Heresy is truth taken to its extreme.
I don’t know who coined that term, but it is accurate. Truth existed first and heresy is not the absence of truth, but its corruption – twisting it and unbalancing it.
Hyper-Calvinism, though a frequent accusation raised by some, is actually a pretty rare thing. But there is a Hyper that is common, growing, and a real danger to the gospel, to the church and to believers. It is sometimes called “Hyper-grace” – the doctrine of grace on steroids, taken to the extreme, until it becomes heresy.
I have observed this phenomenon in churches of which I am aware and in interactions with certain blogs and bloggers. Charisma magazine has run a series of articles which, to my understanding, coined the word hyper-grace, and have most clearly defined the concept.
Michael Brown, in an article entitled, “Confronting the Error of Hyper-Grace,” gave a simple description of the doctrine.
One of the foundational doctrines of the hyper-grace message is that God does not see the sins of his children, since we have already been made righteous by the blood of Jesus and since all of our sins, past, present and future, have already been forgiven. That means that the Holy Spirit never convicts believers of sin, that believers never need to confess their sins to God, and that believers never need to repent of their sins, since God sees them as perfect in his sight.
Simply, hyper-grace is the emphasis on the grace of God to the extent that concepts of sin, holiness, the fear of the Lord, confession and repentance are largely ignored. It is the precious, biblical, wonderful doctrine of grace taken to a deadly extreme.
This is not a new problem. Paul was the apostle of grace, to whom God revealed the full riches of the gospel. He preached grace. He lived grace. He loved grace. He confronted those who ignored grace. But he also warned in Romans 6 that the doctrine of grace could be badly abused.
He warned the Romans (6:1-2):
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!
That Christians would use the grace of God as an excuse to live in sin was unthinkable to Paul. “Me genoito” – may such a thought never be allowed to cross your mind!
There is nothing that glorifies God more than forgiving sinners, right? Well, if God is glorified by forgiveness, then the more than I sin, the more God is glorified, right? That kind of logic – that presumes on the grace of God as an excuse for living a sinful lifestyle – was a problem in Paul’s day as it is today.
Paul went on, in Romans 6:12, to make give this warning.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
I make two assumptions when I see any command such as this made to a Christian.
1) It is possible for a Christian to live in such a way that sin reigns in his body, contrary to the purpose of Christ. If God commanded us NOT to let sin reign, does not that imply that there can be Christians over whom sin DOES reign?
2) It is possible for a Christian to live in such a way that sin does NOT reign in his body. We are no longer slaves to sin, and while we will never be sinless, we can walk in the power of the Spirit, resist temptation, and live in spiritual victory (I know some don’t like that word, but it is a good one!).
Sin is a reality in the life of the non-Christian, separating him from God and making him subject to wrath and hell. It is the enemy of life, the spiritual cancer that brings eternal death. The only hope of sinners is that Jesus died bearing our sins in his body, that he endured God’s wrath and atoned for our sins. God does not just wink at sin and say, “no big deal.” Jesus paid for our sins so that we could go free.
But sin is also a reality in the life Christians. We do not magically stop sinning when Christ enters our lives. Every day we battle against the flesh and fight the power of sin. The difference in the lives of believers is not that sin does not matter, it is that now we have resources for dealing with sin.
Any doctrine of grace that downplays the seriousness of sin, either in the life of the unbeliever or in the walk of the saved, is a heresy. Grace is the precious doctrine that God punished Jesus for our sins and gave us eternal life we could never earn and did not deserve. Grace recognizes, admits to and repents of sin. Hyper-grace pretends that sin is no big deal to God, that God’s love simply overwhelms that sin and makes it nothing. Grace deals with sin. Hyper-grace ignores it.
In a recent article, “8 Signs of Hyper-grace Churches,” Joseph Mattera spelled out some of the markers of hyper-grace. You can read the article if you wish, but I would like to emphasize a few of his points.
1. The preachers never speak against sin.
How many times have we heard that Christians are known more for what we are against than for what we are for. That is probably true in some circles. But modern Christianity is often marked by something completely different – an absence of speaking about sin at all.
There is certainly a danger of moralism in the church. But there is an equal danger of immoralism – ignoring sin and acting as if it doesn’t matter how you live. The tendency toward legalism and antinomianism are equally dangerous. When you are Nik Wallenda, it doesn’t matter much whether you lean to the left of the right. Moving in either direction is dangerous.
2. The lead pastor never takes a cultural stand for righteousness.
Mattera makes this observation.
When issues like abortion come up, these pastors will shy away from mentioning it because they are afraid of offending new people. I can understand this to a point. But I counter that we as ministers of Christ are obligated to at least mention our positions publicly so that we use it as a teaching moment for the sheep following us. Not saying anything about an issue like abortion is another way of condoning it!
Hyper-grace only wants to emphasize the positive and will shy away from anything that could be negative, controversial, uncomfortable or controversial.
4. People who live immoral lives are allowed to teach and lead ministries.
We received a coach’s form for our Upward ministry. We found out that the prospective coach was living with a woman to whom he was not married. We called his church to confirm that this was the case. They were a little surprised that we cared. He was an active member, a Sunday School teacher and his church did not care that he was living with a woman outside of marriage.
The most prevalent example of hyper-grace today occurs in those churches that emphasize God’s love for homosexuals over his call to holy living. Yes, God loves homosexuals and so should we. But when we ignore the clear biblical teaching on homosexuality, it is not grace we are practicing, it is hyper-grace. It is heresy.
5. The lead pastor speaks often against the institutional church.
Mattera says this.
Many hypergrace pastors constantly denounce churches that are conservative in their values because they believe those churches represent the “old school” that is no longer relevant to today’s culture.
I am not sure this is a major point, but it is interesting. The institutional church can be frustrating, slow to change, petty – all of that. But the criticism of the institutional church often comes from a place of arrogance and control, not godliness.
7. The lead pastor only preaches positive motivational messages.
Here is another gem from Mattera.
Those attending hypergrace churches only hear positive messages on health, wealth, prosperity, God’s love, God’s forgiveness and how to succeed in life. Although I also agree with and teach on these topics, we have to be careful to include in our preaching the whole counsel of God so that we feed the flock a balanced diet instead of just the sweetness of feel-good messages. We must do this so we are free from the blood of all men (Acts 20:26-27).
Hyper-grace is another iteration of that against which Paul warned us in 2 Timothy 4;3-4
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
8. Key members of the church are regularly living sinful lives with impunity.
Finally, Mattera says this.
Those attending a hypergrace church will most likely find that, because of the strong emphasis on grace—with no teaching against sin or on repentance, judgment or hell—there is an atmosphere of loose living, with many involved in sexual immorality and drunkenness as well as other physical vices.
The reason for this is “the law is our schoolmaster that leads us to Christ” (Gal. 3:24) because through the (moral) law comes the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20). If the moral law of the Ten Commandments is not preached or alluded to, then in ignorance the people will live foolish lives and will be like the blind leading to blind because “where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Prov. 28:18).
The danger of hyper-grace is not that is is completely untrue, but that it twists a precious truth – that our relationship with God is based on Christ’s finished work on the Cross, not on our works or religious deeds. The enemy counterfeits grace because of its great worth. We receive from God what we cannot earn – love, forgiveness, holiness.
And so, the enemy will stop at nothing to counterfeit and thus corrupt this beautiful teaching.
Beware of a grace that excuses, ignores or downplays sin. It is evil – a lie from the enemy that too many have believed. And it is all too common in the church today.