There has been confusion for twenty years now concerning what Zane Hodges wrote about the cross and resurrection. In 1999 at our national conference, he delivered two messages on how to lead a person to Christ. In those messages he said that believing that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose bodily from the dead does not mean that a person is born again. Why? Because the death and resurrection of Christ prove the promise which must be believed to be born again. The promise of everlasting life to the one who simply believes in Jesus is what a person must believe.
Hodges said in those two messages, printed in our journal in 2000 and 2001 (see here and here), that he considered it essential to preach the cross and resurrection of Jesus in order to show people why the promise of everlasting life to the believer is true (see Part 1, page 11). Essential. While the Apostles believed the promise of life before believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection, they had the advantage of being in the very presence of the Lord and seeing His miracles and hearing His preaching. Hodges thought it unlikely that anyone after the cross would come to believe the message of life without first believing in the cross and resurrection.
However, his major point, which I mention above, is that many Free Grace people wrongly say something like this: If you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose bodily from the dead, then you have everlasting life (or, then you are saved, or, then you are forgiven, or, then you have a relationship with Jesus). Three of those four ways of stating what you receive for believing (that Jesus died and rose again) do not hint at the eternality of the gift. Even the reference to having everlasting life is not typically understood as being secure since many have been taught that everlasting life can be lost. Zane’s major point is that we must tell people the promise of everlasting life which can never be lost. A person cannot be born again until and unless he believes that simply by faith in Jesus he has an eternal relationship with God which can never be broken.
Shorthand for what Hodges believed and taught is that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. The last sentence in the last paragraph (bold font) is another way of saying that assurance is of the essence of saving faith.
However, there are people who believe that simply by faith in Jesus, they have everlasting life, but they do not believe that such assurance is necessary to be born again. Many of these people testify that they were born again years before they believed they were eternally secure by faith in Christ. They had a feeling that convinced them they were born again. They saw changes in their lives that led them to that conclusion. But they did not believe the promise of everlasting life until years after their heartfelt experience and life change. What they did believe at that time is that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and rose again. Thus, even though they did not believe in the promise of John 3:16 at that time, they conclude that they were born again and then later gained assurance.
Hodges believed that is an error. I agree. Until someone believes the promise of life, he has not yet been born again.
However, a new confusion has emerged in the last year over what Hodges wrote.
There are some who call themselves Free Grace who are saying that anyone who believes the promise of everlasting life, yet who also believes that his faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection was necessary to be born again, is not yet born again.
They reason that faith in Jesus is only faith in Him if it doesn’t include the necessity of believing any details about His Person and work. If you say that you must also believe certain things about Jesus, like His substitutionary death and bodily resurrection, then you are not really believing in Jesus for your salvation.
If Zane were aware of this discussion, he’d be appalled. He never said or implied that those who don’t believe that assurance is of the essence of saving faith are not born again.
Zane believed that these people were not born again until they believed the promise of everlasting by faith in Christ. But since they came to believe that, they are eternally secure even if later they wandered from the simplicity of their earlier conviction.
Zane considered the “theological legalists” he was talking about to be brothers in Christ. They had gone astray, in his opinion. But they were still born again.
The problem, as Zane saw it, is that if you don’t believe that assurance is of the essence of saving faith, then most likely you won’t share the promise of everlasting life until after you evangelize someone. You will tell that person that if he believes in the cross and resurrection, then he is saved. You might or might not later try to lead him to assurance. But by doing so, you train others to evangelize without sharing the promise of life. Worse yet, unless you get around to talking about the promise of everlasting life, you have not given the person enough information to be born again.
Hodges did write an article responding to his critics. It was called The Hydra’s New Head: Theological Legalism (see here). Some are suggesting that in that article Hodges questioned the salvation of those in Free Grace circles who denied that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. He did not.
Zane was my professor and adviser for six years at Dallas Theological Seminary. After that he was my mentor for twenty-three more years. I knew him well for three decades. We were in the same church together for most of that time. We worked together with GES. He never once said or implied that someone who does not believe that assurance is of the essence of saving faith is not born again.
I think that Zane would say that some of those theological legalists, like J. B. Hixson whom he cites by name, no longer believe the saving message. They have so convoluted the message with doctrinal provisos that simple faith in Jesus for everlasting life is insufficient to save. But he would still say that they are born again, since they formerly believed the simple saving message.
In other cases, I think he would say that some of the theological legalists still believe the saving message but have garbled the message somewhat. Some of these people say that all that is needed is faith in Jesus, if it is the right Jesus. Some have speculated that there are people on earth who might confuse John 3:16 as referring to someone named Jesus today. But that is silly. No one thinks that John 3:16 refers to anyone living today. At least no one in his right mind thinks that. Even small children know that Jesus lived a long time ago in the land of Israel.
Zane’s concern was about clarity in evangelism. He was not discussing whether theological legalists are born again or not.
Free Grace people should be gracious. Calling others who believe, or who formerly believed, in the promise of life unbelievers and even tools of Satan is beyond ungracious. It is a denial of the promise of life to all who believe (or who have believed) it.