Book Review – Jensen, M., Is forgiveness really free?

  • Link: Amazon
  • Length: 66
  • Difficulty: Easy-Popular
  • Topic: Forgiveness, Grace, Salvation
  • Audience: Mainstream Christians
  • Published: 2014

Jensen’s book is short and very readable. The title mentions forgiveness, but Jensen is really writing about his understanding of grace. It’s written to educate new Christians and remind old Christians of core elements of reformed soteriology, building into it defense’s against various alternative interpretations. I imagine he wrote it with the intention leaders of churches and various ministries will buy several of them to hand out to select new comers. This is Jensen’s aim in his own words;

My aim in writing this book is to help you plunge into a deeper and richer experience of God’s grace, so that it may make a huge difference in your life. It might be that you have never understood grace before. But it might be that you have forgotten what it means, too. (Introduction)

I read this book as part of my research into my page on Future Judgment and Salvation.

This post is one of my book reviews.


  • Introduction
  • 1 A Precious Word
  • 2 Is forgiveness really free?
  • 3 If grace is free, is it worth anything?
  • 4 Why does God give grace to some and not to others?
  • 5 What place does Old Testament law have in the life of grace?
  • 6 Is grace a licence to sin?
  • 7 How does grace change me?
  • 8 How does grace change us?
  • 9 How bad are human beings really?

Main points

A Precious Word. In this chapter Jensen writes about grace. Grace in a nutshell for him is the love God shows to human beings when by rights there is nothing good they have earned from him (Contra. Roman Catholicism). He means this before and after conversion. Jensen says we (believers and unbelievers) are so sinful they can do nothing to cooperate (Contra. Synergism) with God for their salvation, nor is grace conditional on the way we behave.

Jensen is right to a point. I read this with my review of Barclay and my page of Future Judgment and salvation in mind. I find Jensen’s understanding of grace incomplete in that he virtually equates grace with forgiveness. He has a strong emphasis on the incongruous nature of grace. Which is fine to a point. I was wondering if he understands that God’s grace also contains the idea of reciprocity (e.g. Rom 1.5, 14; 6.18, 22; 15.15; 1 Cor 15.10). He also seems to ignore human responsibility side to grace and salvation (See my page here).

Is forgiveness really free? At the start of this chapter Jensen says our world is one of ‘ungrace’. It’s a world where you get what you deserve. He then goes on to speak about grace and forgiveness using Mt 20.1-16, the parable of the vineyard (my post on it here) as a lense. Jensen views it with respect to the amount and consequence of peoples sins rather than the length of their service to God.

Jensen uses an example of a suspected murder who was attending a violent offenders Bible study. He uses this to demonstrate that God overturns our expectations about who we would let in the kingdom or our churches. I’ve seen others use this kind of example before and I do find it unjust and ‘outrageous’. Perhaps this is Jensen’s point. He wants to shock us with the sheer lack of expectation that comes with forgiveness.

The problem I have with it is that Jensen makes no mention of the importance of repentance and grief over sin. Jensen makes no mention of any attempt to make things right after the wrong done. Personally I would have no problem calling a murderer brother, provided they had repented of their sin and stopped killing people. Its sinful to remain in fellowship with a ‘believer’ who continues in sin (1 Cor 5.9-13).

If grace is free, is it worth anything? In this chapter Jensen speaks about the correct response to God’s grace. For him this is a complete reevaluation of our priorities in life, what we find as most precious and valuable and how we should live in response. Truly grasping free forgiveness means having an utterly altered life.

I found this chapter a helpful step in the right direction. I like how he refers to God as the pearl we must give up everything else to have. But I do feel that he has not gone far enough, limiting the concept of ‘cheap grace’ (he refers to Bonhoeffer) to a change in mindset on our part.

Why does God give grace to some and not to others? This chapter is primarily about predestination and election. God’s offer of salvation is made to all people. Nonetheless, not all people are to be saved. It is God who chooses, or elects, those who belong to him. That means, inevitably, that God does not choose others. I’m fairly comfortable with God’s sovereignty, so I found this part quite helpful.

Near the end however he moves on to deny the notion believers can fall away from their faith. I’ve written a counter argument for apostasy here.

What place does Old Testament law have in the life of grace? Jensen discusses the role of the Old Testament law of God in the life of the Christian. I liked how he didn’t simply fob off any need of ours to observe Jesus’ commands and he put them in the context of his saving work. He rightly observes the law of Moses is set in the context of the story of Israel (see my Torah series here).

But I felt he blurred the distinction between the law of Moses and the law of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 9.20-21). Maybe he didn’t have to space to. As a general rule I don’t think Christians have to observe the law of Moses (see Galatians) from the Old Covenant, but we do have to observe Jesus’ and the apostles commands in the New Covenant. I acknowledge the overlap.

Is grace a licence to sin? Jensen refers again to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s distinction between cheap grace and costly grace. Again I think this is much needed in evangelical circles, but I wonder if he takes it far enough.

He even quotes from the reformed Martin Luther to make a similar point. I think he mentions Luther because he is probably the most likely to be labelled an advocate for cheap grace. While I do acknowledge Luther did at times combat antinomism (see his Romans commentary on Rom 3.19 for example), I remember he encouraged Philip of Hesse to tell “a good, strong lie” about his second and bigamous marriage. Luther is a mixed bag.

At the end of this chapter Jensen answers the question, “What would you say to a Christian who continues to sin?” His answer is they ‘need to hear the gospel of grace again and again. The key to helping them change is the realisation that they have forgiveness and mercy.’ The apostles alternatively warn their audience of apostasy (e.g. 1 Cor 6.9-11; Gal 5.19-21; Heb 10.26-31). But Jensen seems reluctant to use these warnings I suspect because he does not believe Christians can fall away.

How does grace change me? Jensen looks down upon much of the self-help advice in the world today. His understanding of grace and sin is the way he thinks we can change. This is a gospel of sin management. He has a specific reading of Tit 2.11-14 which leans a lot on his interpretation of grace.

Jensen then gives a list of suggestions for how people can change. Deliberately practice giving thanks to God. Practice doing good things that you don’t have to do, as opposed to those things you are duty-bound to do. If you are stuck in a pattern of sin and are saying to yourself: “I can’t help it”, then catch yourself. You need to keep going to church and to your Bible-study group. These instructions are helpful.

How does grace change us? Jensen moves from the role of grace in the individual’s life to that in the church’s life. The implications of Ephesians 2.11f are drawn out. God’s grace given to sinners is the basis for our unity in Christ despite our ethnic and social diversity. Barclay would heartily agree. Jensen the moves into the various roles we can take in serving the church.

How bad are human beings really? Jensen refers to various kinds of Pelagianism. This is the theory that sinners are capable of good prior to conversion. He rightly says sinners are dependent on God’s grace and mercy in order to behave rightly. But he then continues to apply this concept to believers, whom scripture constantly refers to as the righteous, the Saints. It’s here that I disagree with him. I don’t think he has scriptures appraisal of those who will be saved in mind when he writes​ about how bad all humanity is.


Jensen’s book is short and very readable. It’s clearly written to educate new Christians and remind old Christians of core elements of reformed soteriology. The book is full of defense’s against various alternative interpretations. I felt this is the main contribution his book makes.

Be warned that Jensen demonstrates a ‘miserable sinner’ understanding of Christianity throughout and this is highlighted by his constant references that we are sinners and undeserving of God’s grace. I felt that Jensen could not speak about God’s grace without putting someone down. In his own words, “Giving us the bad news is grace” (Loc 657)

Jensen approaches the topic of grace addressing what he believes to be correct and false theology. I can see he is attempting to cover all his bases.

However, my understanding of God’s grace is not shaped by reformed polemics with Roman Catholics or what the secular world believes or who we are or the sins we have committed, or even what God has saved us from. For me ‘grace’ can’t be taught like it is a doctrine or set of ‘right’ beliefs.

I think our knowledge of grace comes from divine encounters which are profoundly intimate and personal. For me God’s grace is understood in relational concepts and it is shaped by what we have been given. Grace is first and foremost a gift – God’s gift to us.

Jensen wrote this book with the specific aim of deepening our experience of God’s grace and having that make a huge difference in our lives. I feel like he was talking about all the wrong things and doesn’t achieve his stated purpose.

The first thing I know about God’s grace is that by it he establishes relationships between us and Him. God is our Father. For me I think the most previous gift we are given is God himself. The pearl of great value is God himself and having a relationship with him. He is the rock of our lives, He is our centre, He is what gives us security and calm in the storms of our lives. I wonder why Jensen doesn’t spend the bulk of his book writing about the peace and joy we have in knowing God as our father and Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.

The second thing I know is that God’s grace gives our lives purpose. We can see this particularly in Paul where he talks about God’s grace and his gospel ministry. Jesus is our Lord as well as our Saviour. For me a Christian’s life is one of willing and desirable service to God in the most important, gritty yet wonderful mission ever. God’s mission seeks the greatest good for this world and the people in it. Likewise I wonder why Jensen did not speak more about the joy we have in knowing our place in this world and how God involves us in this kingdom work.

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