Paul's Passing Thoughts

Commendation, and Hyper-Grace Pharisees

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on December 23, 2010

Offended, he was, when I told a pastor that his sermon was a “home run.” “I don’t hit ‘home runs,’” he said, obviously offended because I didn’t “give all of the glory to the Lord.” Besides, depending on his flavor of hyper-grace theology prevalent in our day, he might also believe that Christ actually delivered the sermon “through him.” Hence, we are merely lifeless vessels that Christ uses to do His work. It is more than fair to say that this kind of theology is being propagated by some of the most respected leaders of our day. Then there was the time I was talking to the recipient of an astounding gift from another Christian family who was a family of little financial means. The gift (to meet an important need) was a proverbial giving of the right arm. I commented to the recipient regarding how amazed I was at such a sacrificial gift. The response: “they didn’t give me anything, it was the Lord.” It was obvious that the recipient was not only offended by my remark, but was defending the other family from the sin of not “giving all of the glory to the Lord.”

Yes, grace is in the air like never before. Jesus does it all. As Steve Green sings, we are “empty vessels waiting to be filled.” We are empty, and all we can do is *wait* and hope that Jesus will do something in our lives, so when he does, everyone will know it was the Lord because we are “empty,” dead vessels. And as Steve Green also notes in the same song, “That’s Were The Joy Comes From,” when we see Jesus obeying for us. Therefore, to commend others is to deny that Jesus did it all; a sin worthy of receiving the dreaded label spelled P-h-a-r-i-s-e-e.

There is only one problem. We have let theologians of our day define *legalism* which the Pharisees were supposedly guilty of. Their definition of legalism is any effort on our part to do what God wants us to do. I like what Jay Adams has to say about this notion:

“Strangely, there are, today, those who believe that if we do anything to please God, we are acting by ‘the arm of flesh.’ By that they mean we are doing something solely in our own strength. But, by making it an either/or matter, we upset the biblical balance of loving obedience and strengthening grace” (“What is Sanctification” INS blog, September 16, 2010).

In a book that I would not recommend (“Introduction to Biblical Counseling” by the Master’s College faculty) because it gives unwarranted credibility to some who are not doctrinally sound (ie., David Powlison and others), Dennis Swanson rightly notes that “legalism is a term that is frequently tossed around without much thought to its meaning” (p. 381). He proceeds to define legalism in these biblical terms: “In legalism someone establishes an external standard of spirituality and then judges everyone by that standard.” And that’s what the Pharisees were guilty of. They mingled the Law of God with their own tradition making it “void” (Matthew 15:1-9). All of today’s much-ado-about-nothing regarding the fear that we will unwittingly offend God by doing what he wants us to do scripturally, because it is us doing it and not Him, is not legalism.

Though many other examples could be used, let me now continue to use “commendation” as an example of how this passive view of Scripture is actually legalism, and not our “own”(as if the exercise of our efforts automatically denies God’s efficacious involvement) efforts to please God. Simply put, to not recognize the good works of others (Christians, of course) because it supposedly takes glory from God and implies that we have a role in good works, is  an external standard that is not biblical, and therefore is really legalism. The apostle Paul explicitly commands us to commend others and recognize them publicly, and did so himself on many occasions:

“So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me”(Philippians 2:29,30).

Paul also called Timothy God’s “co-worker” (1Thessalonians 3:2 ESV). I mean really, do we need to look up “co-worker” in Webster’s Dictionary? We are to commend those who do their part in God’s work. And frankly, I find the disclaimer “we know the Lord did it all” whenever we do commend saints, annoying. Let me use one more example other than “commendation” before I close. Since I mentioned him above, David Powlison has said to never tell a counselee to “just stop it,” and that the Lord would never say that to one of his children (see full article here: ) This is a standard set by Powlison, not Scripture (see John 5:14, Acts 15:29, 21:25, 1Peter 2:11). Abstinence is clearly one of many weapons in our sanctification repertoire. Again, many other examples could be cited, but legalism is the following of a false standard, not biblical standards, we call that “obedience.”

While claiming to be on a crusade to save the church from Pharisee-ism and legalism, they are really the ones that are the Pharisees of our day. Specifically, they are hyper-grace Pharisees.


2 Responses

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  1. tad wyoming said, on December 23, 2010 at 10:30 AM

    aul, you say, “to not recognize the good works of others (Christians, of course) because it supposedly takes glory from God and implies that we have a role in good works, is  an external standard that is not biblical, and therefore is really legalism”

    Their view also denies anyone can earn rewards in heaven, let alone please the father, loving him and others through acts of love. I agree that’s not just unbiblical; it contradicts scripture.

    However, I’d wager this view of works after regeneration is extremely widespread, even among those who don’t think sancification is thru justification. Tw


  2. paulspassingthoughts said, on December 23, 2010 at 4:32 PM


    Yes, that is yet another one that could be mentioned; the belief that we will not receive rewards in heaven.


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