Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hyper-Grace Horror Stories

Hyper-grace teachers frequently emphasize that they do not condone sinful living and that God’s true grace will produce a holy life, and I believe they sincerely mean this. One hyper-grace author even states at the beginning of his book, “We are not propagating immorality, because if we truly believe in God and love Him there will be corresponding works (because faith without works is dead).” Absolutely!

There are boatloads of testimonies these teachers can point to, documenting how thousands of believers have found freedom and deliverance by embracing the message of grace. In previous years, these believers had lived under a weight of condemnation, thinking if they just worked a little harder God might accept them, feeling as if they never measured up. Then they encountered God’s amazing grace and were transformed.

This is wonderful news, and I rejoice in these testimonies too. In fact, that is the message of grace I believe in and preach as well.

Unfortunately, there are now boatloads of stories of believers who have been terribly injured by the hyper-grace message. In fact, since my article “Confronting the Errors of Hyper-Grace” was posted last week, I have not been able to keep up with all the horror stories that have been sent my way.

This one is typical, from Jessica:

“I have seen firsthand the changes that come with people who embrace this message.

“I joined a small group 3 years ago that went from having regular prayer meetings and living holy connected lives together to stating ‘prayer is a work and denies grace’ and ‘sin allows grace to do its great work.’ All of our prayer meetings and Bible studies were traded in for game-nights and nights out at the bar to ‘witness’ where many from the group got plastered ... all in the name of ‘grace.’

“My heart has been so broken for my dear friends who I walked so closely with. As a group, they have embraced sin as not only acceptable, but justified and desirable. I have been completely ostracized and mocked for my stand in holiness. They don’t even call me by my name anymore—they call me ‘Pharisee.’ Unfortunately, I have had to step completely away from these loved ones and am spending my life in prayer for them.”

Another wrote this:

“I had a loved one who was an intense follower of hyper grace start to lie and cheat in his business. … He was a different person before he started following hyper grace. … He wasn’t greedy, in fact he was selfless, humble and very much in integrity. Also I can’t mention to him the fact that he lied and withheld info in order to steer people to invest ... Why? Because he says there is no condemnation in Christ. So no one is allowed to mention that aspect of his behavior to him … or else.”

A worship leader wrote to me, describing what is happening among prominent worship leaders he knows, where “the drinking partying thing is rampant. Totally excused because they were under grace not legalism.”

Of course, my hyper-grace friends will protest: “This is not the fruit of our message. Our message produces love for Jesus and holy living. These people obviously misunderstood what we were teaching.”

But it’s not so simple, otherwise pastors and believers from around the country (and other countries) wouldn’t be contacting me day and night to talk about the destructive effects of the hyper-grace message.

Without a doubt, my colleagues who preach hyper-grace have discovered some wonderful truths that are liberating and transforming, and all of us should embrace those truths. Unfortunately, the hyper-grace message (in contrast with Paul’s message of abundant grace) is unbalanced and highly reactionary, to the real detriment of many believers.

Here are three major concerns (out of many more) that must be addressed:

1) Hyper-grace teachers (and their followers) denigrate those who differ with them, calling them legalistic Pharisees, branding them manipulators and tyrants who preach a counterfeit gospel, and sometimes even claiming that leaders who don’t preach hyper-grace are doing so for monetary gain (“sin management is lucrative;” there is an almost endless stream of quotes like this from respected hyper-grace leaders). This is destructive and divisive and needs to stop. (For the record, I use the term “hyper-grace” to be descriptive, not insulting, and some within the movement say, “Yes, we believe in hyper-grace!”)

2) In their zeal to exalt God’s grace, hyper-grace teachers often make extreme statements that lead believers to think that they are not responsible for their sins. After all, if we are always perfectly holy in God’s sight, we don’t really sin. Our bodies do! This is dangerous and unbiblical.

3) Hyper-grace teachers commonly claim that the words of Jesus no longer apply to us. Instead, they argue, Jesus’ teaching was for the Jews under the Law before the new covenant was inaugurated, whereas Paul brought the message of grace. If this false dichotomy doesn’t raise a red flag of warning, nothing will. Simply stated, any teaching that minimizes (or even ignores) the teachings of Jesus should be rejected.

I appeal to you, my brothers and sisters who are leaders in the hyper-grace camp (or, in your view, who are preaching the message of grace) to take these things to the Lord and make some serious course corrections before more lives are destroyed. Many have been helped by the truths you have taught, but many others have been damaged by your errors, and you cannot rejoice in the good without taking responsibility for the bad.

We don’t need any more horror stories.

Michael Brown is the author of The Real Kosher Jesus and the host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show The Line of Fire on the Salem Radio Network. He is also president of FIRE School of Ministry and director of the Coalition of Conscience. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or@drmichaellbrown on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Confronting the Error of Hyper-Grace (Extreme Grace)

The biblical message of grace is wonderful, glorious and life-transforming. We can’t live without it for one second of our lives. But there is a message being preached today in the name of a new grace reformation, mixing powerful truth with dangerous error. I call it hyper-grace.

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.

It is easy to see how such teaching can be dangerous, especially to a believer being tempted to compromise.
One hyper-grace teacher wrote this: “When God looks at me, He doesn’t see me through the blood of Christ, He sees me—cleansed! Likewise, He sees us as holy and righteous. He sees us, and He loves what He sees!”

Really? Always? 24-7? God always loves what he sees when he looks at his people?

Yes, he loves us, but does he always love what he sees?
Did Jesus love what he saw when he rebuked five out of seven congregations in Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3? Did Paul, writing on behalf of the Lord, love what he saw when he warned the Galatians that they had fallen from grace and become trapped in legalism? Did James, also writing as a servant of the Lord, love what he saw when he rebuked his readers for being “friends of the world” and “adulterers and adulteresses”?

And if the Lord doesn’t see our sins, why did James write that if a believer who was sick had also sinned, God would forgive him when he healed him (see James 5:14-15)? And if he doesn’t see our sins, why did the Lord discipline believers in Corinth because of their sins (see 1 Cor. 11:27-32)? (And pay careful attention to 1 Corinthians 11:32, “When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.”)

If Jesus doesn’t see our sins, why did he say to the church in Ephesus, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love” (Rev. 2:4, NIV)? And why did he says this to the church in Sardis? “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (Rev. 3:1-3)

Does it sound like the Lord was thrilled with what he saw in Ephesus and Sardis?

If the Lord always “sees us as holy and righteous” and always “loves what He sees,” why did he rebuke the believers in Laodicea, telling them that they were “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17)? Why didn’t he say, “I see you as beautifully clothed, healthy, and rich?"

If he was so happy with what he saw in Laodicea, why did he threaten to spit the congregation out of his mouth (see Rev. 3:16)? And if believers never need to repent of their sins, why did Jesus say, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent” (Rev. 3:19)? And how interesting it is that the same Greek word used in John 16:8—where Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of its sins—is the word used by the Lord in Revelation 3:19 (translated there as “rebuke”; and note Rev. 3:22: this is the Spirit speaking!).

It is because God loves us that he rebukes us (not condemns us) and it is because sin is so destructive that he calls us to turn from it. This is the goodness of God, and this is what grace does, as Paul wrote in Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”

How tragic it is today when God’s people mistake the voice of His correcting love for the condemning voice of Satan, and how sad it is when they resist the purifying work of the Spirit, claiming that there’s nothing to purify since God no longer sees their sins.

Has He justified us by the blood of Jesus? Absolutely. Has He has set apart as holy to Himself? Without a doubt. Has He called us to be His sons and daughters, all by His love and grace? Yes He has. And it is because of these things that Paul wrote, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Cor. 7:1).

What a beautiful, lofty calling. Don’t let anyone steal it from you.

*Special note: I’m in the process of writing a major book on “hyper-grace,” but you can watch a one-hour teaching video here.
Michael Brown is the author of The Real Kosher Jesus and the host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show The Line of Fire on the Salem Radio Network. He is also president of FIRE School of Ministry and director of the Coalition of Conscience. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Islamic antichrist? Will the antichrist be a Muslim?

Islamic antichrist?
Will the antichrist be a Muslim?

With the increasing tensions in the Middle East in recent years, and particularly the statements by Shiite Muslim extremists regarding the Twelfth Imam, many people have begun to ask how this relates to Bible prophecies. To answer, we must first find out who the Twelfth Imam is and what he is expected to do for Islam. Second, we must examine the statements by Shiite Muslims in relation to those hopes, and, third, we need to look to the Bible to shed light on the whole issue.

Within the Shiite branch of Islam, there have been twelve imams, or spiritual leaders appointed by Allah. These began with Imam Ali, cousin to Muhammad, who claimed the prophetic succession after Muhammad's death. Around A.D. 868, the Twelfth Imam, Abu al-Qasim Muhammad (or Muhammad al Mahdi), was born to the Eleventh Imam. Because his father was under intense persecution, the Mahdi was sent into hiding for his protection. About the age of 6, he briefly came out of hiding when his father was killed, but then went back into hiding. It is said that he has been hiding in caves ever since and will supernaturally return just before the day of judgment to eradicate all tyranny and oppression, bringing harmony and peace to the earth. He is the savior of the world in Shiite theology. According to one writer, the Mahdi will combine the dignity of Moses, the grace of Jesus, and the patience of Job in one perfect person.

The predictions about the Twelfth Imam have a striking similarity to Bible prophecies of the end times. According to Islamic prophecy, the Mahdi's return will be preceded by a number of events during three years of horrendous world chaos, and he will rule over the Arabs and the world for seven years. His appearance will be accompanied by two resurrections, one of the wicked and one of the righteous. According to Shiite teachings, the Mahdi's leadership will be accepted by Jesus, and the two great branches of Abraham's family will be reunited forever.

How do the statements of Shiite Muslims, such as the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, tie into this? Ahmadinejad is a deeply committed Shiite and claims that he is to personally prepare the world for the coming Mahdi. In order for the world to be saved, it must be in a state of chaos and subjugation, and Ahmadinejad feels he was directed by Allah to pave the way for that. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly made statements about destroying the enemies of Islam. The Iranian President and his cabinet have supposedly signed a contract with al Mahdi in which they pledge themselves to his work. When asked directly by ABC reporter Ann Curry in September 2009 about his apocalyptic statements, Ahmadinejad said, “Imam...will come with logic, with culture, with science. He will come so that there is no more war. No more enmity, hatred. No more conflict. He will call on everyone to enter a brotherly love. Of course, he will return with Jesus Christ. The two will come back together. And working together, they would fill this world with love.”

What does all this have to do with the Antichrist? According to 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, there will be a “man of sin” revealed in the last days who will oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God. In Daniel 7 we read of Daniel's vision of four beasts which represent kingdoms which play major roles in God's prophetic plan. The fourth beast is described (v. 7-8) as being dreadful, terrible, exceedingly strong, and different from those which came before it. It is also described as having a “little horn” which uproots other horns. This little horn is often identified as the Antichrist. In verse 25 he is described as speaking “great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time” (3 ½ years). In Daniel 8, the vision of the ram and the goat identifies a king who will arise in the last days (v. 23-25), destroy many people, and stand up against Christ, but this king will be broken. In Daniel 9:27 it is prophesied that the “prince that shall come” would make a 7-year covenant with many people and then bring in much desolation. Who will this Antichrist be? No one knows for certain, but many theories have been given, including the possibility that he will be an Arab.

Regardless of the various theories, there are a few parallels between the Bible and Shiite theology that we should note. First, the Bible says that the Antichrist's kingdom will rule the world for seven years, and Islam claims that the Twelfth Imam will rule the world for seven years. Second, Muslims anticipate three years of chaos before the revealing of the Twelfth Imam, and the Bible speaks of 3 ½ years of Tribulation before the Antichrist reveals himself by desecrating the Jewish temple. Third, the Antichrist is described as a deceiver who claims to bring peace, but who actually brings widespread war; the anticipation of the Twelfth Imam is that he will bring peace through massive war with the rest of the world.

Will the Antichrist be a Muslim? Only God knows. Are there connections between Islamic eschatology and Christian eschatology? There certainly seem to be direct correlations, though they are like reading the descriptions of a great battle, first from the perspective of the loser, trying to save face, and then from the perspective of the victor. Until we see the fulfillment of these things, we need to heed the words of 1 John 4:1-4, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”