by Bob Wilkin
It was sometime in the 90s, maybe 1996. I was in downtown Dallas at the office of Zane Hodges.
I mentioned something about trust to Zane. I think I may have asked, “Do you think that trust is a good synonym for believing in Jesus?”
At the time, I thought it was. But I was interested to hear what Zane had to say about that.
Here is my recollection of what he said:
I used to refer to trusting in Christ as a synonym for believing in Him. I suppose I will occasionally slip and say that occasionally even now. However, I’ve come to be uncomfortable with the switch.
Nowhere do we find in Scripture, “He who trusts in Me has everlasting life.” Jesus called people to believe in Him, not to trust in Him.
Of course, the English word “trust” does in certain contexts act as a synonym for “belief.” We might say, “I trust that what he is saying is true.” However, trust can also convey more than simply believing in English. I think that is why so many prefer it. Trust can convey a sense of commitment and even obedience.
If the Lord Jesus spoke of believing in Him, why are we so determined to put that in different words?
In the years since then I’ve seen the wisdom in what Zane said. I too have tried to stop talking about trusting in Jesus and instead using the Biblical language of believing in Him for the life, the everlasting life, which He promises.
Recently the importance of this really hit home. Dr. Wayne Grudem released a book in July on five reasons why he believes Free Grace Theology diminishes the gospel. One of his main points—probably his main point, is that we have an “Underemphasis on Trust in the person of Christ” (Chapter 4).
Dr. Grudem is very smart. He starts with faith, then moves to trust, then moves to heartfelt trust in the Person, the moves to submission and obedience to the Lordship of Christ. He is not alone in this. All Lordship Salvation people reject the idea that believing in Jesus is believing in Jesus. They convert believing into trust and trust into commitment and obedience.
Here is essentially what happens to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that whoever submits to Him and obeys Him as a way of life should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Justification by faith alone can thus be justification by submission and obedience.
Frankly, I’m amazed that people buy this. It is one thing to say that must not rely on our works to save us, but must rely on Jesus to do so. That is how people once used trust when they spoke of the need to trust in Him. It is quite another to say that we must submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and must follow Him as a way of life in order to get into His kingdom.
Why do Lordship Salvation proponents push trust as a synonym for faith? Because they do not believe that Jesus and the Apostles taught that all who simply believe in Jesus have everlasting life. Because they believe that true saving faith is submission to Christ and obedience to Him, not just for a moment in time, but for a lifetime (though there may be some short times of failure, followed by returning to submission and obedience).
One final note before I end this blog.
Postmodernity emphasizes the existential. It emphasizes personal experiences. Thus when Grudem and other Lordship Salvation folks say that faith in Christ is “a personal encounter with Christ” (Grudem, “Free Grace” Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel, pp. 39, 52, 106, 108, 118), they move faith from something which is propositional, that is, believing what Jesus promised the believer, to something which is a personal experience. If we press and ask, but what is a personal encounter if it is not believing what Jesus said? the answer will be, it is heartfelt trust, that is submission and obedience to the Lordship of Christ.
I believe that Dr. Grudem and other Lordship Salvation advocates mean well. But they are inadvertently changing the promise of everlasting life to one for the believer to a promise to the obedient, to the faithful. Lordship Salvation doesn’t work for precisely that reason. No one can be born again by commitment and obedience. The only way to be born again, as the Lord repeatedly said, is to believe in Him. It really is that simple.