Sunday, January 29, 2006

Earning "Free Grace"?

The Roman church has long called itself the “Catholic” church. It has claimed this word for itself to such a degree that the Roman position is anachronistically read back into the word “Catholic” in any early document. This, of course, is unjustified. But why do they get to be the “Catholic” church to begin with? Who gave them the right to be a linguistic terrorist by hijacking a Biblical word (”universal”) for themselves?

Any joking aside, I feel the same way about the “Free Grace” (Sandemanian) position. This is probably one of the most misleading names any movement could have. It, in essence, attempts to tell the innocent bystander two things:

1. The Sandemanian position affirms the freeness of grace.
2. All other positions deny the freeness of grace.

Number 2 is absolutely false. But is number 1 correct? Does the Sandemanian position really affirm the freeness of grace? Do they really affirm that salvation is completely of God’s doing without any requirement on man’s part (that is, out of man’s own doing)? In the Sandemanian position, is grace initiated by God’s own pleasure and bestowed freely upon its recipients so that it, in and of itself, is sufficient to save? The answer to these questions is “No.” My motivation to make such a statement is not to be cute. It is not to be clever. It is an observation based upon Biblical principles. When any theological system affirms humanistic synergism, when the emphasis is no longer God’s ability to accomplish his will but man’s ability to frustrate God’s will, when any system makes the grace of God dependent upon any work of man, it has ceased to affirm sola gratia.

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you are saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, that not anyone should boast.

Salvation is not of yourself. Grace is not of yourself. Faith is not of yourself. Lest we think that salvation is any one bit not of God and any one bit of ourselves, we affirm that God is the author and finisher of our very faith, that salvation initiates with his sovereign decree and is completed by his efficacious working in the lives of his elect. If salvation is dependent upon the “free” choice of man, grace ceases to be in and of itself sufficient to save. If grace cannot save completely without the working of man; if grace cannot save without man doing something in his very own depraved heart (something that is impossible, by the way), then grace is not free. Every step towards synergism is a step away from the freeness of grace. Thus is the fatal attribute of the “Free Grace” position.

God authored salvation so that no one should boast. But if my choosing of Christ initiated in my own arbitrary decision, I certainly have grounds to boast! Therefore, God’s grace is sufficient to save, and it is offered freely. There is no room left to boast, even if it is boasting in our belief. God has removed it completely. God’s grace is efficacious to save. It is not dependent upon the working of man. Salvation is contingent upon belief, but unregenerate man lacks even the ability to believe! He must be enabled by the Spirit. He must receive faith from Christ. Yet even if we were to ascribe to man some ability to believe and continue to affirm that belief is a necessary conduit for salvation, we would ultimately deny sola gratia and the freeness of grace. You either affirm that salvation is all of God’s doing, or you deny the freeness of grace. There is no in between.

Charles Spurgeon stated:

“Even the very will thus to be saved by grace is not of ourselves, but it is the gift of God. There lies the stress of the question. A man ought to believe in Jesus: it is his duty to receive him whom God has set forth to be a propitiation for sins. But man will not believe in Jesus; he prefers anything to faith in his redeemer. Unless the Spirit of God convinces the judgment, and constrains the will, man has no heart to believe in Jesus unto eternal life. I ask any saved man to look back upon his own conversion, and explain how it came about. You turned to Christ, and believed in his name: these were your own acts and deeds. But what caused you thus to turn? What sacred force was that which turned you from sin to righteousness? Do you attribute this singular renewal to the existence of a something better in you than has been yet discovered in your unconverted neighbour? No, you confess that you might have been what he now is if it had not been that there was a potent something which touched the spring of your will, enlightened your understanding, and guided you to the foot of the cross. Gratefully we confess the fact; it must be so. Salvation by grace, through faith, is not of ourselves, and none of us would dream of taking any honour to ourselves from our conversion, or from any gracious effect which has flowed from the first divine cause.”

…“If anyone should ask me what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, ‘He is one who says, Salvation is of the Lord.’ I cannot find in Scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible. ‘He only is my rock and my salvation.’ Tell me anything contrary to this truth, and it will be a heresy; tell me a heresy, and I shall find its essence here, that it has departed from this great, this fundamental, this rock-truth, ‘God is my rock and my salvation.’ What is the heresy of Rome, but the addition of something to the perfect merits of Jesus Christ—the bringing in of the works of the flesh, to assist in our justification? And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer?”

Evan May.

The comments section for this post over at Veritas Redux will host an exegetical discussion for any of my points above. I did not feel the need to present it here, but wanted to make my point nonetheless. We shall start with John 6:37-65 for anyone who is interested, which affirms that God alone is the worker of the salvation of man, that all whom he chooses shall be saved, that those whom he chooses are efficaciously drawn, and that those whom he chooses are raised up on the last day by the sovereign Christ.


  1. Evan,
    Before Christ, in the O.T., God, in a general sense, expected people to act out of faith, and He would praise them or scold them, and rewarded or punished them according, letting them participate in the choice. You take away man's ability to chose to believe, somehow slipping around the fact that we're constantly prodded to chose to "believe" all throughout God's word. You apply the word "boast" in ways I've never heard it used before. Are we speaking the same language? Does anyone actually boast in such a way. Example?

    "A man ought to believe in Jesus: it is his duty..."

    This disproves you. The man in this statement is asked to believe, not forced, but asked to chose between believing or not.

    It is plain English. I beleive it would have to mean what it says.


  2. Yes "Free Grace" is a terribly misleading descriptive term when one is discussing the small Sandemanian sect.

    Ironically, their own conception of salvation is, in principle at least, identical to what one finds in various strains of Roman Catholicism.

    Catholicism has an expensive system of salvation - there's much to be done as the sinner cooperates with God to earn (all allegedly enabled by God's grace of course) eternal life.

    In the Sandemanian system, by way of contrast, there's not much to be done - just one thing really that has to be done - and it's hardly anything at all if one thinks about it – believe some facts about who Jesus is (and not too many facts either lest you add to the Gospel – Zane Hodges has such a reductionistic understanding of belief that he has actually argued that to require belief in Jesus as the Son of God is adding to the Gospel)!

    In contrast to the expensive system of salvation that one finds in the Catholic church, the Sandemanian's system is cheap – hence the label cheap grace. According to Sandemanian’s, God’s grace is cheap (they acknowledge that it was expensive for God of course, but it’s cheap for us to acquire).

    According to the Sandemanians (and in stark contrast to the expensive system one finds in Roman Catholicism), it can be had merely by engaging in a one-time intellectual exercise.

    But let us not lose sight of the fact that, in principle at least, the two systems remain the same.

    In both Catholicism and Sandemanianism, there is a strong denial of the meticulous sovereignty of God in salvation.

    In both systems, man must operate his categorical ability to make free choices and ultimately to self-determine his own eternal fate.

    In both systems what separates those in heaven from the eternally lost is found - in an ultimately determinative sense - within man himself.

    And let us also not lose sight of the fact that both systems argue that God’s grace makes salvation possible and so both systems affirm (confessionally at least) sola gratia. That is not where the difference is found between the two.

    The only substantive difference between the two is found the amount of effort that one has to put forth in each system to attain eternal life. In the former there is much to be done, while in the latter there’s only one thing – and that one thing can hardly count as a work (according to them) because it’s such an insignificant thing (I think this explains why they go to the extreme lengths that they do to reduce faith to bare intellectual assent - they are attempting to shield themselves from charges that they themselves require "works" for eternal life).

    In point of fact, describing the Sandemanian position as Non-Transformative grace would be far more accurate since it's a grace that purports to save from the consequences of sin but which often leaves the sinner stuck in the pig sty of sin.

    Therefore I encourage people to refer to them in a way that truly describes their system - as ineffective (or non-transformative) grace proponents.

  3. Todd:

    1. Your obvious presupposition is that moral responsibility presupposes moral ability, but this is just an assumption that you must justify.

    2. I am simply using the word "boast" in the Biblical sense: if man has any doing in his salvation, he has grounds to boast. Therefore, God does it all that we might not boast.

    3. The word "forced" is simply a misrepresentation of my position. In the Reformed view, no one is forced as if it were against their will. Rather, the Spirit works in their hearts, takes out the heart of stone, gives them a heart of flesh, that they might choose God in response.

    3. In your system, why must the Spirit remove the heart of stone and give the heart of flesh? Cannot the one with the heart of stone choose God by his own doing?

  4. No, Evan, you should be able to percieve that I am giving a very simple proposition and asking for you to reflect on it and respond to in basic terms of communication. You read more into the proposition than is there. It's a simple proposition asking for a simple answer. Your inability to answer the question shows, to me, you do not have a basic functional working knowledge of God's word. Yes you have a mastery of your own theology as taught to you by your Reformist fathers as you've said in earlier posts by referring me to them. Reformist fathers and fathers of all theologies are a dime a dozen and splitting and reproducing themselves more and more everyday. Not a reliable source to go to for the truth.

    There's nothing wrong with an exegetically based website, but keep it in perspective. Exegetics and science alone are useless. Dead. That's not where God tells us to go for truth. We can have masterful exegetics as well as science and still not have understanding. I'll leave you alone now. Todd

  5. Todd:

    Forgetting for the moment that your last comment made no sense, what was your "simple proposition asking for a simple answer"?

    You seemed to argue that if God "expected people to act out of faith, and He would praise them or scold them, and rewarded or punished them according" that somehow argues against my position.

    Your religious presuppositions are undeniable. Your assumption is that moral responsibility presupposes moral freedom, as is shown in your initial comment. How is this not a direct answer? We must discuss things that are logically prior or else we aren't certain we're speaking the same language to begin with. This is what we do in honest debate.

    You claim that I lack a knowledge of God's word, but I have not seen you over at discussing the exegetical issues. It is very easy to take ones traditions and assume that it is God's word. But unless those traditions can be defended exegetically, they are simply the traditions of man. You have shown that your traditions blind you, and that you are incapable of defending them.

  6. Hi, Todd.

    Thanks for mentioning what you did; I think I can help, and by the grace of God, I will.

    Probably the article I refer most to about this issue is the one over at Founders about Hypercalvinism, Calvinism, and Arminianism. The link is found here. I found it to be very useful, and explains very simply I think what Evan is saying.

    The main issue that remains is this: Whenever we approach a biblical text, we need to be careful ONLY to say what it is saying and not to read anything into it. I did that for a long time, reading man's ability to do something into texts that insisted we do it.

    As an example, say someone tells me to drive my Dodge Viper from here in Indy over to San Franciso. There indeed is the command; however, there are a couple of problems.
    1.) I do not have a Viper.
    2.) I have no desire to get a Viper.
    3.) I have no desire to go to San Franciso.

    By the same token, man has not the moral ability nor desire to do as God commands. John 3:19-20 and Romans 3:10-18 help us in this to understand it.

    I hope this helps!

    For the Glory of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ,

    Dave Hewitt

  7. Evan,
    I cited to you how God cannot have taken away man's ability to chose to believe, and may even have shown you why. In plain English.

    You don't know what to do with a simple statement that any schoolboy could understand unless it is mapped out for you by some irrelevant isolated academic formulae. What planet did you drop in from that you are incapable of understanding and communicating in plain English.

    And your imagination is very overactive. I didn't say you lack knowledge of God's word. If anything I said understanding. And only because you talk ONLY as a scientific text which in themselves contain no truth. Which is by itself without understanding.

    You are going to be my blog poster child for rhetoric driven runaway theology, void of any ability to look critically, objectively, and most of all, plainly, at itself. Let's throw in "and temperately".

    You are example of bad high school novice debate tactics gone worse. Discussions based on misrepresentation of everything that does not agree with you. How obvious and how boring.

    James said, "Let not many of you be teachers...for we all stumble in many ways". I think you should become a Semantics teacher, Logic (no, skip logic), Rhetoric, Debate teacher, and leave God's word to others for now. Not an English teacher either.

    You say:
    "But if my choosing of Christ initiated in my own arbitrary decision, I certainly have grounds to boast!"

    And I say:
    If your choosing of Christ is initiated by your own "arbitrary decision", then, a theology which comes from that same "arbitrary decision" making process of yours cannot be worth much.


  8. Thanks David,
    But Evan is saying nothing but how he doesn't know what I'm saying and then filling the rest in with novice rhetoric.

    You cited:
    "By the same token, man has not the moral ability nor desire to do as God commands. John 3:19-20 and Romans 3:10-18 help us in this to understand it"

    I just don't get the same thing you do out of these verses.

    I don't build my understanding on single verses, and I'm sure you are the same way. Any given verse is just a minor building block to a principle God wants us to understand. But thanks for the verses because you certainly have to start with verses.

    We can point each other to links and articles forever to help clear up our understanding. But that can cause people to become more entrenched in their own isolated viewpoint, and is not always a good way to redeem their time for the Lord. It seems evident to me that many people don't have the wherewithal to have a plain discussion with others about the Lord's word using the tools of communication.

    And surely we could debate until the Kingdom comes as to what God's word is really saying. That has the potential, if done poorly, to be completely fruitless for all involved.


  9. Todd:

    I find your comments extremely void of content, and expecially void of exegesis. Where did you "cite" to me "how God cannot have taken away man's ability to chose to believe"? What passage states this? You gave some generic principles, but you did not exegetically support anything that you stated.

    In any case, I do not affirm that God took away man's ability to choose. Rather, sin does, and the inability and depravity of man does. You like to allude to my misunderstanding of "plain English," yet you do not affirm the "plain English" of the New Testament that tells us that fallen man is dead in his sin. He isn't hurt or wounded. He is dead. You dodge the issues.

    Where is your exegesis? Where have you proven your assumptions? Where have you supported your position? It certainly hasn't been in these comments! Assertions are useless words if they cannot be exegetically derived, and when I ask for exegesis I am accused of avoiding "plain English."

    You have proven yourself to be incapable of discussing the texts, and encapable of even "high school level debate."

  10. Evan,
    The obvious vitriole in my last comment stems from your inability to answer to the inconsistencies in your presetation on "The Nature of Saving Faith: James 2:14ff" which I cited in your post of several days ago. Your perogative though it does reflect unflatteringly on the integrity of your presentation.

  11. The inability of man stated in "plain English":

    John 6:44 No one is able to come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up in the last day.

    My invitation stands to address this passage here:

  12. Precisely Evan, I gave you some "generic principles" that refute your statement on "man's ability to believe". Those principles would suggest that he does have that ability.

    You said:
    " do not affirm the "plain English" of the New Testament that tells us that fallen man is dead in his sins".

    Doesn't the fact that I refer to our salvation affirm that I believe that man is dead in his sins? What else is salvation in regards to. I think you would have been more accurate if you had said, in the above, "how he is dead in his sins".

    We'll, we are wasting our time, so, I'm going to take the inconsistencies in your "nature of saving faith" presentation home with me, assume they are general Reformist beliefs, and file them away on my blog as such. Hopefully someone will come along and offer a more stimulating explanation of those inconsistencies than you have. Debate blogging does not appeal to me as a fruitful use of my time and you don't have to worry about me being a regular visitor here. Although this particular one-sided exchange I've been having here has helped me develope what appear to be valuable insights into Reformist theology, so I appreciate that. Todd

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. So let's review this situation:

    1. I posted a thread on my blog.
    2. You asked some questions.
    3. I answered these questions, but asked you to defend the assumptions behind your questions.
    4. I invited you to have an exegetical discussion at my blog.
    5. So now, after a few aggressive comments, you are going to run off with my post to see if a few of your chubs can take a stab at it?

    Believe me, I'm not worried about you being a regular commenter here. I know that won't happen.

  15. Evan,
    1)You post the thread.

    2)I post a comment showing the theme of your thread to possibly be erroneous.

    3)You return comment, putting a presupposition in my mouth telling me I must justify who knows what.

    Tell me you use the word "boast" in a "biblical sense", which really is saying nothing.

    Refer again to the "Reformed View" like you are some kind of mindless robot and the "Reformed View" is your spokesman and outside of that you are powerless to articulate anything on your own accord.

    And then put words in my mouth about "my system" and the heart of stone concept which is by no means related to anything I said.

    4). You ducked all ordinary disscusion and try to suck me into your confused answerless world of "exegetical debate". Exegetics has its limited use within ordinary conversation. When it is all someone can refer to then there is something out of balance.

    There is not a good exegetisist in the world who will not first have an ordinary exchange with a person using plain terms, proving first that he has a mind capable of understanding and then of communicating his thoughts to others in a competent fashion.

    A real scholar has many tools at his disposal, knowing, by themselves, they will not guarantee him the right answer or lead to a comfortable understanding of the truth. God does not need the scholar to reveal His truth for Him. I've been to the bottomless pit of your kind of debating and learned better.

  16. And lastly,

    you said:
    "5. So now, after a few aggressive comments, you are going to run off with my post to see if a few of your chubs can take a stab at it?"

    No. You don't get it, I'm not looking for agreement by likeminded folks, I'm looking for comfort from folks of your view to help me deal with the astonishment that comes over me when I see the seeming inconsistencies in your analysis. The analysis upon which you base your ideas of spiritual life and death.

  17. Todd:

    To be honest, your comments are becoming aggressive, exhaustive, redundant, and lacking in substance. Exegesis is about honoring God's Word. It starts with the principle that God has spoken clearly, that we have his infallible revelation, and that from his revelation we have anything that is needed to equip the believer for the work of ministry. Apart from exegesis, we have no knowledge of the gospel, of who Christ is, of what salvation is like, and of what the effect is to be when the gospel is applied to the life of the believer. So, your comments can be long or short, but if they do cannot be exegetically supported, they are pointless.

  18. Yes, and exegesis can be right and wrong. Well done, exegesis can lead to correct conclusions, and poorly done, it can lead to wrong conclusions about God's word. Look at all of these people who you do exegetical battle with. You all make a mockery of exegesis.

    I'm going to put my trust in the literal words breathed to the authors of the N.T. before they are shreaded by exegetics, in the hands of man, and then form my relationship to God. Obviously exegetics are helpful but certainly not the final word. Exegetics is not discernment, it is science.

    You said:
    " starts with a principle..."

    It's a scientific priciple, Evan, that really doesn't carry that much weight as far as eternal principles go.

    You said:
    "Apart from exegesis, we have no knowledge of the gospel, of who Christ is, of what salvation is like, and of what the effect is to be when the gospel is applied to the life of the believer."

    And the same could be said as well from within exegetics, in reality.

  19. Hmmm....sometimes, I wonder if people proofread the comments they leave. Good post.

  20. Todd:

    Yes, and exegesis can be right and wrong. Well done, exegesis can lead to correct conclusions, and poorly done, it can lead to wrong conclusions about God’s word.

    Right. Which is why exegesis must be discussed, not simply dismissed.

    Look at all of these people who you do exegetical battle with. You all make a mockery of exegesis.

    Don't just assert. Show it!

    I’m going to put my trust in the literal words breathed to the authors of the N.T. before they are shreaded by exegetics, in the hands of man, and then form my relationship to God.

    Right, and the literal reading of "dead" is dead. And the literal reading of "no one can come to me" is no one can come to me.

  21. Thanks for the response. Have a nice day.