No one is helped when one biblical truth is pushed at the expense of other biblical truths:
The themes I discuss here I have spoken to quite often, but it seems there is always a need to keep trying to drive home some key truths. The matter at hand has to do with those Christians who have some pet doctrine they emphasise, but they are quite happy to do it in such a way that they end up fully distorting the Christian faith.
The cults and heretics all do the exact same thing: they recklessly twist Scripture. They take one biblical truth and run with it, but then they totally ignore or trash other biblical truths. When the fullness of the biblical revelation is lost and distorted in this fashion, you can only end up with one result: heresy.
We see this happening all the time with the matter of salvation. The biblical data points to a threefold process that can briefly be outlined here:
-Justification – the once off work of being declared righteous when we come to Christ and depend on what he did for us on the cross. This is purely by grace through faith – it is all God’s doing. To use the theological jargon, this is monergistic: the work of God alone.
-Sanctification – the ongoing work of cooperation between us and God as we seek to become more Christlike, more obedient, and more holy. This is synergistic: the work of man and God.
-Glorification – this of course will be our final state once we leave this world and Christ returns when we are freed from all sin.
When Christians emphasise justification while ignoring sanctification, they can get into a world of strife – and heresy. See further on this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/03/22/sanctification-cooperating-with-god/
I say all this – once again – because of a recent comment that came to my site. I did not post it, but it came in response to an article I had penned almost a decade ago. It was titled, “No Practicing Porn Stars in Heaven” and was about a porn star who claimed to be a Christian and who taught at a Christian school. I kid you not. The piece is found here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2017/06/25/no-practicing-porn-stars-heaven/
What I said in that post is 100 per cent correct. There will NOT be any unrepentant, practicing porn stars in heaven, just as there will NOT be any unrepentant, practicing murderers, thieves, adulterers, in heaven. Indeed, anyone who has not repented and continues to live in known sin of any sort will not be going to heaven. End of story.
Yet this guy came along and said I was completely wrong. He said salvation is not of works, and so we could not judge her activity as a porn star! Evidently telling her that working as a porn star is not compatible with being a Christian, and telling her to repent and leave this sinful lifestyle was preaching ‘works righteousness’!
He said making things conditional like this was just adding to the finished work of Christ. Good grief. Talk about a brainless wonder. Talk about someone so twisting Scripture that he actually now has to make excuses for porn, lest he be seen to be promoting ‘works’.
And he went on pushing the old falsehood that repentance (metanoeo) in the Bible simply means a change of mind and nothing more. He claimed it has nothing to do with “stop sinning” and the like. But that is as dead wrong as you can get. No one reading the New Testament could ever make that foolish claim. See this piece for much more detail on this: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2016/03/11/is-repentance-merely-a-change-of-mind/
When Christians get so far away from biblical truth, it is interesting how they end up sounding just like pagan activists. Let me explain. When biblical Christians deal with homosexual activists, including deluded believers who think that homosexuality is just fine, they will point to a clearcut passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
It does not seem to get any clearer than that. Yet those pushing homosexuality will simply ignore such a text, and so many other passages just like it. And it seems this guy who came to my site is in the exact same camp. If we simply added the sin he effectively is trying to defend, we see how clear Paul was:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor porn stars…” You get my point. And what did Paul go on to say? He said “And such were some of you.”
Past tense. They WERE adulterers and homosexuals and porn stars. But no more. That is what biblical salvation is all about. We are not saved to stay as we are. We are saved so that we might change. We are saved so that we will STOP SINNING. The very things this guy claimed repentance is not is exactly what the Bible throughout says it is.
Biblical repentance – which is an essential part of becoming a Christian – means saying no to sin. Sure, we need the Spirit’s help to bring this about, and it will not happen overnight. But anyone who thinks they can become a Christian and never say no to sin and self is in dreamland – a satanic dreamland.
But this guy is so obsessed with one particular truth (that salvation, or more specifically, justification, is the one-off work of God, freely brought about by his grace), that he has utterly massacred everything the Bible says about sanctification.
Not only would this guy have to tell Paul that he was dead wrong in what he said in the passage above and elsewhere, but he would have to tell the writer to the Hebrews the same thing when he wrote, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). ‘Oh, but that is works righteousness’ he would foolishly claim.
It does my head in. Any third-grader reading the two texts I just presented here could see the clear teaching involved. They are plain as day. But this guy cannot see it, even if it hit him in the head. As I say, he has pulled out one biblical truth but ended up setting it against a host of other biblical truths. That is the stuff of cult city.
On the popularity of hyper grace teaching
There are various versions of this, but much of this is what is now known as the hyper grace error. It totally distorts and twists the biblical message, leaving a theological train wreck in its wake. But I speak much more to this in the other 25 articles I have written on the matter: https://billmuehlenberg.com/category/theology/the-hyper-grace-message/
So why is the hyper grace teaching so popular? Leaving aside two obvious answers – that Satan is a deceiver and lures many from the straight and narrow path, and some believers are just not very bright – there are other reasons why people would be heavily drawn to this sort of teaching. One can imagine at least two main groups of people that would be attracted to this message.
The first are those who have been involved in genuine legalism, works-righteousness, and the like. They have been wrongly taught that all their salvation is fully dependent on them, and they know little about how justification works. So for them, the free grace movement teaching may well seem like a breath of fresh air. They do need to learn about grace, but not as the hyper grace folks teach it.
The second group would be those looking for an excuse to keep living their less than holy lifestyle. This is referred to in theological language as antinomianism. They want nothing to do with law and obedience, and it is often so they can live carnal and fleshly lives. It can be a cheap excuse for still living in sin.
These two approaches – legalism and license – are both wrong of course. If seeking to please God by our own efforts, without any recourse to the completed work of Christ at Calvary is amiss, so too is ignoring the hundreds of New Testament imperatives insisting that without a life of holiness and obedience we will NOT enter into the Kingdom. See more on this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/08/04/on-legalism-and-license/
Whether the fellow who had sent in that comment meant well is beside the point. What he was pushing was simply unbiblical. It was downright dangerous. And it will lead countless folks straight into the pits of hell. Let me finish with a few quotes (of many) on what true biblical grace is all about:
“Grace is the mother and nurse of holiness, not the apologist of sin.” Charles Spurgeon
“True liberty is not the power to live as we please, but to live as we ought to.” A. W. Pink
“When I speak of a person growing in grace, I mean simply this – that their sense of sin is becoming deeper, their faith stronger, their hope brighter, their love more extensive, and their spiritual mindedness more marked.” J. C. Ryle
“The irony of New Testament lordship is that only in slavery to Christ can a man discover authentic freedom.” R. C. Sproul
“If we are not changed by grace, then we are not saved by grace.” A. W. Tozer
“Grace is not simply leniency when we have sinned. Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.” John Piper
“In respect to justification, grace stands opposed to works (Rom. 4:4-5; 11:6). However, in respect to sanctification, grace is the source of works. This simply means that whereas we are saved by grace and not of works, we are saved by grace unto good works. Good works are the fruit, not the root, of God’s saving grace (see esp. Eph. 2:8-10).” Sam Storms
Moral of the story: yes, porn stars need to leave the porn industry to be true Christ followers, just as fornicators and homosexuals and thieves need to turn from their sinful lifestyle and find a new, transformed life in Christ. No real transformation is an indication of no real salvation.