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Sin, Forgiveness, and Hyper Grace

Mar 17, 2015

Toward the end of his life the author of “Amazing Grace” and friend of William Wilberforce said this: “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great savior.” That was of course John Newton.

I present his quote here because sadly there are always faulty and harmful theologies being pushed. In this case, there are actually some folks teaching that a Christian is not a sinner – and even more incredible, they do not need to repent and confess their sins as believers. This is often heard by hyper grace teachers such as Joseph Prince.

But Scripture teaches otherwise. All throughout the Bible the saints of God have known that they are sinners, in need of regular, ongoing confession of sin and repentance. Think of David for example. In his great prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 he says in verse 2-3:

sin 2

Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

The disciples were also fully aware of their sinfulness. Consider Peter as another example. Early on he was fully aware of his sinfulness. As we read in Luke 5:8: When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

And even after he had been with Jesus for quite some time, we see his ongoing awareness of his own sinfulness. Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry we find this exchange with Peter as found in John 13:6-9:

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

But we can already hear the critics – especially Prince – complain that we must look to Paul for the full revelation on this. We cannot dwell on the Old Testament or the gospels. Indeed, Prince primarily focuses on Paul and his teachings, while downplaying or minimising the rest of Scripture.

There are of course two major problems with this. One, as any student of church history and theology knows, this is basically what the heretic Marcion believed. As I wrote about this second century bishop elsewhere:

He not only posited a radical disjunction between God as found in the two Testaments, but between the OT and the NT itself, and between Israel and the church. His utter rejection of Judaism and the OT was just part of his heresy. He was a major proponent of Paul – or as one historian put it, he had an “exaggerated Paulinism” – so much so that he chopped the NT canon down to just 11 books: ten epistles of Paul and part of Luke.

See more on him here: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/02/27/modern-day-marcionism/

A second major problem with this is of course that Paul himself did not buy it for a moment. Indeed, Paul, like every man of God, was always painfully aware of his own sinfulness, and his ongoing need of Christ. Indeed, simply notice Paul’s awareness of sin – throughout his life as a believer.

If we put the conversion of Paul at 33, 34 or 36 AD, as most scholars now agree, then we find some very interesting things Paul says about himself as he grows in grace. Notice this progression (or regression if you will) about Paul. The older he gets, the more of a sinner he considers himself to be!

“For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Corinthians 15:9 – written in mid-50s.)
“Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:8 – written in early 60s.)
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15 – written in mid-60s.)

Do you get that? The longer Paul is a Christian, the more he becomes aware of his own wretched, sinful condition, and his utter need for the Lord Jesus. Even three full decades after his conversion, the apostle of grace tells us he is the chief of sinners.

He did not say, ‘I was the worst’ but ‘I am the worst’. I once had a gal challenge me on this, claiming these were all in the past tense. Baloney – simply get out your Greek New Testament and see for yourself: all are in the present tense. Paul never claimed a sinless perfectionism, or believed that by being in Christ he had fully arrived.

As he wrote in Philippians 3:10-12: ” I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

Related to all this is of course the incredible notion that believers should never repent or confess their sins. Prince claims that if we do this we are slapping God in the face and maligning his grace. A full article is needed to rebut this silliness, but the truth is, it is people like Prince who are slapping God in the face and maligning his grace

An obvious rebuttal to all this is 1 John 1:8-10: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

Yet Prince simply dismisses this vital passage – in particular verse 9 – by saying, “Let’s not build an entire doctrine on a single verse.” He even makes the absurd claim that this was written to Gnostics, not believers! You know you are dealing with some real dodgy teaching when they have to come up with something that far-fetched.

This whole chapter is of course referring directly to believers; uses the present tense; and is inclusive (“we,” “our” etc). And there are of course plenty of other passages which speak to the need of confessing our sins, such as Luke 11:3-4; Acts 8:13, 20-23; 19:18; James 5:15-16 and so on.

But as I say, another article will have to be penned to deal with this more fully. But the issue is, we have some very worrying teaching and teachers in our midst today who are sadly taking aspects of biblical truth, elevating them, while ignoring or downplaying other clear biblical truths.

That is always a recipe for disaster, and that is always how the cults operate, and that is always how heresies begin. We must proclaim the full biblical gospel, and not just pick those parts which tickle our fancy. The Pauline teachings on grace of course are always wonderful truths which we need to hear.

But they must be seen in the context, not just in the context of all Pauline teaching, but the rest of Scripture as well. And a big part of the problem here is the confusion about the various aspects of salvation. The hyper grace teachers put all their eggs in the justification basket, while failing to give equal attention to sanctification.

But I discuss this carefully elsewhere: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/02/16/antinomianism-and-the-hyper-grace-error/

Yes we are justified by grace through faith alone. But that is simply the first step in the salvation process. To highlight only the very first step, while ignoring the lifelong walk of growth, obedience, holiness and conformity to Christ is not to elevate grace but to drag it in the mud.

Let me close with the words of J.C. Ryle ‎”When I speak of a person growing in grace, I mean simply this – that their sense of sin is becoming deeper, their faith stronger, their hope brighter, their love more extensive, and their spiritual mindedness more marked.”

[1428 words]

11 Responses to Sin, Forgiveness, and Hyper Grace

  • An interesting if not fascinating topic Bill where I find myself ‘dog paddling’ somewhere between these two schools of thought.
    I have sat under the Pentecostal movement ‘Christian Revival Crusade’ (CRC) for most of my Christian life which teaches three positions of salvation, past (We were saved), present (we are being saved) and future (we will be saved) each perspective being true at the same time.
    The past looks at the finished work that Jesus accomplished by coming into the world. His work of atonement secured salvation for the entire human race. However it needed to be received through faith bringing about the new spiritual birth. This is reflected in Us being in Christ.
    Whilst trusting in God’s grace the Christian’s salvation is secure. He has already passed from death to life. As he lives out his life he works out his salvation with fear and trembling (an attitude of humility) on a daily bases as though his salvation depends upon this. Here he learns to mature, making many mistakes and needing God’s forgiveness and grace. These mistakes however have not effected his state of salvation but he walks by faith with Christ in him.
    Whilst awaiting the reality of his salvation yet to occur he sees himself by faith already seated (future position) in heavenly places with Christ. I find these three positions inspire confidence. The work of the cross bringing about the miracle new birth and us in Christ, the walking by faith with Christ in us and the call to share the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Thanks Keith. If you look at the article I link to toward the end of my piece above, you will see I speak to that very thing – complete with a chart!

  • And I have spoken to these matters often. See here as well:

    billmuehlenberg.com/2015/02/01/standing-and-state/

  • If we don’t have a revelation of the holiness of God, then we will never have an appreciation of the seriousness of sin. The so called sinless perfection camp cannot see that our slightest motives, thoughts, or words measured against God’s holiness are sin to God. This ought to make our hearts grieve, and prompt us to daily seek His grace.

    David Clay

    Darwin, NT

  • Thanks Bill. I missed the other article from last month. Again very nicely written. It seems I am not dog paddling in the middle after all. The Church trying to balancing the truth has been Satan’s playing field sadly. We need balanced teachers who know God and can rightly discern the truth and they are few and far between. Keep up the good work Bill.

  • I want to thank the Lord God for raising up man like Bill who has been standing for God and His truth at this hour! May the Lord richly bless you, your family, your ministry. May He empower you as His watchman for the House of God to write to inspire God’s people in all walks of life, to convince, challenge those who suppress the eternal truth of God.

    PARABLE OF THE PHARISEE & TAX COLLECTOR

    Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’

    “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” ~ Luke 18:10-14

  • Great article Bill, although true that a deeper piece is required, in fact numerous of them.

    I should have a thorough teaching available on Youtube regarding believers confessing their sins shortly, until then, here again is a very thorough teaching on ‘Does God convict believers of sin’..which hypergrace claim He doesn’t, for anyone wanting some Word ammunition.

  • Horrified at Joseph Prince’s teaching, but please, please Bill, don’t sully that wonderful biblical word GRACE, by falsely attaching the word ‘hyper’ to it.

    You can’t have too much grace, nor can you exaggerate God’s grace. It does not properly describe people who believe what Prince is teaching, who are actually grace-despisers. Attaching ‘hyper’ to a good word makes it a bad kind of grace, which is nonsense, and encourages the works salvation people to think works improves it!

  • Thanks Allan. I take your point, but people can indeed pervert grace, misrepresent grace, and use grace – wrongly understood – to cover a multitude of sins. That is how it is being used and that is what we mean when we speak of ‘hyper grace’. It is not my term, but it has now become an accepted phrase when referring to these dodgy teachers and preachers. So I am happy to live with it.

  • Bill,

    Do you think Prince is a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Or a misguided but genuine believer?

    Blessings,
    Isaac Overton

  • Good question Isaac. There is absolutely no question that in these sorts of issues he is woefully misguided and simply unbiblical. Whether he is a genuine, saved believer may be a moot point. And at least on these sorts of issues, he sure seems to be a wolf.

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