We believe in Free Grace Theology—which is distinct from Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutheranism, Thomism, and other –isms.
But where did the term “Free Grace” come from?
Some people think it’s redundant.
I wish it were.
Historically, the expression “free grace” was used by both Calvinists and Arminians.
For example, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached a sermon called Free Grace (Sermon 128, preached in 1740). Wesley was preaching against the Calvinistic theory of predestination. Wesley’s point was that God’s offer of salvation was not based on any merit in man, but was free to all:
- How freely does God love the world! While we were yet sinners, “Christ died for the ungodly.” While we were “dead in our sin,” God “spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” And how freely with him does he “give us all things!” Verily, free grace is all in all!
- The grace or love of God, whence cometh our salvation, is free in all, and free for all.
- First. It is free in all to whom it is given. It does not depend on any power or merit in man; no, not in any degree, neither in whole, nor in part. It does not in anywise depend either on the good works or righteousness of the receiver; not on anything he has done, or anything he is. It does not depend on his endeavors. It does not depend on his good tempers, or good desires, or good purposes and intentions; for all these flow from the free grace of God; they are the streams only, not the fountain. They are the fruits of free grace, and not the root. They are not the cause, but the effects of it. Whatsoever good is in man, or is done by man, God is the author and doer of it. Thus is his grace free in all; that is, no way depending on any power or merit in man, but on God alone, who freely gave us his own Son, and “with him freely giveth us all things.
But Calvinists have used the term, too.
Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon with that title (see here).
And I have copies of a periodical called The Free Grace Broadcaster which republishes sermons by Calvinists.
So, both Arminians and Calvinists have used the term.
I don’t think the term “Free Grace” was adopted from either Wesleyans or Calvinists. Instead, I think it was in response to claims that the faith alone message amounted to “cheap grace.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke about the danger of cheap grace in his book The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer wasn’t talking about the Free Grace position. The context was the rise of National Socialism in Germany. Bonhoeffer was complaining about Lutheran priests granting sacramental forgiveness to churchgoers who were active Nazis. They’d do wrong, confess their sins at church, and be sacramentally “forgiven.” That was “cheap grace.” Instead, Bonhoeffer thought we should preach “costly grace: “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church,” he wrote. “We are fighting today for costly grace.”
But Bonhoeffer’s language of cheap grace was later applied to those of us who believe the only condition to be born again is to believe in Jesus for eternal salvation. Works are part of discipleship but are not a condition to be born again. Some people mistakenly call that “cheap grace,” missing the point entirely. After all, saying that grace is “cheap” implies it still costs something. But we’re not saying eternal life costs just a little bit. We’re saying that eternal life is free:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God (Eph 2:8).
Hence, instead of preaching cheap grace or costly grace, we preach free grace.