One of the dangers of writing articles and books for over thirty years is that people notice if you contradict yourself. I plead guilty. I have not always been as clear as I wish I had been.
Here is an email with a genuine concern about what I believe:
I am fairly new to GES and I have introduced some of my friends and acquaintances to your organization and the Free Grace Theology teachings. Some are very open and receptive and want to learn more. Some have actually been turned as they are seeing the light of God’s truth in Scripture supporting FG assertions. However, some have flatly and outright rejected the FG views in a polite and irenic way while some are vehemently angered and judgmental about it.
I have a friend who has asked me to pose a question to you. He has been studying old articles from the GES data bank and is confused (as I am) about what we think are conflicting messages from you about what believing in Jesus exactly means in order to be saved. The question specifically is this. What is it that a person has to believe Him for?
As we understand it, a person, in order to be saved, needs to believe that Jesus can impart and guarantee everlasting (eternal) life that is permanent and irrevocable, to those who believe in Him for it. (From your blog titled “What Does It Mean to Believe in Jesus,” July 2018). In that same article, you also said that by believing all or any of the other wonderful, marvelous and glorious truths about Him, His virgin birth, His deity, His death on the cross, burial and resurrection does not save anyone. It should lead them to believe in Him for everlasting life. (I believe this to be God’s truth as it is revealed in Scripture.)
However, he has pointed me to two articles authored by you, in which you say something contrary (or appears like it) to the assertions stated above. I’ve italicized the perceived contradictions in both articles for emphasis. Your statements seem to indicate that “believing that Jesus died and paid the penalty for our sins is necessary to be believed for salvation.”
The first article was titled “Are There False Professors? If So, How can We Identify Them?” August 1989. Here’s the excerpt:
[When] I talk to people about the gospel, I ask them questions. Do they believe in eternal security? Are they sure they have eternal life? Why should God let them into heaven? How would they share the gospel with someone else? If they indicate that they are sinners who are eternally secure by grace because Jesus died and paid the penalty for all of their sins, I conclude that they are saved. If not, I am unsure as to whether they are a confused believer or whether they never were saved in the first place. In any case I then attempt to make sure that they now understand the gospel and accept it.
The second article was titled (“Is Following Christ a Condition of Eternal Life?” April 1990). Here’s the excerpt: “Once we come to trust in Christ alone as the One who paid the full and complete payment for all our sins, we have ETERNAL life. We will never perish.”
Are we misreading and misunderstanding these statements? Or are these your old views that now have evolved and changed to the current ones shown in the July 2018 article. It would be greatly appreciated if you could clarify this for us. Thank you and keep up the great work of this ministry. I continually lift you and GES up in prayer.
I founded GES in 1986. The first newsletters went out that summer. A year later I left my teaching position at Multnomah School of the Bible (now University) and went full time with GES.
From the start I believed that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. That is, I was convinced back in 1986 that one had to believe in Jesus for ever-lasting life in order to be born again. Back then I probably would have said that believing in the finished work of Christ on the cross meant that you were believing in Him for everlasting life, since He paid it all. I thought then that a person might believe that Jesus died for him and rose again and yet still not be born again because he believed in some form of works salvation. But once a person believed that Jesus’ work is finished, then he could not believe in works salvation.
Notice that in the August 1989 article I ask two questions about assurance of everlasting life. That shows my belief even then that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. I do mention that they are sure “because Jesus died and paid the penalty for all of their sins.” I do not think that was incorrect. The cross of Christ is the ultimate proof that the promise of life for the believer is true.
However, in the April 1990 article your friend found, I say something different, something I do not agree with today: “Once we come to trust in Christ alone as the one who paid the full and complete payment for all our sins, we have ETERNAL life. We will never perish.” First, I should have spoken of believing in Christ alone, not trusting in Christ alone. There is potential confusion in speaking of trust. See this April 6, 2018 blog. Second, I should have referred to everlasting life as what we believe in Jesus for. Third, I make it appear that the object of saving faith is the finished work of Christ.
Over the years I’ve come to see that it is possible to believe in the finished work of Christ on the cross and at the same time to believe in Lordship Salvation or even straight-up works salvation.
What it means to believe in Jesus is to believe in Him for everlasting life. See John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-27; 20:31; Acts 16:31; 1 Tim 1:16. Believing in the finished work of Christ should lead people to believe in Him for what He promises, everlasting life. But the finished work of Christ is not the promise of life. It is sadly possible to believe the former and not the latter.
I should mention in closing that there are probably many other statements I’ve made over the years that I no longer think are crystal clear. So has my evangelistic message changed? Yes and no. Yes, I am clearer now than I used to be. No, my basic message has always been that if we believe in Jesus we have everlasting life which can never be lost. I’ve always stressed assurance of everlasting life.
Thanks for the great question.