1. FGT ignores the seriousness of sin, and therefore promotes casual Christianity
One of the most common misconceptions of Free Grace Theology (FGT) is that it downplays sin and leads to lawlessness. The argument goes that if someone is not fearful of losing his salvation—if his works don’t matter—he will pursue sin with reckless abandon. Therefore, it is thought that Free Grace adherents, intentionally or not, give a nod of approval to a life of sin, thereby cheapening Jesus’ death on the cross.
FGT is persuaded of Jesus’ promise that those who believe in Him have eternal life and have crossed over from death to life (John 5:24).
Believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit at the point of faith. The Holy Spirit then continues the work of convicting the believer of sin to bring about life change. Sadly, believers can ignore the Holy Spirit’s leading and, because of sin or brokenness, pursue a life without God. As a result, they can experience God’s discipline, a loss of fellowship with God, and a loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Given these negative consequences, FGT warns against the harmfulness of sin and affirms church discipline, confession, repentance, and a changed life—just not as a condition of eternal salvation or a proof of it.
2. FGT sees sanctification as optional
This one is half true. FGT does see sanctification as “optional” in the sense that you can be born again without being experientially sanctified in this life.
Sanctification is described as the “process of being made holy.” This is a process that begins the moment of salvation and continues until
death. The evidence of our sanctification may never be noticed by others. But other people are not our judge. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4,
For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. 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 4:4-5).
Certainly, Free Grace proponents do not condone sin. The apostle Paul dealt with the very same argument in Romans 5 and 6. In 6:15 he
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! (Rom 6:15).
He gives the reason a few verses below:
So now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (Rom 6:19, NASB, emphasis added).
Sanctification is a process of allowing the Holy Spirit to be more and more at home in our hearts. It is a work of God, but our hard hearts can restrict His moving.
FGT gets to the heart of the matter. A commitment to follow Jesus is absolutely necessary to our sanctification, fellowship with God, and our rewards in heaven.
3. FGT redefines words to make them fit their theology
I have never seen more careful, thoughtful scholarship than in the works of GES authors. There is a respect for every word of God in the
Bible. Because of that reverence, the Scripture is studied closely. The result is a logical, reasonable, consistent terminology (e.g., how the word “saved” can refer to either temporal or eternal salvation, depending on the context).
Some have criticized FGT by saying that there is no way the early readers would have come to these conclusions. But words have always had different meanings in different contexts, and Scripture has always been studied carefully! It is a disservice to early Christians to assume that they were not capable of thoughtful scholarship and study.
Redefining a word to fit one’s theology is dishonest. Doing rigorous exegetical work to draw out a word’s full and complete usage and meaning is called research.
For example, in Bob Wilkin’s book, The Ten Most Misunderstood Words in the Bible, he gives a thorough argument for the accurate understanding of commonly misunderstood words. He doesn’t redefine them; he simply explains the meaning that has always been present.
4. FGT doesn’t care about repentance
FGT does not consider repentance a co-condition with faith to be born again. It bases that conclusion on John’s Gospel, which was written for an evangelistic purpose (John 20:30-31). Tellingly, the word “repentance” does not even appear in John’s Gospel. The only condition to have everlasting life is to believe in Jesus. Hence, repentance does not get the “air time” in our evangelistic messages as it does in the Lordship Salvation camp. One could therefore conclude, wrongly, that FGT dismisses the need for repentance altogether. On the contrary, repentance is a crucial aspect of FGT’s understanding of the Christian life. In fact, a careful study of the Bible reveals different usages of repentance.
For example, in Jonah 3, we see that repentance is a condition for avoiding temporal judgment and destruction.
In the NT, believers are called to repent when they are persisting in sin. Luke 17:3 says, “Watch out! If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.” Repentance is necessary for harmony between people, and between the sinner and God. All believers should come to God and others with a humble heart seeking forgiveness when we sin.
For more information, see Zane Hodges’s book Harmony with God: A Fresh Look at Repentance, and Bob Wilkin’s article entitled, “Part 4: New Testament Repentance: Repentance in the Gospels and Acts” JOTGES (Spring 1990).
5. FGT believes that rewards are the primary motivation for holy living
It is true that FGT has a robust doctrine of rewards and this is one motivation for holiness. But it is not the primary one. The primary motivation for holy living is Jesus Himself. 1 John 2:28 says,
Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.
We abide in Jesus because Jesus is life! We cling to Him because we need Him, and we know that in Him (and in the truth He has revealed in His Word) we will find rest for our souls. We live holy lives so that we can hear, when we enter into the presence of God,
“Well done, good and faithful servant…come and share your master’s happiness” (Matt 25:23).
We obey Him not only for the reward to come, but ultimately, because we love Him.
Summer Stevens has been a “pastor’s wife” for almost 12 years. She and her husband Nathanael live south of Pittsburgh where he serves as the pastor at the Bible Chapel–Rostraver Campus.