Exposing The Error of
Redefining God's Grace
By William Handschumacher
Rock of Offence Special Commentary
This is Part 2 of a two-part Bible study.
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When a Bible teacher claims to preach 'grace'...this does not necessarily mean they are preaching the same kind of 'New Testament Grace' that produces authentic salvation. This is an an important distinction, since true salvation is obtained (and kept) only 'By Grace through Faith' after the cross. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
During a time of war, an enemy attempts to destroy targets of the highest strategic value. The Christian Church has been in a state of internal spiritual warfare since its birth in the first century. Throughout history one of these high value targets has been God's Grace. As a result, some church organizations and denominations (but thankfully not all) quietly embrace an anti-grace theology that appears, on the surface, to originate from Scripture. The strategy is to substitute a counterfeit that uses the same word (grace) but carries an alternate meaning. As a result, the original New Testament definition of 'grace' that governs Christ's salvation is changed, which also changes the principles by which salvation is obtained and kept.
The practice of redefining important Biblical terms causes massive confusion. Many words in the English language carry two or more different definitions depending on its use (or context) ... and grace is one of these words. Yet, the apostle Paul used the word "grace" in a specific way.
We see an example of this in Romans 3:24
which says ...
"...being justified freely by His grace
through the redemption that is in
In this verse (and many others), Paul
uses 'grace' to mean 'the unmerited and
undeserved favor and acceptance of God'
and then uses the word 'freely' to further
clarify God's intentions. Some Bible
teachers use an illustration such as
To illustrate this truth.
Paul wanted the Church to understand that the unfathomable cost of our justification (salvation) could only be paid by Jesus Christ ... but it's given to the believer freely as God's gift. Contrary to the accusations of the anti-grace critics ... 'free' does not mean cheap. When the Bible uses the word "freely" in this instance it means; 'without any consideration given to an individual's works, merit or moral state'. At the cross, Christ's sacrifice gained God's favor (Grace) for us; meaning that our works of righteousness are not required to obtain salvation (eternal life). Yet, these same works are important in the Christian life for other reasons. This is why “Grace”, as defined by the New Covenant, is "God's unmerited and undeserved favor".
Saint Paul emphasized this truth
by saying ...
"...not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life."
“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin." (Romans 4:4-8)
After receiving His gift of eternal life (often referred to as "The New Birth"), our Heavenly Father certainly expects us to have a changed or transformed life. However, He also makes it clear that this transformation, which involves various behavioral changes and obtaining Christ-like character...is never to be used as a requirement or precondition for receiving His gift. Nor should it be used as some 'official heavenly confirmation' that determines whether a person is truly saved. We should remember that there are many who live an outwardly 'godly and moral life'...yet are not saved.
Despite the well-meaning efforts of many within Christendom to 'redefine Grace', the New Testament provides eternal life according to "Free Grace", or "God's unmerited favor" (Romans 3:24-26). As a result, adding 'works of righteousness' or a code of expected behavior...to Grace in an attempt to force this transformation--represents a Divine "line in the sand" that separates a counterfeit gospel (Paul called it "a different gospel") - from the authentic Gospel of Christ.
The New Testament warns about this "different gospel" in the following way: "And if by Grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work." (Romans 11:6) Since authentic New Testament salvation is only received by Grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), this popular practice of redefining Grace should be a concern for all Christians.
Important Information About
Good Works And Christian
With increasing regularity, we hear various preachers make the statement; "Salvation obtained through Grace (or the unmerited favor of God), improperly removes the effort and work from the Christian life." They are quick to admit that the New Testament correctly teaches that salvation is received by grace ... but then switch gears and claim that most Christians understand and use the word 'grace' in a way that is inconsistent with the Bible. Their next move is to provide the correct usage - as they see it. During this exchange, it's important to notice that the word 'Grace' remains the same but the definition behind the word is changed. This is one way some church leaders deny the original New Testament definition of Grace that governs salvation ... while appearing to support its truths. On the Protestant side of the isle this strategy is often used to defend Reformed theology, Calvinism, Holiness theology and countless expressions of Christian fundamentalism.
Here's the problem:
By changing the original definition of Grace, the principles governing salvation are corrupted (Saint Paul uses the word 'perverted'). This effort may originate from well-meaning and loving members of the clergy, but it still represents an attack on the finished work of Jesus Christ. It quietly reinserts (and mixes) principles of Old Testament Law with Christ’s Grace-based salvation. The apostle Paul referred to this practice as "perverting the gospel" (Galatians 1:6-8). It is designed to deceive and confuse the Church by failing to properly define certain terms (or by redefining these terms).
Obtaining salvation through the unmerited and undeserved favor of God (the New Testament definition of Grace) does not release us from the task of avoiding sin, doing good works, adopting Christ-like behavior and holy living. God instructs all Christians to seek after these things for reasons other than obtaining eternal life. However, God also sternly warns (Ephesians 2:8-9, Galatians 2:19-21, Galatians 3:10-12 and Galatians 5:4) that our efforts to acquire and apply these attributes - which involves work and effort - is never to be used as pre-conditions to obtain and keep what Scripture calls; God’s unmerited and undeserved gift of eternal life. Following the cross ... and contrary to many popular beliefs and religious traditions, God now condemns any effort to hold a believer’s salvation hostage until a certain level of Christian character and holy living is achieved. Yet, we are still expected to seek after and apply these attributes to our life (Romans 6:1-4 and Titus 2:13-14). Everyone will have a different measure of success, which is why God never makes eternal life conditional upon anyone's success or failure in achieving godly character.
If we fail to “rightly divide” God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15) - and insist on making salvation dependent upon a mixture of works and grace - then His gift of eternal life becomes nonsensical. When certain members of the clergy claim that the Gospel of Grace (some call it 'easy-believism' while others use the term 'hyper-grace') “improperly removes the effort and work from Christian life”, they are leading their audience astray in their faith.
(Continuation of main topic)
Unmerited Favor vs. Enablement
There is a secondary definition for the word "grace" called "Divine enablement". If someone is suffering through a crisis they might say something like, "I'm praying that God gives me the grace to see this thing through", or "I'm praying that God enables me with the strength to endure". When the word grace is used in this way, it suggests a "supernatural ability to perform or endure”. Reformed theology, Calvinism and the countless variants and flavors of Christian fundamentalism insist that Christ's Gospel of Grace conforms to the characteristic of "divine enablement", rather than "unmerited favor" as taught by Saint Paul. To strengthen their teachings, you will often hear various preachers make the following statement in their sermons:
"Grace always exceeds the
requirements of the Law."
This skillfully designed, yet deceptive statement might sound good in a sermon, but it undermines the principles found in Christ's New Covenant and New Testament salvation. Yet, most church members fail to see anything wrong. It suggests that grace (and not eternal life) is the real "gift of God" spoken of in Ephesians 2:8-9. As a result, this kind of grace gives you the supernatural ability (or the grace) to perform good works and righteous deeds - in a way that actually exceeds the Law's original requirements. And ... since these requirements are exceeded - God's favor and acceptance is secured. It reinserts good works and personal merit as additional requirements to obtain and keep salvation. Under this brand of theology, God 'enables', or gives us the grace to satisfy the requirements of Old Testament Law, which then allows us to be saved.
However - at the same time - it also
suggests that if you aren't living up
to these high standards of the Law
(or a perfectly sinless life), it's
an indication that you may not be
'enabled' ... and therefore, may not
be truly saved.
This popular way of believing the
Bible causes continual fear and
religious torment for millions of
Christians who are fooled into
thinking that it represents true
faith in Christ.
The Bible teaches that nobody can live a perfectly sinless life, which is why the spotless Son of God died in our place and became our substitute. God requires sinless perfection - and His Son was the only one, existing in human flesh, who possessed it. It took the power of Christ's perfectly righteous and sinless life to purchase our salvation. It’s impossible for anyone to pay this price, in full or in part - even if they believe they possess some kind of “divine enablement”. Attempting to live a sinless life in order to achieve God's favor and salvation will always fail. If we believe that our justification (or salvation) depends on our efforts and personal merit - rather than on Christ's sacrificial blood – one slip-up or forgotten sin is enough to condemn us and cancel eternal life. But, the spotless Lamb of God paid the ransom price that eternally redeemed the believer, which took away their sin.
"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, Who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing (charging to their account) their trespasses (sins) to them ..." (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
"...Being justified freely by His Grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-26 - Emphasis Added)
The New Testament epistles of Paul warn that teaching the enablement kind of grace falls under the category of "handling the Word of God deceitfully" (2 Corinthians 4:2). It perverts Christ's Gospel of unmerited favor and reinstates the Law (after Jesus fulfilled it - and God removed it) ... back into the requirements for salvation. Yet, the teaching can still 'technically' be called "grace" - not because it's taught that way in the Bible - but because of its secondary definition in the dictionary. However, we should remember that the dictionary is not the Word of God. Never make the mistake of thinking that both of these definitions apply to the obtaining of eternal life after the cross.
According to Paul, the 'unmerited
favor' type of grace is correct,
but the enablement type of grace
is wrong and will lead us
dangerously astray. Redefining
God's Grace is the same tactic the
Judaizers (or what the Bible calls
"the believing Pharisees" of Acts
chapter 15) used against the
inexperienced Galatian Christians
under Paul's care. This is why we
must closely examine the words of
any church leader or Bible teacher
who claim they are preaching
We should also remember that the type of Grace that produces salvation is a 'high value' target for our enemy ... and can only be destroyed by replacing it with a religious counterfeit or imitation such as 'enablement'. For this reason, a lot of dangerous and out-of-context Bible teachings hide behind the label of "Grace".
We use the term "Reformed theology" in a very general way throughout this commentary. Some may think that we're improperly "painting this subject with a wide brush". Yet, during the last 500 years, this general term is now associated with hundreds of other doctrines (that may not appear to be related) spread across all major Christian denominations. It's not our intention to misrepresent anyone's personal beliefs.
The early roots of Reformed theology and its close relative of Calvinism - along with all of their countless flavors and expressions - can be traced back to the first century church (30-90 A.D.), where it was taught by those who opposed the Apostle Paul. It represents an aberrant theology that started approximately 10 years after the crucifixion of Christ and was condemned by both Paul and the apostolic leadership of Acts chapter 15. If we understand what it is and how it started, we might have a better chance of recognizing this theology as it appears today.
There are many good and sincere men and women in the ministry who embrace this doctrine because they learned it in seminary or Bible school. Unfortunately, once grounded and established in its tenants, they rarely get free. It becomes the 'filter' used to interpret God's Word. We're not deliberately attacking anyone's sincerity or good intentions in these writings. Yet, our comments may be offensive if you use this popular method of interpreting the Bible.
A Popular Bible Scholar Gives
We recently discovered a commentary from C.I. Scofield, who produced the popular “Scofield Reference Bible” and sounds a sober warning to the institutional Christian Church. We are not necessarily students of Scofield. Yet, we find that his writings reinforce the subject of this commentary.
The Church A Warning About
“In contrast to Reformed theology is Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism says that to find the believer’s rule of life you must go not to Mount Sinai, but to Mount Calvary. Mount Sinai is powerless to justify a person and Mount Sinai is also powerless to sanctify a person. The law is not the believer’s rule of life. Something else is. The Scofield Bible states this position very clearly: "The test of the gospel is grace. If the message excludes grace, or mingles law with grace as the means of justification or sanctification, or denies the fact or guilt of sin which alone gives grace its occasion and opportunity, it is 'another gospel', and the preacher of it is under the anathema of God."
[From "Footnote #6" in the Scofield Reference Bible under Galatians 1:6--Emphasis Added.]
“Most of us have been reared and now live under the influence of Galatianism. Protestant theology is for the most part thoroughly Galatianized, in that neither the law or grace is given its distinct and separate place as in the counsels of God, but they are mingled together in one incoherent system. The law is no longer, as in the divine intent, a ministration of death (2 Cor. 3:7), of cursing (Gal. 3:10), or conviction (Rom. 3:19), because we are taught that we must try to keep it, and that by divine help we may. Nor does grace, on the other hand, bring us blessed deliverance from the dominion of sin, for we are kept under the law as a rule of life despite the plain declaration of Romans 6:14.”
-- C.I. SCOFIELD --
When speaking about those who preach the popular gospel that mixes Law and Grace , Scofield's use of the word "anathema" is the most frightening. Saint Paul uses the word "accursed" when describing the message of these preachers. Both words (anathema and accursed) suggest a type of "Divine rejection" that falls upon these unsuspecting ministers. This is a most serious issue that is never properly addressed in a church service because it often causes fierce controversy and angry disagreements. Yet, it is a subject that should never be treated as just some disagreement over someone's opinion. The Scripture warns that God doesn't respect the opinions of man - and that many opinions are wrong. Do you want to gamble your eternal life on something as unstable as an opinion?
Watching the confusion and spiritual carnage caused by this influence over many years motivated us to create the following generalized list of identifying characteristics. Unfortunately, it covertly operates across all denominational lines regardless of the name on the church building or the popularity of the pastor. All forms (variants) and denominational "offshoots" of Reformed and Calvinistic theology involve three major characteristics:
Church leaders and their followers who embrace various brands of Reformed or Calvinistic theology reject (many times in anger) a “dispensational or literal” interpretation of the Bible. Instead, they commonly engage in "spiritualizing or allegorizing Scripture" (sometimes called "Twisting Scripture"), which makes it appear that God says things in His Word - that He does not say.
Dispensationalism is a modern theological
term that represents a method of Bible
interpretation that carries the same or
similar requirements as Paul's command to;
"Rightly divide the Word of God" found in
2 Timothy 2:15. Dispensationalism is often
rejected because it exposes the error found
in allegorizing (or 'spiritualizing)
Scripture used to defend Reformed theology.
Reformed theology and its variants incorrectly teaches that when Israel crucified Jesus Christ (their Messiah), God permanently rejected the entire nation - and replaced them with "the New Testament Church". According to Reformed theologians, this divine rejection transfers the Old Testament program of the Law - to the Church. But, following the cross, Scripture teaches that the Church is no longer under Old Testament law - but under New Covenant Grace (Romans 6:14). Reformed ministers and preachers solve this contradiction by illegally mixing together both programs of Law and Grace into one unified theology. This is why Christian believers are often called "spiritual Jews" and the church is referred to as "spiritual Israel or the new Israel". The modern name for this belief is "Replacement theology" - because it is believed that God has replaced Israel with the Church. Yet, the Bible treats Israel under its Old Testament program of the Law - and the New Testament Church under Christ's New Covenant of Grace - as two separate and distinct groups. This is why the apostle Paul instructs all believers today to "rightly (or correctly) divide God's Word" (2 Timothy 2:15). But, Reformed theology and its variants ignore Paul's command and illegally mix both groups and their individual programs together - and teach the Bible "undivided". Those who embrace Reformed theology believe that there are, and have always been, only one people of God. As a result, they believe that Israel was the "Church" in the Old Testament - and, what the apostle Paul calls "the Church" in the New Testament - is now the "new Israel". God's directives and provisions to Israel in the Old Testament are "spiritualized" and illegally transferred to the Church, since it is believed that God has now permanently rejected original Israel and cast her away because of her sin. The New Testament disproves this popular belief in Romans 11:1-2 and Romans 11:25-26.
Reformed theology and its variants mix the works and merit requirements associated with the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament given only to the Jews - with New Testament Grace promised to the Gentiles. This "mixing" of two separate and different covenants creates one inconsistent and confusing man-made system of theology. Yet, the Bible warns that these programs must remain separated (or rightly divided) to correctly interpret its truths. This "mixed theology", traveling under countless different names and labels, is the way various Christian churches (regardless of their name or denomination) teach it today. It's closely associated to the same error that nearly destroyed the Galatian Church - and is the dominant influence that Scofield referred to as "Galatian religion" (or being "Galatianized"). Scofield used this term to identify counterfeit Christianity.
Additional information is available
at the following links:
Avoiding the Error of Replacement Theology
The Battle for God's Grace
The Spiritual Revolution of Jesus Christ
Why The Term 'Christian Fundamentalism'
Causes So Much Confusion
The Great Divine Exchange
Paul wrote nearly half of the New Testament canon of Scripture and condemned many of the first century tenants that now constitute Reformed and Calvinistic theology--along with its countless flavors and variants. In his condemnation, Saint Paul used strong and offensive language. He said that a curse exists on all those who teach this doctrine (Galatians 1:8-9) - and warned one church fellowship that they had been "bewitched" by its influence (Galatians 3:1).
Whenever you see the word
"bewitched" used in the
Bible, its warning about
This mixing together of the Old Testament program of the Law with the New Testament program of Grace (Remember that both are recorded in our Bible) continues to cause havoc within the modern Christian church. Yet, the theology that causes this confusion does not come from Jesus Christ or our Heavenly Father.
The problems addressed in this study involve an internal doctrinal conflict that's been raging since the days of the early church. We often refer to it as, "The Stealth War Against the Truth of the Gospel". The Lord Jesus Christ - and nearly all of the original apostles (including Paul) lost their lives in this war. But, their opponents, greater in number and influence multiplied and lived on ... by masquerading as God's true ministers and representatives. The conflict still rages today and is no closer to being resolved. Countless debates, angry confrontations, church splits and thousands of books written to address the subject failed to bring an end to this often bitter disagreement. Many denominations that exist today, teach different things about God and the Bible because they all use different methods of interpreting Scripture - which makes unity and agreement impossible. Yet, in an effort to achieve some appearance of unity - Scripture is rewritten, redefined and used out of context - rather than taking the painful and necessary steps of admitting their mistakes and repenting from false forms of theology that Scripture condemns. The situation is getting worse rather than better as the return of our Lord Jesus draws near.
Learning to be a Berean
Today, the doctrine condemned by both Paul and the apostolic council in Acts chpater 15 is now a dominant "theology" in the modern church. Protestants, Catholics, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Seventh-day Adventists, Independents - and more disturbingly - certain Evangelical groups (who should know better) - all have their own unique versions (variants) of what they sometimes call "fundamental Christian teaching". The "fundamental" label is used because everyone wants their way of believing and interpreting Scripture to be received as "God's original intentions".
However, if it's a variant or
off-shoot of the believing
Pharisee's doctrine from Acts
chapter 15, it may look and
But it does not come from God.
Due to the confusion caused by various conflicting doctrines found within Christendom, our studies and commentaries need to be somewhat detailed, repetitive and even abrasive at times. But, we're not trying to either impress or deliberately offend anyone. Our goal is to write in a way that allows Scripture to speak for itself. All believers in Christ need to become "truth seekers" who personally research the Scriptures for their answers. In this age of high-speed computers and powerful (yet inexpensive) Bible software, there's no excuse for failing to be a student of God's Word. What used to take hours and days just 40 years ago is now a mouse click away. The Bible commands Christians to; "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed" (2 Timothy 2:15). A group called "the Bereans" who are briefly mentioned in the New Testament took this very same approach. When confronted with the preaching of Saint Paul, they "searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).
A truth seeker always establishes their faith on their own study of God's Word and not necessarily on the teachings and traditions of their church or denomination. However, getting to this place of "knowing the truth" (while maintaining some level of humility) is a difficult task with many frustrating roadblocks and detours. Yet, when you get to that place of spiritual maturity - no preacher, denomination or church organization will be able to put you under religious bondage again. God wants us to live in this place of liberty (John 8:32, 36). However, some churches go out of their way to make their members dependent on their teaching and tend to resist those who study the Bible for themselves. For this reason the New Testament instructs all believers to ...
"Stand fast therefore in the
liberty by which Christ has
made us free, and do not be
entangled again with a yoke
of bondage." (Galatians 5:1)
This is Part 2 of a two-part Bible study.
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