Theological labels are a convenient way to summarize belief systems. Many labels have become an established part of theological dialogue, like Arminianism, Calvinism, amillennialism, or premillennialism. Many who hear the label “Free Grace Theology” wonder what it means. Here is a brief summation.
1. Free Grace teaches that the grace of salvation is absolutely free. This is the obvious place to begin, though it should be unnecessary to say this since the word grace (Greek charis) essentially means a free and undeserved gift. However, since some speak of costly or cheap grace, it is necessary to clarify that grace is totally free. That does not mean it is free to the giver, who in this case is God, but it means that no payment or merit is required from those to whom it is offered, which would be all unsaved and undeserving sinners. Romans 3:24 distinguishes between the free gift to the recipient and the cost to the Giver: “having been justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
2. Free Grace means that the grace of salvation can be received only through faith. Since we as sinners can do nothing to earn God’s grace, it has to be given as a gift which can only be received through faith. By faith (or believing, which is from the same Greek word) we mean the human response of accepting something as true and trustworthy. It is a conviction, an inner persuasion. This definition precludes any other conditions of works, performance, or merit (Rom. 4:4-5). Faith cannot be defined by obedience to Christian commands, baptism, surrender, commitment of one’s life to God, or turning from sins. These things can and should be the results of faith, but they are distinct from faith itself, otherwise grace ceases to be grace (Rom. 11:6). Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, not by works . . .” Faith is a simple response, but that does not mean that it is an easy one. Many who hold to Free Grace believe that repentance, as a change of mind or heart, can sometimes be used to describe the aspect of faith in which we come to a conviction or persuasion about something. Other Free Grace proponents do not think repentance (as turning from sins) has any role in salvation or saving faith.
3. Free Grace believes the object of faith is the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith must always have an object, because faith itself is not the effective cause of our salvation (We are saved “by grace”), but the instrumental means through which we are saved (“through faith”). The One who actually saves us is the Lord Jesus Christ. But it is not any Jesus, it is Jesus as the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again and guarantees eternal salvation to all who believe in Him.
4. Free Grace holds to the finished work of Christ. Grace is free because Jesus Christ did all the work on our behalf. His proclamation “It is finished” on the cross means that He made the final and full payment for the penalty for our sins. It also means we cannot add anything to what Jesus accomplished. We cannot do anything to earn our salvation or to keep our salvation. Free Grace therefore teaches eternal security for the believer.
5. Free grace provides the only basis for assurance of salvation. Any system or belief that requires our performance cannot give assurance of salvation. Human performance is subjective, variable, unpredictable, and always imperfect. Faith must rest in Jesus Christ and His promise as revealed in the Word of God. The person and work of Christ and the Word of God are objective truths that cannot change. Therefore Free Grace offers the only basis for full assurance of salvation.
6. Free Grace distinguishes between salvation and discipleship. While some theological systems believe that all Christians are disciples, Free Grace understands that the condition for eternal salvation (believe) is distinct from the many conditions for discipleship (deny oneself, take up your cross, follow Christ, abide in His Word, love Christ more than your family, etc.). Since grace is absolutely free, it cannot demand these conditions or it ceases to be grace. Free Grace believes that the commitments of discipleship should be the result of salvation, not the requirement. To make them conditions of salvation inserts works and human merit into the gospel of grace.
7. Free Grace teaches that the Christian life is also by grace through faith. Since we are saved by grace and kept saved by grace, we also grow by grace which is accessed through faith. Grace provides everything we don’t deserve and more for anything we need. Just as in salvation, the grace to grow is available to us through faith: “through whom [the Lord Jesus Christ] also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand. . .” (Rom. 5:2; compare Gal. 2:20).
8. Free Grace provides the best motivation for godly living. If salvation is by human performance, there is no assurance, and if there is no assurance, a motivation for good conduct easily becomes to prove we are saved or to avoid hell. Guilt, fear, and doubt can produce good conduct, but not necessarily godly conduct. Godly conduct includes the inner motivations of love and gratitude. The assurance of God’s grace and the finished work of Christ allow Christians to grow in an environment of freedom and unconditional love (Titus 2:11-12).
9. Free Grace holds that the Christian is accountable. According to Free Grace, the believer is set free from any demands of the law or works as a basis for eternal salvation. But Free Grace also teaches that Christians should live godly lives because: 1) We should be grateful for what God has done (Rom. 12:1-2); 2) God wants us to have good works (Eph. 2:10); 3) We have a new position in Christ (Rom. 6:1-14); 4) We have a new Master�Jesus (Rom. 6:15-23); and 5) We have a new power�the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:1-11). Because of these things, Free Grace teaches that God will hold us accountable for the kind of lives we lead. God can discipline us in this life (Heb. 12:5-11) and we will face the future Judgment Seat of Christ where believers will give an account to God (Rom. 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 3:11-4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10). In this judgment, believers will be rewarded or denied rewards. In no way does Free Grace teach that Christians can sin without consequence.
10. Free Grace is committed first to an accurate interpretation of the Bible. This should go without saying, but is necessary because many have forced their theological systems on their interpretations instead of letting the Bible speak for itself. The Free Grace system is the result of a literal and plain sense approach to the Bible that considers God’s various ways of administering His plan for the world through the ages, and the proper contexts of any Bible passage. The Free Grace system seeks above all to be biblical. Its first commitment is not to a theological system, but to what the Bible says, even if some particulars cannot be reconciled easily to other teachings or traditional interpretations. Therefore, the Free Grace position allows for various interpretations of some biblical passages as long as they are consistent with good principles of Bible interpretation and the clear teaching of God’s free grace.
Free Grace theology begins with the plain and clear teaching of the Bible that grace is absolutely free. From this, the Bible’s teachings about salvation, faith, security, assurance, the Christian life, and discipleship are viewed consistent with the unconditional nature of grace. The free grace of God should motivate Christians to worship, serve, and live godly for the “God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10) who “first loved us” (1 john 4:19).
Lordship Salvation for Dummies
by Bob Wilkin
There are lots of books for Dummies today. I’ve chosen to call this article Lordship Salvation for Dummies not because I question your intelligence, but because I want to lighten up the discussion of what could otherwise become a very heavy subject. While Lordship Salvation is complicated, its basic tenets are quite simple. Often when I speak on this I give loads of quotes from Lordship authors to show I’m not making this stuff up. In this article I don’t do that because I can’t keep it simple if I give you 20 or 30 quotes. However, there are plenty of quotes on our website backing up what I write here.
The Basic Definition: COP
There are three key words that define Lordship Salvation. They are captured in the word COP.
1. C = Commitment
All who believe in Lordship Salvation agree that mere belief of certain facts or propositions about Jesus is not enough to save anyone. Lordship Salvation says that one must not only believe in Jesus as the Savior, but one must yield one’s life to Him as Lord of your life. According to Lordship Salvation, a person can believe in Jesus for everlasting life and not be saved because that faith must be joined by a commitment to serve Him one’s entire life. The first word to remember is commitment.
2. O = Obedience
Lordship Salvation is not only concerned with a person’s commitment to Christ at the start of the Christian life. Initial commitment to Christ must be followed by ongoing obedience. According to Lordship Salvation, one’s initial commitment to serve Christ must be followed by a life of obedience. There is no salvation apart from obedience according to Lordship Salvation, because obedience proves that one is truly saved. Often it is said this way, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Commitment is always wedded to obedience. The second word to remember is obedience.
3. P = Perseverance
Lordship Salvation believes that commitment must result in obedience that in turn perseveres to the end of life. A person who commits (C) his life to Christ, and obeys (O) Him for decades, yet who stops serving and obeying Him at the end of life and who dies as an immoral person or an alcoholic or a drug addict or any other type of sinner will not make it into the kingdom. According to Lordship Salvation, no matter how long you have been committed to and have obeyed Christ, you can never assume you are secure, for that is when you are most likely to let down your guard, fall away, and end up in hell. The third word to remember is perseverance. So, putting it all together, you can remember the three key elements of Lordship Salvation with the word COP: Commitment + Obedience + Perseverance = Everlasting Life.
Two Types of Lordship Salvation: RA
You can remember the two types with the letters RA, which stands for the element Radium, or for the disease many have, Rheumatoid Arthritis. But in this case it stands for Reformed and Arminian. The type of Lordship Salvation most people are most familiar with is found in the writings of men like John MacArthur, John Piper, and R. C. Sproul. I call this Reformed Lordship Salvation. It is Reformed because these men believe the five points of Calvinism which grew out of theReformation. COP for the Reformed person means this: No one is absolutely sure that he has been chosen by God or that Christ died for him. The only way to be sure you are born again is to persevere until death. Therefore, according to Reformed Lordship Salvation, if at the moment of death you are not persevering, you haven’t lost everlasting life, for that is impossible. Rather, you have simply proved what you thought was the new birth was actually a Satanic deception.
The second type of Lordship Salvation is Arminian. Arminius was a follower of Calvin who thought the system needed to be modified to include free will. So for him, if a person failed to persevere in faith and good works, then he would lose eternal life. Since it was a choice of the free will to receive eternal life from God, it could also be a choice of the free will (through rebellion or sin) to give it back. COP for the Arminian Lordship Salvation person says that if at the moment of death you are not persevering in faith and good works, then you will go to hell because you lost everlasting life at some point along the way. While that may sound like a big difference from Reformed Lordship Salvation, it really isn’t. Whether you lose everlasting life or prove you never had it by failing to persevere, you end up in the lake of fire. The end result of both forms is the same. Commitment, obedience, and perseverance (COP) are required in both systems for a person to ultimately receive everlasting life.
“Assurance” According to Lordship Salvation
According to Lordship Salvation “assurance” is a degree of confidence that I am likely to persevere. For both Reformed and Arminian brands of Lordship Salvation, perseverance is the key. Thus the question is, how confident am I that I will hang in there? And since nobody can know for sure what will happen to them in the future, assurance of salvation is never certainty. Several years ago, I had a conversation in Miami with a Reformed Lordship Salvation pastor and seminary professor who admitted he wasn’t sure if he would persevere and that therefore he wasn’t sure he was born again or that he would escape hell. He said, “I might fail to persevere, and if so, I’d end up in hell.”
For one believing in Lordship Salvation “assurance” may fluctuate from 1% to 99%, but it can only be 100% after you have died. Surely when Lordship Salvation people have arguments with their spouse, when they lose their temper, when they find themselves gossiping, or when they find themselves doing something else they shouldn’t do, their assurance goes way down, maybe to 10% or less. For a person who is obsessive-compulsive and perfectionistic, you’d never have over 50% confidence. You’d be mired in despair over the hopelessness of your situation. If anyone reading this holds to Lordship Salvation, I do not wish to offend you. However, I liken this view of assurance, common to both Reformed and Arminian Lordship Salvation, as leading to this type of evangelism: “I don’t know where I’m going when I die and if you have ten minutes I can help you not know where you are going when you die.” My heart breaks for people caught in this sort of thinking.
Does Lordship Salvation
Proclaim the True Gospel?
I’ve had conversations and debates with many Lordship Salvation people. In all of these we agree on one thing: One of us is proclaiming the true gospel and the other is not. Therefore, Lordship Salvation people will admit that if the Free Grace view of the gospel is correct, then they are not proclaiming the true gospel. Similarly, if the Lordship gospel is correct, then Free Grace theology is not. According to Galatians 1:6-9, we must be very careful to believe and proclaim the correct gospel, for those who do not are under a curse. This is why gospel-related issues are the most important doctrinal issues in the church today. Every Christian, every pastor, every church must make sure that the gospel they proclaim is the biblical gospel.
As we have seen, both brands of Lordship Salvation teach that works are necessary for a person to escape hell and enter into eternity with God. This is the false gospel that Paul condemns in Galatians. Therefore, the Lordship Salvation gospel is not the true gospel because it doesn’t teach that all who simply believe in Jesus have everlasting life that can never be lost. Their gospel is at odds with the message Jesus proclaimed. No person who holds to Lordship Salvation can say that John 3:16, 5:24, or 6:47 contains enough information for a person to be saved, because these verses do not mention commitment, obedience, or perseverance. The insistence on commitment, obedience, and perseverance as conditions for kingdom entrance makes the Lordship Salvation gospel a works salvation gospel.
Let me clarify by making it clear what I’m not saying. First, I am not saying that Lordship Salvation people are necessarily unsaved. What I’m saying is that they don’t believe the gospel now. If in the past they believed in Jesus Christ alone for everlasting life, apart from works of any kind, they are born again but confused. For example, by his own testimony, leading Lordship Salvation theologian and preacher, Dr. J. I. Packer said in a TableTalk article that he once believed the gospel that Zane Hodges preaches, but he doesn’t anymore. Thus he is born again, although he indicates that he no longer believes the Free Grace gospel. Many in Lordship Salvation, however, have never believed that simply by faith in Jesus they themselves are eternally secure. Second, I’m not saying that someone cannot be saved by hearing a Lordship Salvation gospel. What I am saying is that if a person is saved under Lordship Salvation teaching, it is because they reject most of what the Lordship Salvation person told them. Lordship Salvation garbles the gospel and the more it is garbled, the less likely it is that a person can grasp and believe the true gospel.
Lordship Salvation Is Popular But Wrong
Lordship Salvation is very popular today. I would estimate that 95% of all churches, denominations, seminary and Bible college professors believe in either Reformed or Arminian Lordship Salvation. But popularity must not be confused with correctness. The Lord Himself made it clear that the way is narrow that leads to life. While many assume He was speaking of non-Christian religions, there is no reason to conclude that. Careful examination shows that most “Christians” do not believe that the one who simply believes in Jesus has irrevocable everlasting life. The next time you see a law enforcement officer, think COP: Commitment, Obedience, Perseverance. That is what Lordship Salvation is all about. Lordship Salvation is about eternal salvation by law keeping. When you hear a leading Reformed theologian speak of our “Arminian brethren,” don’t be surprised. Arminians and Calvinists are united in their belief in COP. Only committed and obedient believers who persevere to the end will make it into the kingdom. But that message is not good news. Here’s good news: “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).
REASONS FOR NOT TEACHING “LORDSHIP SALVATION”
1. It contradicts Scripture; therefore, it cannot be true. This one reason should settle the matter completely. If a doctrine is contrary to what God says, then it should be discarded immediately. See Rom. 3:4; Titus 2:7; Gal. 4: 16.
2. It causes confusion and frustration to the unbeliever because it leaves the impression that salvation is by works. Therefore, the lost person often puts off accepting Christ until he is “ready” to turn his entire life over to the Lord. If the truth were presented to such a person, that salvation is free, but that after we are saved the Lord would work in our lives, perhaps he would trust Christ. Because of a “grace plus works” message he might NEVER trust Christ (I Cor. 14:8,9).
3. This message CANNOT SAVE. If anyone gets saved during such a message, it will be because God has honored a portion of His Word IN SPITE of the unscriptural teaching brought into the message (Rom. 4:5; Gal. 5:1-4; Rom. 11:6; Isa. 55:8-11; Rom.10:17).
4. This message is accursed of God. Any message, no matter how “good” it may sound, is condemned by God unless it is His own salvation message. HIS message is the only one that saves. All others are of satanic or fleshly origin and curse men to hell. Therefore, God curses such a message (Acts 4:12; John 14:6; Gal. 1:6-9; II Cor. 11:13 15; Gal. 3:1-3).
5. The person who preaches such a message is also accursed of God. Strong statement? Yes, but it is what God says. A man who preaches man’s efforts have a part in salvation is leading people to hell, not heaven. Even if a man believes he is sincere, a wrong message still has the effects of the wrong message. Sincerity is no substitute for truth (Deut. 27:18; Prov. 17:15; 19:5; Jer. 23:1).
6. It, in effect, makes God a liar and the Bible untrue. If salvation really does come to those who turn over their lives to Christ, then God has been wrong all the time, throughout the entire Bible, because salvation is taught from Genesis to Revelation to come only through faith (Titus 1:2, 3; Romans 3: 4).
7. It causes even Christian preachers to further the error by thinking it might have some merit and preaching it themselves. One well-known Christian returned to America from some meetings he held in a foreign country and made a statement like this: “I really made it difficult for them to accept Christ over there. In America it’s too easy to become a Christian, so I made it hard for them there. I told them accepting Christ meant turning from their sins, reading their Bibles, praying every day, giving up bad habits, and going to church regularly. And in spite of such a hard message hundreds made decisions for Christ.”
WHAT A TRAGEDY! When people hear the true gospel after hearing this type of message, they are often unable to distinguish what is truth from what is error, and so many are left confused and unsaved.
8. The preaching of this error robs the one preaching it of reward. Paul said, “What is our . . . crown? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” The more we are able to win to Christ, the more souls will be in heaven, and so the more reward we will have. But those who preach a confused message hinder people from trusting Christ as their Saviour. Therefore, many souls are left unsaved, and so these preachers will not have the reward that they could have had (I Thess. 2: 19, 20; II John 8; I John 2:28; I Cor. 9:18).
9. It confuses “laymen” believers and causes them to be ineffective in their witness. A girl recently asked, “I know that you are sincere and seem to have Scripture to back up what you teach, but my pastor is also sincere and teaches differently about salvation than you do. How do I know which one of you is right? How can I witness when I don’t know what to tell people?”
A confused believer isn’t going to be a faithful witness because he is going to be in constant turmoil over what to say. When he does try to witness, he will probably give out some mixture of “grace and works” that will not only confuse the lost person, but will also bring discouragement to the believer when he doesn’t find people responding to his witness. When the gospel is given out, pure and simple, there will be results. The gospel is good news, and people respond to it.
10. It hinders the growth of the body of Christ. This is one of the results of the above (#9). When the believer’s mouth is stopped (regardless of the reason), then the natural flow of fruit-bearing is stopped. Since Christ’s body is composed of believers, the growth of His body is hindered when souls are not won (John 15: 8, 16) .
Incidentally, this will also stop the growth of the local church as well. It is so obvious when you stop to think about it. Why any preacher thinks this accursed “grace and works” message would in any way benefit anyone is a puzzle to me. Let’s learn to THINK THINGS THROUGH!
11. It brings persecution to the believers who stand firm for the Scriptural message of “justification by faith.” Those who are clear on the gospel are often accused of preaching “easy believism” or “cheap grace.” Nothing could be further from the truth! Tell me, is a person ever saved by “hard” believism? Certainly no Christian I know believes in “cheap” grace! This is absurd. God’s grace is precious. The blood of Jesus is precious. The price our Lord paid for our redemption was so high that nothing can be compared with its great value. Salvation is anything but cheap. It is free to us only because Jesus paid the full price. And that price was His precious life blood (I Peter 1:18, 19).
God has gone through so MUCH to provide redemption for us! When I think that Jesus even gave His life-died such a horrible death-in order to provide eternal life as a free gift to those who would accept His payment by faith . . . and then someone comes along who professes to be a child of God and wants to make salvation HARD for the lost person . . . how the heart of our dear Saviour must break!
“Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, where with he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” ( Heb. 10: 29)
I doubt seriously if anyone could carefully read the Gospel accounts of what Christ went through to purchase our salvation and ever again speak glibly of “cheap grace.” No one is ever saved by “cheap grace.” They are saved by PRICELESS, AMAZING GRACE! Don’t let Satan blind you to the fact that salvation REALLY IS FREE to man. Don’t listen to him when he insinuates that “justification by faith” is a dangerous doctrine that will lead to “loose living.” The greatest soulwinners who ever lived believed in salvation by grace through faith, and they preached it faithfully . . . and God blessed them and their ministry for it.
We have a miracle salvation-provided and preserved by God Himself! Let’s give out the good news of this salvation simply and faithfully for His glory.
“But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (I Cor. 1 :30, 31) .