Grace is heresy?

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Jason B. Hood, in an article in Christianity Today, wrote an article criticizing the teaching of radical grace. You can read the whole article here:

Apparently the teaching of radical grace is much more widespread than I had realized, which is heartening! He speaks as if this is a significant and widespread movement whose beliefs must be guarded against. His basic thesis is that those who believe in a radical form of grace hold that a charge of antinomianism is a badge of honor, and that being heresy, it is a ridiculous litmus test for spiritual authenticity. If you are not familiar with antinomianism, there is a great explanation of it here:

Hood says that such preachers teach that

“one should not lay great stress (particularly in pulpit ministry) on the pursuit of holiness and radical descriptions of the requirements of Christian discipleship.”

He later goes on to say that Paul does draw the charge of allowing moral license because of the grace afforded by the gospel, and refutes it:

The antinomian charge will not stick for Paul, and is in fact repudiated in the most vociferous way. Romans 6:1 asks two questions—What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?—which are introduced by Paul so that he can utterly refute them. His first two words in the Greek of 6:2, me genoito, are the strongest possible denial available to him in Greek—a denial so strong that it difficult to express in English without using “French.”

I have to counter that if Paul had not laid down an idea of radical grace, the question would not have risen in the first place. He raises the question because it is the natural conclusion from what he has been saying:

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;” Romans 3:21-24, NASB.

Paul’s answer is clearly NOT to simply press us into a heavier obligation of moral fortitude because of grace! Mr. Hood abandons Paul’s line of argument directly, after noting that he doesn’t expect our newfound belief in grace to lead to moral license. What is Paul’s line of argument?

“Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.” Romans 6:11-14, NASB.

As I’ve said many times, when we are introduced to grace, we are justified completely, and we undergo an identity change. Paul is not telling us to place ourselves back under obligation to the law. He is telling us to live in accordance with our new identity. However, even when we fail to do so, we are still under grace, and our new identity remains secure. If this is ‘antinomianism’ then so be it. I think it is normal Christianity.

There is some logical inconsistency going on in Mr. Hood’s article, and in all who will not cozy up to the fact that Paul, and indeed the whole NT, really does teach radical grace. If we are justified as a gift His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, then it is true that we are not under obligation to do the works of the law to procure our own justification. There is no ambiguity. We are justified as a gift. It is a grave disservice to water this down or bring in an obligation to do works after the work of justification has been accomplished for someone.

If this is true, if this is real, that we must do nothing to secure our own justification, then this is a game changer. We are free, free indeed! It is an antinomian dream! If it isn’t true, then Jesus’ death was of no account, it is all a strange and disturbing story about some weird guy a long time ago. If we can still break our justification, then we are lost.

Mr. Hood would say, you are mixing up things! I’m not talking about justification, I’m talking about sanctification. This is the whole point of the teaching of radical grace. If your idea of sanctification isn’t touched by your justification, you are right back under obligation to the law. However, we are not under law, but under grace! As Paul says later,

“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” Romans 11:6, NASB.

So radical grace leads to and expects radical obedience, but it is the obedience of a gifted musician to the music he loves, not the obedience of a coal miner to their detested job. Mr. Hood sets up a caricature of the teaching of the radical grace movement and shoots that down, arguing in a roundabout way that it is a wrongly celebrated heresy. Instead, I argue that radical grace is the only path to true heartfelt holiness that flows from the desire and depends on the substance of the new creature that we have become. Under radical grace, we walk by the Spirit not the flesh. This is nothing more than a thinly veiled call to abandon the walk of the spirit and come under the flesh. We must not bow to the ridicule of such men. It is all too common. Grace, true radical grace, is the crown jewel of the Christian faith, and the only path to holiness and joy. It is the only path which is able to produce holiness as a fruit without making an idol of ourselves or our behavior.

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  1. Jim,

    I agree with you completely on this. To say that Romans 6:1 proves that Paul does not teach radical grace is to ignore pretty much all the rest of his writing, In fact, in chapter 7 he spends the entire chapter telling us how bad he messes up the holy living side of it. Only to culminate it all with the statement in 8:1 that there in no condemnation even after we mess it all up. Paul was probably the most radical teacher of grace.

    I also think that the term “heresy” has been so overused that it really has little or no weight in contemporary use. Really anyone who is not in the same stripe as you, is a heretic. Even within the community of free grace we throw the term back and forth while completely disregarding the areas that we are in agreement on theologically. I know that there are many heresies in the church, but when we throw the word around so much, it makes fighting really dangerous theology much more difficult.

  2. I can understand the guys feelings. After all, antinomians have been a big problem throughout history. The Reformers had to fight them, Paul had to deal with them as they tried to keep the law out of the church, they killed Jesus, and even at the beginning, Adam and Eve wanted to eat freely from the tree of life rather than the knowledge of good and evil, which God was so insistent they experience. The human race has done such a bang-up job with the law, and Paul clearly wanted us to keep it close at hand.

    Seriously, though, people make a big deal about antinomianism, but, to me, it seems that people lean towards law, and even those who have the law don’t seem to follow it. Considering we “are not under the law” (Rom. 6:14), “We’ve become dead to the law” (Rom. 7:4), “we’ve been delivered from the law” (Rom. 7:6), “apart from the law sin was dead” (Rom. 7:8), “the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56), “the law is not of faith” (Gal. 3:12) and “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Gal. 5:4); I don’t know if being against the law is such a bad thing. Of course, as Paul points out, I’m not suggesting the law is a bad thing or that it doesn’t matter how we live, but if Paul is urging us to follow the law, then he’s being a bit too subtle, I think.

    Though, the guy writing the article seemed to be defining “radical grace” (I’ll use that term, since he didn’t target “Free Grace” specifically) as if encouraging people to sin or at least disregard sin is inherent in the idea, but that isn’t a fair judgement. Some might take it that way, but some Christians have thought it was alright to burn people alive; personally, I don’t think that is part of Christianity. If I said that you could cut your leg off and still be saved, I doubt that these people would freak out because I’m encouraging them to cut their leg off, so I don’t see how presenting people with salvation without obligations is seen as encouraging people to sin. And, we are justified freely, right? People seem to act as if everyone is just itching to get away from God so much that if you don’t force them to behave then they’ll bolt, robbing the collection plate on their way out the door.

    Anyone I’ve heard using the Romans 6 “litmus test” has always used it in regards to justification/ being born again and our general standing before God, but people like this guy seem to think it encompasses the whole message. As if Free Grace people just tell someone to believe and then run off, never to be seen again; leaving the new believer in the state of infancy. Why does telling someone how to be saved have to include the entire Christian life? When I was in school, they didn’t try to teach me everything my first day, and I don’t recall my parents flipping out because I didn’t come home quoting Shakespeare. It seems to me that Romans 6 is addressed to people who have already been justified by grace, through faith, and is urging them not to sin on the basis of their position under grace; not as a condition for being justified.

    Sorry for the length and the rambling nature of this comment, I just can’t seem to write anything short.

    • CKeith,

      You are a friend indeed! I love this statement about how you can be saved and cut your leg off, that is fantastic. You have to email your full name to me so I can quote that if I ever need to, because it is good stuff. I also think that there is a whole new dynamic under grace from which our virtue is produced, as in Galatians:

      “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 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 shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:16-23, NASB.

      Virtue under grace has a different source, and looks quite different than virtue under the law. In fact, because the nature of our fallenness is that we desire the forbidden, impressing law upon the unregenerate heart is like pouring gasoline on a fire to put it out:

      “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.” Romans 7:8, NASB.

      In other words, the law is good, but we long for the forbidden, and our desire only sees opportunity when it sees the law. Only grace can produce real virtue, it is our only hope. I have come to think that by law and flesh, it means any principle pressed upon the unwilling soul.

      • Thanks. I really like that section from Galatians, I find it interesting that if we walk by the Spirit we won’t fulfill the lusts of the flesh; instead of the other way around.

        Also, there’s no need to quote me, feel free to use anything you like. I’m just glad someone got something out of all that.

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