Recently, I taught a Sunday school class at a Baptist church in the town of Aldama, Mexico. It’s about a four-hour drive south of El Paso, TX. The pastor of the church invited me to speak on whatever topic I wanted. He is a very nice man, but is not Free Grace, and it is safe to say that he did not see doctrinal issues as being important. He had no problem with my teaching things with which he disagreed. I think having an American speak at the church was a source of excitement for the people.
I decided to speak on the free offer of eternal life and how that contrasts with the demands of discipleship. The first half of the class concentrated on the Gospel of John and how eternal life is by faith alone and can never be lost. The second half of the class concentrated on how costly discipleship can be. You can be a believer, but not a disciple. Some believers are not willing, for whatever reason, to pay the price of being a disciple of the Lord.
There was, of course, a language barrier in that Mexican town. When you speak in such circumstances, you wonder if your words are coming across. I’m very confident that in this case they did. At the end of the first half of class, one lady stated that I was saying that a believer can never lose their salvation. She said she agreed, even though I am pretty sure this was the first time she had been taught such a doctrine.
Another lady asked a question that I found very interesting. From the question, it was clear that she understood what I was saying. However, she wanted to make sure she comprehended. It was obvious that she had some issues. She asked: “Can I dance and still be saved?” Then she added, “Can I drink and smoke?”
In the US, when you teach Free Grace theology, at least in my experience, the three deadly sins are not dancing, drinking, and smoking. Those seem pretty mild. I have been asked this question on numerous occasions, but our biggies when it comes to sin are things like adultery, murder, and homosexuality.
I think that even a lot of hard-core Lordship Salvation folks would say that a “true” believer can probably dance and smoke, and even drink, and still be saved. Maybe even John MacArthur would allow these activities, as long as the person didn’t get drunk all the time. I expect he would say that a believer could drink wine and go out dancing with their spouse and even smoke cigarettes, and still be a believer.
I wondered why this woman mentioned these particular activities. Later, the pastor told me that Aldama is known as the cantina of that state in Mexico. Every night the city is inundated with thousands of people who buy beer, then go out to the neighboring farms and drink. I’m sure there’s a lot of dancing and smoking at these events. The woman was simply using the activities preached against in her community. No doubt, all the churches proclaimed that all those multitudes engaging in those activities would spend eternity in hell if they didn’t repent and stop doing them. She was a woman in her 60s, and she had heard this all her life.
I told her that yes, a believer who did these things still had eternal life. If their manner of life was one of drunkenness, however, they would not be a disciple. They would not be rich in the kingdom of God.
Even though she said she understood, I don’t know whether she could accept what I said. I got the impression that she would think it over.
But her question still stood out to me. It showed how subjective it is to say that if we are truly saved then we won’t continue to sin. The activities she listed would be deemed OK by most. In at least some measure, one’s culture and background will determine what a believer can do and still feel good about their spiritual status.
The view that a real Christian can’t continue in sin is not only unbiblical, it is irrational. Who gets to determine what sins are disqualifying? How often can we do them? Who gets to answer such questions–a 65-year-old woman in Aldama, Mexico, or an evangelical in Dallas, TX?
I have a better, Biblical, solution. Eternal life is absolutely free. It is given by faith alone in Christ and can never be lost. This is true if you go dancing, or if you are an adulterer. It is true if you commit what are considered nasty sins in other cultures. Sins in any culture, however, will keep you from being a disciple of the King who is coming. He has given you eternal life if you have believed in Him for it. Now, live in a way that pleases Him because of what He has done for you and so that He will reward you when you see Him. Wherever you live, it is worth the price.