A Pastor friend told me he ran across a 1993 article I wrote regarding the chair illustration. He shared it with a Bible study group and they found my suggestion helpful.
The following is a revised and condensed version of that article.
Many theologians, including some Free Grace proponents, say that saving faith has three elements: understanding (notitia), acceptance (assensus), and trust (fiducia). Unless all three elements are present, they say, a person does not have saving faith.
This is sometimes illustrated by means of a chair. A person can understand that a chair claims to support a person who sits in it. The person can go a step further and accept that claim. That is, he can be convinced that the chair would hold him up if he chose to sit in it. However (so the illustration goes), unless and until a person actually chooses to sit in the chair he will not gain its benefit.
Sitting in the chair is likened to trusting in Christ for everlasting life. Typically the person using the illustration does not say that sitting in the chair illustrates believing in Christ for everlasting life. The second element, the acceptance of the truth, is believing in Jesus. Now one must go a step beyond believing in Jesus. (Are you sensing a problem here?) One must trust in Him. But what is trust if it isn’t believing?
In this way of thinking one can understand and even accept the claims of Christ concerning the gospel, yet not be saved because he has not yet personalized the gospel for himself. Before anyone can obtain the gift of everlasting life, he must go beyond understanding and acceptance of Christ’s claims and must actually trust Him.
At one time I used that illustration. I long ago stopped doing so because I came to see that it presents a confusing view of saving faith.
I’ve found that people do not know what they need to do to sit in the chair that is Christ. If believing in Him is not enough, what is this third element? What is trusting in Christ if it is not believing in Him? Trust is often a synonym for faith. But if trusting in Christ is an additional step beyond believing in Him, then confusion reigns.
(Lordship Salvation proponents explain that trusting in Christ is surrendering to Him and committing your life to Him. However, Free Grace proponents do not explain trust in that way. They leave it unexplained.)
Faith is not, in my opinion, made up of three elements.
Understanding is necessary for faith to occur. However, that is not exactly the same as saying that it is an element of faith.
Acceptance is a synonym for faith. When a person accepts that the testimony of someone is true, they believe or trust it. That is exactly what the Apostle John said in 1 John 5:9-11: “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater… He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself… And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”
To accept the testimony of God about His Son is to believe it. Acceptance is faith.
The problem with the chair illustration is that chairs don’t give support simply on the basis of faith. A person can wholeheartedly believe that a chair he sees across the room is trustworthy. He can be convinced it will hold him up. He may want its support. Yet believing in the chair does not mean that the person is sitting in it. To sit in it he must do more than believe in it. He must walk across the room, turn his body, and then lower himself into the chair.
What does the chair promise to do? It promises to support your legs and back. If the chair were like Jesus Christ, then the moment a person believed in the chair, his legs and back would immediately be supported. He’d never need to seek out the chair and sit in it. His legs and back would be forever supported by the chair. Guaranteed.
Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).
Do you believe Him?
That is, are you convinced that what He said is true?
There is no other step to take. To believe is accept as true. The moment a person believes in Jesus Christ for everlasting life, he has it once and for all. There is no additional step.