CharismaNews has just published an article entitled “Some honest questions for Joseph Prince.” In it Michael Brown puts 11 questions to “Pastor Prince and those who embrace the modern grace message.” Unlike Pastor Prince, I’m not a busy man. I don’t have to preach four or five times this Sunday. So I have taken it upon myself to respond to these questions on behalf of all who embrace the gospel of grace.
Regular readers will know that this is not the first time I have responded to something Michael Brown has written against the grace message. “Paul, why do you keep taking the bait?” Because I genuinely enjoy it. I appreciate the opportunity he gives me to proclaim the gospel of grace.
Plus, as an author, I can tell you that January is a quiet month for selling books and there’s nothing like a bit of controversy to boost sales. Michael mentions a couple of his titles, so permit me to mention mine. The timing is propitious since my book The Hyper-Grace Gospel: A Response to Michael Brown and Those Opposed to the Modern Grace Message has just won a Silver Medal at the 2015 Illumination Book Awards. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the academy and Dr. Michael Brown, without whom this award would not have been possible.
Okay, advertising over, let’s get down to business. Below are shortened versions of Michael’s eleven questions along with my brief responses to each.
1. Does God require anything from you as his child, other than receive his grace? If so, are there spiritual benefits that come through obeying these requirements and spiritual losses that come from ignoring them?
Ephesians 1:3 tells us that every spiritual blessing comes to us through Christ. There are no extra blessings that come to us separately from Christ and in response to our obedience. All is grace.
2. Is it possible for us to displease the Lord? Is he always pleased with us? Can we grieve the Holy Spirit?
As I say elsewhere, the notion that “Hyper-grace preachers say God is not grieved by your sin” is a myth. Your choices and behavior can grieve the Holy Spirit, but only because he cares for you and wants you to prosper in every area of your life. Your behavior matters because you matter. But don’t confuse behavior with identity. You are not defined by what you do. Your identity is Christ and in him you are and always will be 100 percent pleasing and acceptable to God.
3. If the Lord always sees you as perfect, is there any way for you to disappoint him? I’ve heard it said that we can only grieve or disappoint him by not trusting his grace, but according to your message, hasn’t that sin been forgiven as well?
Yes, every sin was carried on the cross and in Christ we are completely and eternally forgiven. Still, there are things we can do that make the Lord sad, such as being slow of heart to believe the good news of his grace.
4. If God has pronounced your future sins forgiven in the same way he has pronounced your past sins forgiven, why do Paul and other New Testament writers address these very sins in their letters? Why does God bring our present sins up to us in the New Testament, even warning us about the dangers of walking in those sins, if they have also been forgiven and forgotten in advance?
God will never judge or punish you for the sins that Christ bore on the cross. The audacious claim that he chooses not to remember or record your sins comes straight from scripture (Rom 4:7-8, 2 Cor 5:19). In Christ, you have received redemption and the forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7, Col 1:14). So why do Paul and the other NT writers talk about sin? Because sin is destructive. Sin can hurt you. Your Father loves you too much to say nothing while you ruin your life. Your sin won’t undo the work of the cross, but it could undo you, your marriage, and your family.
5a. A leading hyper-grace teacher claims that the doctrine of progressive sanctification is a “spiritually murderous lie”…
Clark Whitten makes this claim (on page 28 of his excellent book Pure Grace) and I agree with him. The “saved by grace but perfected by human effort” teaching has produced a church that is, in Whitten’s words, “judgmental, angry, hopeless, helpless, dependent, fearful, uninspired, ineffective, and perpetually spiritually immature.” He’s right. The idea that sanctification is something we produce is a stone cold grace-killer.
5b. If “progressive sanctification” simply means to walk out our holiness with the help of the Spirit, what is so dangerous about this teaching?
There is nothing dangerous about it, since that is what scripture and hyper-grace teachers teach. In Christ we are 100 percent holy. The message we preach is “be who you truly are.” But this is not progressive sanctification as most understand the phrase, or as Michael himself describes in his Hyper-grace book when he says our sanctification is positional (ie: not real) and something to pursue. Michael insists “sanctification is a process!” (p.100) and he interprets New Testament exhortations as demands and requirements that must be obeyed, but I smell carrots and sticks.
6. We agree that the Holy Spirit never condemns us for our sins as believers, but does he ever make us uncomfortable when we sin?
Jesus called him the Comforter, not the Discomforter, so I guess not (John 14:16). I have written elsewhere on how God deals with us when we sin.
7. We agree that we do not need to confess every sin we commit each day in order to “stay saved,” but is any type of confession and request for forgiveness appropriate? For example, is it appropriate for believers to say, “Father, I’m sorry for sinning and I ask you to wash me clean”?
It’s not wrong to ask God for forgiveness and grace in your hour of need. If asking helps you to receive what God has already provided, have the freedom to ask. What’s not okay is telling people that God only forgives them because they ask, confess, repent, or do anything. The Bible teaches that we are forgiven in accordance with the riches of his grace (Eph 1:7), not our asking.
8. I know that you are against certain types of self-examination lest you become “sin conscious”… (But) if I understand you correctly, you would question the salvation of someone who demonstrated no change of life and continued to walk in unrepentant sin. But doesn’t this mean that, on some level, you are looking at your “performance” to verify your salvation?
Not performance, but fruit. Performance suggests a show put on to impress others; spiritual fruit can only be produced by the Lord. If you want to know if someone has been apprehended by the love of God, look for the fruit. Fruit are not sin. Fruit always point to Jesus.
9. Do you think there’s any danger in claiming that the teachings of Jesus before the cross don’t apply to us as believers today?
In his book Michael suggests that hyper-grace preachers claim “The teachings of Jesus are not for us today” (p.203). This comes in a chapter entitled “Why are we running from the words of Jesus?” But who’s running? Who is dismissing the pre-cross words of Jesus? Certainly not Joseph Prince or any other prominent grace preacher. These are scurrilous claims which may be why Michael doesn’t repeat them here. Instead, we get the watered-down hypothetical: Is it dangerous to dismiss the pre-cross teachings of Jesus? Of course it is, Michael, which is why we don’t do it. Please stop suggesting that we do.
10. What does it mean to walk in the fear of the Lord? What do you make of verses like this: “And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear… (1 Pet. 1:17).
What does it mean for the wives of unbelieving husbands to live in “purity and reverence” (1 Peter 3:2)? I only mention this because the word for reverence is the same word for fear Peter uses in chapter 1. If Michael is suggesting that we fear the Lord, is he also suggesting wives fear their husbands? Surely not. Jesus says that to fear the Lord is to worship him.
11. Do you see any possible danger in emphasizing that it is impossible for a believer to lose his or her salvation? On a practical level, do you feel it’s important to add any scriptural caveats to your teaching of eternal security and, if so, how can you do this without putting an emphasis on “performance”?
There is no danger in reassuring believers that Jesus keeps his promises. Instead of preaching “scriptural caveats” I recommend we preach the gospel. Instead of judging the performance of others, I recommend we preach the performance of Jesus. This is what Joseph Prince and every other grace preacher does.
Grace and peace to you all.