How to Lead People to Christ, Installment #2: The 'Deserted Island' Scenario
Men and women who at all consider themselves theologically savvy have various doctrines that they attach a lot of emotion to. For instance, the Calvinist’s passion is for God’s sovereignty, monergism, and the decrees. When statements are made that seem to play down the importance of these dogmas the dedicated Calvinist will often go up in arms. To be fair, Free Grace Theology advocates have been quite combative against apparent compromises with the absolute freeness of everlasting life.
We ought not to be surprised with these things. Cults and “isms” have so twisted the Scriptures as to prevent men and women from receiving the Gift of God. Truth is unquestionably of great importance! Men and women have selflessly given their lives for its proclamation. Ignorance is wide spread. Truth is a commodity that Christians have appropriately put a high premium on.
Yet in all of our doings have we overstepped our bounds?
2 Timothy 4:2
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
No matter what the hour or circumstance, the people of God ought to be ready to preach the word. Furthermore, because there are those who “will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim 4:3) we must convince, rebuke and exhort. Yet notice, there is a mode for us described to which we must adhere when we perform these duties: our ministry must be characterized by longsuffering and teaching.
1 Peter 3:15-16
… sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.
There is a rightful place for apologetics in Christianity. Many are the enemies of God, and our voices ought to be heard giving a defense of our most certain hope. The first step of such a ministry is to devote our every affection to God as our Lord, for this will necessarily set our minds and hearts into the subjective state the Holy Spirit can use to do the will of the Father. As well, it will institute a paradigm shift from working through our flesh and for our own inadequate motivations to the mindset of a humble servitude, sincerely seeking to bring glory to our Master by faithfully discharging our commissions. Finally, our divine activites (lo, ought not our every activity be of divine origin?) must be done “with meekness and fear,” for only by so doing will our “conduct in Christ” be “good”!
Through Jesus Christ came “grace and truth” (Jn 1:17). These are never to be separated. I believe in our zealousness for those doctrines that animate us we often divorce grace from truth. We have become impatient in our ministries, casting aside the necessity of understanding, and taking the easy routes of ad hominem, mischaracterization, and open disdain and hostility.
In the place of teaching, we have resorted to character assassination, scare tactics and fear mongering, and have succumbed to the appetites and desires of our flesh becoming puffed up in our pride.
Instead of sanctifying God in our hearts, we have hardened our hearts and seared our consciences, putting ourselves on the throne, and acting upon our own carnal motivations. In our pride, we have substituted “meekness and fear” for a desire to humble others, poison the well, and keep people from an open-minded and biblical examination of other positions.
Men and women, we have every reason to be ashamed of our dealings, and to repent of our pride. We must pledge allegiance to Christ afresh, seeking an understanding of those positions we find offensive before attempting to correct them. How can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch (Lk 6:39)? Enough of the reactionary mindset! We all give lip service to the grace of God, but do we employ it in our interactions with other believers?
And with this introduction, we now move to next installment of Zane Hodges’ seminal message entitled, “How to Lead People to Christ”.
So this afternoon: The Content of Our Message.
Let me begin with a strange scenario. Try to imagine an unsaved person marooned on a tiny uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He has never heard about Christianity in his entire life. One day a wave washes up a fragment of paper onto the beach. It is wet but still partly readable. On that paper are the words found in John 6:43-47, but the only readable part of the paper are these: "Jesus therefore answered and said to them," that’s in verse 43 and "Most assuredly I say to you, He who believes in Me has everlasting life" and that’s verse 47.
Now suppose that our unsaved man somehow becomes convinced that this person called Jesus can guarantee his eternal future since He promises everlasting life. In other words, he believes Jesus' words in John 6:47. Is he saved? I suspect that there are even some Grace people who would say that this man is not saved because he doesn't know enough. For example, he doesn't know that Jesus died for his sins on the Cross, and rose again the third day. Needless to say there is a lot more that he doesn't know either, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ, or the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. But my question is this. Why is he not saved if he believes the promise of Jesus' words?
Let me also begin my commentary with a strange scenario: Jesus Christ came down bodily to earth from heaven and spoke to a man on the street saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you believe in Me, you have eternal life”. Somehow this man becomes convinced that this Jesus guarantees his eternal destiny and well-being. In other words, he biblically believes in Jesus. Why would he not be saved?
As a proponent of Free Grace Theology, I believe that eternal life is the Gift of God. It is not a barter between man and God, nor is it a two way transaction, nor are there required preconditions attached. A gift, legitimately spoken of, does not require anything of the recipient but its reception.
The Time-Share Industry and ‘Free’ Gifts
My sister used to work in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico, selling time-share. She still has friends in this industry. When she was up a few months ago, she gave me a brochure that offered me a 'free' gift: an all included 4-night stay in a hotel in Cabo San Lucas. But there were catches. I had to be of a certain annual income, and I had to submit to a multi-hour meeting pitching the sales of time-share in Cabo San Lucas.
Was the vacation offered a genuine free gift? I do not believe so. There is a type of barter and two-way transaction going on here, as well as a required pre-condition. In exchange for a person’s time and attention at a multi-hour sales pitch meeting, he is given a 4-night vacation. Furthermore, in order to even be eligible for this exchange, one has to meet the condition of being at a certain level of affluence; his annual income must be at the predetermined amount.
It is my contention that well meaning traditional Free Grace theology people would be inconsistent if they did not consider this vacation a genuine free gift. Why? This scenario illustrates their doctrine of soteriology, in which they claim to be adherents of a free grace. But is their doctrine truly free grace?
One is not able to simply receive the free gift of eternal life in traditional Free Grace theology. There are preconditions to be met, which sets up a two-way transaction and barter for eternal life. In the following table we see the barter between God and man:
|Man’s Exchange||God’s Exchange|
|1. Strict Adherence to a Number of Orthodox Doctrines|
a) The Deity of Christ (along with subpoints)
b) The Substitutionary Death of Christ for Sins (along with subpoints)
c) The Bodily Resurrection of Christ (along with subpoints)
d) The Humanity of Christ (along with subpoints)
e) [Apparent Contradiction] Salvation is by Grace Alone in Jesus Christ Alone
2. Must Not Hold to Any Fatal Unorthodox Doctrines
a) A Subjective Range
3. Must Not Deny the Essential Orthodox Doctrines
a) A Subjective Range
|If man’s conditions and items necessary for exchange are submitted and in order God will perform His end of the transaction:|
Give Eternal Life
Just like the time-share companies, traditional Free Grace people require more to appropriating eternal life than simply receiving a free gift. This is not Free Grace Theology! Like the precondition of the time-share industry (being at a certain income level) which qualifies one for a vacation, the traditional Free Grace people have their preconditions, requiring one to be a type of orthodox fundamentalist before they are qualified for eternal life. Unless one be at some subjective level of orthodoxy (to be determined by the traditional evangelist, as you ask 10 of them what are the specific requirements and you get 11 different answers), he is no candidate for salvation.
It is as if the Scriptures do not say anymore, "And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev 22:17), but, "And let him who is orthodox come. Whoever meets these preconditions of orthodoxy, let him trade this allegiance for the water of life."
Let us make this point clearly:
The legitimate offer of a free gift comes with no other requirement but to simply receive it. This is essentially what free grace is! The conditions placed upon the lost by well-meaning, but erroneous, traditional Free Grace people are unnecessary caveats, provisos, and codicils in the saving transaction. The requirement of these things may indeed frustrate God's grace, and preclude people from eternal salvation (not to mention assurance!).
The Message of Zane’s Illustration
The purpose of the so-called ‘Deserted Island Scenario’ was to forcefully show the absolutely free grace of God. Now that the issue of sin has been judicially dealt with on the cross, thus removing the barrier between God and man, God freely offers everlasting life to all who will receive it by simply believing in His Son. As has been argued before by me, soteriologically believing in Jesus, in context in the bible, is entrusting one’s eternal well-being to Jesus, being convinced of the veracity of the promise and guarantee of Jesus Christ. The man in the scenario did this! He did all that was necessary to possess a free gift: he received it. To be required to do anything more than this would be to downplay and frustrate the sufficiency of the Cross of Christ. Remember, “Jesus Paid it All!” There remains nothing more for the sinner to do but to receive the benefit of Christ’s death by trusting in Him for eternal life.
Issues Dealing with Identity
Such a scenario as the one depicted for us by Zane Hodges legitimately leads us to questions about identity. These have been addressed by me in several articles, two of being which:
Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?
The Right Thing – The Right Person
There is yet one more area of discussion to be had in order to make my position balanced. If anyone starts with another historical or fictional person in mind, and then attributes characteristics of the bona-fide Jesus Christ of Nazareth to him, then they have not placed their faith in the Jesus of Nazareth.
For instance, if one attributes to Napoleon the authority to guarantee one’s eternal destiny by faith in him alone, he obviously has not believed in Jesus. Or if someone starts with a fictional character in mind, say, Sinbad, and attributes to him the authority to guarantee one’s eternal destiny by faith in him alone, he has not believed in Jesus.
But, I must equally stress, that if one identifies Jesus of Nazareth by the Bible, and places his faith in Him for eternal life, he has received the free grace of God, eternal life, even in spite of misconceptions that he may have about Him.
I am sure that in response to this, I may be subjected to a plethora of hypothetical scenarios and asked to determine if one is saved or not. Let it be said here, that in many of the cases that could be produced, only God would be able to sort through the mish-mash. He alone is omniscient and able to certainly determine when and if another has received His gift by faith.
In the question and answer portion of this message, Zane was asked many questions dealing with this scenario. His answers were clarifications for the benefit of the audience. These Q&A’s will be reproduced here. In them, he touches on hypotheticals and some of his methods in dealing with the lost. Stay tuned!
Any discussions concerning this scenario and this post are welcomed here in the comment thread.
Your Free Grace Theology Host,
Antonio da Rosa