At our May 2023 Annual Conference, Mike Lii gave a talk in which he distinguished between what he called “Focused Free Grace” and “Flexible Free Grace.” You can see his message on the GES YouTube channel here. He also translated that message into a JOTGES article that we plan to run in the Spring 2024 issue.
His point is that the expression free grace, by itself, can be misleading because there are two different forms of Free Grace Theology. The two key differences between these two forms of Free Grace Theology center on (1) whether everlasting life (irrevocable eternal salvation) is an essential part of the saving message and (2) whether a person must be assured of everlasting life (irrevocable eternal salvation) when he believes the saving message.
I will briefly summarize some of Mike’s points and mix in a few distinguishing characteristics that I’ve discovered as well.i
|Flexible Free Grace||Focused Free Grace|
|Assurance of irrevocable salvation is optional for salvation.||Assurance of irrevocable salvation is required for salvation.|
|Lordship Salvation is a saving message.||Lordship Salvation is a false gospel.|
|Faith in Christ is a commitment to Christ’s claims.||Faith in Christ is being persuaded He gives everlasting life to all who believe in Him.|
|One must desire a new way of life in order to be saved.||A desire for moral reform is not required.|
|John’s Gospel is not the only book written to unbelievers.||John’s Gospel is the only book written to unbelievers.|
|Belief in Jesus’ deity, death, and resurrection, without faith in His promise of life, is saving.||One must believe in the Lord Jesus for the promise of everlasting life.|
|Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants all teach a saving message.||Most Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants do not teach the saving message.ii|
|Christ’s death potentially makes all savable, but one must believe in it for it to count.||Christ’s death actually makes all savable, whether we believe in it or not.|
While the differences are many and major, there are also many points of agreement, including the following:
- Believers are not guaranteed or required to persevere in faith and good works.
- The Judgment Seat of Christ is a separate judgment for believers for the purpose of determining degrees of reward in the kingdom.
- The Great White Throne Judgment is a separate judgment for unbelievers for the purpose of determining their degrees of eternal conscious torment in the lake of fire.iii
- The unregenerate can seek God and respond to Him.
- Once a person is saved, he is saved forever.
- The warning passages in Hebrews warn believers about temporal judgment, not false professors about eternal condemnation.
Some of the leaders of Flexible Free Grace organizations used to be on the board of GES. Some used to speak and write for GES. Some once worked for GES. Since the 2006 GES annual conference, the Free Grace Movement has been divided into two major factions.iv See here for Bob Bryant’s 2023 conference message about the 2006 conference.
Are you flexible, or are you focused?
i This chart summarizes what most Flexible Free Grace advocates believe and teach. There are exceptions on some of the points, but not on the first point. All Flexible FG people hold that the assurance of irrevocable everlasting life is not required in order to be born again. In theological terms, they all reject the view that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. In their view, a person must only believe that by faith in Christ, he is saved for now. Focused FGers say that one must believe that by faith in Christ, he is saved forever!
ii Focused Free Grace people do not know what percentage of Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants are born again. It is not as simple as taking surveys. While less than 10% of professing Christians affirm that they are saved once and for all by faith in Christ totally apart from perseverance in good works, we don’t know what percentage believed in the past and fell away. We also don’t know what percentage will come to faith before they die.
iii Some Flexible Free Grace people believe in annihilationism and hence no torment. Others believe in unconscious torment.
iv The division existed before the 2006 conference but came prominently to the forefront then.