TRUE GRACE VS COUNTERFEIT GRACE – Joseph Prince
Grace is not a teaching or a Bible school subject. Grace is a Person, the beautiful Person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And because an encounter with Him is so glorious, so liberating, and so powerful in changing precious lives, the enemy has thrown up so many controversies and misconceptions around the gospel of grace. This has caused many to be afraid of grace and kept them away from precisely what they need to draw close to God and lead a victorious, God-glorifying life.
Yet, grace is not the dangerous doctrine—promoting the license to sin—that many have claimed it to be. And it is my prayer that this article will unveil to you what true grace is, and how the Person of Jesus and His grace IS the power of God unto your salvation in every area of life.
BEWARE OF THE DANGERS OF COUNTERFEIT GRACE
We live in exciting times. Our Lord Jesus is truly restoring the gospel of grace that was first given to Apostle Paul. Over the last decade, I have had the great privilege of reading a constant stream of praise reports and testimonies sent to our ministry office from precious people set free from all kinds of addictions, including smoking, drugs, alcohol, and especially pornography.
Beyond being unshackled from the heavy yoke of guilt and condemnation, real lives, real marriages, and real families are being transformed and these people are living for the glory of Jesus through the power of His amazing grace. Grace is not a movement, teaching, or subject to be studied. It is all about a person. His name is Jesus. What one believes about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and what He has done at the cross, makes all the difference.
REIGNING OVER SIN THROUGH GRACE
To understand the grace of God, it is essential we understand the difference between the old covenant of law and the new covenant of grace. John 1:17 tells us, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The law was given through a servant; grace and truth came through the Son. The law talks about what man ought to be; grace reveals who God is. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (see 2 Cor. 3:6). Under the law, God demands righteousness from sinfully bankrupt man. But under grace, God provides righteousness as a gift. All who believe in Jesus and acknowledge Him as their Lord and Savior are under the new covenant of grace.
Yet, many believers today are still living in confusion. They get law and grace all mixed up by holding to some aspects of the law and some aspects of grace in their Christian walk. As such, they continue in defeat, rather than reign over the power of sin through the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness.
Romans 5:17 tells us clearly that “those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life.” When we reign in life, we reign over sin, addictions, and all forms of evil.
Thankfully, our Lord Jesus is restoring the purity of the gospel of grace today and many are finding freedom from long-term addictions and other bondages. They share with great joy how the Lord has supernaturally delivered them from decades of substance abuse and sexual addictions, frequent panic attacks, and even long-term clinical depression. Others write in, brimming with thanksgiving, because He has restored their marriages and their relationships with their estranged children, and healed their bodies when doctors had given them no hope. One common denominator took these precious people from defeat to victory, from breakdowns to breakthroughs: they all had an encounter with our Lord Jesus and caught a revelation of His amazing grace.
DISTORTIONS TO THE RESTORATION OF GOD’S TRUTH
Nonetheless, it is important we realize that as with any restoration of God’s truths in church history, there are distortions today to the restoration of the truth of grace. There are many controversies, inaccuracies, and counterfeits to the genuine work of grace that God is doing in His church and in people’s lives. It is also unfortunate that a small number misrepresent the truth of God’s amazing grace, using “grace” as an excuse for living a licentious lifestyle that is in clear violation of God’s Word.
It is essential that we do not draw our conclusions about God’s grace based on the few who abuse it, but study God’s Word for ourselves to understand what the original, unadulterated gospel of grace truly is.
Our responsibility as ministers entrusted with the gospel is not to back away from the truth of God’s grace, but to heed the advice that Apostle Paul gave to Timothy. He instructed his young protégé to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” and to “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:1, 2 Tim. 2:15 KJV).
For this reason, I would like to address in this article some of the key inaccurate and counterfeit grace teachings that have grown prevalent and led some astray. These counterfeit and pseudo grace teachings have also turned off some pastors and ministers to the gospel of grace. This is most unfortunate and my prayer is that pastors and church leaders all around the world will receive for themselves an accurate revelation and understanding of the good news that is changing lives and drawing precious people into an intimate relationship with our Savior. I pray that as God-appointed shepherds over our flocks, we do not make judgments based on incomplete sound bites and hearsay, but will thoroughly examine what each grace preacher is actually teaching and carefully check it against Scripture.
IS GRACE A LICENSE TO SIN?
Because of the abuses and inaccurate representations of the teaching of true grace, I have heard many warning others, “Watch out for that dangerous grace teaching, it gives people a license to sin.”
If you hear of any “grace” teaching that tells you it is all right to sin, to live without any regard for the Lord, and that there are no consequences to sin, my advice to you is to flee from that teaching.
You have just been exposed to counterfeit grace. Genuine grace teaches that believers in Christ are called to live holy, blameless, and above reproach. It teaches that sin always produces destructive consequences and that it is only through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ that one can be set free from the dominion of sin. Study Titus 2:11–15:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.
The Word of God states in no uncertain terms that the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness and live godly lives. Therefore, watch out for counterfeit grace teachings that contradict Scripture.
So how do we know if someone is truly living under the grace of God?
We look at their lives.
If someone is leaving his wife for his secretary and tells you he is under “grace,” tell this person that he is not under grace but under deception! Go by the authority of God’s Word, not what this man says. Romans 6:14 states, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” If this person were truly living under grace, he would not be dominated by such a sin. And no one living in sin can legitimately use grace as an excuse to sin, because it is antithetical to God’s holy Scriptures.
Genuine grace is not a license to sin; it is the power to live above the dominion of sin. Genuine grace doesn’t compromise God’s holy standards and condone sin; it is the answer that gives people power to live glorious lives zealous for good works.
There will always be a small number of people who are abusing grace, stirring controversy with counterfeit grace teachings, and living in ways that do not glorify the Lord. But what should our response be? Should we shy away from preaching and teaching the true grace of God because of the controversies and abuses? Certainly not. I exhort you today, with the words of Titus, to “Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.”
In other words, don’t back away from preaching the grace of God. In fact, we should be doubling down on our preaching of the genuine gospel that teaches all to “[deny] ungodliness and worldly lust” and to “live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” The more genuine grace is preached, the more counterfeit grace teachings will be stamped out.
People may use the word grace freely, calling themselves “grace preachers” with “grace ministries” or “grace churches.” But we need to be discerning. Just because they use the word grace doesn’t mean they are accurately or truly representing the gospel of grace. Test everything! Be sure that their position against sin is clear, as sin is destructive and brings with it a whole host of damaging consequences.
TRUE GRACE DOESN’T DISREGARD MORALS OF TEN COMMANDMENTS
There have been many inaccurate explanations about the Ten Commandments in counterfeit grace teachings. Be clear that true grace teaches that the Ten Commandments are holy, just, and good. True grace teaching upholds the moral excellencies, values, and virtues espoused by the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are so perfect in its standard and so unbending in its holy requirements that Galatians 3:11 states that no man can be justified by the law in the sight of God. Justification before God can only come by faith in Christ.
The Ten Commandments are glorious. The problem has never been the Ten Commandments or God’s perfect law.
The problem has always been imperfect man’s ability to keep God’s perfect law.
Based on the terms of the Mosaic covenant, if you kept God’s law, you were blessed. But if you didn’t, you were cursed and condemned with a death sentence hanging over your head.
The fact is that under the old covenant, no man could keep the law perfectly. That is why soon after the law was given, God made a provision of animal sacrifices so that man’s curse, condemnation, and death sentence could be transferred to the sacrificial bull or lamb. This is a picture of Jesus at the cross! When John the Baptist saw the Lord Jesus on the banks of the Jordan River, he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). So even in the law we see that man’s only hope to be right with God once and for all is Christ. True grace teaching esteems the moral excellencies of the law, but it will also make clear to us that no man can be justified by keeping the Ten Commandments so that we see our need for Christ.
TRUE GRACE CAUSES YOU TO MORE THAN FULFILL THE LAW
In the 1,500 years that God’s people lived under the law, not a single man (apart from our Lord Jesus) could obey the Ten Commandments perfectly and be justified. Listen carefully to what I am about to say. Under grace, when we experience the love of our Lord Jesus, we will end up fulfilling the law! Under true grace, we will end up being holy. Grace produces true holiness! As Apostle Paul boldly proclaimed, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
When the love of Jesus is in us, we can’t help but fulfill the law. When our hearts are overflowing with God’s grace and loving-kindness, we lose the desire to commit adultery, murder, bear false witness, or covet.
We will have the power to love our neighbors as ourselves. Where does this power come from? From our being firmly rooted and established in the grace of God. We have the power to love, because He first loved us (see 1 John 4:19)!
The fact is that when God’s people are under grace, not only do they fulfill the letter of the law, but they also exceed it or go the extra mile. The law commands us not to commit adultery, and there are people who can fulfill just the letter of the law and not commit adultery outwardly. However, inwardly, they have no love for their spouses. Grace changes all that. Grace doesn’t just deal with the surface; it goes deeper and teaches a man to love his wife as Christ loved the church.
In the same way, the law can command us not to covet, but it has no ability to make us cheerful givers. Again, God’s grace goes beyond the superficial to inwardly transform our covetous hearts into hearts that are loving, compassionate, and generous. Remember the story of Zacchaeus in Luke chapter 19? Not a single commandment was given. Yet, when the love and grace of our Lord Jesus touched his heart, the once-covetous and corrupt tax collector wanted to give half of his wealth to the poor and repay fourfold every person he had stolen from. The love of money died when the love of Jesus came.
In contrast, the rich young ruler in Luke chapter 18 came to our Lord Jesus boasting that he had kept all the commandments. This young man was probably expecting Jesus to compliment him on his law keeping, and was feeling really confident of himself. But notice what Jesus said to him. Instead of complimenting him, He said, “One thing you still lack” (see Luke 18:22). You see, every time we boast in our ability to be justified by the law, our Lord will point out an area we lack in. He told the young man to sell all that he had, give it to the poor, and follow Him. Jesus was giving him the very first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” (not even money) and look at what happened. The young ruler walked away sorrowful. He was not even able to give away one dollar! I believe the Holy Spirit placed these two stories side by side in Luke 18 and 19 to show us what boasting in the law produces and what the power of the Lord’s unconditional grace produces in people’s lives.
GROW FROM GLORY TO GLORY WITHOUT THE VEIL
God’s grace is not against God’s perfect and glorious law of the Ten Commandments. In fact, Apostle Paul says, “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man” (Rom. 7:22). However, he goes on to say, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:23). Can you see? The law of God is holy, just, and good, but it has no power to make you holy, just, and good. Hear what Paul says in Romans 7:
Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power….the law itself is holy, and its command are holy and right and good….Sin used what was good to bring about my condemnation to death….So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin.”
—Romans 7:7–8, 12–14 NLT
We learn from Paul that when we combine God’s perfect law with the flesh (the sin principle), the result is not holiness. It is, as Paul described, a life that is dominated by sin, condemnation, and death. In man’s flesh dwells no good thing and as long as we are in this mortal body, the sin principle in our flesh will continue to be stirred. But praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ, this doesn’t have to end in misery and hopelessness. Because of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross, we can have the veil of the law removed, so that we can behold Jesus face-to-face and be gloriously transformed:
So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever!…But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ….So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
—2 Corinthians 3:11, 14, 18 NLT
It is clear from God’s Word that the law stirs up our sinful nature, whereas grace produces true holiness. Holiness is all about becoming more and more like Jesus, and it comes about when the veil of the law is removed. When the veil is removed, we see our beautiful Savior face-to-face, and His glorious grace transforms us from glory to glory. The glorious gospel of grace always produces glorious lives. As we behold Jesus, we will grow from glory to glory and shine as a testament of the Lord’s goodness and moral excellencies.
GRACE DOES NOT MEAN AUTOMATIC SALVATION FOR ALL
When our Lord Jesus died at Calvary, He took all of humanity’s sins with one sacrifice of Himself at the cross. He took the judgment, punishment, and condemnation for every sin upon Himself. That’s the value of the one Man, Jesus. He is an overpayment for all our sins.
Now, does this mean everyone is automatically forgiven and saved?
Of course not! While everyone’s sin was paid for at Calvary, every individual needs to make a personal decision to receive forgiveness of all his sins by receiving Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior. Any so-called “grace” teaching that teaches otherwise is counterfeit grace teaching. There is no other way to be saved except through Jesus and His shed blood. Look at what God’s Word says:
If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
There is no ambivalence in Scripture as to how a person becomes a born-again believer in Christ. To be saved, you have to confess with your mouth that Jesus is your Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.
Therefore, if any “grace” teacher tells you that you don’t need to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior in order to be saved because there are “other ways,” he or she is being scripturally inaccurate.
Jesus is the only way. There is no salvation without Jesus. There is no forgiveness without the cleansing blood of Jesus. There is no assurance that all our sins have been forgiven without the resurrection of Jesus. Salvation is found in Jesus and Jesus alone!
I am also aware that there are counterfeit grace preachers who teach that everyone, even Satan and his fallen angels, will one day in the ages to come be saved. Because of this belief, they also teach that hell isn’t a real place of everlasting punishment. These people take an extreme position on God’s love to the exclusion of His righteousness and judgment, refusing to believe what the Scriptures clearly teach about eternal torment in hell for the unsaved. This is not the gospel of grace.
ARE ONLY OUR PAST SINS FORGIVEN?
Coming back to forgiveness of sins, the real gospel tells us that the moment we invite Jesus into our hearts and confess Him as our Lord and Savior, all our sins—past, present, and future—are forgiven. To understand the total forgiveness of sins, we have to understand the value of the person who sacrificed Himself on the cross for us. Jesus alone, because He was the sinless Son of God, could pay for every sin of every man who would ever live with just a one-time sacrifice of Himself.
But there are teachings that suggest that when we receive Jesus, only our past sins are forgiven—our future sins are forgiven as we confess them and ask God for forgiveness. This simply contradicts the Scriptures, as we shall see.
Ephesians 1:7 states, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” In the original Greek text, the verb for “have” is in the present tense, which indicates durative action, meaning we are continually having forgiveness of sins, including every sin we will ever commit.1
First John 2:12 says, “I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for your name’s sake.” The Greek perfect tense is used here for “are forgiven,” meaning this forgiveness is a definite action completed in the past, with the effect continuing into the present.2 This means that God’s forgiveness avails for us in our present and continues into our future.
Let me give you another clear Scripture that states that all our sins, including our future sins, have been forgiven:
You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.
—Colossians 2:13–14 NLT
Jesus forgave all our sins. The word “all” in the above Scripture is the Greek word pas, meaning “every kind or variety…the totality of the persons or things referred to.”3 It refers to “all, any, every, the whole.”4 So “all” means all.
God’s forgiveness of our sins covers every sin—past, present, and future! When we received the Lord Jesus as our Savior, we received the total and complete forgiveness of all our sins.
Our role as ministers of God is to impart to our people the confident assurance of their salvation and forgiveness that is found in Christ. It is not to teach a mixed message that deposits insecurity and uncertainty in their hearts, leaving them wondering if they are truly forgiven and if the work of their Savior at the cross is complete. Assurance of salvation and total forgiveness of sins form the foundation of the good news we preach. I submit to you that this revelation of the good news of God’s forgiveness doesn’t lead one to live wantonly. Jesus Himself said that those who are forgiven much will love Him much. It is those who are forgiven little (actually, these creatures do not exist because all of us have been forgiven much)—or I should say, those who think they have been forgiven little—who will love Him only a little.
My prayer is that everyone who hears us preach the true gospel of grace will hear just how complete God’s forgiveness is toward those who would receive His Son, Jesus Christ. It will surely lead them to fall deeper in love with Jesus and produce a life of praise, honor, and glory unto Him.
TRUE GRACE TEACHES PROGRESSIVE SANCTIFICATION
Now, I understand there are ministers who are genuinely worried that when the truth of the gospel is told like that, people will take advantage of their total forgiveness in Christ and lead godless lives. They are worried that such teaching places no emphasis on sanctification or the desire to live holy, God-glorifying lives. This is a misconception, because true grace does teach progressive sanctification.
Let me state clearly that while a believer has been justified and made righteous by the blood of Jesus, it is also true that sanctification is ongoing in his growth as a Christian. This is why the author of the book of Hebrews says that we are “being sanctified” even though we have been “perfected forever” by Christ’s one act of obedience at the cross (see Heb. 10:14).
As believers, we cannot become more righteous, but we can become more sanctified or holy in terms of how we live our lives.
Justification by faith happened instantaneously. The moment we received Jesus, we were forgiven, cleansed, perfected in righteousness, and saved. We were also sanctified in Christ (see Heb. 10:10). However, it is important to understand that the revelation and outworking of our sanctification in Christ is progressive. This means that the more we grow in our relationship with the Lord Jesus, the more holy we will become in every area of our lives.
The Word of God proclaims that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). So be wary of any counterfeit grace teaching that says behavior, discipline, correction, and right living are not important. The revelation of forgiveness does not detract from, nor is it at the expense of, right living. Instead, it is the fuel that makes right living happen.
Merriam-Webster Online describes sanctification as “the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after conversion.”5 You see, it is all about growing in grace. We should encourage our people today to establish themselves in the gospel of grace. Paul told Timothy to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). Peter encouraged believers to build a strong foundation with these closing words in his last epistle: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
True grace always produces true holiness.
The more one grows in grace—the more one is washed again and again by the water of the word of God’s grace—the more one grows in sanctification and holiness. When our people experience the true grace of our Lord Jesus, the allure and passing pleasures of sin fade in the light of His glory and grace. And they begin to live victorious over the power of sin.
LET’S NOT BE ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL
My prayer is that this article will help pastors, ministers, and leaders in the church begin a journey of discerning the differences between what is genuine grace and what is counterfeit grace. Many of the thoughts shared here are taken from and covered more extensively in my book, Grace Revolution—Experience the Power to Live Above Defeat.6 I implore you as a brother in Christ to not back away from the gospel of grace because of hearsay, counterfeit teachings, controversies, and a small minority who abuse and misrepresent the gospel by the way they live.
The gospel of grace is the answer. Grace lifts a person who is struggling with sin out of a life of defeat. Grace produces not an outward form of holiness that is transient, but an enduring holiness that is birthed from a transformation that begins in a person’s heart when he encounters Jesus.
This is what happened to Neil from the United Kingdom, who wrote to my ministry about how the Lord set him free from a forty-year struggle with a sexual addiction:
While reading a book by Pastor Prince, I was delivered from a forty-year addiction to pornography. In the past, I had tried to break free from this addiction by my own power and in my own strength, but failed every time.
Throughout that time, the devil used this addiction to heap fear, guilt, and condemnation on me. This fear and shame kept me from asking for help from the pastors of the various churches I attended over the forty-year period. I had even held leadership positions in some of these places.
As I read the book, I got a fresh revelation of who I am in Christ—I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus—and how there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. It was through this fresh revelation that the grip of this addiction was broken off my life forever.
I now wear a ring to remind myself that I am righteous. Every time the devil tries to tempt me to view pornography, I just have to look at the ring to remind myself that I am the righteousness of God in Christ, and the temptation loses any hold on me.
This is the power of the gospel. Precious lives like Neil’s are being touched, changed, and transformed by the love of our Lord Jesus. Our part as ministers entrusted with the gospel is not to back away from the truth, but to study the Word of God diligently, rightly divide His Word, and boldly proclaim His truth with absolute clarity and love. We must not be ashamed of the gospel. It is without doubt, as Apostle Paul proclaimed, “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16–17). The gospel is not about our self-righteousness but the righteousness of God given as a gift to those who put their faith in our Lord Jesus.
Perhaps we are not winning souls to the degree that we should because we have presented a gospel of Christ plus our works, albeit unintentionally in many cases. Good works are the evidence of salvation, but they are definitely not the condition for salvation. It is when we know that we are saved by grace through faith that moral excellence results. It does not happen the other way around. I know the only reason testimonies of precious lives being set free from sin, addictions, and all kinds of bondages flood our ministry office every week is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is being preached. May we all be accurate carriers of the true gospel of grace that changes lives!