Do you know when you were born-again?
Some Free Grace people say they were born-again before they believed in Jesus for eternal life. They believe those doctrines now, but they say they were born-again before.
How do they know?
Usually, based on an experience they had.
“I suddenly had a desire to read Scripture, and I didn’t have that desire before—clearly, I was born again.” Or, “I was a heavy drinker, and when I gave my life to Christ, I suddenly stopped drinking.” Or, “I used to cuss all the time, but I stopped cussing, and that’s proof I got saved.”
But those are not Biblical bases for assurance. They also commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent. And worse still, they seem to be excuses to prove you can believe a false gospel and still be saved…so long as you have the right experiences.
I think some Free Grace folk resist teaching the necessity of believing in Jesus for everlasting life because the implications are upsetting.
It’s upsetting to be told you were not a real Christian until you believed in Jesus for eternal life (or the equivalent). But just because it’s upsetting, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
John Wesley knew all about the importance of this issue.
I am reading through an excellent biography of Wesley—the founder of Methodism—written by Jake Hanson. Wesley was a priest in the Church of England and a firm believer in salvation-by-works. And then, one day, he heard the message that sinners are justified before God by faith apart from works, and he believed it. This was Wesley’s famous Aldersgate experience where he said, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” You might think that Wesley based his conversion on that emotional experience.
Here is what Wesley said he came to realize:
“I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death” (Hanson, Crossing the Divide, p. 61).
It certainly sounds like Wesley came to saving faith in Christ at that moment (though he later fell into theological error). And what’s more, he knew that, up until that moment of faith, he had been an “almost Christian.”
That caused a scandal.
It upset people.
After all, Wesley was a baptized, Oxford-educated, duly ordained priest! How could he not be Christian?
Still, Wesley insisted he was not saved until he believed in Christ for justification. And to make matters worse, he insisted neither were most members of the Church of England:
“In a moment of unchecked zeal, John surprised the group by standing up and insisting that five days earlier, he had not been a Christian…As if this were not enough to shock the sensibilities of those gathered, he also began to insist that all those gathered must recognize that they were not Christians either” (Hanson, Crossing the Divide, p. 62).
These folk thought they were Christian because of their baptism, because they took communion, and because they were members of a church. But Wesley told them they were wrong. Salvation was by faith in Christ, apart from works, and until they believed that, they were not truly saved:
“Thereafter, he dedicated his life to sharing the genuine faith that for so long eluded him, and the faith that, he was convinced, the multitudes of professing Christians in England had thus far rejected. In Wesley’s estimation, the Reformation truth of salvation by faith alone had not yet reached the masses” (Hanson, Crossing the Divide, p. 64).
Not much has changed since then.
We’re still fighting the same battles.
We’re still trying to reach the masses, with the same message: that salvation comes when you believe in Jesus for everlasting life, and not a second before.
The truth upsets people. But it also sets them free.