Free grace theology
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|Grace in Christianity|
Free Grace theology is a Christian soteriological view teaching that everyone receives eternal life the moment that they believe in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord. "Lord" refers to the belief that Jesus is the Son of God and therefore able to be their "Savior". The view distinguishes between (1) the "call to believe" in Christ as Savior and to receive the gift of eternal life and (2) the "call to follow" Christ and become obedient disciples.
Free Grace theology has ignited at least four major disputes: the "Free Spirit controversy" (13th century), the "Majoristic controversy" (16th century), the "Antinomian Controversy" (17th century), and the "Lordship salvation" controversy (20th century).
Some of the historical advocates of the Free Grace position are Johannes Agricola, Nicolaus von Amsdorf, Andreas Osiander, John Cotton, Anne Hutchinson, Henry Vane, William Dell, Thomas Boston, Robert Sandeman, and Jesse Mercer. Its more recent adherents include Lewis Sperry Chafer, Lance Latham, J. Dwight Pentecost, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, Miles J. Stanford, Zane C. Hodges, Charles Stanley, Tony Evans, Ernest Pickering, Curtis Hutson, Bruce Wilkinson, Andrew Ahrens, and William Newell. Its prominent present-day expressions are the Grace Evangelical Society, the Free Grace Alliance, and the local churches. Free Grace theology originated under this name in the late 20th century as a critical response to a perceived legalist abuse of the New Testament by Lordship salvation, Catholicism, and Arminianism.
Free Grace Theology is distinguished by its soteriology or doctrine of salvation. Its advocates believe that God justifies the sinner on the sole condition of faith in Christ, not righteous living. Their definition of faith involves belief, trust, and conviction that Jesus is the only way to salvation. Faith is a passive persuasion that Jesus is the Messiah, and active works do not play a role in attaining salvation. In other words, Jesus graciously provides eternal salvation as a free gift to those who believe in Him.
Free Grace teaches that a person does not need to promise disciplined behavior or good works in exchange for God's eternal salvation; thus, one cannot lose his or her salvation through sinning and potential failure, and that assurance is based on the Bible, not introspection into one's works. This view strongly distinguishes the gift of eternal life (the declaration of justification by faith) from discipleship (obedience). There is also an emphasis within Free Grace on the judgment seat or Bema Seat of Christ, where Christians are rewarded based on obedience to God through faith.
A faithful reading of the entire book of Acts fails to reveal a single passage where people are pressed to acknowledge Jesus Christ as their personal Lord in order to be saved.
This Lordship teaching fails to distinguish salvation from discipleship and makes requirements for discipleship prerequisites for salvation. Our Lord distinguished the two (Luke 14:16-33). This teaching elevates one of the many aspects of the person of Christ (Master over life) in making it a part of the Gospel. Why not require faith in His kingship? Or in the fact that He is Judge of all, or that He was the Creator? Though my view has been dubbed "easy believism," it is not easy to believe, because what we ask the unsaved person to believe in not easy. We ask that he trust a person who lived two thousand years ago, whom he can only know through the Bible, to forgive his sins. We are asking that he stake his eternal destiny on this. Remember the example of Evangelist Jesus. He did not require the Samaritan woman to set her sinful life in order, or even be willing to, so that she could be saved. He did not set out before her what would be expected by way of changes in her life if she believed. He simply said she needed to know who He is and to ask for the gift of eternal life (John 4:10)
The water of life is not acquired by the process of fighting a life-long battle and conquering at last. It is a free gift, imparting spiritual life to the spiritually dead.— George H. Lang, Revelation
Jesus is Lord of all regardless of one's submission to Him. Because He is Lord He has the power and position to save sinners. Sinners who come to Him through faith implicitly or explicitly submit to His authority to save, and may likewise submit to His authority in other areas of life. But since the issue in salvation is salvation, only the recognition of His authority to save is demanded for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Being a Christian means following an invitation. Being a disciple means forsaking all. To confuse these two aspects of the Christian life is to confound the grace of God and the works of man, to ignore the difference between salvation and sanctification. The gospel of grace is Scriptural. The Gospel that adds the works of man to salvation is a counterfeit Gospel.
Free Grace theology is dispensational in its assumptions regarding the philosophy of history and in terms of its networks and affiliations.
One of the unique aspects of Free Grace theology is its position on assurance. All Free Grace advocates agree that assurance of salvation is intrinsic to the very nature of the Gospel promise. Dallas Theological Seminary sums up the general consensus of Free Grace theology in Article XI of its doctrinal statement, in reference to assurance:
- We believe it is the privilege, not only of some, but of all who are born again by the Spirit through faith in Christ as revealed in the Scriptures, to be assured of their salvation from the very day they take Him to be their Savior and that this assurance is not founded upon any fancied discovery of their own worthiness or fitness, but wholly upon the testimony of God in His written Word, exciting within His children filial love, gratitude, and obedience (Luke 10:20; 22:32; 2 Cor. 5:1, 6–8; 2 Tim. 1:12; Heb. 10:22; 1 John 5:13).
Yet there are two views on assurance within Free Grace thinking. The first is that confidence in one's salvation should be the experience of every Christian from the moment of faith in Christ, but Christian individuals may or may not immediately or ever in this life experience a sense of such confident assurance. The realization of one's possession of eternal life may come at a later time, as a result of further study of the Gospel or of spiritual growth. Views that insist on 100% assurance may actually impede assurance because there is no biblical metric for assurance and, with no metric, one cannot argue that he has achieved it. Assurance is a measure of certainty, and certainty depends on the completeness of the data supporting the proposition to be believed as true, as well as the intellect of the one weighing the evidence. Neither the data nor the intellect rise to a level that can support certainty, so the position that faith equals assurance creates tension for some.
A second view is that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. This view holds that faith is, by definition, a conviction that what Jesus promises is true. If a person has never been sure that he had eternal life which could never be lost (i.e., sure that he was once-for-all justified, sure that he is going to heaven no matter what), then it is posited that he has not yet believed in Christ in the Biblical sense (cf. John 11:25-26 and Jesus' question, "Do you believe this?").
Free Grace theology approaches the doctrine of repentance in a different way than most other Christian traditions. The Reformed tradition teaches that God's "irresistible grace" is necessary to impart "faith" to man's fallen will (the bondage of the will), and shall, by its very nature, advance the new convert to a state of holiness and Christ-likeness. Without the infusion of this mystical "grace," the lost sinner cannot efficaciously believe, nor can he hope to attain a state of holiness and Christ-likeness.
As the reformation began, Erasmus' cry ad fontes (to the sources) was applied to terms such as "justification," wherein the biblical and extra-biblical Greek literature were examined to establish the meaning of the term dikaio (justify). However, other theological beliefs remained unexamined within the mainstream denominations, such as the need to "repent of one's sins" for eternal salvation.
Harry A. Ironside ("Except Ye Repent", American Tract Society, 1937) and Lewis Sperry Chafer (Systematic Theology, completed 1947), among others, returned to consider the fundamental meaning of the Greek word metanoia (repentance), which simply means "to change one's mind." In biblical passages concerning eternal salvation, the object of repentance was often seen simply as Jesus Christ, making repentance equivalent to faith in Christ. Passages identifying a more specific object of repentance were understood to focus on man's need to change his mind from a system of self-justification by works to trusting in Christ alone for salvation, or a change in mind from polytheism to a belief in Jesus Christ as the true living God. Further exposition came from various Free Grace authors, and Robert N. Wilkin undertook a detailed examination in his doctoral dissertation at Dallas Theological Seminary (1985), which he simplified for a more popular audience in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society from Autumn 1988 to Autumn 1990.
The gospel of John was written to Christians in exile after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the Gentile Johannine community. John does not use the term "repentance" even once in the book, although he was familiar with the term (see John 20:30-31 and Revelation Chapter 2 and 3). Zane Hodges and Bob Wilkin hold that repentance is defined as turning from one's sins, but repentance is not a requirement for eternal life, only faith in Christ. Hodges takes the position in Absolutely Free! (and in more detail in Harmony With God) that the process of repentance may be a preparatory step in coming to salvation, and should be evident in the life of a believer, but a lost man can be born again apart from repentance by any definition. Hodges also says that he no longer holds to the change of mind view of repentance. In Harmony with God, Hodges says that there is only one answer to the question “What must I do to be saved?” “Repentance is not part of that answer. It never has been and never will be.”
Content of Saving Faith
Among Free Grace adherents there is general agreement about the nature of saving faith but not its content. The traditional Free Grace view holds that belief in Jesus Christ for eternal life must include belief in certain aspects of his person and work, such as one or more of the following: his deity, humanity, substitutionary death for sin and bodily resurrection. The more recent Free Grace view considers it to be theological legalism to require belief in these aspects of Jesus Christ's person and work for eternal life since this would exceed the requirement of the saving message to simply believe in Jesus for everlasting life.
The Grace Evangelical Society affirms the more recent Free Grace view, seeking support mainly from passages in the Gospel of John that speak of Jesus guaranteeing everlasting life to all who believe in him for it (3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-27). This view leans heavily on the Gospel of John for support, since it is considered to be the only evangelistic book of the Bible which says it was written to bring people to belief in Jesus Christ for eternal life (20:30-31).
The Free Grace Alliance has historically advocated the traditional Free Grace view on the content of saving faith, stating in its affirmations that the finished work of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection is essential to believe for eternal life: "Faith is a personal response, apart from our works, whereby we are persuaded that the finished work of Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, has delivered us from condemnation and guaranteed our eternal life."
The traditional Free Grace view also seeks support from passages in the Gospel of John (1:29; 3:14-16; 6:51-54; 8:24; 19:30, 35) and other New Testament references to the necessity of believing in Christ's work or the gospel for eternal salvation (Acts 13:41; Rom. 1:16-17; 1 Cor. 1:17-21; 4:15; 15:1-11; Eph. 1:13; 2 Thess. 1:8-10).
One opposing view is Lordship Salvation, commonly held by those in the Reformed tradition. The Reformed tradition holds that people cannot generate saving faith because they are by nature fallen and opposed to God. They believe that God's grace enables a sinner to overcome his fallen will and gives him saving faith in Jesus.
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- R.T. Kendall Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 2nd ed., Paternoster Press, UK, 1997
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- Radmacher, Earl (Spring 1995). "Believers and the Bema". Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society. 8 (14).
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- See "Gospel Under Siege by Zane Hodges, REDENCION VIVA 1981, page 10. "A careful consideration of the offer of salvation as Jesus Himself presented it, will show that assurance is inherent in that offer.
- The Reformed tradition, for instance, sees repentance as "a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ" (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 713). Defined as such, it is a component of conversion and also of sanctification, and it is a regularly recurring element throughout the Christian's life. This repentance cannot be present in unbelievers at all (unless perhaps God is in the process of converting them) because only those truly regenerated by God can exercise it.
- E.g., Dick Seymour, All About Repentance (1974); G. Michael Cocoris, Lordship Salvation, Is it Biblical? (circa 1983) and Repentance: The Most Misunderstood Word in the Bible (1993); Curtis Hutson, Repentance, What does the Bible Teach; Richard Hill, Why a Turn or Burn Theology is Wrong; and Ronald R. Shea, The Gospel booklet (1988); and numerous articles by John R. Rice and Curtis Hutson in the Sword of the Lord magazine.
- Kenneth M. Wilson. "Is Belief in Christ's Deity Required for Eternal Life in John's Gospel?" (PDF). Chafer.nextmeta.com. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Charlie Bing. "The Content of the Gospel of Salvation". gracelife.org. Retrieved 25 February 2017.
- Zane C. Hodges. "The Hydra's New Head: Theological Legalism". Faithalone.org. Retrieved 2015-02-25.
- "Mission & Beliefs". Free Grace Alliance. Retrieved 2017-01-25.
- Thomas L. Stegall. "That You May Believe: The Evangelistic Purpose and Message of John's Gospel in Relation to Free Grace Theology" (PDF). gracegospelpress.org. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
- Thomas L. Stegall. "The Gospel of the Christ: A Biblical Response to the Crossless Gospel Regarding the Contents of Saving Faith" (PDF). gracegospelpress.org. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
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