Where does a believer’s obedience come from? How does he shed the grave clothes of his former life—old habits, the pull of persistent temptations, and corrupt patterns of thought and behavior—and live a righteous life in Christ?
As we’ve already seen, obedience doesn’t come naturally to us—we’re born into rebellion, and it’s only God’s intervening grace that redeems us for His glory and our eternal good. So our ability to obey is not something we bring to the table. It’s a work of God’s grace—an expression of the new nature He bestows on us in His transforming work of regeneration.
Scripture confirms as much:
Even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). . . . For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:5, 10)
In the Old Testament, when the Lord promised to restore Israel from their backsliding, He included this vivid depiction of His transforming work in believers’ lives.
And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)
God’s regenerating work sets us free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:6). In Ephesians, Paul emphasizes the comprehensive nature of our transformation, referring to two distinct identities—a dramatic before-and-after image of the regenerated soul:
[You were taught in Him to] lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:22-24)
In redeeming us, the Lord does the amazing work of saving us from the wrath to come and making us His for eternity. But His redemption doesn't stop there. He bestows upon us an entirely new nature—fitting us for eternity and enabling us to grow in obedience and pursue Christlikeness in this life (Romans 8:29).
Grace That Is Greater Than All My Sin
With that in mind, consider this quote:
We are nothing but a league of the guilty. You see I wish I could say that I do everything for God’s glory. You know 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether you eat, drink, whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” Who does that? For one second? . . . I wish I could say that I do everything for God’s glory. I can’t, neither can you. What I can say is that Jesus’s blood covers all of my efforts to glorify myself. That’s what I can say. I wish I could say that Jesus fully satisfies me. . . . I can’t, [n]either can you. What I can say is that Jesus fully satisfied God for me. That’s what I can say. That’s the gospel. I wish that I could say I let go of all I have for Jesus. . . . I can’t, [n]either can you. What I can say is that Jesus let go of all He had for me. “Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World”, Liberate 2014
That’s Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida, and a leading voice in the movement some refer to as Hypergrace. (The movement doesn’t claim an official designation—we’ll stick to Hypergrace for simplicity and accuracy’s sake.) Since 2012, his church has hosted an annual conference called “Liberate,” which has served as ground zero for Hypergrace theology. He spoke those words during his Liberate message in 2014, and they provide insight into a perspective that is quickly gaining ground within the Body of Christ. Instead of focusing on God’s transforming work, the emphasis rests on man’s sinfulness and the sufficiency of God’s grace to cover it.
Tchividjian spelled out his theological perspective not long ago as he explained his philosophy of ministry:
The pulpit is reserved for one specific thing week in and week out: to diagnose and deliver slaves, period. . . . Every sermon from every text should show you that you are worse than you think you are, and every sermon from every text should show you that God is greater than you could ever hope for or imagine. That you are a great sinner; He is a great Savior. “Declare and Demonstrate, Part 1”, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, January 12, 2014
That emphasis on sinfulness shows up throughout Hypergrace teaching. Elyse Fitzpatrick, a popular author and speaker, gives this advice to parents in her book, Give Them Grace.
Consistent, transparent, and specific confession of sin will help children see how their parents struggle with sin in the same ways that they do. . . . Teaching [your son] that he and [your daughter] and Mom and Dad are all lost, all sick, all in need of salvation is so very crucial. Elyse Fitzpatrick, Give Them Grace (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011) p. 71
Elsewhere she explains what that looks like in practice:
If we’re [dealing with] a child who doesn’t want to share, we can come to that child and instead of it being a “I’m good and you’re bad,” it is a “I’m just like you, I don’t want to share either”. . . . I can say to a child, “I’m a sinner just like you. There’s no difference between us, I’m just a bigger one, you’re little. . . . We’re both radically sinful, but we’re also radically loved. And honey if you will believe it, you will have the perfect record of Jesus Christ who always shared his toys.” “Discussion with Elyse Fitzpatrick”, Desiring God, April 27, 2011
There is some truth in that. Both the child and the parent are sinners, and certainly the child might respond better to correction if the parents don’t sound self-righteous and holier-than-thou. Empathizing with your kids can help them understand the depth of their depravity, and their need for salvation.
But if you are a believer, you’re not the same as your unregenerate child—in fact, you’re radically different. And blurring that line can have dangerous eternal repercussions. Instead of teaching that the gospel offers forgiveness but leaves us hopelessly bound to sin, we want to emphasize its value and power through the testimony of our transformed lives. If anything, they need to see a stark and consistent difference between our lives and theirs.
Sadly, that difference isn’t a key feature of Hypergrace theology. In fact, what they teach contradicts what Scripture says about our transformed nature. Here’s another quote from the 2014 Liberate conference. David Zahl was the speaker for this particular session, which Tchividjian later identified as his favorite from the conference.
Commenting on an article by Ted Haggard, Zahl said,
[Haggard saw] a link between [the suicides of pastors] and the widespread teaching . . . that life transformation took place at salvation, and the power to overcome was inherent in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He does not see that teaching as simply off-base or unhelpful, but he sees it as deadly. Now don’t mistake me. I’m not saying that . . . the Holy Spirit doesn’t come in somebody’s life, that there isn’t the possibility for victory and change—but the guarantee, the edict, that you must be transformed, is actually not creating transformation. It’s fueling despair . . . and personalities splitting in believers who find themselves coping with problems that don’t vanish after their . . . public commitment of faith. . . . I’m not disputing the hope of transformation, I’m disputing the guarantee of transformation. “All You Need is (One Way) Love”, Liberate 2014
Contrast those shocking and hopeless words with Paul’s words in Titus 2:11-12: “For the grace of God has appeared . . . instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”
Notice how the Hypergrace movement constantly stresses depravity and forgiveness, with little or no emphasis on the transforming power of God’s grace. They lose sight of God’s regenerating work in salvation. It paints the sinner into a helpless corner, and makes God’s grace a drop cloth.
That’s not a biblically accurate portrayal of the transformation the Lord has wrought in the lives of His people. Yes, we are dependent on His grace, but not as a daily excuse for our sinful shortcomings.
We need to understand God’s grace as Paul describes it in Colossians 1:13, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” In his commentary on that passage, John MacArthur says, “Believers do not need deliverance from the domain of sin and Satan; they need to act as those who have been delivered.” John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians & Philemon, (Chicago, Moody Press, 1992) p. 40