by SC Lazar
One could say, with good reason, that the Free Grace movement represents a shift in focus from a traditional Pauline priority in evangelical theology, to a more Johannine one. Put differently, if the Reformation began with a rediscovery of the Pauline corpus and its liberating doctrine of justification by faith apart from works (as taught in Romans and Galatians), one could say the Free Grace movement grows out of a rediscovery of the Johannine corpus, and its clarifying doctrines of eternal life and eternal security (from the Gospel), of abiding fellowship with Christ (in the Epistles), and of eternal rewards in the coming theocratic kingdom (in Revelation). Taken together, these help to cut many of the Gordian knots produced by the Reformers, who, while proclaiming a message of salvation by faith alone, nevertheless made the performance of good works essential to redemption, whether by making it depend on the sacraments (as in Lutheran theology), or by redefining faith to include good works (as with the Anabaptists), or by making works necessary to introspectively determining one’s status among the elect (the Puritans).
By contrast, Free Grace theology, following John, proclaims the unvarnished gift of eternal life, and teaches about both the simplicity of faith and the gravity of works, without thereby conflating the two. Specifically, John teaches us that while eternal life is given freely to anyone who simply believes in Jesus’ promise apart from their works (John 3:36), nevertheless, good works are necessary for maintaining fellowship with God in this life (1 John 2:28), and for determining one’s rewards in the life to come (Revelation 22:12). To be sure, the very same doctrines can be found in Paul, but centuries of (mis)exegesis have buried them in muddy waters, and reading Paul in light of John helps bring these precious truths back to the surface. Proposing this Johannine priority does not involve a Marcionite rejection of the rest of revelation, but a recognition that according to the analogy of faith, John’s plain and positive doctrines illuminate the rest of Scripture.