Many pastors and theologians say that God guarantees that all believers will be righteous. For example, blogger Matt Waymeyer in an article entitled, “First Corinthians 6, the ‘Lordship’ Debate and the Gospel,” dated Aug 17, 2012, concludes his article by saying:
There is no third category of individuals who have been truly converted but who continue in the same unbroken pattern of wickedness that previously characterized their lives.
Waymeyer is rejecting the Free Grace notion that a person might have the free gift of everlasting life and yet fail in the Christian life. At the start of the article, he gave this quote from John MacArthur:
I have never taught that some pre-salvation works of righteousness are necessary to or part of salvation. But I do believe without apology that real salvation cannot, and will not, fail to produce works of righteousness in the life of a true believer. There are no human works in the saving act, but God’s work of salvation includes a change of intent, will, desire, and attitude that inevitably produces the fruit of the Spirit.
Similar quotes could be multiplied. What if this were true? What if God indeed makes such a guarantee?
While the Scriptures do not teach that God makes such a guarantee, He could have. If He had, we might wonder why God would guarantee only partial sinlessness, but not complete sinlessness.
However, I suppose it’s possible there might be some reason why He could have promised that. If so, what would be the practical ramifications of such a promise?
Anyone Could Easily Identify the Regenerate
Let’s say that John Doe came to faith in Christ 20 years ago at the age of 20. John came from a rough background. He had been an immoral alcoholic good-for-nothing. The very day he came to faith, he stopped drinking and womanizing. His language immediately cleaned up. He became a sober, godly, industrious, loving man of God.
Now twenty years later, John is happily married and has four well adjusted and godly children.
Anyone who saw John would be amazed at the changes. His entire way of life was different.
John did have a few weeks in the first year of his new life in which he slipped back into the old ways. But even then, the sins were relatively minor and he did not linger in them for long.
Imagine that every born again person lost all his or her hair and lost all pigmentation in their skin. Anyone would tell just by looking at them that they were regenerate. Well, this sort of moral transformation would be just as obvious.
Imagine the perfection of the Lord Jesus and then back off just a bit. That is what a born again person would be like.
He would not be sinless (Rom 3:23; 1 John 1:8, 10). But he would be Christlike in all he said and did.
All Regenerate People Would Be Great Soul-Winners
God wants believers to evangelize (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Thus if transformation is guaranteed, all believers would be great soul-winners. While some would be better at it than others, there would be no such thing as a regenerate person who was shy about sharing his faith.
Every believer would be an aggressive, yet loving, soul-winner. Rarely a day would go by when a believer would fail to share his faith with one or more people. Every believer would have scores of converts.
Divorce Would Be Non-Existent Among the Regenerate
Since God hates divorce (Mal 2:16), if success were guaranteed, then divorce would seemingly never occur among believers. However, since (in this view) God does allow short periods of failure, it might be possible that both spouses would fail at the same time and might quickly institute a divorce and have it finalized before one or both of them came back to their senses. Even then, in nearly every case they would remarry right away because failure for the regenerate is but for a very short while.
You’d be able to look at a married couple and know they were Christians. Imagine two people living together where both were controlled by the Holy Spirit 24/7/365. Such a couple would be near perfect spouses, parents, neighbors, and friends.
The Regenerate Would All Be Fantastic Employees and Employers
If you were a believer and you ran a company, you could be sure to have top notch employees by hiring the regenerate. There would be no such thing as a regenerate employee who was half-hearted in his work. All would give 100% all the time. All believing employees would arrive early and remain after closing time. They would never take too long for a break or for lunch. They would never lie, cheat, or steal. Gossip would not happen. Never would a complaint be heard.
Even unbelievers would go out of their way to hire Christians because such employees would be far and away better than any other employees.
I’ve not been a perfect boss for the quarter century GES has been in existence. Ask my current or former employees. I wish I had been. I’ve had to grow, and I still need to grow as a boss. Being born again did not automatically make me a good manager. I wish it had. But I’ve had a lot to learn and I still do.
Assurance Would Inevitably Be Tied to Works
Seemingly even if all this were true, assurance would still be based on God’s promise to the believer of everlasting life that can never be lost, and not on the transformed life. No godly person would base his assurance on his imperfect works, would he?
However, practically speaking, there would be no way around it. If a person who believed God’s promise started seeing long periods of besetting sins (i.e., jealousy, envy, or strife) in his life, he would clearly have an internal conflict. on the one hand, he would know that he was born again based on the promise of John 3:16. But on the other hand he would know that he was not living the transformed life that is guaranteed to regenerate people. So he would see a contradiction in Scripture. But Scripture has no contradictions. So he would search out a way to resolve the dilemma. The solution would be either to redefine the belief of John 3:16 as commitment, obedience, and perseverance (and thus he’d adopt Lordship Salvation), or the solution would be to reject the idea that transformation is guaranteed (and thus he’d adopt Free Grace).
Here are the two different syllogisms:
LORDSHIP SALVATION SYLLOGISM:
Major premise: Transformation is guaranteed to all who believe in Jesus.
Minor premise: I do not see clear proof of a truly transformed life.
Conclusion: I do not believe in Jesus.
FREE GRACE SYLLOGISM:
Major premise: All who believe in Jesus have everlasting life.
Minor premise: I believe in Jesus.
Conclusion: I have everlasting life.
If someone is convinced that transformation is guaranteed, then it is almost certain he will begin to base his assurance on his works. And once that happens, it is certain that he will have serious doubts about his salvation unless his life is so exemplary that even he himself was amazed by his own lifestyle.
IF TRANSFORMATION WERE GUARANTEED, THEN IT WOULD BE EASY TO SEE
When I taught at Multnomah, a friend of mine, Dr. Garry Friesen, regularly sent his Bible College students to Charismatic meetings. He wanted them to listen and watch and take notes. Does the so-called “speaking in tongues” sound like real languages, or does it sound like
ohwhatafoolamishecameinahondaicantiemybowtie repeated over and over again?
How do the healing services compare to the healings in Scripture? What types of healings take place? Did you see any actual verifiable healings?
Every time, Garry’s students found that what they observed failed to measure up to Scripture. Thus Garry’s students came to see for themselves that the sign gifts are not operating today in any meetings they could find.
In the same way, we can test the guarantee of transformation by keeping our eyes open. Do we see near perfection in our own lives? Do we see near perfection in the lives of the people in our churches? Do we see it in the lives of all who name the name of Christ? If not, then we should go back to the Scriptures and re-examine the supposed guarantees of transformation prior to death or the Rapture.
IF TRANSFORMATION IS NOT GUARANTEED, THEN THAT TEACHING IS ACTUALLY QUITE DETRIMENTAL
Lordship Salvation is surely very well intentioned. And, frankly, it is a neat idea. Wouldn’t it be great if transformation were guaranteed? Wouldn’t all believing churches be remarkable places since they would be made up entirely of nearly perfect people?
But that just isn’t the case. Indeed, as Paul says in Gal 5:15, “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” This teaching of guaranteed transformation produces churches where pastors actually tell their counselees who report struggles with sin in their lives, “Have you ever considered that your problem might be that you are not really born again. No born again person could talk to his wife the way you talk to yours.” Or, “How could you be a real believer if you are constantly boasting and are clearly a very prideful person?”
Why would this be confined to pastoral counseling? Husbands would question whether their wives were really born again. Parents would question the eternal destiny of their kids. Women would question the spiritual position of other women in their church.
Is that not biting and devouring one another? Is that not what well-intentioned legalism does?
The teaching of guaranteed transformation sounds good. But it is really very bad indeed.
I’m glad my assurance is not at all tied to my thoughts, words, and deeds. I’m a recovering perfectionist. I struggle daily with perfectionistic thinking. I beat myself up a lot. I don’t match up to the picture I have in my head of what a perfect person looks like, i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve come to accept my shortcomings and my oh-so-slow growth, but they still bother me a lot. I long for the day when I have a glorified body and I no longer struggle with sin and failure. And I know that day is coming, because I know that John 3:16 is true. The Lord promised everlasting life to all who believe in Him, not to all who behave in Him. Thank you Lord!