Readers of this blog are well aware of the danger of Lordship Salvation or works salvation, which denies that you can be eternally saved by faith alone in Christ alone for eternal life. But are you also aware that it is also possible to emphasize “grace” to unbiblical extremes? That, in fact, some people emphasize grace so much, that they underemphasize, or even deny, the necessity of faith for salvation?
For example, I was skimming through chapter 6 of John Newton’s Reckless Love: The Scandal of Grace in a Performance-Driven World. Newton is a young Episcopal priest based in Austin. Based on the book’s endorsements, it seems he moves in Episcopal circles where “grace” has become an important theme. On the one hand, I enjoy those authors. On the other hand, they can take “grace” to unbiblical extremes (see here). I’m afraid that Newton makes that mistake, too.
For example, consider this passage from Chapter 6, “Faith”:
Faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t create a relationship. Faith doesn’t earn you brownie points with God or change your status on the heavenly rolls. Faith is always a response to a reckless love we call the Trinity that has always been present in your life. Faith is a waking up, an “aha,” a newfound capacity that enables us to enjoy the gift of being alive in God’s enchanted world (pp. 30-31).
To me, this passage hints of universalism. It makes it seem as though everyone is already saved (i.e., already in relationship with God; already on the heavenly rolls) and having faith means realizing that you’re already saved.
This quote makes two claims in particular I will dispute.
First, does faith in Jesus Christ “create a relationship”? Newton says it does not. On the contrary, the Bible describes at least two major changes in your relationship with God when you believe in Jesus.
For example, although all human beings are creatures of God, when you believe in Jesus you become a child of God:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).
Obviously, that is a major change in relationship.
Also, when you believe in Jesus, you are made part of the Body of Christ—which you did not belong to before:
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit (1 Cor 12:13).
Second, does faith “change your status on the heavenly rolls”? Newton denies it. Apparently, he believes everyone is already saved (if that’s what being on the “heavenly rolls” means). On the contrary, the Bible makes absolutely clear that your eternal status changes when you believe in Jesus. For example, the Lord said that when you believe in Him, several changes take place to your status. For example:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).
When you believe, your status changes from not having everlasting life to having it; from being condemned already, to not coming into judgment; from being dead, to becoming eternally alive. Those are three important status changes. In fact, there are as many as 40 such changes that happen at the point of faith (see here).
To emphasize just how important it is to change your status on the “heavenly rolls,” I encourage you to consider how the Book of Revelation teaches that spending eternity with God depends on being in the Book of Life, and, evidently, not everyone will be in it:
And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:15).
No wonder Jesus warned:
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
If you do not believe, you’ll be condemned.
Suffice to say, while I am very glad that Episcopalians like Newton are recognizing the dangers of works salvation and emphasizing the grace of God, I hope they won’t let an unbiblical concept of grace lead them astray. Don’t settle for fake grace—don’t settle for anything other than the grace that God has actually shown.