Straw Antithesis, Straw Life – By Dr Chris Kang (Ex New Creation Church Member) (Dated 29 Aug 2021)
I had not intended to write this. For I do not wish to expend more time on pseudo-grace teachings. But God. He has given me a love for Scripture and one of my favourite passages, if not the favourite passage is this – Philippians 3:7-11.
On 11 July 2021, I happened to hear someone mangle this passage in a way that, in my view, dishonours the Word, deglorifies God, and misleads people. I cannot remain silent. Pseudo-grace teaching cannot be left unchallenged.
I am speaking of a sermon by Joseph Prince on 11 July 2021 (Sunday). From a cursory glance, it seems to me that Prince mentioned this again briefly in his sermon on 18 July 2021 (Sunday). My critique is based on what I heard on 11 July 2021.
As prelude to his sermon on 11 July 2021, I hear Prince claim that God did not come into this world to make “bad” people “good” but “dead” people “alive.” (Click to view)
Joseph Prince said:
“Did you know that when Jesus came, his primary purpose is to give you life and life more abundantly? And yet, we are caught with this idea that Jesus actually came to make bad people good. No Jesus came to make dead people live. Hallelujah!”
To me, there is insertion of a false dichotomy and antithesis here, juxtaposing “bad and good” with “dead and alive.”
Yes, God does want us to come alive in Christ by grace through faith, to be regenerated in spirit so as to partake in God’s eternal life in Christ. But here’s the rub: people are bad ultimately because they are spiritually dead in Adam because of the Fall; and people come alive only by grace through faith in Christ because of Christ’s redeeming and atoning death on the cross.
And when people come alive, they progressively become good as the Spirit of God works in them to effect their sanctification in Christ. Thus, making dead people come alive leads to making bad people turn good, as Christ is increasingly formed in them through sanctification. Holiness or godliness of conduct in body, speech, and mind – goodness – cannot be excised from coming to new life in Christ!
As such, this sleight-of-hand juxtaposition establishes a false dichotomy and antithesis that seemingly justifies Prince’s justification-only doctrine bereft of sanctification.
If we are spiritually dead, we do bad things. If we are spiritually alive, we can become good. Pitting “bad and good” against “dead and alive” is unnecessary and erroneous, in my view.
Another sleight-of-hand I have observed is the interpretation of “life” (Gk. zoe) being more abundant. Hypergrace predominantly focuses on life as health and prosperity (whether physical or emotional) and eternal life seemingly an infinite extension of the good life we get on earth, up many notches perhaps.
But it is still a projection of carnal realities onto the canvas of eternity, a shallow and lazy reading of God’s life devoid of spiritual illumination and depth. If we simply project our carnal desires onto heaven, it seems we have yet to truly grasp the deeper import of salvation.
Life more abundant is not merely a projected extension of all the best things on earth in a nebulous realm called heaven. Abundant life is life in union with Christ Himself, an intimate participation in the triune Life and Being of God who is Father-Son-Spirit. Life abundant is a communion dance of love beyond anything we can imagine with our fleshly minds.
Yes, the effects of such union with Christ can be seen in our radiant bodies and souls but these are mere side-effects, at best signposts of the inaugurated kingdom of God that are not fully come until Jesus returns. They are at best eschatological signs but temporal and transient, nonetheless. We will still grow old, get sick, and die.
As an aside, I reject the claim often made by Joseph Prince that God hates death, as if God shows instinctive recoil at death and avoids it like a plague. No. God was the one who brought death to the first-borns of the Egyptians. God the Son died on the cross. If He hated death, He probably would have gotten down from the cross but He did not!
Consider that Paul, when he wrote about death and dying in his epistles such as Romans 7 or 1 Corinthians 15, did so flexibly with reference sometimes to mere physical death and at other times to spiritual death or death that entered with sin. Also consider this observation:
“Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, death itself is not seen as problematic. Untimely death is decried, but the peaceful deaths of those who were old and full of years, like Abraham or Jacob, are portrayed in non-tragic terms. The life and death of all creatures, and the food they provide each other, rest in God’s hands and are part of his good creation.”
This strange inordinate fear of death in Joseph Prince’s rhetoric reminds me more of the dualistic Gnostic antithesis of corrupt matter (subject to decay and death) versus pure spirit (immutable and undying) than it does of the richly nuanced biblical paradigm.
I also reject the resultant knee-jerk fear and avoidance of any usage of the term “die” or “death” in everyday discourse. To me, this is a kind of warped psychology of avoidance that shows a lack of maturity and inner peace with regards to the fact of death.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, whether we are Christian or not, our bodies die from moment to moment with 330 billion cells dying and being replaced every day and all our bodily cells being replaced every seven to ten years.
Returning to the sermon, by making health and prosperity the central foci of hypergrace discourse on God’s abundant life, one skews and distorts our true Treasure who is Christ Himself.
Coming to the Scripture in question, Joseph Prince cited Philippians 9-10a (obvious truncation of verse 10) as support for his argument that confessing our righteousness in Christ by faith will confer upon us the life-giving power of Christ’s resurrection. (Click to view) Joseph Prince said:
“You know this life even the Apostle Paul says in Philippians. He says this, “and be found in Him.” I want to be found in Him, in Christ, “not having my own righteousness which is from the law.” And that’s where pride comes in; “but that which is through faith in Christ.” I don’t want to have my own righteousness which is from the law, “but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” And what’s going to happen? “That I may know Him.” Hallelujah, friend. “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection.”
In itself, this is not wrong for spiritually speaking, we are righteous in Christ before God and knowing this truth does confer immense joy and strength. But what is left unsaid speaks volumes. If left unsaid, there is a high risk of projecting a false impression of Paul’s intent in these verses. Let me quote the whole passage in context:
Philippians 3:7-11 ESV:
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Do you see that verse 10 continues on beyond “the power of his resurrection” to emphatically say “and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead”?
Now, Paul is noticeably clear here in saying that knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection entails sharing in Christ’s sufferings and imitating Christ in His death, so that one may “by any means possible” including especially sufferings and trials in life, experience resurrection from the dead – an obvious reference to the eschatological resurrection when Jesus comes again.
In other words, Joseph Prince has conveniently left out the part where we suffer and even die like Christ to zoom in solely on appropriation of Christ’s resurrection power now. This is deceptive. Let us look at the verses that follow to trace more clearly Paul’s logic:
Philippians 3:17-21 ESV:
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
As I mentioned, considering its textual context, the “resurrection from the dead” that Paul is primarily referring to here is the eschatological resurrection of all believers at the time of Christ’s second coming. The journey of faith preserved to the very end by God’s grace that is evidenced through our sanctification and maturation of Spirit’s fruit will eventuate in the Lord resurrecting our bodies from corruptibility into incorruptibility. Let us not be too hasty in claiming these eschatological promises in an over-realized eschatology of the present couched in terms of temporal fleshly goods.
Prince’s truncated and superficial presentation of Philippians 3:7-11 by erasing verses 7-8 and 10b to 11 leaves much to be desired and prompts questions on his motivations and hermeneutics.
Preachers need to stop mangling Scripture to fit into their falsely preconceived theological box. Not only is this biblically and theologically unsound, but it is also pastorally unsafe. Hence the need for systematic exegesis and expository preaching of Scripture. I continue praying for teachers like these to repent.