Free Grace – You Get What You Pay For

I serve on the North Central District’s Council for Ministerial Standing. The Grace Evangelical Society came up as a topic of discussion a while back and during our last meeting we talked about whether a pastor who held to the G.E.S. Statement of Faith could be credentialed in the EFCA.

I will be the first to admit that I’ve not read extensively on this issue of "Free Grace" vs. "Lordship Salvation". I read Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free, shortly after it first came out and haven’t gone back to it since then. MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus, pretty much decided the issue for me and I haven’t had to deal with this much at all until now.

As I understand it, the intent behind Free Grace (FG from this point onward) was to guard and protect the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Works were not to be a part of the equation in what is required for salvation. Admirable. Sadly, I think many who hold to this position have gone far beyond what Scripture even says, have brought about much confusion within churches and, even more sadly, have misled many who thought they were coming to genuine saving faith, only to find their "faith" is greatly lacking something (at best) or inadequate (at worst).

I’m sure I’m guilty of overstating the case, erecting a straw man for the sake of knocking him over easily, but it’s how FG comes across to me in the matter of seeking the conversion of a non-Christian. When they say, in their Affirmation of Belief (August 8, 2005): "No act of obedience, preceding or following faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, such as commitment to obey, sorrow for sin, turning from one’s sin, baptism or submission to the Lordship of Christ, may be added to, or considered part of, faith as a condition for receiving everlasting life." – when they say this, what I hear is: "We really, really want you to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, but if you live a life of a complete profligate afterwards, well, at least you’ll get into heaven." They go on to say, under the heading of "Motivation": "The believer is assured of everlasting life and is thus eternally secure, since that life is guaranteed by the Lord Jesus Christ to all who believe in Him, and is based upon HIs substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection. [No problem here, so far; but they do go on in the same statement] Therefore, it is inconsistent with the gospel and with Scripture to seek to gain or keep everlasting life by godly living [I agree with the "gaining" part, but it’s the "keeping" part I’m so troubled by]. The Scriptures, however, do present several motivations for obedience in the Christian life." Does this not sound like: Please become a Christian; you don’t have to live like one to "get in" but you’ll certainly be rewarded with lots more if you do; but it’s not important nor necessary. The key thing: believe that Jesus died for your sins.

Someone from G.E.S. would have to help me here: What do you do with a verse like Hebrews 12.14 (ESV) – "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord"? That seems pretty clear to me: Strive, pursue, dioko (diw¿kw), – very active verb here (with heavy overtones in the NT of "to persecute" and I don’t think you persecute someone halfheartedly). Holiness is not an option for the Christian. It’s not a condition of his salvation, but it’s not an option once you’ve come to Christ.

I think, if I’m right in this, that G.E.S. puts far too much separation between justification and sanctification. It’s as if the two were completely separate from one another. The one is mandatory to enter heaven (as if that were the final goal of conversion – it is not); the other, while helping you and those around you on this earth, and while helping you pile up the rewards you’ll receive upon entering heaven, is still just an add-on in this life. You’ll get to heaven even if you live a completely depraved life, as long as you confess that Jesus died for your sins.

Bishop Ryle, in his book, Holiness, in the chapter on Sanctification, lists some visible evidences of sanctification (without which no one will see the Lord – and you don’t even have to know Greek to know that this means: won’t get to heaven!).In contrasting what are not true evidences of sanctification, he says: "Genuine sanctification will show itself in habitual respect to God’s law, and habitual effort to live in obedience to it as the rule of life; genuine sanctification will show itself in an habitual endeavour to do Christ’s will, and to live by His practical precepts; genuine sanctification will show itself in habitual attention to the active graces which our Lord so beautifully exemplified; and in habitual attention to the passive graces of Christianity. I would highly recommend Ryle to you, especially chapter 2.

So, can someone who affirms the G.E.S. S. of F. which presents FG in its entirety, belong to the EFCA? Personally, I’m not so sure. While reluctant to say an outright "No," I also see this position promoting great confusion within the larger body of Christ, stirring up needless controversy (there’s a subject for another time) since the very few people I’ve ever met who hold to this position are usually divisive and argumentative, and, would likely not be able to wholeheartedly affirm the EFCA’s Statement of Faith (especially in its revised form).

Not sure where I’ll go with this from here. I may blog a couple more posts for clarification, but that may depend upon comments on this post.

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11 Responses

  1. I’ve heard it said that Martin Luther had serious problems with the book of James as it relates to faith and works, or faith and daily sanctification. He wanted to throw the book out of the NT. In light of his upbringing and struggle against a works based faith, I understand his point of view. That being said, this Free Grace doctrine is scary. There’s enough truth to sound good on the surface, but the consequences, taken in light of the book of James, are very frightening indeed.

    The entire book of James is a series of tests by which you can evaluate whether your faith is living or dead. (Faith without works is dead.) Whether it is the test of suffering, the test of self control, the test of temptation, the test of humility, endurance, truthfulness, etc. all are marks to evaluate whether you have true faith. Faith without some change, visible and measurable, makes me think the declarer is doing lipservice to a ‘get out of jail free’ hope. I would qualify those who make such a statement as those who wish to have their ears tickled, to ‘cover their bases’ just in case this whole Christianity thing might be real, and who will fall away from any form of such ‘faith’ as soon as something new comes along. If there is no evidence of your soul, which was dead, being brought to life by the saving power of Christ, then I would say that soul is still dead. For if you walk out of an encounter with Christ the same way as when you went in, you’re a dead man.

    my .02 worth

  2. 1. No one in almost two millenia of church history came up with this view of salvation until Zane Hodges and his followers.
    2. This doctrine is the result (one of many) of dispensationalism gone astray.
    3. This view makes repentance an option after salvation, having nothing to do with justification. Repentance is viewed as a “work” that has been added.
    4. This view negates all Jesus’ hard sayings to come follow Him, by denial of self, etc. Believing is just giving assent to some “essential facts” about Jesus and His work. So all of Jesus’ hard sayings are then assigned as challenges to become a “committed disciple”, not a believer.
    5. This view is based on a philosophic concept of grace, not the teachings of Scripture.

    I would not be so bold as some in the reformed camp such as Don Kistler who consign all teachters such as Hodges to hell, but it is very worrisome. I would hope that the EFCA ministerial would say “No” to this applicant.

    Bill

  3. I am willing to answer any of your questions concerning the Grace Evangelical Society, Free Grace theology, Zane Hodges, or Bob Wilkin. I am an advocate of Free Grace theology and have studied the Bible with a view to grace for the past 14 years. I am open to dialogue with you. Let me know by email:

    agdarosa@cox.net

    Grace and peace to you,

    Antonio da Rosa

  4. Hi! I’m the pastor of Georgetown EFC in Kentucky, and I also oversee the ordination examinations for our part of the district. I’m a graduate of Northeastern Bible College and Columbia Int’l University in SC.

    You might find it helpful to think through these issues:

    1. There is a range of opinion in the Free Grace movement, and Zane Hodges (who is Arminian) represents an extreme end of that movement. Charles Ryrie, as a Calvinist, is a step in from there, and there are others even more nuanced. So I would be careful not to equate the free Grace movement solely with Bob Wilkins or Zane Hodges. The Free Grace Alliance is a much braoder association, and they have a website.

    2. The crux of the debate revolves around sola fide. John MacArthur erred by re-defining “pistis” and its associated words as “belief + a determination to obey the moral law”, which is absolutely wrong. Even the PCA profs at Westminster West corrected him (privately) over his distortion of the lexical range of “faith”, not to mention his misrepresentation of Louis Berkhof’s definition of faith. this was covered in one of the chapters of “Christ the Lord” (Baker, 1992 I believe).

    3. A second crucial issue is, what is or what are the conditions of justification for your sins? MacArthyur further errs by teaching Christ’s demands of discipleship are conditions of justification. It is simply untrue that we must deny self, pick up our cross daily, hate father and mother, set our hand to the plow without looking back, and so on, as conditions for justification! Justification is sola grace, sola fide!

    3. I definitely consider Zane Hodges’ idea that repentance of sin is not a part of a genuine conversion to be antinomian and destructive in the extreme. A proper understanding of the cross, and my relation to it, necessarily demands I re-evaluate my own state of guilt. Why are we coming to Christ, if not for forgiveness? And who asks for forgiveness who has not first passed judgment on himself as a sinner?

    4. Hodges’ denial that any fruit of sanctification necessarily results from regeneration is also antinomian. It isn’t true that I John is only about fellowship with Christ. I John 3 clearly identifies love and obedience to God as evidence of being God’s child, i.e., regeneration.

    The underlying problems with Hodges teachings are that he is a 4-point Arminian (with an exaggerrated view of the power of free will over the Holy Spirit), he has an antinomian view of the role of moral law in the New Testament era, and his “two-nature” view of the saved person means that the convert merely receives a potential capacity for holiness (as opposed to receiving a new heart, which is how the Scripture defines it).

    So I hope you can figure out exactly what kind of Free Grace person your candidate is — where he falls on a continuum.

    — Jack Brooks

  5. This argument is a dead horse, plain and simple, and the ‘cheap grace’ side lost the argument years ago.

    1. Ryrie and Hodges/Wilkin do hold differently nuanced points. Their joint communique in the EXACT same organization, however, pretty much means that they regard each other far better than a lordship salvationist, a term that comes out of their mouths with the same facial expression of calling someone a heretic.

    2. I’ve heard Bob Wilkin speak in churches on three occasions. This seems to be his hobby horse. Nobody is advocating works righteousness salvation; they are simply pointing out that the salvation that GOD GIVES CHANGES a person.

    3. The sharp line of demarcation between a believer and a disciple is one of dispensationalism’s tendencies to turn everything into a two-part belief. It is no accident that every single advocate of the FG position is a dispensationalist.

    4. It is the FG side and NOT the LS side that has primarily engaged in the accusation that the other is preaching a ‘different gospel.’ Ryrie said that in 1968; MacArthur’s first book was not even published on the subject until 1988.

    5. Any FG side that advocates church discipline is, quite frankly, hypocritical. Why should you be surprised that people live like the devil when you tell them it’s ok to do so?

  6. I appreciate the comments, Maestroh. While not knowing with full accuracy, I would have to say in my experience, any who do hold to a Free Grace position have also been dispensationalists. Someone else with more knowledge and more time than I would have to drawn the connection between the two.

    The pragmatic observation about church discipline never occured to me. How true, though. If all that really matters is that you’re “in”, got your “fire insurance paid up” and not how you live after that, then church discipline goes right out the window. There is no foundation for it at all.

    It would also be interesting to see FG’s comments on so many passages of the gospel accounts where Jesus lays out the cost of discipleship. Following Him was not going to be easy; living an antinomian lifestyle is easy. The two simply don’t match up.

  7. I believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I do not beilve that one can “divide Christ” and receive him as Savior without receiving him as Lord. You get the whole Christ.
    Having said that, I believe that salvation is all of grace. Free grace. Apart from human merit, obedience, or righteousness. MacArthur’s book equates faith with obedience. But that equation cannot hold, for none of us would say that we are saved by obedience. Nor would we tell a person seeking to come to Christ that he must first obey Jesus, clean up his act, stop sinning, or do good in order to have his sins forgiven.
    Jesus saves sinners. That’s why we call him Savior.
    And having called his Savior, we then spend a lifetime increasingly responding to him as Lord (which is impossible for an unregenerate person).
    Our concern as free grace pastors (and I don’t agree with all that GES puts out there, though I like much of it)… but our concern is ETHICAL OVERLOAD OF THE GOSPEL. We must not erect behavioral barriers between Jesus and one whom God has called.
    Our second and equal concern is a loss of EMPHASIS ON CALVARY. Paul’s definition of the gospel centers on the death of Jesus for our sins. Visit the website of many leading evangelicals, click on the links that ell you how to be saved, and you will look in vain (often) for even the slightest mention of the atoning death of the Savior.
    That’s my two cents.
    There are godly leaders on both sides of the issue. I worked with Lance B. Latham, who founded AWANA before his death. He taught me free grace principles. Yet he, like I, was very concerned with post-salvation obedience. We’re all for obedience. Let’s just keep it the fruit and not the root of salvation.
    Christ is preached, and in that I rejoice.
    Bill Giovannetti
    http://www.maxgrace.com

  8. Gentlemen,

    I’m sorry – really sorry here. It was in no way my intent to distort or inflame. This is an issue that I’m just sick of, and I see Jack’s point although not agreeing with some of the minutiae.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I attend Dallas Theological Seminary. Earlier this year, I heard Bob Wilkin speak a number of times. His ranting and raving against some amorphous ‘they’ who teach salvation by works – and the false disjunction that grace somehow must be seprate from demand – makes me sick.

    The question is NOT whether or not man is saved by faith or faith plus works in this context – it is whether a person can have faith that has no works. The LS and FG sides BOTH affirm salvation by faith – but it is the FG folks ALONE who say that the LS folks advocate ‘works salvation’ – flippantly dismissing much of the NT or reiterpreting it in the process.

    Most of the DTS professors now are NOT FG advocates – they are, to varying degrees, LS advocates. In fact, FG is dying quickly. MacArthur’s book has its weaknesses, but his central point has never been refuted. I think the fact that FG advocate after FG advocate spends month after month still ranting about something Mac said years ago – while he has not even published a book on this subject in a long time – proves who finished the argument. (This month’s Bibliotheca Sacra, in fact, has an article by FG advcoate Renee Lopez going after Mac and arguing ‘faith’ is NOT a ‘gift of God’ but something man does).

    So I’m sorry for going off; and no, I don’t believe Mac teaches legalism. I do think, however, that if one claims to be a Christian there ought to be enough evidence of it that he could be found guilty in a court of law.

    thanks

    M

  9. DTS isn’t moving ‘away from grace,’ and such an assertion is typical of the straw man apologetics inherent in this entire thing. FG advocates like to say ‘faith alone’ and if you reject their GROUP you – consequently – reject their teaching that salvation is by faith alone. These same folks, of course, scream bloody murder when you apply that analogy in the opposite direction – and accuse them of denying Christ’s lordship.

    The A-C argument is irrelevant to the equation. The crux of the issue is not even HOW we are saved since the LS advocates AGREE with the FG folks on this. The core of the issue is the NATURE of faith. In FG circles, you have the acceptance of a dogma of ‘said faith’ that may be a ‘dead faith.’

    Salvation is not conditioned on obedience. The problem, of course, is the eternal life that God gives changes a person so that the redeemed person DOES works. This is all LS is saying; FG is saying that a person can SAY he believes and he is saved, precisely what James warned against.

    The strong ‘fencing’ techniques used by dispensationalists backfire at this very juncture. The old ‘this teaches two things that are distinct and fully separable’ simply won’t work here.

  10. Maestroh, AMEN!!! from a fellow DTS student

    Bob, Im sorry, but respectfully I categorically disagree with you. The Bible does not conceive of a Justification that does not lead to sanctification. It is not “our” work but He who works in us to will and act according to his good purposes. Why else would we need to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith? Justification is the root but the root produces fruit which is sanctification.

    in Christ,
    WP

  11. Dear Mr. Del Valle,

    The fact that Chafer and Ryrie held to whatever position does not make it the biblical position. LS does not ‘spit in the face’ of grace; it simply says that a faith that God gives (precisely the opposite of the FG approach) does not produce so little that nothing changes at all.

    Here’s the difference in FG and LS: Suppose I have a candy bar and tell you that I have laced it with cyanide. Both sides will SAY that they believe me. But suppose the FG person then takes a bite out of it. His bite will not only kill him, it will PROVE that he did NOT believe me in the first place.

    It is true that faith is not a work. However, it is the FG position that makes salvation based upon a decision that may or may not change a person and is itself a fully human work.

    So now I guess you can go to the old, “How do you know you’re saved?” argument – you know, the old change the subject standard m.o. that is in every FG playbook?

    Jehovahs Witnesses KNOW there is no Hell. They have every bit the assurance that the Free Grace folks have in what they believe.

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