By Mike Willis
In two previous articles, I have surveyed the manner in which denominationalists have handled the problem of daily sins. The Wesleyans hold to the doctrine of perfection; they believe that a second work of grace occurs which makes it possible for a Christian to live above sin. Hence, they deny that a Christian has .any sins after he receives sanctification. The Calvinist handles the problem of day-by-day sins through the imputation of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ to the believer’s account. He believes that God sees the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ instead of the imperfect obedience of the believer. Consequently, the believer is secure from apostasy because of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ to his account. Both of these methods of handling the problem of day-by-day sin have been rejected as unscriptural. Although they are attractive in that they give the believer a certain amount of security from apostatizing, they are unscriptural concepts.
In this article, I would like to consider another method of handling the problem of sin in the life of the Christian. Although a few among us have handled the problem of day-by-day sins through the doctrine of imputed righteousness, the greater portion of brethren have rejected this as a false idea. However, some of these brethren are not comfortable with a position which teaches that a Christian is separated from God every time he commits a sin. Consequently, they have accepted a position which I label as “automatic grace.”
The Automatic Grace Position
Let me try to state this position as best as I can. I shall try not to misrepresent the belief of these brethren, although I am positive that those who accept this position could do a better job of explaining it than I can. However, here is my understanding of the position.
The “man of faith” is a man who is generally doing his best to walk within the commandments of God. Nevertheless, the “man of faith” will, on occasions, commit sins. Because this man is generally “walking in the light,” the sins which he commits (in ignorance or through a weakness of the flesh, rather than in open rebellion) are automatically forgiven by Jesus Christ because he is a “man of faith.” The consequence of this position is that such sins can be forgiven without repentance, confession, or prayer.
The ones who have taken this position sometimes describe those who believe that every sin separates one from Christ as “yo-yo Christians” and “jack-in-the-box Christians.” They belittle the idea of one stepping in and out or grace with every sin that he commits.
There are, indeed, certain advantages to holding this position. The security which a believer is given is at the top of the list. This man does not have to go through life worried about having committed some sin in ignorance which has separated him from God. He does not have to worry about some sin which he might have committed in some weakness of the flesh; the grace of God was automatically applied to this individual so that his sins have already been forgiven prior to his confession.
The disadvantages of folding -this position far outweigh whatever advantages might be cited in its favor, in my opinion. Consistency demands that the following positions be taken by those who hold this position, as best as I can tell:
(1) Sins of immorality, as well as doctrine, are automatically forgiven. Those who have accepted this position have used it to teach that a good, honest-hearted person among the liberals or the Christian Church can be saved while working with these groups. However, if the argument is worth anything, it will also apply to a good, honest-hearted person who is either caught up in an ethical violation through ignorance or the weakness of the flesh. For example, suppose that a Christian became involved in a compromising situation which led him to commit adultery. The husband of the adulteress came in, saw what was happening, and killed the Christian committing adultery with his wife. What will be the eternal destiny of that individual? If the argument that God’s grace is automatically extended to the Christian to cover sins of ignorance and weaknesses of the flesh is accepted, the conclusion is that this man is going to be saved! Brethren, I am personally not willing to accept that conclusion. It is direct violation to the Scriptures (Gal. 5:19; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).
(2) The separation from God comes, not at the moment sin is committed, but at the moment the sin is pointed out to the individual. In discussions with those who hold this position of automatic grace, it has become clear to me that separation from God comes at the moment that the individual is informed of his sin and refuses to repent of it. So long as the sin is committed in ignorance, the grace of the Lord is automatically extended to cover it. However, when the person is confronted with his sin, he must decide whether to follow Christ or Satan. If he chooses to follow Satan, he is at that moment separated from Christ. However, notice that his transgression of the law is not what separated him from God; rather, it was his choice to continue knowingly the sin once practiced ignorantly.
Furthermore, some would follow this matter ever further. If the individual sincerely could not see that what he was doing was wrong and still chose the way of Satan rather than that of Christ, he would still stand justified in God’s sight, according to these people. After all, imbecility of intellect cannot separate one from God, they say.
(3) The attitude and intention are accepted in place of obedience. With this position, the “man of faith” who is involved in sin is acceptable before God because his general desire to please God is accepted in place of his act of disobedience. The man, for example, who is sincere and honest but who is using mechanical instruments of music in worship is accepted before God in spite of his sin because he is a “man of faith.” At this point, the many passages which show that sincerity does not replace obedience need to be studied (Acts 26:9; 1 Sam. 15:22-23; 1 Kgs. 13; etc.).
(4) It removes the urgency of gospel preaching. I must frankly confess that if I believed this idea of “automatic grace,” I would be less motivated to reach those involved in sin to call them to repentence. When I am convinced that an individual is going to lose his soul because of the sin which he is practicing, I am going to be rather urgent about taking a message to a man who is involved in sin but, nevertheless, saved.
(5) It virtually assumes that truth and error are indistinguishable. In conversation with some of those who take this position of “automatic grace,” I have asked them whether or not their sincere “man of faith” could worship with a Christian Church with all of its sinful practices for 25-30 years without being able to detect that something was different between it and the New Testament church. They have stated that they could imagine that this could happen. Frankly, I have never doubted that some in the Christian Church and among the liberals were sincere and honest people. Nevertheless, I believe that they are involved in sin and separated from God.
To think that a “man of faith” who studies his Bible regularly could not recognize anything sinful in these bodies during a course of a lifetime virtually makes one take the position that truth and error are indistinguishable. If they were easily distinguishable, this man would see the error of his ways, repent of them, and forsake the apostate body of which he was a member. Yet, these brethren think that he can be saved while still belonging to such organizations.
Furthermore, this position is going to have to grapple with the problem of how a holy God can ignore transgressions in His people. If I extend the right hand of fellowship to one who is walking outside the doctrine of Christ, I am guilty of participating in that sin (2 John 9-11). If the holy God of heaven maintains fellowship with those who are walking in sin, is He not tainted thereby? If not, why not?
The suggestion has been made that God has made provisions for forgiving His people and, therefore, can fellowship sinners without being tainted by their sin because they are forgiven. Admittedly, this is true. This grace is extended to mankind in the gospel. It is granted to the alien sinner upon the conditions that he believe, repent, confess faith in Christ, and be baptized; it is granted to the erring child of God on the conditions that he repent and pray. However, does God’s grace make provisions for forgiving the man who defends a sinful practice, refuses to repent of it, and continues in that sin, as is the case with those who use mechanical instruments of music in worship, support human institutions from the church treasury, distort church government with the sponsoring church arrangement, pervert the mission of the church, and other such sinful practices? Where is the Scripture that indicates that He grants forgiveness to such men? If there is no Scripture to indicate that they stand forgiven, they are yet in their sins. If they are yet in their sins and God maintains fellowship with them, God’s holiness has been tainted by fellowshipping those who are in sin.
Before concluding this treatment of the automatic grace position which is held by some brethren among us, I need to add that a good number of brethren who accept this automatic grace concept are men of strong conviction. They would no more think of fellowshipping brethren among the liberals than they would those in the Catholic Church. The stance which they have taken against institutionalism is well-known; their faithfulness is appreciated and respected.
However, I think that in this respect these brethren have accepted a position not very well thought out. These brethren would generaly repudiate every disadvantage which I. have listed to the position of automatic grace, although I do not personally know what logical or biblical argument they could make against these conclusions, given that one accepts their premises. Hence, I would like to appeal for brethren to study this position with me. Let us reason together. (Continued next week.)
Truth Magazine XXIII: 34, pp. 547-549
August 31, 1979