by A. W. Tozer
Editor Note: This excerpt is taken from “PATHS TO POWER” by A.W. Tozer.
If only preachers today had such insight! I have been sounding the alarm on these points for many years, but most people ignore the plea because the infection of deception on these points is so universal in the denominations of America.
Most will not understand the damage and hindrance false teachings cause to true evangelism, because they don’t understand true evangelism. Evangelism is simply bringing someone from a lost condition to being a true Christian; but until you have a proper definition for “Christian”, you will never have a proper definition for “evangelism”.
Most preachers don’t comprehend how Antinomianism (doctrine and influence) is the root to most of the apostate and profane religion in this nation. They don’t sound the alarm because they personally have been influenced more than they realize. May God rid us of these hindrances to true evangelism and revival!
To any casual observer of the religious scene today, two things will at once be evident: one, that there is very little sense of sin among the unsaved, and two, that the average professed Christian lives a life so worldly and careless that it is difficult to distinguish him from the unconverted man.
The power that brings conviction to the sinner and enables the Christian to overcome in daily living is being hindered somewhere. It would be oversimplification to name any one thing as the alone cause, for many things stand in the way of the full realization of our New Testament privileges. There is one class of hindrances, however, which stands out so conspicuously that we are safe in attributing to it a very large part of our trouble. I mean wrong doctrines or overemphasis on right ones. I want to point out some of these doctrines, and I do it with the earnest hope that it may not excite controversy, but bring us rather to a reverent examination of our position.
Fundamental Christianity in our times is deeply influenced by that ancient enemy of righteousness, antinomianism. The creed of the antinomian is easily stated: We are saved by faith alone; works have no place in salvation; conduct is works, and is therefore of no importance. What we do cannot matter as long as we believe rightly. The divorce between creed and conduct is absolute and final. The question of sin is settled by the Cross; conduct is outside the circle of faith and cannot come between the believer and God. Such, in brief, is the teaching of the antinomian. And so fully has it permeated the Fundamental element in modern Christianity that it is accepted by the religious masses as the very truth of God.
Antinomianism is the doctrine of grace carried by uncorrected logic to the point of absurdity. It takes the teaching of justification by faith and twists it into deformity. It plagued the Apostle Paul in the early church and called out some of his most picturesque denunciations. When the question is asked, “shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” he answers no with that terrific argument in the sixth chapter of Romans.
Their error springs from their very eagerness to magnify grace and exalt the freedom of the gospel. They start right, but allow themselves to be carried beyond what is written by a slavish adherence to undisciplined logic. It is always dangerous to isolate a truth and then press it to its limit without regard to other truths. It is not the teaching of Scripture that grace makes us free to do evil. Rather, it sets us free to do good. Between these two conceptions of grace there is a great gulf fixed. It may be stated as an axiom of the Christian system that whatever makes sin permissible is a foe of God and an enemy of the souls of men.
Right after the first World War there broke out an epidemic of popular evangelism with the emphasis upon what was called the “positive” gospel. The catch–words were “believe,” “program,” “vision.” The outlook was wholly objective. Men fulminated against duty, commandments and what they called scornfully “a decalogue of don’ts.”
They talked about a “big,” “lovely,” Jesus who had come to help us poor but well–meaning sinners to get the victory. That part of the New Testament which acts as an incentive toward holy living was carefully edited out. It was said to be “negative” and was not tolerated. Thousands sought help who had no desire to leave all and follow the Lord. The will of God was interpreted as “Come and get it.” Christ thus became a useful convenience, but His indisputable claim to Lordship over the believer was tacitly cancelled out.
Much of this is now history. The economic depression of the thirties helped to end it by making the huge meetings which propagated it unprofitable. But its evil fruits remain. The stream of gospel thought had been fouled, and its waters are still muddy.
Another doctrine which hinders God’s work, and one which is heard almost everywhere, is that sinners are not lost because they have sinned, but because they have not accepted Jesus. “Men are not lost because they murder; they are not sent to hell because they lie and steal and blaspheme; they are sent to hell because they reject a Saviour.” This short–sighted preachment is thundered at us constantly, and is seldom challenged by the hearers.
A parallel argument would be hooted down as silly, but apparently no one notices it: “That man with a cancer is dying, but it is not the cancer that is killing him; it is his failure to accept a cure.” Is it not plain that the only reason the man would need a cure is that he is already marked for death by the cancer? The only reason I need a Saviour, in His capacity as Saviour, is that I am already marked for hell by the sins I have committed. Refusing to believe in Christ is a symptom of deeper evil in the life, of sins unconfessed and wicked ways unforsaken. The guilt lies in acts of sin; the proof of that guilt is seen in the rejection of the Saviour.
Another doctrinal hindrance is the teaching that men are so weak by nature that they are unable to keep the law of God. Our moral helplessness is hammered into us in sermon and song until we wilt under it and give up in despair. And on top of this we are told that we must accept Jesus in order that we may be saved from the wrath of the broken law! No matter what the intellect may say, the human heart can never accept the idea that we are to be held responsible for breaking a law that we cannot keep.
Would a father lay upon the back of his three–year old son a sack of grain weighing five– hundred pounds and then beat the child because he could not carry it? Either men can or they cannot please God. If they cannot, they are not morally responsible, and have nothing to fear. If they can, and will not, then they are guilty, and as guilty sinners they will be sent to hell at last. The latter is undoubtedly the fact. If the Bible is allowed to speak for itself it will teach loudly the doctrine of man’s personal responsibility for sins committed. Men sin because they want to sin. God’s quarrel with men is that they will not do even that part of the will of God which they understand and could do if they would.
From Paul’s testimony in the seventh chapter of Romans some teachers have drawn the doctrine of moral inability. But however Paul’s inner struggle may be interpreted, it is contrary to the whole known truth to believe that he was a consistent law–breaker and violator of the Ten Commandments. He specifically testified that he had lived in all good conscience before God, which to a Jew could only mean that he had observed the legal requirements of the law. Paul’s cry in Romans is not after power to fulfill the simple morality of the Ten Commandments, but after inward holiness which the law could not impart.
It is time we get straightened out in our thinking about the law. The weakness of the law was threefold:
(1) It could not cancel past sins – that is, it could not justify;
(2) it could not make dead men live – that is, it could not regenerate;
(3) it could not make bad hearts good – that is, it could not sanctify.
To teach the insufficiency of the law lay in man’s moral inability to meet its simple demands on human behavior is to err most radically. If the law could not be kept, God is in the position of laying upon mankind an impossible moral burden and then punishing them for failure to do the impossible. I will believe anything I find in the Bible, but I do not feel under obligation to believe a teaching which is obviously a mistaken inference and one, furthermore, which both contradicts the Scripture and outrages human reason.
The Bible everywhere takes for granted Israel’s ability to obey the law. Condemnation fell because Israel, having that ability, refused to obey. They sinned not out of amiable weakness, but out of deliberate rebellion against the will of God. That is the inner nature of sin always, willful refusal to obey God. But men still go on trying to get conviction upon sinners by telling them they sinned because they could not help it.”
Editor note: The law was a rule for faith to follow. The righteousness of faith (willing obedience stemming from confidence in God’s character and words) is always within man’s reach, and is the very thing God has always required of man as a condition of God’s gracious salvation. We encourage you to read “Paths to Power” by A.W. Tozer. There is much more that we could not include in this short publication. Listen, for example, to the following observation by Tozer:
"The Church of our day has soft–pedaled the doctrine of obedience, either neglecting it altogether or mentioning it only apologetically and without urgency. This results from a fundamental confusion of obedience with works in the minds of preacher and people. To escape the error of salvation by works we have fallen into the opposite error of salvation without obedience. In our eagerness to get rid of the legalistic doctrine of works we have thrown out the “baby with the bath” and gotten rid of “obedience” as well.
The Bible knows nothing of salvation apart from obedience. Paul testified that he was sent to preach “obedience to the faith among all nations.” He reminded the Roman Christians that they had been set free from sin because they had “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” In the New Testament there is no contradiction between faith and obedience. Between faith and law–works, yes; between law and grace, yes; but between faith and obedience, not at all.
The Bible recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that does not spring from faith. The message of the Cross contains two elements: (1) Promises and declarations to be believed, and (2) commandments to be obeyed. Obviously faith is necessary to the first and obedience to the second.
The only thing we can do with a promise or statement of fact is to believe it; it is physically impossible to obey it, for it is not addressed to the will, but to the understanding. It is equally impossible to believe a command; it is not addressed to our understanding, but to our will. True, we may have faith in its justice; we may have confidence that it is a good and right command, but that is not enough. Until we have either obeyed or refused to obey we have not done anything about it yet. To strain to exercise faith toward that which is addressed to our obedience is to get ourselves tangled in a maze of impossibilities.
The doctrine of Christ crucified and the wealth of truths which cluster around it have in them this dual content. So the apostle could speak of “obedience to the faith” without speaking contradictions. And it can be said, “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth,” and “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.’ There is nothing incompatible between these statements when they are understood in the light of the essential unity of faith and obedience.
The weakness in our message today is our overemphasis on faith with a corresponding underemphasis on obedience. This has been carried so far that “believe” has been made to double for “obey” in the minds of millions of religious persons. The result is a host of mental Christians whose characters are malformed and whose lives are all out of proportion. Imagination has been mistaken for faith, and belief has been robbed of its moral content and made to be little more than an assent to gospel truth. And all this in the name of orthodoxy.
There is a mental disease fairly familiar to all of us where the patient lives in a world wholly imaginary. It is a play–world, a world of pure fancy, with no objective reality corresponding to it. Everyone knows this except the patient himself. He will argue for his world with all the logic of a sane man, and the pathetic thing is that he is utterly sincere. So we find Christians who have lived so long in the rarified air of imagination that it seems next to impossible to relate them to reality.
Non-obedience has paralyzed their moral legs and dissolved their backbones, and they slump down in a spongy heap of religious theory, believing everything ardently, but obeying nothing at all. Indeed, they are deeply shocked at the very mention of the word “obey”. To them it smacks of heresy and self-righteousness and is the result of failure to rightly divide the word of truth. Their doctrine of supine inaction is New Testament religion! It is the truth for which the Reformers died! Everything else is legalism and the religion of Cain.
All this we might pass over as merely one more of those things were it not that this creed of the moral impasse has influenced practically every corner of the Christian world, has captured Bible schools, has determined the content of evangelistic preaching, and has gone far to decide what kind of Christians we all shall be. Without doubt the popular misconception of the function of faith, and the failure of our teachers to insist upon obedience, have weakened the Church and retarded revival tragically in the last half–century. The only cure is to remove the cause. This will take some courage, but it will be worth the labor.
We are always in danger of falling victim to words. An unctuous phrase may easily take the place of spiritual reality. One example is the expression “Following the Lord,” so often used among Christians, or its variation, “Following the Lamb.” We overlook the fact that this cannot be taken literally. We cannot now, as those first disciples could, follow the Master over a given geographical area. We tend to think of it literally but at the same time feel its literal impossibility, with the result that it has come to mean little more than a nodded agreement to the truths of Christianity. It may startle us to learn that “following” is a New Testament word used to cover the idea of an established habit of obedience to the commandments of Christ.
What does all this add up to? What are its practical implications for us today? Just that the power of God is at our disposal, waiting for us to call it into action by meeting the conditions which are plainly laid down. God is ready to send down floods of blessing upon us as we begin to obey His plain instructions. We need no new doctrine, no new movement, no “key”, no imported evangelist or expensive “course” to show us the way. It is before us as clear as a four–lane highway.
To an inquirer I would say, “Just do the next thing you know you should do to carry out the will of the Lord. If there is sin in your life, quit it instantly. Put away lying, gossiping, dishonesty, or whatever your sin may be. Forsake worldly pleasures, extravagance in spending, vanity in dress, in your car, in your home. Get right with any person you may have wronged. Forgive everyone who may have wronged you. Begin to use your money to help the poor and advance the cause of Christ. Take up the Cross and live sacrificially. Pray, attend the Lord’s services- Witness for Christ, not only when it is convenient, but when you know you should. Look to no cost and fear no consequences. Study the Bible to learn the will of God and then do His will as you understand it. Start now by doing the next thing, and then go on from there.” A. W. Tozer
Editor note: AMEN! May God increase this understanding and overthrow Satan’s false gospel! “Law- works” are works thought to atone for my own sin or cause me to not need atonement at all. Being saved by these “works” would then nullify the need for Christ’s atonement (Gal. 2:21). Obedience stemming from faith has always been and will always be the condition for finding grace in the eyes of the Lord. Obedience to Christ is necessary to receive the benefits of his atonement and remain “in Christ”. (Heb. 5:9; I John 2:24; John 15:10).
If you check the Greek words behind “unbelief” in Heb. 3:18; 4:6,11, and “disobey’ in I Peter 2:7, you will find something very interesting - it is the same Greek word. We need more men like Wesley, Finney, Tozer and Adam Clarke who understood the dangerous deception of Antinomianism, which gives false assurance, vaccinates against the true gospel, secures poor souls for hell instead of heaven; and destroys the power and testimony of churches. Listen to this short quote from Adam Clarke:
“Shall we continue in sin.... It is very likely that these were the words of a believing Gentile, who – having as yet received but little instruction, for he is but just brought out of his heathen state to believe in Christ Jesus – might imagine, from the manner in which God had magnified his mercy, in blotting out his sins on his simply believing on Christ, that, supposing he even gave way to the evil propensities of his own heart, his transgressions could do him no hurt now that he was in the favour of God.
And we need not wonder that a Gentile, just emerging from the deepest darkness, might entertain such thoughts as these; when we find that eighteen centuries after this, persons have appeared in the most Christian countries of Europe, not merely asking such a question, but defending the doctrine with all their might; and asserting in the most unqualified manner, ‘that believers were under no obligation to keep the moral law of God; that Christ had kept it for them; that his keeping it was imputed to them; and that God, who had exacted it from them, who was their surety and representative, would not exact it from them; forasmuch as it would be injustice to require two payments for one debt.’ These are the Antinomians who once flourished in this land, and whose race is not yet utterly extinct.”
Adam Clark on Romans 6:1
“We must beware of Antinomianism; that is, of supposing that, because Christ has been obedient unto death, there is no necessity for our obedience to his righteous commandments. If this were so, the grace of Christ would tend to the destruction of the law, and not to its establishment He only is saved from his sins who has the law of God written in his heart; and he alone has the law written in his heart who lives an innocent, holy, and useful life.” Adam Clark on Romans 3 endnote.
Editor Note: Much celebrated ‘evangelism” today is spurious and destructive in the long term fruit because of this very popular notion of Antinomian “easy believism” and “once saved, always saved” deception. The evangelism of Christ called men to take up the cross, follow, obey, and suffer for right unto the death.
True evangelism makes disciples, not Jesus fans.
True evangelism changes society by changing people, and doesn’t just make religious sinners.
True evangelism is nearly impossible today because of the destructive work of the Antinomians who have poisoned the minds of society against the place of” obedience”, ‘submission”, and “perseverance” in the message of salvation. Humanism, individualism, feminism, sensualism, hollywoodism, materialism and all other “isms” will be destroyed, not employed by true evangelism.
True evangelism will tell people how to live (Acts 26:20). It will command them in the way of righteousness (II Peter 2:21 ). It will provide a body (church) for them to be nurtured in; and it will lead them to submit to the accountability of this body for their perfecting.