A fellow named Mike Bickle who apparently emerged from the world of the kind of people who imagine they hear the audible voice of God and have visited heaven, yet very squarely and forthrightly deny the power of the gospel of Christ and Him crucified and twist and distort the message of grace as presented clearly in all of scripture. He has published an article (available in all its glory here) attacking the message of grace and I intend to rebut his distortions point by point.
Let’s start with this:
Jude warned of certain men who crept into the fellowship of the church unnoticed—that is, their error went unnoticed by most of the leaders and the people. These men turned the message of grace into a message of lewdness or one that affirmed various compromises, even sexual immorality. These men with persuasive teaching abilities twisted what the Bible said about grace, thus empowering many to confidently continue in sinful activities without feeling any urgency to repent.
Undoubtedly, these teachers of error appeared outwardly to live godly, but in their private lives they refused to repent of various lusts. Instead, they justified their ungodly habits by distorting the message of grace to accommodate their lifestyles.
The result was devastating, as many in the church concluded that it was acceptable for them also to live with similar compromises because these popular teachers were justifying this sort of lifestyle with various Bible verses. In reality, they took these verses out of context of the broader New Testament message, which called believers to live in wholehearted love for Jesus as evidenced by seeking to live in obedience to Him (John 14:15, 21).
The same is true with hyper-grace teachers today. They choose to emphasize only God’s love and forgiveness while practically ignoring Jesus’ call for His people to walk in wholehearted commitment to the Lord. They preach mostly on forgiveness without repentance and on receiving God’s blessing on their circumstances without any conditions. The truth is, it’s glorious that we are freely forgiven by Jesus and that He blesses our circumstances; but these truths are in context to seeking to live in a real relationship with Him and in agreement with His leadership and Word.
There is a complete world of difference between justifying ungodly habits by saying that such habits are acceptable, and walking in the light and confessing them as sin while acknowledging that such sin is still regrettably operative in a person’s life. Paul confesses such struggle with sin (Romans 7:15), and teaches the power of the present power of God’s mercy in Christ (Romans 8:1). A strong grace message suggests a high and stringent view of the law, not a lax view. It allows us to confess deep heart-level sin on a moment by moment basis without pretense. Mr. Bickle sets up a straw man argument and then shoots it down, while we proponents of the true and strong grace of God stand unharmed and untouched while noticing Mr. Bickle’s shallow and errant view of holiness which has little power to lead one to the obedience which is from the heart (Romans 6:17).
It would also seem that the apostle John was guilty of this same error as the hyper-grace teachers, of whom I am proud to be numbered. He says that the love which God has for us is the basis of our love for God, from which all other true virtue flows. (1 John 4:10) His idea of repentance is not spelled out in his article, but it is almost certainly not the biblical one which is consummate with the gospel of faith in Christ (more about my position here.)
Let’s turn again to Mr. Bickle’s article:
Paul prophesied of a time when many who profess loyalty to Jesus would fall to unsound doctrine: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
These people aren’t willing to embrace the challenges of a lifestyle of obedience to Jesus as emphasized by the sound teaching in the New Testament. Instead, they have “itching ears” to hear messages that affirm their sinful desires. They want to feel comfortable in their relationship with God, even as they continue to boldly walk out their sinful lusts.
By isolating Bible verses about God’s blessing and forgiveness from the larger context of the New Testament’s call to love Jesus with obedience, they affirm the lustful desires of their hearers. One famous TV preacher went so far to say that there is no longer a need for a believer to repent because Jesus’ work on the cross did that for them. He obviously overlooked the fact that Jesus repeatedly called born-again believers to repent for yielding to various compromises (see Rev. 2:5, 16, 21-22; 3:3, 19).
Obviously Mr. Bickle is the one who professes loyalty to Jesus who falls to unsound doctrine based on his own fleshly efforts. He is a product of the weird prophet / I heard the audible voice of God / I’ve visited heaven / weird apostle movement. These guys are so far from proclaiming Christ and Him crucified as the power of God that it is difficult to believe that he is actually quoting this verse here to justify his horrible and damaging doctrine.
More importantly, he does not recognize that the message of the propitiatory blood of Jesus as the present and eternal power of God past, present, and future, is the message of the whole of Scripture. From Genesis through Revelation, every single book of the Bible contains important references to the power of substitutionary sacrifice as the sole means to favor with God, and of the failure of all men to conform by their own efforts to the perfection of God’s law.
Is it not ironic that he quotes Revelation 2:5 here, which is the section about the Church at Ephesus? The sin of the church at Ephesus was really that they forgot this great truth:
10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
(1 John 4:10, NASB).
They were toiling and refuting and persevering and rebuking evil men, and had not grown weary of it. Yet, they had left their first love! What was their first love? The joy of their salvation! The joy of being finally and truly and completely assured of their justification, and of the power of it. Their repentance was their need to go back to putting great stock in their belief in their salvation. What else could it mean? They are not called out for some great sin like the church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:20).
Revelation 2:16 is about those who hold the teaching of Balaam. Mr. Bickle, do you really suppose that the message of the present power of our justification and that saying that while we are yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly, and that we ought not nullify grace, teaches that we have the same error as Balaam?
Balaam was a prophet who took money for counsel to a non-believing enemy of God’s people to lead them into idolatry and immorality. Grace teaches forgiveness of immorality (and forgiveness implies that it is bad but doesn’t condemn the offender) and a basis for the kind of strong hope which leads to purification, a hope which is not set upon our own works but upon Christ’s coming (1 John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:13). This means, as I have said many times, that our only hope for any meaningful “sanctification” is sloppy agape, fire-insurance, free grace. Every other message leaves us on our own to try to become better in our flesh instead of under the power of Christ.
Let’s turn to some more delightful encouragement from the article:
The core reality of the grace message is to empower us to walk with God in a relationship of wholehearted love. Jesus called this “the first commandment” (Mark 12:30). Thus, the Holy Spirit’s first agenda is to establish the first commandment in first place in the church. This must also be our first agenda. Wholehearted love is to be “first” in our response to God because it is how the Father relates to the Son and how the Godhead relates to us. We must see grace through the lens of this quality of love. To think of grace without it being anchored in the first commandment is to be aiming at the wrong target. Thus, we distort the grace message when we do not interpret it through the lens of the first commandment. We must love Jesus on His terms, and He defined loving God in terms of a spirit of obedience to His commandments (see John 14:15, 21, 23).
There’s no such thing as loving Jesus without seeking to obey His Word. Some seek to love God on the terms of a humanistic culture that has no reference to obeying the Word. But loving and seeking to obey Jesus are synonymous. All of His commands are based in His love. Thus, the biblical message of grace teaches us to live righteously and to deny ungodliness as the way of expressing our love to God. Titus 2:11-12 says, “The grace of God … has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly.”
If you hear a teaching on grace that doesn’t call you to deny ungodliness, it’s not a biblical grace message—it’s a distorted one.
No, the core reality of the grace message is not to empower us to walk with God in a relationship based on the first commandment to love God. We have a righteousness with God that is no longer based on the law (Romans 3:20,21). As we see in 1 John 4:10, it includes the most difficult command of all, the command to love God. In fact, the gospel of Christ and Him crucified is all about forgiveness of our sins. All of them. Past present and future. How in the world is it so strange to say that the gospel is about forgiveness? Sometimes it seems as though the whole earth is proclaiming some nutty view on how the core message of the gospel is not about Christ crucified to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Well, it actually is about Christ crucified to save sinners. That is only what it is about. If that is not squarely your central basis for every other act, you’re not basing your life on the core message. Why else would Paul come to the heinously sinful Corinthian church and say ” I was determined to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified”(1 Corinthians 2:2)? According to Mr. Bickle, such a message is irrelevant to our present “sanctification”. He says (as we shall soon examine) that our sanctification is based on us, and is a part of our salvation. Paul says instead that God loves us and saves us while we are yet sinners:
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
(Romans 5:6-10, NASB).
This is not some fringe message that I am taking out of context to press a spurious message of my own crafting! This is the CENTRAL MESSAGE OF SCRiPTURE. Dear God, how can anyone miss this? It is the main and central and core message of the book of Romans! Romans is the core book of the whole of Scriptures. What is now labeled “hyper-grace” was the central insight of Martin Luther that led to the entire protestant reformation! Are we to throw this out?
When am I yet a sinner? Right when I am saved do I suddenly have no sins, no failures? Does anybody honestly believe that? Just like Paul in romans 7:15 and following, and John in 1 John 1:7,8,9,10, I am a sinner NOW. I am not surfing porn or committing adultery or giving out false prophecy while raking in the money from unsuspecting sheep right now, but I am yet a sinner in need of the covering of His precious blood. And if God forbid I do any of these horrible things in the future, I am assured that I have a basis for forgiveness and cleansing and repentance, because it is Christ who saves me by His blood, and not my deeds by my own flesh which saves me. It si the blood of Christ plus NOTHING which secures my eternity. From the bottom of my heart I do not want to do any of these sins, but I don’t trust myself. I trust Christ. In saying I trust Christ, it isn’t an underhanded way of saying I trust Christ to control me like a mindless puppet to never sin. It means he has given me freedom, and in that freedom I long to avoid sin, but He has forever accepted me and forgiven me no matter what happens. I have believed in Jesus, and I have ETERNAL life (John 3:16). What part of eternal means it could end because I could screw up temporarily and blow it? Does my assurance mean I have license to sin? It means I have the unction and power to walk in the Spirit, which is a whole different paradigm coming from a whole new universe.
Let’s finally look at the most damning section of the article:
The gospel is the good news about receiving God’s righteousness and can be seen in three tenses:
Justification: our legal position—past tense, focused on our spirit
Sanctification: our living condition—present tense, focused on our soul
Glorification: our eternal exaltation—future tense, focused on our body
One-third of our salvation is complete (the salvation of our spirit), but the other two parts are not yet complete in our experience (the salvation of our soul and body). All believers have received the fullness of grace in their spirit (legal position), and yet they can still live far below it in their daily experience (living condition).
Our present living condition, how we choose to live, is one third of our salvation? Does this not nullify grace? Should we throw out Romans 5,6,7, and 8? Here you have it, ladies and gentlemen. While accusing you, the precious sinners saved by the grace which has come by the blood of Jesus, of twisting the scriptures out of context, he comes right out and says that we are one-third responsible for our own salvation. Jesus + your sanctification = 2/3 of your salvation. Where is that in scripture, 2 Opinions 3:16? I don’t even need to comment on this. It is brazenly and openly stated in all of its gospel-denying heretical splendor. Grace doesn’t mean forgiveness and unearned favor. It means (how is this grace?) that we live up to our “legal” position in our present tense. Let me just say, if you have trouble understanding what he is talking about here, don’t worry. It is damned nonsense. It is easy to understand why there are no scripture references for these points: they are not biblical.
I could say much more about Mr. Bickle’s position, such as his atrocious exegesis of the sermon on the mount, and his abundant straw-man arguments about the dynamics of the gospel of grace, and more, but I think you get the gist. No one is going to find power for holiness through this approach to Christian living.
The really good news is that the gospel of grace and the power of Christ and Him crucified is easily enough to save you all the way to eternity! You are assured of a very great hope and you are very greatly loved! You are set free to live a life of incredible power and undeserved and unearned favor! The power of the gospel and of life in Christ crucified and resurrected is for you, now, today! You can freely admit and confess that you are a sinner saved by grace! This doesn’t mean you love sin, quite the contrary. Leave off these condemning fools who teach others while being secretly full of every lust and ungodliness.
Here is my prayer for Mike Bickle. I think he means well. He has a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. This is actually spot on contextually with Romans 10:2, in that the Jews were simply not catching the power of the message of the gospel of Christ. I pray that Mr. Bickle comes around to being a gospel grace loving lunatic, a hyper-grace person crazy in love with Jesus. I pray that he becomes one of those people who say, “I spent my whole life pastoring and preaching and doing all of these things and all of these ministries, and finally I have realized that I never got the real gospel, the simple and profound power of the gospel.” I pray that the lights come on for him, and for many others through this.
Jesus Christ is all! His blood is sufficient to save sinners! Christ is risen! Hallelujah!