Grace a Doctrine Too Far?

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At the age of sixteen, I read a great book by Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones about God’s grace. I can’t say that I understood all the implications of the book at such a young age, but somehow it gave me a small insight into why some Christians live under a dark cloud and always appear to be defeated, yet others exude confidence and contentment.

Freedom, but something was wrong!

When I was 37 I found myself in a fellowship that was part of the Grace Movement. Previously from a church where the teaching consisted of a solid diet of legalism, this new emphasis on

God’s grace was like a breath of fresh air to me. It showed me that I had been suffocating under a paralysing sense of condemnation. For me the Grace Doctrine was liberating. I began to mature as a Christian but still, I couldn't deny a strong conviction that something, somewhere, was wrong.

The Grace Movement rapidly gained ground throughout the World, but almost all of its growth was by drawing Christians from other churches, or by taking-over targeted churches. Despite the fact that the early Grace Churches were more or less evangelistic, the growth from new converts was minimal by comparison with the growth by attracting people like me away from other fellowships.

The unnoticed fact

With such an effective and liberating message, one can understand the attraction of the grace movement. However, to be really faithful to the whole of God’s word, any single doctrinal emphasis is not a solid foundation for good teaching. There was also an important fact that went unnoticed: almost all of the growing number of members of the Grace Churches were already Christians before they joined the movement and so they already had a sound Biblical knowledge of both God’s holiness and their own sinfulness. I believe that it was these two strengths, grace and repentance, that together produced such strong Christians at that time. As in my own case, salvation without an understanding of God’s grace, wasn’t sufficient to liberate me from legalism. The grace doctrine was good news for the likes of me and the majority of the followers of the Grace movement. However grace on it’s own is not the complete gospel. In my long experience of the Grace Movement, sin and repentance was seldom mentioned, perhaps because it was thought it might spoil the freedom that people like me had found.

After hearing a well-known grace teacher at a conference, I asked him‘How do you preach the Gospel of sin andrepentance in a church withoutsending all the Christians on a guilt trip?’He thought about it for a while and then replied,‘I don’t know!’ This is the heart of the problem.

We have to face the fact though, that a gospel without mentioning sin is not the whole Biblical Gospel. The doctrine of grace without the doctrine of sin and repentance is an incomplete doctrine!

You can only really appreciate the wonder of God’s grace when you realise the awfulness of your own sin and the purity of our Holy God.

Unfortunately, its a humantendency to swing from one extreme to the other. When we see problems with a doctrine we inevitably reject it in favour of another, sadly it’s usually at the opposite end of the pendulum swing. It would be far more Biblical and wiser to embrace both views, particularly not emphasising a case for‘grace'verses'the gospel of sin and repentance’. Throwing light on the grace doctrine should not be at the expense of teaching sin and repentance. These two basic doctrines must be preached side by side. The ten commandments are truly a statement of God’s nature and holiness.


Liberalism

Sadly, the liberalism that Paul warned of in Romans 6 becomes more and more evident as the years pass. I’ve seen sad and broken leaders watch their churches fall apart because the members had liberal moral attitudes due to their lack of teaching about sin. They’d lived on an exclusive diet of grace. New converts were and still are, being encouraged to be both ‘in the World’ and ‘of the World’, to demonstrate that God loves us as we are. However, without the solid foundation of the part that sin and repentance plays in the Gospel, too many of these new Christians wither like seeds that fall on stony ground. As a result of this weak teaching, the Grace Movement has been pre-conditioned not to recognise the heresy of the ‘seeker-friendly’psychological gospel.

When our doctrine and practice deliberately avoids the crisis that arises when a sinner faces a Holy God we create the need for some other solution for sin. Psychological counselling has increased dramatically to try and deal with the inevitableconsequences of sin that we would expect to have been resolved by salvation. An emphasis on shame (which is how we feel about ourselves) rather than on sin and God's holiness, fails to access the cleansing power of the Gospel. Mind-game techniques like Sozo do notsucceed in producing the transforming power of salvation.

I don't believe that the whole truth can ever be found in the man-made extremes of any doctrine. Both sides of this particular theological argument have some important Biblical truths, but not the whole picture.

We need to be careful that by overlooking the good in the 'opposing' view that we don't become blind extremists.

Taking a doctrine to its apparently logical conclusion, is not a sound way to find God's truth, because God's wisdom is not restricted to the scope of our human logic.


We’re right to be very enthusiastic about God’s amazing grace, but there are many other aspects of God’s character and greatness, God is also holy and just for example. We need to be equallyenthusiastic about God’s whole character.


Martin Edwyn


Revised November 2019

Martin Edwyn 2015/2019