This article is Part 1 of the forty-six page paper that I have on my internet site. The entire paper is reproduced here in seven articles. I believe this paper is quite important, and I didn't want to delete any part of it here.
I definitely am not writing this paper to attack Joseph Prince, not at all. I respect him as a sincere evangelical Christian pastor, who loves God and His Word, who wants to live for Him and to be a great blessing to the members of his very large church in Singapore and to Christians around the world. I am quite sure that he has helped many people become Christians and to grow in Christ. He will especially help people who are legalistic and have little understanding of the magnificent, super-abounding grace of God in Christ. He has a great desire to bless such people because, for one thing, he came from a Christian background that left him afraid that he committed the unpardonable sin, and afraid that he would lose his mind. His background undoubtedly had a very strong influence on what he is teaching now.
I will interact with Joseph's book throughout this paper, very often disagreeing with things that he says (and many of these things are quite important), but my primary goal for this paper is to demonstrate the good news that God has called, enabled, and requires us to walk in His righteousness and holiness, by His sufficient, saving, purifying, grace in Christ, with the victory over all sin. (My highest goal for this paper is that it be pleasing to the One who sent His Son to save us.) This is the ideal, and the New Testament doesn't present it as an unrealistic or unattainable ideal. I have been studying this topic more than any other for more than forty-five years, and I have been making it a priority to try to live in the righteousness and holiness of God. The desire of my heart is that this paper will prove to be a great blessing to a large number of Christians, as many as possible, hopefully including many of the people Joseph has influenced and Joseph himself.
The end result that Joseph wants is right, and I totally agree with him on that point. He says quite often in this book that he is against all sin and that he believes that if we walk in the grace of God, we can walk with the victory over sin.
Even if you think I am overstating the case that God has called, enabled, and requires us to walk in His righteousness and holiness with the victory over all sin by His sanctifying grace in Christ by faith, that will not prevent your being able to follow the important discussions throughout this paper where I interact with quite a few things that Joseph says in this book, especially the interpretation of some key passages in the New Testament and the meaning of the word "righteousness." Also, I suspect you might just begin to see that God - according to the New Testament - has provided more sanctifying grace, and called you to a higher level of victory over sin, than you had realized. The fact that God has set us free from spiritual death and bondage to sin, and calls, and enables, us to walk in His righteousness and holiness through the atoning death of His Son, and by His Holy Spirit, is very good news! This is transformation by grace, not condemnation!
What true Christian wants to continue in sin? All of us must humble ourselves and make it a top priority to seek God for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches on every topic, and some topics are more important than others. The topics we discuss in this paper are very important. Every wrong interpretation of the Bible hurts, and some are catastrophic.
One primary reason I decided to write this paper is that, from my point of view (and very many others), Joseph quite often misinterprets key passages of the New Testament and substantially confuses the issue. I realize that many will agree with Joseph some of the places where I disagree with him. All of us must seek God for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. We are all going to have to answer to Him, and especially ministers. We desperately need to rightly divide God's Word and to teach the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. One big problem we have in the Body of Christ (and among mankind in general) is that when Christians react to a teaching that is out of balance in one direction, they very often overreact and end up going out of balance in the other direction, sometimes farther out of balance in the other direction. (We must be aware of this tendency and to do everything we can do to avoid doing it!) It seems clear to me that Joseph has unintentionally done quite a bit of this.
One major problem that comes up again and again throughout this book is a super-strong emphasis on positional righteousness and holiness. Many Christian ministers go way too far with positional righteousness in our day, but Joseph seems to go farther than most of them. I'll briefly list in the following paragraph some of the teachings in this book that I have a problem with. We will discuss these teachings in some detail throughout this paper. I consider some of these teachings to be extreme and far from the balanced truth of what the New Testament teaches. I believe most Christians will agree that at least most of these teachings are extreme:
(I'll always quote from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, in this paper unless I mention otherwise. Sometimes I'll make comments in the middle of quotations using brackets [ ] or [[ ]]. The format for these articles doesn't allow me to use footnotes, so I'll include the footnotes in parentheses.)
Joseph says that Christians (true Christians) are automatically righteous and holy (I had a footnote here, "When you receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are made holy and righteous by His blood once for all" [page 12]. "God sees you as righteous as Jesus himself" [page 18]). He argues against what "conventional theology" teaches, that the New Testament speaks of a "practical righteousness," where the word righteousness is used of doing right and keeping God's law. "You are either righteous or you are not. There is no such thing as first having 'positional righteousness' and then having to maintain that through 'practical righteousness.' You are the righteousness of God in Christ, period!" (page 27). Joseph is speaking of positional righteousness. (I had a footnote here, See pages 22, 23 of this paper.) Joseph says the Holy Spirit never convicts of sin; He convicts us our righteousness, positional righteousness. (I had a footnote, See pages 34-37 of this paper.) Joseph says that the New Testament teaches that Christ fulfilled the law for us; it does not teach that we are required to keep God's (moral) law. (I had a footnote, "Christianity cannot be reduced to an impersonal list of do's and don'ts [commandments of the law]. Jesus' death has fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law of the old covenant. The Word of God tells us that the 'handwriting of requirements' has been nailed to the cross [Col. 2:14]. Jesus came to fulfill all the requirements on our behalf, so that the way to God is now opened. Hallelujah! ... Jesus did not sweep the law under the carpet. He came and fulfilled every requirement of the law perfectly on our behalf. All that we were unable to do, His did on our behalf. So by Jesus, the law has been fulfilled" [page 13]. I agree that in most ways we are not under the Mosaic Law, but Joseph includes the idea that since Christ has fulfilled God's moral law for us, we aren't required to do it. I believe the New Testament clearly teaches that we are enabled, and required, to keep God's moral law, as I demonstrate in this paper.)) Joseph doesn't think we should preach on the need for Christians to repent (I had a footnote, See pages 8, 9 of this paper.); and he teaches that the prodigal son did not repent. (I had a footnote, See pages 33, 34 of this paper.) Joseph says that when you became a Christian, you were perfected forever, and God is necessarily well pleased with you because you are in Christ. (I had a footnote, "Right now [God] is well pleased with you because you are in Christ" [page 295].) Joseph says it produces negative results to preach a series on the Ten Commandments, and he says "the Ten Commandments have been made obsolete" (page 122). (I had a footnote, See pages 30-32 of this paper.) Joseph doesn't believe that Christians need to confess their sins to be forgiven. (I had a footnote, See page 9 of this paper. On page 107 Joseph says, "If you really believe that you need to confess all your sins to be forgiven, do you know what you would be doing? You would be confessing your sins ALL THE TIME! [his emphasis] ...." I can't imagine Christians sinning all that much. For one thing, Christians often call things sin that God doesn't consider to be sin, and that doesn't work for good. Having wrong thoughts or desires, which we reject and cast down in the power of the Holy Spirit, for example, are not sin. More importantly, like the apostle Paul said in Gal. 5:16, if we walk by the Holy Spirit, which we are called, enabled, and required to do, we won't be sinning at all.) Joseph quotes from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a well respected evangelical scholar, to confirm what he says in this book, but as I demonstrate, if you keep on reading in Lloyd-Jones book, you find out that he actually disagreed with a big part of what Joseph says. (I had a footnote, See pages 44-46 of this paper.)
Frequently when I have seen Joseph on his TV programs, which I haven't watched very much, I have winced. I had the same feeling quite often as I read this book. But now I at least have a better understanding of where he is coming from. For one thing, he is very honest about his background. His Christian background had a lot of legalism, and he was a very sensitive young man. He was desperately striving, mostly in his own strength, to be righteous; he was always confessing sin; and he lived for a long time under the terror of fearing that he had committed the unpardonable sin and being convinced that he was going to hell (see pages 89, 90). I'll quote a few sentences from page 90, "I felt like I was losing my mind and was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. My mind literally felt like it was about to snap, and I became so afraid that I would be committed to a mental institution." I'll quote a sentence from page 160, "I was relentlessly bombarded with feelings of guilt and condemnation until I felt like my mind was about to snap."
Joseph found the answer to his problem in the grace of God, but as it so often happens, he overreacted and missed the balanced truth of what the New Testament teaches by putting the emphasis on positional righteousness.
I'll give quite a few examples in this paper where it is clear to me that Joseph is misunderstanding what the New Testament teaches, at least in part because of his zeal to help people avoid what he faced as a young man. And he knows from experience as a pastor that many Christians in our day have similar problems: guilt feelings, feeling condemned, etc. I want to make it clear that I assume that Joseph lives a righteous life by the grace of God in spite of the errors. And I believe that many Christians, especially the type of people who are fully committed to God and His Word in their hearts and really do love Him and want to do His will at all times, will be blessed by Joseph's teaching.
On the other hand, I am confident that some (many) Christians (for example, those who tend to be worldly, fleshly, and it seems that a large number of Christians in our day are in that category) will be hurt by his teaching. From my point of view, Joseph is (unintentionally) offering them a low road to take, a road which is not authorized by the New Testament, a dangerous road to take. I suspect that most of the people in Joseph's church will understand that they are expected to avoid the low road and make it a priority to live for God by His grace, in accordance with His Word, and they will support one another in that direction, but I'm afraid that many of the people reading the book won't have that support and understanding.
Instead of being taught, with a strong, necessary emphasis, that the New Testament teaches that "[Jesus] bore our sins [with the major penalties of spiritual death and bondage to sin] in His body on the cross, SO THAT WE MIGHT DIE TO SIN AND LIVE TO RIGHTEOUSNESS..." (1 Pet. 2:24), and that we are required to repent and walk by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis in the righteousness and holiness of God, they are being taught that they are already righteous and holy and that they are not required to keep the commandments of God's law because Christ fulfilled it for them; they are not even required to confess their sins to be forgiven if they sin, and the Holy Spirit never convicts of sin; He convicts them of their (positional) righteousness; and preachers should not preach on the need for Christians to repent or preach a series on the Ten Commandments. Throughout this book Joseph spends most of his time teaching such things, which greatly confuse the issue, but from time to time he mentions that the goal of his teaching is to help Christians walk with the victory over sin by God's grace. I am trying to fairly and accurately report what Joseph says in this book. Admittedly, I am responding almost entirely to areas where I disagree with Joseph. I will not be able to cover all of those areas, and this paper is long enough as it is.
Essentially all Bible-believing Christians understand that Jesus died for us so that we could be forgiven, but one of the primary things that we are lacking in the gospel that is often being preached today is the strong emphasis in the New Testament on the fact that, because the Lamb of God died for us, bearing our sins with the guilt and the penalties (especially the major penalties of spiritual death and bondage to sin), we have the privilege, BUT ALSO THE REQUIREMENT, to be dead to sin and alive to God and His righteousness. Living in the righteousness and holiness of God by His grace is required of Christians. It is about ninety percent of what Christianity is all about.
God hates sin, and He has paid an infinite price in the sacrifice of His Son to set us free from spiritual death and bondage to sin. Through the sacrifice of His Son, He has poured out the promised Holy Spirit into our hearts, and as we walk by the Holy Spirit by grace through faith, in accordance with His Word, we will walk with the victory over all sin. As I mentioned, this is about ninety percent of what Christianity is all about. We desperately needed forgiveness, but that is about ten percent of what Christianity is all about. Joseph would agree that Christians can and should always walk in the grace of God, but he doesn't make it an obligation; he greatly confuses the issue and misinterprets many passages of the New Testament.
Joseph is right that God's commandments, if we are trying to keep them in our own strength, will keep us from the victory in Christ, but we are required to walk in the IMPARTED righteousness and holiness of God, which includes living according to the commandments of His moral Law. God's commandments aren't an enemy, or burdensome, for those who are walking by the Holy Spirit. And again, walking by the Spirit in the righteousness and holiness of God on a continuous basis is part of what we sign up for (in faith) when we submit to God's new-covenant plan of salvation. We cannot change the covenant! This isn't an optional matter! But this is good news (it isn't bad news) for those who want to come into divine order and stop being rebels against God's will. (Sin is rebellion against God.) The true gospel is good news indeed!
I don't doubt that Joseph wants to live in the center of God's will and that he wants to influence all Christians to do the same. On page 30, for example, he says in bold print, "I, Joseph Prince, am vehemently, completely, aggressively, and irrevocably, AGAINST SIN!" I believe he means it, but I am confident that his out-of-balance teaching will help a large number of Christians be content to take the low road and put all the emphasis on positional righteousness, even though this isn't an acceptable option for Christians according to the New Testament. Most of the emphasis in this book is telling Christians what they want to hear, things like you are forgiven, you are righteous, you are holy, you are perfect by virtue of your being a Christian. And, besides that, there in no way you could lose your salvation.
There is no obligation for you to walk by the Holy Spirit. There is no obligation for you to obey God and keep His commandments. Such things have nothing to do with God's love for you or your salvation. There is nothing you could do to increase His love for you, or to decrease it. I have been observing for many years the effect such teaching has on many Christians.
I'll make one more preliminary comment before turning to Joseph's book. I was somewhat surprised to learn, based on a few things that Joseph said in the book (and I confirmed it on the internet), that he doesn't believe that Christians can lose their salvation. (I wasn't expecting that.) Learning that about him helped me to better understand some of the things he says in the book, but the misinterpretations and out-of-balance teaching are still there.
Everyone I knew as a young Christian believed that true Christians could not lose their salvation, and to me that was a very important part of the gospel. After I spent a year or two studying what the Bible has to say on the topic, I had to change my opinion and agree that the New Testament makes is quite clear that true Christians can lose their salvation ((I had a lengthy footnote, See my paper titled "Once Saved, Always Saved?" on my internet site [Google to Karl Kemp Teaching]. I very much tried to give the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches on this topic in that paper. We desperately need the balanced truth! I have learned over the years that large numbers of Christians are not really looking for the balanced truth on this topic, or many other important topics, because they believe that they [and their group] already have it. They have their special verses that they cling to, and they find it easy to ignore or explain away all the verses that don't fit their viewpoint, and they think the issue is closed. In many cases they don't even adequately understand what "their special verses" are saying. For one thing, there is a lot of pride at work, and it's not hard for Christians to manifest pride and other manifestations of the flesh [of the old man that still wants to manifest itself in sin]. We all, and especially ministers, must humble ourselves before God and seek Him, with a very high priority, for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches.)) However, I can fully appreciate those who believe once saved, always saved, as long as they are not abusing the doctrine.
((I had a lengthy footnote, I'll give an example of what I mean by abusing the doctrine that Christians cannot lose their salvation from the book of one of the most respected Bible teachers in the world today. I respect him and typically agree with what he teaches, but certainly not on this topic. I was shocked (and having seen and heard some of the things I have seen and heard the past 45 years around Christianity it is hard to shock me) when I read several things that Charles Stanley said in his book "Eternal Security" (published by Thomas Nelson in 1990). I'll give a few brief excerpts. "If abandoning the faith [he means Christians stop having faith in Christ and the gospel] or falling into sin short-circuits [terminates] salvation, I have the ability to demonstrate unconditional love to a greater extent than God. If there is a condition [including the conditions that we must continue to have faith in Christ and the gospel and to live for God] - even one - attached to God's willingness to maintain a relationship with His children, it is not unconditional" [page 5]. "Can God declare me 'guilty' after He has already declared me 'not guilty'?" (page 28). "If Christ took upon Himself every single one of your sins, what is going to cause God to reverse His verdict of not guilty? Hallelujah, not a thing"' (page 29). "The Bible clearly teaches that God's love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand" (page 72). Consequently, God does not require a constant attitude of faith in order to be saved - only an act of faith" (page 77). "Forgiveness or salvation is applied at the moment of faith. ... And its permanence is not contingent upon the permanence of faith" (page 78). And (also on page 78), "You and I are not saved because we have enduring faith. We are saved because at a moment in time we expressed faith in our enduring Lord. Notice how Paul ends this passage: 'It [our salvation] is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast' (Eph. 2:8-9)."))
If we don't take God's warnings about the serious need for Christians in sin to repent, we are abusing the doctrine, or if we don't have a proper, necessary fear of sinning against God (which the Old Testament and New Testament require). Most of the Christians I have known who believe that Christians cannot lose their salvation agree that true Christians must continue to have faith in Christ, and that they must MAKE HIM LORD and to live for Him, which includes the requirement to keep His commandments. And they agree that if Christians should fall into sin they must make it a top priority to repent, which includes the obligation to make things right as far as it is possible and to do everything possible to avoid sinning.
I can also say (and I trust Joseph would appreciate this comment) that many Christians who believe they cannot lose their salvation are closer to the balanced truth than many who believe they can lose their salvation. For one thing, some who believe they can lose their salvation end up striving (very sincerely striving) in the flesh trying to walk in the righteousness of God. They end up striving because they don't adequately understand the grace of God, which includes all the enabling grace that comes through the indwelling Spirit of God. As I mentioned, Joseph was very much in that category when he was striving to please God without knowing much about His enabling grace. Some such Christians literally end up in mental hospitals, etc. For one thing, the devil likes to torment such Christians. Of course the devil does what he can get by with against all Christians. We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches!
Many things that Joseph says in this book miss the balanced teaching of the New Testament, and I am sure that that teaching will hurt many of his readers, but hopefully many of his readers will mostly hear him say that Christians have the privilege to live with the victory over sin by God's grace and run with that truth.
Let's start with pages 7, 8. Joseph quoted Heb. 10:12, 14. I'll quote Heb. 10:10, 12, 14 from the New King James Version (NKJV), since Joseph uses this translation throughout his book, unless otherwise indicated. As I mentioned, I'll quote from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, when I quote the Bible apart from Joseph's quotations.
"By that will [the will of God spoken of in verse 9] we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. ... (12) But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, ... (14) For by one offering, He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified."
I'll quote a few sentences from what Joseph says as he discusses these verses. "His finished work on the cross was offered as one sacrifice FOREVER, and when you received Jesus Christ into your life, you were PERFECTED FOREVER! [Joseph means perfected in a positional sense.] ... You may be surprised to find out that there are many believers today who do not believe that they have been perfected forever by the finished work of Jesus Christ. They are still depending on their self-efforts to qualify themselves. Perhaps you yourself are wondering, How can I be fully assured that all my sins have already been forgiven? Good question! Notice that after Jesus offered His life as a sacrifice and payment for all our sins, He 'sat down'! ... Jesus sat down to demonstrate to us that the work is indeed finished. ...."
The truth of the matter is that we are PERFECTED, in the sense this word is used in Heb. 10:14, only to the extent that we understand the gospel, to the extent that we are committed to the gospel in our hearts and are walking in the truth of the gospel and by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis, by God's sufficient grace through faith, as we are enabled, and required, to do by the new covenant. (I had a footnote, This is the ideal, and the New Testament does not present is as an unrealistic or unattainable ideal. We must be aiming at this target. We certainly won't hit the target if we are not aiming at it. We must not focus on our weaknesses but on God's sufficient grace.) Signing up to become a Christian includes all of that, and we don't have the option to change the gospel. This has nothing to do with "self-efforts to qualify [ourselves]" that Joseph mentioned. This is just a matter of submitting to God and His Son and receiving, and cooperating with, His super-abundant, fully sufficient grace, all in accordance with the requirements spelled out in the covenant He has made with us.
This isn't self-effort! But we do have a very necessary role to play as we work out our salvation BY GRACE, THROUGH FAITH. God's grace makes all the difference, and He gets all the glory. We still have a free will, and we (His born-again children) must cooperate with, and appropriate, His grace on a continuous basis. God doesn't live our lives for us while we are passive. Faith is active. We must continue to live for God and His righteousness and resist temptation, etc., by His grace, which includes all the work of the Holy Spirit.
Part 1 of this article terminates here. We will continue to discuss Heb. 10:10, 12, 14 in some detail in Part 2. These verses are very important, and we will discuss many other very important passages of the Bible (especially of the New Testament) as we continue.
http://www.karlkempteachingministries.com Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.