In Parts 1 and 2 we considered the first four chapters of Dr. Wayne Grudem’s recent book, “Free Grace” Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel, in which he argues against Free Grace Theology (FGT).
In Part 3 we will consider his interpretations of eleven tough texts which he considers in Chapter 5. After four chapters with very little, if any, exegesis, I was looking forward to how he actually interprets the Word of God.
In his final chapter, Grudem makes the odd claim that FGT diminishes the gospel because it holds what he calls unlikely interpretations. This is an odd claim. Unlikely according to whom? Did Luther and Calvin diminish the gospel because their interpretations were considered very unlikely by nearly all the theologians and priests of their day?
I’ll grant that Grudem’s interpretations of these eleven passages are consistent with those of the majority of Calvinist scholars today. But that does not matter because truth is not determined by consensus.1 What matters is which interpretation makes best sense of Scripture. So I will evaluate his interpretations based on the words of Scripture.
II. SOME EXAMPLES OF UNLIKELY INTERPRETATIONS
Grudem’s selection of passages includes one from the Synoptic Gospels, one from John (which he split into two separate discussions), three from Acts, two from Paul’s epistles, and three from James.
Surprisingly, Grudem cites only one FGT author in ten of the eleven passages, namely, Zane Hodges. Chapter 5 should be entitled, “Some Examples of Unlikely Interpretations by Zane Hodges.” Since this is a book about FGT, why doesn’t he discuss the views of Jody Dillow, Dave Anderson, Charlie Bing, Charles Ryrie, Tom Constable, John Hart, R. B. Thieme, Fred Chay, Earl Radmacher, Gary Derickson, Elliott Johnson, or me?
While I agree with most of the interpretations of Zane Hodges, a book on FGT should not focus only on his views, any more than a book on Calvinism should focus solely on Grudem’s views.
A. Luke 16:30
“And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’”
Grudem’s interpretation. Grudem says that this verse “implies that the brothers need to repent in order to be saved” (p. 120).
Grudem’s explanation of the FGT interpretation. Grudem mentions that Zane Hodges argues the rich man was incorrect. Thus the FGT view (assuming there is but one FGT interpretation of this view, which is false) is that the rich man mistakenly believed the condition of everlasting life is repentance.
Grudem responds to the view of Hodges:
But that understanding of the verse is certainly wrong, for in the next verse Jesus himself assumes that the brothers need repentance, when he has Abraham say2 that they would not even be convinced “if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Jesus’s [sic] argument about their culpability would not be persuasive unless the reader assumes that they needed to be “convinced” of the thing that has just been mentioned, the need to repent (pp. 120-21).
Grudem’s reasoning is hard to grasp. Abraham was not talking about the rich man’s statement that his brothers would repent if someone came back from the dead. Before the rich man’s comment, Abraham had said, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). Notice the words, “let them hear them.” Hearing Moses and the prophets would mean believing what they wrote about the Messiah, that is, about Jesus.
After the rich man’s comment Abraham said again, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
Abraham was talking about the need to believe the witness of Moses and the prophets concerning Messiah, that is, Jesus. Three times Abraham spoke of believing in Jesus: “let them hear them” (v 29), “If they will not hear Moses and the prophets” (v 31a), and “neither will they be persuaded [to believe in Jesus] though one rise from the dead” (v 31b). Hearing and being persuaded are synonyms for believing.
Abraham spoke of believing; the rich man spoke of repenting; and then Abraham again spoke about believing.
Abraham said nothing about repenting. He pointed to God’s Word and the witness to Jesus that is found there. Let them hear that witness, that is, let them believe in Jesus in light of the witness of Moses and the prophets. Yet Grudem thinks that Abraham was discussing repentance, not faith. Are we to understand that the unregenerate man got it right, and the regenerate man—the great patriarch of the faith, Abraham—got it wrong?
Grudem’s understanding of Luke 19:16-31 is not consistent with the text. Abraham did not validate what the rich man said; he corrected him.
It is Grudem’s view, not the view of FGT, which is an unlikely interpretation.
B. John 15:1-2
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away [or He lifts up], and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
Grudem’s interpretation. He says, “This passage creates a difficulty for the Free Grace position because it shows that if someone’s life is unfruitful, that person will be taken away from Christ, who is the true vine” (p. 121).
What does he mean? What does being taken away from Christ mean?
Grudem seems to be saying that the correct interpretation of John 15:1-2 is that if a believer’s life is unfruitful, then he will lose everlasting life. What else could Grudem’s phrase taken away from Christ mean, since only a believer is in Christ? Since an unbeliever is not in Christ, he cannot be taken away from Christ.
Grudem’s explanation of the FGT interpretation. Grudem wrongly suggests that it is the uniform view of FGT that what is in view here is the lifting up of the unfruitful branch, not its being taken away. Some do hold that view (e.g., Radmacher and Derickson).3 However, others think this could be teaching what John 15:6 says (i.e., that it refers to temporal judgment—God’s discipline and judgment in this life). It is not essential to FGT to take airō as lift up in John 15:2. Hodges, for example, did not take it that way.4
It is quite surprising that Grudem does not mention how Hodges takes this passage. He cites Hodges as his only source in all of the other ten passages,. Here, however, he doesn’t mention his view.
Grudem argues that unfruitful branches were never lifted up. He suggests that they were taken away to be burned and that burning refers to eternal condemnation.
His discussion of this subject is imprecise. For example, see note 5 on page 122. Grudem says that pruning weak, broken, or diseased branches “is the opposite of saying that branches that do not bear fruit are ‘lifted up’ so that they may bear more fruit.” The opposite? The two ideas are unrelated. Branches which are not bearing fruit can be healthy, unbroken, and not diseased. Pruning is not the same as lifting up.
Strangely, Grudem does not discuss the very next verse, John 15:3, in which the Lord says, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” Doesn’t that verse mean the disciples, to whom He is addressing this discussion of fruitfulness, were eternally secure? If not, why not?
The Lord had already promised the eleven that they would sit on thrones and rule over the twelve tribes of Israel (with Matthias taking Judas’ place). Thus this cannot be a warning that they would be eternally condemned.
Can anyone who is a branch and is connected to the vine, which is Jesus, be eternally condemned? No. But Grudem says he can. How does this fit his Calvinism?
Why would the Lord only give one option for dealing with unfruitful branches? If it is possible to stimulate unfruitful branches so that they might become fruitful, would that not be desirable and wise?
Grudem seems to be saying that it is impossible for unfruitful believers to become fruitful. Is it not possible for God to turn an unfruitful branch into a fruitful one?
It is hard to see why Grudem discusses John 15:1-2, given the fact that he also discusses John 15:6, which he interprets as saying the same thing.
The interpretation of Grudem on John 15:1-2 is more than unlikely. Loss of everlasting life is impossible. Compare John 5:24; 6:35; 11:26; 15:3.
C. John 15:6
“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
Grudem’s interpretation. Grudem admits he interprets this verse the same as he did John 15:1-2: “This passage continues Jesus’s [sic] same teaching about vine and branches…” (p. 123, emphasis added).
Grudem’s explanation of the FGT interpretation. He has two paragraphs about Hodges’s interpretation of John 15:6. He says that Hodges understands the burning to refer to temporal judgment, not eternal condemnation.
It is true that Hodges says that the burning in John 15:6, “portray[s] divine chastening as a fire.”5 But Grudem fails to mention that Hodges also said that believers who ceased to abide in Christ “would be separated from their experience of fellowship with Him.”6 Readers should take the time to read what Hodges actually said about this passage.7 Grudem rejects as out of hand the idea that temporal judgment is in view here.
Grudem says that being thrown into the fire and burned is a “picture of final judgment” (p. 123). Hence, Grudem understands the Lord to be warning Peter, James, John, Matthew, and the other disciples—and all disciples of Christ—that they might be sent to the lake of fire.
Grudem suggests that the burning of vegetation in Scripture is always total and must refer to eternal condemnation. He mentions one NT and ten OT passages to support his conclusion. However, he does not quote them, or discuss them, and if you look them up you will find they do not support his claim at all.
In Matt 3:12, the Lord refers to “unquenchable fire” and uses a stronger Greek word that means “burn up.” Whereas John 15:6 has kaiō (“they are burned”), Matt 3:12 has katakaiō (“He will burn up”). While Hodges discusses the difference between these two Greek words, Grudem does not.
Grudem inexplicably cites Isa 9:18, which says, “wickedness burns as the fire; it shall devour the briers and thorns…” That is a reference to the destructive nature of wickedness. It is not a reference to the lake of fire.
Another puzzling proof text he cites is Lev 6:12, which says, “the fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it.” That fire stopped in AD 70. In any case, that verse has nothing to do with John 15:6.
I urge interested readers to look up all the passages Grudem mentions. He gives examples of the burning of wooden idols, embers on an altar, chariots, the wood of the vine, and branches. But these all illustrate temporal judgment, not eternal condemnation. In other words, he actually is arguing against his own position with these proof texts. The more you look up, the weaker his case becomes (e.g., Lev 13:52, 57; Deut 7:5; 12:3; Josh 11:6; Jer 4:2, 22 [neither of which even mentions fire]; Ezek 15:4-6; 19:12).
Grudem’s interpretation that born-again people (i.e., clean people, John 15:3), will be eternally condemned if they fail to produce enough good works is not just unlikely, but impossible. No believer will be judged regarding his eternal destiny as the Lord clearly promised in John 5:24 (“he shall not come into judgment”). Believers are eternally secure.
D. Acts 11:18
When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”
Grudem’s interpretation. He says, “People become Christians through ‘repentance that leads to life’” (p. 125).
Grudem’s explanation of the FGT interpretation. He claims that Hodges teaches that “repentance leads to some additional level of fellowship or discipleship after salvation” (p. 125). He does not reference Hodges to support that claim. Indeed, Hodges said nothing about “some additional level of fellowship or discipleship after salvation.” That is a misrepresentation. Hodges did not believe or teach that there are levels of fellowship. One is either in fellowship with God or not. As cited above, Hodges wrote, “If they failed to ‘abide’ in Jesus, they would be separated from the experience of fellowship with Him.”8
Nor did Hodges ever say that there are “additional levels of discipleship.”
Hodges cited the prodigal son and Rom 8:13 and said that “‘coming to life’ is always the end result of repentance, whether it be the repentance of a Christian or the repentance of the unsaved.”9 Hodges spoke of the unsaved repenting and coming to life. Grudem said that Hodges was only talking about a Christian’s super level of fellowship or discipleship. That is incorrect.
Personally, I am not yet convinced what Peter’s companions meant. It is possible that Hodges is correct; however, I think another view is even more likely. Peter’s companions might well have been saying that repentance leads to everlasting life. Grudem fails to mention my view, which is in print.10
Peter’s friends were likely saying that repentance can be a way in which a people come to faith in Christ for everlasting life. By turning from one’s sins, he becomes more open to going to church, prayer, listening to another Christian, etc. Repentance can be a step toward God that ultimately results in faith in Christ for everlasting life.
Luke was not citing Peter’s companions in order to contradict what Peter said to Cornelius, i.e., to believe in Jesus (Acts 10:43; 15:7-11).11 Peter did not call upon Cornelius to repent. Grudem seems to think he did.
Grudem’s main support amounts to circular reasoning: “the entire structure of the book of Acts” teaches that repentance is a condition of everlasting life (p. 125). Grudem cites Acts 1:8 (p. 125) and Acts 11:14 (p. 126) to support his claim. However, it is hard to see how either Acts 1:8 or 11:14 supports that.
What about Acts 16:30-31? When Paul was asked, “What must I do to be saved?” his answer was “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved…” He did not mention repentance. Why not?
What about Acts 10:1-47? Peter speaks of faith in Christ as the condition (Acts 10:43), without mentioning repentance.
What about Acts 15:7-11? At the Jerusalem Council, Peter summarizes his experience with Cornelius; he speaks of faith in Christ and does not mention repentance.
What about Acts 13:46, 48? The issue in Paul’s first recorded sermon in Acts is faith in Christ, not repentance, which he doesn’t even mention.
Although Grudem thinks the FGT interpretations are unlikely, his are out of step with the Word of God.
E. Acts 17:30
“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent…”
Grudem’s interpretation. He understands Paul to say that repentance is “necessary to escape final judgment” (p. 127).
Grudem’s explanation of the FGT interpretation. Grudem cites Hodges as saying that repentance is necessary “to enter into harmonious relationship with God” (p. 126).
According to Grudem, “Acts 17 is a summary of Paul’s initial gospel proclamation to the philosophers in Athens. And in this initial gospel message, the one and only thing he says that God commands is that they repent” (p. 126).
The first half of Acts 17 concerns Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica and Berea, not in Athens as Grudem mistakenly says. Even Acts 17:16-21 says nothing about Paul’s gospel proclamation in Athens.
Grudem evidently means that Acts 17:22-34 (and more particularly, Acts 17:30-34), is a summary of Paul’s “initial gospel message” (p. 126).
What do “initial gospel message” and “initial gospel proclamation” mean? Are there different saving messages? Did Paul preach an initial saving message only to later come back with a different one?
I think what Grudem means is that Paul was doing pre-evangelism here. He was pointing people to Jesus and telling them that Jesus will judge the world on some future day. Repentance is all that is mentioned. Paul doesn’t mention faith in Christ, the new birth, everlasting life, justification, the cross of Christ, or anything else associated with his normal preaching.
If so, I agree this is pre-evangelism. We are told by Luke in Acts 17:34 that “some men joined him and believed.” Luke did not say, “some men believed and joined him.” The message in Acts 17:30 generated interest. Some people said, “We will hear you again on this matter” (Acts 17:33). They heard more from Paul when they joined him, and as a result, they believed. It was then that Paul preached the message of life, and they believed.
It is odd that Grudem does not comment on Acts 17:33-34. Why does Luke say that “some men…believed“? Shouldn’t he have said, “Some men…repented“? If repentance is the condition of eternal life, then why mention faith and fail to mention repentance? Notice that Paul did not say, “God has commanded all men everywhere to repent so that they will have everlasting life.” Nor did he say, “the one who repents has everlasting life.” Grudem said that, but not Paul. Did the men in Acts 17:34 also repent? Possibly. But Luke does not tell us.
So why does Paul say that God has commanded all men to repent? Because God commanded it. Paul’s ministry was not merely one of evangelism. It also included calling unbelievers and believers to turn from their sins and to follow Christ in discipleship.
F. Acts 26:19-20
“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.”
Grudem’s interpretation. “That is Paul’s summary…of his entire preaching ministry both to Jews and to Gentiles” (p. 127). He then concludes from that statement that “repentance [is] a necessary part of the initial gospel message” (p. 127).
Grudem’s explanation of the FGT interpretation. He cites Hodges as suggesting that Paul “is explaining how to live a life of holiness and good works after one is saved” (p. 127). Yet the quote from Hodges which Grudem provides does not say anything about after one is saved. Hodges was merely saying that Paul was seeking to turn people to God and to do good works.
Grudem’s position is unlikely in the extreme. Are we to understand that an accurate summary of Paul’s entire preaching ministry would leave out calling people to faith in Christ? How does Grudem explain Acts 20:21, “testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ”? Is that not a summary of Paul’s entire preaching ministry?
No one disputes that Paul, the other Apostles, and the Lord Himself all called people to repent. But that does not establish that
repentance is the condition for everlasting life. We are called to do many things that are not conditions of eternal salvation.
Acts 26:19-20 does not mention salvation, everlasting life, or faith in Christ. If this is Paul’s summary of his entire preaching ministry, wouldn’t it be odd for him to leave out the call to faith and the promise of everlasting life?
G. Romans 10:9-13
That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (emphasis added).
Grudem’s interpretation. He says that the salvation in vv 9, 10, and 13 is eternal salvation from hell, not deliverance from God’s wrath in this life.
Grudem’s explanation of the FGT interpretation. He cites Hodges as saying that “calling on the name of the Lord to be saved (v 13) does not mean calling out to gain eternal salvation, but calling out ‘to obtain His aid and deliverance in daily life’” (p. 129).
Grudem fails to explain why Hodges takes that interpretation or how Hodges defends his view.
If v 13 refers to an unbeliever calling out to the Lord for everlasting life, then what does v 14 mean? There Paul writes, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” Paul is not saying that unbelievers can call upon the Lord. He is saying that believers call upon Him. Notice that each of the three questions in v 14 states an effect and then the prior cause. The effect of “calling on Him” is based on the prior cause of believing in Him: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not [already] believed?” In other words, belief precedes calling. Hence the ones doing the calling in v 13 are believers, not unbelievers. And if they are believers, they are already eternally saved. Thus the salvation of v 13 is not salvation
from eternal condemnation (since believers are already delivered from that).
Grudem does not mention or discuss the fact that the quote in v 13 is from Joel 2:32. Is he suggesting that Joel 2:32 is an OT evangelistic verse? Actually, Joel 2:32 deals with the Tribulation and states that believing Jews who call on the name of the Lord will be saved from dying.
Grudem also fails to explain how confessing Christ, calling on His name, can be a requirement for everlasting life. This is not a requirement he has mentioned before. So now the conditions for having everlasting life are repentance, heartfelt trust, personal encounter, and public confession of Christ? Is that list complete? Are there more requirements Grudem has not yet mentioned?
H. 2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.
Grudem’s interpretation. Grudem understands this verse to be a call for the readers to “examine themselves to find out if they are really born again or not” (p. 131). For evidence he cites the words “in the faith” and “that Jesus Christ is in you” (pp. 131-32).
Grudem’s explanation of the FGT interpretation. He cites Hodges as saying that the issue is not whether they are born again, but “whether they are ‘living in a dynamic, faith-oriented connection with Jesus Christ’” (p. 131).
Grudem fails to notice or discuss the elephant in the room. Second Corinthians 13:5 is part of a context that runs from vv 1-6. In v 3 Paul says, “you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me.” When he comes to v 5, Paul turns the tables on the readers who were questioning whether he speaks for Christ. The word yourselves is first in the Greek sentence for emphasis: Yourselves examine! But note, they were questioning his apostleship, not his eternal destiny. Likewise, in turning the tables, Paul is not asking them to question their eternal destiny, either. He has a different question in mind. But what?
Grudem fails to mention or discuss the Greek words dokimos, adokimos, and dokimazō which appear in vv 5-7. “Test yourselves” is from dokimazō. At the end of that same verse Paul says, “unless you are disqualified.” Disqualified translates the related adjective, adokimos, failing the test. Disqualified from what test? The test is whether or not a born-again believer has lived a life worthy of the Lord’s approval and reward.
Verse 6 picks up on the theme of vv 1-4, “But I trust you will know that we are not disqualified.” Again, the word disqualified is the related adjective adokimos.
Then in v 7 the adjective dokimos occurs (“not that we should appear approved”) and its antonym, adokimos (“though we may seem disqualified”).
None of this is mentioned or discussed by Grudem. His interpretation ignores the context and is inconsistent with it.
I. James 2:14-17
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Grudem’s interpretation. He understands James to be saying that “genuine faith will always result in good works,” and that unless we add faith to our works we cannot be saved from eternal condemnation (pp. 133-34).
Grudem’s explanation of the FGT interpretation. He cites Hodges as saying that those addressed here are born-again and thus that the salvation in view is salvation from temporal judgment, not salvation from eternal judgment (p. 133).
The evidence Grudem cites to support his position are 1) James is not addressing most of his readers, just “‘someone’ who may be in a different situation than most of the readers” (p. 133), and 2) the salvation here must be salvation from eternal condemnation since “so„zo„…always refers to eternal salvation except where the context
specifies a situation of rescue from physical danger or healing from physical sickness (as in James 5:15 or Matt. 8:25; 9:22, for example)” (pp. 133-34).
The problems with Grudem’s view are legion.
First of all, it is forced to suggest that James doesn’t have all his readers in mind when he says, “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty” (Jas 2:12). The same speaking and doing command is found in 2:14 (“If someone says…but does not have works [i.e., does not do]”) and 2:16 (“One of you says…but you do not give them the things which are needed”).
Second, he fails to recognize or comment on the repeated phrase ti to ophelos, which starts v 14 and ends v 16. “What does it profit?” or “What use is it?” is the question James has in mind, but Grudem does not.
Third, Grudem only discusses two of the uses of sōzō in James (2:14; 5:15) here.12 Grudem concedes that 5:15 refers to physical salvation. What about 1:21; 4:12; and 5:20? Grudem does not mention or discuss James’ three other uses of sōzō. They all refer to saving one’s physical life from death. And all three are addressed to believers.
Finally, Grudem is wrong to say that sōzō in James (and elsewhere) always refers to eternal salvation from hell except when the context indicates that healing or temporal deliverance is in view.13 That is not a safe assumption. And the context does indicate that all five uses of sōzō in James refer to temporal deliverance. Grudem cannot see that because his theology will not allow it.
J. James 2:26
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Grudem’s interpretation. He suggests that faith without works is “dead faith” and not really faith at all. Hence the person who has faith without works is not born again because he is an unbeliever (pp. 134-36).
Grudem’s explanation of the FGT interpretation. He cites Hodges as saying that faith without works is faith which “has lost all of its vitality and productiveness” (p. 134).
To support his view, Grudem leans heavily on two things: 1) the entire passage is about salvation from eternal condemnation (see esp. Jas 2:14), and 2) dead faith is non-faith, faith that never has existed.
As discussed above, Grudem is wrong that the salvation in 2:14 refers to salvation from eternal condemnation.
In addition, he is wrong that “faith without works is dead” means “faith without works is not faith.” That is illogical.
Faith is faith. Faith without works is still faith. When James says that faith is dead, he clearly means it is unprofitable as shown by the twice repeated question, “What does it profit” (2:14, 16). To say that faith without works is not really faith is to contradict what James says and to miss his point.
The Lordship Salvation understanding of Jas 2:26, that is, Grudem’s understanding, is illogical and contrary to the context.
K. James 5:19-20
Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
Grudem’s interpretation. He suggests that James is saying that a Christian can save a straying brother from hell by bringing him back from the spiritual far country (p. 137).
Grudem’s explanation of the FGT interpretation. He cites Hodges as saying that a Christian can save a straying believer from premature physical death by bringing him back from the spiritual far country (p. 137).
Grudem only devotes two short paragraphs to both discuss the FG view and explain his own. This is far less than he did on the other ten passages.
Grudem is convinced that salvation from eternal condemnation is in view in the closing verses of James, but he does not discuss what James means when he says, “he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” Isn’t he a bit concerned about saying that we can save our fellow brothers and sisters from hell? If they are believers, then they are already saved once and for all. They can’t lose everlasting life, and we can’t do anything to keep them saved. They are already secure. That is what ever-lasting life means (cf. John 5:24; 11:26).
Notice the text does not speak of something the straying believer does for another. James is talking about another believer (someone) who turns the straying believer back to the Lord.
Grudem again relies on the fact that physical death is not mentioned directly. However, that is clearly what is in view. Believers cannot save fellow believers from hell, but we can save one another from the temporal judgment that will fall if our beloved friends who have strayed do not repent.
Grudem’s interpretation is not only unlikely, it is impossible.
In Chapter 5, Wayne Grudem fails to show that FGT diminishes the gospel. Indeed, his exegesis of these eleven passages is so questionable that his interpretations should be called unlikely. Chapter 5 undermines his efforts to promote Lordship Salvation
Instead of hurting the movement, I believe Grudem’s book will actually move people to accept the Free Grace position.
1 If truth was determined by consensus, then Christianity would not be true. For every person on earth today who identifies himself as a Christian (31.5%, which is surely more than actually are born again) there are a little over two people who identify themselves as non-Christians, including Muslim (23.2%), Irreligious (16.3 %), Hindu (15%), Buddhist (7.1%), Folk Religion (5.9%), and Other Religion (1%).
2 Jesus does not “have Abraham say” anything. Grudem calls Luke 16:19-31 “Jesus’s [sic] parable” (p. 120). Thus he thinks Jesus made up this whole story. He thinks it never happened. Yet neither the Lord nor Luke call it a parable. And no other parable gives a proper name. This account has two proper names, Lazarus and Abraham.
3 See Earl D. Radmacher and Gary W. Derickson, The Disciplemaker (Salem, OR: Charis Press, 2001).
4 See Zane C. Hodges, “1 John,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 2:888-89). See also Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely Free: A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation, Second Edition (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2014), 118-21.
5 Hodges, Absolutely Free, 121.
6 Ibid., 120.
7 Ibid., 118-23.
8 Ibid., 120.
9 Ibid., 136.
10 Robert N. Wilkin, The Ten Most Misunderstood Words in the Bible (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2012), 117-18.
11 It is possible that Peter’s companions were wrong when they said that repentance is the condition, or a condition, of everlasting life. In that case, I would think Peter would have corrected them on the spot. Compare Acts 15:7-11 in which Peter retells this incident with Cornelius.
12 He does discuss Jas 5:19-20 later in the chapter. However, he does not mention that or summarize his findings here. See below for a discussion of his interpretation of Jas 5:19-20.
13 For an excellent refutation of Grudem’s claim, see Joseph Dillow, “Can Faith Save Him?” A Defense of Free Grace Theology, ed. Fred Chay (N.P.: Grace Theology Press, 2017), 151-55.