In his new book on hyper-grace, Dr. Paul Ellis states that in writing my book differing with hyper-grace, I have given opportunity to him and his colleagues to clarify exactly what they believe, which is very helpful to all of us.
At the same time, he feels (as do others) that those of us who believe that hyper-grace goes beyond biblical grace often do not understand the hyper-grace gospel. Conversely, in reading his critique of my book, I felt that he often misunderstood (or grossly mischaracterized) what I and many others believe, referring to our beliefs (quite inappropriately) as “mixed grace.”
How, then, do we move beyond these misunderstandings? How do we isolate our very real differences, some of which are significant, while finding places of major agreement as well?
One reason I “named names” in my book was to be sure that I was quoting the authors accurately, interacting with what they did teach and not holding them responsible for things they didn’t teach. And as an apologist and debater, I always do my best to present the positions of others fairly.
I also engaged in extensive interaction with many proponents of the hyper-grace message before writing my book, because of which I only emphasized the points that these proponents emphasized too, trying to major on the majors.
In light of all this, it was definitely surprising for me to hear other hyper-grace teachers say, “But that’s not what we teach!”
Could it be that the hyper-grace movement is not that monolithic? Or perhaps it’ss a matter of semantics, and when I say one thing, they understand it differently (and vice versa)?
For example, we can easily demonstrate from the Greek New Testament that the Holy Spirit “convicts” us of as our sins as believers (the Greek word meaning “reprove” and “rebuke”), but when some people hear the word “convict” they take it to mean “condemn,” which the Holy Spirit never does to us, God’s children.
So, we might agree on the substance of an issue but miss each other in the wording, which happens commonly in the midst of dialogue and debate.
In the interest, then, of bringing further clarity to where we agree and we disagree, and with no desire to be contentious, I’m asking some honest questions, eager to hear the replies of those who say, “Yes, grace is hyper!” (Really, I am being as sincere as I can be. These questions are being asked for the reasons stated and not to start a fight.)
1) Does God require anything from you as his child? Is there anything he says that you must do as his child other than receive his grace? If so, are their spiritual benefits that come through obeying these requirements and spiritual losses that come from ignoring them?
2) The New Testament writers often exhort us to live in ways that please the Lord. Does that mean that it is possible for us to displease him? We agree that he relates to us as his beloved children, but is he always pleased with us? And since Paul urges us not to grieve the Spirit, does that mean that we can, in fact, grieve him?
3) Is there anything you can do to disappoint the Lord? If the Lord always sees you as perfect in his sight, as is commonly taught in the hyper-grace gospel, is there any way for you to disappoint him? I’ve heard it said that we can only grieve or disappoint him by not trusting his grace, but according to your message, hasn’t that sin been forgiven as well?
4) If God has pronounced your future sins forgiven in the same way he has pronounced your past sins forgiven, why do Paul and other New Testament writers address these very sins in their letters, and why does Jesus address them in Revelation 2-3? We know that God doesn’t bring our past sins up to us, since he has forgiven and “forgotten” them. Why then does he bring our present sins up to us in the New Testament, even warning us about the dangers of walking in those sins, if they have also been forgiven and forgotten in advance?
5) Is it possible for you to displease the Lord? Is God as pleased with you if you leave your spouse and commit adultery as he is if you spend time in personal communion with him? While his love for you is constant, is his fellowship with you exactly the same when you are obedient as when you are disobedient?
6) A leading hyper-grace teacher claims that the doctrine of progressive sanctification is a “spiritually murderous lie.” Does that mean that grace preachers like Charles Spurgeon, who believed in progressive sanctification, taught this alleged lie? And if “progressive sanctification” simply means to walk out our holiness with the help of the Spirit, what is so dangerous about this teaching? Put another way, why do you reject the concept that the one who made us holy now calls us to live holy lives in thought, word, and deed, thereby “completing our sanctification in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1)?
7) We agree that the Holy Spirit never condemns us for our sins as believers, but does he ever make us uncomfortable when we sin? To me, this is a very loving act of the Father, not wanting us to get comfortable doing things that could destroy our lives and the lives of others. Isn’t that something to be embraced? And doesn’t that drive us to the cross rather than away from it?
8) We agree that we do not need to confess every sin we commit each day in order to “stay saved,” but is any type of confession and request for forgiveness appropriate? For example, is it appropriate for believers to say, “Father, I’m sorry for sinning and I ask you to wash me clean”? Is it OK for us to get our feet washed (using the language of John 13) when we feel the need to? Are we denying God’s grace or showing an ignorance of God’s grace when we confess our sins to him, asking him to forgive us?
9) Since you believe we are not to judge our salvation by our conduct, how we can avoid self-deception? I know that you are against certain types of self-examination lest you become “sin conscious” and take your eyes off the finished work of the cross, but what do you make of verses that state that we know we have passed from death to life only if we live a certain way (like 1 John 3:14)? If I understand you correctly, you would question the salvation of someone who demonstrated no change of life and continued to walk in unrepentant sin. But doesn’t this mean that, on some level, you are looking at your “performance” to verify your salvation?
10) What actions does God call us to as believers that you do not describe as “self-effort”? My experience has been that when I quote a verse from the New Testament exhorting us to live a certain way (be it take up our cross or run our race or press toward the mark), hyper-grace adherents accuse me of depending on self-effort or calling for self-effort. Can you clarify that for me?
11) Do you think there’s any danger in claiming that the teachings of Jesus before the cross don’t apply to us as believers today? I take a lot of time on this subject in my book, exposing what I believe to be the very real dangers in doing this, but for the moment, I’m wondering if you could tell me why grace preachers like Spurgeon (whom I mentioned above) or D. M. Lloyd-Jones gloried in the Sermon on the Mount and considered it to be choice material for believers today, whereas you reject it as being applicable to us. Were they missing something?
12) What does it mean to you walk in the fear of the Lord? We agree that we are not to live in servile fear before our Father, especially since fear has to do with punishment. But what do you make of verses like these? “And if you address as Father the One who judges impartially based on each one’s work, you are to conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your temporary residence. For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish” (1 Pet 1:17-19).
13) Do you see any possible danger in emphasizing that it is impossible for a believer to lose his or her salvation? Of course, we could debate whether the Bible teaches this at all, but simply as a matter of experience, many of us have encountered very lost people – drunkards, fornicators, without the slightest interest in God (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-10) – who have then assured us that they were saved because it was impossible for them to lose their salvation. So, on a practical level, do you feel it’s important to add any scriptural caveats to your teaching of eternal security and, if so, how can you do this without putting an emphasis on “performance”?
Again, in posting these questions, I am not trying to be contentious, nor have I worded them so as to set some kind of trap. I am genuinely asking for honest responses from those who embrace the hyper-grace message for the sake of clarity and understanding.
At the same time, my fervent hope is that hyper-grace leaders and adherents will reconsider their teachings, reading my book for themselves (rather than relying on what they have been told about it), especially if some of their teachings have been reactionary in nature, born out of bad experiences in the past and hence, swinging out of balance in response. And I have been blessed to see that some hyper-grace teachers, like Ryan Rufus, with whom I often express disagreement in my book, have already written books trying to address some problems arising in their movement.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and, as your schedule permits, for responding to some or all of these questions. May we all embrace God’s grace in full! (A quick P.S. I welcome comments from those who reject hyper-grace as well as from those who embrace it, but again the goal is not to argue but to understand.)