Tuesday 9 September 2014

Hyper-Grace is no Grace!

It seems that in recent years, and it was hardly evident in the evangelicalism in which I grew up, a teaching has taken hold which emphasizes the grace of God to the exclusion of other vital teachings such as repentance and confession of sin. Indeed the teachers of hyper-grace maintain that all sin, past, present, and future, has already been forgiven, and therefore there is no need for a believer to ever worry about it. Hyper-grace teaching says that, when God looks at us, He sees only a holy and righteous people.
This is not a new teaching. We find it recorded even in the New Testament, where St Paul had to oppose it. There were those who suggested that since grace had been given where there was sin, then to continue in sin was to invite more grace. This is the basis of the hyper-grace teaching. If everything depends on God, and if already he sees us as entirely sinless and perfect, then we can do what we want, live how we like, and need make no effort at all. Indeed worse than simply believe we need do nothing, this hyper-grace teaching actively rejects any sense of repentance, any ascetical or spiritual effort, as being itself contrary to God’s will, since it suggests that Christians need to get on and change the quality of their lives.

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But of course this is entirely what St Paul insists is necessary. To those who say a person is sinless because they accept the fact that Christ died for their sins, or because they prayed a short prayer asking him to be their Saviour, St Paul responds..

God forbid! … Sin must no longer rule in your mortal bodies, so that you obey the desires of your natural self. Nor must you surrender any part of yourselves to sin to be used for wicked purposes. Instead, give yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and surrender your whole being to him to be used for righteous purposes. Sin must not be your master; for you do not live under law but under God's grace. What, then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law but under God's grace? By no means! Surely you know that when you surrender yourselves as slaves to obey someone, you are in fact the slaves of the master you obey---either of sin, which results in death, or of obedience, which results in being put right with God.  Romans 6:12-16

Now those who teach the error of hyper-grace take a phrase such as that found in the middle of this passage, where it says, you do not live under law but under grace, and removing it entirely from its context they twist it to their own spiritual destruction by suggesting that it means that it does not matter how we live, for everything is covered by God’s grace, all our sin is always forgiven and so does not exist in God’s sight. Such a view precludes all possibility of repentance, it teaches that there is nothing in our lives to repent of.

But what does St Paul say, here in Romans 6 and throughout his letters? He is writing to Christians, and he wants them to be deeply concerned about the state of their lives. He says..

Sin must no longer rule in your mortal bodies, so that you obey the desires of your natural self.

This is not a statement of a fact. St Paul is not saying that sin no longer has any rule over our bodies, nor is he saying that God does not consider sin in our bodies. On the contrary, he is insisting that the Christians to whom he is writing must be conscious of sin, and must not allow sin to gain domination over their bodies. He is writing in such a way that it is clear that sin can gain just such a domination even over a Christian. It is clear that the desires of our natural self are not to be obeyed or to be encouraged. Yet those who teach hyper-grace say just this, that we may indulge the natural self and God sees only the holiness of Christ. This is not compatible with the Christianity St Paul teaches. He warns us that sin matters. That sin can gain control over us, even as Christians, and that obeying the desires of our natural self is the means by which this control is exercised.

What else does St Paul say…

Nor must you surrender any part of yourselves to sin to be used for wicked purposes.

If we are not to surrender ourselves to sin then it must be possible to fall into sin, and to allow ourselves to participate in wickedness. If we are in danger of surrendering ourselves then we are surely engaged in a battle, in a spiritual conflict, in which the outcome is not certain. St Paul would not warn his Christian correspondents in such dramatic terms if in case their sin did not matter at all. St Paul is clear that it does matter, and that in our own lives we can turn to good or ill, even as Christians.

So what are we to do? St Paul continues…

Instead, give yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and surrender your whole being to him to be used for righteous purposes.

Now this is written to Christians. To those who have received grace. It is written to those who have been brought from death to life. But St Paul still has to instruct us to give ourselves to God. We are not to surrender ourselves to sin but to surrender ourselves to God, and for righteousness. This is an active process which has to engage our wills. We have to choose to give ourselves to God rather than to sin, and it matters that we choose God because we have been brought from death to life. We need to manifest this life if we are to be worthy of the name of Christ.

How far removed this Apostolic expression of the Christian life is from the teachings of hyper-grace, found in so many places. If we are to avoid sin, and give ourselves over to righteous living then it matters very much that we do not fall under the influence of the dangerous deception that says our manner of life is of little consequence.

St Paul insists, if you have receive grace then show it. Actively and determinedly give yourself to God and to his righteousness each moment, rather than to sin and wickedness. He repeats himself because what he has to say is the very essence of the Gospel,

Sin must not be your master; for you do not live under law but under God's grace.

Now those who preach hyper-grace distort this passage and make it say that sin is not our master. But it does not say this at all. On the contrary it warns us again that sin can indeed be our master. Maybe these teachers of error will go so far as to twist the verse so that it is understood as saying that we must not allow concerns about sin to master us. But to do so is to abuse the Scriptures and wrench a verse here and a phrase there until it becomes the foundation for an entirely false Gospel.

St Paul warns us that sin must not be our master, in the same way that he has warned us that we must not surrender to any wicked practices. Sin is not a vague sense of having done wrong, it is the choice of the will away from God and towards evil. It is this which St Paul warns against, encouraging those who are already Christians to surrender this active movement of the will to God and to righteousness, because it is possible for us as Christians to surrender the will, the constant movement of the will, to wicked practices. The teachers of hyper-grace will say that there is no wickedness for those who have become a Christian, but if they do so then they are no followers of the Gospel which St Paul preaches.

This false Gospel is not new. St Paul speaks against it as it presented itself in his times, and he preaches against it as it spreads its poison today.

What, then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law but under God's grace? By no means!

This is what the hyper-grace message proclaims! Do what you want! God loves you anyway. Don’t worry about sin! It’s all been forgiven and taken away so that God doesn’t even notice it.

What a deadly lie. It completely misrepresents what it is to be under grace. Sometimes grace is described as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. But we can easily see that this is not so. In the first case the New Testament was written in Greek and not English. The word used by St Paul is charis. This does not refer to some reservoir of merit, or some means whereby the wrath of God was turned away from man, but describes that graciousness, that manifestation of the divine life and love, which God freely offers in Christ. To receive grace is to share in the life of the Holy Trinity, not by changing into divinity which is impossible, but by participation in transforming love.

To receive grace, to receive life, is to be changed, and the very experience of transformation, to the extent we participate in such transformation leads to a greater and increasing desire for grace and for further transformation into the likeness of Christ, whose life this grace is.

How then is it possible to imagine receiving this divine life and remaining a slave of sin? How is it possible to experience this transformation while in fact remaining as we were?

St Paul continues,

Surely you know that when you surrender yourselves as slaves to obey someone, you are in fact the slaves of the master you obey---either of sin, which results in death, or of obedience, which results in being put right with God. 

Once again it must be remembered that St Paul is writing to Christians just like us. What is impossible to avoid is his teaching that we are faced with a choice between becoming slaves to sin which will lead to our death, or to obedience, which will allow us to be put right with God. This is not an instruction for non-believers. This is not describing that choice for God in faith which we make at the beginning of the Christian life. On the contrary, St Paul is describing the ongoing need to deliberately choose God in obedience and to resist sin, not just once, by day after day as we seek to continue being put right with God in righteousness.

St Paul does not describe a Christian experience that lasts only in the moment of having faith. He describes the Christian experience as being one of a lifetime. Having entered into a relationship with God at the beginning of faith, St Paul absolutely requires us to persevere in this pilgrimage by choosing God and good in obedience, rather than choosing sin and wickedness. It is a real choice and it matters, because only the way of surrender in obedience leads to a deeper and transforming experience of being put right with God.

But this is entirely what those who preach hyper-grace deny. That continuing journey of active and deliberate obedience for the sake of being put right with God. Christians have called this sanctification. Hyper-grace rejects it, and in rejecting this continuing process those who teach this perversion of Christianity set themselves apart from the Gospel.

More will be said about the Orthodox understanding of grace in due course, and especially the charge that Orthodoxy is a religion of works, an accusation that is so far from the truth. But it is enough to say that the false teaching of hyper-grace, that we need do nothing towards our sanctification, is utterly condemned as leading those who trust its easy but false Gospel, away from a true experience of the divine life and love.

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  1. I am not a specialist in the area in which you teach, but I am not convinced that you give your opponents a fair deal.
    They don't advocate a life of sin, but in stead try to deal with various religious teachings in relation to the law. And they attempt to find an honest answer (at least some of them) between the dilemma related to the biblical truth of being a new creation, yet experiencing some of the inclinations of the old Adam. An experience that should be familiar to you. The next thing is a more psycholigical argument. Love and forgiveness based on the atonement of Christ are better motivators for surrender and a changed life then fear and judgement.
    I appreciate your analyses when it comes to your own position, but I cannot help thinking that you put the ultra's in the wrong corner. Give us some quotes in stead and give this a more academic colour, please.

  2. Thanks for your comment, but I think you do not fully appreciate the damage being done by this false teaching. Here is one current quote from a church where it is taught...

    You're saved now, it doesn't matter what you do - God only sees the blood of Jesus when he sees you.

    That idea that it does not matter what you do is entirely what I am opposing. It does matter what we do. But in churches in the UK and US and elsewhere it is being taught just like this - it doesn't matter what you do.

    But it does!

    1. Thanks a lot for your reply.
      Still I do not think or have experienced myself that folks in the ultra-evangelical spectre deny the necessity of sanctification or would promote a life of sin and/or neclect. They mainly choose a different path while aiming at the same goal. The emphasis of those teachings is a lot on salvation of the soul. I suggest a positive reading: No matter how good we are or how many saintly deeds we perform, the basis of our salvation is the work of Christ.

    2. Hi, I'm not sure where you are but here we experience directly a rejection of the need for sanctification, indeed it is considered to be a works righteousness. I don't see it having the same end at all. The emphasis of these teachings here, as we experience them, is on enjoying God and having an emotional response to Christ.

    3. Where am I? Most of my knowledge of this kind of teaching is from Charis Bible School, founded by Andrew Wommack.
      I have lots of questions about ths 'ministry', but not many people are willing to help or investigate. I did the two year part time bible teaching course, but it didn't fully convince me.
      I heard the man speak live only once and naturally dozens of times on DVD. I rather like him and for sure, he is a very strong and dedicated christian.
      So this is my reference. Not so much anything else when it comes to the ultra grace theology. It would be interesting to know your learned opinion on the essentials of A. Wommacks theology. Existing websites are not very helpful, because these teem with prejudice and superficiality.
      But I'll let you of the hook, if my questions bother you. My interest in Orthodoxy is quite recent. Our communication won't be the easier because of our diffrent backgrounds. But thanks anyway for your kind response.

    4. I'm from an Evangelical background. I was not born into an Orthodox family. I studied and was convinced and became Orthodox in 1994. I was expecting to be an Evangelical pastor and missionary, but ended up an Orthodox pastor and missionary.

      I am more than willing to respond to questions. Do you have particular ones?

    5. I know WEC Bulstrode from decades ago. I know family camp from Kingdom Faith ministries and some other Dales Bible week. Wycliff from volutary work.. Gold Hill pastor graham. Ans some Anglican services. I almost wept at teh grave of C.S. Lewis. :-) I visited Canterbury once.That sort of thing. I love England. Thanks for your kind offer. I will first read a bit more of your blogs. If we dive into some subject, we would maybe read the same stuff.

  3. I holistically agree with you Father. Through God's grace, I have just learned about Penal Substitution theory which is the centre of Protestant beliefs along with the 5 solas - all of which were made incarnate by the teachings of the reformers to make a case for their false beliefs. This false teaching of hyper - grace is no surprise, if God the Father poured His wrath on His Son Jesus in an attempt to save humanity after breaking His laws, so accordingly the blood of Jesus is the seal of this contract, so that way the people can walk free of God's punishment because Jesus blood was shed to compensate. This crafty novelty of dogma though it may sound harmless to the simple - minded, it produces all kinds of poison to the poor human soul and fully disfigures the Christian faith in general. Where in ancient christianity, as sung in our Coptic liturgy in Coptic man is seen to have missed the mark/ lost orientation by committing sin, thus was in dire need of healing NOT punishment! So God's goodness and mercy willed the incarnation to give new life to man so that he can live again and change his direction to life instead of death. He took what is ours and gave us what is His. What a heaven vs. earth difference! Thus in the Church mysteries He gives us what is His in form of real grace, not in mere symbolism. He gives us His body and blood in the Church and not outside of the Church, succession of Jesus priesthood is fully human with flesh and bones - no angel can be given this mystery of priesthood. I have a story that happened some years ago where a godly deacon in Egypt uses to see his guarding angel ahead of him walking, and suddenly when this same deacon was ordained in the holy office of priesthood, he could no longer see the angel in front of him as he was accustomed, so he goes to his father of confession to express his deep concern, and his saintly father of confession gives him peace and advises him to look around next time. After that he looks around looking for his guarding angel, he does find him - however in his back behind him following him, so he asked: Oh, are you behind me? Why aren't you in the front as before? and the angel answered: " no, I can't - for now you are a priest of the most High and I must follow you." - recent true story -