Can something that gives us life and health also cause us harm? Sadly, yes.
Take water for example. H2O is necessary to sustain life but too much of it, too fast, can cause hyponatremia, or ‘water intoxication’, a very unpleasant condition that can be fatal. A similar condition, but of the spirit, can result from too much ‘grace’.
Grace is to the spirit what water is to the body. It is God’s grace that gives us spiritual life, and it is His grace that preserves that life for eternity. We are all familiar with the catchy definitions of grace like, ‘God’s riches at Christ’s expense’ and ‘unmerited favour’, but any way we define it, it comes down to one thing – grace is God reaching out in love and mercy to the undeserving. Now how could we have too much of that?
Not too long ago a new, yet old, doctrine became popular in parts of the church, and it did not take long for its critics to give it a name, ‘hyper-grace’. On the face of it, hyper-grace seems to be an overdose of grace, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
The foundational teachings of hyper-grace are, more or less, as follows:
- When we are saved by faith in Christ Jesus, we become one with Him, and as a result become blameless and ‘perfect’ in the Father’s eyes.
- Jesus paid for all sins when He died on the cross, and ‘all’ means past, present and future sins. Confession of sin is therefore inappropriate and an offence to God who has already dealt with all our sins. Because of this, the Holy Spirit will never convict us of sin.
- Because He sees only Jesus in us, God the Father cannot ever be angry with us and will not punish us or even hold us accountable for any ‘sinful’ behaviour. How can He if He has already forgiven us and even wiped our present and future transgressions from His memory?
- The Christian life should be effortless because God does it all and we just receive grace upon grace.
To believe all this, and at the same time confess that the Bible is inspired and authoritative, requires considerable mental gymnastics.
Paul’s writings are complex and sometimes convoluted and therefore provide wiggle-room for those who want to slip through the cracks and ‘spin’ the scriptural message in favour of their teachings. However, Jesus’ teachings are in many ways clearer and so the Gospels are seldom referenced by hyper-grace teachers. And as for the Old Testament, well that’s just ‘law my brother’. Paul, of course, teaches extensively on sin, confession, repentance, and restitution. However, the hyper-grace guys write all that off as applying only to some mythical gnostic influence in the early church which doesn’t apply to us nowadays. Sigh!
I don’t think we can have too much biblical grace, but a myopic focus on a redefined grace can do us great harm. It’s not too much water than can kill us, it’s what too much water does to vital chemicals in our brains that causes us such great harm. Too much water flushes out salt and sodium from our system and this can cause a weird drunkenness of mind leading to coma and even death.
Just consider what gets flushed out if we imbibe the hyper-grace I have described:
- We would have to ignore the biblical teachings on conviction, repentance, confession, and restitution. We would select which texts to believe and which texts to discard as irrelevant.
- We would reject the conviction of the Holy Spirit as a false voice to rebuke rather than obey.
- We would ‘rest’ in our salvation with little or no attempt to work in partnership with the Holy Spirit in becoming more like Jesus in this lifetime.
- A sin committed would become an ‘oops, thank heaven I am already forgiven’ rather than a cause of repentance and confession.
- Making things right with those we have sinned against would seem pointless in the light of our great relief that God does not even remember the offence, so why should I?
God’s grace towards us is wonderful and indispensable, but our focus must not be on grace, either biblical or hyper, but upon Jesus! The Lord Jesus, God the Son, came from the Father ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14) and ‘grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (verse 17). We cannot separate grace from truth for they are the two sides of the divine coin of salvation. And the truth is clear enough in Jesus’ teachings and in Paul’s writings that grace is just not what the hyper-grace teachers claim it to be.
If you want to read a comprehensive, yet kindly, critique of the hyper-grace message then I recommend ‘Hyper-grace: exposing the dangers of the modern grace message’ by Dr Michael Brown.
Hyper-grace is a feel good message and at first sip, it is rather invigorating, but when we drink it in we can get very sick. I would rather drink the living water that Jesus himself provides for I can never overindulge in this no matter how much I drink of it.
‘He (Jesus) said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life” (Revelation 21:6-7)…
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38)