rejected Antinomianism for several reasons. It is damaging to the unity of the Bible, which demands that one part of divine revelation not contradict another. Even more important, Antinomians misunderstand the nature of justification by faith, which, though granted apart from works of the law, is not sanctification. 18

We should note that in the New Testament, many of the passages concerning sanctification relate to our positional status as saints and new creatures. Nevertheless, other passages on the topic speak of the progressive aspect of our being made holy in our practical state:

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 19 — Hebrews 10:14 ESV

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; — Philippians 3:12-15

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. — 2 Peter 1:5-7

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; — 2 timothy 3:16 (Note that righteous standing is not something for which believers must be trained — it is a gift. The righteousness we need training in is righteous living)

Joseph Prince, cover of Charisma magazine, June 2010

Typical of those in the “grace” movement, Joseph Prince conflates (combines so as to blur their distinctions) the notions of justification and sanctification, saying the believer’s positional righteousness in justification negates any discussion we should have about his or her practical righteousness in sanctification. Prince rejects the position of biblical and historic orthodoxy (“conventional theology”), saying, “Today, conventional theology teaches you that not only is there such a thing as “positional righteousness’, there is also something known as “practical righteousness.'” 20

Tullian Tchividjian likewise conflates justification and sanctification by claiming that in practice, sanctification does not result from choices to obey in specific circumstances but only in mental reminders of our justified status: “Sanctification is the daily hard work of going back to the reality of our justification. It”s going back to the certainty of our objectively secured pardon in Christ and hitting the refresh button a thousand times a day.” 21 While it is true that sanctification is by God’s truth (John 17:17) and does involve a continual reminder of what God has done (2 Peter 1:9), it does not thereby exclude the specific intentionality of the one being sanctified, as is evidenced by the many, New Testament passages in which the command to live obediently is directed to us in practical terms. 22 J. I Packer notes the further distinction between regeneration and sanctification:

Regeneration was a momentary monergistic act of quickening the spiritually dead. As such, it was God’s work alone. Sanctification, however, is in one sense synergistic – it is an ongoing cooperative process in which regenerated persons, alive to God and freed from sin’s dominion (Rom. 6:11, 14-18), are required to exert themselves in sustained obedience. God’s method of sanctification is neither activism (self-reliant activity) nor apathy (God-reliant passivity), but God-dependent effort (2 Cor. 7:1; Phil. 3:10-14; Heb. 12:14). Knowing that without Christ’s enabling we can do nothing, morally speaking, as we should, and that he is ready to strengthen us for all that we have to do (Phil. 4:13), we “stay put” (remain, abide) in Christ, asking for his help constantly – and we receive it (Col. 1:11; 1 Tim. 1:12; 2 Tim. 1:7; 2:1). 23

Though the Antinomian heresy has surfaced with varied justifications and emphases over the centuries, its latest explosion in the so-called “grace” movement has its most immediate roots in the extreme manifestation of Darbyite Dispensationalism referred to as the “Free-Grace” movement of the 20th century (led by teachers such as Lewis Sperry Chafer, Zane Hodges, and Charles Ryrie) that eventually persuaded some of its number to become near or even complete universalists, believing that not even specific belief or trust in Christ or the cross was required to be saved, since, according to them, “grace” meant there are no requirements or conditions of any kind for salvation. 24

The Bible, however, teaches that saving grace is not given to all but only to those who have biblical faith — something the Bible says has very strong doctrinal content and moral consequences. While the doctrinal content and moral consequences of faith do not work for or earn salvation, they are indispensable parts of the bucket that receives God’s free gift. As is often said (following Calvin), we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is not alone (see, for example, James 2:14-26). We are saved from our sins, and any so-called salvation that does not result in our turning away from habitual, willful sin is not biblical salvation.

Though Scripture refutes Antinomianism, it clearly does teach much about genuine grace. It is not enough, though, for us to merely use words found in the Bible in our theological systems. We must say the very same things about those words that Scripture does. For example, the Word-Faith movement uses the word “faith” very boldly, but what they teach about this word from the Bible is not biblical. The enemy is not so naïve as to suppose he can lead Christians astray in the name of “anti-faith” or “anti-grace” but must package his deception as a kind of “super faith” or “super grace.” Martin Luther noted this phenomenon in his commentary on Galatians: “The devil knows better than to appear ugly and black. He prefers to carry on his nefarious activities in the name of God. Hence the German proverb: ‘All mischief begins in the name of God.’ When the devil sees that he cannot hurt the cause of the Gospel by destructive methods, he does it under the guise of correcting and advancing the cause of the Gospel.” 25

Biblical Christians wholeheartedly believe that we are saved not by any works of our own but purely by the unmerited favor of God received through faith in Christ:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. — Ephesians 2:8-10

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. — Titus 3:5-7

Not everyone will be saved, though. Jesus, in fact, said we must “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14). The Bible says only those who have biblical faith will receive the true grace that leads to our inheriting the kingdom of God.

One of the differences between true and false faith specified in the Bible is that real faith results in a life-changing work of God that makes us “new creatures” (2 Corinthians 5:17) who live godly and obedient lives. Consequently, perseverance in this godliness is an essential consequence of the faith that ultimately inherits the kingdom (I address this at more length in “Is Eternal Security Conditional or Unconditional?“). Again, though we are saved by faith alone, the faith that saves is not alone.

Orthodox Christians also firmly believe in the love and mercy of God toward His sometimes disobedient children — a thought expressed in Charles Wesley in his hymn “Depth of Mercy”:

Whence to me this waste of love?
Ask my advocate above!
See the cause in Jesus’ face,
Now before the throne of grace.

There for me the Savior stands,
Shows His wounds and spreads His hands.
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps and loves me still. 26

“For we all stumble in many ways…” — James 3:2. Nevertheless, God has not ceased to command holy living in the lives of believers, and He sometimes rebukes and disciplines even His children (as in Christ’s messages to the churches in Revelation). On the basis of biblical teaching, orthodox Christianity has always likewise insisted that membership in God’s family is largely determined by one’s bearing of the family likeness in the way they live.

Calvinists say those who do not persevere in displaying this godly image were never true children to begin with while Arminians say that a child of God can forfeit their heavenly inheritance through a persistent and willful lifestyle of ungodliness. Only Antinomians contradict the New Testament teaching that the ungodly will by no means inherit the kingdom of God:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. — 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Paul contrasts those who do not live sanctified lives with those who have been cleansed from their guilt and their former sinful ways. Right living flows from a genuine, right standing. Thus, Paul makes clear that those who remain in the sinful conduct he specifically identifies are not considered part of the company of the cleansed. Indeed, Revelation chapter 22 makes a similar contrast between the cleansed and those who wantonly persist in their evil conduct.

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.” — Revelation 22:14-15

God does not unrealistically expect sinless perfection of saints, but He does expect saints to essentially behave as saints. Those who are truly made righteous in standing are made essentially righteous in their living. Lack of right living betrays a lack of right standing.  Antinomians will sometimes challenge the orthodox believer to show at precisely what point it is determined that a person has “departed from the faith” (according to Arminian theology):

At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. — Matthew 24:10

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, — 1 Timothy 4:1

Similarly Antinomians challenge at what point someone who has professed faith has shown by their conduct that they are not elect overcomers (Revelation chapters two and three) who have persevered to the end (as in Calvinist theology):

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. — John 15:6

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. — Hebrews 12:14

For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them;  for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful ldeeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; — Ephesians 5: 5-11

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:  the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. — 1 John 2:3-6

Such determinations have not been delegated to us, however, and to imply that they are too difficult for God who is the judge is an insult to His majesty.

Grace, as Louis Berkhof notes, is a deeper concept than merely unmerited blessing; it is “the unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, effected through the agency of the Holy Spirit.” 27 The Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker lexicon affirms that tangible “attractiveness” is a root concept of χάρις, the Greek word translated as “grace” in the New Testament. The lexicon follows the word’s use to the expression of the beauty observed in God’s saving act at Calvary and the comprehensive results of that beauty in those who receive and are beautified by it. 28 RedRose2The real grace of God effects a real and godly change in the recipient. A lack of “the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96:9) betrays an absence of God’s charis. This life-changing effect of real grace has historically been spoken of as the efficacious nature of grace.  Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) spoke of the practical effect of genuine grace in this fashion: “The way that crieth down duties and sanctification, is not the way of grace; grace is an innocent thing, and will not take men off from duties; grace destroyeth not obedience.” 29

Though we are not saved by works we are saved unto works, as Horatius Bonar observed: “When we say that believing is not working, but a ceasing from work, we do not mean that the believing man is not to work, but that he is not to work for pardon, but to take it freely, and that he is to believe before he works, for works done before believing are not pleasing to God.” 30 Though the Christian’s works do not earn salvation and are done by those saved by grace alone the Bible still speaks of these works as good:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. — Ephesians 2:8-10

Real faith receives more than a change in legal status before God, it receives a comprehensive salvation that results in a lifestyle of good works (James 2:14-26). Efforts to sever resulting and evidential works from the larger organism of salvation result in a pseudo-faith. As James says in James 2:26, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” The works of the unregenerate may be no better than filthy rags as a basis for justification (Isaiah 64:6) but, as Mark Jones says, “It is actually an affront to God to suggest [as Antinomians often do] that Spirit-wrought works in believers are ‘filthy rags.'” 31 Though good works cannot justify they are not to be belittled regarding Christian sanctification. Our commendable actions can never earn salvation but they give necessary evidence to it and can actually please/delight (Grk ἀρέσκω) the heart of God:

Trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.–Ephesians 5:10

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects. — Colossians 1:9-10

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. — 1 Thessalonians 4:1 32

Paul, the apostle of grace, goes further in what he teaches about salvation than it seems some people like to consider, insisting that though we must not trust in any good works of our own as the source of our right standing with God, we are not, in the New Covenant, freed from an obligation to obey the moral stipulations still commanded by God, and this obedience is essential to the identity of the company of the saved. We must, as the writer of Hebrews says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 ESV). Kevin DeYoung comments in kind:

Not only is holiness the goal of your redemption, but it is necessary for your redemption. Now before you sound the legalist alarm, tie me up by my own moral bootstraps, and feed my carcass to the Galatians, we should see what Scripture has to say … It’s the consistent and frequent teaching of the Bible that those whose lives are marked by habitual ungodliness will not go to heaven. To find acquittal from God on the last day there must be evidence flowing out of us that grace has flowed into us. 33

Martin Luther said, “Oh, it is a living, busy, active mighty thing, this faith; and so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly … He who does not these works is a faithless man…and thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible to separate heat and light [from] fires.” 34 Charles Spurgeon echoed this sentiment, saying, “It is a faith which produces works which saves us; the works do not save us; but a faith which does not produce works is a faith that will only deceive, and cannot lead us into heaven.” 35

Godliness Is Not Optional

This practical sanctification is such an integral part of genuine salvation that Paul identifies the difference between the saved and the unsaved on the basis of their obedient or disobedient lifestyles:

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. — Romans 2:5-10

Those who are favorably judged will be those who show the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5). When the judgment is portrayed in Scripture the distinction between saved and condemned presented is between the doers of good and the doers of evil (Matthew 25:31-46, Romans 2:5-10, Revelation 22:15) and at the judgment rewards and retribution will be granted within these differing camps according to their deeds:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. — 2 Corinthians 5:10 (This verse applies to both retribution and rewards. See also Matthew 16:27, 1 Peter 1:17, and Revelation 20:12)

The biblical teaching that saving faith is shown by godly living has always been the position of historic orthodoxy, as is seen in documents such as the one we call 2 Clement, or Clement’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (written between 130 and 160 A.D.): “Let us not merely call him Lord, for that will not save us. For he says, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will be saved, but he who does what is right.’ Thus, brothers, let us acknowledge him by our actions…” 36

The same Paul who made clear our freedom from Mosaic law as a justifying system also maintained that we are still under God’s kingdom rule (moral law) and are supposed to obey Him (see especially my article “Should We Say Should?” for an exposition of this). If exhortations to obedience are a “legalistic ministration of death” (to use Joseph Prince’s words) then the New Testament authors, under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, were repeatedly guilty of this “legalism” in a multitude of passages such as the following:

Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. — 1 Corinthians 6:18-20

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. — Ephesians 4:17-32

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him. — Colossians 3:5-10

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. — James 4:1-4

For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. — 1 Peter 4:3

With the Pauline passages of this type specifically in mind J. C. Ryle offered this challenge: “I defy anyone to read St. Paul’s writings carefully without finding in them a large quantity of plain practical directions about the Christian’s duty in every relation of life, and about our daily habits, temper, and behavior toward one another. These directions were written down by inspiration of God for the perpetual guidance of professing Christians.” 37

Antinomian Joseph Prince rejects the conscious application of these passages to our lives, however, threatening that if we do so it will interfere with our relationship with God. To Prince, one must choose between the Bible’s, specific, moral imperatives (for which he uses the derogatory term “rules”) and a vital relationship with God. 38 He does not explain, however, why, if moral imperatives are supposedly antithetical to a relationship with God, the God who desires relationship with us provides us with so many specific ones in the New Testament.

Though today’s Antinomians tend to demean godly exhortations as “legalist behavior modification” the New Testament is brimming with instances of the apostles’ obedience to Jesus’ commission that we make not just cleansed converts but dedicated disciples, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” — Matthew 28:20. 39  After saving us in spite of our bad behavior, God does want to modify our behavior for the better! Though this new lifestyle originates from a new heart, God wants it to be openly manifested in our practical conduct, outwardly displaying the inward transformation.

The Bible does not present us with what God has done and what we must do as subjects we must choose between for discussion as though these were mutually exclusive topics. Paul tells us that the grace of God received through what He has done teaches (Grk παιδεία) us regarding what we should do: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,” — Titus 2:11-12. Many Antinomians claim that this Pauline passage means that the indwelling Spirit in each believer renders external exhortations needless and even counterproductive. Antinomian claims of this kind, however, ignore the many passages (such as the ones listed earlier) in which the Holy Spirit inspires externally given exhortations to specified, godly behaviors. God graciously teaches us to live godly lives and He often uses others to specifically instruct and exhort us in the ways we should live. Those who condemn this ministry seek to censor the Spirit of God.

These laws/moral standards of God are given to us both objectively and subjectively. God writes His laws 40 (moral standards) on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10 and 10:16) but the laws He so writes are objective and originate externally to us. They are not the sum of our feelings (if this were so Christians would be left with no objective basis for determining right from wrong). Thus, Hebrews 8:10 and 10:16 validate rather than repudiate the specific words of instruction and exhortation we find so often in the New Testament.

Since Antinomians ignore teaching and exhortations related to practical obedience (progressive sanctification) they subsequently widen the concept of “legalism” in an unbiblical way. They tend to view any attempt to address or correct sinful misconduct as “legalistic.” In biblical and historic orthodoxy, however, legalism pertains specifically to justification. It is the systematic effort to attain a right status with God on the basis of anything other than the cross of Christ. God wants His children to mature, though, and legalism is not the systematic effort to teach Christians to grow up in order to conform to Christ rather than the world, or to specifically obey the Word of God rather than the dictates of the flesh.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. — Romans 12:1-2

In popular piety it has also become acceptable to label as legalism any unauthorized rule-making — things such as prohibitions against makeup and jewelry. While this popular use of the word may lack precise correlation to biblical usage, it nevertheless rightly decries an unbiblical practice in identifying unscriptural (and thus unauthorized), man-made rules as outside of the bounds of biblical ministry. Since this use of the term “legalism” is a constructive and helpful one it does not reflect the error of Antinomianism, and is not considered harmful by orthodox believers in the same way Antinomian misuse of the word “legalism” is.

One, important part of the “grace” message’s falling away from biblical grace is its tendency to redefine other, biblical words — including the word “repentance.” Following the teaching of “Free Grace” movement leader Charles Ryrie, 41 Joseph Prince does this by only partially quoting from Thayer’s lexicon 42 (no doubt from one of the abridged versions available on the internet). Antinomians, however, should go to any Christian bookstore or library to look up “repentance” in an unabridged version of Thayer’s lexicon to see how terribly Prince misrepresents the meaning of Thayer, who strongly insists that repentance always involves godly sorrow for sin and turning away from sinful deeds, saying “The change of mind of those who have begun to abhor their errors and misdeeds, and have determined to enter upon a better course of life, so that it embraces both a recognition of sin and sorrow for it and hearty amendment, the tokens of which are good deeds.” 43

Greek scholars do not consider Thayer the ultimate authority on New Testament Greek, but even the more authoritative sources agree with Thayer that the Greek word for repentance includes godly sorrow for sin and a turning away from sinful deeds as parts of the concept. 44 To misrepresent repentance as only a mental change that agrees with what the Bible says about Jesus is heresy. Even the demons know and believe the truth about Christ, as James points out. They have not “rejected Jesus” mentally though their hearts are far from Him and they do not have the real faith that receives real grace. Richard Alderson points out that historically, “Antinomians, in their anxiety to exalt free grace, began to disparage repentance as a “work.'” 45 Paul’s descriptions of repentance typically involved explicit mention of behavioral change.

So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. — Acts 26:19-20

We are saved by faith alone but real faith results in real repentance that actually turns from sin. Faith and repentance can and must be separated in concept (we must trust in the cross alone) but never in experience (see “Wayne Grudem on the Unity of Faith and Repentance” 46). Those who live unrepentant lifestyles are not walking in the faith that receives salvation, regardless of their mental assent to certain truths about Jesus. The teaching that someone is saved regardless of how they live if they just do not verbally reject a belief in Jesus is unvarnished Antinomianism. Joseph Prince goes so far as to claim that the biblical preaching of repentance is wrong: “Nevertheless, there are still people who insist that we have to preach on repentance. Well, I disagree!” 47 Contrast Prince’s assertion with the practice of the apostles the prophecy of Jesus, and the words of the risen and ascended Christ:

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ — Acts 2:38

Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. — Acts 3:19

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,” — Acts 17:30

“how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house,  solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” — Acts 20:20-22

So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. — Acts 26:19-20

And He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. — Luke 24:46-48

“Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent.” — Revelation 2:5

“Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.” — Revelation 2:16

“I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. ” — Revelation 2:21-22

“So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.” — Revelation 3:3

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” — Revelation 3:19

There is a synergy between power and repentance. We can only live godly lives by the Spirit’s power yet our choice is involved in the process (as evidenced by the fact that commands to repent are repeatedly addressed to us), and right living is the tracks upon which the train of God’s genuine life and power flow in revived churches. J. Edwin Orr observes (as do nearly all historians of revival movements), “The important thing to remember is repentance is the prelude to revival.” 48

Another misconception frequently presented by Antinomians is that Christ’s atonement for sin in believers changes God’s inherent disposition toward sin in believers. In other words, Antinomians tend to think that since the cross, God is, in effect, indifferent toward sin in those who make any profession of faith. The New Testament, however, reveals that God still hates sin wherever it is found and is especially zealous for His house to be clean:

“But I have this against you…” — Revelation 2:4

“But I have this against you…” — Revelation 2:20

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” — Revelation 3:19

These verses do not fit into the Antinomian system that claims God is not mindful of any current misconduct on our part or that though in His omniscience the Lord knows all things He is indifferent toward our bad conduct in all but how it might rob us of some blessing. God is still mindful of all sin and hates sin for its evil nature even when it is found in those He loves. John Flavel comments as follows on God’s hatred of sin in the lives of the saved:

God’s antipathy to sin can never be taken away by the satisfaction of Christ, though his hatred to the persons of the redeemed be; for the hatred of sin is founded in the unchangeable nature of God: and he can as soon cease to be holy as cease to hate sin, Hab. 1.13. Nor was Christ’s death ever designed to this end; though Christ hath satisfied for the sin of believers, God still hates sin in believers. His hatred to their sins, and love to their persons are not inconsistent. [Emphases mine] 49

There frequently seems to be a kind of schizophrenic disconnect between the heart and mind in many Antinomians who have not emotionally followed their doctrinal system to its logical ends. Such people may occasionally display repugnance over some sin committed by a Christian, but their false, theological system eventually forces them to reaffirm their lawless mantras, insisting that the believer’s sin was already made nothing before it was done, that the person should not feel bad for or confess anything and that the bad behavior (bad fruit) is no means by which to evaluate whether or not the person is a genuine Christian (good tree) or one whose profession of belief is not born from an unconverted heart (bad tree).

You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ — Matthew 7:16-23

“Rejecting Jesus” and “No Longer Under the Law”

Some Antinomians suggest that since there is only one sin that cannot be pardoned (1 John 5:16 — they usually refer to this as permanently rejecting Jesus) all others will be pardoned (or to more accurately reflect their teaching, “have already been pardoned”).

This is neither scriptural nor logical. To liken the case to an earthly king, he may stipulate that only one, specific crime cannot possibly be pardoned in his realm but that does not logically entail the automatic pardon by him of all other offenses. If the king states that stubborn rebels will be punished, his word on the matter can be taken to heart even by those who have not committed the one offense specified as completely unpardonable. Our heavenly King says such things as the following without stating that any of the people identified in these passages has committed the unpardonable sin:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. — Galatians 5:19-21

For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. — Ephesians 5:5

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. — 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11

But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. — Revelation 21:8

But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler–not even to eat with such a one. — 1 Corinthians 5:11 (The larger context for this verse is given on page three above. Note that the basis upon which Paul identifies the false brother is that this is someone who lives in sinful rebellion against the Lords’ commands while they publicly profess Christ).

In Antinomian theology God supposedly takes an essentially “anything goes” posture toward those who profess belief, as long as they do not openly recant that profession. Antinomians speak about “rejecting Jesus” exclusively as a verbal issue, though. The Bible, however, also speaks of a behavioral rejection done by people who continue to verbally profess God but deny Him through their evil conduct:

They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. — Titus 1:16

The Greek word translated “deny” in this verse is ἀρνέομαι, the meaning of which, according to the Bauer Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker lexicon, includes to “deny, repudiate, disown.” 50 Those who profess belief (not the same thing as the fuller concept of biblical faith) can repudiate the Lord through their choice of a habitually disobedient lifestyle.

Antinomians often claim the passages which say we are no longer under the law (see Romans 6:14 and Galatians 5:18) mean Christians are no longer under God’s moral rule. Truly we are no longer “under the law” but nevertheless it is important to identify exactly what is meant by the term “law” each time it is used in the New Testament. Essentially there is a twofold sense in which we are no longer under the law:

1) Paul uses the word “law” at times to speak of an errant form of seeking right standing with God through good works rather than God’s free gift. Though God still requires obedient living of the saved, our justified status before Him is solely based on what Christ did for us at the cross. In Galatians 2:21 he says, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” Even the moral law of God is lifeless as a system whereby to seek righteous standing with God and righteous principles alone cannot impart the life to follow them. Regarding salvation the law can only show our guilt and point us to our need for a savior. The law as a system for attaining righteous standing has been superseded by the gospel in which we are justified before God on the basis of the cross alone. From the old way of seeking righteousness we have been freed through the grace of God who “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5).

You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. — Galatians 5:4

Antinomians frequently seek to bolster their sin-trivializing position by contrasting it with a misrepresentation of historic orthodoxy, making a straw man of the “average” (orthodox) Christian, claiming he or she does not understand this freedom from law as a system through which to seek right standing with God (though most do fully understand this). Orthodox Christians do not quarrel with the Antinomians’ contention that we are justified by grace through faith alone. They do, however, differ with Antinomians concerning how that grace manifests and is detected in the believer’s life, and they maintain that believers are still obligated to observe God’s eternal, moral standards. God’s moral imperatives are not erased by the cross. In fact they are specifically and forcefully repeated in the writings of the New Testament. Ulric Rule concurs that while the external rites of the Old Covenant are no longer binding, the moral principles of the law are restated in the New Testament and obedience to these moral imperatives is still mandatory for Christians: “The great general principles of the law were not transitory and reappear under the gospel dispensation.” 51

2) By “the law” Paul often refers specifically to the Mosaic system in which right standing with God depended in part on the proper rituals, observances, diet, and ceremonies prescribed in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). By saying we are free from this Mosaic system Paul declares we are released from any obligation to obey its merely external aspects.

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain. — Galatians 4:9-11

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. — Colossians 2:16-17

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)–in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?  These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. — Colossians 2:20-23 (Note that Paul contrasts non-moral externalism that is no longer binding with moral principles [not indulging the flesh] that are still valid for believers).

After discussing the New Testament passages that refer to sin as lawlessness, William Evans said, “When Paul claims to be “without law” he has reference to those things in the ceremonial law which might well be passed over, and not to the moral law. Paul was not an antinomian.” 52

The abiding nature of God’s moral law, as shown in the reaffirmation of its principles in the New Testament, has been traditionally been referred to by Protestants as the “third use of the law.” Louis Berkhof explains this “third use of the law” as its normative function in guiding moral conduct:  “A usus didacticus or normativus. This is the so-called tertius uses legis, the third use of the law. The law is a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation. This third use of the law is denied by the Antinomians.” 53


Danger sign: Antinomianism aheadWhile accusations of Antinomianism are sometimes false and at times originate from legalists who do not understand the biblical teaching of grace (some, classic authors such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones have even suggested that unless we have at some point been falsely accused of Antinomianism we have never really preached the gospel 54), not all accusations of Antinomianism are false, nor do all such accusations originate from true legalists. By comparison, the fact that people are sometimes falsely accused of stealing does not prove that no one ever truly steals.

I tend to agree with those who think that the Antinomianism taught in the “grace” movement most likely appeals in a special way to believers who have at some time been ensnared in a genuinely legalistic system of some kind, but we must always guard against the common tendency to jump from one theological extreme to another rather than comprehensively pursue the whole counsel of God. Many errors are born from an overreaction to a different kind of error. “It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them” — Ecclesiastes 7:18. The whole counsel of God to be kept in view on this topic is not a mixture of law and grace (as Antinomians allege) but the complete, New Testament teaching on justification and sanctification.

Participants in the “grace” movement often claim they represent an end-time revelation. I believe this so-called grace teaching may well be related to the end times but not as a substitute for or improvement on the old, old story of biblical grace that has been with us since the days of the apostles.  Paul says, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” — 1 Timothy 4:1

This “falling away” can only happen within the church. Those outside of the church cannot “fall away” from something of which they have never been part. What these people Paul speaks of fall away from is the “the faith” of which Jude says we are to contend for “that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The Antinomian heresy seems to be part of a larger, contemporary falling away from biblical faith — a falling that in the long run tends to trivialize sin and soften our morality. Other branches of this apostasy can be seen in the moral and doctrinal compromises of many, prominent leaders in the church today.

In the articles linked to below, I contrast the teachings of the “grace” movement (though in some cases [such as in “The Bondage of Congregational Elitism”] the “grace” movement is not specifically mentioned I believe the principles considered in them apply to this movement) with the teachings of the Bible, which is our ultimate authority for understanding true grace and how it fits into the scheme of salvation.

In examining this contrast, feelings should not be our ultimate guide in distinguishing between true and false teaching. Most cults and heresies devised by the enemy have made people feel good in some way. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “False teaching can make people very happy. Let us be quite clear about that. If you judge only in terms of experience and results you will find that every cult and heresy that the world or the church has ever known will be able to justify itself.” 55 Our feelings often lead us astray, which is one very important reason God gave us His objective, revealed Word to guide us in our beliefs and conduct. We should additionally note that a sense of God’s presence or manifestation of His power must never be taken as God’s blanket endorsement of everything said or done by the person(s) blessed. God was working miracles in the Corinthian (1 Corinthians 1:7) and Galatian (Galatians 3:5) churches in spite of their sin and error not because of them, and His blessings today are likewise often in spite of our sin and error.

People are generally reluctant to carefully consider the reasoning of people whose positions differ with theirs, but we are commanded nevertheless to “test all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) even if our pride is at stake. In his book The Heresy of Mind Control, Stephen Martin describes the way false teachers and false movements respond to biblical critiques of their teachings:

Such information is automatically counted as ‘evil’ or simply dismissed as, ‘It can’t be true because this group is so wonderful.’ Often they label negative information as ‘persecution’ [disagreement is not persecution!] that is evil but expected. Some believe it is a sin to even listen to negative information about someone, especially the leader…There are some who will not even listen to alternative information because of their presupposition from the outset that it is false…But how can you know a report — or even a religious doctrine — is false unless you listen to it, examine it, hear both sides of the debate, and investigate? 56

The posts linked to below are of varying length. Some are short, devotional pieces while others are full length articles. There is also a diversity in their content but  I believe each of them addresses an issue pertinent to answering whether or not the “grace message” is a revolution or rebellion. I emphatically do not expect all believers to agree with me on all points covered in the essays. There is much room for disagreement on non-essentials among the orthodox. It is with some trepidation that I include a link to my article on conditional security among the essays that follow.

I have no desire to portray Antinomianism as a natural consequence of Calvinism. Calvin himself securely fenced out Antinomianism through his teachings on the third use of the law (as a guide to moral conduct) and the perseverance of the saints (real Christians will demonstrate their salvation by persevering in godly living to the very end). Reformed confessions of faith throughout history have likewise opposed Antinomianism. As Kevin DeYoung notes, “The Reformed confessions understand that obedience to God’s commands–which we all want–is not accomplished merely by insisting on indicatives, but also by insisting directly and explicitly on the imperatives that flow from them.” 57 Additionally, many of the most outspoken opponents of Antinomianism in our day are Calvinists.

Antinomians are outside of the bounds of orthodox soteriology (the doctrine of how we are saved and how that salvation is shown), be it Calvinism, Moderate Calvinism, Molinism, or Arminianism. Opposition to heresies such as Antinomianism is one point at which all, orthodox Christians should momentarily lay aside their differences as they reaffirm basic, biblical essentials. Opposition to Antinomianism is one point at which the Calvinist George Whitefield and the Arminian John Wesley found common ground. In our current contention with this heresy, we find agreement from such diverse voices as the Calvinist Cessationist John MacArthur (in The Gospel According to Jesus and Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles) and the Arminian Continuationist Michael Brown (in Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message). What I seek overall in the writings linked to below is to explain exactly how the “grace” message is a harmful rebellion rather than a beneficial revolution.


David Kowalski I contend that though we are utterly dependent upon God’s grace both for a righteous standing before God and for enabling a righteous lifestyle through Him, the incomplete message of the contemporary “grace movement” is a form of the old rebellion of Antinomianism. I believe this error is giving false assurance to many people who live in habitual ungodliness, and I consider it unhealthy for those who have not yet descended to that point. This errant movement makes light of sin and trifles with the Holy One.

Quite a few observers who adhere to genuine, biblical grace have noted the bad fruit they have witnessed from the contemporary form of Antinomianism found in the “grace movement.” I have dialogued with followers of Joseph Prince, for example, who have maintained that their misconduct (including unrepentant, homosexual sin) does not matter since God does not even see their evil deeds. Michael Brown likewise comments on the bad fruit he has seen born from this false teaching. 58 When people feel more comfortable in sin, it seems they are more likely to sin. John Owen (1616-1683) observed that merely mental assent to justification (the kind of Antinomianism popular in our day) leads to licentiousness: “This notional apprehension of the pardon of sin begets no serious, thorough, hatred and detestation of sin; nor is prevalent to a relinquishment of it. It is the nature of it to lessen and extenuate sin, and to support the soul against its convictions. So Jude tells us that some turn “the grace of God into lasciviousness; ver. 4, and, says he, they are “ungodly men;’ let them profess what they will they are ungodly men.” 59

Antinomianism is a feel-good message to be sure but it is not a fully biblical one in spite of its proponents’ selective (and repeated) use of  some passages from Scripture. Consequently, this false teaching is not a genuine remedy for legalism; it is simply a more pleasant form of error. It is a diet of sugary snacks that is momentarily exhilarating but which provides no sound nutrition for real strength and growth in godliness. For those still playing in this shallow end of the pool, God has greater depths of truth and commitment to which He would beckon them.


“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” — Revelation 2:4 ESV

“But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” — Revelation 2:14-16 ESV

“But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.” — Revelation 2:20-23 ESV

I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” – Revelation 3:1-3 ESV

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” – Revelation 3:15-19 ESV

© Copyright 2014, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.


  1. “Jesus’ requirements for any and all who wish to be his disciple and bear his name–self-denial and cross-bearing, holiness and purity–will inevitably sound like legalism in a restraint-free culture dominated by Eat, Pray, Love spirituality and Joel Osteen-grade theology.” — Jason B Hood,  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/januaryweb-only/heresyisheresy.html.
  2. Prominent figures associated with the movement we are considering include Steve McVey, Rob Rufus, Paul Ellis, Joseph Prince, Andrew Wommack, John Crowder, Andre van der Merwe, Tullian Tchividjian, Andre Rabe, Andrew Farley, and Clark Whitten.
  3. I should note from the outset that a charge of heresy is not the same as a charge of cultism. A heretic may be someone who is a Christian, yet one who is teaching extremely serious error that is leading others dangerously astray.
  4. Luther’s rebuke was largely aimed at Johann Agricola and his followers, whose beliefs harmonize with and often, specifically correspond to the kind of Antinomianism taught in the contemporary “grace” movement. Luther specifically warned succeeding generations against the dangers of Antinomianism:

    “O you of succeeding generations, pray likewise, and study diligently, the word of God! Preserve the poor Taper of God. Be warned and armed, as those that must look every hour, where the Devil will attempt to extinguish the light, either by breaking the whole window, or a piece, or else by pulling off the door or the roof. For he dies not till the last day. I and thou must die, and when we are dead, yet he remains the same, that he was ever, For the Fiend cannot leave his storming.

    “I see yonder afar off, how vehemently he blows his cheeks, till he grow red; intending to bluster and storm. But as Christ our Lord from the beginning (even in his own person) did strike with his fists upon those pouch-mouthed cheeks of his, that they proved but mere blasts of the Devil (though they left but an ill stench behind them) so he will do still both now and forever, For he cannot lie when he saith, I am with you to the end of the world. And the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church. But let us do our duty withal, as we are commanded, which is to watch and to preserve the light, as much as in us lieth. It is written, Be vigilant, and the devil is called Leo rugiens, a roaring Lion, who goes about seeking whom to devour, not only in the Apostle’s time, when Peter spoke those words, but to the world’s end. This we must look for: the Lord help us as he hath holpen our forefathers, and as he will help our posterity, to the honour and praise of his glorious name, to all Eternity.”

    From Martin Luther, A Treatise Against the Antinomians.

  5. God’s kingdom rule entails moral law that exists apart from the Mosaic system and the New Testament specifically clarifies its present applicability to believers.
  6. Alexander M. Renwick, “Antinomianism” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, Everett F. Harrison ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1983), 48.
  7. The original Sandemanians are sometimes called “Glasites” after Robert Sandeman’s father-in-law John Glas.
  8. See also http://www.theopedia.com/Sandemanianism
  9. Quote is from Flavel’s book A Blow at the Root of Antinomianism.
  10. Daniel Steele, A Substitute for Holiness or, Antinomianism Revived (New York: Garland Publishing, 1984), 35.
  11. See, for example, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Dallas: Seminary Press, 1948), 387.
  12. R. D. Linder, “Antinomianism” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter A. Elwell, ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001), 71.
  13. Early, Gnostic Antinomianism differed in some significant ways from subsequent, historical manifestations of the heresy. Some (not all — many were legalists) Gnostics based their lawlessness on theological speculation that was unique to them and many took their lawlessness to more libertine extremes than did the majority of later Antinomians.
  14. Contrary to Antinomian claims, the entire epistle of I John was and is addressed to the church, as evidenced by John’s use of “we” throughout the letter, beginning in verse one of chapter one. Also, there is no evidence of a Gnostic element present at the public  reading of the letter. Nevertheless, there seems to have been an Antinomian influence on at least some of the Christians to whom John was writing, and this is generally seen as evidence of a kind of Gnostic thinking that had mixed into the doctrines and practices of some Christians in the church.
  15. Unless otherwise specified all Scripture quotations come from the NASB.
  16. I considering it worth noting that some Antinomians now wear the hyper-grace label as a supposed badge of honor, much as some Word-Faith teachers did the term “hyper-faith,” and I think this partially illustrates the weakness of the term.
  17. J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Hertfordshire, England: Evangelical Press, 1987 reprint) 29.
  18. Linder, 72.
  19. “Who are being sanctified” (as in the ESV) is a debated but still accepted translation of the particple τοὺς ἁγιαζομένους  (also translated as “being made holy” in the NIV and the Mounce Reverse Interlinear New Testament).
  20. Joseph Prince, Destined To Reign: The Secret to Effortless Success, Wholeness and Victorious Living (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Harrison House, 2007), 27.
  21. Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 95.
  22. I cite a large number of such passages in this article but most worth noting in this respect would be 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, Ephesians 4:17-32, Ephesians 5:3-7, Colossians 3:5-10, James 4:1-10, and 1 Peter 4:1-6.
  23. http://www.monergism.com/legacy/mt/sitepages/sanctification-ji-packer
  24. There are differing opinions on this matter within the “Free-Grace” movement, however. See “The Tragedy of the Crossless Gospel” by Tom L. Stegall
  25. Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians
  26. For the entire hymn see http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/d/e/p/depthmer.htm.
  27. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1939), 427.
  28. Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, 877-79.
  29. Samuel Rutherford,  The Trial & Triumph of Faith, Sermon 15
  30. God’s Way of Holiness: Chapter 3 – The Root And Soil Of Holiness
  31. Mark Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2013), 71.
  32. Contrast these verses with the statement by “grace” movement leader John Crowder: “It’s high time the church gets delivered from God pleasing.” John Crowder, Mystic Union (Santa Cruz, California: Sons of Thunder, 2010), 9. Quoted in Michael Brown, Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message (Lake Mary, Florida: Charisma House, 2014), 124.
  33. Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap Between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness (Crossway; August 31, 2012), 26.
  34. Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, J. Theodore Mueller trans. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1982 reprint), xvii.
  35. Charles Spurgeon, “Fruitless Faith”
  36. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/richardson/fathers.ix.i.iii.html
  37. Ryle, 27.
  38. Prince says, for example, “He is about relationship not rules.” Joseph Prince, Unmerited Favor (Lake Mary, Florida: Charisma House, 2010), 41. Any parent should recognize the false dilemma in such a statement. Relationship and “rules” (godly standards) between our Father and His children are no more antithetical than relationship and standards between any parent and child. It is interesting to note that though Prince repeatedly rejects the notions of reproof and correction he also repeatedly offers strong rebuke to those who openly differ with his teaching.
  39. Ironically, modern “grace” teachers frequently charge that those who obey this commission from Jesus are “Pharisees,” the very adversaries of Jesus!
  40. “Law” here is the translation of νόμος, which no Greek scholar renders as “nature” the way Antinomians such as Ryan Rufus have (see Brown, 187).
  41. Charles Ryrie, So Great Salvation (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1989), 92-99.
  42. Prince, 233.
  43. Joseph Henry Thayer, The New Thayer’s Greek-Englsih Lexicon of the New Testament (Christian Copyrights Inc., 1983), 406.
  44. Michael Brown gives an excellent and scholarly overview of Î¼ÎµÏ„άνοια in Brown, 85-90.
  45. Richard Alderson, No Holiness, No Heaven! (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), 47.
  46. While the post by Grudem speaks of this in more detail from Scripture, Walter Chantry also speaks of this unity of faith and repentance, saying, “Repentance and faith are Siamese twins…They are invariably joined in the true convert’s heart. True faith always involves repentance. True repentance always has faith mixed with it.”
  47. Prince, 232.
  48. “The Church Must First Repent”
  49. John Flavel, A Blow at the Root of Antinomianism
  50. Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker; A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 107.
  51. Ulric Z. Rule, “Law in the OT” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia vol. III, ed. James Orr (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1929 version/1978 reprint), 1857. (also available online)
  52. William Evans, “Lawless” in Ibid, 1859 (also available online).
  53. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1939), 615
  54. It should be noted, though, that Lloyd-Jones frequently warned against and sought to correct the heresy of Antinomianism. See, for example, his comments in the following: Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Darkness and Light: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:17 -5:17 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1982), 345-348; Martyn Lloyd Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1993 reprint), 12. His comments in paragraph nine of this article are also at odds with antinomian sentiments.

  55. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure.  (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans’s Publishing Company, 1965), 182. See also my Google+ post at https://plus.google.com/115849606049187132320/posts/FM2D8boAeLP.
  56. Stephen Martin, The Heresy of Mind Control: Recognizing Con Artists, Tyrants, and Spiritual Abusers in Leadership (Waynesboro, Georgia: ACW Press), 26.
  57. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/08/16/glorying-in-inidactives-and-insisting-on-imperatives/
  58. Brown, passim (especially p. 13).
  59. John Owen, The Works of John Owen, D. D. vol. xiv, Thomas Russell ed. (London: Richard Baynes, 1826), 92.

Article details

Category: Christian Doctrine, Column: David Kowalski, Grace, John Crowder, Joseph Prince, Practical Christian Living
Related topic(s): ,

First published (or major update) on Wednesday, December 3, 2014.
Last updated on February 13, 2024.

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