“Free Grace” is a term that refers to a theological position held by a number of evangelicals that someone can have Jesus as savior without having him as their Lord. They argue that turning from sin is not a necessary component of conversion and assert genuine faith does not necessarily lead to good works. This “Free Grace” position is held in contrast to the classic protestant position, which teaches that repentance from sin is a necessarily part of conversion and that evidence of a changed life is an important indication as to whether or not someone truly believes the gospel of Jesus.
Phoenix Seminary Professor Dr. Wayne Grudem recently wrote a book titled: “Free Grace” Theology that is published by Crossway in which he outlines his concerns with the Free Grace view of conversion and salvation. Dr. Grudem’s five concerns with Free Grace theology are summarized below.
1. Free Grace Theology Misunderstands The Reformation Doctrine of “Faith Alone”
One of the famous “five solas” of the Reformation is sola fide or “faith alone”. This affirmation was a correction to the Roman doctrine that argued that individuals would be justified by the work of the sacraments. Free Grace misunderstands this, as the whole stream of Reformation theology (including Calvin, the Formula of Concord, the 39 Articles of the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Philadelphia Baptist Convention, the New Hampshire Baptist Confession, and John Wesley!) all clearly affirm that we are justified by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone! The Reformation tradition has consistently affirmed that genuine faith will always be accompanied by good works and repentance.
2. Free Grace Theology Weakens the Gospel Message
A call to repentance is a frequently occurring theme in gospel call summarizes:
- The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. – Acts 17:30 ESV
- I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. – Acts 20: 20-21
- Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand. – Matthew 3:2
The good news of the Kingdom of God contains within it the message that Jesus is the King of his Kingdom! To repent has to do with acknowledging and living in line with that authority. Can someone believe that Jesus is the God incarnate, crucified, and risen yet still continue to have “their belly as their god” (Philippians 3:19)? Grudem cites the BDAG lexicon to offer this definition of the word English translations bring out as “repent” —metanoia: “to feel remorse, repent, be converted”. This is not to say that saving faith includes obedience, rather, authentic saving faith results in obedience. This is not a matter of perfection, it is a matter of direction.
3. Free Grace Theology Gives False Assurance
The assurance of eternal life given to those who give mental assent to the gospel is out of line with how Christians have historically discerned how to attain assurance of one’s salvation. Thus, many people likely have been assured of their eternal state while having never truly been converted! The Westminster Confession outlines true assurance as follows:
Such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace . . . This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion . . . But an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidences of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 18, paragraphs 1 and 2)
Assurance should not be handed out on the grounds of confession of faith alone, but rather on the grounds of following after Jesus as a result of having trusted in Jesus’ saving work.
4. Free Grace Theology Requires Numerous Highly Unlikely Interpretations
The scriptures contain a multitude of warning texts that indicate that false faith can be discerned on the grounds of the works that accompany it. Free Grace advocates frequently have to impose interpretations that are unlikely onto these passages. Here are some examples of some of those passages:
- the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 24:13
- They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. 1 John 2:19
- And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. Mark 4:16-17
- If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. John 15:6
5. Free Grace Theology Overemphasizes Head and Underemphasizes Heart
“Free Grace theology leads its supporters to overemphasize one necessary component of genuine faith (mental assent to the Bible’s propositions about Christ’s atoning work) and to underemphasize another necessary component of genuine faith (namely, heartfelt trust in the living person of Jesus Christ as my Savior and my God forever).” – Dr. Wayne Grudem
In the New Testament, saving faith is not merely “mental assent” or even “believing the right things”, rather it is more holistic and has to do with the whole person coming to Jesus as savior and Lord. Saving faith is pictured as “coming” to Christ, “receiving” Christ, “believing” something with your heart, and “believing in” a person! The heart is the center of the whole person in the scriptures and involves both the intellect and the emotions. Conversion does not simply result in the belief in God, but the love of God!
So, can someone have Jesus as savior without having him as Lord? No! For a more detailed account of Dr. Grudem’s argument, you can purchase his book here.