A Pilgrimage to Grace

by Kenneth Mitchell

My journey to understand the wonderful grace of God began in earnest when I was a student in seminary. I earned a Master of Theology degree and even completed all of the course work for a Doctor of Theology.

I left seminary to begin my first pastorate in Detroit, Michigan, yet I didn't understand God's grace! I actually preached against grace!

Sometime during my seminary studies I had accepted the position of Lordship Salvation. I was influenced by the writings of men such as J. I. Packer, A. W. Tozer, John Murray, and Walter Chantry, as well as by the charisma and popularity of John MacArthur.

I preached and taught Lordship salvation for years. I considered “grace only” people as teaching “easy believism” and a “Burger King Have-It-Your-Way Gospel.”

During the time I was a pastor in Detroit, I met with a group of pastors who believed in Lordship salvation as well. In the mid to late eighties we were anxiously awaiting the publication of John MacArthur's book, The Gospel According to Jesus. We felt it would be the final nail in the coffin of “easy believism.”

While I waited for MacArthur's book, I had in my possession a copy of The Gospel Under Siege by Zane Hodges. I had literally carried this book in my briefcase for six months, intending to read it just so I could familiarize myself with and at the same time dismiss the arguments of “free grace.”

Finally, I began reading it. I had read only one chapter and immediately I found myself thinking, “What have I done?” I felt like Alex Guinness at the climactic ending of The Bridge on the River Kwai.

I continued to read and became increasingly uneasy with the position I had taken. This put me into a theological tailspin for months, during which time I immersed myself in this subject, and read all I could.

Amazingly, both to me and to my church (!), I emerged from that time clearly convinced of the error of lordship salvation. I became what I had hated: a staunch and passionate defender and proclaimer of “free grace.”

I find it ironic and a measure of God's grace that by the time MacArthur's book The Gospel According to Jesus was released, I was arguing against it in our pastors' fellowship!

I cannot fully describe the change in my life. I see now that under Lordship Salvation I had become very self-righteous and critical. I doubted the salvation of many people in my church that I felt did not measure up to the standard of a true Christian.

My daughter was three years old at the time, and I remember teaching her John 3:16 for a children's program. It was like I was hearing it for the first time, understanding the true freeness of God's gift and grace. My ministry changed from one of harshness to one of grace.

I now love grace and the true freeness of the gospel offer. I thank God for delivering me from the darkness that entrapped me for so many years and for showing me the beautiful message of grace.

Kenneth Mitchell serves as the pastor of Westside Christian Family Chapel in Jacksonville, Florida.

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