Recently, a caller asked Hank Hanegraaff (“The Bible Answer Man”) about the message of grace that I share in my book The Naked Gospel and at our church (ChurchWithoutReligion.com). Below are Mr. Hanegraaff’s comments, along with my responses inserted along the way.
Hank Hanegraaff: Andrew Farley teaches that the Lord’s Prayer is an old covenant prayer, and therefore it doesn’t apply to new covenant saints. One of the reasons for this is that, in his view, a Christian need never to pray “forgive us our trespasses.” And this is old covenant stuff; once Christ has come, that kind of prayer doesn’t apply anymore. This kind of biblical interpretation is chilling.
Andrew Farley: If anyone would like to pray the Lord’s Prayer, they certainly can. But to be consistent, make sure that you include Jesus’ conclusion (Matthew 6:14-15) to the prayer by saying this to our God: “Father, if I forgive others for their sins, then you will forgive me. But if I fail to forgive those around me, then you will not forgive me either.” Logically, then, this would be your gospel: God’s forgiveness of your own sins would be entirely contingent upon you fully forgiving others first.
Meanwhile, I’ll be praying a very different prayer, an opposite prayer in fact, based on the finished work of Jesus Christ accomplished at the Cross: “Father, I choose to forgive those around me, because you have already forgiven me first according to Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13. Thank you, Father, for initiating through the Cross so that I could be a totally forgiven person today. Thank you for a forgiveness that is not contingent upon my own performance as a forgiver of others but instead is fully dependent on the blood of your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Take a few moments to compare Matthew 6:14-15 (the conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer) with Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13. When given an honest look, do they not convey opposite messages? So why is this the case? Simple. Matthew 6 is directed at Jews before the Cross, while Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3 are taught after the Cross. Don’t we believe that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his shed blood make a difference when it comes to the forgiveness we enjoy today? They certainly do!
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus was showing how hopeless we would be if our forgiveness were truly contingent upon our performance in forgiving others. Similarly, he told the Jews around him to amputate body parts in their fight against sin, and he urged the rich man to sell all of his possessions to gain entrance into the kingdom. Yet these are moves that we know do not earn us salvation.
Meanwhile, after the Cross, the Apostle Paul is showing us that Jesus did it all. He fully forgave us “once for all” by His blood, so that we can now rest in that forgiveness, celebrate it, and then pass it on to others, forgiving others just as God already forgave us (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).
Hank Hanegraaff: Once you go down that path, that method of the art and science of biblical interpretation, you end up in all kinds of difficult tributaries, including this notion that [Farley] has that Christians have been perfectly cleansed, and, as a result, have been made perfectly righteous at our core through spiritual surgery. This is nonsense!
Andrew Farley: If the idea that Christians have been perfectly cleansed is “nonsense”, then please label me nonsensical. I will cherish the label. As I see it, this is precisely what has happened to us because of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here’s just a small number of Scripture passages that communicate this:
- Hebrews 8:12– God remembers our sins no more.
- Hebrews 10:10– We have been made holy by Jesus’ sacrifice.
- Ephesians 1:7– Forgiveness and redemption are both given together in Christ.
- Colossians 1:13-14– Forgiveness and redemption are both given together in Christ.
- Hebrews 9:26-28– Christ appeared once for all to do away with sin.
- 1 John 2:1-2– Jesus Christ appeared to take away our sins.
- Hebrews 10:11-14– After Jesus made one sacrifice for all time, He sat down.
- Hebrews 10:14– By one sacrifice we’ve been made perfectly forgiven forever.
- Colossians 2:13-14– We have been forgiven (past tense) of all our sins.
- 1 John 2:12– Our sins have been forgiven (past tense).
- Ephesians 4:32– God forgave us (past tense).
- Hebrews 10:17-18– Our sins have been forgiven (past tense) and no further sacrifice is needed.
In fact, the whole reasoning behind Hebrews 10:1-3 is that if old covenant people had enjoyed the type of forgiveness that we have today, then they would have been “cleansed once for all” (see verse 2). So this is exactly what we have through Jesus Christ: a once-for-all cleansing. Yet Mr. Hanegraaff calls it “nonsense” when I proclaim that Christians have been “perfectly cleansed.” One has to wonder whether he thinks the blood of Jesus accomplished any more than the blood of bulls and goats in the Old Testament!
As for being made perfectly righteous at our core through spiritual surgery, this too is Christianity 101. Romans 6 explains that, at salvation, we are placed into Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. The result is that we are the new self, the new man, the new creation. This means we have new spiritual hearts that no longer desire sin. We are “dead to sin and alive to God”, Romans 6 tells us.
This is why we should regard (reckon/count) ourselves as having died and having become new. This is the “heart surgery” that has occurred within us by God’s grace. This should not be a controversial message but instead should be normal, everyday teaching within the Christian faith.
We find these truths expounded upon in Ephesians 2:4-7, Colossians 2:11-13, and in Galatians 2:19-20, among other places. The Apostle Paul believed that these truths should be among the first to appear in his letters. Because of our death, burial, and resurrection to new life in Christ, Paul announced that we believers actually become “the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21)!
In conclusion, the idea that Christians are perfectly cleansed by the blood of Christ “once for all” and are now righteous at the core (due to new birth) is not a “difficult tributary” of interpretation, as Mr. Hanegraaff claims. These are Scriptural truths within the main stream of the Gospel that should be mainstream today.
Hank Hanegraaff: We continue to struggle with the sin nature. Even the great Apostle Paul who wrote two thirds of the New Testament epistles recognizes that ongoing struggle.
Andrew Farley: Yes, we continue to struggle. Of course, we do. No one is even remotely claiming that there is not a battle occurring within the life of the believer.
But the term “sin nature” (or “sinful nature”) is old and tired and is easily discredited. For four decades, the term “sinful nature” had been found in the New International Version (NIV) Bible released by Zondervan in the 1970’s and then updated in 1984. Consequently, many Christians presumed that we are essentially “old creations” and “new creations” at the same time, possessing two spiritual natures.
In reality, the Greek term “sarx” is best translated as “flesh”, not as “sinful nature.” In early 2009 as I was finishing my book The Naked Gospel (Zondervan), I addressed this issue with my editor. Then he presented my concern to someone within executive leadership at Zondervan. I don’t know the specifics that occurred within committee deliberations after that, but in the latest edition of the NIV Bible (released in 2011) we find that Zondervan changed the term “sinful nature” to the more accurate term “flesh” in many passages. These NIV verses now jive with dozens of other versions of the Bible that have always accurately used the term “flesh” instead of “sinful nature.”
Still, this leftover misunderstanding about Christians having a “sinful nature” persists with many Christians, apparently including Mr. Hanegraaff, who may have been taught and/or still teaches from the older NIV Bible.
Why is it so important to understand that our struggle is with the flesh and not with a so-called “sinful nature”? The reason is that, with use of the inaccurate term, Christians may assume they have one new spiritual nature and then a second (old) spiritual nature. Essentially, they may live out a dual-personality existence, believing themselves to be two different people at the same time. It’s like telling Christians they have two spiritual hearts or two sets of spiritual desires which are their own.
In contrast, the Bible tells us that we used to be slaves of sin, but now we have become “obedient from the heart” (Romans 6). We have one spiritual nature. We have one spiritual heart. We have one set of spiritual desires given to us by God. Then, at a shallower, fleshly level, there is the tug of temptation. But these temptations come from fleshly mindsets, old programming, or worldly thinking within our old attitudes. They do not come from our spiritual heart or nature.
Yes, we need a renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2), but as for our spiritual “nature” (self), we are already new. Christ cleaned house, and then He moved in. After all, the Holy Spirit doesn’t live in dirty hearts. We have new hearts. We have become the new self (Romans 6), partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), and these are true because He aligned our nature with His nature and our hearts with His heart.
There is an obvious struggle with sin. But the struggle is not “a good me” against “a bad me.” The struggle is me (the new creation united with Christ) against the flesh, which is essentially our old thinking patterns, our old programming, or the world’s way of coping with life and getting needs met. This is precisely why Christians need an ongoing renewing of the mind but do not need a new heart, or a new spirit, or a new nature, since we already have these.
Hank Hanegraaff: While positionally we are made righteous before God, practically we still struggle with the sin nature. Now, it is true that those who come to faith in Christ not only are positionally accounted righteous before God, but have the ingrafted life of Christ within.
Andrew Farley: Mr. Hanegraaff acknowledges that something real has happened within us. He calls it the “ingrafted life of Christ within.” That’s a good start.
But it is high time that respected Bible teachers present these matters more accurately using Scriptural words, not invented terminology like “positional” and “practical” which are simply ways to suppose that something is true in one sense but not true yet in another. This is an inaccurate way of expressing Scriptural truth, as the apostles themselves never communicated in that way or used those terms.
Instead, the struggle we have with sin can easily be explained by teaching on the “new self” versus “the flesh” and “sin” as seen in Romans 6-8, for example. No other terminology is needed.
We need to be telling believers that we indeed have a new heart and a new spirit and God’s Spirit (not just positionally but actually!), yet our minds are often consumed with fleshly thinking. Over time, we are learning and growing, and God is renewing our mindsets (see Romans 12:2) so that they will match who we are as new creations.
So let’s acknowledge the obvious struggle we have with temptation. But let’s also teach believers that there has been a transformation in our hearts and that our identity has literally and actually changed. After all, this is the straightforward meaning of our being “born again” and our being “born of the Spirit.”
Hank Hanegraaff: But that ingrafted life of Christ within must be cultivated through life practices or living disciplines, through partaking of the means of grace by which grace is dispensed into the life of the believer.
Andrew Farley: We carry out “practices” and “disciplines” and then God dispenses grace to us? This sounds like, by our efforts and by our life choices, God rewards us with more grace being dispensed in our direction.
The Gospel says the opposite. By God’s grace we have already been given everything that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We are complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10), lacking nothing. Grace abounds to us (Romans 5:20; 6:1). At salvation, God lavished us with His grace and we have all that we’ll ever need (Ephesians 1:7-8).
Grace is not dispensed in portions, and we certainly do not earn new portions of grace through practices or disciplines. Instead, it is God’s abundant grace, already supplied, that allows us to wake up, start our day, and live upright, godly lives.
So we do not need to wait to earn new dispensations of God’s grace via practices and disciplines. No, any daily practices (life choices) are to be a natural byproduct of our new life in Christ and the fact that we are setting our minds on the abundant provision of grace that God has already given in Christ Jesus our Lord who lives within us.