Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Hyper-Grace Gospel vs. the Need to Confess and Repent

Some pastors are preaching an unbiblical, “hyper-grace” message. Theologian Michael Brown summarizes it this way:

  • ·        One of the foundational doctrines of the hyper-grace message is that God does not see the sins of his children, since we have already been made righteous by the blood of Jesus and since all of our sins, past, present and future, have already been forgiven. That means that the Holy Spirit never convicts believers of sin, that believers never need to confess their sins to God, and that believers never need to repent of their sins, since God sees them as perfect in his sight. 

It also means that there is no reason to confront professing believers with their sins. However, this avoidance is not Scriptural. There are many verses that directly call us to judge and to confront sin. Jesus certainly taught this, even regarding the brethren:

·         “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (Mat. 1815)

According to Jesus, unrepented sin is so serious that, if not resolved, it should come before the entire church. If not resolved there, the unrepentant one should be put out of the church until he repents.

This hardly needs saying, since there are many verses that require us to correct the brethren (James 5:20; Gal. 6:1-3). Peter confronted his brethren, Ananias and Saphira, regarding their lies. Sin is so serious that God took their lives (Acts 5) as a result. Paul explained that because some brethren had taken the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner,”

·         Many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep [died]. (1 Cor. 11:30)

Sin is a great offense to our Lord. Peter expressed the Lord’s consternation to Simon – the Book of Acts claims that he had believed - after he had merely asked to purchase a spiritual gift from the Lord:

·         Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.  Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.  For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” (Acts 8:20-23)

Interestingly, instead of telling Peter off, Simon responded positively:

·         Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” (Acts 8:24)

We tend to regard the sin-focus as something negative, and so it is noteworthy that Simon seemed to respond appropriately.

However, Peter’s response raises a key controversy. For the hyper-grace camp - they claim that since Christ has forgiven us once-and-for-all (Heb. 8:12; 10:14) - sin is no longer an issue. However, according to Peter, it was very much an issue with Simon. Peter directed him to “repent of this wickedness” so that God “may forgive you.” Evidently, sin still is an issue along with forgiveness.

This is not an easy theological issue. For one thing, Scripture often talks about our sin as if it has been utterly resolved. The Book of Hebrews, citing Jeremiah’s revelation about the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34), claims that forgiveness is a done-deal, an eternally settled matter:

·         For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Heb. 8:12)

·         For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy…Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (Heb. 10:14, 17; Rom. 8:1)

According to these verses and others, the price for our sins has been completely paid on the cross, and therefore, there is no longer a basis for any charges against us (Col. 2:14; Eph. 2:15). How then can we require anything further – confession, repentance or even obedience – from those who have been eternally forgiven!

There are also many other considerations that seem to bolster this hyper-grace message. Along with forgiveness, there are also many other aspects of our salvation that seem to be matters that have been eternally and decisively settled. For one thing, we are already in possession of eternal life:

  • “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24; 3:16)
However, this isn’t the entire picture. It also seems that eternal life is granted gradually through a process:

  • Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses…In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Tim. 6:12, 19) 
This seems like a contradiction. Either we are already in possession of eternal life or we’re not and, consequently, have to work to obtain it. We find this same tension in Scripture’s discussion of  “salvation.” On the one hand, we have already been saved, while other verses indicate that we are being saved:

  • Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim. 4:16)
Paul seems to be writing to Timothy as if he is not already, thoroughly saved, yet he assures Titus that we already have been saved:

  • He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)
Is there any way to reconcile these verses? On the one hand, salvation and eternal life are settled matters. They are settled in heaven, even before the creation of the world (2 Tim. 1:9-10). However, from a material perspective, there is work that has to be done by our Lord to prepare us for our inheritance. It is like being an heir to a fortune. The fortune is guaranteed, but certain provisions or steps must be taken before the heir can receive it. Already, we are co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17), but we haven’t yet received all that has been promised.

We observe this same principle at play in other areas. While we have already been redeemed by the blood of Christ (Eph. 1:7), we are still awaiting redemption:

  • “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” 
Although we have already been redeemed, we are still awaiting the “redemption of our bodies.” Likewise, although we have already been adopted as sons (Gal. 4:6-7; Rom. 8:16-17), we continue to await the fullness of adoption and all that has been promised in this regards.

How does this “already but not yet” principle pertain to forgiveness? The same way! While we have already been forgiven (Luke 7:47; Col. 1:13; 2:13), forgiveness is also a process and a necessary part of our Christian life.

Throughout our earthly lives, Jesus and His Spirit intercede for us (Rom. 8:26; 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 1 John 2:1). This suggests that even though forgiveness has been utterly accomplished on the cross, it must still be applied to our lives.

Forgiveness is applied, not only through intercession but also through confession of our sins. In order to be forgiven, confession is mandatory:

  • If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
How can confession be mandatory, if our sins have already been totally forgiven? Although the issue of forgiveness has been utterly settled from a divine perspective, it still needs to be applied in the material world as a necessary part of the process. We are heirs, but the transfer of our inheritance requires preparation.

We encounter this very same “dilemma” as we contemplate our eternal security in Christ. On the one hand, it is guaranteed (Rom. 8:38-39). On the other hand, we must endure to the end in faith, as many verses indicate (Mat. 10:22; Col. 1:22-23; Heb. 3:14; 6:11-12). Can we be confident that we are going to be saved in the end in light of these conditional verses? Absolutely! How can this be? Our Lord’s work – His process – is guaranteed:

  • Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus!!! (Phil. 1:6; Rom. 8:28)
Many aspects of our lives are unsettled, but our Lord’s work is not! What He has determined, He will do! What He has promised, He will keep!

This brings us to a final and troubling verse about the need to forgive. If we don’t forgive, we will not be forgiven as our Lord warned:

  • “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
This makes salvation and forgiveness seem very conditional. However, once again, our Lord guarantees the process. He will work in us to convict us, chasten us, and to bring us to forgiveness. As John assures us:

  • No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. (1 John 3:9; 3:3; 5:18)
Consequently, we will not continue in unforgiveness. Our Lord will make it absolutely repugnant to us.

The hyper-grace folks understand the heavenly, eternal perspective. However, they have ignored the earthly, material perspective or process. As a result, they ignore Jesus’ warning against the price of unforgiveness. They ignore John’s assertion that God’s children will not continue in the practice of sin and the absolute necessity to confess our sins to receive forgiveness and cleansing. Consequently, the hyper-grace people preach a highly defective message.

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