What Is The Truth About Grace? by Milton Gillie, Part 2
When you see the differences laid out clearly like this it becomes clearer where the two camps sit. One of the main differences between the two camps is actually the difference in their fruit. As I’ve already written, time and time again I see scathing articles written by the critics which often includes vicious personal attacks on the Hyper-Grace teachers. I have seen Joseph Prince called all sorts of names and maligned in every way possible. I am not aware of any attacks by proponents of Hyper-Grace in reaction to their critics. Yes, some as Paul Ellis has done, have written constructive defenses of their doctrinal position, but none have ranted with name calling, at least none that I have read, although the temptation to do so must be very strong. That alone suggests which camp is showing more Christian love.
The 20th Century Protestant and Pentecostal churches in particular were greatly influenced by the Puritan and the Holiness movements. Their teaching often focuses on the need for the Christian to live a holy and righteous life once they have been saved. The problem with this emphasis is that it produces self-righteousness. The focus becomes not about what Christ has done for us but rather what we must do for Him. There are two things wrong with this. First, it is not scriptural and second, it doesn’t work. It is not that we shouldn’t be maturing in Christ and put away sin from our lives. It is that it’s the wrong way to go about it. All of Paul’s epistles deal with this subject. He writes consistently to all saying the same thing about grace.
In the first two chapters of Colossians, Paul deals with two problems in the church. The first is one we all recognize as sinful which is unrighteous living eg Col 1:21. But he also deals with those who try to impose rules and regulations eg Col 2:5,16. Some church teachers were trying to impose their Jewish customs on the believers. Although these seem to be poles apart, Paul says they both consist of unbelief in the finished work of Christ. One is rejecting salvation outright. The other is seeking self salvation. Paul says each of these is equally wrong before God. The person who tries to save themselves by moral living in some sort of self salvation project is just as wrong as the person who lives a totally unrighteous life. The outright sinner usually knows they are a sinner. The moral person however often doesn’t see themselves as a sinner. Instead they think “I am not as bad as them.” Jesus illustrated this in Luke 18:14-19.
Having dealt with the above two issues, in chapters three and four Paul tackles godly Christian living. The mistake that people make is imposing the standards of chapter three and four before first understanding the message of chapters one and two, which is not “try hard be good”, but “in Christ it is finished”.
Most Bible teachers have the goal of teaching the people hearing their message to live more fulfilled and godly lives. The difference between Pure Grace teaching and Mixed Grace and teaching is how these teachers believe this is achieved.
Paul Ellis explains that the message of Pure Grace teachers is that a Christian has been justified and sanctified by the finished work of Christ on the cross. Pure Grace says that since the Christian has been sanctified they are now to live out what God has made them to be. Or another way to put it is a Christian is now free not to sin.
There is a huge difference between the two camps on how to handle sin when people fail to live out of perfect sanctification. Pure Grace says they are still sanctified; God still loves them; He is not mad at them, so they are free to pick themselves up and continue living godly lives without the baggage of their failure dragging them down. This is in the vertical relationship a Christian has with God. It does not mean we therefore don’t have to care about how our failure has affected other people.
Mixed Grace teaching states a Christian must work constantly at their sanctification. The focus is on what a Christian must do and how a Christian must act. Pure Grace teaches that Christ has saved the Christian and now God sees them through His only begotten Son’s death and resurrection. Christ’s blood cleanses every Christian from all
Mixed Grace teaches that God gets angry if a Christian sins. It teaches they must confess their sin to Him to be forgiven. It teaches that until they do that they lose their forgiveness. But if the Holy Spirit enters each Christian the moment they are born again, and the blood of Christ cleanses them from all sin, they are obviously forgiven of their sins past, present, and future.
As far as I am aware there is no difference between Mixed Grace and Pure Grace in their teaching regarding the sinner who has not yet come to Christ. Both movements preach “Come as you are and receive salvation by grace through faith.”
Remember the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11? Once her accusers had vanished in shame, Jesus said “Neither do I condemn you, go your way and sin no more.” The act of grace came first. “I don’t condemn you”. Notice that there is no indication of any repentance or contrition in her actions. She had not come to Jesus repenting. She had been caught having sex with a man who was not her husband and dragged to Jesus by her accusers. Yet Jesus didn’t condemn her for what she’d done. And He was the only One who had the right to condemn her. His instructions to sin no more followed His non-condemning statement, not the other way around. In other words “I have forgiven you of your sin. Now be free not to do that anymore.” The power of sin was broken by the act of Christ’s grace.
This is the point that seems to get the mixed-grace teachers so riled. They heartily object to grace being bestowed on people who don’t deserve it and don’t do anything to earn it. The idea that God could choose to bless someone who has not been good when they have in all their diligence been serving God, is too much for them to swallow. And so they lash out. It’s not just that they preach their mixed-grace message, it’s that they angrily attack the pure or hyper-grace teachers. Yet many of those attacked by the critics have very successful ministries. Often they pastor large churches, write Christian bestsellers, and are sought out by other pastors. Still that is not the proof that what they teach is right. The proof is in the Scriptures.
I myself have been accused of teaching “cheap free grace that leads to sin” and “once saved always saved”. Once I realized this is always the case with Pure Grace teaching I became less defensive about it. I doubt the critics realize just how many prominent preachers and teachers they are actually attacking when they take aim at the Pure Grace message.
Most of the critics that I know or know about, have far less fruit in their local ministries than the grace teachers they attack. And they struggle to retain the fruit they have. Fruit doesn’t sit well when it is bruised. I have seen large congregations dwindle rapidly where the mixed grace message is taught. As soon as people start facing any personal crisis, the bruising begins. Rather than saying “Neither do I condemn you”, there is a quick rush to judgment from both the pastor and the well-meaning but dead wrong people in their church.
The mixed grace message sounds good to those who like to feel rewarded for their efforts, but it is of little help or comfort to those who fail. The exit out the back door is very wide in these churches with people who find themselves caught up in sin and believe therefore they have lost their salvation. Instead of finding acceptance and forgiveness in their church, they are met with shame and condemnation instead.
Often the feeling of total failure exists in a Christian who realizes they’ve sinned because they have heard variations of the same sermon every week in such a church – “try harder”, “do better”, “be an overcomer.” Like lashes from the pastor’s tongue they can’t face the shame they feel and have to flee.
I think the greatest example of this was probably TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart who preached strongly the “be holy” message, but then after strongly condemning others who fell in sin was himself exposed two different times in sex scandals. The news headlines finally proclaimed that Jimmy was “the man who couldn’t practice what he preached”.
If our doctrine of grace is not functional as well as theological, then we have missed the point. Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, senior pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, asked this question on social media “Would people run to your church or from it if they messed up?”
A friend shared with me how she fell pregnant as a teenager in church to a son of one of the church leaders. At the same time another girl who was a troubled youth also fell pregnant. The distinct feeling of the one who had the church leader’s baby was that even after marrying the father of her child the church treated the other couple with grace, and her and her husband with condemnation because “they should have known better”. This is where the rubber hits the road. One teaching causes people to flee and the other causes them to cry out for help to Christ, their pastor, to Christian counselors, and to their Christian friends. Which teaching is “Christlike” and “a very present help in time of trouble?” Which teaching makes New Testament sense?
If you have read Dr Michael Browns book, I highly recommend reading Paul Ellis’ book and the others I have listed at the end of this article. They all go into great detail showing the Scriptural basis for the Pure Grace teaching. They have all done a far better job than I could in arguing the case for God’s incredible grace.
If you identify yourself with those of the mixed-grace teaching (whether you like the title or not), I appeal to you to read and study any or all of the books in this list.
Paul Ellis: “The Hyper-Grace Gospel: A Response to Dr Michael Brown and those opposed to the Modern Grace Message”
Philip Yancey: “What’s so amazing about Grace?”
Joseph Prince: “Unmerited Favor: Your Supernatural Advantage for a Successful Life”, “Destined to Reign: The Secret to Effortless Success”, “The Power of Right Believing”7 Keys to Freedom”
Tullian Tchividjian: “Jesus + Nothing = Everything”, “Oneway Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World”
Paul Ellis identifies the following as Hyper-Grace preachers, although I have not read all these authors, my reading of Paul Ellis leads me to trust his judgement.
Clark Whitten, Andrew Farley, Rob Rufus in view of them being included by Dr Michael Brown,
Steve McVey “Grace Walk”, D. L. Moody “the Way to God and how to find it”, Malcolm Smith “The lost Secret of the New covenant”, Watchman Nee “The Normal Christian Life”, Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones “Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure”, Brennan Manning “The Ragamuffin Gospel”, Charles Spurgeon “The Treasury of David Psalm 126” and various sermons, Andrew Wommack “Grace: The Power of the Gospel”, Robert Farrar Capon “The Mystery of Christ”, Dudley Hall “How Grace works”, Max Lucardo “Grace: More Than We Deserve, Better Than We Immagine”, Jerry Bridges “Transforming Grace”, Benjamin Dunn “The Happy Gospel: Effortless Union with a Happy God”, Judy Smith “Jesus Is ___”, Paul White “Revelation to Transformation”, Jefferson Bethke “Jesus > Religion: Why He is So Much Better than Trying Harder, Doing More and Being Good Enough”, Wayne Jacobsen “He Loves Me: Learning to Live in the Fathers Affection”, Darrin Hufford “The Lies Religion Tells about God”
This list is not exhaustive but it is a good start. It would take most people a long time to get through all these.
Unfortunately what I have found when engaging with the mixed grace believers is usually a very closed mind. The paradigm that shapes their view does not allow for engagement or discussion. Even when trying to explain as gently as I can the position that I have regarding the gospel of grace, I get very blunt, often angry, responses. I have concluded that if you don’t understand grace, you can’t show it yourself.
I was deeply moved by my 11 year old daughter when I asked her “What does it look like when the hound of heaven rescues a fallen person?” I had in my mind that as they fell off the cliff into the abyss the hound would grab them by the leg and haul them back up. She instead drew the following picture:
Her hound has wings to bear a fallen person up when they fall.
What Is The Truth About Grace? by Milton Gillie, Part 2