By Dr. Roger Fankhauser, FGA Executive Council member and the pastor of Burleson Bible Church in Burleson, Texas. Dr. Fankhauser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A fancy word meaning “lawless”.
Many who don’t get the free grace message accuse us of practicing and teaching antinomianism. They think – wrongly – that the free grace message is light on sin and light on obedience. The author of a recent best-selling book describes the message that he alleges some present this way: “We have been told all that is required is a one-time decision, maybe even mere intellectual assent to Jesus, but after that we need not worry about his commands, his standards, or his glory. We have a ticket to heaven, and we can live however we want on earth. Our sin will be tolerated along the way….” Another well-known author put it this way: “What is no-Lordship theology (the author’s name for free grace theology) but the teaching that those who died to sin can indeed live in it?”
So, let me interview myself (yeah, I know that’s weird) and clarify what I really believe and teach:
Q: Does free grace teach that sin will be tolerated along the way?
A: Absolutely not. Sin is serious; it is an affront to God (Ps. 51:4). It has serious consequences.
Q: What kind of consequences?
A: For the believer who sins, consequences can include physical issues (e.g., sexually transmitted disease), relational issues (e.g., loss of trust from someone we hurt), loss of reward (2 Cor. 5:10), guilt and shame, loss of the experience of “abundant life” (John 10:10), discipline from God (Heb. 12:5-7), and perhaps even physical death (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:28-30).
Q: But doesn’t habitual sin in someone’s life mean they aren’t really saved?
A: That’s a loaded question. How do we define “habitual” biblically? We can’t. So, if that’s the scale to evaluate one’s salvation, we’re left in an arbitrary mess. It leaves us in the position of evaluating our standing before God based on the subjective evaluation of my life rather than the objective person and work of Jesus.
Q: So what would you tell the person in “habitual” sin?
A: I don’t want to assume someone is a Christian just because they say they are. I want to find out why they think they are a Christian. The issue isn’t what we say, what we think, even what we pray. The issue is in whom do we believe? It might well be they didn’t understand the gospel and are not, in fact, Christians. But let’s assume they are. In that case, I’d try to find out why they choose to live in sin. They could give a thousand different reasons, ranging from “I just want to” to “I’m stuck and don’t know how to get out”. Then, depending on the answer, I might talk about the consequences of their choices, and I would definitely try to help them see the way out (Gal. 6:1-2).
Q: What about discipleship? Is it optional? I know one writer who thinks the grace position promotes discipleship only for “the higher level Christian”?
A: No, discipleship is not optional. Obedience is not optional. We are urged to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Eph. 4:1, Col. 1:10, 1 Thess. 2:12). God expects all of us to live a life following Jesus. Having said that, failure to follow Jesus as His disciple does not prove we were never a believer. It simply proves we are disobedient believers. Discipleship is not optional if we want to live life the way God desires, if we want to grow, if we want to glorify Him, if we want to hear “well done”.
Q: Maybe some people think the cost of following Jesus is too high. How do you respond to that?
A: Following Jesus may very well cost us a great deal in this life. Jesus said the world hated Him; we shouldn’t be surprised if it hates us. Or, maybe, like Moses, who must choose “to endure ill-treatment with the people of God” rather than “enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25). However, when we look at the big picture, the long term benefit of following Him far outweighs the temporal costs. Even Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2).
Q: Has anyone accused you of watering down God’s Word because of the free grace message?
A: Yep! Someone said I wasn’t serious enough about the warnings in Scripture. He said some of the warnings sound like a Christian could “go to hell” for a reason. But Paul faced the same accusation (Rom. 6:1).
Q: So what would you tell other free-grace proponents to say in their ministry?
A: First, keep the gospel message simple, clear, and correct (faith alone in Christ alone). Don’t muddle the basic message. Second, clearly teach the seriousness of sin, the warnings directed to disobedient Christians, and the consequences of sin. Third, teach that our security in Christ rests on the objective work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not on the subjective evaluation of our faithfulness. And fourth, continually call people to “walk in a manner worthy”. Help them to see that God desires – and expects – this of His people.
Q: Thanks, me, for the interview!
A: You’re welcome, me!
Antinomian? Not at all. Sin is serious and the call to follow Jesus is real.