(By John Burton) ONE. We believe in a theology of exemption. – A theology of exemption states that since we are saved, we are exempt from the penalties of sin. That there are parts of the Bible that no longer apply to us. Yes, it’s a heresy. False-grace removes bible-based responsibilities to respond to God in holiness. The number of people who subconsciously or unwittingly embrace a theology of exemption is far greater than those who explicitly pronounce their agreement with this doctrine. Many subscribe to false-grace doctrines without realizing their deception. Many have been lulled into a false sense of security while actually existing in an unsaved state. They are confident they’d enter Heaven if they died, yet the reality is that they would not. They have come to believe they are exempt from certain parts of the Word of God that require a response.
1 Peter 1:15-17 (ESV) 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,
Be holy. God judges according to one’s deeds. Those who hold to a theology of exemption don’t believe they are subject to what this verse is communicating. The command to be holy is to them a great goal, but not a mandate. A principle not a command. Our name can actually be removed from the book of life—and that is determined by our obedience, our holiness. Sin can still separate a follower of Christ from him. The Rich Young Ruler saw that this was the case. He wanted to follow Jesus, but could not. He was not exempt from judgment even though he wanted to follow Jesus.
The argument of grace is actually quite revealing. People in the false-grace movement would say, “It’s not possible to be holy, or to avoid sin, so thank God for his grace that covers those sins. In fact we are automatically holy… innocent by association!” Grace isn’t meant to cover up sin, grace is power! Those who walk in true grace would never say that we, as Christians, are predisposed to sin! True grace enables us to do the impossible! False-grace confesses that we cannot. Because of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus, we now have something they didn’t have in the Old Covenant—we have the power to obey! We can do this! In fact, not only aren’t we exempt from obedience in the New Covenant, the call to obedience is even more humanly impossible than in the Old!
Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV) 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
We as Christians are not exempt from judgment or from the repercussions of sin. If we are in Christ, there is no condemnation, but if we are deceived by false theology into thinking we are in Christ, while actually living in disobedience, we are in trouble. We are not in Christ and there is condemnation. No salvation. The wrath of God remains on us. False-grace doctrine is eternally deadly. There are many people following Jesus today in an unsaved condition.
John 3:35-36 (ESV) 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
John 3:18-19 (KJV) 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. Deeds. Fruit. Works. They are evidence of our position in Christ. Yes, it’s hard to get saved, hard to stay saved, but if we walk in humility and grace and in the Spirit, eternity with Jesus is our inheritance!
TWO. Sin is treated as temporally troubling but eternally benign. – Hebrews 10:26-27 (ESV) 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
That verse stands on its own. The false-grace teachers emphasize that our sin may cause problems in the here and now, but there is no risk of Hell. This has to be one of the most troubling positions those in the false-grace movement take. Universalism is creeping into the church very subtly. False grace teaches that Hell is not a concern for Christians and Christian Universalism teaches that there is no Hell. Different twists on the same false doctrine. Yes, sin does result in trauma here on the Earth. But, it doesn’t end there. If we embrace a lifestyle of sin, we are not saved. We won’t go to Heaven. The day of judgment will be a day of horror.
The false-grace/semi-universalist position is one that would adhere to “once saved always saved.” My belief is actually quite the opposite—once saved rarely saved. The road is not wide. It’s narrow and it’s rare to find people on it… and people who decide to stay on it.
Revelation 3:5-6 (ESV) 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ If we don’t conquer, don’t work out our salvation with fear and trembling, our name is blotted out of the book of life.
Galatians 5:16-21 (ESV) 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
If we walk in the Spirit, our flesh is subdued. However, if we aren’t walking in the Spirit, we are under the law because Christ’s sacrifice has been made of no effect. Therefore, even though we may have said the sinner’s prayer, paid tithes and lived a good life, that salvation is nullified for us. The above scripture reveals what clear evidence to look for when analyzing our position in Christ.
I’ve heard of pastors who boast that they no longer preach on the cross, sin or Hell because we are in the age of grace. My God! The cross must be central to our churches! There can be pastors who preach powerfully, pray in tongues and lead large, growing churches who won’t inherit the kingdom of God. If they are driven by jealousy of other pastors or embrace division, the Bible is clear. If they don’t repent, Hell is in their future. Do you have any idea how much of the fear of the Lord is on this pastor? I tremble continually. False-grace provides temporal security in exchange for eternal torment. The enemy is more than happy to make this exchange.
THREE. Repentance and confession of sin are not necessary after we have been saved. –False-grace teachers proclaim that our sins are forgiven past, present and future. This is simply not true. If we repent, we are forgiven. If we retain our sins they are retained. The provision for forgiveness has been made, and the true grace has been given to us to respond. The Lord’s Prayer itself makes it clear that we must both ask for forgiveness and forgive!
Matthew 6:12 (ESV) 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
1 John 1:9 (ESV) 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:6 (ESV) 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
The false-grace theology commonly teaches that we, as humans in a fallen world, are expected to sin and that it’s the focus on sin, not sin itself, that puts us into bondage. The reality is that people are becoming affirmed in a sinful state with no fear of the Lord or fear of damnation to be found. Of course, false-grace teachers don’t encourage a lifestyle of sin, but they also don’t sound the alarm communicating any sort of eternal threat. To them, there is no eternal risk whatsoever. A friend of mine shared this:
Amy Smith: Misrepresented grace has caused us to respond to the command to be holy with an elbow bump and a wink, wink. “Ok God, we know what you mean. You’re not really asking us to be holy, you’re just telling us to make sure we’re under your grace. We know that You’re overlooking those little sins we’re not dealing with. In fact, your grace allows us to also overlook some things, such as all the scripture verses that call for standards that are higher than we can achieve.”
Another friend shared this:
Ed Hull: When we die, it will not be what we believed about our identity in Christ that will save us. It will be whether the concept of our identity produced good fruit, the fruit of righteousness. Simply put, repentance and confession is absolutely critical to our position in Christ after salvation. Most are unclear on their identity… they presume themselves to be ‘in Christ’ though they very well may not. If we are ‘in Christ’, there is no condemnation, but if we analyze our position wrongly, presuming to be ‘in Christ’ when in fact we are not, we are still condemned. Repentance is actually a very wonderful, joyful, fulfilling lifestyle!
The closer I get to God, the deeper into my heart I allow him to peer, the more wonderful repentance comes flowing out. I love to repent! Even if it’s grieving, my heart comes alive as I realign with the Lover of my soul! The more I turn, the deeper into God I go! Ignoring sin, unbelief and other barriers to intimacy just can’t be our strategy! Presuming they aren’t there when they are just doesn’t work. Repent continually and enjoy an indescribably journey into intimacy with Jesus!
FOUR. A biblical works message is renounced as legalism. – It’s striking to me how often I hear that a focus on holiness and obedience equates to legalism. How far from orthodox Christianity has the church fallen? The only point at which it’s legalism is if we were to reject the cross and resurrection of Christ by attempting to work our way into Heaven. But, if we agree that Jesus is the only one who could have paid for our sins yet we also refuse to work, our salvation is a myth. Legalism is our attempt to get to Heaven by bypassing the cross of Jesus. Holiness and works are our response to the cross of Jesus.
Luke 6:46 (ESV) 46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?
Luke 8:21 (ESV) 21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
Luke 11:28 (ESV) 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
John 8:51 (ESV) 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
John 14:15 (ESV) 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
John 15:10 (ESV) 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
John 15:14 (ESV) 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV) 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Matthew 25:23-30 (ESV) 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming, I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Throughout the New Testament it’s proven over and over again that obedience, works and production (fruit) is mandatory if we are to be—and stay—saved.
FIVE. Salvation is depicted as easy and/or permanent. – Jesus didn’t die on the cross to make it easy for us to get saved. He died so it would be possible for us to get saved. There is a temptation to withdraw from the pressures of persecution, the call to holiness, surrender and the cross, and a false-grace message is a perfect solution to that problem. It offers an escape from an urgent and fervent focus on obedience by dis-joining it from our position in Christ. The false-grace doctrine teaches that our eternity and our relationship with Jesus is already settled and we can simply relax and enjoy God. Our obedience is in no way joined to our relationship with Jesus or our eternal destiny. Additionally, there is a misunderstanding of the process of salvation. Those impacted by the false-grace movement tend to believe that they play no part in salvation other than believing that Jesus was the Son of God. Anything other than that would scream of works and false-grace teaching has convinced them to have an adverse reaction to anything that feels like human effort.
The scripture that most often comes to mind is Ephesians 2:8-9:
Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
First, this scripture is quite often misunderstood. It is NOT saying that works don’t play a part in salvation. It IS saying that works ALONE can’t save us. Basically, we can’t say, “Thanks Jesus for dying on the cross for me, and rising from the dead. Great job! But, you know, I’m not really interested in your version of salvation. So, I reject the cross and the resurrection… it’s just too narrow for me. Instead, I will give $1 million to a local church and will buy my way into Heaven. I’ll pay the price myself.” We can’t pay the price. We can’t substitute Jesus’ payment for our own. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t work in RESPONSE to and in ACCORDANCE with the price that only Jesus could pay. We love Ephesians 2:8-9, but usually, leave off verse 10:
Ephesians 2:10 (ESV) 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We were created for good works. Paul reveals that we receive the Spirit via hearing by faith and not of works, yet that does not communicate to us that works are not to be expected. First faith, then works and not the other way around.
James 2:14 (ESV) 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
It’s a rhetorical question. The answer, of course, is no. Faith without works cannot save us. This means, if we have faith in Jesus, worship him, pray to him, honor him… but don’t obey, we cannot presume to be saved. False-grace theology would not agree with this.
James 2:18-20 (ESV) 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
The false-grace movement is shouting, “Show me your faith apart from works!” The question must be, “Are we like demons who have faith (believe) or do we also work in response to the mandates of God?” It’s easy and common to be falsely saved, but to truly be saved requires an extreme price—both on the part of Jesus and on our part. We can’t do his part and he can’t do ours—and this does have eternal implications. The false-grace message that minimizes obedience and works absolutely does result in people being cast into eternal fire.