Issue One: Assurance, Or, Must One
Believe in the Eternality of the Gift?
One question that has emerged is whether one needs to believe in Jesus for something that cannot be lost. Whether we call that something justification, salvation, heaven, or eternal life, the question is whether one must believe that what he receives by believing in Jesus is permanent or not.
Some Free Grace people believe that assurance of one’s eternal destiny is not of the essence of saving faith. In other words, some would say that as long a person believes that he is saved or justified by faith in Jesus, he is born again even if he doesn’t believe that salvation or justification is eternal or secure.i
Many other Free Grace people believe that assurance of one’s eternal destiny if of the essence of saving faith. In their view a person must believe that by faith in Jesus his eternal destiny is set.
This became a major issue at the 2006 GES conference when Zane Hodges and Bob Bryant presented messages showing from Scripture that what we believe Jesus for is everlasting life, life that that never be lost. Hodges and Bryant showed that if a person has never believed that his eternal destiny is secure by faith in Jesus, then he has not yet been born again.
Issue Two: The Five Essentials,
Or, Must One Believe in Jesus’
Deity, Substitutionary Death,
and Bodily Resurrection?
A second question is whether a person must believe in the death, resurrection, and deity of Christ in order to be born again. Some in Free Grace circles say Yes and some say No.
Exactly how many essentials there are and what those essentials are is not yet agreed upon in Free Grace circles. Some, including this writer, say that all one must believe is the truth of John 11:26, that anyone who believes in Jesus has everlasting life that can never be lost.
Others have four, five, and six essentials. They say that anyone who fails to believe in Jesus’ deity, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection are lost, even if they believe in Him and Him alone for everlasting life that can never be lost.
Those who say that you technically need not believe in the death, resurrection, or deity of Christ to be born again, nonetheless are not saying that there could be the gift of eternal life apart from these truths. What they are saying is that these things should lead people to faith in Christ. These are the greatest signs that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30-31). But they are not the object of saving faith. Jesus Himself and His promise of eternal life is the specific object of saving faith (John 11:25-27).
With that as a background on the two issues, we are now prepared to discuss the obvious four views. The four views are Yes and Yes, Yes and No, No and Yes, and No and No.
View One: Yes on Eternality
and Yes on Five Essentialsii
In this view one must believe both the five essentials and in the eternality of the gift that Jesus gives. In this view a person who believes that he has eternal life that can never be lost simply because he believes in Jesus Christ is not saved unless he also believes that Jesus is God, that He died on the cross for his personal sins, and that He rose bodily from the dead on the third day. Additionally, people holding this view say that if a person believes that Jesus died and rose and is God and that He saves him, but he doesn’t believe that He is saved once and for all, he is not yet born again. This is what I call the Yes and Yes position.
View Two: Yes on Eternality
and No on Five Essentialsiii
In this view all a person needs to do is simply believe in Jesus Christ for the gift of everlasting life that cannot be lost. Another way of saying this is that you must believe in the eternality of the gift to all who simply believe in Jesus Christ, but you need not believe the five essentials. People holding this view aren’t saying there are lots of people who fail to believe in Jesus’ death or resurrection or deity when they believe in Him for eternal life. What they are saying is that the object of faith is Jesus and His promise of life. If a person is able to believe that, regardless of how he came to believe that, then he is born again.
In this view, however, while few adults come to faith without those other beliefs, likely lots of children are born again before they have a good grasp (or even a grasp) of the hypostatic union (God and Man together in one body), the Trinity (which is a necessary component of the deity of Christ), the bodily resurrection of Jesus, or substitutionary atonement. I call this the Yes and No position.
View Number Three: No on Eternality
and Yes on Five Essentialsiv
In this view the person who believes in Jesus Christ and the five essentials for the gift of salvation (or life or forgiveness or justification) has it even if he does not believe that what he has received is eternal. This view says you must believe the five essentials, but you need not believe the gift is eternal. This is what I call the No and Yes position.
View Number Four: No on Eternality
and No on Five Essentialsv
The fourth view is that one simply needs to believe in Jesus Christ for the gift of salvation, but he need not believe that the gift is eternal and he also need not believe in the essentials. This view says one need not believe either the five essentials or the eternality of the gift. One simply needs to believe that if he died at the moment of faith in Jesus Christ he would go to heaven. I call this the No and No position.
The State of Free Grace Theology
It appears that GES for its first 20 years, 1986 through 2006, had people within its ranks who held to all four of these views. Probably the reason there was so much diversity was because many people were focused on our areas of agreement (especially our disagreement with Lordship Salvation). Lately, however, the two major areas of disagreement have received a lot of attention in terms of articles and even a book. Thus four views are now more evident than ever before.
I find that many people are writing and speaking as though there are only two views. These people make the only issue the five essentials. If that were the only Free Grace issue, then indeed there would only be two views. But the first tsunami in Free Grace theology was not the five essentials. The first was assurance being of the essence of saving faith, that is, the eternality of the gift. Since there are two areas of contention, there are four different factions.
The apostle Paul said something that applies to the current situation: “For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you” (1 Cor 11:19). Paul appears to be saying that God does not view factions as terrible per se. He views factions as tests. Who will stand for the truth? Those who are approved are the ones who will emerge as overcomers.
The word translated approved is dokimos. This is a famous Judgment Seat of Christ (Bema) word (cf. 1 Cor 9:27; 2 Tim 2:15). The Free Grace position calls people to live each day that we might one day receive Jesus’ approval. Did you notice that according to Paul we can be living in a state of approval right now? He said these factions were necessary “that those who are approved [or, the approved ones] may be recognized among you.” If we endure in His approval now, we will have it at the Bema! This is only a test. May we keep our eyes on our Lord, Savior, and soon returning Judge.
My desire is to get Free Grace people to carefully examine the Word of God. What precisely does God say a person must believe to born again? I feel it is vital that we can point to a single passage or even a single verse that answers that question. There are plenty to be found in John’s Gospel. Repeatedly the Lord Jesus said that anyone who believes in Him has eternal life that can never be lost (e.g., John 3:16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35, 37, 39, 47; 11:25-27). Yet many of the people that Jesus Himself led to faith had major flaws in their understanding about Him when they believed in Him for eternal life (cf. John 1:45-46; 4:25; 20:25; see also Matt 16:21-23).
I am not suggesting that Free Grace people who disagree with me about either or even both of these issues are currently disapproved. However, whatever our view, if we become bitter and vitriolic, we likely will slide into Christ’s disapproval. While I feel strongly about both of these issues, I am not prepared to judge any of these fellow servants of Christ. The Lord Jesus will judge His Church. I will not.vi I am striving not to be or become bitter or bombastic. If anything I’ve written has struck you as hostile or vitriolic, please forgive me. That was not and is not my intention.
i Among this group, there is a difference of opinion when the listener believes that salvation once received can be lost. I’ve found three views. Some say that such a person is not yet saved because he consciously believes it can be lost. Others say such a person is saved because he believes that if he died at the moment of faith he’d go to heaven. Thus he believes that salvation, at least initially, is by faith alone. Still others profess agnosticism on this question. One Christian leader told me he doesn’t know if such a person is saved or not, that God knows.
vi Of course, each of us is to judge the theology others teach (Acts 17:11; 2 Cor 11:19; 1 Tim 1:18-20; 2 Tim 2:15-18). In addition, churches are commanded to practice church discipline on straying members (1 Cor 5:1-13). But in terms of evaluating whether a person is approved or not by Christ, or whether he will be approved at the Bema, we leave that to the Lord Jesus. As Paul said, “Therefore, judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God” (1 Cor 4:5).