Grace a Doctrine too Far?

Is Grace all we need?

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 lived under a cloud and always appeared to be defeated, yet others seemed to exude confidence and contentment.

Freedom, but something was wrong!

Many years later I found myself in a church that was part of the Grace Movement. Coming 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'd 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 very 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 doctrine. 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 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 vast majority of the Christian 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 was seldom mentioned, perhaps because it was thought it might spoil the freedom that people like me had found. 

After hearing a very well-known grace teacher at a conference, I asked him ‘How do you preach the Gospel of sin and repentance in a church without sending 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 and repentance is not the whole Biblical Gospel. The doctrine of grace without the doctrine of sin and repentance is an incomplete doctrine! Paul says in Romans 6 - Not to presume upon God's Grace by continuing in sin. So sin and repentance should be an integral part of the doctrine of God’s grace.

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, it’s a human tendency to swing from one extreme to the other. If we see problems with a doctrine we inevitably reject it in favour of another, usually at the other end of the pendulum swing. It would be far more Biblical to embrace both views, particularly in the case of ‘grace' verses 'the gospel of sin and repentance’. Throwing light on the grace doctrine should not be at the expense of the gospel of sin and repentance. 

You can see the danger of the slick technique of reducing a doctrine to only two options. There are never only 2 choices when it comes to theology, God is bigger than that. 


Sadly, the liberalism that Paul warned of in Romans 6 became 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 Gospel of sin and repentance, 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 to accept 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 inevitable consequences of sin that we would expect to have been resolved by salvation. An emphasis on guilt and shame rather than on sin and holiness, fails to access the cleansing power of the Gospel. Mind-game techniques like Sozo do not succeed in emulating the transforming effect 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 we don’t ignore the good in the 'opposing' view and 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 equally enthusiastic about God’s whole character.

Martyn Cunnington  


© Martyn Cunnington revised 2021