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The Hyper-Grace Heresy, Pt. 2

Do Jesus' Words Matter to Us Today?

Jesus teaching the disciples

by Dennis Pollock


In a previous devotional study, we looked at the hyper-grace movement, which seems to be growing more prominent than ever these days. The leading teachers in this movement speak much about grace, but the grace of which they speak bears little resemblance to the grace proclaimed by the church in ages past. Even the most famous preacher of grace since the apostles, Charles Spurgeon, would hardly recognize and certainly never approve of the bizarre version of grace insisted on by the current generation of hyper-grace preachers.

In this study, I want to go into one particular aspect of the hyper-grace teachings: the idea that the words, teachings, and commandments of Jesus in the gospels are irrelevant for Christians. Hence, my title: “Do Jesus’ Words Mean Anything?” As strange a title as that may seem, the answer that these teachers would give, at least if they were honest, would be, “No, His words are totally meaningless to us today.”

Their reasoning goes something like this: Jesus’ teachings were aimed at the Jews of His day, those who were still under the Old Covenant established by Moses. He pushed things to extremes in His demands for obedience and holiness, for the purpose of showing them that they could not possibly keep the laws of God. Nearly all of His demands and insistence upon Holiness have nothing to do with us today.

The Sermon on the Mount

The hyper-grace teachers especially hate the Sermon on the Mount. In their minds this sermon is way too tough and far too demanding for us grace-Christians. We are accepted just as we are. God cannot see and never notices our sins and we certainly never need to repent, ask God’s forgiveness, or try to keep such impossible demands as loving our neighbors as ourselves, or to forgive those who sin against us just as God forgives us. They no doubt find it especially galling to read that there will be people standing before Christ on the final Day, who will discover that they will be sent to everlasting destruction because they practiced lawlessness” and did not do the will of the Father in heaven. They consider this totally unacceptable, having assumed that belief in Jesus, any belief – whether it results in a transformed life, or has no effect whatsoever upon one’s lifestyle – is sufficient to enable us to go to heaven.

To be fair there are a few places where Jesus is clearly referring to the law in the gospels. When asked what to do to obtain eternal life by the rich young ruler, Jesus tells Him to keep the ten commandments. Jesus is not suggesting that it is possible for anyone to be saved this way. He is using the commandments as a means to convict this man of His need to believe in and follow Him. When the young man declares that He has kept the commandments since his earliest day, which was clearly a lie, Jesus tells him to sell all and follow Him. This, the young man is unwilling to do, and is broken when he discovers he is not nearly so passionate about God’s will as he thought he was.

So yes, there are at least a few cases where Jesus uses the stringent demands of the law to convict the heart, but to throw out all the words, teachings, and commandments of Jesus because of this is going too far.

Does Anything Apply?

Let’s consider the Sermon on the Mount. Is there nothing in it at all which applies to us today? One hyper-grace author has labeled Jesus’ teachings as “harsh,” implying that such demands and precepts could never rightly apply to us laid-back, que sera, sera grace Christians today. Without question, Jesus could be tough and He demanded a lot from His disciples. But to use this as justification to throw out the entire sermon and suggest that chapters five, six and seven in Matthew are meaningless for us today is surely irrational, if not heretical. Jesus declared that we are to let our light shine before men, that men may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. Is this no longer relevant? Should we take a black permanent marker and draw a line through this verse? He tells us that men should not only avoid adultery, but not allow their eyes to lust after women who are not their wives. Has that command expired? Is it now OK for men to heartily lust after women, and justify their lusting eyes with the words: grace, grace?

In the Sermon on the Mount we are told to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Are we to write off this command as for Old Testament folks only? So we New Testament Christians are now free to hate our enemies and pray for boulders to fall on their heads, now that we are under grace – is that the idea?  In this sermon Jesus warns us not to lay up treasures on earth, but rather to lay up our treasures in heaven. Is that an Old Testament command with no meaning whatsoever for New Testament believers?

Sermon on the MountOf course, many of the hyper-grace preachers would declare that some of these commands may still apply. (They might prefer them to be called suggestions, or maybe hints; commands sounds so legalistic!) But the problem with this is that now we are in a place where we must decide which of Jesus’ words still have any relevancy for us today. And so we are all free to pick and choose. Or if this is too much for you, you can simply allow the hyper-grace preachers to do your picking and choosing for you. “This one counts; this one doesn’t. This is for us today; but certainly this other one is too harsh and difficult, so forget it altogether!” Of course, most of them feel it is best to leave the Sermon on the Mount alone altogether, lest you become confused or turn into a legalist. And many give you the impression that not only should you ignore the Sermon on the Mount; you really should pay no attention to any of Jesus’ pre-cross words or teachings. They were for the Jews only. These deceived folks like to think of Paul as having the genuine gospel – Jesus: not so much!

What folly, what incredible absurdity! Behind this madness is surely the deception of the evil one, who would love nothing better than to take our eyes off of Jesus and His words. Rather than treasure those precious words written in red in our New Testaments, the prince of darkness would have us ignore them altogether, while we shout “grace, grace, grace,” and “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

Jesus and Paul

For a long time, liberal Christians have tried to drive a wedge between Jesus and Paul. They have suggested that Jesus taught love and forgiveness, whereas Paul was a tough-minded Jew who insisted on the idea of being saved by grace through faith, and then living a holy, self-controlled life of love and service. In their minds, Jesus was far more open-minded than Paul. The hyper-grace folks are likewise making a distinction between Jesus and Paul, but in their case they are suggesting that Paul had it right and Jesus’ entire gospel ministry and teachings were for Jews only. Christians today are free to skip right past the gospels and get on to the true gospel as espoused by Paul.

Both approaches are total nonsense. Jesus and Paul do not in any way contradict one another. Jesus made strict demands, but also taught grace and faith. Paul powerfully declared justification by faith in Christ, but he also insisted on a holy, godly life to go along with our faith. It was Jesus who told us, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). And Paul could be very tough and insist on extremely high standards for believers. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9,10).

In Romans Paul writes, “God… will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness–indignation and wrath” (Romans 2:6-8). This sounds like a works-based salvation, but when you read the entire letter you realize that Paul could not possibly have been saying that we receive eternal life through our works and efforts. But here Paul was describing the life of faith, the outworking of faith in Christ. He is telling us that anyone who truly trusts in Christ and has real grace at work in his or her life will patiently live a life of good works, with a hope of future “glory, honor, and immortality.” And Jesus, who continually insisted on godly living and total devotion to God, announced, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:29).

There is no need to try to reconcile Jesus and Paul, or to suggest that they presented two different gospels for two different peoples. They both insisted on grace through faith, they both insisted on repentance, and they both insisted upon godly living as the true evidence of grace.

Jesus’ Commands for His Churches

What really drives the final nail in the hyper-grace coffin are Jesus’ words to the churches in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation. Here Jesus affirms nearly everything that the hyper-grace folks vehemently deny. Whereas they tell us that God is never displeased with His children and is totally blind to their sins, Jesus spells out the sins of His people vividly and speaks judgment and discipline to the churches and believers that practice these things. While they suggest that Christians never need to repent, Jesus demands that his erring people repent, and warns them of dire consequences if they will not. While they insist that God is just as happy with us on our worst day as on our best day, Jesus somehow doesn’t seem all that happy with some of the early believers. In fact, in some cases He seems downright outraged!

These letters to the churches in Revelation were given many decades after Jesus’ cross and resurrection. Surely, they qualify as New Testament utterances by our Lord! But they do not at all mesh with the easy believism, the fuzzy, mushy, “God-thinks-you’re-swell-no-matter-how-much-you-lie-scream-and-lust,” bogus, counterfeit grace that many are desperately attempting to foist off on the church these days.

The Real Grace

The solution to the hyper-grace doctrines is not to deemphasize grace. After all, the very nature of all that Jesus Christ came to the earth to accomplish may be summed up by the word grace. The answer lies in teaching the nature of genuine grace and a Biblical Jesus. We should freely acknowledge the power of justification through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus. And we truly are justified on our good days and on our bad days, in our selfishness and in our deepest moments of spirituality. We do not lose our status as sons and daughters of the Most High God based on our current behavior or mood.

But this by no means suggests that God is blind to our sins and our follies, or that it makes little difference to Him whether we are committing multiple adulteries and living lives of greed and selfishness, or living uprightly, as those totally devoted to His precepts and will. God very much cares about this, and He is not above disciplining those who deliberately and consistently rebel against His will and His ways, while proclaiming grace, grace, and more grace.

Jesus can indeed be upset when His followers bring reproach upon His name through their sins and follies. He told the Laodicean believers He was ready to “spew them out of His mouth,” and commanded the Ephesian Christians to repent, lest He remove their lampstand.

And it is OK for Christians to read, absorb, embrace, and follow the words of Jesus that they find in the gospels. Indeed, it is more than OK. It is good for us. For we cannot grow in the grace of Christ without growing in the knowledge of Christ. And the primary means by which this is accomplished is through reading over and over again of His life, His death, His words, His teachings, His priorities, and His demands for those who would follow Him and call Him Lord.


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