Here is a biblical truth you can bank on: any gospel which makes it easier for you to sin, and to feel OK about sinning, is not a gospel of Jesus Christ, but comes straight out of the pits of hell. Any message proclaimed from the pulpit, printed in books, or heard in conferences, which gives the believer the idea that sin is no big deal and that we can just relax about it all is a gospel of demons.
The really amazing thing about this is we have been there and done that. This is already 2000 years old for heaven’s sake! Paul dealt with the error of cheap grace, or false grace, or hyper grace, some two millennia ago – so why are we still having this discussion?
He too had to deal with false teachers who peddled a false gospel of cheap grace. His words are so perfectly clear on this that it staggers me that we are still repeating these same diabolical errors in the church today. In the book of Romans – Paul’s great treatise on justification by grace through faith – he deals directly with this pernicious error. As he says in Rom. 6:1-2, 15-16:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? … What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
We cannot save ourselves – that is why it is all of grace. But we are also called to work out our salvation. We have a role to play. We must obey, resist sin, appropriate what Christ offers us, and so on. Spirituality is not automatic. We have much to do to see sanctification progressively worked out in our lives.
Yes, in Christ we are complete and perfect – all due to his grace – but we must work out what we already are in Him by our daily choices. We must resist and fight sin, and we must desire and pursue holiness. Obedience is a crucial part of the Christian walk, and we dare not allow a doctrine of cheap grace to trap us in sin.
Several recent articles deal with this in more detail, and are well worth citing here. New Testament professor Robert A. J. Gagnon wrote an article, “Cheap Grace Masquerading as Pure Grace” as he dealt with a pastor who pushes a damaging cheap grace message, especially in regards to homosexuality. Gagnon raises a number of important questions about all this, including:
-Is it true that transformation of our behavior was not one of the chief purposes in Jesus’ death?
-Are self-professed believers free to lead a life of sin without repentance and still be assured of “no condemnation”?
-Is it the “anti-gospel” to say that God is pleased when his people do what is right and displeased when they do what is wrong?
-Is an injunction to “fear God and keep his commandments” the message of an “anti-gospel”?
-Is it true that confessing our sins for forgiveness is a waste of time?
Let me look closer at one of his questions:
-Is it true that immoral behavior on the part of self-professed believers does not move God to judgment?
Contrary to what Rev. Whitten says, immoral behavior on the part of self-professed believers does move God … to judgment. Whitten claims: “My bad works don’t move God any more than my good works move Him. He simply isn’t moved by ‘works’ of any kind. If you are motivated to do a great work for God, good luck!” Yet bad works and immoral behavior among believers do indeed move God. They move God to judgment. Initially they move God to the judgment of discipline, as in the case of the Corinthian abuse of the have-nots at the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:27-34).
When the discipline of the Lord is rejected, then divine condemnation with the world becomes a real possibility. So Paul demands that the Corinthians remove from their midst the self-professed believer who is sleeping with his stepmother, as a last-ditch measure to save the man from eternal destruction, for otherwise as a “sexually immoral person” he would not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 5:5; 6:9-10). The New Testament is full of warnings to believers that if they continue to live under sin’s primary control their fate will be destruction rather than eternal life.
More recently Michael Brown has also asked some very important questions of Singaporean mega-pastor and hyper grace preacher, Joseph Prince. He offers nine probing questions, the first five of which are these:
1) Does God require anything from you as His child? Is there anything He says that you must do as His child other than receive His grace? If so, are there spiritual benefits that come through obeying these requirements and spiritual losses that come from ignoring them?
2) The New Testament writers often exhort us to live in ways that please the Lord. Does that mean that it is possible for us to displease Him? We agree that He relates to us as His beloved children, but is He always pleased with us? And since Paul urges us not to grieve the Spirit, does that mean that we can, in fact, grieve Him?
3) Is there anything you can do to disappoint the Lord? If the Lord always sees you as perfect in His sight, is there any way for you to disappoint Him? I’ve heard it said that we can only grieve or disappoint Him by not trusting His grace, but according to your message, hasn’t that sin been forgiven as well?
4) If God has pronounced your future sins forgiven in the same way He has pronounced your past sins forgiven, why do Paul and other New Testament writers address these very sins in their letters, and why does Jesus address them in Revelation 2-3? We know that God doesn’t bring our past sins up to us, since He has forgiven and “forgotten” them. Why then does He bring our present sins up to us in the New Testament, even warning us about the dangers of walking in those sins, if they have also been forgiven and forgotten in advance?
5) A leading hyper-grace teacher claims that the doctrine of progressive sanctification is a “spiritually murderous lie.” Does that mean that grace preachers like Charles Spurgeon, who believed in progressive sanctification, taught this alleged lie? And if “progressive sanctification” simply means to walk out our holiness with the help of the Spirit, what is so dangerous about this teaching? Put another way, do you reject the concept that the one who made us holy now calls us to live holy lives in thought, word and deed, thereby “completing our sanctification in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1)? Doesn’t Paul say we are called saints (that is who we are) and called to be saints (that is how we live)? (See 1 Cor. 1:2.)
I urge you all to read both of these important articles in their entirety. This error of hyper grace is sadly causing huge damage all over the Christian world, and is leading to far too much cultic behaviour and heretical teaching. And much of it could be cleaned up with remembering some basic Christianity 101 doctrine.
I mentioned above that in Christ we are already complete and perfect, yet we are commanded hundreds of times to work this out in our daily walk with Christ. In my article on “Standing and State” I deal with this in more detail: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/02/01/standing-and-state/
Another basic theological explanation of this is what is known as the “indicative and imperative”. We are to become what we already are in Christ. I deal with that more fully here: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/02/08/the-indicativeimperative-and-the-christian-life/
But I return to my original statement. Jesus said we can and must judge people by their fruit. If a gospel message you embrace results in a life of more sin or more acceptance and excuse-making for sin, then you can be sure that this is not a biblical gospel message, but a false gospel.
As always, we must proclaim the whole counsel of God. Yes, grace is a wonderful and liberating truth of the gospel. But it is not all of the gospel. We must always keep the biblical balance, and never emphasise one biblical truth at the expense of other biblical truths.
As Michael Brown writes in his important 2014 book Hyper-Grace, it is “crucial that we never forget that ‘grace and truth’ came through Jesus the Messiah (John 1:14, 17). It is essential, then, that we preach grace with truth rather than grace alone. Otherwise we will have a spiritual crisis on our hands. In fact, we already do have one on our hands.”