Free Grace theology
|A series of articles on|
|Grace in Christianity|
a Protestant theological concept
Free Grace theology is a Christian soteriological view teaching that everyone receives eternal life the moment 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 the "call to believe" in Christ as a Savior and receiving the gift of eternal life, and the "call to follow" Christ and become obedient disciples, meaning that the justified believer is free from any subsequent obligations unless he or she decides to undergo the process of sanctification.
In particular, the Gospel of John and most of the writings of Paul the Apostle are seen by proponents as the overt Scriptural basis of Free Grace theology. A distinctive (and much debated) argument is that the Gospel of John is the only book in the New Testament with the stated purpose of providing the needed information for one to be born again. Another assertion is that Jesus Christ stated both explicitly (John 14:1, 14:27, Matthew 11:28) and implicitly (John 6:35, 6:37, Luke 10:41-2) that He "will give rest" to the believer, in contrast to a "troubled heart" and a demand of "labour" before salvation.
Free Grace theology had 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 controversy" (20th century).
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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 L. S. Chafer, Lance Latham, J. Dwight Pentecost, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, Miles J. Stanford, Warren W. Wiersbe, Zane C. Hodges, Charles Stanley, Tony Evans, Ernest Pickering, Curtis Hutson, Bruce Wilkinson, Erwin Lutzer, Andrew Ahrens, and William Newell. Its prominent present-day expressions are the Grace Evangelical Society, the Free Grace Alliance, the Plymouth Brethren, and the local churches. Free Grace theology, under this name, originated in the late 20th century as a critical response to a perceived legalist abuse of the New Testament by Calvinism's Lordship salvation, Catholicism, and Arminianism.
Free Grace soteriology
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 of Biblical facts to be true.
Faith is a passive persuasion that Jesus is the Messiah, and activization is not mandatory in terms of salvation. In other words, Jesus graciously provides eternal salvation as a free gift to those who believe in Him.
Free Grace teaches that one need not proffer a promise of disciplined behavior and/or good works in exchange for God's eternal salvation, thus one cannot lose their 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 (sanctification). There is also an emphasis within Free Grace on the judgment seat of Christ, where Christians are rewarded based on good works done in 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.—Everett Harrison
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.
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.—Charles Bing, Lordship Salvation
Jesus doesn’t guarantee everlasting life to those who are 60% “sure” that He guarantees their eternal destiny. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). He guarantees everlasting life to those who are convinced that He fulfills that promise to everyone who believes in Him. When He asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” He was asking her if she was convinced that the person who lives and believes in Him will never die spiritually. Being convinced is certainty, not some percentage of certainty.
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.—Manfred E. Kober, Lordship Salvation: Forgotten Truth or a False Doctrine?
Free grace and dispensationalism
Free Grace and assurance
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, in Article XI of its doctrinal statement, sums up the general consensus of Free Grace theology 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 within the Free Grace world, there are two views on assurance. The first is that, although assurance of salvation should be the experience of every Christian from the moment of faith in Christ, Christian individuals may or may not immediately or ever in this life experience this. The realization of one's possession of eternal life may come at a later time, as a result of further study of the Gospel.
A second view is that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. This view holds that faith is 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 (or the equivalent, e.g., sure that he was once-for-all justified, sure he was 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 compared to the 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 to a state of holiness and Christ likeness.
As the reformation began, Erasmus' cry ad fontes ('to the sources') was applied to terms like "justification," wherein the biblical and extra-biblical Greek literature were examined to establish the meaning of the term dikaio (justify). However, other theological beliefs, such as the need to "repent of one's sins" for eternal salvation, remained unexamined within the mainstream denominations. A return to the sources (Scripture and extant Greek literature) for a serious examination of words such as metanoia would not be widely observed within the church for several hundred more years.
Some of the earliest developments relating to the doctrine of repentance appeared in Harry A. Ironside ("Except Ye Repent", American Tract Society, 1937) and the Systematic Theology of Lewis Sperry Chafer (completed 1947), returned to consider the fundamental meaning of the Greek word metanoia (repentance), which simply means "to change one's mind." In biblical passages commonly understood to be directed to 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 a 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, written to both Christians in exile after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD and the Gentile Johannine community, does not use the term "repentance" even once in the book, although the author was familiar with the term. (See the John 20:30-31 and Revelation Chapter 2 and 3) Zane Hodges and Bob Wilkin hold that repentance is defined as a turning from one's sins, but repentance is not a requirement for eternal life, only faith in Christ. Initially in Hodges' book Absolutely Free! and later in more detail in his book, Harmony With God Hodges took the position 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 said he no longer held to the “change of mind” view of repentance. In Harmony with God Hodges said there is only one answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” Hodges emphatically stated, “Repentance is not part of that answer. It never has been and never will be.” A primary justification for this view is the fact that the Gospel of John written to bring people to faith in Christ never once uses the word "repentance."
Within the Free Grace movement there has been disagreement over the essential content of saving faith. A more recent view advocated by Zane Hodges, Robert Wilkin, and the Grace Evangelical Society holds that faith alone in Jesus for eternal life is sufficient. The more traditional Free Grace view holds that faith alone in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation includes belief in His person and work, consisting of belief in at least one or more of the following: His deity; humanity; substitutionary death for sin; and bodily resurrection. Requiring belief in any of these aspects of Christ's person and work for eternal life is regarded by the former, more recent, Free Grace view to be theological legalism. The traditional view is advocated by the Free Grace Alliance, whose affirmations state, "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 more recent view seeks support mainly from passages in the Gospel of John (3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-27), which is considered to be the only evangelistic book of the Bible, explicitly stating that it was written to bring people to belief in Jesus Christ for eternal life (20:30-31). The traditional 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 believing in Christ's work or the gospel (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. Such grace is believed to be irresistible so that all those to whom God chooses to give grace will, in fact, have saving faith and be born again. It is believed that because these individuals are born again, their natures have undergone a change that will lead them to respond to God not just as Savior but also as Lord. If an individual claims to be saved, or born again, and yet gives little or no evidence of a changed life that follows God's commands, this would indicate the individual has not been born again.
||This article uses bare URLs for citations, which may be threatened by link rot. (July 2013)|
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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, not just of conversion but 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.
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