By Ken Yates
In any field of thought, the people involved develop a specific vocabulary. They often forget that most people are unfamiliar with this vocabulary. For example, if I find myself in a group of auto mechanics, I quickly realize that I don’t know what many of their words mean. They may talk to me about manifolds, suspensions, intake valves, brake linings, and ignition timing. I will nod in agreement as if I understand what they’re talking about, but I have no clue. I could not point out where any of the things I just mentioned was located in my car. I might have heard those words before, but that’s the extent of my knowledge.
The same is true in the field of theology. At GES, our focus is on Free Grace. Many people who read our literature, attend our conferences, or watch our videos use certain words, terms, and phrases. We often assume—just like a mechanic who might talk to me about cars—that the people we’re talking to know what our words mean. But that’s not always the case.
At a recent conference, this was brought to my attention. After a session, there was a time of questions and answers. A man raised his hand. His question was a simple one. He wanted to know if the speaker would define the terminology he had used. This man did not know what some of the words meant. That included Free Grace. The speaker assumed that everybody in the room understood the terms. The man asking the question did not.
This is not an isolated incident. Even some people who read a lot of theology are confused about what we mean when we use the term Free Grace. I think it would be a good idea to spell it out. It might help those who are new to the discussion. It might also remind us that people we meet might not understand our terminology like we do.
In my association with GES, I have the opportunity to discuss Free Grace with many people. Some—like the man I just mentioned—have never heard the term. Many, however, have heard it and use it. They are theologians themselves. But their definition is not the same as GES’s definition. These theologians do not even agree among themselves on its definition. This leads to a lot of confusion.
Sometimes, I am privileged to teach in other countries. After speaking about Free Grace, pastors told me they knew what I meant. They told me that some preachers in their countries teach the same thing. Then they tell me what they think it means.
In their countries, Free Grace is a teaching that tells people to feel free to go out and sin all they want. God wants His children to enjoy themselves. That would include sexual liberation. The Lord does not want His people to be bound by any kind of moral law. In the United States, this view is sometimes called hyper-grace.
Of course, that is not what GES means by Free Grace. I have never known anybody associated with GES to say or write that God wants us to commit adultery! I have never met a group who want to live holy lives more than Free Grace folks. Thankfully, only a few people charge us with teaching immorality.
Hearing other misunderstandings of what Free Grace means is much more common. Many of them can be grouped together. Some say Free Grace teaches that all a person needs to do is walk an aisle at the end of a service. Others think we tell non-Christians they must say a sinner’s prayer or confess their sins. Some accuse Free Grace teaching of encouraging people to make a decision for Christ. It is maintained that we at GES tell unbelievers that if they do any of these things, they are spiritually saved. Free Grace preaching, it is alleged, gives false assurance of salvation to people.
Popular revival meetings are often used as examples of Free Grace preaching. In the late 1800s, D. L. Moody was the most famous revivalist. More recently, it was Billy Graham. In years past, tents would be set up, and the floor covered in sawdust to prevent dirt from swirling around. Unbelievers were told to walk the “sawdust trail” to go to heaven.
I think many people think this is what GES teaches as Free Grace. It is not.
What Does GES Teach?
So, if these things are not the meaning of Free Grace, what is? The Free Grace gospel is that the unbeliever receives eternal life when he believes in Jesus Christ for it. At that moment, he knows he has eternal life because the Lord promises it. It cannot be lost.
What does it mean to believe? It is not a decision. One does not decide to believe. It is not saying a magical sinner’s prayer or raising a hand. Neither is it walking down an aisle. Believing is being convinced that something is true. The unbeliever is eternally saved when he is convinced that what Jesus promises is true. He can believe without saying a word or leaving his seat.
Free Grace is a great name for this teaching. It is all by God’s grace. Works play no part at all in receiving eternal life. We would say it is absolutely free.
It is sad that the Free Grace message has been equated with revivalism. Many have walked down the sawdust trail but did not receive eternal life. They thought that by responding to the preaching they heard and stepping out on that trail, they had taken the first step in making it to heaven. They were not convinced they had eternal life that could never be lost. The same could be said for many who have raised their hands or said a sinner’s prayer at a religious meeting. After doing so, they hoped they would now live a good life. If they did so, they might make it into heaven. All such thoughts are far removed from what Free Grace means.
We see this is true in the examples of Moody and Graham. In their ministries, both utilized people from various theological backgrounds. Some of those people believed you could lose your salvation. Others said you had to work in order to get it. Some taught that you were not truly saved from hell unless you did good works. None of those views is Free Grace.
A Free Grace believer will never tell somebody to go out and sin all they want. Righteous living is important. At the same time, such living has nothing to do with being eternally saved. Jesus said He would give eternal life to anybody who believed in Him for it. When convinced that is true, the believer receives the gift of eternal life that can never be lost. The believer will live with the Lord forever in His kingdom.
If somebody equates the Free Grace gospel of eternal life with the requirement to say a sinner’s prayer, confess one’s sins, make a decision, or walk an aisle, it is clear that they do not understand the meaning of the expression. They are like the guy at the conference I attended who said he didn’t understand what was being discussed.
There are a number of reasons why such misunderstandings might exist. Perhaps the person has never heard the term “Free Grace.” Perhaps they have been told what it means by somebody who didn’t understand it. It is even possible that people opposed to the Free Grace message have purposely distorted it.
Those of us who are Free Grace believers need to be aware that many do not share our vocabulary. We cannot assume that everybody we talk to understands our terms. A mechanic who talks to me about a piston ring would make a serious error if he thought I knew what he was talking about.
I mean no disrespect to auto mechanics, but the message of eternal life as a free gift by faith in Christ alone is much more important than understanding how a car operates. When we talk to people about this indescribably good news, let’s ensure they know what we mean by our words.
Ken Yates is a retired Army chaplain (Lt. Col). He has many theological degrees, including a Ph.D. from D.T.S. in New Testament. He leads the GES international ministry, cohosts the daily podcast, and assists Bob in all aspects of the GES ministry. His new book, Elisabeth, is a powerful testimony to the power of God manifested in a Christ-centered family. He and his wife, Pam, live in Columbia, SC.