CSMN > Ed's files > Heresies > Permissive grace
The Gospel of permissive grace
Let me begin by giving thanks to God that in many churches grace is being emphasized to the benefit of the congregation. Many people have been rescued out of sterile, joyless, and performance-based Christianity when they learn that we are not only saved by grace, we are also daily renewed and accepted by grace. They have been delivered from a life of rules without relationship and outward compliance without joyful obedience. Grace, once understood, is truly amazing, not just for great sinners but also for struggling saints. Spiritual victory comes not by putting people back under the law, but by introducing them to the completeness of Christ's work and His grace toward us. Believers do not have to earn God's favor, for we have been permanently accepted by Christ. No wonder Paul revels in what he calls "abounding" grace (see Rom. 5:20). It's difficult for me to be critical of those with whom I have so much in common, for I am also a lover of grace. But today we are witnessing a perversion of grace in what we can call the Grace Movement. Perhaps the best book that exposes this false notion of grace is Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message by Michael Brown. His research confirms what I've been seeing and hearing in the past decade: teachers and preachers who offer people grace in advance, even before they are convinced they need it. In times past, we preached the law. Once people were convicted of their sin, we explained the wonders of God's grace. But today, many preachers say that "God loves you unconditionally" and "God loves you just as you are." The person listening hears, "I can continue to sleep with my girlfriend; I can continue to be in love with my addictions, but thankfully, I am pleasing to the Lord because of Jesus." In other words, unconditional love is interpreted as unconditional acceptance of one's lifestyle. God does not love everyone in the same way. He loves His people, those who are "in Christ" unconditionally, even as He loves His Son (John 17:20-23). But this does not mean that God is always pleased with our conduct; nor does it mean that God does not discipline us for our waywardness. Although God is kindly disposed to everyone and loves the world (John 3:16), "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31). And again, "Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:28-29). No wonder even believers, knowing the holiness of God, are told to "conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile" (1 Peter 1:17). According to Brown, some grace teachers affirm that God is always in a good mood. He points out that in Benjamin Dunn's book The Happy Gospel: Effortless Union with a Happy God, Dunn presents God as always being joyful. In the same vein, Pastor Chuck Crisco asks, "What if God is in party mode all the time?" God in party mode? All the time? Well, if these authors mean that He is always good, kind, and righteous, then, yes, God is always in a good mood. But if you mean He is never angry, then, no, God is not always in a good or joyful mood. I find it impossible to ignore dozens of references to God's wrath and anger, not just in the Old Testament but in the New Testament as well. Remember the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Israel's own severe judgment for their idolatry? And if you say, as many grace preachers do, that all of this was under the old covenant, then think about the coming of the Great Tribulation, and eventually, eternal hell. Just read the judgments described in the book of Revelation, and you should be convinced that not everyone is loved unconditionally, and God is not always "in a good mood." We need to stop preaching that God loves everyone unconditionally. The Bible says that God is angry with the wicked every day (Ps. 7:11) and that the wicked are an abomination to Him: "For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God" (Deut. 25:16). He rages against sin and gives this warning to all the unrepentant who would presume upon His love: "But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed" (Rom. 2:5). To even say that "God loves the sinner but hates the sin" might be misleading. As the late R. C. Sproul has pointed out, God doesn't send the sin to hell; he sends the sinner. Yes, let us tell people that God loves them, but to say that God loves everyone unconditionally, or to imply that His love means we need not fear coming judgment, is to give cover to unrepentant sinners. Teachers in the modern Grace Movement may say that they believe in the wrath of God, but it's noticeably absent in their preaching and in their books. When they do reference to it, they once again say that this was true under the old covenant, but not the new. Joseph Prince says, "God is not judging America (or any country in the world today). America and its sins have already been judged! Where? At the cross of Jesus! Sin has been judged at the cross!" Incredibly, Prince, who is the most famous of the grace preachers, believes that even unbelievers cannot be under God's wrath because all sin was judged at the cross. This idea flatly contradicts Paul's words, written under the new covenant, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (Rom. 1:18). Paul then follows up with a list of sins committed by the ungodly for which they are judged, both in the present and the future. I long to hear a message by a modern grace preacher on this passage of Scripture: ... when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thes. 1:7-9) God is a very complex being - love and justice, truth and wrath are held in balance. If the first characteristic of the new grace teachers is a refusal to acknowledge God's present and future wrath against sinners, the second is that the law is presented as an enemy of grace. Brown tells about meeting a man who had served a well-known "hyper grace" leader. This man wrote that in the movement, "You are legalistic if you EVER tell someone to 'not' do things ... that's legalism or 'do-do' Christianity as they call it." In their thinking, grace must be completely divorced from law; to feel obligated to obey any commands is to put us back under law. Even the commands of the New Testament (such as in Romans 12) are downplayed, or it is said that these will be followed naturally if we are under grace. In their estimation, even the disciplines of the Christian life put us back on a "saved by works" footing. I am not saying that the preachers in the Grace Movement encourage sin; they would say that it is their message of grace that delivers people from their sins. But historically, their complete rejection of the law has been called antinomianism, which in many instances has led to the justification of worldly living. I heard one preacher say, in effect, "It does not matter what I do because I am standing in the perfection of Christ before the Father." Jude speaks about those who "pervert the grace of our God into sensuality" (v. 4). Paul warned the Galatians about the danger of putting themselves back under law. But - and this is critical - this should not be interpreted to mean that we cannot be instructed by the law. We are not putting ourselves under law if we seek to obey the New Testament commands of Scripture; we are putting ourselves under the law when we think that obedience, without a heart change, is all that God requires. Paul knew that his message of grace could be misunderstood so he warned, "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Gal. 5:13). Third, these grace teachers say that Christians need never confess their sin. Since Jesus has forgiven us past, present, and future, if we sin, we need only acknowledge we have already been forgiven. They adamantly deny that the Lord's Prayer is a model for us because it asks for forgiveness, something we need never do. And as for the well-known verse 1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins ..." this is not for Christians but for the unsaved. In their view, if we teach that Christians must also repent, we are being legalistic Pharisees.10 Jesus evidently disagreed when He asked five of the seven churches of Revelation to repent! We should not be surprised that, as Brown has shown, this teaching of grace sometimes leads to the acceptance of homosexual behavior and even the radical heresy that in the end all will be saved. Some of these teachers allege that to attend a church where this grace message is not taught means that we are falling under the control of "tyrants and manipulators." Biblical grace fights against sin; permissive grace allows contentment with your sin. New Testament grace trains us for righteousness. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:11-13). In previous chapters, we encountered the false prophets of Jeremiah's day who preached their one-sided emphasis that God had chosen the nation, and therefore, they could expect His unending favor despite their lifestyle. The false prophets said that the people could unconditionally depend on the Lord's favor, but then God gave His evaluation: "They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace" (Jer. 6:14). I will say it again: turning the grace of God into sensuality gives the impression that it is safe to sin because we are under grace. When we emphasize grace to the exclusion of God's discipline and judgment, when we speak only of heaven and never of hell, Jeremiah would say to us, "You are treating the wound of our people too lightly." Seventeenth-century Puritan pastor Thomas Watson said it well: "Until sin be bitter - Christ will not be sweet."