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"Pilgrim and Sojourner." - 1 Peter 2:11

 Pure Grace or Hyper-Grace?

A Review of Pure Grace by Clark Whitten

The most important criticism of of Clark Whitten’s book Pure Grace is that it cripples the Christian so that they cannot walk in righteousness. While there is much emphasis on God’s grace in justification and the “imputed righteousness” of Christ being counted to the believer, the book seriously twists and neglects the subsequent sanctification of Christians who actually practice righteousness when God regenerates them. Apart from this sanctification and regeneration, there can be no final justification and salvation.

Whitten’s book exchanges biblical grace for hyper-grace and turns biblical obedience into legalism. Whitten uses the word “law” very generally by taking New Testament verses about the Mosaic Law and applying it to any form of obedience or moral law. Whitten says,

“Can we agree that Christians are not under the law? . . . A gospel of law-keeping is no gospel at all. There simply is no “good news” associated with a life lived under the law. That is true before salvation and even more applicable after one is saved.” (Clark Whitten, Pure Grace (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2012), 59-60)

In context, there is no indication that Whitten has the Law of Moses in mind when he says “under the law” as Paul did when he said “under the law.” It’s easy to see how Christians who take the commandments of Christ seriously will be accused of being legalistic according to Whitten’s misuse of “law.” It is true that Christians are not under the Law of Moses. Certainly Paul rebuked what he called “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6) which caused the Galatians to “fall from grace” (Galatians 5:4). But this other Gospel was not obedience to Christ; it was seeking to be justified by observing the Law of Moses.

Paul said that not being under the Law was conditional based upon walking in the Spirit and obedience, not in the flesh. Paul says: “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:18-23)

Again, Paul uses Whitten’s phrase “under the law” telling us that the true evidence of being under grace and not under the law is that sin has no power over you. “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14) On the contrary, if sin has power over you, then you are not under grace. Christ requires obedience and His grace gives us power to obey. But Whitten finds the “leaven of the law” in my previous statement and the following presentation of the Gospel:

“The Holy Spirit was given to you to empower you to act better and better and convict you of your sin when you stray. God is pleased when you act right. When you don’t, He will clean your clock! Fear God and keep His commandments.” (28).

Ironically, what Whitten finds to be “leaven of the law” in the previous presentations of the Gospel, the book of Revelation declares to be the “everlasting Gospel.” John wrote, “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him” (Revelation 14:6,7; See also Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5).
What is most troubling is that Whitten finds the “leaven of the law” in a direct quotation of Scripture: “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Legalism is contrary to the Spirit of Christ, but Whitten is one among many false teachers who confuse the keeping of Christ’s commands with legalism and call it “law” by applying Scriptures about Mosaic Law. Whitten says,

“Religion and legalism have painted a portrait of God as a distant, severe, and joyless father who is almost impossible to please.” (65).

Perhaps Whitten’s above statement is true regardless of what he had in mind with his ideas of legalism. But whether or not his statement is true, God is severe. We ought to be cautious about making statements that portray the Lord contrary to Scripture. It is true that God is not a distant Father who is impossible to please, but He is severe. Saying that he is not severe can nullify Paul’s warning to believers about God’s severity: “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” (Romans 11:22) False teaching often presents an imbalance by over-emphasizing one truth of Scripture over another, i.e., God’s goodness and severity. The writer of Hebrews does not separate grace from godly fear and reverence toward God: “let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” (Hebrews 12:28)

Again, what Whitten describes as “leaven of the law” is presented all throughout the New Testament teachings of God’s grace in regeneration and sanctification of the Christian (See Matthew 5:48; John 14:15,21; 15:10; Romans 6:22; 7-8; 11:20-21; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 10:1-13,19-22; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:10-11,16; 5:2,10-11; 7:1; Ephesians 5:10,21; Philippians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Hebrews 6:1; 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15,16; 1 John 2:3-4, 5:3). But Whitten declares the doctrine of sanctification to be a lie when he says,

“I am already justified, and get this—I am already sanctified! Sanctification—having been made perfect—is a state of being, not a goal to be achieved or grow into. . . . (29)

“The old religious approach of “I am justified, I am being sanctified, and I will be glorified” is a lie.” (29,30).

“I am sanctified, and so are you if you are born again—whether you believe it or not!” (37).

Even Paul the Apostle said he had not already attained when he wrote the Philippians and he spoke with terrifying warning to those who were otherwise minded: ”Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)” (Philippians 3:12-19)

Based on Whitten’s standards, Paul was way too conscious of sin and too unconscious of God’s grace. Whitten says,

“Christians are way too conscious of sin and way too unconscious of God’s grace. Listen, Jesus did not die to modify your behavior!” (19).

Is this true that Jesus did not die to modify your behavior? Granted, this was not the only reason for Jesus’s death or His ministry, but it is certainly a primary reason He came. Jesus said, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13) One of the reasons Jesus came was to call sinners to repentance which includes behavior modification. Specifically speaking of Christ’s death, Paul says, “And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15) Thus, Christ died so that our lives and behavior would resemble His life and behavior, so that we would no longer live for ourselves.

Speaking of grace, Christians actually prevent the grace of God being fulfilled in their lives if they continue to live for themselves in the flesh. We cannot practice righteousness on our own, but by faith we cooperate with God’s grace in our lives so that we might live for Him. While righteousness cannot be obtained by keeping the Mosaic Law, Christians are obligated to obey God’s moral law by faith and cooperation with God’s grace and power. But if we continue to live in the flesh, we thwart God’s grace from succeeding in our lives. Paul explains, “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Galatians 2:19-20).

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 2013/4/30 14:46Profile

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