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Calling Fundamentalists to Repentance

October 26, 2006


The true gospel will always be confused with licentiousness. 


I should define that word.  Licentiousness means, in the words of Galatians 5:13 and Jude 4, taking grace of God and perverting it into a license for lust, a license for self-indulgence, a license for sin.   I’ve got the grace card now and so I can sin all I want and just put it on my grace card and it even gives me cash back!  That’s licentiousness.  Some people call it antinomianism, which just means “against the law” or “lawlessness”.


Now, of course, it is wrong to pervert and abuse grace in this way.   But before I make that point, it is very important to make this one:  If you preach the true gospel of grace, people will routinely accuse you of preaching licentiousness.  

Listen to how Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it, “The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it.  There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean…that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound to the glory of grace.  That is a very good test of gospel preaching.” 

Do you hear what Lloyd-Jones is saying?  If someone misinterprets your message to incite licentiousness, that’s a sign that you are preaching it rightly, because they did the same thing to Paul.  So when someone accuses me of antinomianism, I rejoice!  When someone says that I’m preaching just too much grace and that the eternal life I offer in Jesus’ name is just a little too free, I rejoice!  If some of you are frustrated at this point in our series through Romans and are thinking, “Man, if it’s all really that certain, if I’m really that secure in the grace of God, then it seems like it doesn’t matter what I do!  What do I do?  Tell me what to do!”  If that’s the question you’re asking, then I’ve done my job well.  I’ve faithfully exposited the gospel of God as it was entrusted to Paul and recorded in the book of Romans.  For that is exactly the question Paul’s hearers asked him at this point when he proclaimed the gospel of God.

In the Pilgrim’s Progress, there is a scene where Christian meets a man named Ignorance.  Now Ignorance professes to be a Christian.  Here’s what he says “I believe that Christ died for sinners; and that I shall be justified before God from the curse, through his gracious acceptance of my obedience to the law.”   So Christian begins to reason with him, to correct him and show him that although he is speaking Christianese, what he is really saying is that he is trusting in his own righteousness (which he wrongly supposes is made acceptable through Christ) rather than trusting in Christ’s righteousness alone imputed to him. 

To which Ignorance responds, “What! would you have us trust to what Christ in his own person has done without us?  This conceit would loosen the reins of our lust…For what does it matter how we live, if we may be justified by Christ’s personal righteousness from all when we believe it?” And then at this point in my 100-and-some-odd-year-old copy of the Pilgrim’s Progress, there is a footnote, because my copy is annotated by an editor compiling notes from several different ministers of old.  I have no idea who they are, but these notes are wonderful, and they say at this point, “No sooner do you propose to an ignorant professor Christ’s righteousness alone for justification, than he instantly displays his ignorance of the truth by crying out, “Antinomianism!”

Do you hear what they’re saying? The reason why people accuse the true gospel of being antinomian, is because they are ignorant of the power of the true gospel alone to transform lives.  They think they need to add in some law to keep grace from leading people to run wild.  But the truth is that preaching grace produces holiness and preaching law does not.  That would make a good outline in fact for these next two chapters.  Chapter 6: Grace produces holiness!  Chapter 7: Law doesn’t.

Professing Christians who are ignorant of the power of grace, will routinely accuse true gospel preachers of being antinomian.

And on the other hand, when you preach the true gospel of grace, some people really will use it as a license for immorality.  But you got to preach it anyway.  Spurgeon said that there is no way to so safeguard the gospel of grace that will keep graceless men from abusing it and turning it into licentiousness.   He said this in a sermon on the dying thief on the cross to whom Jesus said “Today you will be with me in paradise” and he knew that some people use this story as an excuse to postpone repentance and hope for a deathbed conversion.  But nevertheless, he would not shrink back from preaching the superabundance of grace seen in this Scripture.  Here’s what he said, “Wicked men will drown themselves in the rivers of truth as readily as in the pools of error….Many people think that they ought to guard the gospel, but it is never so safe as when it stands out in its own naked majesty.  It needs no covering from us.  When we protect it with conditions and guard it with exceptions and qualify it with observations, it is like David in Saul’s armor: It is hampered and hindered, and you may even hear it cry “I cannot go with these.”…I am not afraid that this story of the dying and repenting thief, who went straight from the cross to the crown, will be used by you amiss.   But if you are wicked enough so to use it, I cannot help it.”


Some people will respond to the true gospel of grace by abusing it and perverting it into a license for sin.   It can’t be helped.  And if you try to stop it, you will only obscure and hinder the gospel.

Here’s MLJ again, “if our preaching does not expose us to [this] charge and [this] misunderstanding, it is because we are not really preaching the gospel. 

Christianity Today tells us that Reformed theology is having a resurgence in America.  More and more people are understanding and embracing the doctrines of grace, and in this I rejoice.  But I am still saddened by how many of these people are still what I would call “Reformedamentalists”   That is they are Reformed Fundamentalists.  They have begun to grasp the doctrines of grace, but they are still so influenced by American Fundamentalism and its legalistic tendencies that they sound like legalists.   They may have understood the implications of grace for their doctrine of election and justification, but when it comes to sanctification, their minds are not yet renewed by grace.  Some of them still enforce these ridiculous holiness codes about drinking and smoking and dancing.  The more sophisticated speak of Calvin’s third use of the law.  (If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry about it, we’ll talk about it in chapter 7).  Calvin’s third use of the law is fine, but in the hands of these men, it sounds like legalism as they make heavy-handed applications of the regulative principle and argue for strict Sabbatarianism.  They may not by definition be legalists, but it takes a Ph.D. to tell the difference.

It is my deep ambition, and it should be your deep ambition as well, to never be mistaken for a legalist. Paul, in Philippians 3, calls legalists dogs and says that the self righteousness in which they boast is…I’ll use the nice word, dung.  They are dogs feeding on filth.  I don’t want to be mistaken for a filth-eating dog, do you?

I would rather, like Jesus, be mistaken for a drunkard.  I would rather, like Paul, be mistaken for an antinomian.  Now Jesus was not a drunkard and Paul was not an antinomian, but they lived and preached grace so fully that this was the slander they routinely received.

Now it’s time for the altar call.  It’s time to leave your fundamentalism behind.  Which one are you mistaken for?  Are you like Jesus, often mistaken for a glutton and a drunkard because you go to parties with sinners?  Are you like Paul, often mistaken for an antinomian because of the unqualified clarity with which you preach grace alone?  Or do people often find you a little legalistic?  If the latter is the case, I plead with you to get on your knees before God and ask Him to search your heart and show you where you’ve gotten it all wrong.  Where did you go astray?  Pray and say, “Lord Jesus, Friend of Sinners, forgive me for being such an unChristlike, unPauline witness to your glorious gospel of grace.   Change me, grant me repentance.  Empower me to let go of all pride and self-righteousness and make me a person who in my words and by my life testifies to the mighty power of grace alone to produce Christlike love and holiness.” 

6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2006 1:13 pm

    Ahhh. . . A refreshing breeze of pure Gospel air. Thank you!

  2. October 26, 2006 3:31 pm

    I’m an antinomian drunkard with dung on the back of his neck flung by the holiness police who pursue me like foaming-at-the-mouth dogs nipping at my shod w/ peace feet!

    Amen and Amen.

  3. egana permalink
    October 26, 2006 10:26 pm

    This was a kick*ss sermon!

    ooops… am I allowed to say that?

    …maybe I’ll just say it was really really really really really really really really really really great.


    …the crass version is shorter, and more powerful

    and my high school rhet teacher always said to use the shortest, most powerful words to communicate and idea…

  4. The funky fresh 2.0 Jew permalink
    December 5, 2007 2:22 pm

    Loved it. Every bit of it.

  5. December 6, 2007 9:06 pm

    Fantastic, Mike! Wish I would have moved here earlier to have heard this series from the beginning!

    Hmmm… MP3’s… maybe that’ll give me something to do this summer…

  6. October 29, 2008 10:00 am

    “At the right time, Christ died for the unGodly.”

    He didn’t wait until we cleaned up our acts. How do we know when we’ve cleaned up our acts, anyway? Have we cleaned them up for the right reason?

    Nope. He died for the unGodly. That is me…and that is you.

    Thanks be to God that I am actually a full blown sinner, and not one of those half -righteous / half-sinner types.

    What a refreshing post/sermon! Every Christian ought read this at least once a day. I am going to save it and do just that.

    Thanks very much!

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