A friend sent me a copy of a 2009 booklet by Fred Chay titled The Glorious Grace of God: Understanding Free Grace Theology. I found myself agreeing with much of what he wrote. But I also found several issues that I disagreed with. I believe discussing his booklet helps clarify areas of agreement and disagreement in current Free Grace Theology.
I realize that 2009 is now 13 years ago. The reason I call these issues current Free Grace issues is not because they were in a 2009 booklet. It is because I hear and read about these nine issues all the time today. Chay did a good job of discussing issues that were not only important then, but also now. In a sense, these are timeless issues.
Six Areas of Agreement
Everlasting life/eternal salvation is a free gift. Paul referred to salvation as a free gift nine times in his Epistles (pp. 6-7). James did as well in Jas 1:17-18. John 4:10 and Rev 21:6 and 22:17 all emphasize everlasting life as the gift of God (pp. 4-6). While all Evangelicals would agree formally, they would not go so far as to say that “There is no cost to count, and there are no works to perform” (p. 10). That is a distinctly Free Grace statement.
Faith is simply being persuaded that the saving message is true. Chay writes, “The Free Grace view of simple faith in Jesus is: to be convinced or persuaded about a saving proposition concerning Jesus Christ (e.g., John 1:12; 5:24; 6:47).” While not all who identify as Free Grace would agree with Chay, I am in full agreement on this vital point.
Rejection of the saying that we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone. Chay points out that while that saying might sound good, “then how can one be saved by faith alone since by definition faith is never alone?” (p. 16). Great point.
John 6:47 is a message sufficient to save. Chay writes, “When Jesus says, ‘Truly, truly I say unto you, he who believes in Me has eternal life’ in John 6:47, the word ‘believe’ means—to be convinced and assured that what He says is true” (p. 21). While some who call themselves Free Grace would say that faith is more than being convinced and that John 6:47 contains too little information, I agree with Chay.
Failure, even major failure, is possible in the Christian life. “Free Grace teaches that real Christians can fall away, slide into serious sin, and utterly fail. (Consider the many warnings to Christians in the NT.) Conceivably, Christians could even end up denying the Lord, if they continue forsaking the truth and hardening themselves to the work of the Spirit of God in their lives” (Chay, pp. 24-25). While I would omit the word conceivably, since it tends to cast doubt about whether some believers actually deny the Lord, I agree with that statement.
Perseverance is a rewards issue, not a salvation issue. Chay points out that “Free Grace Theology emphasizes the importance of persevering in doing good works for the Lord’s approval and reward” (p. 28). That is so true. Chay is also correct when he goes on to point out that Lordship Salvation does not believe in eternal rewards (pp. 28-29).
Three Areas of Disagreement
Assurance is possible at the moment of faith. Chay says that “When one believes, one can then know that he or she has eternal life as a present possession” (p. 11, emphasis added). Notice the word can, which suggests that assurance is possible, but not certain at the moment of faith. Chay uses can two other times in this short booklet to stress the possibility of assurance (pp. 14, 23). The Bible, by contrast, teaches that when one believes, then he is convinced that he has what the Lord Jesus promises–everlasting life that cannot be lost. It is impossible to believe a verse like John 6:47 and yet not be sure of one’s own eternal destiny.
The saving proposition is that “Jesus, the Son of God, died for your sin, rose from the grave to defeat the power of sin and death, and can give you eternal life freely, as a gift” (p. 14). Chay does not explain what it means to believe that Jesus is the Son of God or that “He died for your sin” (p. 14). He does explain, however, that one must believe that He “rose from the dead to defeat the power of sin and death” (p. 14, italics added). He appears to mean that to be saved one must be persuaded that those who believe in Christ are no longer slaves of sin. The final part of the saving proposition, he says, is that Jesus “can give you eternal life freely, as a gift” (p. 14). It is not clear how Chay harmonizes these statements about the content of saving faith with what he wrote about John 6:47, which does not contain most of the information he says is necessary to be born again. I would suggest that his statement leaves out a key point made in John 6:47—the need to believe in Jesus for what He promises, everlasting life that cannot be lost. The issue is not whether He is able to give everlasting life as a free gift to the believer. It is whether He does that or not. Also, there is very little if any Biblical support for the idea that to be born again one must believe that the believer is no longer a slave of sin.
Lordship Salvation is a saving message, though it hinders discipleship. After discussing Lordship Salvation teachings, Chay writes, “some people spend their whole life focused on the wrong things. As a result, at the end of their life the Lord Jesus can say their works all burned and their life was worthless in terms of value to Jesus. But regardless of the life they lived on earth, they (their souls) are saved as through fire (1 Corinthians 3)” (p. 17). Earlier in the booklet, he had said of the man who coined the expression cheap grace, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a strong Lordship Salvation proponent, that “His life, which ended tragically but triumphantly in a Nazi concentration camp, was a testimony to consecrated living” (p. 3, italics added). This is another significant difference between those who claim the Free Grace position. Some say that Lordship Salvation is wrong but is still a saving message. Others, like Zane Hodges and GES, say that Lordship Salvation is a false gospel and is not a saving message. While many Lordship Salvation people once believed in the promise of everlasting life to all who simply believe—and hence are still saved, the Lordship Salvation message is a poisonous message. Sadly, many who hold to Lordship Salvation have never believed in the free gift of everlasting life and thus are not yet born again.
I started Grace Evangelical Society in 1986. From the start, we were all united on the freeness of everlasting life, the fact that perseverance is not guaranteed or required, that eternal rewards are a separate issue from everlasting life, and that the message of Lordship Salvation is wrong.
However, I came to realize from 1990 to 2010 that there were significant differences that exist in Free Grace circles over precisely what the saving message is, over whether assurance is of the essence of saving faith, and over whether Lordship Salvation is a saving message. Those differences resulted in people leaving GES and starting other ministries that align with their views.
Over the past dozen years, differences between people identifying as Free Grace have become more pronounced.
I am thankful for the areas of agreement. Those are encouraging. But I am very concerned by the areas of disagreement.