Yet another article has come out in Charisma News maligning the hyper-grace gospel and those of us who preach it. In it, Daniel Norris worries that preaching grace without the law leads to the sort of lawlessness that Jesus said “would abound in the last days” (Matt. 24:12). The implication is that those of us who preach this message are causing the love of many to grow cold. As others have claimed, our heretical teachings may be responsible for a last day’s apostasy sends millions to hell.
The punchline of this latest article is that we would delight in the old covenant law, as David did, and so right the “tilting ship” of unbalanced grace.
Since I am one of those who preaches the “toxic theology” of hyper-grace, and since I have long argued that the law has no relevance for the believer, permit me to respond to the accusations made in the article, which I summarize in eight points:
1. Preaching grace without law is unbalanced. Remember John 3:16!
John 3:16 is arguably the greatest sentence ever uttered and it ends like this: “…whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Notice the period at the end of that verse. It is the greatest period in the history of periods. That period tells us there are no price-tags attached to the grace of God. The abundant and blessed life that Christ offers you has already been given and paid for at the cross. You can’t earn it, work for it, or reimburse him for it. All you can do is receive it by faith.
What does this have to do with law? Absolutely nothing. The word law is mentioned nowhere in this verse or chapter. If Jesus did not see fit to balance God’s grace with law, neither should we.
2. God’s law shows us what a righteous life looks like
Yet the Apostle Paul said that “no one will be declared righteous by observing the law” (Rom 3:20). Keeping or “delighting” in the law in the hope of being righteous is a flesh trip.
Mr. Norris writes that “under grace, man was enabled to actually be righteous,” by which he means that grace is the grease that helps you keep the law and be righteous. But the Apostle Paul tells us that righteousness is a free gift (Rom 1:17). Your observance of the law doesn’t come into it.
“You need to look into the perfect law of liberty and continue in it and do it” (see Jas 1:25). But the perfect law of liberty that James writes about is not the old covenant law, for that law makes no one free. It is Jesus, who makes you free indeed. Jesus is the law perfected, and the “(living) word that can save you” (Jas 1:21).
The old covenant law is like a mirror. Look into it and you will only see your faults. James is basically saying, “Stop looking at yourself in the mirror of the law. Stop gazing at your imperfections, but focus on Christ and his sublime perfections.” We are not changed by looking at ourselves. We are changed by beholding Jesus!
Want a picture of the righteous life? Don’t look to the law, but look to Jesus who is our righteousness from God.
3. If we are under grace, why not invite your neighbor to sleep with your spouse?
Such a remark shows a profound misunderstanding of grace which is the only thing that teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness (Tit 2:12). Mr. Norris wonders what stops grace folk from stealing from Walmart? I can honestly say I have never thought about stealing from Walmart. But I can see why someone who “delights in the law” may have, since one of the functions of the law is to inflame sin (Rom 7:5).
Live under the law and you will become thoroughly sin-conscious. You may not commit adultery or lie or steal, but you’ll think about those things because the law will be constantly telling you not to do them. As Paul tells us in Romans 7, the law does not help you overcome sin. Rather, the law helps sin overcome you! The law reveals the problem so that we might see our need for Jesus.
4. The law is our tutor
According to the article, the old covenant was characterized by precepts but the new is all about principles. Grasp the principles behind the precepts you’ll produce the blessings. So be like David who meditated on the law all day long and you will be blessed.
How is this not a works-based message? How is this not an insult to Jesus in whom every blessing has already been given (Eph 1:3)? You don’t need to produce anything. In fact, trying to produce fruit will only frustrate the purposes of God in your life making you barren and miserable. The fruit that Christ desires to bear in you is not produced through practicing principles or keeping precepts. It is borne naturally as we abide in him.
The law is not a tutor or teacher in the sense that we understand the word. It is a guardian who takes you to the real Teacher who is Jesus (Gal 3:4). Jesus said the Holy Spirit would guide you into all truth (John 16:13). If the Spirit of Christ teaches you everything you need to know, what remains for the law to teach you?
5. Jesus revealed what the law, fulfilled within us, looks like
Jesus fulfilled the law by dying a brutal death on the cross. Yet those who say we must follow Christ’s example never go where Christ went. They’ll tell you to die, but only metaphorically. They’ll tell you to do what Jesus said, but when it comes to the hard bits they’ll tell you he didn’t really mean it.
According to Tullian Tchividjian, the number one problem in the church today is not cheap grace but cheap law, namely, “the idea that God accepts anything less than the perfect righteousness of Jesus.” I totally agree. It is Jesus who makes you righteous, holy, and eternally pleasing to God. Anything you might add to his perfect work only subtracts from it.
If we properly valued the law, we would properly value grace. As Tchividjian says, “A high view of the law produces a high view of grace. A low view of the law produces a low view of grace.”
6. The spiritual removal of the law from churches is a shame
Tell that to the Galatians. They fell from grace because they allowed a little law to come into their church and enslave them again. Paul said they were foolish for observing the law because “all who rely on the law are under a curse” (Gal 3:10). Your choice is simple: trust grace and be blessed, or trust in your law-keeping efforts and be cursed.
Is there a place for the law in the church? If we define the church as the community of believers, the answer must be an emphatic no! As Paul tells us in Romans 7, living under the law is cheating on Jesus.
7. Oh for preachers to once again realize that God’s law is good!
A common complaint made against hyper-grace preachers is that we think the law is bad. We are branded antinomians because we allegedly teach that God’s law is defective or inferior. This is a slanderous accusation. In my book The Hyper-Grace Gospel I examined the teachings of 40 grace preachers and found none who had anything less than the highest regard for the law. Like Paul, we say the law is good for the purpose for which God gave it, and that purpose was to lead you to Christ who is the end, the fulfillment, the utter completion of the law for all who believe (Rom 10:4).
If you are resting in the grace of God, you have no need of the law. If you are secure in the gift of his righteousness, you have no need of the law. However, if you are confident of your own righteousness, you need the law (Rom 3:19)!
8. Grace makes the law more relevant
Such muddled thinking explains much of the confusion in the church today. “You need both grace and law. Grace helps you keep the law. God gives us grace so that we might fulfill the law.” This is a most dangerous teaching! Buy into it and you’ll curse what God has blessed, you’ll fall from grace, and you’ll become lukewarm like a Laodicean and loveless like an Ephesian.
The Charisma News article calls for you to balance that which cannot be balanced. It would have you mix the death-dealing demands of the law with the life-giving grace of God. It cannot be done.
I am confident that I speak for every hyper-grace preacher when I say the call for balance is really a call for mixture. As Jesus and the New Testament writers tell us again and again, you can live under grace or law but not both. You cannot be hot and cold. You will either walk after the old way of the flesh or the new way of the Spirit. You’ll either have faith in his law-keeping performance or your own.
Every hyper-grace preacher would encourage you to put your faith in Jesus and his finished work. While those who disagree with us would have you meditate on the law “all day long,” we would encourage you to meditate on Jesus. It is he who has begun a good work in you and he will finish what he started.