Rescued by Grace—Twice
The following is a letter written by a GES member in Ohio to GES Executive Director, Bob Wilkin. We thought you would be encouraged by the letter.
I was working for a glass company at an east Toledo plant. There was a Christian man in our department who openly witnessed for the Lord and passed out tracts everywhere. When he shared his faith you could tell he had a personal love for this One he spoke of, the Lord Jesus. One day he invited me to his house for a Bible study in the Gospel of John. Reluctantly, I finally agreed to go. At the Bible study I started to hear things about salvation I had never heard before. While driving home I kept telling myself this can't be true. At 3 a.m. I was still awake in bed. Hell had become so real to me I was afraid to close my eyes. That night I believed the gospel and trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior.
The Bible study continued and three weeks after my conversion I visited a Bible-believing church. I continued attending and became grounded in such fundamentals of the faith as inerrrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, His substitutionary atonement, resurrection, and His second coming. I came to love the Word of God and was baptized. Some of the elders and visiting speakers were five-point Calvinists. By 1978 I had read most of Calvin's Institutes. Many other Reformed/Puritan writings were starting to collect on my bookshelf and I became a committed five-point Calvinist.
Around this time I met a beautiful Christian girl. We fell in love and married a year later, in the fall of 1979. In 1980 we purchased our house here in my home town and found a "believers' church" that was closer to our new home. My wife became very active in the music program and we both liked it there. The pastor was a very caring man, but I noticed that he never spoke on the eternal security of the believer. When I questioned him about this he said that he believed in the security of the believer but chose not to speak on the subject from the pulpit. This troubled me to the point that I stopped attending and began backsliding.
After my wife became pregnant, she started attending a sister assembly of our former church, hoping I would join her there for services. But I remained backslidden and out of the Lord's will. On August 20, 1985 we became the proud parents of a healthy baby boy. Soon after this I called on the Lord for forgiveness and we started attending my wife's church as a family. It was a small group and I developed a love and closeness to this body of believers. As we grew in size, the elders decided to hire a salaried elder to do most of the speaking and other church management. Shortly after their arrival, the elder and his wife came to visit at our home. I was thrilled to learn that he too was a five-point Calvinist.
One afternoon in the fall of 1989, I was driving alone to Lake Erie on a fishing trip. On the Christian radio station the host had two guests with opposing views. One held to Lordship Salvation and the other to salvation by Free Grace. This was all new to me. I found it interesting, but quite puzzling, because they were both quoting Scripture. A book mentioned in the debate was The Gospel According to Jesus. I bought it and read it from beginning to end. Depression started setting in. I became confused and truly doubtful of my salvation. I expressed to the Lord that I could no longer share the gospel of Christ, because I wasn't sure what it was! I knew the Lord could give me understanding if I would seek His mind so I prayed for enlightenment.
I went to my pastor and told him what had happened. He said he understood and suggested that I read the Book of Galatians again. When I asked if he had ever heard of a writer named Zane Hodges, he turned to his enormous library and pulled from it the only book he had by him, Grace in Eclipse. That evening I started reading it. Every word seemed to be like a breath of fresh air, calming my fears. After reading the first chapter several times, my spiritual eyes once again began to focus on the work of Christ on the cross. I sensed within a new love for God.
I soon purchased Absolutely Free! and The Gospel Under Siege, and pursued almost all the books and articles Zane recommended in his notes, including Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 and Calvin and Scottish Theology: The Doctrine of Assurance. I was clearly seeing that Reformed theology was more than just an Arminian/Calvinist issue. I was understanding that Lordship Salvation was an outgrowth of the very theology I adhered to! This realization was disheartening.
In 1991 I suggested to my pastor that we have a Sunday school class on the issue of Lordship Salvation. After long consideration he concluded that it would be best not to because of the confusion it might cause. Although disappointed, I respected his authority.
The thoughts and concepts of Lordship Salvation are now being taught at my church, but never in a controversial or polemic manner. Because terms like "Lordship Salvation" and "Free Grace" are never mentioned, the differences are undetected by most Christians. The pastor and I remain friends though we both realize we are worlds apart in theology.
Sad to say, we're now looking for a new church. Several weeks ago we drove 90 minutes each way to visit a Free Grace church in Detroit. How good it was to hear the gospel preached in all its simplicity. Driving an hour and a half to Detroit is not out of the question, but probably not too practical with my family.
There is not a day that goes by that I don't think of you and Zane. My prayer is that you won't lose heart in the work you're doing for the Lord, because I am one who has been deeply blessed by your organization.