I’ve been told that there is a some division among Chinese Christians over Joseph Prince, the Singaporean pastor of New Creation Church. Some think he’s a wonderful preacher of grace, while others think he’s a licentious heretic. We ought not to be surprised by this division. Truth is divisive. As Jesus said, truth divides even those from with the same family (Lk 12:52).
If you’ve been following this blog, you will know that I am a big fan of Joseph Prince’s message. He preaches radical grace, which is the only kind of grace there is.
Yet I can understand how the message of grace appears scandalous to those who still think their salvation or holiness depends on their own performance. Since the time of Paul self-righteous people have been mistaking grace for a license to sin (see Rm 6:15). Even sincere believers have been seduced into thinking the grace of God needs fleshly additives (see Galatians). But even so, I would have thought that Chinese Christians, of all people, would have been receptive to Joseph Prince’s message. Afterall, many of them grew up on the teachings of Watchman Nee.
Is it a stretch to say that Watchman Nee (1903 – 1972) was the most influential Chinese Christian of the 20th century? I confess I am not familiar with many Chinese preachers and authors, but I lived in Hong Kong for nearly 15 years and I cannot recall anyone ever saying a bad word about Watchman Nee. He is generally acknowledged as gifted and articulate preacher of the gospel. It is well known that he spent the last 20 years of his life imprisoned for his faith.
Watchman Nee’s most famous book is probably The Normal Christian Life. If you haven’t read it, you’ve probably heard of it. It’s a best-seller (over 1m copies sold). It is also one of the best expositions of the gospel of grace that you’ll ever read. From chapter 1 (The Blood of Christ) to chapter 9 (The Meaning and Value of Roman’s Seven), Nee preaches pure grace based on the finished work of the cross. He says things like this:
“Let me tell you, You have died! You are done with! You are ruled out! The self you loathe is on the Cross in Christ. And ‘he that is dead is freed from sin’ (Rom 6:7). This is the Gospel for Christians. Our crucifixion can never be made effective by will or by effort, but only by accepting what the Lord Jesus did on the Cross.” (p.52)
In Nee’s understanding, the choice is simple: you can try or you can trust. If you try to make yourself acceptable, you are walking in the flesh but the Christian life is lived by faith alone. In The Normal Christian Life Nee says a lot about walking in the Spirit, dealing with soul-power, and the nature of Christian ministry. But all of that is based on nine solid chapters outlining the good news of God’s grace. To give you a flavor of Watchman Nee’s message of radical grace, here are 12 of his best quotes from The Normal Christian Life.
1. “Grace means that God does something for me; law means that I do something for God. God has certain holy and righteous demands which he places upon me: that is law. Now if law means that God requires something of me for their fulfillment, then deliverance from law means he no longer requires that from me, but himself provides it.” (pp.155-6)
2. “So we can say, reverently, that God never gave us the Law to keep: he gave us the Law to break! He well knew that we could not keep it.” (p.158)
3. “The Law requires much, but offers no help in the carrying out of its requirements. The Lord Jesus requires just as much, yea even more (Matt. 5:21-48), but what he requires from us he himself carries out in us. The law makes demands and leaves us helpless to fulfill them; Christ makes demands, but he himself fulfills in us the very demands he makes.” (p.161)
4. “What does it mean in everyday life to be delivered from the Law? At risk of a little overstatement I reply: It means that henceforth I am going to do nothing whatever for God; I am never again going to try to please Him. ‘What a doctrine!’ you exclaim. ‘What awful heresy! You cannot possibly mean that!’ But remember, if I try to please God ‘in the flesh,’ then immediately I place myself under the Law.” (p.164)
5. “God’s requirements have not altered, but we are not the ones to meet them. Praise God, he is the Lawgiver on the Throne, and he is the Lawkeeper in my heart. He who gave the Law, himself keeps it.” (p.166)
6. “Though the Law in itself is all right, it will be all wrong if it is applied to the wrong person. The ‘wretched man’ of Romans 7 tried to meet the claims of God’s law himself, and that was the cause of his trouble. The repeated use of the word ‘I’ in this chapter gives the clue to the failure.” (p.169)
7. “We think of the Christian life as a ‘changed life’ but it is not that. What God offers us is an ‘exchanged life,’ a ‘substituted life,’ and Christ is our Substitute within.” (p.180)
8. “From start to finish, he is the One who does it all.” (p.172)
9. “It does not matter what your personal deficiency, or whether it be a hundred and one different things, God has always one sufficient answer, His Son Jesus Christ, and he is the answer to every need.” (p.182-3)
10. “Many Christians endeavor to drive themselves by will-power, and then think the Christian life a most exhausting and bitter one.” (p.189)
11. “God must bring us to a point – I cannot tell you how it will be, but he will do it – where, through a deep and dark experience, our natural power is touched and fundamentally weakened, so that we no longer dare trust ourselves… At length there comes a time when we no longer ‘like’ to do Christian work – indeed we almost dread to do things in the Lord’s Name. But then at last it is that he can begin to use us.” (p.261)
12. “We have spoken of trying and trusting, and the difference between the two. Believe me, it is the difference between heaven and hell.” (p.183)
Finally, to all my Chinese readers and those living in Asia, Happy Lunar New Year!