I have a little test for you, designed to challenge your critical thinking skills.
Are you ready?
It’s a puzzler! Here it is—
If I put a $20 bill into an empty wallet and then put that wallet into my empty pocket, how much money is in my pocket?
$20, right? Whatever is in my wallet is also in my pocket. Not too hard a puzzle. But what if I denied that? What would you say to me then?
You might try going over it with me, taking out my wallet, and showing how having money in there means having money in my pocket. But if I was still adamant about being penniless, my Southern friends might eventually look at me with pity at my inability to think through such a simple problem and say, “Well, bless your heart.”
With that illustration in mind, consider what Wayne Grudem writes about faith and works in his book, “Free Grace” Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel.
He says he believes in salvation by faith and denies that he believes in works-salvation.
Is he right?
Let’s use our critical thinking skills again.
First, consider how Grudem defines repentance. Quoting Heb 6:1, “repentance from dead works,” he explains:
In this verse, the from (Greek apo) is important: it shows that repentance is not merely a “change of mind” about one’s accountability before God (a common Free Grace explanation) but includes a conscious turning away from dead works. This implies a decision to turn away from one’s former pattern of life and begin to walk in a path of obedience to Christ (Grudem, “Free Grace” Theology, pp. 41-42, emphasis added).
According to Grudem, what does it mean to repent? It means more than changing your mind, but changing the pattern of your life, turning away from your bad behavior (“dead works”), and walking in obedience to Christ. In other words, repentance means doing good works. (As it happens, we would be among the Free Grace people who agree with that definition of repentance; see here).
Second, consider how Grudem describes the relationship between repentance and faith:
Repentance and faith are mentioned together in Hebrews 6:1 because repentance from sin is a component of truly turning to Christ in faith for salvation from that very sin (Grudem, p. 42, emphasis added).
According to Grudem, repentance is a component of faith. It is part of it.
Third, let’s use your reasoning skills. According to Grudem, if works are a part of repentance, and repentance is a component of saving faith, are works necessary for salvation? Clearly, yes. And if Grudem thinks that doing works is necessary to be saved, that means Grudem teaches salvation by works.
And yet, he denies it!
This is not adding works to faith…Such a commitment of the heart to turn from sin is no more “salvation by works” than is a commitment of the heart to trust in Christ. Both are decisions of the heart. Neither one is a work in the sense of an act one does to merit favor with God (Grudem, p. 42).
Are you convinced? I find his denial as persuasive as someone who just put a wallet with $20 into his pants saying, “No, no, no, this is not adding $20 to my pocket.” Really?
Instead of denying that he is adding works to faith, Grudem should admit that his “decision of the heart” makes works a condition of salvation. I respect works-salvation teachers who are open about what they believe. But better still, Grudem should see his error, repudiate it, and adopt a consistent faith-alone position. And if somehow he can’t see the plain implication of his teaching, well, then, bless his heart!