Faith is just that. Faith. In fact, that is the title of the second chapter of Zane Hodges’s book, Absolutely Free: “Faith Means Just That—Faith.”
Believing in Jesus for everlasting life is not some special kind of faith. It is simply being persuaded that He guarantees everlasting life to all who believe in Him for that gift (John 4:10; Eph 2:8-9; Rev 22:17).
In my book The Ten Most Misunderstood Words in the Bible, I write this about saving faith:
Saving faith means believing in the Lord Jesus Christ for everlasting life (cf. 1 Tim 1:16). Nothing else is saving faith. Not only is believing in Him for everlasting life enough, but it is also the only way to have everlasting life. Jesus guarantees everlasting life to all who simply believe in Him for it—with no strings attached (p. 22).
In his book Absolutely Free, Zane Hodges wrote, “The truth that Jesus is the Christ—the truth that He is the Giver of eternal life to every believer—is saving truth. Belief in this truth produces immediate—and permanent—new birth” (p. 38).
However, there is not unanimous agreement in Free Grace circles. A book defending Free Grace Theology says that “faith is more than intellectual assent” and that it involves a response of one’s intellect, emotions, and will.i
Hodges rejected that way of describing faith: “The Bible knows nothing about an intellectual faith as over against some other kind of faith (like emotional or volitional). What the Bible does recognize is the obvious distinction between faith and unbelief!” (Absolutely Free, p. 29). I agree. To introduce emotional and willful components is to confuse the simple message of John 3:16.
It is because of this three-part definition of saving faith that many people who identify as Free Grace like illustrations of saving faith which require more than belief, like the chair illustration. The illustration says that you can believe the chair will hold you up, but you won’t get the benefit of the chair until you sit in it. You must make the choice to get into the chair. Believing in the chair is not enough. Other Free Grace people like the lifeboat illustration,ii the plane illustration, or the Blondin in the wheelbarrow on the tightrope illustration. What they all have in common is that believing is insufficient to save. You must then choose to get in.
Exactly how one gets into Jesus is never explained. It is more than believing in Him. It involves one’s emotions and one’s will. But whatever this second step is, it is not believing in Jesus.
In John 3:16, the Lord Jesus promised that the moment I believe in Him, I have everlasting life that can never be lost. I have the promised life the moment I believe, not some time later. There is no additional step.
I suggest we modify those illustrations to fit the Scriptures. The moment I believe the chair will hold me up, I’m sitting in it. The moment I believe the plane, lifeboat, or wheelbarrow will bring me to where I want to go, I’m there. No additional step is required. Of course, that is not the way those things work. That is why those are bad illustrations.
What we need is an illustration of something we receive the moment we believe. Can you think of any illustration like that? I can’t, either. Well, except for the illustrations the Lord gave us, like one drink of the living water or one bite of the bread of life. Drinking and eating illustrate faith, and the result of faith is having everlasting life that can never be lost (John 4:10, 14; 6:35).
The idea that saving faith is more than simple persuasion is confusing. It is time that all who identify with Free Grace Theology embrace the simplicity of faith and saving faith.
i See A Defense of Free Grace Theology, pp. 69, 71.
ii See Free and Clear: Understanding and Communicating God’s Offer of Eternal Life, p. 41.