There is a teaching becoming popular in Christendom today which is known by some of its adherents as the "Radical Grace" message. This message is being presented as a message of liberation from all the horrible legalistic bondage that "religious" Christians get caught up in when they struggle to overcome sin. According to this message, we can relax because all we need to do is believe that Jesus has taken care of everything for us – there is really nothing for us to do in order to be saved. According to this teaching, it would be nice if we lived holy lives but its no big deal if we don't – because our salvation is assured by what Christ has done for us on the cross and has nothing to do with how we live at all. Some also teach that our sanctification is also complete and we have no sin nature once we believe in Jesus – regardless of how we live.
The "Radical Grace Reformation" teachers further teach that because when Jesus died on the cross all of our sins were "future", this means that Christ's death already means we are forgiven for ALL sins – past, present AND FUTURE. What this means then is that we don't have to get hung up about any sins we may commit going forward because God has already forgiven them and in fact doesn't even see them.
According to this teaching, the verse in 1 John 1:9 which says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" only applies to people first coming to the Lord, or to gnostics, but certainly not to us believers! The application of this is that we really don't have to worry about the things we do wrong because it won't affect our relationship with God. No need to confess or be troubled about sin! God has already taken care of it!
Another aspect of this teaching is the idea that all the teachings of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were all basically "Old Covenant" teachings – as if this was also some kind of bad thing – and that none of these teachings should concern us now that Jesus has instituted the New Covenant through His Death and Resurrection. According to this teaching, we can pretty safely ignore all Jesus' warnings and commandments and stern sayings because they no longer apply to us in the strictest sense.
This teaching says that because Paul was accused of teaching people that it was OK to sin, and they are also, that they must be teaching the same message that Paul preached.
One of its chief exponents of this religious movement is an individual by the name of Joseph Prince who heads something called "New Creation Church" in Singapore – a hugely influential platform with many thousands of members. Joseph Prince is a best-selling author known for titles like "Destined to Reign" which promises to tell you the key to "effortless success" and "Unmerited Favor". In any case, the "Radical Grace Reformation" is very similar to some brands of Baptist doctrine where you are taught to believe that as long as you called out to Jesus Christ to save you at some point in your life you will be just fine, although you might die prematurely or miss some rewards in heaven.
This teaching is fairly widespread. So what all this means is that we have a MAJOR problem in huge swathes of Protestant Christianity today if indeed this teaching is false, something which I intend to prove to you from the Scriptures. I refer to the Scriptures because they are much more important in establishing doctrine than appeals to personal experience along the lines of "just the other day the Lord said to me that I'm not teaching grace properly" or something like that.
I am going to take on these ideas point by point. The aim of this is NOT to make people hyper-critical but rather to lay a foundation for the proper fear of God which the Bible says is the beginning of wisdom.
Is there Nothing to Do Except Believe that We are Saved by Grace?
According to this idea, the fact that Jesus paid for all our sins means that we need not fear to sin, nor should we ever be concerned about the loss of our salvation. The Scripture in Ephesians 2:8,9 which says, "For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; and that not of yourself it is the gift of God" is interpreted to mean that God requires nothing from us except an initial assent to the message that God has saved us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No effort is required from our side to enter or to remain in God's favor.
If this is the case, it would have been nice for Jesus, Paul, Peter or one of the other apostles to just come out and say this explicitly. But they never do. Instead we get Jesus saying things like, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and won't be able." (Luke 13:24). We get Paul saying, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling," (Philippians 2:12). And we get Peter saying in a more positive sense, "So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away." (2 Peter 1:10 – NLT)
The Scriptures explicitly tell us that it IS possible for believers to "fall away", so if we are basing our beliefs on the BIBLE, as opposed to a preacher's theological tradition or supposed direct revelation from God, then we should be concerned. The Bible says, "Therefore he who thinks he stands, let him take heed lest he fall".
There are two opposite extremes when it comes to this issue of Law and Grace. One is to embrace what I call the "hyper-grace", "greasy grace" or "lawless grace" message. The other is to believe that our salvation is totally dependent on OUR efforts. The truth is that without God's working in us, which Philippians 2:13 talks about, none of us would be able to change and be like Christ. Without the Holy Spirit, none of us could do the works God wants done in His name. And even more importantly, without the shedding of Christ's blood, not ONE of our sins would be forgivable by God. Nothing we DO merits or earns forgiveness. So to try to purchase salvation or acceptance with God by good deeds is out of the question. It is an insult to God. We can insult God in THAT way, but it is also insulting to a holy God to suppose that His whole gospel message is essentially a program to allow certain rebellious sinners to keep on wilfully rebelling yet enjoy God's full favor and acceptance just because they believe that they do enjoy it, without regard to anything God says on the issue through the Scripture itself.
What Does God Require?
What God requires that we endure in Living faith. "He who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). A dead faith, one that doesn't have corresponding actions, cannot save a man from sin, according to the apostle James, the brother of the Lord. See James 2.
It is not wise to say that God requires action X, Y or Z in conformity to the principle of repentance from sin as a condition of salvation unless GOD explicitly says it. God does say that certain kinds of sinful lifestyle behaviors will keep a person out of the Kingdom of God. We see this in 1 Corinthians 6:9,10 and Galatians 5:17-21, for example. Beyond this, we need to realise that God gives people TIME to repent (Revelation 2:21), and that sanctification is a PROCESS involving growing in knowledge of what pleases and does not please God and conforming to the will of God through the work of the Holy Spirit. True faith will lead a person to seek God out, to seek out His word, and to take certain actions of obedience. We need this TRUE faith if we are to be finally saved, and we need to stick with it. To reduce this requirement simply down to embracing a belief that there is nothing for us to do except believe that we are saved is to redefine the biblical idea of faith into something quite different to what it is in the Bible.
Has God Already Forgiven My Future Sins?
It is important to stick to what the Scriptures say and not to extrapolate from certain ideas ABOUT the Scriptures into thoughts which are really very different and contradictory to the Scriptures themselves.
It IS true that Jesus when He died carried all our sins and they were all future when He died. I believe He also took our sicknesses and pains in the same way, because the Bible actually says that explicitly in Isaiah 53:4. What Jesus' atoning death actually all achieved was the opening of a "New and Living Way" for us. When we are on that way, we also receive the gift of righteousness and are legally justified in God's sight. People have erred because they thought what Jesus' death made for us was a "state of being" called eternal salvation – a state whose permanence was as guaranteed as the Finished Work of Christ itself. However the Bible does not teach this. It teaches that Christ opened up a WAY for us, and the same passage which teaches this immediately goes on to WARN US of the consequences of deliberate wilful sin against God (see verses 26 and following).
19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:19-25)
Jesus said, "I am the WAY, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me." (John 14:6). It follows that to reject Jesus as the Way is to reject the way to the Father also. The Bible also says that the path of the just is as a shining light. However, the passage above tells us that we should DRAW NEAR to God with a true heart, and in full assurance of faith. This is something for US to do. The Bible says in another place in the book of James, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you". The passage here in Hebrews talks about other important things in the life of faith also.The way some represent it, you are going to be intimate with Jesus no matter how you live, whether you draw near or not. But this will never be real. If you want to know God in intimacy, it will be on the terms of Him who says, "Without holiness no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). Drawing near to God happens when we give the Lord our full attention. You can't do this while your heart is running after idols of various kinds.
It is possible to leave the path of life. All it takes is to give your heart to something else besides the Lord, and keep on ignoring the voice of the Lord wooing you back. It is false to assume that this kind of sin is automatically covered by the grace of God, because the Scripture makes it very clear that it is NOT. "How shall WE ESCAPE, if we neglect so great a salvation?" the Bible rhetorically asks in Hebrews 2:3. We won't escape, unless we return to the Lord, is the simple answer.
Because the receiving of God's forgiveness is CONDITIONAL the whole argument about all our sins being future when Christ died for them falls on its face. You might make an initial step of justifying faith towards God at one point in your life. You might even go on for a while. But if you forsake the Lord, there comes a point where He gives you up to your own idols and you will be eternally lost. Preachers who tell people this is impossible will certainly cause little ones to stumble into sin because those trusting the words of the preacher will be emboldened to sin when the pressure is on. And such pressure always comes, as surely there is a devil with whom we must fight. Teaching things or doing things that encourage people to stumble into sin is something Jesus told us was a REALLY BAD POLICY.
"But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:6)
Can God See the Sins of Christians?
The hyper-grace teachers often say that God sees us as perfect and can't see our sin because the sacrifice of Jesus unconditionally covers all our wrong doing once we believe that it does. This teaching can be easily refuted from the Book of Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Notice that this is all happening AFTER THE CROSS, AFTER THE RESURRECTION and AFTER THE ASCENSION. We have Jesus Christ up in heaven sending a message via His apostle John to the Church at Ephesus:
"Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love." (Revelation 2:4)
How could Jesus see that they had left their first love if He could only see them as perfect in Christ?
To the church in Pergamos Jesus said: "But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate." (Revelation 2:14, 15). So we see that Jesus does see the false doctrines people in the church are preaching in His name, and he holds it against the people who do so! How could this be if all their past, present and future sins were automatically covered by the blood of Christ?
You can go on through the Book of Revelation chapters 2 and 3 and you will see that Jesus Christ is not blind, nor is the Father. The conclusion can only be: we need to purify ourselves and turn back to God, away from sin. This is what TRUE FAITH is going to lead us to do. The Bible says in the book of 1 John that anyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself just as he is pure.
Should We Get "Hung Up" about our Sins?
Suppose you are trapped in a cycle of sin. Should you worry about it? The answer is "No" but not for the reason the Radical Grace teachers say. The true reason not to worry is that Jesus Christ has broken the power of sin at the cross and provided a perfect offering for your forgiveness. Look to the cross and receive His Spirit and you will break free. If you are in demonic bondage you can command the demons to go and they will go as you call upon the Lord for salvation, with faith. Worrying about our sin won't deliver us – but faith in Jesus Christ will. We can be extremely confident in the power of the Lord Jesus to deliver us when we are willing for it. However, being complacent in sin is extremely foolish because all idolaters are going to end up in the Lake of Fire unless they repent – which means to turn back to God. This free and easy attitude towards iniquity and sin has nothing to do with Liberty in Christ. Apparently there were false teachers who promoted sin as liberty even in the days when Peter the apostle was alive. And Satan never quit on this strategy because it has worked well for him in destroying souls.
"While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. 20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them." (2 Peter 2:19-21)
"Radical Grace" teachers hold out the idea that once you accept their doctrines you will be free of "religion" and "works righteousness" and "legalistic bondage". But I tell you, if you are still stuck in pornography and masturbation, fornication and other forms of sin be they sexual or otherwise in nature, you are not in the kind of liberty Christ came to give. "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24). There is deliverance for all kinds of sin through the Word of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the power of the cross. But sometimes, you have to be desperate for God in order to get that deliverance. Most of the time, being "cool for Christ" doesn't cut it. What is needed a lot of the time is an all out pursuit of the things of the Spirit as well as a trust in God.
Did the Atonement Abrogate the Teachings of Jesus for Us?
It really disturbs me when I hear Christians shrug off all the implications of the Teachings and Commandments of Jesus on the basis that this was all Old Covenant stuff that Jesus did away with by dying on the cross and rising again.
The Bible never SAYS that the Commandments of Jesus are optional or irrelevant for those who "accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior". If the Bible doesn't say it, why should we think that? Why not just cut the red words of Jesus out of the New Testament, lest someone be misled into thinking that we are supposed to do what Jesus said if we want our calling of Him "Lord" to mean something – see Luke 6:46?
Jesus said, "Why do you call me Lord, and you do not do the things that I say?" (Luke 6:46). "Oh Jesus, its because we thought that calling you Lord was enough!" Well don't say you were not warned about this.
If this idea that the teachings of Jesus no longer apply for us is true, wouldn't it make the four gospels into very misleading salvation tracts? Wouldn't it make the four gospels more or less purveyors of "religious bondage" – if indeed the Radical Grace teachers are to be believed? For if to teach people that obedience to the words of Jesus is what Christ expects, that indeed the apostles were supposed to teach people to obey all that Christ commanded them (Matthew 28:19) – if all that is misguided because it somehow reveals ignorance concerning the New Covenant, then to actually try to literally implement Matthew 28:19 would be to "bind people up with the law". It WOULD be religious bondage. But this is nonsense. Jesus came to teach us the RIGHT way to live and believe. It is written down for us in the gospels, and Jesus said we will be judged according to what He said. So then, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. The Catholic Church cannot save you. The Protestant Preacher at the local Mega-Church cannot save. Only Jesus can save and He is not going to do it in a way that contradicts Himself.
Did Paul Preach that You Could Live as You Please and Be Accepted by God?
Some people take certain parts of the book of Romans and conclude from it that Paul's gospel really taught that we can do as we please as long as we believe in Jesus, and all will be well for us eternally. Of course, such teachers do not openly RECOMMEND sinning. They will say they are against sin and for holiness, perhaps. They may even quote Romans 6:1,2:
"What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"
It is one thing to quote this Scripture and mean it – it is another thing to quote it and then go on and say, "Well actually its no big deal if you do keep on sinning, its impossible not to stop, so don't get into condemnation or religious bondage." This isn't what Paul was saying, but the human heart and mind can be very deceitful on these issues, allowing us to fool ourselves into thinking we have received the Word of God when all we have done is let it be like water off a duck's back to us.
What Paul DID preach in the Book of Romans is that ungodly sinners can come to God immediately and be justified by faith without any preceding acts of repentance or of cleaning up their lives. The cleaning up actually comes afterwards. God justifies the ungodly who do not work for their salvation, but trust God to wash away their sins based on the blood sacrifice of Jesus. This is clearly taught in Romans chapter 4.
Paul also taught that righteousness is a gift. This is true. Our attempts to follow Jesus do not constitute a purification of our record or even a status of being good enough for God as such. We see this teaching in Romans 3:24 and Romans 5:17 for example.
It is important to understand these things so we do not go off into the equal and opposite extreme of legalism and works-based righteousness.
However, we need to read the WHOLE of the Book of Romans to understand what Paul taught on salvation – specifically on who WILL and who WILL NOT be saved.
Romans 2 gives some pertinent comments. Either Paul is telling the truth here or he is lying.
"But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, 9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God." (Romans 2:5-11)
According to Paul here, those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth are going to suffer God's indignation and wrath. Nothing about a third category of those who somehow believe in Jesus but are still self-seeking and do not obey the truth. This is the category that those in the Radical Grace Reformation movement imagine exists. But a complete reading of Paul's teachings reveal that he believed NOTHING OF THE SORT. I refer you to 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10 for further confirmation of this. We are required to OBEY the gospel. There is something to obey here.
In Romans 6 Paul teaches that identification with the cross of Christ is a key to deliverance from sin.
In Romans 8 Paul teaches that keeping one's mind on the things of the Spirit and living by the Spirit will set a person free from condemnation and the Law of Sin and Death. By the way, you have to read Romans 8:1 in the NKJV or KJV or something that uses the Majority text. Its one of the Scriptures that Satan has messed with through the introduction of corrupted Bible texts such as the Alexandrian manuscripts and the Vaticanus manuscript. You will see this when you compare the NIV to the KJV here for example.
In Romans 7 Paul talks about the time before He was in Christ. Some believe that Paul is talking about the life of a Christian in Romans 7, but do you really believe that Paul was saying "Oh wretched man that I am!" concerning his current state? In any case, Paul was talking about someone who really wanted to do what the word of God said but found himself unable to.
The Book of Romans doesn't actually support the view of the Radical Grace teachers (who in former times were known as Antinomian teachers). This is clear when you read the entire book including the parts people do not often preach from. We all need to come to terms with some of the things which Paul does say, like his words in Romans 3:31
"Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law."
The true gospel causes the author of the moral law of God to come into our lives and write his law on our hearts, especially his law of love. It is God's plan that we should live out of the Spirit and it is the Spirit who establishes us in the will of God.
What is at stake here is nothing less than the true message of the gospel. Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, not merely in theory, but in practice also. Those Christ sets free are free indeed. The true gospel of grace is about God rescuing hopeless sinners, washing away their debts, and putting in them a new heart to go after God. Once we are on the path of life, it is vital to remain in faith and love, and endure to the end. Don't be sucked in by false teachers who tell you that you are safe if you cling to idols.