The Problem With Christianity

In Paul’s day, there were two enemies of the gospel that he constantly battled.

1. The gospel of legalism – this is essentially the message that says, “God is holy, you’re not, try harder.”

Paul took dead aim at this “gospel” in Galatians and other letters.

2. The gospel of libertinism – this essentially says that because we are under grace, any word of exhortation, admonishment, or challenge to be sold out to Jesus Christ and deal with issues in one’s life is “religious,” “legalistic,” and “wrong.”

James shredded this “gospel” in the letter of James, and Jude mentioned it when he said “they turn the grace of God into license to sin.”

Some Christians who have read my book From Eternity to Here and many of the articles on this blog have called me a “grace teacher.”

Others who have heard my message, The Gospel of the Kingdom, say I’m legalistic, even though there’s not one word of legalism in that message . . . not one rule . . . and absolutely no appeal to live for Jesus through our human will power.

That message actually tells us what the grace of God does in our lives.

The grace of God teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.

~ Paul in Titus 2:12

The people in that room who heard that message live were inspired to be baptized and give their all to Christ. Their comment was, “this was the first time I’ve ever heard the true gospel without any legalism.”

Libertines hate verses like Titus 2:12 and act is if they aren’t part of the New Testament.

Legalists, on the other hand, hate the idea that because we are under grace, we don’t have to try harder to please God nor do we have to live in guilt and condemnation.

But so few Christians really understand the full gospel today and still drift toward legalism or libertinism.

What is more, those who have imbibed the gospel of legalism wrongly believe that those who truly know God’s grace are libertines. And those who have imbibed the gospel of libertinism wrongly believe that those who are under the lordship of Christ are legalists.

As I put it in Jesus Now,

“The libertine lives as if there is no God. The legalist lives as though she or he is God to everyone else. Both attitudes are incompatible with the life of Christ.”

Consequently, I’m convinced that the major problem in Christianity today revolves around these two counterfeit gospels and the bad fruit that they produce.

What’s that fruit?

Very simply: The nasty, vicious way that Christians treat one another and the nasty, viscous way they treat people who are in the world.

Many legalists are nasty and vicious because they operate out of a self-righteous, judgmental, critical attitude.

Many libertines are nasty and vicious because they operate out of the unrestrained carnality of the flesh.

It’s always odd to me that even though I’ve defined and contrasted these two counterfeit gospels in detail in Revise Us Again and in Jesus Now, somehow . . . (I have no idea how) . . . people who just don’t “get it” get on my mailing list and start griping, complaining, belly-aching, moaning and groaning whenever I talk about the true gospel of the lordship of Jesus Christ and the liberty of the Spirit. And as I’ve explained elsewhere, lordship and liberty cannot be separated.

Legalism is the counterfeit to the lordship of Christ.

Libertinism is the counterfeit to the liberty of the Spirit.

If you know people who have been blinded by the gospel of legalism or libertinism, don’t hesitate to share this post with them. You can also share it on your social networks using the share buttons below.

I hope to have the 100th episode of my podcast released this month. So stay tuned for that . . .





  1. marty says

    I can only say that I would consider myself a “grace” believer and I am MOST DEFINITELY in agreement with Titus 2:12. The message of God’s grace and favor and the finished work of Jesus on the cross has been a life changer for me. I’m now free from lifelong problems of pornography and masturbation – I had lost hope.

    It is absolutely the grace of God that is the power over sin, at least to me. Living from a position of what Jesus has done, instead of what I “should” do has meant to me living a life of peace I never knew was possible. No more religion – reading, serving, etc from the heart is FAR superior to religious duty.

    If Titus 2:12 offends any “grace” believer…you’ve missed the message!

  2. Joy says

    A concise review of a complex problem. It is good for us all to be reminded of these dangers. Thank you for again helping us to keep our hearts on Jesus. This made me want to read your book The Jesus Manifesto again too!

  3. says

    Thanks as always for this reminder, Frank. This is such an important thing to remember. The only thing that can fix this is focusing solely on the Lord and letting His life be expressed in us. We definitely cannot fix this issue by trying to avoid one or the other. We’ll only end up in the opposite camp.

  4. Rick Richters says

    I can identify with the earlier two posters. I, like others I know, have been known to swing between the two extremes sometimes embracing “lawlessness” in one area while embracing legalism in another. I’ve found the solution is to keep my focus on Y’shua. When He is center – we bask in the light of His love and grace, lifted far above our former lives of selfishness and sin. Not that I don’t sometimes trip and fall. The trap He most often has to rescue me from is my propensity to judge those who I feel are in either camp.

  5. Steven McDade says

    I too have flipped back and forth between these two polarizations. AND most institutional churches I’ve been in have these two sides of the coin in them. One of the main reasons I left the institutional form of the church is due to these ideas. I have now been adrift on the sea of Grace (yeah a bad metaphor but accurate) for several years now. What has kept me afloat is Frank Viola’s writing and blog.

    Again you have made me re think on things. Jesus Now is a very challenging book due to the things that my mind as made into a legalistic manner. I agree that something is missing in the teaching the WAY of Jesus instead of things just about him. I encourage people to keep reading Frank’s blog and books. Your heart and soul will be changed. Thanks Frank for shaking my loose sand and giving me a bedrock to build upon.

    • says

      Steven, thanks. I appreciate the sentiments on “Jesus Now” . . . really wish the people who need to read it would find it.

      Note that these two counterfeit “gospels” are just as alive outside the institutional church as they are in it. Remember, all the churches in the first-century weren’t institutional and the apostles had to write to them in order to keep them from being deceived.

  6. says

    I seem to swing on the pendulum between the two from time to time. I don’t think I ever swing ALL the way to either side, but see how sometimes I can be either one or the other. Your writing encourages and challenges me to never be comfortable on either side. Thank you. :-)

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