Grace and Accusations of Antinomianism

by stillhaventfound on January 29, 2011 · 10 comments

Most of my recent posts don’t have much to do with grace as they have to do with healing (mainly) and other charismatic issues. But I’m still very interested in grace. And even as I explore New Covenant messages and teachings on healing by Curry Blake, Andrew Wommack, Roger Sapp, Bill Johnson, etc.,  I learn more of how grace and God’s love for us is really a foundation for all the healing and supernatural stuff we do. Too heavy a focus on obligations and imperatives and we become sin-conscious, guilty and tend to disqualify ourselves from receiving healing/blessings and moving in the supernatural.

In my many posts on grace and New Creation Church (and Pastor Joseph Prince) in the past, I quoted many people from the Reformed (Calvinistic) tradition in defense of the message of grace. Michael Horton was the first person who actually awakened me to my understanding of grace and the gospel about 10-15 years ago as I grappled with the “Lordship Salvation” controversy. I’ve quoted Reformed authors in defense of my view of grace not because I think the Reformed tradition is very grace-based.  In fact, I’ve always maintained that I think there’s a large section of the Reformed tradition that tends to legalism. I say this from experience because before I read Michael Horton, I read many other Reformed and Puritan authors and they were saying really different things from Michael Horton! So there’s that divide in this tradition.

They say history repeats itself. And it’s true in this matter of grace, antinomianism and legalism. When people accuse New Creation Church and Joseph Prince and other grace-based preachers of “antinomianism”, guess what – it’s happened before. Down the centuries, people have come up on different sides in the Reformed tradition on these matters. And even as I speak, things are hotting up in the blogsphere and in the Reformed world. People (many Reformed Christians themselves) are challenging some Reformed Christians (like Michael Horton) on the way they preach the gospel and grace. Too much grace, they say. Gotta beware of antinomianism. Same charges that have been thrown at Pastor Joseph Prince and many others.

For those interested in grace and want to know what’s been happening in the Reformed world, the rest of the post deals with some stuff among Reformed Christians regarding grace and antinomianism that have been going around the Internet and blogsphere the past week:

It probably started with Jason B. Hood’s article in Christianity Today. Partly in response to Tullian Tchividjian’s article Don’t create a new law for yourself, Jason B. Hood wrote Heresy Is Heresy, Not the Litmus Test of Gospel Preaching in Christianity Today:

Antinomianism is lawlessness, believing and teaching an obligation-free version of Christianity. In certain quarters of the evangelical world, being accused of antinomianism is increasingly considered to be a symptom of a healthy ministry. This belief has a long pedigree; no less an authority than Martyn Lloyd-Jones believed there was “no better test” of gospel fidelity than the accusation of antinomianism.

Basically, Jason challenges Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ belief that there was “no better test” of gospel fidelity than the accusation of antinomianism. I wrote positively about Lloyd-Jones’ belief in my Thoughts on New Creation Church – Accused of Antinomianism post – so obviously I disagree with Jason.

Two good responses to Hood’s article:  The Radical Gospel, Defiant and Free by Dane Ortlund and Two Ways To Realize Radical Obedience: My Indirect Response To Jason Hood by Tullian Tchividjian. I really, really liked portions of Ortlund’s response so I’m going to quote some chunks of it:

The gospel of grace is so radical, so free, so counterintuitive, so defiant of all the entrenched expectations of our law-marinated hearts, that it would be surprising indeed if our preaching of this gospel is not met with the objection anticipated by Paul—“are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Rom 6:15; cf. 3:8; 2 Pet 3:15–17). The question is not whether Paul stood squarely opposed to “lawlessness” (your definition of antinomianism). On this you and I (and Paul, and Lloyd-Jones) are happily agreed. I am puzzled at the need you feel to explain at length that Paul opposed lawlessness. Of course he did.

…You underscore the way Paul vociferously refuted antinomianism, as if this refutation deflates Lloyd-Jones’s suggestion that charges of antinomianism may be compatible with gospel faithfulness.

Ortlund is spot on here. This is where I think Jason B. Hood misses the point. When Lloyd-Jones or whoever says that good, authentic and biblical gospel preaching will cause you to receive accusations of antinomianism, we don’t mean that we are for antinomianism or lawlessness! No, we aren’t. As Ortlund suggests above, being against antinomianism (lawlessless) is not inconsistent with your gospel preaching receiving charges of antinomianism. I know – this is profound. I’ll give you time to think about that…

We revel in that charge of antinomianism not because we advocate lawlessness, but because the radical preaching of grace and justification by grace alone through faith alone will make people think that we’re advocating lawlessness. But we’re not advocating lawlessness – just that you don’t get saved by your obedience or keeping the law.

Ortlund continues:

The real question is not whether Paul opposed lawlessness, but (1) why the charge of antinomianism was raised in the first place, and (2) how Paul handled it. As for the first question, surely the answer is the sheer gratuity—the puzzling, head-scratching, wonder-producing scandal—of free forgiveness won for us by another. Forgiveness not only of our rotten badness but also our rotten goodness.

…The next and most important question, then, is how this radical obedience and personal holiness are to be encouraged. And here we come to the real crux.

One way is to balance gospel grace with exhortations to holiness, as if both need equal air time lest we fall into legalism on one side (neglecting grace) or antinomianism on the other (neglecting holiness).

The other way, which I believe is the right and biblical way, is so to startle this restraint-free culture with the gospel of free justification that the functional justifications of human approval, moral performance, sexual indulgence, or big bank accounts begin to lose their vice-like grip on human hearts and their emptiness is exposed in all its fraudulence. It sounds backward, but the path to holiness is through (not beyond) the grace of the gospel, because only undeserved grace can truly melt and transform the heart. The solution to restraint-free immorality is not morality. The solution to immorality is the free grace of God—grace so free that it will be (mis)heard by some as a license to sin with impunity. The route by which the New Testament exhorts radical obedience is not by tempering grace but by driving it home all the more deeply.

So the charge of antinomianism was raised in the first place because the radical grace and forgiveness offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ means that we don’t earn our forgiveness but Christ earned it for us! But how did Paul address this charge, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). Did he try to use a bit of fear so that Christians don’t be too lax and continue to sin? Did he try to balance grace with adding some law? That’s what many people think would cause Christians to flee sin. They think that too much grace and you’ll give them a license to sin. We need some godly fear to motivate them to live holy lives! John Wesley wrote:

If we took grace too seriously especially the doctrine of election it would undermine our only basis for pursuing a holy life, fear of punishment and hope of rewards.

But did Paul think like that? Did he try to temper the free love of God with a bit of fear and lots of focus on doing good? No! He actually counters charges of antinomianism by preaching more GRACE! This seems so counter-intuitive and backward. Surely we promote holiness by preaching holiness and the fear of God and all those kinds of things right? WRONG! As Ortlund wrote and this bears repeating again (bolds too),

The solution to restraint-free immorality is not morality. The solution to immorality is the free grace of God—grace so free that it will be (mis)heard by some as a license to sin with impunity. The route by which the New Testament exhorts radical obedience is not by tempering grace but by driving it home all the more deeply.

Or as Michael Horton wrote in The Fear of Antinomianism in response to Hood’s article and also this recent attack on his teachings,

What’s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with more gospel! (Rom. 6:2-4)  In other words, antinomians are not people who believe the gospel too much, but too little!  They restrict the power of the gospel to the problem of sin’s guilt, while Paul tells us that the gospel is the power for sanctification as well as justification.

…The ultimate antidote to antinomianism is not more imperatives, but the realization that the gospel swallows the tyranny as well as the guilt of sin.  It is enough to save Christians even in their failure and not only brings them peace with God in justification, but the only liberation from the cruel oppression of sin.  To be united to Christ through faith is to receive everything that we need not only to challenge legalism but antinomianism as well.

Or as Tchividjian wrote:

The irony, in other words, of gospel-based sanctification is that those who end up obeying more are those who increasingly realize that their standing with God is not based on their obedience, but Christ’s.

To summarize, the true radical biblical preaching of the gospel should (as Paul’s gospel preaching did) attract accusations of antinomianism. That doesn’t mean we’re promoting antinomianism or lawlessness. One can be against lawlessness yet be charged with preaching a gospel that seems to promote lawlessness. Paul is definitely against sin and lawlessness but he understood that true gospel preaching will attract such charges. When he was accused of antinomianism, he didn’t soften the freeness of the love and grace of God in Christ in order to prove that he’s against sin. He didn’t start balancing grace with law. He didn’t pull back and start to preach holiness or fear or whatever. Rather, he preached more grace and gospel. In fact, he preached identity and union with Christ (which is for another post altogether). He preached more indicatives before later going on to imperatives. But he preached enough grace and indicatives before he moved on to the imperatives so his audience clearly knew that all imperatives and calls to holiness are totally grounded in the gospel and grace of Jesus Christ. As Horton wrote:

We need imperatives—and Paul gives them.  But he only does this later in the argument, after he has grounded sanctification in the gospel.

P.S.: For those who have read this blog and my many posts in the past regarding grace, you’d realize that I quote from a lot of Reformed Christians like Michael Horton on grace and the gospel – often in the context of demonstrating that people like Joseph Prince who preach grace and the gospel radically are not alone. However – and I’ve mentioned this before – that doesn’t mean I think Michael Horton and Joseph Prince would have a lot in common or that Joseph Prince is Reformed in theology! Not at all. Well, I do think Joseph Prince is teaching good Reformed and Reformation theology when it comes to the doctrine of justification. But other than that, Michael Horton would be against Joseph Prince’s view on things like prosperity and healing. Michael Horton, contra Joseph Prince but like most Reformed Christians, would also believe in the third use of the law, viewing the 10 Commandments as a guide for the Christian. However, in an essential aspect of the gospel and grace message (and the doctrine of justification, not sanctification), I would argue that Joseph Prince and Michael Horton are pretty much on the same page. In addition, I think both would be in agreement on the importance of the gospel of Jesus Christ being central to Christian preaching and the whole Christian life, and the fact that it is the supernatural wisdom and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ (not good advice, psychology, principles or law) that transforms and empowers the Christian to live for God and man.

P.P.S.: The conversation continues with Jason B. Hood responding to Dane Ortlund with his We Who Have the Spirit Have the Power to Change and Dane having the last word with his Major Agreement, Minor Disagreement, Moving On. I hope to address these posts and this topic once again in a future post on grace-empowered sanctification.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Stanley Wong January 29, 2011 at 10:35 am

Great post! A good reminder especially to us who have listened to and embraced the grace gospel for quite a while.

Recently, I have sensed that some of us have become so accustomed to the grace gospel that we have sort of forgotten or taken for granted that grace is the foundation and root for good works; so much so that some have begun agitating for more emphasis on works/holiness in the preaching, feeling that sermons focusing on grace and rest are not “practical” enough.

However, I feel that it is precisely when we agitate for more “practical” preaching, that we actually need even more grace preaching, because when we are truly rooted in the gospel of grace, good works and holiness oozes out of us so naturally that we are not even aware or prideful that we are doing good works, let alone need to hear the preacher preach about it.

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Cajetan Phang January 29, 2011 at 11:41 am

Excellent post. It is always a natural logical reaction for anyone who hears for the first time the too-good-to-be-true gospel message of grace to say, “how can that be true?,.. won’t that lead to lawlessness”. It is a natural outcome of operating in the five senses. I had this initial reaction too.

To believe the good news of the new covenant (grace) requires believing in what He has done and that is faith. Our five senses will fail us on this.
However, it is easier said than done, and this is reflected in us, as long time believers in His finished work, that we do at times vacillate from grace to legalism,….just like any temptation . So even great proponents of grace message will at times fall from grace……..so in the ultimate analysis, we still need total reliance on the Holy Spirit in us to teach us the truth.

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Jenny January 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Great article thanks. Great comment from Stanley as well.
Keep it up guys

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Wee January 31, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Hi SHF, thanks for revisiting the subject of grace again. “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”(2 Tim 2:1)

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GaryO February 1, 2011 at 7:37 am

Joseph Prince is definitly not antinomianist, but there are some ministers assosiated with him that definitly are pr. definition. Im not against these guys, and they would never agree themselves that they are antinomianist, but according to the original definition as Luther used it, they are antinomianiss. Luther would have kicked them out from his move if they were ministering there.

J Prince on the other hand holds to the use of the law as evangelicals have taught it. He explains the true function of the law as the law leads to christ, convicts the selfrightous of sin so they see theyr need for a savior etc.
The other preacehr solves the legalsim problem, not by clearifying the functon of the law, but by denying that anybody but jews was ever given a law at all.
They argue that f.inst. Romns 7 and similar verses where Paul claims we died from the law in christ, do not include us since we never was under a law and therefor never could die from it. That is heresy, because Paul wrote all of his letters to gentile churches and we have no right to pick out verses here and there and claim they just are for believing jews.
One person that uses this argument is Graham Cooke, but i dont know if he denies that gentiles was ever under Gods moral law in some sense. I think it is a senseless way to understand Paul.
Those who says that Gods law is never given too gentiles and do not have a function to anybody but jews in the period of moses to john the baptist, they are pr definition preaching an antinomistic version of the grace message. It’s out there. Its good to know, because ive seen ppl accusing grace preachers of antinomianism that pr definition do not preach it at all, like J Prince. And theres ppl defending others against antinomianism, but they do pr definition literally preach it.

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John Tham June 23, 2011 at 1:21 am

I wrote on your blog many years back with great respect.
Today, I’m glad to see that you are going on well bro, and from your writings, you have matured so much.
I have matured so much too, all glory to our Father. :)

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Zach September 19, 2011 at 11:07 am

Having reviewed a number of your posts about “grace”, I don’t find much that I explicitly “disagree” with, but I am left with a personal feeling of “lack” (at first I wanted to say “imbalance”, but that is not right, see below). I think it boils down to two reasons.

First, even if set aside the use of the law as guide (I’m OK with either a nuanced “yes” or nuanced “no” answer to that), we still have the law as mirror, slayer, school-master. Personally, the tendency of my flesh to thinking I’ve got it all together is MUCH stronger than my tendency toward thinking I need to be doing better. I am MUCH more inclined towards struggling with a proud “Well of course God loves me” heart than with a “How could God ever love me” attitude. One reason I LOVE THE LAW is precisely because of its unique way of preparing me to be blown away by grace. When I get the impression that someone is saying, “We don’t talk about law here, we only talk about grace,” or when I get the impression that “less talk about law” equals “more focus on grace” I say, “Oh no!” Amazing Grace is indeed a sweet sound… to someone who knows they are a wretch! But without the law to expose my utter, deplorable, wicked wretchedness, if I hear someone talking about grace I just feel like yawning (which itself shows what a wretch I am). I resonate with Ray Comfort’s passion in this area because for years I heard messages of God’s love for me and, as awful as it sounds, I just didn’t care!

In some of your posts you talk about people wanting to “balance law and grace”. Well, they are just plain wrong. So to the extent that you are combating that false idea, I’m with you. Grace doesn’t need to be “balanced out” by law. I do have concerns, however, that if attempts at “maximizing grace” involve “minimizing law” then the unintended consequence can actually be a “weakened grace” that is not nearly so Amazing as the grace that bursts forth against the backdrop of the Law.

The second sense of “lack” I personally feel here is, hey, in all this discussion of “grace” where are the “doctrines of grace” in it all? In particular, here’s what I mean. To me, “good works” are part of the package that God bestows on His elect children totally by grace. Part of what excites me so much about the New Covenant is the new heart and new spirit, the circumcision of the heart, the promise of having the law written on my heart in such a way that I would be *caused* to walk in it. I know that you don’t currently consider yourself planted in the Reformed camp, and I’m not sure where you stand on all this, but I at least feel it strange that I’m not at least seeing more interaction with the “doctrines of grace” amidst this discussion on “grace”. Am I missing something?

Consider the hypothetical preacher who says, “Salvation is all about being made right with God by grace through faith. Salvation has nothing to do with your actions at all. You might never change and God will love you just the same.” That preacher thinks he is exalting grace by removing works as far from the territory of salvation as possible. That preacher thinks that the less works come into the picture at all, the more he is “maximizing” or “focusing on” grace. But I say no. I say that preacher is robbing me of the fulness of my gracious inheritance. I’m not only saved from the penalty of sin by grace, I’m saved *from sin* by grace. The idea that “works don’t come into the picture at all” (again, I’m speaking hypothetically here, not of any particular preacher), or even the idea that works are merely an “expression of gratitude” which “may or may not” be evidenced in my life, strikes me a “less grace” than the grace I currently know which is strong enough to provide for the certainty of a changed life!

Now, I know that you are big on the indicative/imperative distinction, and the law/gospel antithesis. Again, as noted earlier, I don’t think that grace needs to be “balanced out” with law. I also understand that “response to accusation” style writing is conditioned by the polemic context. Not only have I been removed from the S’pore context for 4 years, but even when I was there I wasn’t involved with NCC, and I must admit I have never listened to a sermon by Joseph Prince. As an outsider, reading between the lines, I can see how you are responding to charges that probably are anywhere from flat-out wrong to at least imbalanced, and providing a perspective oriented towards what the accusers themselves may need to hear. So I guess I’ll close off this comment with the following question. How do you think that NCC’s perspective on “grace” would impact a guy like me who values these two principles: 1) the law as mirror, and 2) good works efficaciously bestowed as part of the “salvation package” (e.g the golden chain of Rom 8)? Are there any particular online resources you would point me to to give me a sense of “vintage” Joseph Prince preaching on grace?

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Rick Davis May 10, 2012 at 5:21 am

Zach – I wonder if you would correspond with me. I’m discovering JPs views for the first time and need help in some areas with someone who can respond to my questions. I’ve always been troubled by the grace/works dispute but sense some light at the end of the tunnel since listening to JP. Rick Davis

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Brian Midmore November 14, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Rom 8.4 seems relevant: …That the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit working in us that makes us holy. Does not the doctrine ‘that the law has been annulled’ result in there being no ‘righteous requirement of the law’. Is not this Antinomianism?

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