Why I am Hyper-Grace: Answering Five Common Objections

Why I am Hyper-Grace: Answering Five Common Objections

Is Hyper-Grace “dangerous” or “imbalanced”?

Author: Jeremy White/Thursday, August 21, 2014/Categories: Jeremy White, Top Picks

Introduction:

In recent times, a label has surfaced regarding what some view as a “dangerous” or “imbalanced” teaching of the grace of God. “Hyper-Grace” is now a term being used to suggest that there are some folks (such as myself) who “take God’s grace too far” and in so doing either ignore or minimize other significant teachings of the Bible.

What follows is an attempt to address a few of the most common “warnings” some have offered regarding those of us who make much of the finished work of Christ.

Objection #1: The Hyper-Grace Gospel is Unbiblical

For starters, you may be shocked to discover that “hyper-grace” is really the only adequate description for grace in the first place, according to the Bible. For example, when Paul wrote in Romans 5:20 that “…where sin increased, grace increased all the more” he was literally referring to God’s grace as “hyper.”

The Greek term for the phrase “increased all the more” (NIV) is huper-perisseuo which literally means “super-abounded.” Hyper is simply a transliteration of the prefix “huper” in Greek and means “above and beyond” in scope or quality. The term “perisseuo” refers to that which is “in far excess of what might be expected, superfluous or gratuitous.”

So in Paul’s description of God’s amazing grace, he is literally saying that because of the abundance of sin in this world, God’s grace has super-abounded in order to rescue us from sin! Paul literally describes God’s grace as HYPER in this passage. It is super-abundant and unfathomably plentiful and powerful. In fact, a few verses later Paul would state that the very reason sin is no longer our master is because we are no longer under law, but under this hyper-abounding grace (Rom. 6:14)!

If this is what one means by “hyper-grace,” then count me in as one of the “grace-heretics!” It is a label that was applied to both Paul and Jesus by the Pharisees of their day, so I am more than happy to wear it in ours. As the late scholar D. Martin Lloyd-Jones famously pointed out (andthis is my paraphrase), "If people do not sometimes misunderstand and falsely accuse you of being soft-on-sin or against God’s law, you are not preaching the real gospel!"

Objection #2: Hyper-Grace Preachers are Soft on Sin

This is a common one, of course. The idea here is that because of our high esteem of the finished work of Christ and our insistence upon keeping our eyes fixated on Jesus as Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2), we are either afraid to preach against sin or do not take sin seriously enough.

Far from being “soft on sin” – we who preach grace are extremely big on Jesus. Any gospel worthy of the hyper-grace label is a gospel which points all fingers toward Jesus rather than judgmentally pointing them at those He came to save.

There are definitely many contexts in which it is appropriate to talk about sin, warn about sin and preach against sin. I do this routinely in my preaching ministry, as do my friends who are also labeled as hyper-grace preachers. Sin is bad. It is ugly. It brings death to everything it touches. It grieves God. It makes us miserable. It comes with a variety of consequences.

No legitimate grace-preacher that I am aware of minimizes the reality that sin is evil, wrong, bad, unproductive and unfitting for a new creation in Christ. What we DO focus on, however, is the Answer to sin, which is Jesus – and the fact that His grace alone is precisely what delivers us from its penalty (death), its power (enslavement) and eventually even its very presence (when we live in the fullness of His heavenly kingdom one day).

I talk about sin all the time, but not as a means of manipulating, judging or condemning people. I talk about sin so as to help people understand both their daily and eternal need for Jesus as Savior and Lord. We hyper-grace preachers are simply standing with Paul on the promise that it is the grace of God which “teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age…” (Titus 2:11-13).

Paul taught that the power of sin is the law (1 Cor. 15:56). If a person wants to ensure that they will remain in slavery to life-dominating sin and addiction, one simple way to do that is to live under a law-based mentality. A grace-saturated life, however, frees us from the grip of sin’s mastery over us. Far from being soft on sin, we take sin very seriously. So seriously that we are pointing people unapologetically to the only Source of rescue from it! That Source is not trying harder to be a good person, culturally-espoused self-help tactics or pop-psychology. That Source is Jesus Christ and the grace He alone offers.

Objection #3: Hyper-Grace Preachers Don’t Believe in Repentance

Not only do webelieve in repentance, but we seek to understand and teach it thoroughly and accurately. In the New Testament, “to repent” is a translation of the Greek verb “metanoeo” meaning “to change one’s mind or perspective.” Obviously, when we receive Christ, we have repented in the genuine sense of the term – changing our minds about our need of a Savior and receiving Christ.

Before Christ, we lived as self-sufficiently as possible, thinking that God would probably grade on a curve and accept us at least partly on the basis of our own best efforts and self-generated goodness. When we came to understand our spiritual bankruptcy and our desperate need for Christ’s forgiveness and new life, we repented (had a change of perspective) and received Christ by trusting in Him alone to rescue us.

Beyond this initial experience of “getting saved” (as we often call it), repentance is a daily lifestyle in which an ongoing “renewal of the mind” process is taking place within us. As we grow in faith and in our understanding of God through His Word and our union with His Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17), we begin to replace old thinking with new thinking and false thinking with true thinking. This renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:1-3) is an integral part of the transformative process of the Spirit’s work in our lives. This is the essence of a lifestyle of repentance – taking false thoughts captive, making them obedient to (in conformity with) Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

Paul affirmed in no uncertain terms that God’s kindness (His expressed grace toward us) is what leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Far from being anti-repentance, hyper-grace theology affirms repentance and the ongoing renewal of the mind as an integral part of what it means to follow Jesus under His New Covenant.

Objection #4: Hyper-Grace Preachers Are Against Confession of Sin

This is one of the most common misrepresentations of hyper-grace theology. The Biblical term “to confess” simply means “to speak the same thing as” or “to agree with.” We teach that confession is important because we should yield our minds to agreement with God about everything He reveals – including, but not limited to, sin.

What we often also teach (and this is where the rub is with some people) is that confession is not about triggering any transaction between us and God that would issue forth more forgiveness, as though God were dispensing forgiveness in various doses based upon our confessions. Forgiveness of sin is something that was provided objectively ONE time by ONE act of grace through ONE Savior who shed His blood on the cross for us 2000 years ago. As the book of Hebrews repeatedly emphasizes, He is the “once for all” sacrifice for sin.

Confession of sin then, is about humility and walking in agreement with God – not about getting more forgiveness from Him. Some will suggest that God’s forgiveness is dispensed using a “two-tiered” approach. On one level, they say, God has forgiven our sins judicially and objectively through the cross. On the second tier, however, we need to confess our sins in order to receive “relational” or“experiential” forgiveness in order to maintain close fellowship with God.

This two-tiered approach is nowhere taught in the New Testament, and has only been popularized because of two basic levels of rationale. The first is based upon a misinterpretation of two passages in the New Testament, both of which have been clearly explained in books and sermons by a host of solid gospel teachers. These two passages are Matthew 6:12 (where Jesus appears to be commanding His followers to ask for God’s forgiveness) and 1 John 1:9 (which seems to link forgiveness to confession of sin).

In my book “TheGospel Uncut: Learning to Rest in the Grace of God” I deal with these passages quite clearly, as do other authors such as Bob George, Andrew Farley, Ralph Harris, Paul Ellis, Cathy Hildebrand and Andrew Nelson. I encourage you to investigate these writings for yourself in order to understand the context in which these passages were intended to be understood.

The bottom-line is this. We hyper-grace preachers DO value confession of sin. We also practice confession of sin in our own lives. However, we understand confession to be about agreeing with God concerning the foolishness of our sin rather than begging for forgiveness based upon a humanly-invented two-tiered approach to somehow "maintaining close fellowship" with Him.

Our fellowship with God was purchased unconditionally and irreversibly by Jesus at the cross. Once we receive that fellowship by simple faith in Christ, it is our eternal possession regardless of our recent performance or track-record. As I’ve written in my book, The Gospel Uncut:

"The way I now approach confession is to simply agree with God about the foolishness of my sin. I admit to Him that my sin hurts me as well as others and that it fails to bring glory to His Name. Often I am sorrowful over the foolishness of my actions. The Apostle Paul wrote that there is a “godly sorrow that brings repentance” (2 Cor. 10:7). When I know I have sinned, I humbly admit that my sinful behavior is out of step with my new nature and identity in Him, and I ask Him to help me rest in His completed work. Now here comes the best part! After agreeing with God about my sin, I begin thanking Him for the fact that this sinful act was already forgiven at the cross. Understanding these realities has literally transformed my practice of confession, changing the experience from a guilt-ridden begging session into a dynamic, worshipful encounter in which my conscious mind (and behavior) is realigned with the grace and truth of Jesus.

So yes! By all means confess your sin to God! Agree with Him about sin and everything else He has revealed. But don’t think of confession as a means of obtaining something that Jesus Christ died “once for all” to secure for you. Remember that confession is about humility and the ongoing renewal of the mind process – and never about getting something from God that is already yours in abundance through the finished work of Christ. If you are a believer in Christ, you are NEVER out of fellowship with God. Fellowship is an identity issue, meaning that you now share "all things in common" with God as a joint-heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17)! This never has been and never will be based upon your behavioral performance and is not something that you must confess sin in order to have reinstated! Because of Christ, you are always clean and God is always close!

Objection #5: Hyper-Grace Preachers are Against God’s Law

Some take this claim so far as to suggest that we even want to throw out or ignore the Old Testament. Wow! What wild imaginations these accusers have! The truth is that we are by no means antinomian (against the law of God), nor do we disbelieve or avoid teaching the Old Testament. Most of us actually esteem the power and purpose of God’s law so highly that we understand grace to be the only way of escape from its impossibly stringent demands.

Paul shared in Romans 3 and elsewhere that God’s purposes for the law were two-fold: 1) to stop our self-righteous excuses, minimizations and justifications of our sin and 2) to reveal our desperate need of a Savior by grace through faith. The entire thrust of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was to bury His very self-righteous audience under the weight of one inescapable reality: “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the world’s most stringent law-keepers (the Pharisees and teachers of the law) you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt.5:20).

That Jesus came to “fulfill” the Law (Matt. 5:17) means that He came to keep its demands perfectly because He knew that we couldn’t and wouldn’t. He fulfilled the stringent demands of the Law on our behalf as our Substitute so that His record of perfection could be credited to our spiritual account when we received Him by grace through faith. He did what you and I couldn’t and wouldn’t, and the Sermon on the Mount is a damning indictment of anyone who thinks they can measure up to God’s standards on their own effort.

And have you heard of this “cheap grace” idea? Sometimes the term is ripped off and redefined from Bonhoeffer’s vocabulary to insinuate that the hyper-grace movement has cheapened the grace of God by making it “too easy” for people to attain. After all, we live in a world where there’s no such thingas a free lunch, right? We certainly don't believe or teach that grace is cheap. It cost Jesus His life! But we DO agree with the New Testament that His grace is FREE to those who receive it freely by faith.

The truth of the matter is that hyper-grace teachers are not guilty of promoting cheap grace at all. Rather, our critics are often guilty of promoting cheap Law! Far from being anti-law, WE are the ones who esteem God's Law so highly as to conclude that there is no escape from its condemnation apart from faith in Christ alone! The Law is an all-or-nothing proposition. To stumble in just one aspect of keeping it is the equivalent of breaking all of it (James 2:10). The Law is a ministry of death and condemnation (2 Cor. 3:7-11). The Law is not the bad guy, however. It simply points out who the bad guys are (the world, the flesh and the devil)! The Law is holy and pure and designed to show us what sin is (Rom.7:7).

But living under Law cannot save, change or transform a single heart – only grace can! And this is why we are so adamant about never mixing a law-based mentality with a grace-based mentality toward spiritual life or growth under God’s New Covenant. The New Testament repeatedly affirms that our salvation and sanctification are either completely by law or completely by grace, but cannot be a result of mixing the two.

Conclusion:

With all of that said, the idea of trying to somehow “balance grace” with anything is ludicrous according to both Scripture and plain reason. Grace, by definition, is radically IMBALANCED in our favor! If it were not, it would cease to be grace on that very basis! The term “hyper-grace” is far from insulting! It is in fact the ONLY kind of grace taught, supportedand promoted in the Bible.

God understands that His grace is open to the possibility of abuse by those who might misunderstand it. He understands that people may take His grace for granted or even at times misrepresent it as a license to sin. Paul addressed those concerns very clearly, as did Jesus and the other New Testament writers.

However, the fact that grace is open to misinterpretation and the possibility of abuse does not give us license to water it down, explain it away or cheapen its glory by adding a single measure of law into it as an attempt to stay "balanced."  There is nothing balanced whatsoever about the grace of God! We rejoice in that! We celebrate that! We proclaim that without apology!

May God reveal His hyper-grace more clearly to you in the days ahead! Feel free to chime in with your thoughts below.

(For a more exhaustive treatment of this critical subject, check out the book "The Hyper-Grace Gospel" by my friend Paul Ellis )


© 2014 – Jeremy White

 
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