Saturday, April 01, 2006

A Biblical Response To the Free Grace Movement Part One

Before I post this, I want to let everybody know. This is copyrighted material. I have secured permission from Phillip L. Simpson to post this material here for our readers.

Thank You, Phillip, for allowing me to do this.

I will be posting this in parts. This is not the whole paper. That's because this comes to about 33 pages in Word, and I want to give our readers time to digest these parts. I will post the first part for the weekend and the next segment on Monday evening, since readership tends to diminish over the weekend.


A Biblical Response to the Teachings of Zane Hodges,Joseph Dillow, and the Grace Evangelical Society(Called the "Free Grace" Movement)

© Copyright by Phillip L. Simpson – 2006


The purpose of this paper is to provide a critical evaluation of what has been termed (by its proponents) the "Free Grace" movement. I should begin by stating at the outset that this is a paper I did not want to write. It is borne out of much sorrow and heaviness of heart. For twenty years, ever since I had become a Christian, I had attended a particular church. When John MacArthur wrote, "The Gospel According to Jesus" in 1988, a line was drawn in the sand regarding the doctrine that came to be known as the "lordship salvation" doctrine (a regrettable term, coined by its critics, but one which is now necessary to identify the doctrine). My church chose to side with the critics of "lordship salvation", with such stalwarts as Zane Hodges, Charles Ryrie, and many from Dallas Theological Seminary leading the way.

Personally, I was torn. On the one hand I had heroes such as Dr. MacArthur and R.C. Sproul defending the lordship position; on the other hand, other heroes, such as my pastor and Dr. Ryrie, were teaching against it.

I launched into a study, reading books and articles by men from both sides, including MacArthur, Sproul, Michael Horton, J. I. Packer, Ryrie, Michael Cocoris, Charles Bing, Earl Radmacher, and Zane Hodges. I did this to make sure I understood fully both positions. Since I felt both sides had convincing arguments, I began to study the Scriptures for myself regarding this matter. My study took nearly eight years. A breakthrough came when I decided to jot down all the relevant Scripture texts which speak to the debate. As I did this, I compiled a list of over 100 Scripture texts. Looking over the list, I realized that what I largely had was a list of verses which seemed to support the lordship viewpoint, which would need to be "explained away" by its critics (or reinterpreted so as to contradict the plain meaning of these texts-- over 100 of them!). It is from this list of Scripture texts that this article was formed.

At this point, I realized that if I am going to need someone else to explain to me the meaning of the most of the New Testament, and that the plain meaning is so little to be trusted, I would have to rely on the no-lordship proponents to serve as "priests" to tell me how to understand the Bible -- it may as well have been written in Latin. For me, the hermeneutic rule known as "Cooper’s Rule" speaks well to this issue: "If the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense". I came to the conclusion that the lordship people are probably closer to the truth on this issue (though there are some, admittedly, who teach an extreme position on this doctrine, emphasizing submission over grace and confusing sanctification with justification).

Though hard to describe this doctrine in a nutshell, here goes: Lordship salvation proponents teach that, when one receives Christ, he receives Him as both Savior and Lord. "That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13). In other words, implicit in the salvation process is an understanding, however rudimentary, that Christ is Lord and has the right to call the shots.

I say that this is implicit in the salvation process for this reason: Anyone who is saved is saved from something, and that something is sin. The "free grace" teachers love the Reformation teaching of "faith alone" (although they teach a distorted understanding of it). Yet what does it mean to believe? To believe that Jesus historically existed? Yes, but more must be affirmed: I must, in the process of conversion, understand that I need to be saved. That is, I must understand my lostness; I must agree with God that I am a sinner deserving hell, and that my sin is wrong. If I attempt to be saved, but deny that my sin is wrong, I have no need to be saved from anything. But if I agree with God that my sin is wrong, I understand that, logically, the converse must be true: what He has said about what my life should be like must be right. Even if I don’t conform to that immediately (which we don’t), I still have acknowledged that He is the Lord.

This may sound strange to modern ears, because modern evangelistic methods have ingrained the idea into our thinking that we can accept Christ as Savior now, and later "make Him Lord" by some decision (or not, if we so opt); but nowhere do the Scriptures teach this. As A.W. Tozer has said, "we do not teach a divided Christ!" We receive a whole person when we receive Him, not just a part of Him. He is Lord; we do not make Him Lord.

Now from this first point springs several other points pertinent to the Lordship position. Many of these are proven below from Scripture, but the reader is referred to MacArthur’s book (and its sequel, The Gospel According to the Apostles) for a more thorough description and defense. Some of these points are as follows:

The call to faith is also a call to repentance. Repentance from sin is part of the gospel message.

All Christians are disciples. All are learners and followers, to varying degrees. Someone who claims to be a Christian but expresses no desire to follow Christ may not be a Christian at all.

True saving faith will necessarily evidence itself by works (or "fruit") in the believer’s life.

All believers will possess a fundamental (though imperfect) love for the Lord Jesus.

True believers will be preserved in the faith; their perseverance is secured by God, so that they will never ultimately and utterly deny or repudiate Christ; they will never fall away.

Though my church embraced the no-lordship position, I attempted to stay in that church in the interest of Christian unity (though I later came to understand that New Testament unity is grounded in the gospel of Christ--that is the basis of our unity {Ephesians 4:11-15}. Unfortunately, since the "free grace" view of the gospel is very different from my own, the basis for unity was very limited).

As time went on, my pastor began to be influenced personally by Earl Radmacher, and by the writings of Zane Hodges, Joseph Dillow, Bob Wilkin and the "Grace Evangelical Society" (an organization which seems to exist largely to debunk the doctrine of Lordship salvation), and others who identify themselves with that they call the "free grace" movement. (Please don't misunderstand me--I believe God has given His grace to us freely in Christ, and His grace is in no way given to us based on anything meritorious we have done. I believe in God‘s free, unearned grace given to sinners; I just don‘t believe in "free grace"as these men define it. I mention this because the movement has chosen its terms carefully. To say I‘m against the "free grace" movement puts the idea into people‘s heads that I don‘t believe in the biblical concept of free grace; that couldn‘t be further from the truth).

I mentioned earlier that I did not want to write this article. I say that because, on a personal level, I’ve been saddened to see the church I care about subscribe to this strange new doctrine. It’s a doctrine which, I feel, underemphasizes God’s work in salvation, and places an undue overemphasis on such things as human decisions and rewards.

"Free Grace" Theology: An Overview

The "free grace" movement is not synonymous with no-lordship teaching. There are many no-lordship teachers who do not fall into the "free grace" camp. However, all "free grace" teachers do hold fundamentally to a no-lordship viewpoint. But their teaching goes much further than that. Having started with the tenet that one may receive Christ as Savior and not as Lord, they then interpret the whole New Testament in that light. This has led to an interpretation of many New Testament passages which departs from the historic understanding of these texts. Among their beliefs are the following:

Repentance is never to be included as part of the gospel message.

One may receive Christ as Savior, yet reject Him as Lord. That is, one may receive Christ by faith alone ("intellectual assent" is the definition some of them affirm), yet do so with ongoing rebellion--accepting the gift while shaking a fist at the giver. God does not necessarily change the heart (to grant a love for Christ, or even a receptivity to Him) when He saves someone.

True Christians will not necessarily evidence their faith by works (or "fruit"). In fact, a true Christian may never show any evidence of the new birth.

True Christians will not necessarily persevere in the faith. In fact, a true Christian may receive Jesus as Savior, later become intellectually unconvinced of the gospel, denounce Christ and become an atheist; however, because of that one human decision made at one point in time, he is still considered to be saved. For instance, Joseph Dillow, in The Reign of the Sevant Kings, says, "It is possible for a truly born-again person to fall away from the faith and cease believing." (p.199). True Christians may fall away completely from the faith and still be saved. God in no way grants them perseverance, or sustains them in their faith.

At the Bema seat, Christ will divide believers into two distinct and separate groups: the faithful, "overcoming" Christians will be allowed to reign with Him in the millennial kingdom; they are the "heirs" of the kingdom.

Unfaithful, carnal believers, however, will get into the kingdom, but will not be allowed to reign with Christ. They enter the kingdom but do not inherit it. In fact, they will be barred from the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, and will be cast outside of the wedding banquet, where they will weep and gnash their teeth (just as unbelievers will do in hell). The millennium will therefore be a time of sorrow and weeping for these children of God.

"Free Grace" and Scholasticism

I need to mention that the Free Grace arguments can be quite convincing. This is because many of their arguments rely on heavy scholasticism (especially logical arguments, and Greek word definitions and tense analysis). It is hard for laymen to argue with this, so many in the congregations where these men preach simply buy into the doctrine, reasoning that "these men must know what they’re talking about". However, in my studies I have found significant holes in their logic. Additionally, their Greek studies often lead to interpretations of texts that are far removed from the way these texts have historically been understood, as well as the plain and obvious meanings of the texts. One should also remember that, for every "free grace" Greek scholar, there are many other Greek scholars who do not agree with the "free grace" definitions of Greek terms.

An example of flawed logic is found by examining the "free grace" position on the interpretation of James 2:14-26. This passage is troubling to the "free grace" teachers, because its meaning is clear: faith without works cannot save; it is a dead faith. This is in opposition to the "free grace" doctrine (which states that works can never be an indicator of one’s salvation status). So these teachers have had to depart from the plain understanding of the passage (and the historical interpretation), and supply an altogether different understanding of the passage.

Especially troubling for them is verse 14, which says, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?" To rectify the problem, it is common for "free grace" teachers to change the meaning of the word "save". For example, Bob Wilkin, in the Sept./Oct. 1994 issue of the Grace in Focus newsletter, says the following:

There is no question but that James is asserting that faith without works can't save. The form of the Greek question expects a negative answer. Yet there is a question about the nature of the salvation under consideration.

About half of the NT uses of the words save and salvation refer to salvation from physical death, from disease, and from various temporal difficulties. That means that you are just as likely to find a given occurrence refer to deliverance from some problem in this life as to eternal salvation.

The word save occurs five times in James (1.21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:15, 20). In none of the four uses outside of our passage is eternal salvation in view. In his epistle James uses the word save to refer to deliverance from the death-dealing consequences of sin (cf. 1:15,21). A believer whose faith is not accompanied by works will not be saved from the consequences of his sinful behavior. He or she will experience difficulties which God sends. The purpose of these difficulties is to turn the believer back to the Lord.

On the surface, this argument can seem convincing. However, a study of the passages in which "save" or "salvation" is said to refer to temporal deliverance from sin’s consequences (both in James and in the whole of the New Testament) reveals that, in fact, they more often than not do refer to eternal salvation (though the "free grace" teachers deny this). In other words, they are padding their own statistics. Their logic goes somewhat like this:

1. James can’t mean eternal salvation, since he always uses the word "save" to refer to temporal deliverance from sin’s consequences.

2. How do I know that the other passages in which James uses the word "save" refers to temporal deliverance from sin’s consequences? Because I say they do.

This is common in "free grace" writings; such statements as "the context clearly shows", or "though the lordship interpretation may be such and such, there is nothing in the passage which demands such an interpretation" occur often. So, circular reasoning and arguments from silence should be looked for when reading articles or books from "free grace" teachers (or in any scholarly writings, including those from the "lordship salvation" proponents as well!).

Another example of flawed logic is in James’ use of the term, "dead faith". James 2:17 says, "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead". James 2:26 says, "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead". Since the phrase "faith without works is dead" seems to indicate that someone whose life is devoid of works is unsaved, and that that contradicts "free grace" doctrine, such teachers have had to develop another interpretation of this passage. Their interpretation (generally speaking) is represented by Bob Wilkin in the same issue of Grace in Focus. Speaking of the Lordship position on this passage, Dr. Wilkin says

If this argument holds, then what James is saying is that faith without works is not faith at all since it is dead. That doesn't make sense. Are things which are dead unreal? Certainly not. The fact that something is dead indicates that the animating power is gone from it.

However, James is not making an allegory between a dead body and faith without works. An allegory would analyze all parts of the illustration, and make every aspect of it symbolic of some abstract truth. (This is often done when "free grace" teachers teach on the parables of Christ). James’ readers would not likely have understood that "dead faith" referred to a faith in which "the animating power is gone from it". Rather, dead faith means, simply, a faith without life. And just as a dead body may have the external appearance of a living body, yet by its lack of vitality demonstrates it is completely void of life, so a faith that is devoid of works is a faith without life. In James’ language, a dead faith may be orthodox, but has no more power to save someone than the orthodox faith of demons (James 2:19).
If we were to make an allegory of dead faith, even the "free grace" position does not stand up to the test, because it would mean "carnal Christians" could go from "dead faith" to a "living faith"—and possibly in and out from dead to living. James’ words would have been a poorly chosen analogy indeed!

It seems to me that scholasticism which arrives at conclusions which so significantly depart from historic interpretations and plain, obvious meanings should cause us all to see red flags.


The "free grace" teachers have been charged by some in the Lordship camp as being antinomians (that is, promoting lawlessness). Do I think this charge is true? Yes and no. Let me explain what I mean. From my experience, these people do care about holiness of life and honoring God by our actions and thoughts. I can’t think of one of them who would advocate "loose living". However, I’m afraid that the unintended consequence of their teaching is a generation of many who believe that, because of a decision made years ago, their salvation is secure, even though "by their works they deny Him" (Titus 1:6).

Further, believers are encouraged in this system to not seriously confront unbelievers with their sin when evangelizing them (that is, to call them to repentance). Jesus certainly confronted the rich young ruler (for his greed), the Samaritan woman (with divorce and immorality), Simon the Pharisee (for lack of love for Him), and the Pharisees (for hypocrisy).

By contrast, , the "free grace" gospel seems to be "believe that God will take you to heaven if you ask Him; simply believe His promise". But the gospel is only good news to me if I understand the desperation of my plight: that I have personally offended a God (who is thrice Holy!) with my sin (and I sin a thousand times over again each day). My only hope lies in fleeing to the One Who can bear the punishment I cannot bear, and Who alone can live the righteous life God requires in my stead. By contrast, if one does respond to the "free grace" gospel, the holiness of God and the terribleness of his sin have not, in my view, been sufficiently addressed. This is breeding ground for casual Christianity.

Finally, I’m afraid that the teaching that one may evidence no spiritual fruit and yet be convinced he is a believer is a dangerous teaching. (This teaching wil be critiqued in detail later on.) It will lead unbelievers to be convinced they are quite all right, and the consequences will be damning. It will also fill our churches with worldy people who are largely unconcerned with their sin, thus polluting the purity of the church.

Is This Just an Argument Between Dispensational and Reformed Theology?

Finally, it is worth mentioning that this is not a classical "Dispensationalism vs. Reformed Theology" debate. In my readings, I found articles critical of the free grace movement which were written by dispensationalists, Arminians, and Calvinists. (Interestingly, there were very few articles from the Calvinist camp.) For further study of these doctrines, the reader is encouraged to begin by perusing the Grace Evangelical Society’s website ( ) for a supportive overview, and Middletown Bible church’s website (a dispensational church), at for a critical review.

Having introduced the doctrine of the "free grace" movement, I would like to now move toward several Scriptures which, I believe, will plainly show that doctrine to be unbiblical. The reader is encouraged to look up the verses, and study the surrounding verses, to make sure none of these verses are taken out of context.


In the next entry on Monday, I will begin posting Phillip's exegetical arguments. Stay Tuned!


  1. Deep and wonderful blog! BTW, if you haven't read "Pretrib Rapture Diehards" on Google, you've missed some recently unearthed facts about the beginnings of the system of dispensationalism. A good read.

  2. Hi! Thank you for posting this very insightful article. Just had a conversation with a friend about this very issue and it's just cemented some of the things we discussed about "grace alone" and "fruits" in a Christian's life. One who supposedly profess to believe in Jesus and want to fulfil the Great Commission but does not show any fruit at all in their life may have cut themself too much slack and patted themselves on the back and said, "it's ok." God still loves me.

    It's a thin line but a line we have to challenge and encourage more Christians to see nonetheless.

    God bless!

  3. IMO this article is not accurate.

    See my blog for my comments if you want to hear how a real Free Gracer responds to some of these ideas.

    HK Flynn

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  5. Could you help me a GREAT deal by explaining the difference between "Lordship Salvation" and "Conditional Salvation". This is all new to me. I attend a Once Saved Always Saved Baptist church and if I should begin to believe differently, I will lose my membership. Where does the Once Saved, Always Saved position fit into Lordship Salvation? Maybe there is no problem with it? Thank you for your help.

  6. Very insightful and helpful. One correction - the Titus 1:6 reference should be 1:16.