by Paul Miles
Back in the days when Presidents went to church, Calvin Coolidge’s wife asked him about a service he had recently attended. She asked him, “What was the service about?” to which, he replied, “Sin.” Of course, this begs the follow up question, “Well, what did he say about sin?” to which Coolidge responded, “He was against it.”
As Free Gracers, we often hear the accusation that Free Grace is not against sin. It’s said that Free Grace Theology teaches that since we’re saved by grace through faith and can’t lose our eternal life, then we may as well go out and live whatever sinful lives we desire. However, this accusation not only fails to take into account the Biblical teachings of eternal rewards, but it also fails to recognize something that people often overlook. Many people, even some Free Gracers, don’t realize that Free Grace Theology is the only system that takes the problem of sin seriously. Let’s take a look at some other systems’ ways of dealing with sin, so we can see how Free Grace theology compares.
Countless systems teach that we must have some kind of works to be saved. These systems don’t take sin seriously because they fail to realize that our works are useless for atoning for our sins. Isaiah 64:6 says:
But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
We all fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away.
Could you imagine if someone offended you, and he apologized by bringing a pile of filthy rags? I can’t imagine a debt that someone could owe me that I would be willing to accept filthy rags as payment for, can you? The thought that we can pay our way into eternal life with our own works not only fails to realize how insignificant our works are, but it also downplays the severity of our sins.
Isaiah says that our sins have taken us away like the wind. A few years ago, the wind caused a lot of damage to New Orleans. People’s homes and property were devastated as Hurricane Katrina blew through brick and concrete as if it were hay and straw. The estimated property damage was over $100 billion. Churches from all over the world pitched in to volunteer money, property, and labor to assist Katrina victims. Suppose someone was so touched by all of the damage that he saw on television, that he loaded up his truck with filthy rags and took it to New Orleans and said, “Here you go! You can use this pile of filth to replace all of your homes that you’ve lost to the wind.” Would we say that he had a good understanding of the damage that had been done? Probably not. If we believe that our own good works are capable of atoning for our sins, then we really don’t understand the scale of damage that sin causes.
Many believe that it is possible for someone to sin enough to lose his eternal life. On the surface, it may seem that someone takes sin seriously if he is afraid that sin will cost him his salvation, but let’s look at the other side of the coin. Those who teach that it is possible to sin enough to lose salvation must also teach that it is possible to not sin enough to lose salvation. In other words, by our own merit we can turn away from the big sins that God hates enough to condemn us for, and we can make it with the cute little sins that He’s okay with.
We know from John 5:24 that whoever believes in Christ has already passed from death into life, regardless of his works, but let’s take a look at this from the viewpoint of those who don’t believe in eternal security. The idea that some sins are serious enough for damnation and some are not so bad is in conflict with James 2:10: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” Sin is such a problem, that even the sins that we think are small are the same as any other atrocity we could commit. A plan of salvation that requires us to turn from sins can only end in damnation for us all, because for us to be pure enough, we would have to be without any sins no matter how large or small they may seem. In other words, systems of theology that teach man can sin his way out of eternal life aren’t taking sin seriously, either.
Universalism hasn’t historically been taught in mainstream Protestantism, but lately it has been gaining popularity in Protestant circles, so it is worthwhile to consider this worldview.
Universalism basically teaches that all paths lead to the same destination; in other words, all religions are trustworthy to get us to God.
In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” There are two possibilities here. If Jesus is right, then He and only He is trustworthy to take us to the Father, and Universalism is wrong. If Jesus is wrong, then He is not trustworthy to take us to the Father, so Universalism is still wrong. Either way, the Universalist has a problem if he wishes to reconcile the words of Christ with any other religion.
A closely related philosophy is Pluralism, which doesn’t teach that every religion is valid, but that there are several valid options for salvation. If there was more than one way to the Father, then none of the valid ways would teach that there is only one way. Any Protestant that teaches there are more ways to be saved than just through faith alone in Christ alone needs to remove either Christ or everything except Christ from his theology. I strongly recommend the latter.
One way Universalism has infiltrated Christianity is through popular teachings on condemnation. It may be uneasy to think about, but the Bible is clear in John 3 that there is condemnation for those who do not believe, and the Bible is quite graphic in Revelation 19-21 when it describes this condemnation as a second death in a lake of fire that burns forever. Many in Christian circles believe that there is no literal lake of fire. They believe that those who aren’t saved will just cease to exist, or even that we will all be with Christ in the end. What the Universalist doesn’t realize is that sin is such a serious problem that without salvation by grace, man is destined to spend eternity separated from God.
What is to be said, then? We see that sin is such a huge problem that it results in separation from God for eternity in a lake of fire, and that our sins are so great that we can’t do enough good things to make up for them. Even if we could wipe out all our past sins, we wouldn’t be capable of keeping our salvation by living a sinless life.
Is sin such a big problem that mankind has no hope of being reconciled with a righteous God? This is where the Free Gracer who takes sin seriously can step in and answer, “Absolutely not!” From the very first time sin entered the world, God knew that we would be unable to pay the debt of our sins for ourselves, so starting in Gen 3:15, He promises a Savior that would bridge the gap between sinful man and righteous God (John 1:29). The Bible teaches that the only possible way for sinful man to be reconciled with a righteous God is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Since He is the only One who paid the debt that we have incurred with our sins, any system that adds to faith alone in Christ alone simply does not take the problem of sin seriously.