Is the Hyper-Grace Movement Based in Law?

In trying to better understand the Hyper-grace (HG) movement, I came across the following article from Paul Ellis, an HG teacher. I posted a response on his blog essentially pointing out to him that his article can be interpreted as a list of rules (laws), which seems to contradict the position of the HG movement.

Though I resonate with some of what Ellis writes here (we both love grace and consider it scandalously amazing), I think the self-contradiction of dismissing law by creating new laws doesn’t work and is devastating for the HG movement as a whole. My response is also reprinted here below Ellis’ article.

8 Signs that a Church Doesn’t Get Grace
Posted on July 7, 2016 by Paul Ellis

A while ago I listed eight signs of hyper-grace churches. A hyper-grace church is one that is so focused on Jesus that it begins to look like Jesus, talk like Jesus, and smell like Jesus.

To highlight a positive it helps to accentuate the negative. So how do we get it wrong? What are the signs that a church is missing the grace of God?

Here are eight of them:

1. They are self-conscious

The message you hear is, “You must nail yourself to the cross every day.” So Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t good enough? “You have to cleanse yourself and make yourself holy.” You cannot succeed.

A focus on self and the things you must do to stay saved, get holy, and be blessed, is the number one sign you have missed the grace of God. Self says I will, but the gospel says He will.

Self cannot supply what God freely provides. We don’t need seven keys to success or fourteen steps to sanctification. We need a revelation of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. Christ is our righteousness and holiness from God.

2. They’re not sure if God likes them

“Sure, he’s a God of love, but he’s also a God of justice. He sends earthquakes to punish cities. He takes away your children. He trains you with sickness and scourging, so don’t make him angry.” What awful lies! What fear and insecurity this graceless teaching has brought to those whom God loves.

See the cross! If God did not spare his own Son, what won’t he do to reveal his love to us? God is not mad at you, he’s mad about you!

3. They speak (and sing) the faithless language of longing

A sure sign that some have missed grace is they ask Jesus to do what he’s already done. “Oh Lord, come down.” He already did. “Have mercy on us.” Ditto. “Make us holy.” “Come and cleanse us.” “Bind the strong man.” Tick, tick, tick.

Or they beg God to do what he never would do. “Lord, don’t leave us.” He said he wouldn’t. “You give and take away.” No, he doesn’t.

The language of longing is the language of the old covenant. Good news: The wait is over. Christ has come! In him you are home. Everything you need for life and godliness has been provided. So change your tune and learn the new song of the new creation. It’s a song of praise and thanksgiving (Ps 34:1, Heb 13:15).

4. They are sin-conscious

“I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” “Let’s examine ourselves for sin before worshipping.” “Confess your sins to remain in fellowship with the Lord.” What an insult to the Spirit of grace. If the Holy Spirit chooses to remember your sins no more (Heb 10:17), what business is it of yours to remind him?

An obsession with sin is a hallmark of the old covenant, but it has no place in the new. Behold the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world.

When you sin, a graceless church will shovel the shame. “Look at what you did.” They will reach for the stones instead of reaching for the only thing that can empower you to go and sin no more. Hint: it’s grace (Tit 2:11-12).

5. They are law-minded

“The law shows us how to please God.” No it doesn’t. “The law helps you overcome sin.” Actually, the law helps sin overcome you (Rom 7:9). “God gives us grace so that we might keep his commands.” No, God gives us grace because he loves us.

As Paul explains in Romans 7, running after the law is committing spiritual adultery. It’s cheating on Jesus. A church that mixes law with grace is lukewarm and nauseating to the Lord.

6. They think grace just is for sinners

“We are saved by grace, but kept by discipline.” Nope. It’s grace from start to finish (Heb 12:2). Grace is not one aspect of God that must be balanced against his other, less gracious aspects. Grace is everything. You are saved by grace and kept by grace. Grace is for everyone. Period. The end. Amen.

7. They treat people as resources

In a graceless church your value is determined by your behavior. Are you a hard worker? You’ll go far! Are you divorced? Forget about it.

In a graceless church visitors are valued as potential members, while members are valued as potential leaders. And because there are never enough people to fulfill the vision, everyone is busy, busy, busy. When activity replaces fellowship and friendships become task-based, when children are kept out of the way because they get in the way, real life has left the building.

8. They are insecure and anxious

A graceless church is an uncertain church. “Are you saved? Are you sure? Are you doing enough?” Instead of preaching the promises of Jesus, a graceless church promotes the promises of man. And since we can’t keep the promises we make, the result is failure and despair.

A graceless church is attractive to the self-righteous but unappealing to sinners. It is a place the zealots call home but the prodigals avoid. It is a place where the sheep are fleeced and the poor are exploited. It stinks of self and it is a terrible advertisement for Jesus.

But here’s the good news: God loves graceless churches! He loves the mixed-up people inside them and the misguided leaders who run them. I know this because I was a misguided pastor and this list was my testimony. But God has given me a new and better testimony, a testimony of his grace.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, my friends. (Gal 6:18)

My Response:

Paul, as I continue to think and pray about the difference between the hyper-grace movement and the legalistic side of Christianity, I find myself returning to your blog. This one raises a ton of questions, but I will spare you listing out all of them. However, one that I did want to ask is this:

Are you aware that this list comes across as condemning law?

For example, your first point: “They are self-conscious” can be interpreted as a command: “Don’t be self-conscious.” So if I am breaking this law and falling into a state of being self-conscious, then I am not pleasing God because I am not appropriating his grace properly into my thinking (I am being graceless).

I appreciate at the end of your article that you point out that graceless churches get grace too, but my point is that your list is essentially a list of laws. You are saying to the rest of the Christian family that they should submit to these laws (don’t be self-conscious, don’t spend time thinking about your sins, don’t spend time meditating on the law, etc.). You seem to be saying that if people follow these laws, then they will be practicing the proper version of Christianity.

Again, when you say graceless churches sing songs that portray “the faithless language of longing,” this can be interpreted as a law: “Don’t sing songs that use the faithless language of longing.” Readers then have to try to live up to this law.

As someone who believes in the third use of the law, I feel targeted and condemned by your article and by the laws you have set forth. But isn’t this exactly the position that the HG movement is trying to fight against?

What I am trying to say is that law is pervasive. It is everywhere. And law is always condemning to the law-breaker. Even leaders in the HG movement like yourself are creating laws and holding them over other people. I want you to consider the possibility that this post is hypocritical from the standpoint of trying to dismiss law by creating and using other laws.

The solution to the relationship between law and grace is not to throw God’s law out of the window, but rather to understand its proper function in a believer’s life. It isn’t a matter of “balancing” law and grace. I agree with you that this is a fallacy, as if we are to have 50% law and 50% grace. Rather, it is understanding the doctrine of divine simplicity, which teaches that ultimately, God’s justice and mercy are the same thing. Therefore his law and grace never conflict, and in his own being are essentially the same thing. A proper understanding of the doctrine of divine simplicity would correct an improper view of the relationship between law and grace.

Practically, this means that a person can celebrate God’s scandalous grace in all of its wonder on the same level that you do, while also using the law in his life as guide to pleasing God. These things are not antithetical. The emotional desire to help people who feel crushed by the law is wonderful, but throwing away God’s law and creating more laws (for how to apply grace) is not the answer.

I truly appreciate all of your thoughtful work and passion for grace in Christ.

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