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Finding the Balance Between Hyper Grace and Legalism

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"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. - John 14: 15 (ESV)

It seems sometimes we get too distracted in modern Christianity and fail to see the larger picture. I have seen recently and in the past well intended people try to search for some middle ground between two extreme positions that are equally unbiblical. The problem inherent in such a search is the lending of credibility to the extreme positions as if the middle ground is somehow just a tweak away from what amounts to horrifically false doctrine. How do people fall under the spell of a Joseph Prince? Because they have been so hurt by the false teaching of legalism. Unfortunately, one is no better than the other. Let us expose the extremes, to avoid searching for a middle ground from a flawed position. Let us start with legalism:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,not a result of works, so that no one may boast. - Ephesians 2: 8-9 (ESV)

These verses cannot be any clearer beloved. Our works cannot result in our salvation. There is nothing we can do to earn being saved by God. It is a gift. It is not of our own doing because if we had even a sliver to do with it we would never cease boasting about it. We are at our heart and core, prideful people. Left to our own devices we eat the forbidden fruit. We build the Tower of Babel. We erect monuments in our own honor. We craft "science" to place man in the position of God. We are very good at taking credit. We see this throughout Scripture. Gideon had an army of 32,000 facing an army in excess of 100,000. God still whittled down his army to a mere 300 before taking them to victory. Why?

The Lord said to Gideon, "The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me.' - Judges 7: 2 (ESV)

Yet despite the clearness of the Bible, many hold to legalistic principles regarding their salvation. Maybe they do not even realize it. They enforce strict adherence to rules over the grace that God has bestowed upon us. In the past those rules have been as nitpicky as the length of dresses worn by women to the prohibition of secular music. It is problematic enough to enforce such draconian rituals upon people but the real problem is that the keeping of these rules are then directly related to salvation. Jesus dealt with legalism in His day as well:

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! - Matthew 23: 23-24 (ESV)

The Pharisees knew the letter of the law and they kept it. In doing so however they missed the larger issues. So busy focused on gnat, they missed the camels. So go the legalists too. Where is your mercy? Where is God's grace? While the true legalists miss this, those under the deception of hyper grace travel to the opposite side of the spectrum and miss the camels as well. While the larger deception of the past was legalism, it is clear that today's gravest dangers lie in misrepresenting grace.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.' - Matthew 7: 21-23 (ESV)

These should be the single most sobering bible verses for believers. The Word of God instructs us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling yet the true reverence for God is rapidly disappearing in churches all across this country. Look at these people standing before Christ on the last day beloved. These are not people who were agnostic. These are not atheists. These are not people deceived by Islam or Buddhism. These are people who spent their lives believing they were serving Christ. These are people who were actually able to perform miracles and see demons cast out! Yet what is the charge leveled against them? Were they legalistic? No beloved. They were lawless. This verse alone should be enough to convince someone that hyper-grace is dangerously heretical but more often than not they seemingly do not care.

What is hyper-grace? What is it that Joseph Prince teaches? It is an old heresy known as antinomianism. Arising as a mockery of "by faith alone" after the Protestant Reformation, antinomianism teaches that the law has no place in the life of a believer. While staying on the fringe for centuries it has been rebranded and repackaged by Prince and then placed on steroids. Not only is there no place for the law but even suggesting such is considered insulting God. If one was to pray "not my will but yours be done" they are essentially doubting God according to the greasy grace teachings of Prince. Additionally, God is never angry with you under this false teaching. Everything you ever were going to do is already forgiven so the consequences for sin are minimized to the point that the lip service paid to "not sinning" is wasted air. The dangers of this heresy should be obvious. The encouragement to sin will ruin people's lives. The teaching that God is always pleased with us will lead people to callous themselves to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Combine this with the typical seeker friendly purpose driven church structure and the propensity for false conversions skyrockets. Think about it! Sin minimized. Repentance treated as an insult to God. How can anyone be saved under such false teaching?

So is there a middle ground? I am going to say no because that presupposes that these two extremes have something redeemable about them and they do not. The teachings of legalism will bind people to acts of service that cannot save them. The errors of hyper-grace will bind people in a fairy tale land where they think they are saved and are free to sin at will without worry of consequence. Neither is a tenable position. So then what is? What is the proper role of the law in the life of a believer? To answer that we need to have a healthier understanding of the law:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. - 1John 5: 1-3 (ESV)

I think we must start with a fundamental re-understanding of what the law is. What God commands from us are not bad things beloved. They are not mean spirited. They are not meant to punish us or keep us down. There seems to be this false underpinning from the Joseph Prince's of the world that the law is bad and grace is good. Wrong. Both are good, especially in this temporal life. You see it is the eternal life where the law becomes a problem. If we are to be judged for our salvation based upon the law that would be terrible because none of us could measure up. That does not mean the law in and of itself however is "bad." First of all, God instituted it so how could it be bad? Ever? Was it capricious that He created the commandments? Was it arbitrary? Was it just to put shackles around our ankles? Of course not because that would go against the attributes of a loving God. They are not shackles beloved. They are guardrails. They are what protect us from veering off the road completely. Greasy grace converts will scream that the law's role was to make sin conscious and to that I say hallelujah! Are you really arguing that you do not want to be conscious of your sin?

And the sad answer to that is a resounding yes. That is why there are hundreds of thousands of followers for Joseph Prince. He scratches our itching ears perfectly. We want to hear that we do not have to worry about our sin. We want the assurances of heaven while we continue to live like hell. What do these verses from 1John teach us? We love God when we obey His commandments! What does the key verse today teach us? These are the words of Jesus exclaiming that if we love Him we will keep His commandments! This is not deep theology beloved. What then is the nature of the relationship between the commandments and our salvation because that is where so many get so confused. Do not scream legalism at me if you do not understand what it means! Beloved, we do not strive to keep the law because we think doing so will result in our salvation. On the contrary - we strive to keep the law because we are saved.

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Credentialed Minister of the Gospel for the Assemblies of God. Owner and founder of 828 ministries. Vice President for Goodwill Industries. Always remember that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to (more...)
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