The So-Called Free Grace vs. Lordship Salvation Debate
Please read the article entitled Putting the Gospel Debate in Sharper Focus by Bob Wilkin and comment. In which camp do you fall?
Thanks you for your question on Free Grace vs. Lordship Salvation ... I want to first point out that the short essay on this topic (that you sent) was written by Executive Director of the Grace Evangelical Society. I do not know if you are familiar with this group but it prides itself on believing in what they call free grace while openly charging their doctrinal opponents of adding something to the requirements of salvation over and above the simple requirement to believe. I mention this simply so you know that the essay is biased on the side of the so-called free grace position. It shines a negative light on the "Lordship" position but I would argue that just about anyone from the Lordship camp would probably deny the position as he has stated it. The first rule of debate, as far as I am concerned, is that If you can not represent another man's views in a way that he would agree with, then you have no right to disagree with him.
Having said this I will come clean by telling you that I am firmly in the Lordship camp. I have thought about this for a very long time. In fact this was one of the first major debates I participated in when first becoming a Christian when at the University of Colorado about 20 years ago.
While the no-Lordship position, which is often called "easy-belivism", appears outwardly to promote a kind of "grace alone" position, the facts are actually stacked against it. Upon closer scrutiny we find the group seems to freely exchange the words "grace" and "faith" as if they were speaking of exactly the same thing. Let me explain. While the "no-Lordship" position appears to admirably attempt to protect the doctrine of "faith alone", but in the process it casts aside the biblical doctrine of "grace alone". Those who hold to the free grace or no-lordship position, which include scholars like Zane Hodges, Charles Ryrie as well as other famous dispensationalists at Dallas Seminary, are also firmly against the concept of monergistic regeneration. And this is intimately related to the topic at hand as you will see. They reject all biblical evidence which suggests that regeneration precedes faith. Instead, they view faith as something they must contribute to the price of their salvation. So while they may appear to be promoting a 'free grace' position, the fact is that they do not believe that faith arises as a gift of God. If that is the case then salvation is not by grace alone through faith alone but grace plus faith. So in the end their theology is self-defeating. C.H. Spurgeon once said:
"Remember this; or you may fall into error by fixing your minds so much upon the faith which is the channel of salvation as to forget the grace which is the fountain and source even of faith itself. Faith is the work of God's grace in us, No man comes to Me," says Jesus, "except the Father who sent Me draws him. . .Grace is the first and last moving cause of salvation; and faith, essential as it is, is only an important part of the machinery which grace employs. We are saved "through faith," but salvation is 'by grace.'"
Believe it or not, it is the Lordship position which actually embraces a full-orbed free grace ... this is because, God initiates and gives us new life SO THAT WE MIGHT believe. AND that same new disposition, brings us to repentance. Repentance is necessary for our salvation ... the gospel itself clearly and unambiguously says so ... this is no gospel addition .. but again, it certainly does not come from our own natural intrinsic ability. God's grace is what enables us to do so. If we look at 2 Tim 2:25 it speaks of how believers are to respond to persons who oppose the gospel and what God may do for them it says, "Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will GRANT THEM REPENTANCE leading them to a knowledge of the truth"
In other words, repentance is something that is granted by God - a result of God openingour eyes and showing us our need of Christ in light of God's holiness, beauty and excellence. An unregenerate man cannot apprehend such spiritual truths (1 Cor 2:14). When the text says that God's action of grace leads them to "a knowledge of the truth" it is clearly referring to salvation. It is not something we come up with ourselves in our unregenerate natures. And what is repentance consist of? First, it is a repentance of all trust in our own ability to save ourselves --- repentance from trusting in our own good works. A full humble recognition from the Holy Spirit that we are spiritually impotent. Next, because regeneration illumines our spiritual understanding, circumcises our heart, unplugs our deaf ears, opens our spiritual eyes and implants new affections, we therefore now love God more than we love sin for the first time. God works repentance in us as the object of our affections have been changed. No one says Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. So this means that we no longer want to live a lifestyle of unbroken sin. Sins power has been broken. Those who do continue in a lifestyle of sin can really have no assurance of their salvation. The Grace Evangelical Society, as the article demonstrates, are dangerously promoting an antinomian-like theology which seems to uphold a kind of "once saved always saved" position --- not a biblical doctrine. Why not? Because it means that most easy-believism groups embrace the concept that anyone who has EVER made a profession of faith is saved and if they later fall away and becomes a Buddhist or an atheist, it does not matter -- they're in. As long as I made some profession or prayed the prayer ten or twenty years ago then I am a Christian, in that scheme. It seems that Charles Stanley and others teachers like him have embraced this kind of theology. In fact, in a sermon earlier this month (8-5-04) he insisted that conviction of sin is not a necessary part of conversion (conviction of a felt need is).
In my view, and I would argue, the view of most Christians through church history, is that the holy Scriptures never speak this way. There are clear warnings of those who make (false) professions and yet live in unbroken sin. 1 John 2:19 teaches that those who leave the faith were never a part of it to begin with. And Jesus likewise says,
""Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' " (Matthew 7:21-23)
Notice that the text says that he never knew them. It does not say to these false professors that He once knew them and then ceased knowing tham at a later time. No, it says "I never knew you". That means that there are actually persons out there who have spuriously believed in Christ. This should be sobering but if we take hold of God's promises then we derive great comfort because our regeneration changes the disposition of our hearts from hostility to affection for Christ and implants in us us a principle of perseverance. The Christian, while he may commit grievous sin, cannot live in it. Rather, faith is ongoing as is our desire to obey. God both encourages and disciplines those he loves so they will continue in their faith. In 1 Cor 11:31-32 Paul says, "if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world." A person who refuses to repent of sin, as a professed Christian, may have to eventually be excommunicated, with the hope that they will be reconciled/restored into fellowship through repentance. We cannot tell someone who lives in sin that they can have assurance. To do so, does such a person no good. It is positively harmful.
The essay you linked to in your email characterized the Lordship people as believing that one must be willing to turn from sins or commit one's life to Christ to be saved. In criticizing this then the 'free grace' people view these things as extra and unnecessary for salvation. In other words we may cling to sins and not have any desire to commit our lives to Christ just so long as we made some kind of a profession of faith. As far as I am concerned, such a belief is horrific, antithetical to everything the Bible teaches and needs to be censored. Repentance is never seen as optional. Obeying Christ's commands is likewise never seen as optional. A truly regenerate person will desire to believe and obey. We will often miserably fail but the Spirit which dwells in us presses us on to sanctification. A lifestyle of sin with no desire to obey Christ is a sign of being unregenerate and plainly in great danger. But whatever our conscience accuses us of we can turn in faith to Christ and He will forgive us.
The essay you sent also charges the Lordship people as believing that ..."the promises of God's Word, while necessary for assurance, are not sufficient. One must also look to his works. No believer can have 100% assurance of salvation merely by looking to the promises in God's Word to the believer." Really? On the contrary, the Reformed position is the only position that trusts in the promises of God as sufficient. Those who make such charges forget that sanctification is also a promise of God to the believer. Look in John 15:16 "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you."
Christ earlier warns us against not abiding in the vine and says those who do not will be burned, but then here in verse 16 he makes a promise that He chose us and appointed us to bear fruit ... so the truly regenerate will not fall into the camp of those who fall away. Christ guarantees it. Christ cannot lose a believer. He intercedes for us (Romans 8:34) so we will not fail. Can Christ's prayer for His elect fail? Hebrews likewise says of Christ's prayer for us: "Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost [(that is, completely)] those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." This is God's word and so when we note that our works give evidence of true belief they glory goes to God alone because He ordained that we would bear fruit. The Apostle Paul said, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." The Text continually presents this message: That we are required to persevere AND that God grants us the ability to do so. Those who do not persevere cannot live in assurance.
So instead of "once saved, always saved" we believe that Christ will never lose a Christian, will enable us to persevere and will save us to the uttermost. "...he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil 1:6) God grants the desire to press on to the end, always remembering that we are sinners and can trust in Christ alone for everything we have. Our desire for faith, repentance and obedience is a gift of God's sheer grace, not something we must come up with in our flesh. The easy believism/antinomian position somehow thinks that when repentance is demanded by the "Lordship" camp then we are calling for trust in works. Sorry, but a true faith produces works because regeneration and sanctification is a work of God in us to begin with. It is those who trust in their own ability to have faith that are ultimately trusting in themselves since such a faith is produced apart from God's regenerative work. Again, to the easy believism camp, faith is a product of their unregenerated human nature - so in the end which theology leads us to trust in free grace?
grace and peace
Further Reading on this Topic
Regeneration: The New Birth, Changed Lives, and Sin In the Church by Stephen Fernandez
More Essays on the Lordship of Christ @monergism.com
Thanks for your very thorough reply. I have come to expect nothing less of you. That's why I am drawn to you...your love of the truth and desire to both explore and defend the foundational truths of Christianity. It is sharpening me day by day.
I knew, of course, that you would hold to a "Lordship" view of
salvation, as do I. But I am most pleased that you explained the "real"
thoroughly. I will re-read this email tonight as well as the link you provided.