“Free Grace” Theology and Sacred Scripture

In my last post I reviewed the difference in Protestantism between what is often referred to as “Lordship Salvation” versus “Free Grace” theology.  The primary difference in these two schools of thought is whether repentance is part of a “saving faith” or whether it is a “work” and not necessary for salvation.  Those who hold to a “Lordship Salvation” position believe that it is a requirement to not only accept Jesus as your Savior but also as your Lord, so repentance from sin is a necessary part of a saving faith.  Advocates of “Free Grace” theology believe that it is only necessary to accept Christ as Savior but it is not required to accept him as “Lord” of your life.  While repentance from sin is seen to be a good thing, it is not a requirement for salvation and is viewed as a “work.” 

In class in order to provide an example of this contrast, we watch the first part of this video clip (up to the 14:22) mark.  It presents Pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe Arizona preaching on this topic, as well as clips from two other pastors in contrast to his view.  One is Pastor Robert Morris from Gateway Church in the Dallas area.  The other is Pastor Jimmy Witcher from Trinity Fellowship in Amarillo.  Mr.  Anderson is a proponent of “Free Grace” theology whereby repentance and a change in lifestyle are not necessary for salvation and he provides the other two as an example of what he considers to be the erroneous teaching of “Lordship Salvation.”

Central to the message by Mr.  Anderson is the following passage from Sacred Scripture which he says is often held up to him as an example as to why works are required for salvation:

Matthew 7:21-27 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’ “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.”

When asked about this passage that seems to indicate that “doing” the words of Christ and the will of the Father are necessary for salvation, his response is twofold.  First, he says these people are not trying to be justified by simply believing in Christ, but rather by their own works (they prophesied, cast out demons, did mighty works).  They are boasting in what they have done.  Second, he says that when Jesus speaks of “doing the will of the Father” he always refers to the will of the Father as simply having faith in Christ.  So this becomes a passage that in his view supports salvation by faith alone.  In conclusion, he tells his congregation that they do not have to obey the commandments in order to be saved.  He specifically indicates they do not have to quit drinking, to quit fornicating, to quit lying, be willing to live a Christian life, join a church, or be baptized as these things have no bearing on a person’s salvation.  To be fair, he does tell them that these are all things that they should do.  But the emphasis is that doing these things has no impact on whether or not they will be saved – they must simply believe in Christ and accept that he paid for their sins on the cross.

We’ll look at that passage again from a Catholic perspective in future posts.  But for now, I want to focus on his understanding that “doing the will of the Father,” in its entirely means to simply believe in Christ.  He says that when Jesus talks about doing the will of the Father, he always refers to having faith in Christ, not works.  I’ve found only one place in Sacred Scripture where Jesus refers to doing the will of the Father and that is John 6:40 “For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”  So it seems in that sense it is true that when Jesus talks about doing the will of the Father, he always points to have faith in him.

For Catholics this will highlight the question of what does it mean to believe in Christ?  When Sacred Scripture speaks of having faith – what does it mean?  It is simply an acceptance that Christ died for our sins, or is it something more?  My next post will begin to address that question.  But for now, I want to focus on the idea of the “will of the Father” as stressed by Mr.  Anderson.  For while he appears to be correct that when Jesus speaks of doing the will of the Father he “always” refers to simply having faith in Christ, St. Paul also speaks of doing the will of God in Sacred Scripture.  For example, in Romans 12:2 St. Paul says this – “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 

In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 he says “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God; that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we solemnly forewarned you.  For God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness.  Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” 

The KJV translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication…” Mr.  Anderson is a big proponent of the KJV as being an infallible translation of the Bible.  Yet he has informed his congregation that the “will of the Father” which is required for salvation is only to have faith in Christ and while it would be a good thing to stop fornicating, it is not necessary.  St. Paul clearly indicates that our sanctification and to stop sinning is very much the will of God. 

And Mr.  Anderson fails to address this passage from St. Paul as well:

Galatians 5:16-21 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.  But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.  Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

So is Mr.  Anderson correct in his view that a converted life is not necessary for salvation and all that is required is simply to “believe” in Christ?  That “doing the will of the Father” is simply to believe in Christ?  When looked at with the whole of Sacred Scripture, there seems to be much evidence to the contrary, and St. Paul warns that those who do not repent from sin will not inherit heaven at all.

Over these last two posts I’ve tried to describe why it’s important to learn the perspective of another Christian when we’re in a discussion about “faith” and “works.”  How do they define what is faith versus a “work”?  While many profess that salvation is by “faith alone” and not by “works,” there isn’t one standard within Protestantism that determines exactly what constitutes a “work” and is therefore not necessary for salvation.  From Mr.  Anderson’s perspective, the other two pastors in his video are teaching a “works based” salvation because they believe that repentance is a necessary part of faith.  From the perspective of a Calvinist, they are all three teaching a “works based” salvation because they believe that it is necessary to make a free will decision to accept Christ.  All of these base their beliefs on Sacred Scripture and profess their view is the Biblical one – but who, if any, are correct?  It will be quite a while before I address the topic of what the Bible says about authority.  For now I’ll just say that from the Catholic perspective it’s for just such questions as these it is necessary, and has been provided.

In my next posts I’ll begin to work through a Catholic understanding of faith and works as found in Sacred Scripture.  A holistic reading of Sacred Scripture can resolve any apparent contradiction between the two and support Catholic teaching.

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