The “Faith Alone” of Free Grace Theology
What is Free Grace Theology? Free Grace Theology is a theological system that is known for believing that salvation becomes a permanent possession the moment a sinner believes in Jesus Christ by “faith alone.” This faith is qualified to include certain elements such as to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died and rose again, and that He eternally saves all who trust in Him by faith to be saved.
Free Grace Theology further qualifies “faith alone” to exclude certain elements. They don’t believe that sorrow and remorse for sin are necessary —to include turning from it (see repentance). Water baptism that was practiced immediately in the New Testament is also excluded. Finally, there is no requirement to have ongoing faith in Christ. According to them, if any of these elements were included in the salvation package, one remains unsaved.
In summary, one can come to Jesus in love with their sin and be saved. They can go on to live the “wages of sin” and be covered by grace. While “believers” are encouraged to live for Christ, they can live any way they please because the grace of God is free and salvation is a free gift.
This writing will seek to answer the fundamental question, are we saved by a one-time faith that is “alone”? Or, are we saved by an active faith that must persevere? Answers will be sought under the conviction that God’s Word is the final, absolute standard for faith and practice.
The truth of God’s Word shines brightly, dispelling darkness. When darkness is exposed to light, the darkness vanishes, as it’s no match. If you believe that salvation is secured by “faith alone” according to Free Grace Theology, I respectfully challenge you to refute this writing using the truth of God’s Word, while adhering to sound principles of biblical interpretation. Truth doesn’t run from darkness; darkness is fearful and runs from the light.
Because God is sovereign over all, He has designed the salvation package from start to finish —His way. So we can easily err by defining it our way. He decides what response is necessary to secure the gift of salvation. God also decides if salvation, once received, is conditional, or unconditional.
The Bereans were NOT commended because they bought into a polished theological framework such as Free Grace Theology, Calvinism, Dispensation Theology, Arminian Theology, etc. They were commended because their authority was the Word of God. They searched the Scriptures daily to determine truth from lies.
Because Free Grace Theology has a different definition of saving faith than most Christians, we should resolve this issue upfront. So what is saving faith?
Robert Wilkin, a Free Grace Theology scholar, wrote the book, The Ten Most Misunderstood Words in the Bible. In the subheading, “The Truth about Saving Faith“, he compares saving faith to believing that a past president lived. He writes, “Almost everyone finds the evidence that JFK died in 1963 to be believable. People believe that which the evidence persuades them is true. That is what belief is. It is a conviction, based on available evidence, that something is true” (Wilkin, 2012, Page 20). He goes on to write in the same page, “Therefore, faith is not a decision. It is the conviction that something is true.“
If this definition of agreeing with some facts doesn’t rattle you as a believer, then you should question if you really are a believer. The best source for an objective definition of saving faith is found within the pages of Scripture. Multiple salvation accounts should be carefully analyzed to draw out elements that the New Testament authors considered important. Let’s examine a few passages and expose a Satan counterfeit.
Robert Wilkin went on to the account of the death of Lazarus. Here is the passage that Wilkin provides:
“Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives [ongoing timeline] and believes [ongoing belief] in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Jesus Weeps” (John 11:23-26, ESV).
The promises of Jesus — “shall he live” (v. 25), and “shall never die” (v. 26), are both conditional on “believes [ongoing action] in me” (vs. 25-26). It doesn’t say, “believed” (past tense). In verse 26, the phrase “and everyone who lives,” further identifies “believes” with progressive action. Free Grace Theology, in contempt of rules of grammar, claims that the only condition given here by Jesus is a one-time, “faith alone” to be saved.
The passage above continues where the context describes Martha and Mary with an active faith that was not “alone.” Let’s pick up the account. Jesus had just asked them,”do you believe this?” (v. 26b). “She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. When she had said this, she went [no “faith alone” here] and called [more action] her sister Mary, saying in private [an action], “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly [Mary also believed as the context indicates] and went to him” (vs. 27-29).
Summary: in this passage, salvation is conditional on believing (“believes“). This act is grammatically and contextually presented as an ongoing requirement. The actions of Martha and Mary indisputably illustrate a saving faith that was not independent of action (“faith alone”).
In the book, Getting the Gospel Wrong: The Evangelical Crisis No One is Talking About, Free Grace Theology author J. B Hixson (2013) provides over 160 verses (or passages) in appendix A, which he claims demonstrates justification by “faith alone” (location 16 of 6220; Kindle version).
This is the first verse provided by Hixson: “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). This verse doesn’t say “believed,” but “believes.” Jesus qualifies the response, which Hixson omitted: “and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn [a verb describing action] and become like children [a process over time], you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Hixson’s “faith alone” Gospel is unarguably a counterfeit.
Here is his second verse: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42). The verse does not teach a one-time “faith alone” to be saved. It describes a child in a state of belief and emphasizes the severity of causing a child to sin.
And here is the third verse provided: “And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:48-50). Here is the account leading up to these verses: “Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair [genuine faith accompanied by works]. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment [more works from her faith]. Therefore [in light of the inspired actions indicating her belief] I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Like 7:44-47). Genuine faith is not divorced from action (not “faith alone”).
A few more passages provided by Hixson will be examined in more detail outside the order found in his book.
John 3:15-16, 18, 36
This famous verse (3:16) summarizes the Gospel in one sentence. The surrounding context provides additional information to help answer the question, are we saved by “faith alone?”
Because Jesus did not state a few verses to Nicodemus in isolation and walk away, the near context should be examined (3:1-21). What response did Jesus require from Nicodemus to enter into the Kingdom of God (3:3)? Is salvation presented as a one-time, completed action event where one can optionally live the “wages of sin” (Free Grace Theology view), or is an active faith prescribed?
The word “believes” as the condition for having eternal life is found in verses 15, 16, 18 and 36. This verb (participle) describes action. It’s in the present tense, which indicates here an ongoing response. It doesn’t say “those who believed (past tense) will have everlasting life.” “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes [conditional verb; “believing one”] in him should not perish but have [in the present] eternal life.”
The meaning of the word “believes” (John 3:16) is defined in the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Bauer, Danker, 3rd ed., 2001). It means, “to entrust oneself to an entity in complete confidence, believe (in), trust, with implication of total commitment to the one who is trusted” (Page 817).
Verses 20-21 provides additional information on the “believes” God requires which Hixson omitted in his book: “For everyone who does wicked things [the unsaved] hates [present tense; ongoing action] the light and does not come [ongoing] to the light, lest his works [the unsaved] should be exposed. But whoever does [present tense; ongoing] what is true comes [ongoing] to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works [the results from coming to the light] have been carried out in God.” Believers (“believes“) are identified as those who come to the light where works can be “seen.” These works are produced in the believer’s life by God (“have been carried out in God“). These works don’t earn salvation.
Finally, it’s worth covering an additional verse that is often misused: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (vs. 14-15).
Does the passage above contextually teach that the unsaved are to look up to Jesus once for salvation as those in the wilderness were to look on the brazen serpent to live (Numbers 21:9)? No. The contrast (see verses above) is made between Moses (“serpent in the wilderness“) and Jesus who would be lifted up on the cross. The Old Testament account is a beautiful Christophany (non physical appearance of Jesus Christ). There are no exegetical grounds from this passage to teach that sinners should glance at Jesus once to be saved.
Finally, please guard yourself from any teacher who claims that verb tenses in the underlying Greek language cannot be trusted for the doctrine of salvation. False teachers have no problem discrediting God’s Word to the eternal detriment of souls.
What John 3:15-16, 18, 36, Doesn’t State
It doesn’t state that “whosoever has believed once” will be saved (as taught by Free Grace Theology). Again, it states, “whosoever believes” [an ongoing requirement “has” [an ongoing benefit] eternal life. So the possession of “eternal life” (“has“) is conditional on belief (“believes“).
Sometimes the argument is made that if someone has eternal life they can never lose it because eternal life lasts forever. This wrong teaching misuses grammar. If you are gifted a $100 bill, it’s always worth $100. Your possession of this $100 bill today, doesn’t guarantee a future possession of this bill, even though it will be worth the value of $100. In a similar manner, eternal life lasts forever but it should not be confused with possession of that state. The possession of eternal life in John 3:16 is conditional on “believes.” Those who are in a state of belief (“believes“) “have” possession of “everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Summary: when the account of Jesus and Nicodemus is examined (3:1-21), the response required (“believes“) is to “entrust oneself [ongoing] to an entity in complete confidence” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition, 2001, page 817). The faith required is further qualified as not dead: “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (vs. 21).
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This passage describes believers who were saved in the past and remain saved in the present “through faith.” The two words (“have been”) are not found in the underlying Koine Greek. Translators added these helping words to describe the ongoing verbal action of the word “saved” (Koine Greek perfect tense).
The Koine Greek perfect tense (one of the Greek verb tenses) describes an action that occurred in the past (“saved” in Eph. 2:8) that has remained true up to the present time. This is why translators inserted the words “have been” (saved) into this verse. A horizontal line that begins at spiritual birth to the present time could illustrate the perfect tense. The perfect tense does not comment on the future. Here is a paraphrase to illustrate the verbal action: “For by grace you have been saved in the past (at salvation) to the present time through ongoing faith. And this is not your own doing [the word “doing” indicates ongoing action]; it is the gift [ongoing gift] of God, not a result of works [ongoing action], so that no one may boast.“
The following translations may help illustrate the perfect tense of the word “saved.“
“I mean that you have been saved by grace through believing…” (New Century Version).
“For by grace ye are having been saved, through faith…” (Young’s literal translation).
To follow are two technical definitions of the Koine Greek perfect tense from Greek grammar books:
“Describes an event which, completed in the past (we are speaking of the perfect indicative), has results existing in the present time” (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Wallace, 1997, page 754).
“The Greek perfect is one of the more interesting tenses and is often used to express great theological truths. The Greek perfect describes an action that was brought to completion and whose effects are felt in the present” (Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar; Mounce; page 223; 2009).
What this Passage Doesn’t State
-That salvation will not have works (as taught by Free Grace Theology); however, works clearly don’t save. Our ongoing salvation should have works (2:10), that spring forth from genuine faith.
-It doesn’t state that salvation is a completed action once acquired. To the contrary, they were saved from the past to the present, by their faith.
There is no legitimacy to teach “faith alone” from this passage. While this passage doesn’t explicitly state that perseverance is necessary, it presents salvation as a reality for those in an ongoing relationship with Christ.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
Most respected theologians declare that Romans 1:16 is the key verse in Romans. Paul declares that salvation comes to those who “believe.” God’s inspired Word contains no errors. Dear believer, it doesn’t say, “those who believed” (past tense) but “believes.“
The present tense aspect (“believe”) is further confirmed by the statement in verse 17: “the righteous shall live by faith.” Free Grace Theology teaches that the righteous don’t need to live by faith to be saved because salvation is a free and final gift at reception. We will counter this argument latter.
Acts 16:31, 34
“And they said, ‘believe [Greek aorist verb tense] in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).
“Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed [perfect tense!] in God” (Acts 16:34).
Because the explanation of this passage is more technical, it was saved for last. Free Grace Theology teaches that the word “believe” (16:31) means a “point action” of “faith alone” to be saved. This claim is exegetically unsubstantiated. To my knowledge, no other denomination has this interpretation.
Free Grace Theology’s claim for Acts 16:31 contradicts approximately 100 passages that teach that salvation comes to those who believe by faith (ongoing belief) in Jesus Christ.
I have at least 30 commentaries in my digital library for the book of Acts. I’ve only encountered one who agrees in part with the definition assigned by Free Grace Theology for this verse (“believes” = one-time, point action belief). This single commentary is authored R. C. H. Lenski (1934). He is well known for breaking grammar rules. In fact, Lenski has become a “poster boy” for some theologians on how not to interpret Koine Greek grammar.
In biblical interpretation, there are Koine Greek grammar rules that should be followed consistently from Matthew to Revelation. When rules are ignored or changed for the sake of theology, it’s like driving a car on the wrong side of the road. The result can be disastrous. When established rules are consistently followed, the outcome is not changed based on theological persuasion. On the other hand, when rules are changed (mid-stream) for select passages to manipulate the outcome, beware!
Free Grace Theology loves Acts 16:31. Because the affected verbal aspect (one-time action, ongoing, occasional, etc.) of the aorist verb tense is defined primarily by the context, many well intending Free Grace Theology teachers have taken liberty to stuff it with their theology.
The question before us, is, what kind of action does the context indicate for the word “believe?” Is it a one-time action (point action), or does it indicate ongoing belief?
To makes this determination, the context must be considered in neutral. So let’s consider the inspired actions of the jailor who believed (“believe“) in the Lord Jesus Christ:
1) He took them (v. 33a).
2) He washed their wounds (v. 33b).
3) He was baptized (v. 33c).
4) Brought them into his house (v. 34a).
5) He set food before them (v. 34b).
6) He rejoiced (v. 34c).
7) He believed (v. 34d). The word “believed” here is now in the perfect tense (participle) which clearly and undeniably means ongoing belief (from the past to the present) in the Greek.
8) The following day the jailer delivers a message to Paul and Silas (vs. 35-36).
The evidence overwhelmingly supports ongoing action for the “believe” of Acts 16:31. The only group that I know of today who insist that the “believe” of Acts 16:31 is a one-time, completed action event are those who believe in Free Grace Theology. Their one-time, easy belief necessitates this interpretation. Over 100 passages (in my estimation) in the New Testament indicate that salvation is commenced and secured over time by ongoing faith. The Bible does not contradict itself. God’s Word is inspired as written.
Summary: In Acts 16:31 the word “believe” is contextually represented by ongoing action. This is further confirmed by the word “believed” in verse 34, which is in the Greek perfect tense. The actions of the jailer portray an active faith that began when he believed (vs. 31), and continued to the present (vs. 34).
Common Arguments used by Free Grace Theology
Most Christians believe salvation is by faith that is qualified. It must contain certain elements to be valid. In James’s Epistle, saving faith that is not accompanied by works is dead faith (2:24). Because Free Grace interprets the Bible under the lens of “faith alone,” they will reject a literal, contextual, and grammatical interpretation when necessary for theological preservation.
In response to the objection where James writes, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Free Grace Theology may take their objector to Ephesians 2:8-9, and explain that we are saved, (1) “by grace” (unmerited favor), (2) “through faith,” (3) “not of yourselves,” (4) “gift of God,” (5) “not of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In other words, James cannot be describing saving faith for salvation because it would contradict this passage. The objector may be unaware that Ephesians 2:8-9 (covered earlier) doesn’t contradict James 2:24.
By way of reminder, Ephesians 2:8-9 doesn’t exegetically state that salvation won’t have works. On the basis of grace, we are being saved from the past to the present. This ongoing salvation is not earned by our actions (“not of yourselves“), it comes in ongoing gift form. No amount of good works can secure a place in the Kingdom of God.
There are additional verses that teach that our ongoing salvation isn’t a one-time gift, but is a progressive gift —conditional on faith. As we covered earlier, God defines the salvation package His way, to include how this gift is received.
“The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe [ongoing]. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified [progressive action] by his grace as a gift [ongoing gift], through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-25).
There are also passages which declare that our justification is an ongoing action, conditional on faith (Romans 3:22-25, above; 3:28; 4:1-5; 10:10; Galatians 3:11; Titus 3:7; James 2:24, etc.).
Another argument used is that salvation doesn’t cost the recipient anything because Jesus paid it all. Therefore, if a person lifts one finger, they are a “legalist” whom is unsaved. Lets expose this argument that Free Grace Theology may use and subsequently knock down.
Jesus did pay it all on the cross! We cannot contribute anything to Christ’s finished work. The price of following Jesus Christ doesn’t add anything to His finished work. Jesus said: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy [a cost], and my burden is light [a cost]” (Matthew 11:29-30).
Jesus said, “Enter [ongoing action] by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy [ongoing action] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard [ongoing action] that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Here is a verse that is often quoted: “Now to the one who works [to earn salvation], his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due [no belief in this verse]. And to the one who does not work [to earn salvation] but [in contrast] believes [our works don’t save] in him who justifies [ongoing process] the ungodly, his faith is counted [ongoing activity] as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from [our] works” (Romans 4:4-6).
The passage above describes two groups. Group “one” (v. 4) does not have faith in Jesus and attempts to earn heaven by works. Group “two” (v. 5) has faith and does not work to earn salvation. Finally, verse 6 describes those who are being saved and God credits righteousness apart from their works.
Another objection made is that since salvation is by “faith alone,” if one or more actions are added, it’s no longer by grace alone, through faith alone. In essence, they have decided for everyone that two choices exist: salvation by works only, or salvation by “faith alone.” They don’t consider a third option that is in sync with over 100 verses: we are saved by ongoing faith. This faith should have works because genuine faith produces action.
Earlier we examined Ephesians 2:8-9, which doesn’t say that our salvation won’t have works or cost, but the works don’t save us. A similar passages states: “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness [since initial faith; the unsaved don’t perform righteous works], but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified [an ongoing action] by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).
Please consider a passages used to defend the doctrine of eternal security: “My sheep hear [present tense; ongoing] my voice, and I know [present tense; ongoing] them, and they follow [present tense; ongoing] me. I give them [those of verse 27 that “hear“, and “follow” in the present] eternal life, and they [those of verse 27 that “hear“, and “follow” in the present] will never perish, and no one will snatch them [those of verse 27 that “hear“, and “follow“] out of my hand. My Father, who has given them [those of verse 27 that “hear“, and “follow“] to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29). Those who “hear” (ongoing) and “follow” (ongoing) are the ones who will “never perish.”
Another argument is that children of parents will always be their children, just as God’s children will always be His children. It’s important to base our doctrines on explicit, contextual passages and not on man-made arguments. Lucifer is a master deceiver. If this argument were true, the unsaved would remain as such because a child of Satan would always be one. Adam and Eve where children of God in the Garden and their sonship didn’t keep them from falling. Arguments aside, church doctrine must come from a contextual, grammatical understanding of God’s Word to be valid.
Doesn’t the Bible refer to salvation in the past tense indicating it is a completed action?
Answer: Most salvation passages don’t look to the past when one entered the family of God. Romans 5:1 is one of the exceptions: “Therefore, since we have been justified [past tense] by faith, we have [right now] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.“
This passage declares a past historical fact. First, let us identify the “we” of this verse. Chapters and verse numbers were added later. Verse 4:24 identifies the audience of 5:1: “but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe [right now] in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord” (vs. 24).
Secondly, the verb tense of the word “justified” (5:1) is in the aorist tense. The affected verbal action considers context, word meaning, grammar, etc. When all the contributing factors are considered in neutral, the verbal action doesn’t indicate that justification is a completed action. Contextually, justification is a past fact for those in the faith and a present reality.
Summary: Paul wrote to those in ongoing faith and reminds them of their spiritual birthday (in the past). Paul didn’t state their salvation was a completed action.
Thanks for reading this writing. May God help us all (myself included) to allow His Word to define our theology.
Please pray for those inside Free Grace Theology who have fallen victim to the “faith alone” lie. I formerly believed this lie. “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10a). Jesus Christ is worthy of all our praise and honor, today, tomorrow and forever. Praise His wonderful and worthy name! 🙂