NOTE: THIS IS AN EXPANDED AND EDITED VERSION OF THE ORIGINAL POST BEARING THIS NAME (edited October 2 / 3pm PST)Introduction:
The Apostle John has stated that anyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born again (1 John 5:1). Question: If one fulfills the condition of simply believing that Jesus is the Christ, will he be born again? For the epistle writer John, such belief is saving faith, so yes, John teaches that if one believes that Jesus is the Christ he is born again! But would those of traditional Free Grace theology and Duluthian proponents (let alone Lordship advocates) consider it a truism that whoever simply believes that Jesus is the Christ is born again? We shall see.The Position of Traditional Free Grace
According to traditional Free Grace people (from now on TFG), saving faith consists of at least 5 conditions:
1) Believe that Jesus is God
2) Believe that Jesus is man
3) Believe that Jesus died a substitutionary death on the cross
4) Believe that Jesus rose again from the dead
5) Trust in Jesus’ work for eternal salvation
For the TFG, believing that Jesus is the God-man, who died a substitutionary death on the cross and rose again from the dead, is not enough. You must furthermore personally appropriate and trust these elements and Jesus’ work for eternal salvation. Usually this is called the “two-step”. Belief in the gospel facts is not enough (they do not want to be accused of intellectual assent). According to TFG, one must choose to trust these facts (Christ’s attributes) and Jesus’ work as additional steps.
We have already discussed in prior posts the confusion that this kind of approach may spawn. To briefly summarize, such a position can engender confusion on many different levels.
Trust and faith is the same thing. To distinguish between them, as many TFG do, can create confusion. Believing is not mere mental assent while trust is personal appropriation
. Neither are the exercising of 'trust'/'faith' acts of the will, as most TFG teach. ‘Trust’ and ‘faith’ are nothing more than understanding certain propositions to be true; it is the passive result of being convinced that something is true. If I were to say, “I trust the babysitter,” this would be equivalent (and shorthand for) “I believe that the babysitter will perform her duties to my satisfaction.” We must beware making distinctions between trust and faith, as TFG often does.
TFG make saving faith complex. It is multi-conditional. Such complexity can net uncertainty and confusion. Saving faith, for TFG, cannot be contained in a simple proposition, like “faith alone in Christ alone”. TFG teaches that there are a number of conditions and at least two steps to saving faith. A misunderstanding or omission of any of these will invalidate the beliefs in the rest.
The understanding of saving faith by the TFG is technically and biblically inaccurate. If a lost man were to ask them were in the Bible does it give these conditions for eternal salvation, they could not turn to any single passage to show them. They would need to hop around the Bible, stringing a multitude of passages together. In the end, not a single passage they would turn to clearly states that the conditions that the TFG offer for the reception of eternal life do indeed appropriate salvation. This, itself, is a most major problem. They do not have any concrete biblical support, but base their position on a series of implications, allusions, and conjectures. No passage can be turned to that clearly states that upon the fulfillment of the TFG’s conditions one receives eternal salvation
The TFG require lost men and women to be at a level of theological astuteness that nullifies the simplicity of Jesus Christ in His promise. The assent to doctrine, and this in its correct and minute forms, has become a co-condition to uncomplicated reliance upon Jesus for everlasting life. Children and common people could be precluded from saving faith. The Spirit states, “Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17). Eternal life is there for the simple taking, but the TFG significantly qualify this offer by insisting that the one who desires the water of life check off on a series of theological statements before he is allowed to approach the Fountain.
Assurance of salvation becomes confusing and frustrated. If a person is evangelized with the TFG method, where can he later turn to in the bible if he loses assurance of his salvation? No scriptures will be found that will line up with his evangelistic experience. We are to find certain and complete assurance in the objective word of God. But there is no verse or passage in the whole of Scripture that states, “Believe that Jesus is the God-man, who died a substitutionary death on a cross, rose again from the dead, and trust His works, and you will be eternally saved.” Since the TFG has to make his evangelistic appeal and invitation a conglomerate of many passages, how is the one struggling with assurance going to come to the understanding that he has fulfilled all the conditions? Suppose that there may be more in the Bible that the evangelist didn’t find or relay. Aren’t there 27 books in the New Testament? The evangelist only turned to a few!
These are only a cursory consideration with the problems of the TFG understanding. Much more can be said.Do Traditional Free Grace People Believe that Whoever Believes that Jesus is the Christ is Born Again?
By virtue of their position, it is impossible for a TFG, genuinely and without qualification, to answer this question in the affirmative. It is just not possible
We all are aware of Lordship Salvation’s importation of works into the concept of saving faith. This is well documented. I call this approach “kitchen sink” theology. Lordship proponents have evacuated the simple concept of faith and its theological shell has been loaded with such ideas as repentance, submission, obedience, and contrition by those who deem that apathy in our churches ought to be fought with the inclusion of works on the front end of the gospel offer.
In order for the TFG to, without qualification, state that “whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1) they would have to import into the concept of “Christ” their smorgasborg of doctrines, conditions, and steps that they impose upon the objects of their evangelistic endeavors, prove to them that these considerations are essential soteric information contained within the understaning of the title "the Christ," and make sure that the lost are consciously aware of this specific import
. Such a task, in reality, could not legitimately be done.
Why can't this endeavor be honestly accomplished? The TFG position could be falsified with a very simple argument. The TFG attempt to connect the death and resurrection (2 out of their 5 conditions for saving faith) with the concept of Christ as necessary soteric understanding and then
require the lost to be consciously aware of this specific import based upon their mere linking of this information to the concept of "the Christ" fails when one realizes that men and women who were the objects of Jesus' evangelism in the Gospel of John were born again by believing that Jesus was the Christ apart from the perceived affirming of such considerations.
It can be proved from the gospels that people believed that Jesus was the Christ without
the conscious understanding of such import. In other words, the disciples and the common folks believed that Jesus was the Christ (and thus were born of God according to 1 John 5:1) not understanding, assenting to, or even knowing about Christ’s substitutionary atonement and resurrection (not to mention His deity).
A few instances should suffice:
Andrew and most likely the Apostle John believed that Jesus is the Christ (John 1:40-42), and according to the writer of this gospel, whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God and has eternal life (John 20:31; 1 John 5:1). It should be of great note that this occurence happened very
early in Jesus' ministry. Phillip and Nathanael affirmed His messiahship very soon afterward (John 1:43-49). Following these events, Jesus started attracting disciples. His disciples are shown to have believed into Him at the time of His first sign miracle (John 2:11).
Another example would be the Samaritans of Sychar. The woman at the well first believed that Jesus was the Christ (John 4:29), based solely upon Jesus' prophetic statements about her life. This woman went into the village and told the inhabitants about Jesus. As an interesting side note, she states, "Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" (John 4:29). This does not indicate that she affirmed or was consciously aware of Christ's deity. Next, many of the people of the village believed into Jesus as the Christ. Of great note is John's statement, "And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, 'He told me all that I ever did'" (John 4:39). Based solely on this immoral woman's testimony of Jesus' prophetic gift, "many of the Samaritans" believed in His messiahship. Please note that this woman's testimony did not include an explanation of the hypostatic union of Jesus and the substitutionary death and physical resurrection. These Samaritans heard, through a severely tarnished vessel, a simple attestation to Jesus' ability, which supported His claim that He was able to guarantee their eternal well-being. As a result of the evangelistic edeavors of Jesus, many Samaritans believed that Jesus was the Christ (John 4:42).
These events happened within the first year of Jesus' ministry. This is an important consideration because Jesus did not reveal to anyone His death and resurrection until His third year of ministry (Matt 16:21; Mk 8:31; Lu 9:22). It is important to note here that even after giving them this information that they did not believe such would be the case, evidenced by Peter's reaction to Jesus' statements: "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!" (Matt 16:22).
It is important to note further that after Jesus had died (thus fulfilling part of His prophetic foretelling in Matt 16:21) that the disciples did not believe in Christ's resurrection, even after it was reported to them by two different sources! A short quotation is in order:
She [Mary Magdalene] went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either. Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.
What can we make of this information? We must certainly conclude
that the disciples and the common folks of Jesus' time believed into Him as the Christ, and thus were born of God (1 John 5:1), having no conscious understanding or knowledge of any import of Christ's substitutionary death or resurrection. Furthermore, what makes this information so much stronger is the fact that the disciples, in actuality, consciously and verbally denied
TFGs import of soteric information into the title, "the Christ". The disciples wilfully contradicted Jesus' statements concerning His death and resurrection! These particulars cannot be overemphasized. The disciples consciously disclaimed this information yet still believed that Jesus was the Christ [and according to John's simple assertion, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1)].
In John 20:9 we read, "For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead." This is an important verse that needs to be brought to our attention. What we see here is that the disciples believed that Jesus was the Christ apart
from understanding all the concepts that are connected to and associated with the title, "the Christ".
In a personal correspondence with Zane Hodges, he wrote:"The fundamental error [of Traditional Free Grace theology]... is the assumption that one must know everything about a person to be able to believe who he is. That is illogical and wrong. Do I have to understand the President's powers, or his personality, to believe he is the President and trust Him for something?"
The common folks and the disciples believed that Jesus was the Christ. The import that they gave to the title, "the Christ" was obviously and verifiably not
the doctrines that TFG regards as required soteric information. Thus the death and resurrection are not a/the soteric import of the title, "the Christ" which makes believing that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ salvific.
1) John says in 1 John 5:1, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God"
2) The disciples of Jesus and many common folks believed that Jesus was the Christ (and therefore according to premise number 1, were born of God) apart from any understanding of His death and resurrection (even consciously and wilfully denying such!)
3) The understanding that Jesus died a substitutionary death and rose bodily from the dead is not the specific, soteric import of the title, "the Christ".
4) Men and women can believe that Jesus is the Christ [and thus be born again (1 John 5:1)] apart from understanding or consciously affirming the death and resurrection of Christ.
Zane Hodges, in his journal article, "How to Lead People to Christ: Part 1" (www.faithalone.org) states:
[John 20:30-31] does not affirm the necessity of believing in our Lord’s substitutionary atonement. If by the time of the writing of John’s Gospel, it was actually necessary to believe this, then it would have been not only simple, but essential, to say so.
Inasmuch as the key figures in John’s narrative did believe in Jesus before they understood His atoning death and resurrection, it would have been even more essential for John to state that the content of faith had changed. But of course he does not do this. The simple fact is that the whole Fourth Gospel is designed to show that its readers can get saved in the same way as the people who got saved in John’s narrative. To say anything other than this is to accept a fallacy. It is to mistakenly suppose that the Fourth Gospel presents the terms of salvation incompletely and inadequately. I sincerely hope no grace person would want to be stuck with a position like that.
Let me repeat. Neither explicitly nor implicitly does the Gospel of John teach that a person must understand the cross to be saved. It just does not teach this. If we say that it does, we are reading something into the text and not reading something out of it!
The gospel of John shows how Jesus, Himself, evangelized. He did so through communication and miracles. By these things He showed Himself to be the Christ that was to come. When anyone believed Him to be the Christ, they were born again. John is explicit in both his purpose statement for his gospel and in his epistle that anyone who simply believes that Jesus is the Christ is born again (John 20:30-31; 1 John 5:1). Jesus did not require anyone to assent to His propitiatory work or His resurrection as a requirement for understanding Him to be the Christ! The gospel writer John did not require this either. John taught that through Jesus Christ's words and miracles we are to believe Him to be the Christ in order to therefore have eternal life. John asserts that, like those in his narrative who believed that Jesus is the Christ and were thus assured of eternal life, we too must believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ.
Logically, if Christ’s death and resurrection are not the specific notions in the term “the Christ” which makes the belief that “Jesus is the Christ” soteric, TFG people cannot, without reservation and qualification, agree that anyone who simply believes that Jesus is the Christ is born again. Why? Because it has been abundantly shown that people can come to that conclusion apart from a conscious understanding of those things!
If the disciples were born again, apart from any knowledge, understanding, or assent to Jesus’ propitiatory death and physical resurrection (they were even in conscious and wilful denial of them!), by believing that Jesus is the Christ, how is it that the TFG require such understandings as components of saving faith (rather than viewing them as valuable instrumental material used to bring people to faith in Jesus)? The more accurate answer by a TFG would be that they, in fact, do not believe that 'whoever' simply believes that Jesus is the Christ is born again. At least such an answer would be forthcoming and honest!What is the import of “the Christ” that makes it salvific?
There seems to be a lot of importing and connecting of various theological ideas (in)to the term “the Christ” (and whether valid or not would be the determination of much study we will not do here). The Jews of Jesus’ time were looking for the Christ (Hebrew: Messiah) who would be a Savior, restoring to Israel its prominent position among the nations. The Christ was to be the seed of Abraham, from the line of Judah and the son of David. He was to be born in Bethlehem. ‘The Christ’ literally means ‘The Annointed One’. The ideas of teacher and king have been associated with “the Christ”. Other’s have stated that deity is an imperatival characteristic of the title “the Christ”. What is permissiable or impermissable to import into the term “the Christ”? Yet, a better question is:If there are so many ideas, associations, and information connected with the term, “the Christ,” how is one to decide which items must be consciously understood and assented to in order for one to exercise saving faith, in other words, to believe that Jesus is the Christ and therefore be born again?
Who is the objective arbiter of such a consideration?
The TFG people have been attempting to link components of their soteric doctrinal checklists to the term, “the Christ” so that they may state that such is required, necessary content to saving faith (in other words, what it means to believe that Jesus is the Christ in a soteric sense). By such argumentation, they are attempting to state that merely because
there is an association of certain ideas with the title, “the Christ,” that a conscious acknowledgment of such is necessary for eternal salvation. Their argument basically says that because they can link certain considerations to the title "the Christ," that they must be affirmed if one is to believe that Jesus is the Christ and thus be born again. But if this is the case, why are they not insisting that all
such associations be consciously assented to for eternal life? This would be the consistent position! The TFG reasoning has obvious flaws.
In a personal corresondence with Zane Hodges, he stated:
"...the promised Messiah... was also the King of Israel (note John 1:49). There was no such person as a Messiah who was not Israel's King. Must one believe that, too? In fact it can be argued that in Nathaniel's statement, 'Son of God' is defined AS "King of Israel." [AdR: Note the apposition] The Messianic sonship was the sonship promised to David's kingly descendants in 2 Samuel 7:14, it is the sonship the writer of Hebrews has in mind in Hebrews 1:5 which cites 2 Samuel. Psalm 2:7 shows that THIS sonship was not eternal. If a person does not believe all this, he even misunderstands the title "Son of God" in its Messianic sense. Is he saved???
Yes, many things have been associated with the term “the Christ,” and I am not at this point willing to do such a through study as to exhaust them all. I am sure that there are many legitimate associations, connections, and possible importations into the term “the Christ”. Why does the TFG not require them all?Let us have an experiment
Let us take some of the things that have been associated with the title, "The Christ" and put them into proposed 'saving propositions'. Will they work?
Would you consider the beliefs that Jesus was the seed of Abraham, from the line of Judah, the son of David, and born in Bethlehem to be saving faith?
Would you consider the belief that Jesus is the King of Israel to be saving faith?
Would you consider the simple belief that Jesus is God to be saving faith?
None of these, by themselves or taken collectively, can be considered the content of saving faith. Why you ask? Roman Catholics, Lordship Salvationists, and rank Arminians all believe these things, but they are not all saved! So what to make of this? Either these considerations are not at all involved in saving faith (the soteric import of the title, “the Christ”), or there needs to be the addition of more import and information into the term “the Christ”, that when added to these affirmations would equal saving faith.
Since it can be proven that people believed that Jesus was the Christ and were thus born again apart from any understanding or knowledge of Christ’s substitutionary death and His subsequent physical resurrection (as well as His deity), we must state firmly, that no such considerations as these can legitimately be considered the soteric content of the term “the Christ”. Therefore, the TFG’s full laundry list of doctrines is not necessarily affirmed by merely believing that Jesus is the Christ.
This cannot be overemphasized. The TFG cannot honestly assert and agree with the Apostle John that “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1). To them, if they are being black and white honest, this is not
enough soteric information! For the TFG, there must be included, in any consideration of saving faith, Christ’s death, substitutionally, for sins, and His subsequent, bodily resurrection. Since many believed that Jesus was the Christ apart from such knowledge and were thus born of God, we can certainly conclude that this information cannot be the soteric content of the title, “the Christ”.
What then is the specific import of the title, “the Christ” which makes believing that Jesus is the Christ salvific?
The gospel writer John imports specific, objective soteric content
into the term as evidenced by John 11:25-27. In John 11:25-26, Jesus asserts to the be the Guarantor of eternal life and resurrection to all who simply believe in Him. He asks Martha if she believes this
. In vs 27, Martha answers that question with "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God..." mirroring the purpose statement in John 20:30, 31. John persuasively shows that to believe that Jesus is the Christ, is to believe that He is the Guarantor of eternal life and resurrection to the believer in Him.
Therefore, to believe that Jesus is the Christ, in its Johannine, soteric sense
, is to believe that Jesus guarantees you eternal life simply by faith alone in Him.
The TFG position is identifiably inconsistent and doctrinally legalistic. As inconsistent, it subjectively regards it’s particular associations with the title, “the Christ” as necessary, conscious saving faith content, while arbitrarily dismissing other and stronger imports and connections. As legalistic, it is biblically impossible for the TFG to require an understanding all of their theological baggage that they have imported into the trunk of “the Christ”. Their understanding of saving faith precludes them from affirming the apostle John’s simple, yet profound statement that “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God”. Furthermore, to take their position to its logical conclusion, they would have to deny that the common folks and the disciples, whom Jesus evangelized, had everlasting life when they believed that Jesus was the Christ!
The refined Free Grace theology position has much going for it. In light of so many proposed links and associations with the title, “the Christ,” found within Christendom, this position has objectively and convincingly shown, by biblical support, that the author who penned 1 John 5:1 has given a simple and specific soteric content to this title. We are not left wondering how, exactly, believing that Jesus is the Christ can receive eternal life. For John, what makes believing that Jesus is he Christ salvific is that as the Christ, Jesus dispenses eternal life to all who simply believe in Him to do so.
There is a simplicity to the notion that all who believe that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. There is a purity to the idea that whoever desires may take the water of life freely. It is a shame that such unadulterated virtue, as these convictions are, can be so woefully misrepresented because of one’s traditions.
In a personal correspondence with Zane Hodges, he stated:
“Some people seem to believe in salvation by correct theology rather than salvation by faith in Jesus. A tragic error! But the simple fact remains that no one has ever believed in Jesus of Nazareth for the gift of eternal life, who did not get it! Thank God for that!