About a decade ago, I was talking with a pastor who identified as a Free Grace proponent. He told me that a person need not believe in Jesus for everlasting life or anything at all. All one had to believe is that Jesus was sent from God.
Three years ago, I read an article in which another Free Grace proponent said what a person needs to believe in order to be born again is that Jesus was sent from God and that He died on the cross for our sins and rose again.
That same writer went on to say that we do not need to proclaim the promise of everlasting life when we evangelize because everlasting life is the result of believing in Jesus, not the object of faith. He said that the statements in John’s Gospel that deal with the promise of everlasting life are not evangelistic verses written to bring unbelievers to faith in Christ but are discipleship verses designed to lead those who already believe in Jesus to gain assurance.
I recently ran across another Free Grace proponent who said that belief in the irrevocability of salvation was not required. He also said that irrevocable salvation is the result of believing in Jesus, not the object of saving faith. He said that all who believe that Jesus was sent by God are born again.
Is the promise of everlasting life optional in evangelism?
John 3:16 is an evangelistic verse. Nicodemus was not yet born again when he heard that. The readers of John’s Gospel were not born again when they read that (John 20:31). The same is true of John 4:14; 5:24; 6:35, 37, 39, 40, 47. Those verses were not designed to assure those who had already believed that they have everlasting life.i
Everlasting life given by the Lord Jesus is both the result of believing in Him and what it means to believe in Him. In John 4:10, the Lord Jesus identified two things one must believe to be born again: the gift of God and the Giver of the gift. He went on to identify the gift of God as everlasting life (John 4:14) and the Giver of the gift as Himself, the Messiah (John 4:25-26).
In John 11:25-27, the Lord indicated that the one who believes in Him will be raised from the dead and will never die spiritually. He then asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” He was asking if she believed in the security of the believer. She said yes and explained why. She was convinced that He is the Christ, the Son of God. To believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is to believe that He guarantees everlasting life that cannot be lost to all who believe in Him.
We in the Free Grace movement must take care that our evangelistic message has good news in it. If the result is not part of the message we proclaim, then what is the good news in our message? If we do not tell the unbeliever that the believer receives something, then Good Friday becomes Bad Friday. Jesus died needlessly if the one who believes in Him receives nothing.
The Apostle Paul said that his own experience of coming to faith in Christ is an example “to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Tim 1:16). The words for everlasting life state the promise we must believe in Jesus to fulfill.
John Piper, not a Free Grace advocate, made this excellent observation in this regard:
…there is a misleading ambiguity in Wright’s statement that we are saved not by believing in justification by faith but by believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The ambiguity is that it leaves undefined what we believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection for [italics his]. It is not saving faith to believe in Jesus merely for prosperity or health or a better marriage…
The summons “Believe the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection” has no content that is yet clearly good news [italics his]. Not until the gospel preacher tells the listener what Jesus offers him personally and freely does this proclamation have the quality of good news…Of course, it is Jesus who saves, not the doctrine. And so our faith rests decisively on Jesus. But the doctrine tells us what sort of Jesus we are resting on and what we are resting on him for. Without this, the word Jesus has no content that could be good news (Piper, The Future of Justification, pp. 85-86).
One can convey the promise of everlasting life by using other phrases such as “salvation that cannot be lost,” “an eternally secure relationship with God,” “a guarantee to spend eternity with Jesus in His kingdom,” or “justification that can never be revoked.” But, unless we tell people that Jesus promises a secure eternal future for the believer, the gospel is no longer good news, and it is no longer the saving message.
i It is true, of course, that a believer can lose assurance of everlasting life. If he does, going back to evangelistic verses can indeed restore his assurance. Of course, whether he regains assurance or not, he remains eternally secure because that is the promise.