I dreamt that I went heaven and met Joseph Prince’s god (JP god). It was a strange dream. I could not pinch myself out of it. It felt really real. It was everything my Sunday School teacher had imagined it to be. The pearly gate, the angels, the harps, the floating clouds, and St. Peter making the roll call. You name it, and you literally see it all come to life.
And then I met JP god. He was in sleek leather. He was also smiling, grinning even. It was a familiar grin – the one you catch in the front and back covers of Joseph Prince’s books. It was the most disarming grin you will ever see.
And needless to say, the joy in his presence was infectious. You can’t detect a frown. Everybody was in a good mood. Everyone was happy, some even overjoyed. And it was a special day that day when I was there. The heaven was celebrating Joseph Prince’s latest book entitled “Grace Revolution”. The angels were busy dishing it out free of charge to everyone they met. Even JP god had a copy in his hand.
In my dream, I recalled I sat beside JP god and we had a chat. I had many questions to ask him but he somehow preferred to talk about the book, Grace Revolution. So I asked him about that visitation in the Swiss Alps in the late 1990s, which started it all. “Did you really say to him that if he doesn’t preach grace radically, lives will not be radically blessed and radically transformed?” The reply was a resounding yes. He told me that the world needs to know about the urgent message in the book. He said that the book was inspired by him.
I scratched my head and asked him why it took more than two thousand years for that message to come out? Did Paul’s writings get lost in translation? And why was it that nobody got the message, not even the early Church Fathers, the Apostolic Fathers, the Desert Fathers, the Christian theologians and the Protestant reformers, namely, Martin Luther, John Knox, John Calvin and John Wesley? In a nutshell, why wasn’t his Swiss Alps’ radical grace message imparted earlier, much earlier?
JP god was grinning. He didn’t specifically answer me but he gave me the impression that it was better late than never. And he had this tendency to punctuate almost every reply with mantra-like recitations like “Right living comes with right believing”, “Law demands, grace supplies”, and “Growing in grace.”
I knew I shouldn’t push it with my gracious host and decided instead to talk about righteousness, sanctification and works. I told JP god that I understood somewhat the order as they appear. I told him that righteousness is not in what we do but it is in what was done for us. We are counted righteous by faith, by belief, by the Cross. Jesus had done the heavy lifting there, if not literally – so to speak. There is indeed no more condemnation in Christ.
In other words, we can’t do any more to be any more righteous. And this is where sanctification comes in next. I quoted Joseph Prince back to JP god on this: “As a believer you cannot become more righteous, but you can become more sanctified or holy in terms of how you live your life. Justification by faith happened instantaneously. The moment you received Jesus, you were forgiven, cleansed, perfected in righteousness, and saved…However, it is important to understand that the revelation and out-working of your sanctification in Christ is progressive.”
At this time, I noticed that JP god was grinning from side to side. He nodded excitedly and I nodded too. I could totally identified with that – I told him. I also told him that that core message was exactly what Martin Luther and John Calvin had preached and written about. And that was about 500 years ago! The message was therefore more repeated than it was radical.
In other words, it was not lost (in translation) but it was merely repackaged and rehashed out in a grander - more electrifying - modern pulpit. At this time, I suggested to JP god that maybe it was not about the message but the messenger who had added gloss to the sheen? That is, it is the heralding of the new wine (message), no doubt, but in even newer leathery wine skin (carrier)? Truly, there is nothing new under the sun?
Well, I could not remember what JP god told me on that point. I think he just smiled and nodded – this time less vigorously.
Now to give credit where credit is due, I told JP god that the amazing thing about this amazing grace is summed up in this statement in the book: “It’s hard to keep sinning against a loving savior.” Notwithstanding the spillover effect of this fallen world, the indiscriminate pain and the suffering, I told JP god that the transforming power of the message of grace is undoubtedly the overcoming power of unconditional love. That adds resounding credence to the verse, “Love conquers all!” Indeed, how can one be under grace and still be under the bondage of sin?
I totally get that. I actually have a coinage for it. I call it “progressive sinlessness.” Well, let’s not dive into how theological loaded that word “sinlessness” can be.
But I told JP god that my concern is about keeping the right balance. I told him that I can appreciate grace as preached by Joseph Prince but it is the radical part that might have more unintended consequences than what was initially intended. Good intention aside, of course. Here is what I mean with a little background.
I ask JP god about confessing, forgiveness, and repentance. His reply was that it’s finished. He said that while he is not going to stop us from confessing our sins (and he hears them all), we are forgiven once and for all times, past, present and future - and for all sins, committed or yet to commit. He told me that this is where the compelling love comes in. He reminded me about the earlier quote: “It’s hard to keep sinning against a loving savior.” That’s grace, the radical kind, he said.
I then told him that his words resonated with Joseph Prince’s. Here is an extract from his book on the same point: “So is Joseph Prince against a Christian’s confessing his sins? Let me say this clearly: I do believe in the confession of sins and I do confess my sins still. But there’s a big difference now – I confess my sins knowing that all my sins are already forgiven. I don’t confess my sins to be forgiven. Because I have a close relationship with my heavenly Father, I can be honest with Him when I’ve done wrong. I can talk to Him about it, receive His grace for my weakness, and move forward knowing full well that He has already forgiven me through His son’s sacrifice. And I no longer worry about the fact that I can’t possibly confess every sin, because I know it’s not my confession that save me, but the blood of Jesus.”
It was at this time that I questioned JP god about what happens to the conviction of sins by the Holy Spirit after salvation. And JP god told me that it is only for the sin of unbelief and that happens only once, that is, when we say the sinner’s prayer. That’s the one and only time the Holy Spirit convicts us. The rest is about right believing that precedes right doing. It is about the Holy Spirit convicting us of our righteousness in him (not our sins). That is the order of things after salvation. We are first justified by faith, and then comes our sanctification works. Repentance (as in asking for forgiveness) is therefore made redundant in the latter (that is, sanctification works). That has been replaced with confessing without seeking forgiveness.
Seeing that I was a little frazzled, JP god then eagerly flipped to pages 327/8 of the book and read aloud, in his characteristic booming baritone voice: “So what did our Lord Jesus actually say? He said that the Holy Spirit will “convict the world of sin.” What is this “sin”? And why is the noun sin in the singular? Because it refers to the one sin of not believing in the Lord Jesus – “of sin, because they do not believe in Me.” Before we became born-again believers, all of us responded to the Holy Spirit’s conviction of the sin of unbelief in Christ. We responded to an altar call or perhaps prayer with a friend to invite Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. Then Jesus said that the Holy Spirit convicts us believers of our righteousness in Him – “of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more.” You hardly hear this conviction of the Holy Spirit being preached today…Truth be told, you don’t need the Holy Spirit to convict you of sin; your own conscience and the devil do a good job of that. (And sometimes our spouses and those around us do a good job of that, if I may add!)” (words in parenthesis actually from source).
At this juncture, I wanted to tell JP god about the prodigal son who went rogue and later repented. It was a parable about believers gone astray. I also wanted to tell him about the many occasions that Paul reminded the Corinthians (who were also believers) to godly repentance through godly grief (2 Corinthians 7:8-10) and the time when James rebuked believers (through the Holy Spirit’s conviction) to “submit yourselves therefore to god. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts you double-minded.” Also in Acts, one should not forget that Peter preached about the forgiveness of sins – in the plural too (not just the one sin of unbelief). Lastly, I was eager to chime in and tell JP god that there is a crucial difference between conviction and condemnation. The former, of being convicted of sins and to repentance for believers, leads to deeper depth of grace in the heart, and the latter, of condemnation after sinning, leads to worsening estrangement in the spirit.
But I didn’t get the chance to canvass all that, or any of them, as JP god was quick to tell me that he had read my mind in advance and he disagreed with me. He said something about some misinterpretation and I left it as that.
JP god then emphasized the following points:-
1) that our righteousness (by faith) is a gift not anything earned by us (which I agreed);
2) that confessing is no longer about seeking his forgiveness (“mmm…”). It’s about sharing with him as he listens. It is all about relationship and nothing about keeping records of wrong and piling up the condemnation; and
3) that the Holy Spirit does not convict us of sins (double the “mmm…”).
Wow, I can’t say that I was not impressed with radical grace. It had all the cards properly stacked up! I guess what is really new about radical grace is that confessing is about sharing your faults and nothing more, and the Holy Spirit is retired from the work of convicting sins (ourselves and loved ones do a better job at that). I am sure none of the ancient scholastic greats saw that coming. And here comes my point about keeping the balance or my concern about the risk of a believer going to the extreme with radical grace.
I told JP god that radical grace may not be a license to sin, but it might just cause one to make light of sin. I know it is said that it is hard to keep sinning against a loving savior. But the door swings the other way too. In like manner, it is hard not to keep taking a loving savior for granted. If the history of our fall is any indication, you can be assured that we will rebel in any circumstances. The parable of the prodigal son is a good example of both sons taking advantage of their loving father. The parable is based on our unchanging human nature. Adam and Eve is another example. Simply put, being convicted of righteousness does not mean that we will live in righteousness, period. And radical grace as preached by Joseph Prince is not going to change that (or else, the world would by now be a very different place altogether).
I further told JP god that I am not being neurotic about keeping a sin scorecard and asking for forgiveness every second of every day. But I am suspicious about our (or my) sinful nature. Or, I am just being realistic and practical about it. Honestly, how many radical-grace endorsers can admit to themselves that they are totally free from sin and the need for true repentance even at their deathbed? Or putting it another way: How is being convicted by the Holy Spirit to repentance as a believer a misconceived/misguided belief when it is done in love and not in condemnation? Didn’t the Bible say that God will not despise a broken spirit and a repentant heart?
Here I am reminded of what Spurgeon, the great grace preacher, once said, “A spiritual experience which is thoroughly flavoured with a deep and bitter sense of sin is of great value to him that hath it. It is terrible in the drinking, but it is most wholesome in the bowels, and in the whole of the after life.”
And if truth be told, we all know that on this side of heaven, biblical perfection is unattainable. No one is perfect, even post-Calvary, post-new-covenant, post-radical-grace. The last man who was perfect had already left this earth in glory. Sure, we should not be conscious of sin – as preached by Joseph Prince – but is that even possible or practical? Aren’t we just talking about degree? And how is being conscious of it without being oppressed by it a bad thing? Even Joseph Prince himself admitted outright that he still confesses his sins today. Isn’t that being sin-conscious somehow? Yet, quite strangely, he claims that he confesses his sins not to be forgiven as he is already forgiven.
I then turned to JP god and asked him how does that work? He replied that every time he received a confession from Joseph Prince, he pronounces him righteous by virtue of what the son has done at Calvary. He quickly added that it was not an act of repentance (or asking for forgiveness) but it was a time of intimate sharing and relationship building. So I asked JP god, shouldn’t a confession be immediately followed by a repentance? I mean, what is the point of confessing a wrong, whether in thoughts or actions, if to do so does not lead to repentance? He then replied that forgiveness to a deemed righteous believer is what a delicious banquet spread is to a man who is already full. But doesn’t he need to eat again? – I asked. Will he be “always full” in the same way that one is always deemed righteous?
You see, I told JP god that I can imagine an earthly father forgiving his son for admitting his mistakes and their relationship grows deeper after that because the son is duly transformed by his father’s love and his father is assured that his son has learned his lesson. But that doesn’t mean he will not fall again. However, I can’t imagine the same scenario where the son goes no further than sharing with his father his wrongdoing just to hear his father telling him this, “Son, you are already forgiven. Your righteousness is untouchable.”
I find that both of them approach the father with a heart of remorse (since they are both confessing) but one receives forgiveness and the other is told that he is righteous regardless. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that the latter (declared righteous regardless) runs the risk of the confessor taking his father’s love for granted (or making light of sin). Soon enough, the confessor (being human) will be tempted by this thought, “I am already forgiven. Righteous anyway. Why bother to confess further?” The point again is not about God’s unfailing love or His unsurpassed grace. It is about our fallibility, our fallen nature this side of heaven. It is about our free will struggling to serve two masters as we take this faith challenging/growing journey.
So, seen from this angle, doesn’t the horn dilemma work both ways? That is, you can either be sin-oppressed or righteousness-obsessed, that is, you can be oppressed by sin or make light of it. A balance is thus needed. One that does not retire the Holy Spirit from disciplining and reproving us as we walk in obedience and truth (not just convicting us of His righteousness), and as we seek His forgiveness with the assurance that we serve a loving savior. (or maybe, just maybe, saying that the Holy Spirit convicts one of righteousness and of sins is actually saying the same thing in different semantic outfit?)
I posed all these questions to JP god and he repeated most of what he had told me above and punctuated with the same familiar recitations, “Right living comes with right believing”, “The law demands, grace supplies”, and “Growing in grace.” At this point, I realized that my time was up.
My dream came to an end here and I found myself lying on my living room sofa with the book Grace Revolution on my lap. As I flipped the pages, these words at page 112 made the most sense to me. It reads, “So, if someone comes to you and tells you that they are preaching the gospel, don’t just swallow everything hook, line, and sinker.” That was my takeaway from the book. It was the most helpful advice I’d gathered from it. Cheerz