Free Grace Theology and the Requirement of Holiness

Today, I would like to share some thoughts on Free Grace theology and its relationship to the requirement of holiness. What am I referring to when I say “free grace theology”? Put briefly, free grace theology is marked by a firm defense of salvation through simple trust in Christ alone and the protection of that truth in how we call sinners to be saved and in how Christians grow spiritually (see Mike Stallard in “Sin and Classical Free Grace Theology” in Freely by His Grace, eds. Hixson, Whitmire, and Zuck). This stands in opposition to what is called Lordship salvation. That view is marked by the inclusion of a commitment to serve Christ in the salvation process in addition to simple faith and the requirement of spiritual fruit and perseverance in good works in order to provide assurance of salvation. Overall, a good summary article is an old one from Roy B. Zuck which may be found online titled “Cheap Grace?” I would refer you to that for your edification and awareness.

Now, the focus of this article is to addres the frequent charge that the free grace position is identified with the idea of antinomianism (meaning that one is without law), because there is no promise to serve Christ included in saving faith. The implication in the charge is that classical free grace nullifies any requirement for holiness for God’s people. I only wish to offer a defense for why the free grace position does not lack a requirement for holiness in its theological structure. I would point out too that the shape of this requirement is markedly different from Lordship salvation. Free grace theology generally will point out the difference between free offers of the gospel by faith alone apart from works and the call to discipleship which is contingent on works, and lay out a firm logical difference between the two. D. A. Carson in his book Exegetical Fallacies (pg91) critiques a free grace theologian for this distinction, stating that grace and demand are not “mutually incompatible.” I think that even from a free grace perspective there is need to clarify the relationship between grace and demand as it pertains to a Christian. As far as the condition for salvation, yes, there is a firm distinction. Salvation is either through faith or works, and New Testament passages attest to this! For example, Rom. 4:14 says “[I]f those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified[.]” However, this is not to say that there isn’t a demand or a requirement associated with the one who receives grace. It is this simple: The one who is saved is required by God to live a holy life. Scripture says to church age Christians “[B]e holy yourselves also in all your behavior[.]” (1 Pet. 1:15b NASB). This may be connected with the statement of the believers position that “[he is] not under law but under grace.” (Rom. 6:14b NASB). However, this requirement does not thereby become a condition of being saved or of keeping his salvation, and that is where it differs from Lordship salvation. Lewis Sperry Chafer is one of the leading voices for free grace theology in the early 20th century, and he agrees with this overall approach as seen in his book Grace. In that book (pp. 96-97), he lists several areas of unity across all dispensations and includes this very idea:

“While there is wide difference between the rules of conduct which are imposed in the various ages, there is unity in the revelation that a holy manner of life is the divine requirement in every age.”

The problem with of Lordship salvation is that its seem to fall into error by their desire to restore the purity of the church by making the gospel harder. In reality, the solution could be viewed as two-fold. Baptistic ecclesiology which requires a person to be saved in order to be a church member and the correlating idea of church discipline on sinning Christians (J. B. Hixson in Getting the Gospel Wrong, 1st. Ed., pg. 350) are better antidotes to this issue. On the positive side, the solution is that saved people be taught in grace how to live holy lives. Chafer summarizes in Grace, pg. 14, as follows:

I. God saves sinners by grace,

II. God keeps through grace those who are saved, and,

III. God teaches in grace those who are saved and kept how they should live, and how they may live, to His eternal glory.

Let it be clear: Classical free grace theology is not antinomian. It is not antinomian because it upholds the requirement that all God’s people live holy lives. At the same time, it does not weaken the Biblical principle that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (e.g. Eph. 2:8-9). Maybe some time in the future, I will discuss the difference between easy-believism, another concern of Lordship salvation, and classical free grace theology. My next post though will likely be a sharing of some thoughts on a specific Bible passage. In my studies, I need to try to maintain a both-and focus on Bible Study and theological integration, and I want to share thoughts on specific Bible passages on this blog too. Thanks for reading.

7 thoughts on “Free Grace Theology and the Requirement of Holiness

  1. I hope to discuss a few passages with you in 1 John. Thank you for this blog entry. I agree with it, and would add that the exact problem of deriving an “ought” from an “is” is not specific to free grace theology, lordship salvation, or even theology, but is a philosophical problem often discussed in beginning philosophy classes. How does a particular thing being true, imply, just by itself, that something should be considered required? Even “God is holy” needs an imperative as a minor premise, something like “He commands holiness to us” to get us to “we must be holy,” according to traditional thinking about ethics. 1 Peter’s “You shall be holy, for I am holy” is quite radical, according to Western ethics.

    1. Thank you for your comments, and adding a further dimension to the discussion. I have thought about them today for sure–Thank you! Regarding 1 John, I would just say that is a theological problem I haven’t been able to really solve/fix. The epistle has always been a rather large problem for 10-15 years and one I have struggled much to really grasp. The two views (fairly common and I trust you are aware of them) are tests of life and tests of fellowship. In my pilgrimage, I am carefully considering now the free grace side of the issues in the epistle and at this juncture I will just mention that what I find interesting is that the likes of C. I. Scofield, Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, and Charles Ryrie seem to generally speaking take the tests of life view of 1 John (and coincidentally, the traditional interpretation of James 2) that is generally associated with Reformed Theology/Lordship Salvation, yet no one would even think they are not free grace. So, it stretches my mind to wonder if there is something of an issue that people simply apply the statements in 1 John to varying degrees, and that becomes a major issue regarding how one fits together 1 John with the rest of the Bible. This issue leads me (as it should to anyone I think) to the primary issue of ensuring one is following a proper literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic in the epistle in order to answer the theological questions that are pressed on one by the seemingly absolute statements in the epistle, and letting all the other issues (e.g. the broader context of John’s theology, the other Johan nine books, and the theological systems of soteriology) be secondary.

  2. How completely refreshing to hear that someone who wants to discuss an issue admits to being in-process in our thinking, not finished struggles with our grasp of an issue! Thank you for that. Ditto goes for me sir.

    Tests of life and tests of fellowship both begin with and suffer from the same unstated assumption, that they both test the same incorrect domain: individuals. 1 Jn 4:1 gives us another domain to test: “test the spirits to see if they are from God.” I.e., test the systems! Allow me to express this as work-in-process here, and tell me if some of it is interesting brother.

    1 Jn 1:6: in the Greek, although it is not much used in the NT, there is some indirect discourse. Indirect discourse is rendered in the subjunctive. The YLT (Young’s Literal, 1898) shows this, btw, and how awkward this verse sounds in English using the subjunctive explicitly: ” if we may say–‘we have fellowship with Him,’ and in the darkness may walk–we lie, and do not the truth;”. But at list it points out that both verbs in the protasis, the “if”-part of the sentence, are in the subjunctive, yielding the sense of an indirect quotation being tested: the quotation would be “we have fellowship with Him, and [yet] walk in the darkness.” So as indirect quotation, supplying the thing being indirectly quoted in single quotes, “if we say that ‘we have fellowship with Him and [yet] walk in the darkness’,” There is a point of an evil system being brought up here, a system that claims both together: fellowship with Him concurrent with walking in the darkness.” That, John says is false, and intentionally so: (“we lie”).

    Ryrie and many others have pointed out that walking in the Light cannot be the same as the concept of sinlessness, since it is concurrent with “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1:7). Walking in the darkness is not merely having sin. Walking in the darkness is having a system that enshrines a knowingly evil practice that deliberately denies the truth. It is walking in a self-confessedly evil system. That’s why such a case involves lying, and not just inconsistency.

    That’s why the contrasting idea presented by John is not a claim of perfection: “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light” — there is the contrasting system presented. Christians, despite sins, walk in — are in a system that countenances no darkness at all. God Himself is in the Light. That’s John’s first point. People have such a hard time with even John’s first point, because they think that to walk in the Light implies a certain percentage of sinlessness, some high percentage usually, if not discussed that way, then often discussed using the euphemisms of Lordship Salvation, btw, such as “of course Christians _occasionally_ sin.”

    The confusion between issues here is easy to see how it happens, because when a system is being tested, it also will show the failures of the individuals who are in the false system, and so, indirectly, testing a system does also test the individuals of the system. As John says, the criticism of the teaching is both falsity of the intentional kind (“we lie”) and inconsistency (“we do not practice the truth”). So exposing a false system exposes both its falsehoods and the inconsistency of those who advocate it. And the contrast, the walking in the Light, is something that is both true and can handle inconsistency: we walk in the Light as He is in the light, no qualifications there! And, are inconsistency is handled by the Blood of Christ.

  3. There are plenty of things to talk about in your first post here, already. “The one who is saved is required by God to live a holy life.” … “this requirement does not thereby become a condition of being saved or of keeping his salvation.”

    The requirement to live a holy life is often incorrectly reduced to a prediction: if the requirement is met, the following things, a, b, and c, will occur, and if the requirement is not met, the following things, d, e, and f, will occur. If that is denied, people will often say the requirement has no “teeth” to it. If you were meet someone who thinks like that, they would say, “then why make a requirement at all? It’s not a requirement, unless it has “effects.” A moral requirement implies a liability, but not necessarily an outcome / effect. For example, Jesus said, using the NASB, “whoever says ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Mt 5:22). In saying that, Jesus does not imply that all those guilty enough to go into the fiery hell, because they have said “you fool,” will actually be there. American jurisprudence is built on this as well, distinguishing between guilt and actual punishment. How so?

    In systems that unite requirements and personal actual consequences, the only way to avoid the personal actual consequence is to meet the requirement personally and actually.

    However, if the concept of salvation employ is some form of avoidance of (!) personally and actually meeting the requirement, then sometimes either some kind of gradually-getting-better-and-better is put forward; or the gaining of tools with guaranteed attempt to use them is put forward as how to avoid personally and actually meeting the requirement for holiness — for example, Piper’s soteriology.

    This is in contrast to the Romans 6 idea, in which, given, that the “effects” of sin are so severe and certain, it is too late to be getting gradually-better-and-better, and moreover way too late and not-enough to merely be trying to. It must be, that we die, and are raised, with Christ.

  4. Well, the one thing I see in your comments Larry is an added emphasis on logic in the discussion, and that can be good. I tend in my own study to try to focus on Biblical and theological discussion, using logic, but not making loggic the focus of the discussion. I don’t mean to suggest that your avenue is wrong per say, but I think it is more helpful to focus on the text…Anyway, I would add to your general line of thought this: It is not logically inconsistent to suggest that certain things must follow salvation by faith alone. The line of reasoning I follow is that if God promises that, say, practical sanctification is the result of putting faith in Christ alone, then it would be valid to say “If such and such doesn’t have practical sanctification, then he obviously does not have salvation.” The bigger issue is whether the practical sanctification is “frontloaded” prior to conversion. The concept of practical sanctification is no different than say, justification, as far as logic is concerned. If we had the ability to go ask God right now, is “such and such justified, standing in the finished work of Christ?” and if He said “No, he isn’t.” Then, we would have clear and certain proof that such a person has not trusted Christ alone, no matter what his profession is. In conclusion, my point is to show that we must be careful about how much logical deduction we allow, and there are times when both sides engage in this that is off-putting. There comes a point when this can lead to extra-Biblical conclusions. Again, still a work in progress, but I definitely favor free grace as being the Biblical position. I hope this is clear, without being too wordy. I have another post going up on another topic soon. Take care!

  5. I found your comment very clear sir. I also agree with it. If God, hypothetically, were to “say to us” (in some verified way) that someone is not justified, then we would have proof contradicting any profession by that person. This is the point of the parable of the Ten Virgins, is it not, Christ not knowing them (Mt 25:12) being the surprise explanation of their being outside? and of Mt 7:21-23, the profession of works by those whom Christ never knew?

    You also point out that use of “logic” (i.e., inference) within Lordship Salvation circles to say that “if God promises that, say, practical sanctification is the result of putting faith in Christ alone, then it would be valid to say ‘if such and such doesn’t have practical sanctification, then he obviously does not have salvation.” You correctly note that if that premise is correct, and if the inference is valid, then a conclusion that is “extra-biblical” is reached. So either the premise, or the inference, is invalid. In this case, the inference: good works are not automatically a “result” of putting faith in Christ alone. Good works take (good) work. MacArthur’s claim that God produces them is false. God prepares them (Eph 2:10), for us to walk in.

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