Free Grace people sometimes find themselves conflicted. When they visit a church or participate in a Bible study, should they give their opinion when someone gives an unclear presentation of the gospel? Oftentimes, nobody asks for your opinion, and there is a good chance that giving it will not be appreciated. Decorum often dictates that we should remain silent. Plus, we don’t want to be perceived as jerks. I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule about this. It depends on the situation and how well the people know you. Sometimes you might speak up. Other times, you keep silent.
I was recently confronted with such a situation. Some would conclude I was a jerk. Others would conclude I wasn’t bold enough for the Lord.
How would you have responded?
I was visiting a large adult Sunday school class in another state. The church belonged to a conservative Evangelical denomination that could be loosely described as Free Grace-friendly. The teacher was obviously well-prepared and had read much on the topic, which was the crucifixion account in Luke. He described various OT verses that he felt formed the basis for the Lucan narrative. I think he attended an Evangelical seminary.
When he talked about the believing thief on the cross, he asked the class of approximately thirty-five adults how we know the thief was “truly” saved. He noted that we have the words of the Lord on the matter, and that that settles it. The Lord told the thief that he would be with Him in paradise. But we also know the thief was saved because of what he himself said. The thief said four things. He repented. He confessed his sins. He proclaimed that he understood the Person of Christ. And he called upon the name of the Lord. On this last point, the teacher quoted Rom 10:9-10. He said that the thief on the cross provides us with a blueprint of how one is saved. The thief’s words were the fruit of true faith; without such fruit, there is no salvation. The class appeared to be in complete agreement.
I was not sure that the teacher meant to say what he said. He seemed to be saying that the thief needed to speak the words he spoke in order to be saved from hell. I thought he was not being as clear as he wanted to be. He might want to reword what he said. I could help him out a little. So I asked, “What if the thief simply believed that Jesus was the Christ and that He guaranteed him eternal life in His kingdom? Would that have been enough to save him? In other words, did he have to say the words he said in order to be saved?”
I was honestly surprised at his response. He said, “No. Faith alone could not have saved him. He had to say the words. There is no example in the NT of anyone’s being saved by faith alone. The fruit must follow.” He then asked me if I knew of anybody in the NT who was saved without speaking. I said I thought Cornelius and his whole household were saved without saying a word. He said that the account in Acts 10 does not support faith alone as being sufficient to save, but that it would take too long to look at the details.
I was a visitor and did not want to be a bigger jerk than I thought the teacher and class may have already concluded I was. So, that was the extent of my comments. Some members of the class did chime in, however. One man said he didn’t believe the thief had to say the words. After all, what if he had been unable to speak? But in that case, he would still have had to think the same four things in his mind. This seemed to be the general consensus. In their minds, faith alone was not enough. Saving faith will produce the fruit demonstrated by the thief’s words.
How would you have responded?
Did I go too far, wearing out my welcome? Did I not go far enough by not pointing out how unbiblical the whole conversation was? I could have said that this is such an important topic that we should look at Acts 10 in detail. Maybe I’m just a chicken.
We all need to answer these kinds of questions. Hopefully, all the readers of this blog will see how terrible this teacher’s interpretation of the thief of the cross was.
However, even some who recognize how unbiblical it was, take the attitude that it is not a big deal. Such a gospel presentation, while not the best, is acceptable.
I disagree. What a confusing gospel that was. We may not know how to respond in each situation, but such teaching should affect us like fingernails on a chalkboard. The only real question is: How do we best, and with grace, clearly proclaim the message that eternal life is, indeed, given by faith alone?