Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hyper-Grace and Antinomianism: A difference of opinion about Grace and Law

Recently, I have been introduced to a new compound word called:

Sounds scary, huh?  Hyper-grace is the new “buzz” word being tossed around to express disapproval and in some cases, outright disdain for people that tend to focus their ministry or teachings on grace.  

I suppose that using the word “hyper-grace” must sound better and somehow kinder than saying “greasy grace,” or “sloppy agape!” But disparagement is intended.  I’d like to see that change.

There have been several articles and blogs written about the topic of “hyper-grace” (both pro and con), and it really seems to be a trending subject in Christianity.  

In fact, earlier this year a well-known bible teacher wrote a book about it. In the book, he calls “hyper-grace” the great deception of the 21st century.  In the preface of the book he writes that he plainly believes that that this difference of understanding of grace, is a difference for the most part, between believers (brethren).  I agree with him, it is a difference of understanding between members of the same family.

Sometimes when members of a family fight, they say things they later regret.  

They call each other names and say slanderous things to other family members.  In the church, often those names include; heretic, apostasy, false teacher, deceiver, false prophet, and the like. However, just because brothers disagree on how to interpret scripture does not stop them from being brothers.

To me, the challenge, is not to have a knee-jerk reaction to either side of the so called “grace debate,” but to delve deeper into what the bible teaches us about grace.   

We should keep in mind that a person does not need perfect doctrine to be a follower of Jesus. If perfect doctrine were necessary, no one would make it. No one person or denomination has perfect doctrine.  In any debate in biblical understanding or doctrinal difference, we should always side with grace, mercy, restoration, and love.

Just for fun, let’s define hyper-grace:

1.   Overexcited; over stimulated; keyed up.
2.   Seriously or obsessively concerned; fanatical; rabid
3.   Hyperactive.
4.   A prefix appearing in loanwords from Greek, where it meant “over,” usually implying excess or exaggeration; an over-abundance.

1.   a:  Unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or   sanctification b:  A virtue coming from God c:  A state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace
2.   a: Approval, favor, goodwill b: Mercy, pardon c:  A special favor, privilege d:  Disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency

Taken from the definitions above, hyper-grace can be interpreted to mean an excess of mercy or pardon. 

So is the “hyper-grace” person (or church) someone who believes or teaches that God has given an excess or an overabundance of grace?  If so, then count me in! 

Another buzz word that seems to get tossed about with ease these days is antinomianism (meaning “against the law”).  What a mouthful! 

When Jesus was born, He was born under the law (Galatians 4:4; Romans 15:8), and I dare say, He taught the law better than anyone before Him. 

Why do I say that?  I say that because He taught the very heart of the law. 

For example, in the sermon on the mount, he taught the people (Bret’s paraphrase version), “You’ve heard, ‘Do not commit adultery, and yet I say, “If you look at a woman with lust, you have already committed adultery in your heart.”  He also taught that hating a brother without a reason is the same as having the heart of a murderer!  He taught the law better and with more lawfulness than anyone before him. Christ came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17; Romans 10:4).

However, when Jesus did not agree to stone the woman caught in the very act of adultery, was He being antinomian?  Was he somehow acting against the law?  By the way, if she were caught in the very act, where was the man? After all, the law said people caught in adultery were both to be stoned to death! 

Instead of following the law’s demand, Jesus showed mercy, and grace.  Mercy is not getting what you deserve, and grace is getting something good you don’t deserve.  Instead of judgment and death, the woman received forgiveness, mercy and life.

Because a person believes in grace, is grace oriented, and focuses their message more on grace than on sin, does not mean they are against the law. 
The law is good, but only as long as it is used lawfully.  In other words, the law must be used for its proper purpose.

The purpose of the law is described in the New Testament (mostly in Paul’s writings).  He declares that the law’s purpose was to stop every mouth and declare the entire world guilty before God.

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Romans 3:19

Put another way, the purpose law of the law was to point out sin, and to declare everyone guilty before God.  Remember, the law is only good if one uses it lawfully.

“But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners…”  1 Timothy 1:8-9

 The other problem with the law is that it brings a curse.  What is the curse of the law?
The curse of the law is that if you live by the law,
you must obey and observe all of the law.

Not just ten commandments, but ALL 613 rules, regulations, commands and ordinances.  The law demanded obedience to it all.

“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’” Galatians 3:10-11

For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” James 2:10

So as believers in Jesus, how do we use the law lawfully?  Here are some steps

1.  Recognize the purpose of the law is to point out sin and declare all guilty
·        The law is not made for righteous people.                                                            
o    As believers in Jesus, you are righteous whether you feel righteous or not (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Romans 3:21-22; Romans 10:2-3)
o    You are either a believer or a sinner.
o    The law was made for ungodly sinners, not for righteous believers.
o    The law could never make anyone righteous, it could only expose sin.
  • The law was added because of transgressions until Jesus came:  
o    What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made…” Galatians 3:19

o    “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 5: 20-21

2.  Recognize the law will not keep people from sin
  • Under the law, if you break one law, you have broken them all (James 2:10)
  • In Christ, we are dead to the law (Romans 7:4-6)
  • Without the law, sin is dead (Romans 7:8)
  • Sin takes the opportunity provided by law to entice (Romans 7:5; 8)
  • By the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20)
3.  Recognize the law will never make anyone righteous
  • The law brings about wrath (Romans 4:15)
  • The law never made anything perfect (Hebrews 7:19)
  • Sin shall not have dominion over the one who’s not under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:14)
  • No one can ever be justified by the law:
    • “…Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” Galatians 2:16
I also wanted to share a great article called 8 Signs of Hyper-Grace Churches that responds to an article in Charisma magazine of the same title.

Lastly, regarding antinomianism, I wanted to leave you with Paul’s admonition to the Colossians regarding people trying to put them back under the law:

“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.  Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” Colossians 2:13-23

So back to my question: "Is a “hyper-grace” person (or church) someone who believes or teaches that God has given an excess or an overabundance of grace?"

Does it mean that those that believe this way are overexcited, and even fanatical about grace? Grace can be pretty exciting, especially in the light of God’s love for us.  I might just be a grace fanatic!

Can a church or individual over-exaggerate God’s approval and His favor?   Is it imaginable to have too much of God’s grace? That would seem illogical and impossible! 

I want an overabundance of grace in my life.  Not because I am out sinning or doing wrong, but because I desire to walk daily in His approval, His favor, and in intimate fellowship with Him.  I know I did not and cannot earn those things.  

I have them through faith because they were freely given to me through the finished work of Jesus on the cross.

No wonder the preaching of the cross seems foolish to some.  How can you explain undeserved, unmerited favor and pardon? 

I’ve heard it said that the so-called “grace message” gives people a license to sin.  Nonsense!  People sin really well without a license.  No one needs a license to sin. 

I have yet to hear anyone preaching about the grace, favor, and the approval of God for us in Christ tell anyone that sin is okay, or that it is somehow okay to go out and sin.   Sin is not okay.  It never has been and never will be.  

Don't water down sin.  That was one of the errors of the Pharisees.  They would see how close to the sin line they could get without crossing over.  Jesus called them blind leaders of the blind!

The apostle Paul (who is the preeminent teacher of grace in the New Testament) did not condone sin and never said that sin was something to be embraced or something that we are immune from. 

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?  Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” Romans 6:1-2

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.” Romans 6:12

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” Romans 6:15

Yet Paul certainly never said that the law would somehow keep us from sinning. 

He describes rather, that the condition of sin was dealt with at the cross.

“Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.” Romans 6:6-7

For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6:14

And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” Romans 6:18

The cross changed everything!  Mostly, it changed the way that God related to us and how we relate to God. 

Before Jesus came, God seemed very distant, unreachable, and untouchable.  Seemingly, He was a very angry and inaccessible Being.   

When Jesus came on the scene, God declared peace and goodwill to mankind (Luke 2:14).  Jesus described God as a loving father; His Father and our Father.  He expressed the love of the Father by going to the cross and dying a death He never deserved.  All of the sin of the world was put on Him.  He actually became sin for us.

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

One of my favorite ways of defining God’s grace is to say that grace is:
God’s ability in us to do what we do not have the ability to do. 

What is the first thing we cannot do?  We cannot save ourselves. 
Therefore grace is God’s ability for salvation.  We cannot keep ourselves saved either.  Thank God that our right standing with God (righteousness and justification) is not up to us! 

So you could also say that grace is God’s ability to make us righteous and holy and justified in His sight.

Grace, according to the earlier definition is mercy and pardon.  By that definition, God Himself has already given us an excess of grace through Jesus Christ. Does that somehow make God hyper-graceful?  I think so!
Since the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus (John 1:17), to the Sanhedrin, Jesus must have seemed like He was teaching something extra biblical. 

He taught about God’s grace when he talked about the prodigal’s father running to him and welcoming him back home (Luke 15:20-24).

He expressed God’s extravagant love and mercy when He didn’t pick up a stone against the woman caught in adultery, and He applied excessive mercy as He healed on the Sabbath.

I guess grace must seem ridiculously excessive to those who want to add something to grace. 

Adding one thing to the grace of God, adding one law, is like adding one drop of animal blood to the precious blood of Jesus.  If the blood of Jesus was sufficient for our salvation, His grace is sufficient to keep us!

Jesus plus nothing, equals everything!

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