Monday, December 19, 2011

The Purpose of the Christ

This past Sunday FGA Executive Council Member John Correia preached at the church he pastors from John 3:1-21 about the message of eternal life.  The title of this message is “The Purpose of the Christ.”

 

The link may be found on the WestGreenway.com site, or via their iTunes feed.

 

Let’s all remember the reason for the season is more than just the birth of Jesus, but the purpose of God sending His Son into the world, that He might die for us, that by faith alone in Christ alone we might have eternal life.

 

If you’re interested in John’s translation of the passage and exegetical notes, email him at pastorjohn at westgreenway dot com and he is happy to email them to you.

 

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Antinomianism and Free Grace Theology

By Dr. Roger Fankhauser, FGA Executive Council member and the pastor of Burleson Bible Church in Burleson, Texas.  Dr. Fankhauser can be reached at rsfankhauser at bellsouth dot net.
 
Antinomianism.
 
A fancy word meaning “lawless”.
 
Many who don’t get the free grace message accuse us of practicing and teaching antinomianism. They think – wrongly – that the free grace message is light on sin and light on obedience. The author of a recent best-selling book describes the message that he alleges some present this way: “We have been told all that is required is a one-time decision, maybe even mere intellectual assent to Jesus, but after that we need not worry about his commands, his standards, or his glory. We have a ticket to heaven, and we can live however we want on earth. Our sin will be tolerated along the way….” Another well-known author put it this way: “What is no-Lordship theology (the author’s name for free grace theology) but the teaching that those who died to sin can indeed live in it?”
 
So, let me interview myself (yeah, I know that’s weird) and clarify what I really believe and teach:
 
Q: Does free grace teach that sin will be tolerated along the way?
 
A: Absolutely not. Sin is serious; it is an affront to God (Ps. 51:4). It has serious consequences.
 
Q: What kind of consequences?
 
A: For the believer who sins, consequences can include physical issues (e.g., sexually transmitted disease), relational issues (e.g., loss of trust from someone we hurt), loss of reward (2 Cor. 5:10), guilt and shame, loss of the experience of “abundant life” (John 10:10), discipline from God (Heb. 12:5-7), and perhaps even physical death (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:28-30).
 
Q: But doesn’t habitual sin in someone’s life mean they aren’t really saved?
 
A: That’s a loaded question. How do we define “habitual” biblically? We can’t. So, if that’s the scale to evaluate one’s salvation, we’re left in an arbitrary mess. It leaves us in the position of evaluating our standing before God based on the subjective evaluation of my life rather than the objective person and work of Jesus.
 
Q: So what would you tell the person in “habitual” sin?
 
A: I don’t want to assume someone is a Christian just because they say they are. I want to find out why they think they are a Christian. The issue isn’t what we say, what we think, even what we pray. The issue is in whom do we believe? It might well be they didn’t understand the gospel and are not, in fact, Christians. But let’s assume they are. In that case, I’d try to find out why they choose to live in sin. They could give a thousand different reasons, ranging from “I just want to” to “I’m stuck and don’t know how to get out”. Then, depending on the answer, I might talk about the consequences of their choices, and I would definitely try to help them see the way out (Gal. 6:1-2).
 
Q: What about discipleship? Is it optional? I know one writer who thinks the grace position promotes discipleship only for “the higher level Christian”?
 
A: No, discipleship is not optional. Obedience is not optional. We are urged to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Eph. 4:1, Col. 1:10, 1 Thess. 2:12). God expects all of us to live a life following Jesus. Having said that, failure to follow Jesus as His disciple does not prove we were never a believer. It simply proves we are disobedient believers. Discipleship is not optional if we want to live life the way God desires, if we want to grow, if we want to glorify Him, if we want to hear “well done”.
 
Q: Maybe some people think the cost of following Jesus is too high. How do you respond to that?
 
A: Following Jesus may very well cost us a great deal in this life. Jesus said the world hated Him; we shouldn’t be surprised if it hates us. Or, maybe, like Moses, who must choose “to endure ill-treatment with the people of God” rather than “enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25). However, when we look at the big picture, the long term benefit of following Him far outweighs the temporal costs. Even Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2).
 
Q: Has anyone accused you of watering down God’s Word because of the free grace message?

A: Yep! Someone said I wasn’t serious enough about the warnings in Scripture. He said some of the warnings sound like a Christian could “go to hell” for a reason. But Paul faced the same accusation (Rom. 6:1).

Q: So what would you tell other free-grace proponents to say in their ministry?
 
A: First, keep the gospel message simple, clear, and correct (faith alone in Christ alone). Don’t muddle the basic message. Second, clearly teach the seriousness of sin, the warnings directed to disobedient Christians, and the consequences of sin. Third, teach that our security in Christ rests on the objective work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not on the subjective evaluation of our faithfulness. And fourth, continually call people to “walk in a manner worthy”. Help them to see that God desires – and expects – this of His people.
 
Q: Thanks, me, for the interview!
 
A: You’re welcome, me!
 
Antinomian? Not at all. Sin is serious and the call to follow Jesus is real.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December 2011 President's Letter

Greetings,                                                                                                                                            
As John Walvoord, former Dallas Seminary president, used to say, “When you celebrate Thanksgiving you know that Christmas is not far off.” Well, Christmas is right around the corner. It is more than the holiday season or a winter break. It is Christmas, and aren’t we glad it is so! Many churches and most Christians will read, hear or see the Christmas story spoken or acted out this season reminding them of the incarnation. God has always sought to communicate to the world. The book of Hebrews tells us that God has spoken to the fathers through the prophets in many ways but in these last days He has spoken to us “in Son”. (Hebrews 1) 
God is the communicating creator to His people. He has used the informational approach through the prophets as well as the impositional approach through the Law. He has also used the inspirational approach via the many miracles in both the Old Testament and New Testament. But in these last days He has spoken to us with the incarnational approach, through His Son. But that little baby was no ordinary little baby.
The author of Hebrews explains through three clauses the greatness of the Christ of Christmas.
The son is the one “who is the inheritor (the heir) of all things”.  (Hebrews 1:2a)  Look as far as you can out into the sky, add a telescope and all that you see - over 100 million galaxies bigger than ours - all of it is His.
He is the creator of all things since, “whom also made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:2b). This is similar to John 1:1-3; 14 and Colossians 1:15-20.
Perhaps most significant of all is that He occupies the supreme position of all authority, being very God of very God. (Hebrews 1:3-4).
The author of Hebrews declares to us that:
The Son is the Revealer of God, “who is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.
▪ He is also the Sustainer of the world as He “upholds all things by the word of His power.”  
But most importantly for us is that He is also the Mediator for Man. “Having made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high.”  
As Saint Anselm said, “Jesus did not come out of curiosity or out of some personal need. The father sent him on an errand of mercy solely to accomplish our redemption.”  And that is the Christmas message which we freely proclaim. That little baby was no ordinary little baby. He is the one, as Isaiah declared over 700 years before the birth of the baby Jesus, whose name will be called Immanuel - God with us.
And so we proclaim that purification and propitiation has been prepared, and as such eternal life is free for all those who believe in Jesus, the name above every name, and the only name by which a man or a woman, boy or girl can be saved.  Let us make sure that in our preaching and proclaiming that we preach not what this age wants, but what it needs; not what it will reward, but what without which it cannot be saved.

Serving Him with you
Until He comes for us,

Fred Chay
President, FGA

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What is Eternal Life? (By Dan Lash)

Dan is the Pastor of Weston Street Bible Church in Rome City, Indiana.  He may be reached at dan_lash at hotmail dot com.
 
We who believe in security are sometimes so motivated to find verses that support our belief that, in the process, we fail to comprehend what the Scriptures teach concerning the concept of eternal life. When we take every occurrence of the phrase “eternal life” to be a reference to eternity in heaven, with an emphasis on duration of that existence, we fail to comprehend the full meaning of this phrase in the Scriptures. In the majority of occurrences, the emphasis of the phrase “eternal life” is not the granting of a positive eternal destiny. Rather, it is the addition of the capacity for communion with God.
 
Let’s first understand the truth behind this life which is eternal in its duration.
 
The Lord Jesus, in John 17:3, gives us the following definition of eternal life:
 
"And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Likewise the Apostle John gives us a similar definition eternal life in I John 5:20: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”
 
Eternal life is the capacity to commune with God. In the Garden of Eden, humanity forfeited this purpose for which it was created, i.e. to enjoy the communion of God. All people since Adam are now brought into the world possessed only with a nature and perspective which is incapable of communion with God. (Romans 8:7) God’s ultimate goal in saving us is to bring us to the place where we can commune with the perspective of God.
 
Now, make no mistake about it, believing on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior does guarantee one’s eternal well being. The following verses identify for us the duration of this gift of eternal life:
 
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
John 5:24 " Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.
Believing upon Jesus as your Savior produces a life which is eternal in its duration because it bears the image of God at the core of its being. When a person is born again they are now in possession of a life which is eternal in duration, because the new person on the inside is made in the image of God in righteousness and true holiness. (Eph. 4:24) This new person is now the believer’s eternal identity before God. However, just because that person exists on the inside doesn’t mean that this new person is automatically directing the ambitions of the believer. When a believer is operating by the power of a mind renewed in the Scriptures, that believer is said to be experiencing eternal life.
 
A great deal of confusion can result in our interpretation of Scripture if, in every context, we focus only on the duration of eternal life and not the purpose for that life. For example, in 1 Timothy 6:12, Paul exhorts Timothy to “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.” Does this suggest that maybe Timothy’s security is not yet certain? If we define eternal life as eternity in heaven, then we might conclude from this text that Paul was calling Timothy’s security into question. However, if “laying hold of eternal life” speaks of Timothy’s walking consistently in communion with God, then Paul’s exhortation to “laying hold on eternal life” in no way challenges the doctrine of security.
 
Consider also Galatians 6:7-8.
 
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”
 
Once again, if we take this above occurrence of everlasting life to be a reference to eternal existence in heaven, then, according to this context, eternal existence in heaven is reaped as a result of sowing to the Spirit. And that would mean that a home in heaven is secured on the basis of the choices made after we are saved. But if eternal life in this context is experiencing communion with God then security would still be consistent with the meaning of this verse.
 
This approach to the concept of eternal life also better accommodates some of those passages in I John, which, on the surface, present a challenge to grace teaching. For example, 1 John 3:14-17 says,
 
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
Is this above context teaching us that it is impossible for a believer to hate his brother?
 
No, not at all. Verse 17 of this context is clearly an example of a believer hating another believer. In the Scriptures, hatred is not necessarily viewing another with disdain or wishing harm upon another. Hatred is often as passive as neglect, as demonstrated by this context. If eternal life in this context means eternity in heaven, then the person who fails to meet the needs of a brother or sister in Christ needs to question whether or not they are on their way to heaven. If, however, we understand eternal life to be communing with the perspective of God, then this context need not call into question a person’s eternal destiny; rather, this passage calls into question a person’s communion with the Father. The primary purpose of the epistle of I John is precisely this test of fellowship, a fellowship which I John refers to as eternal life.
 
A believer is experiencing communion with the Father when God’s perspective as gleaned from the Scriptures is serving as that believer’s functional frame of reference. Being saved does not automatically establish God’s perspective in the heart of the believer. That takes diligence and consistency in the application of Scripture. When the believer consistently judges events in his life from God’s perspective, it can be said that they have laid hold on eternal life. Like the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:12, “I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” When the Father gives us to Christ in the New Birth, Jesus is said to have laid hold of us for eternal life. When God’s perspective becomes the believer’s functioning frame of reference, that believer is said to have laid hold of eternal life.
.

Monday, November 7, 2011

President's Letter -November 2011


                                                                                                                     November 1, 2011  

Greetings,

Let me tell you that the FGA 2011 National Conference last month in Phoenix, Arizona was a tremendous success as we honored the Lord.

The presentations, including the plenary and the many wonderful workshops, went very well. We heard many inspiring messages on the topic of grace theology as it intersects living the Christian life. Many appreciated Dr. Mike Stallard as he cleared the air of the charge that we who believe in grace do not take sin seriously. Dr. Mike Cocoris also clarified the need for obedience and living a life of consecration. Dr. Dave Anderson, Dr. Paul Benware, and Pastor Bob Kerrey each did a fine job expositing the scriptures and providing principles by which to live and love.

There were many ministry and educational booths to see and books to buy. Many commented on enjoying the ability to see old friends and spend some time getting reconnected and caught up. The FGA banquet provided the opportunity to present the Trophy of Grace Award to Trevor McIlwain for his faithful service over the past 50 years. We also had as our guest speaker Dr. John Cross, President of Good Seed Ministries, from Canada. His creative use of props and multimedia made the evening quite special and unique.

This was the first time we have held the conference outside of Dallas. It seemed to work quite well. The hotel met all of our needs and the free shuttle from the airport provided some additional savings. A “BIG Thank You” goes to Sam Sacco who headed up the conference this year. It was wonderful! We hope to see many of you next year’s national conference.

Like many of you, I have been teaching and preaching the grace message for many years. It seems baffling to me that the church, after 2000 years does not seem to understand such a basic, simple, and important concept such as free grace. But then I remember that the early church fought the same battle, such as the Apostle Paul with different theological formations of Judaizers. The Apostle John as well dealt with insipient Gnostic teaching that would rob believers of the grace of God. The Apostolic Fathers all but forgot the grace of God and salvation by faith alone. And of course, the Roman Catholic Church for hundreds of years held grace ransom by works and denied the love of God to His people. The reformation, for all that it did for the church, also did not do enough to free itself from a theology of assurance that was less than fully biblical. And so today we see many of the same errors and divergence in theology that has always been upon the church. So I tell myself--- game on!

The FGA exists to help educate, encourage and connect you so that you can be in the game. But remember, it is not a game.  As C.S. Lewis reminds us, “Every square inch of the universe is claimed by God and counter claimed by Satan.  But also remember--the battle is His and the battle is won, and we have the joy of doing His work. 

Serving Him with you
Until He comes for us,

Dr. Fred Chay
President, Free Grace Alliance

Friday, November 4, 2011

Progress of Revelation?

By Dr. Roger Fankhauser, FGA Executive Council member and the pastor of Burleson Bible Church in Burleson, Texas.  Dr. Fankhauser can be reached at rsfankhauser at bellsouth dot net.
 
A great puzzle pops up when we think about John’s purpose statement: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31). The puzzle is, what about the cross and resurrection?
 
My disclaimer: I am not trying to tackle the so-called “cross-less gospel” (I don’t like the label, but it identifies the problem). I simply want to point out five ideas that, to me, connect the death and resurrection with the many passages in John prior to John 19 that say “whosoever believes” and don’t mention the resurrection!
 
1. The death and resurrection are not “signs” that Jesus performed (20:30). The signs He performed confirm His identity, but are not part and parcel of the gospel. So, the fact that John doesn’t identify the cross and resurrection as “signs” doesn’t change his argument.
 
2. John’s record of the death and resurrection account occurs before the purpose statement, so by the time the reader gets to the purpose statement in chapter twenty, he or she would know the whole story.
 
3. The theological truth “whosoever believes in me has eternal life” is timeless. Early in the story, John identified Jesus, through the words of John the Baptist, as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” By the end of the story, we know how He took away the sin of the world (e.g., “It is finished”, John 19:30). The progress of revelation adds content to the identity of “Me”. The fact that neither Jesus as the speaker nor John as the writer add the resurrection in the “whosoever believes” passages reflects that these crucial events had not yet happened in history and John accurately recorded the pre-crucifixion events and conversations as they unfolded. Even though John was written after the resurrection, he recorded events and conversations that happened before the resurrection.
 
4. The disciples did not understand Jesus when He did tell them He must die (e.g., John 14:28-29, 16:16-20, 20:8-9). To require faith in a future event – one they didn’t grasp - seems unreasonable. By the time we come to the end of chapter twenty, however, they do believe in His resurrection (e.g., John 20:8, 29)
 
5. Post resurrection, Paul connects Jesus’ identification as the “son of God” with the resurrection (Rom. 1:4). He also connects the gospel the Corinthians “received” (a synonym for belief, John 1:12) and the death and resurrection when he says is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures… and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-4). The burial and post-resurrection appearances confirm the death and resurrection. I know some take the passage as referring to sanctification issues (“if you hold fast”), but I don’t believe it is limited to sanctification – it is both / and.
 
Including the death and resurrection of Jesus in the description of the “Me” of “whosever believes in Me” does not violate the message of John. It simply recognizes the progress of revelation, even within the book of John, that adds with clarity the story of the death and resurrection.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reading is Dangerous! (a review of Love Wins)

By Dr. Roger Fankhauser, FGA Executive Council member and the pastor of Burleson Bible Church in Burleson, Texas.  Dr. Fankhauser can be reached at rsfankhauser at bellsouth dot net.

With a title like this, I know I will evoke a range of responses. The English teachers I had the privilege to work with at Evangel Christian Academy have now labeled me a heretic. However, many of my former students at the same school are crying out, “Amen!” People who know me know I love to read, and know a punch line should be coming soon. And here it is: reading is dangerous if we are not careful about what we read and how we read. In the realm of reading books about God or the Bible, we need to ask, “Is that what the Bible really says?” Without asking that question, we may end up swayed by a work that misrepresents God’s Word and His plans.
 
Case in point: Love Wins, by Rob Bell. The book purports to be “about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived.” I don’t normally publicize my thoughts when I disagree with someone, so why critique this book? The answer is simple: Bell is popular; the book has received a great deal of press; and the problems he poses strike the core of the gospel.
 
Bell does make some valid points in his book. To give just one example, he rightly points out we must present the “right” Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible: “It is about how you respond to Jesus. But it raises another question: which Jesus?” (p. 7). The question is valid. However, the problems of the book far outweigh any positives. The methods Bell uses to reach his conclusion are fraught with problems. I won’t exhaustively address the issues, but I hope the examples below paint the big picture:
 
  1. He presents caricatures of the God who believes in a literal hell. The back cover of the book says this: “God loves us. God offers us everlasting life by grace freely, through no merit on our part.” So far, so good. But he continues, “Unless you do not believe the right way. Then God will torture you forever. In hell. Huh?” In the book, he makes statements like this: “God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death… A loving father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would assure they had no escape from an endless future of agony.” (p. 174). Assuming for now that hell is real, those who end there may feel this way about God (I don’t really know what they will think – we’re not told in Scriptures), but that does not mean God changed. The truth is, God’s character never changes. He cannot become “cruel and mean” at the point of death. Our circumstances cannot change the character of God.
  2. He presents an erroneous gospel. In the first chapter, he paints a confusing picture about the alleged requirements for receiving eternal life For example, he writes, “Is it what you say, or who you are, or who we forgive, or whether we do the will of God, or if we ‘stand firm’ or not”, (p. 14). At the heart of the confusing list is a failure to examine the passages he uses within their context to understand what the biblical author meant. Most of the alleged difficulties resolve themselves simply by considering the context of the passage. Later in the book, he says “a story about a God who inflicts unrelenting punishment on people because they don’t say or believe the correct things… isn’t a very good story” (p. 110). Throughout the book, he questions the idea of entering hell for failure to believe the “correct things”. But, the writers of Scripture repeatedly condition receiving eternal life on “belief in Jesus” or “by faith” (for just a few examples, see John 3:16, Romans 5:1, Galatians 2:16). So, one’s destiny is, in fact, determined by believing the “correct things”. Sadly, Bell never clearly defines his gospel.
  3. He incorrectly defines “believing” as a work. He writes, “And aren’t verbs actions? Accepting confessing, believing – these are things we do. Does that mean, then, that going to heaven is dependent upon something I do? How is any of that grace? How is that a gift?” (p. 11). Believing, or faith, is not a work, however. It is a response. To believe means to be convinced something is true. In fact, Romans 4:5 distinguishes between faith and works: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (emphasis added). Granted, some reformed pastors and theologians (I am not one of these, by the way) would agree that faith is some sort of work, but even they would not describe it the way Bell does. But that’s another story.
  4. He incorrectly represents the meaning of the original languages. I firmly believe we pastors should use the Greek and Hebrew texts when we study. However, we create a problem when we say “The Greek word here means….” if we don’t accurately represent what the word actually means. The average person in the pew has neither the tools nor the training to evaluate the reliability of our statement. This is particularly true of books written for the popular audience. In Matthew 25:46, the New American Standard says, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Indulge me for a minute here. The Greek word for “eternal” here is “aionios” (αἰώνιος) and for “punishment” is “kolasis” (κόλασις). You can check this out easily in Strong’s Concordance! Bell, however, incorrectly says the word for “eternal” is the Greek word “aion” (aiwn) and the word for “punishment” is “kolazo” (kolazw). He says one of the definitions for aion refers to “a particular intensity of experience that transcends time” (p. 57, emphasis his) and that kolazo “is a term from horticulture. It refers to the pruning and trimming of branches of a plant so it can flourish” (p. 91). He concludes that “forever” is not a category the biblical writers used (p. 92) and, pulling these conclusions together, decides the Matthew passage may be translated “a period of pruning” or “an intense experience of correction”. Bell makes three significant mistakes here. First, the word used is aionios, not aion. The correct term (aionios) does refer to “eternal” in many passages, such as Romans 16:26, “the eternal God”. Second, assuming the word is, in fact, aion, the definition Bell gives cannot be found in the standard Greek Lexicons (dictionaries). Nowhere is aion defined as “intensity of experience”. Third, the word kolasis means “punishment”. The meaning of the correct word cannot support the idea of trimming or pruning. However, Bell must redefine the words the way he does to support his contention that hell is not everlasting punishment but some form of temporal misery.
  5. He fails to address other attributes of God. Bell focuses on God’s love, which in itself is good. More Christians need to see the great depths of God’s love! But he fails to address God’s justice which must deal with sin. He fails to address God’s general revelation in nature which sufficiently renders all people “without excuse” (Romans 1: 20). He also fails to address God’s sovereign ability to get the gospel message to anyone, anywhere (as in Acts 8:25-37). For example, he argues, “If our salvation, our future, our destiny is dependent on others bringing the message to us, teaching us – what happens if they don’t do their part?” (p. 9). The arguments he uses against traditional evangelism place far too much weight on the acts of the messenger and far too little on God. By failing to address these attributes, he creates an unbalanced picture of God’s plan for salvation.
  6. Finally, Bell uses bad logic. For example, in his discussion of heaven, he writes, “If you believe that you’re going to leave and evacuate to ‘somewhere else,’ then why do anything about this world?” (p. 46). This world is not our real home. Philippians 3:20 makes this amply clear, “For our citizenship is in heaven“. However, even if this planet is only a temporary home and heaven is “somewhere else”, the conclusion that I have no motive to do anything in this world does not necessarily follow. At the least, we ought to care for this world because we are stewards of what God gives us and we should love our neighbors! Heaven being “somewhere else” has no impact whatsoever on these principles. Bell’s conclusion does not follow logically.
 
Based on what the Scriptures really teach about heaven, hell, and the gospel, Bell’s work falls under the umbrella of false teaching, and therefore falls under the category of “dangerous reading.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

FGA 2011 National Conference: Day 1

Our 2011 Free Grace Alliance national conference is underway!  I will try to post some thoughts on each day and what we are hearing from our speakers.

The first day was phenomenal. First, our praise band led us in spirited worship of God, and then Dr. Fred Chay gave us a great update on the status of the Free Grace movement and the FGA in particular.  If you’ve heard Fred before, you know that he always speaks with his signature dry wit, and his speech before our convention was no exception.  He spoke in John 3:16 and the many “isms” that it refutes.

After a short break, Dr. Mike Stallard took the podium and spoke on the seriousness of sin in Free Grace theology from James 4.  It was, to say the least, a passionate and moving reminder to all of us that God takes sin seriously and calls all believers to live a life of personal holiness.  It was moving, convicting, and at the same time encouraging!

The first workshop session was cause for concern.  It wasn’t a concern because of the topics, but it was hard to choose which session to attend!  There were too many good choices.  Personally, I ended up choosing to sit in Dr. Roger Frankhauser’s discussion of grace and sexual purity.  It was a great discussion and Roger showed humility, poise, and great care in dealing with a real problem in the church.

Our evening plenary speaker was Dr. Paul Benware.  Dr. Benware spoke from the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 and gave a significant discussion about the difference between this parable and the Parable of the minas in Luke 19.  He gave a very intriguing and interesting take on the salvific status of the “third slave” in the parable of the talents from a classical dispensational perspective that helped really put the challenge of this parable in perspective.  It was a real encouragement to think critically and deeply about literary and cultural context!

So after only one day, we have been challenged, encouraged, and equipped a great deal.  Here is to day 2!

If  you’re at the conference, what has been your favorite session so far?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Yay for Grammar!

I just saw this post from Bill Mounce on Koinonia, and thought it was a helpful analysis:

http://www.koinoniablog.net/2011/10/antecedents-and-faith-eph-28-9-monday-with-mounce-113.html

It's short and to the point. Salvation is all by grace, through faith, and that salvation is a great gift from God.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Scandal of Grace, by Jim McNeely

This post is written by Jim McNeely. He can be reached at jim@thereforenow.com.  His site, http://thereforenow.com is a great resource for Free Grace thinkers.
 
It has fallen to me recently to teach a group of youth at our church, so I have seized the opportunity to walk them through the book of Romans. I told them that it would change their life forever, but that it was going to be difficult, it was going to have times that it would be dull, and that I didn't think that most of them were up to it. They got excited!
 
What is amazing is that these are young teenagers who have very little theological training or understanding, in fact it is a bit embarrassing that they are so uninformed about the Bible and basic theology. However, just as in every circle, as we have begun to see the message of grace unfold, there are two distinct camps. There are some who love the message of grace, and some who are scandalized by it. In fact I have never seen a works salvation position so nakedly espoused with such passion as by a particular young man in the group. The simple gospel from the pages of the New Testament is beautiful and scandalous in every case.
 
I was praying and reflecting on this, and the obvious truth of it hit me. This is a spiritual issue, and it requires a spiritual solution. It is simplistic to say only that this needs prayer. It does, of course need prayer, but what exactly are we praying about? We have to present an extremely clear message to guide people to the point of such prayer. Grace is scandalous to the fleshly mind, and we ought not be surprised when people resist the message. It does not do to try to soften or cover the scandal of it, but on the other hand this is really an evangelistic situation. God is seeking to woo, to court people, and He is far more interested than we are in getting the message of the gospel across to dissenters. We must begin to think of people who resist grace for who they really are - unbelievers. Whether they appear to be religious or profane, if someone nullifies the propitiatory work of Christ and seeks justification by a form of works, they are rejecting Christ. God is not willing that any should perish, but as long as they seek to self-justify they are up to their own inadequate resources to achieve justice and significance.
 
Here are what I consider to be the essential points of the message of true grace which prove to be so scandalous to the fleshly mind.
 
The love of God, the wrath of God, and the justice of God
 
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, (Romans 1:18, NASB)."
God is love. He clearly loves all men, and always acts in all cases from love. All other aspects of God stem from love. He hates sin because He greatly loves us. His justice is love and loving hatred of sin spread across all men. Because He greatly loves, He will not let the tiniest little sinful thought go unmet with justice. If we merely make these things into dry necessary points of doctrine, instead of reasoning with clear and emotionally rich understanding, we will lose people.
 
The purpose of the Law
 
"19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God;
20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19, 20, NASB)."
 
The law serves to show us that we are indeed one of the many who have fallen short of the glory of God. The law shows, not just that all have sinned, but that I myself have sinned. The law shows me that if God is love, then I am the object of God's wrath. If someone does not know this fear, and does not understand that good justice stands against them, their need for redemption will not be clear. This must be a knowledge that applies to the inner conviction, the conscience, the secret mind.
 
The propitiation
 
"24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;
26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-26, NASB)."

This puts us in a terrible predicament. We cannot justify ourselves. If a rapist and murderer comes to trial, is it enough for him to "repent", to promise to never rape again? It is absurd; the crime that was already committed must be punished. All sin is like this. Mere resolve for future reform cannot possibly answer for sins already committed. It would be unjust. We are indeed lost, terribly lost. Part of the scandal that must be pressed is that repentance in the sense of a promise of moral reform is absolutely useless and offensive in procuring God's forgiveness. God will not be manipulated by our puerile and ridiculous "repentance" from surface behavior problems.
 
Instead, Jesus has stepped in. He is "just, and the justifier." (Romans 3:26) He has suffered the wrath of God's justice on our behalf, which apples "to the one who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:26)
 
It must be clear, therefore, that in Christ, and Christ only, we are justified. It is essential that no further work be added. There is no sense in which He is "Lord" that supersedes His Lordship in terms of being just and justifier. The agent of our justification must not EVER be soiled by the idea that we must also show evidential works of righteousness. Christian virtue can never rightly come to fruition if the secret threat of punishment enters back in, if the believer goes back to the coercion of law. It is a gift, and one does not earn or pay for a gift.
 
Christian Living
 
"1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?
2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?
4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4, NASB)."
 
If we actually believe that Christ only is our justifier, that we must not add our virtue as a necessary requisite for our redemption, it is inevitable that the question arises: "Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?" It is always the first question. It is the question of the offended flesh. If your preaching and teaching and dialog does not raise this question, you are most certainly not making the free gift of justification clear. Christian virtue, virtue which comes from grace, cannot be stripped of the supernatural. The law seeks virtue based on the flesh, human effort stripped of supernatural influence. It proposes that God's blessings come once we meet the conditions of the law. Grace offers supernatural blessing as a gift, without coercion or threat. It offers the opportunity to choose virtue for its intrinsic beauty, virtue as a blessing because of love.
 
Practical Thoughts
 
In conclusion, we who believe in the grace of God in Christ, ought not to minimize the scandalous nature of the message. We must pray for the Holy Spirit to enlighten the eyes of the hearts of those we seek to influence, but if we do not press the essential truths of the gospel home to the point where they offend the flesh, we do not give the Holy Spirit opportunity to work in the minds and hearts of unbelieving self-justifying hearers. We must not be swayed by stories of friends who believe and yet go on in lives of sin. The gospel stands alone, true and powerful, and only the gospel has the power to reconcile men to God and to live for God from their inner secret heart. Because some people are fools and use the gospel as license to lead perverse ugly disgusting lives does not make the gospel untrue. We must teach and press the pure unadorned grace of Christ and pray for God to speak to the hearts of those around us. We love, because He first loved us!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

From the President -September 2011


Greetings in the Grace of God,

     The fall brings a new season for ministry. Many of us serve as pastors, elders, missionaries, counselors or directors of diverse ministries. Each new season provides us with new opportunities to live and proclaim the Grace of God. In my role as a seminary professor I have the privilege of teaching a new group of students. One of the joys I have is to pray for discernment as I search for those students who are open to understand the free grace message manifested in the Bible and help them see the theological implications and personal applications.
     As I begin my 18th year as a seminary professor I have the delight of looking back to see many students who have embraced the message of Free Grace and who have gone on to be faithful pastors and teachers of the matchless grace of God. As I watch these men becoming so capable and faithful in their ministry for the Lord, it is truly motivational for me and enables me to keep on keeping on, and I hope it is the same for you. Let me encourage you in whatever aspect of ministry you are serving to make sure you are investing your self in the lives of men and women who will be able to invest in others. In a sense we need to remember the old Greek proverb and see ourselves as, “planting trees whose shade we will never sit under.  Paul commands us through his words to Timothy, “And the things that you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach to others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). This is labor intensive and can also be at times inconvenient.  But then again, is this not what it means to “make disciples”?
     Free Grace Theology needs to be passed on to the next generation. Some will write books and deliver papers about our views and some will preach sermons.  But for most of us our books, papers, and sermons will be written on the pages of people’s lives in whom we have personally invested our time and talent. 
    
Count the Days and Make the Days Count. This is a good perspective for those who know that the return of our Lord could be “today” and know as well that we shall stand before Him to give an account of our lives. A life well lived for the Lord is the topic of the upcoming FGA conference October 10-12 in Phoenix, Arizona. Let me invite you to join us as we explore how we are to “Grow in the Grace of God”.  Our plenary speakers include Dr. Dave Anderson, Dr. Charlie Bing, Dr. Paul Benware, Dr. Mike Stallard, Dr. Michael Cocoris, and Pastor Bob Kerrey, along with 17 workshops leaders. This year’s banquet speaker is John Cross, General Director of Goodseed International. Phoenix is a beautiful place in October with plenty of activities to enjoy pre or post conference. Please come and join us as we seek to grow in grace and honor the Lord.

Serving Him with you
Until He comes for us,

Fred Chay, Ph.D.
President, Free Grace Alliance


Friday, June 3, 2011

Don’t Church It Up!

Grace-Filled Evangelism in Preaching and Teaching

 
It has been said by many that Christianity is always one generation from extinction.[1] Thus the gospel of faith alone in Christ alone must go out clearly and succinctly to fulfill the task of evangelism that God has called us to as His ambassadors.[2] We must also be diligently mindful of what the Apostle Paul proclaims with vigor:
 
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed![3]
We must pay special attention to the presentation of the gospel message lest we fall under the curse[4] that Paul proclaims for those who bring a message that does not line up with the simple message of faith alone in Christ alone for eternal life.[5] We cannot fail to preach the Gospel, for Jesus has commanded us to make disciples in Matthew 28:16-20 and Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 9:16 that we are compelled by God to preach the gospel.
 
Since we are compelled to present the gospel message of eternal life through faith in Christ, and since God is keenly interested in keeping that message profoundly clear of works and completely centered on His gracious offer of eternal life through the work of Christ[6], it becomes our highest mandate to maintain a truly free offer of eternal salvation in our preaching and teaching ministries.
 
This mandate is achieved through a two-part process that must guide us in all of our preaching and teaching: we must (1) understand the text that we are preaching, and (2) communicate it clearly and simply. 
 
These two concepts will be fleshed out in subsequent posts, but for starters let us ask the question of how we fall off the beam. How have you seen the gospel message “churched up” and because of that obscured?  Have you done it yourself or been subjected to it in church, Sunday School, or elsewhere?  How have you stopped it in your own teaching or confronted it in ministry?
 

[1] The origin of this saying is hidden in the past, and has been attributed to different authors, speakers, and theologians. Perhaps it is best to simply see it as an axiom of the church.
[2] 2 Cor 5:20
[3] Galatians 1:6-9, NASB
[4] The term ἀνάθεμα (anathema), which Paul pronounces upon those who bring a different gospel, refers to that which has been cursed. (BDAG) In the LXX it translates the Hebrew חֵ֫רֶם (herem) as a rule, which refers to something that has been “devoted” to God and is therefore unable to be reclaimed. Paul’s likely intent here is to have the Galatian church remove anyone from their church who taught them a different message than that which they had received from him.
[5] Cf. Gal 3:26.
[6] Ephesians 2:8-9

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Change of Mind about Repentance: Do you Dare?

By Dr. Fred Lybrand
 
Repentance has been a sticky issue and has been around as a major conversation piece since the Reformation. I know, because ‘my view’ (which I found out I share with Dr. Elliot Johnson of Dallas Theological Seminary) has been labeled an error by those involved in the Marrow of Divinity Controversy way back in the 1600s! Of course, no need to get excited, every view on the planet and throughout history is an error to someone or some group.
 
So, the issue of concern here --- is repentance necessary to get saved (as in from-hell-to-heaven)? If it is necessary, then is it a part of saving faith? These are the essential questions. There are many views, often being represented as repentance meaning the necessary turning from all known sin (and interest in future sin, usually) to ‘believe’ in Christ. In this regard, some purveyors of salvation make repentance as much of a part of faith as they do works (see http://www.backtofaith.com).
 
I have a bit of an uncommon solution, and I’d like your thoughts on the matter. Here are the two parts of my thinking---
 
1. Repentance is a precursor to faith, but is not a part of faith.
2. Repentance is not causally connected to faith.
 
Of course, I mean ‘saving faith’ here; the kind that delivers the faith-in-Christ-alone soul from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col 1:12-13).
 
When I say it is a precursor, I mean that repentance is necessary-but-prior to faith alone in Christ alone. In a similar way to hearing the Word is repentance’s role in the process (Romans 10:17). Said differently, one must hear before he believes…so too, one must repent before he believes. I really don’t want to exhaust the references in a blog post, but I will make a simple observation. Repent and Believe are different words…that’s a clue! People are always attempting to merge these things, but they don’t need merging they need sequencing. John Calvin saw repentance as FOLLOWING faith in Christ (a little publicized fact). I believe the Bible is clear, but only if you rightly understand repentance to mean “a change of mind.” Of course, each context dictates the nature of the ‘change’---sometimes it is a change of mind about sin, but sometimes it is a change of mind about the object of our faith. Zane Hodges proposed it was a change toward God, but that is just a theological imposition. Hermeneutically, all we can do is take the ‘change’ element and look to the context to understand repent-from-what-thing (?). Simply put, we turn from whatever we have been trusting (self, works, or our admiration for Gandhi *see Rob Bell*), and turn to trust in Christ and His finished work on our behalf. If one does not turn from a failing object of faith, then one cannot put faith in the right object (Christ alone). Sorry.
 
That repentance is not connected to faith should be obvious, but it is not, of course. To prove this we only need to show that the excluded middle (as it were) is being ignored. Here’s what I mean--- If one is saved only by faith in Christ, then we can know that if one is unsaved he does not have faith in Christ. Like “love and marriage,” you can’t have one without the other. Right?
 
Well, repentance does NOT work that way. People can repent with great conviction and fervor, but it means nothing without faith alone in Christ alone. Otherwise, what could Hebrews 6:1 possibly mean when it denigrates “repentance from dead works?”
 
Try it this way:
 
Just because you repent, why does that meant you have believed?
 

If you can repent without belief, then you can’t be sure that you have believed just because you have repented.
 
This really is the crux (pardon the allusion) of the problem! People are actually putting their faith in their repentance (so called), instead of in the Savior. The reason they do that is that they have wrongly co-mingled faith and repentance.
 
Far better to keep the ideas separate just as the words are different. I encourage you to call people to repent when you share the gospel…but call them to repent from the misguided objects of faith which obscure their vision of the no-addition-needed Savior. Repentance is before Faith, just as hearing is before repentance. It is in this way that we can maintain Faith-Alone-In-Christ-Alone.
 
Please share your thoughts!
 
God bless,
Fred Lybrand

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Education or Indoctrination?

I am getting to that time in my semester at school where my students are nearing turning in research papers.  They just wrote a test for me which needs to be graded, but looking at it reminded me of the real difference between education and indoctrination.

Indoctrination:
1 : to instruct especially in fundamentals or rudiments : teach
2: to imbue with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle
 
Education: (technically educating but education is defined as “the art of educating”)
1 a : to provide schooling for <chose to educate their children at home>b : to train by formal instruction and supervised practice especially in a skill, trade, or profession
2 a : to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by instruction b : to provide with information : inform <educating themselves about changes in the industry>
3: to persuade or condition to feel, believe, or act in a desired way <educate the public to support our position>
 
So of course in a grace-centered way, which are we trying to do with those who we are trying to train to see God’s grace in salvation and sanctification?  Are we trying to indoctrinate or are we trying to educate?
 
To me, the difference in approach is critical.  The Pharisees spent a lot of time indoctrinating.  In Acts 15:5 some believers who were Pharisees argued that all Gentiles needed to get like them in every respect before they could be acceptable in the church.  They had a very narrow idea of what it meant to be a believer and they wanted everyone to be exactly like them.  In other words, they focused on indoctrination!  Their “sectarian opinion” was that Gentiles needed to be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses to be part of the church.  The Apostles, though, said no way.
 
The counterbalance to this approach is found a couple of chapters later, in Acts 17.  As Paul traveled on his second missionary journey he encountered some opposition to his teaching, but in Acts 17:11 Luke speaks approvingly of the people of Berea. When Paul came and preached to them, they searched the Scriptures for themselves.  Paul gave them information and appealed to them to believe in Christ, but he didn’t browbeat them.  He focused on education, not indoctrination.  And as a result, these noble Bereans believed in the grace of salvation by faith alone, both Jews and Greeks.
 
So within the span of a couple of chapters of Acts we can see the difference between a desire to indoctrinate and a desire to educate.  It seems clear that the grace of God is served when we pursue the latter rather than the former.  I firmly believe that if we teach people good Bible interpretation skills, educating them on the need for a literal, grammatical, historical approach, and then give them the options on how to view the biblical text then many if not most will see it from a Free Grace perspective.  We won’t win the hearts of all, but we will help many see the true freedom of eternal life in Christ by faith alone plus nothing in Christ alone plus nothing.  The alternative, to me, just doesn’t work and in fact seems to go against the grain of Scripture.
 
What do you think?  How do we best help people see the grace of God?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

President's Letter - April 2011

Greetings;
In the world of theology and ministry there seems to always be something going on, and it is imperative that we be aware so that we can beware of such goings on.
All of us are theologians of one stripe or another. Some of us are paid to think and teach theology and others are not. But it is imperative that we all have and hold a biblical theology. It is essential that our theology be clear, coherent, consistent, comprehensive and complete. However, on this side of heaven it also means that there is the need for balance, living with some tensions and being willing to know that some things we cannot know or at least not know completely.  As Calvin said, “We must as go as far as Scripture and no farther”.
The latest challenge to the evangelical world comes from the hand of Pastor Rob Bell and his book “Love Wins”.  Many having read the book feel that Bell is articulating a view that could be called Universalism, in which hell will one day be empty. This is not simply annihilation theology where people go out of existence. This actually articulates that all will be saved because “God’s love wins in the end.” In a sense this is actually creating a hierarchy of God’s attributes. It is placing love above God’s justice.  God is love and a whole lot more, but He is all of them and one does not trump another.
We of the FGA are in no way Universalists and yet we do believe in the grace of God and His expression of that grace through His love.  But we must make sure that we do not project an image of grace on steroids and thus eliminate the fact of a future judgment and the final justice of God.
The glorious grace of God provides eternal life by faith alone in Christ alone, but that does not cancel out eternal judgment.  For those of the FGA, we are to lead feed and protect the people of God as we also reach out to a lost and dying world.
FGA members have been busy in preaching, proclaiming and training leaders in the grace of God. To mention only a few; Dr. Charlie Bing along with Dr. Roger Fankhauser and Todd Mathis continue to train pastors around the world in free grace theology. Dr. Jerry Burnett, John Correia, Sam Sacco, Brian Fergus, Jeff Bauer, Dr. Ed Clavell, Dr. Paul Benware, and Brian Reed are teaching free grace theology in Bible, theology and psychology departments at Arizona Christian University as does Dr. John Hart at Moody Bible institute and Dr. Gary Derickson at Corban College. In terms of institutions, Free Grace Seminary, Grace School of Theology, and Chafer Theological Seminary continue to offer a free grace theology degree program to the next generation of leaders. Dr. Larry Moyer and the EvanTell team continue to train thousands in how to do evangelism as they seek to keep the gospel free and clear. Bret Nazworth, Bob Tebow, Steve Johnson and many others who provide leadership in mission agencies, and the missionaries who bring the good news to a variety of fields around the world, continue to hold to the free grace message. Add to this the hundreds of pastors involved with FGA who diligently teach and preach the Word of God week in and week out as they seek to feed, lead, and protect the flock of God.
The purpose of the FGA is to Equip, Encourage, and Connect Leaders in Free Grace Theology. It looks like we are still on target. In order to help you stay on target, let me invite you to put on your calendar the FGA National Conference October 10-12 in Phoenix, Arizona.  This is an event designed entirely for the instruction, edification and building up of Free Grace Alliance members. Please see our website for more information.
Serving Him with you
Until He comes for us,
Dr. Fred Chay
President, Free Grace Alliance

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rob Bell and the Deadly Trend in the Free Grace Movement

Br Dr. Fred Lybrand


Let's have a discussion.


So, Rob Bell writes a book called "Love Wins" and it is basically all about heaven and hell with a final conclusion that Love wins out; God's love will ultimately persuade everyone to embrace Him and His heaven.  It sounds like universalism, but Bell and others are also denying it.  You can call it what you want, but if everyone gets in, then salvation is clearly 'universal' (hence the name).


Of course this is unabashedly anti-scriptural (nice interview here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Vg-qgmJ7nzA ), but what is behind his conclusion?  Cynically we could speak in terms of fame and fortune as motivating Bell to depart from the historic / biblical Christian faith.  I, however, think there is a far more simple way to think about it theologically.  Bell has just imposed a hierarchy on the attributes of God.  The net result is that Bell has taken grace (he says love, but a loving God must be gracious) to the extreme.


Face it---if God is gracious wouldn't He save everyone (that's the idea)?  If you are gracious to save one, you are even more gracious to save two.  If you are loving enough to save one, you are even more loving to save two. The more the merrier...why not just save all?  Rob Bell is simply running one piece of the puzzle to the extreme.  This is the kind of logic behind Paul's accusers in Romans 3:8, that grace was un-boundried.




In Back to Faith (http://www.backtofaith.com) I have an appendix dealing with Antinominism.  Basically, I point out that the real antinomians are the universalists.  Rob Bell is the end result that Lordshippers and Legalists think our theology leads a person to conclude.


Though I have fought against the legitimacy of that accusation, I'm starting to waver a little.  It may be that some of us are flirting with the same deadly trend we see in Rob Bell.  I believe some of us are starting to create a hierarchy within the attributes of God to our own demise.  If this is new to you, then indulge the thought for a moment.  God has a nature (complex of attributes) which includes such things as love, holiness, justice, mercy, omnipotence, etc.  These attributes essentially describe God and the way in which He functions as best we can discern from the revelation through His Word.  When we understand God's attributes as perfectly balanced within His person we are fine, but if we begin to elevate one attribute above another, we reshape the very nature of God.  Consider how different each of these 'gods' would be:


1.  A god who is more justice than mercy
2.  A god who is more love than justice
3.  A god who is more forgiveness than truth


Each one would be different from the other.  The other attributes aren't excluded, but they are subservient.  In a similar way, if we make any person of the Trinity 'more' and another member 'less'---then the doctrine of the Trinity collapses.


So, what of us in the Free Grace Movement?  What is our danger?


Simply put, many of us have been overly concerned about Reformed Theology, especially as it shows up in the various renditions of DORT.  The theory is that if you buy one part of the '5 Points' you must buy them all.  Of course, it is the Calvinists who try to insist upon this...and some of us just follow along.  Mostly it is a definitional problem and an allegiance to a theology over Scripture.  Personally, I am clearly a 'moderate Calvinist' (labels being what they are), but I am also Free Grace to the core.


Here's the deadly trend--- we have folks in our Shire who are saying that the Doctrine of Election cannot be true because "What love is that?  How could a loving God who can elect whomever He wishes elect some to hell?  What love is this?"  I believe that there are many assumptions in this argument that don't match the record or Calvinism; however, the BIG ISSUE is that the love of God is being elevated above His sovereignty (at least).  Indeed, I have friends who try to argue that sovereignty isn't much of an issue because it isn't mentioned the Bible (counter arguments: see the word *Trinity*).  Of course, even the definition of love is warped a bit in the argument as well (a different post should address this).


In any case dear friends, please consider that what is happening is an elevation of one attribute above the others in the very nature of God.  God's nature is complete and balanced unto itself.  This is why the Cross makes such sense given the character of God.  Justice and love are perfectly balanced in the death of Christ for us.


Rob Bell has elevated one attribute above the rest, and so he is off to sup with universalism.


However, are we much different?  Are we elevating one attribute of God above the others?  It doesn't take much math to see how this trend leads us astray.  Are our accusers on to something?  Are we forcing categories on God to make our own theology work?  I find comfort in mystery, not knowing how it all works.  I find fear in tampering with the Word of God.


God help us.


Grace and peace,


Dr. Fred R. Lybrand


P.S.  Please tell me what you think...let's have a discussion.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lordship Salvation, Free Grace, and Pascal’s Wager

Have you ever thought of preaching the message of God’s grace in terms of the probabilities and consequences that you’re right?

Most of us are at least passingly familiar with Pascal’s Wager, a logical premise by which it was sought to say that the only reasonable course was to worship God because it had no negative consequences and only possible positive consequences.  While there are certainly deficiencies in the argument, it nevertheless has some merits.

I was having a discussion with a student earlier this semester where this idea came floating into my mind.  My student had a friend who said, in effect, that if Reformed theology (i.e. Lordship salvation) leads people to be scared or lack assurance, then hey at least they are saved.  This got me thinking about the relative merits and dangers of preaching Free Grace versus preaching Lordship salvation.  This is not to debate the relative merits of the positions, but merely to look at the relative risks and dangers of each.

This is what I came up with:

Slide1

Along the top is the two possibilities under consideration, namely whether LS or FG is true.  Along the side are two actions, namely whether we preach LS or FG. (note that this is why it resembles Pascal’s Wager)  In this scheme, if LS is true and we preach LS then God is glorified and the elect will come to faith and persevere.  If FG is true and we preach FG then God is glorified and many come to faith alone in Christ alone.  Both of those are good results.

It’s in the negative boxes that an interesting truth presents itself.  If LS is true and yet those who are FG still preach FG, that doesn’t take God by surprise.  God is not glorified by that, but within the Reformed system irresistible grace WILL draw the elect to faith.  They WILL believe in Christ as Lord and Savior and they WILL persevere.  While some will have false assurance on earth, the only ones who have false assurance were reprobate anyway!  They only have false assurance for a short time and will end up in hell, just as God foreordained.  Therefore in an absolute, eternal sense nothing is lost.

However, if FG is true and LS is preached there is great danger.  If FG is true, decisions matter, and LS is a works-based salvation based on my perseverance and fruit, then not only is God not glorified but many are led to hell who might not be.  If FG is true but LS is preached, just as bad is that many true saints are robbed of their assurance on earth and, because of that lack, do not stay faithful to Christ like they could have with proper motives.  They are robbed of their faithfulness at the Bema seat of Christ.  Therefore, in this paradigm there is real, eternal risk.

So in light of this, there is little risk to the FG preacher if they are wrong, but great risk to the LS preacher if they are wrong.

Now, I will admit that I have not noodled through every nuance and permutation of this.  However, the idea has been rattling around in the mush of my brain for a bit so I wanted to get it out there and get your thoughts.

What do you think of the analogy?  Is the logic sound?  Is it reasonable?  Has someone done this already and I missed it?

Friday, March 4, 2011

President's Letter - March 2011

                                                                                                                                           March, 2011
Dear FGA members and friends,
One of the most strategic philosophies of the Free Grace movement over the years has been the tactic of focusing and grounding the issue of grace theology on a proper exegesis of individual passages in the Bible.
We are all too aware of the danger of grounding our views in the man-made systems of theology. For even the best of them, although attempting to be coherent, consistent and comprehensive, at times fail due to allegiances formed by a prior commitment to a system that has as its foundation  a system of theology that is less than biblically based.
This being the case, it is imperative that we make sure that we not only continue this foundation, but that we also make sure the next generation is able to not only engage in proper theological reflection and articulation, but even more so that they are able to do proper exegesis. Don't get me wrong, there is a need for a systematic Free Grace Theology. And by the grace of God we are beginning to see some Free Grace Theology textbooks coming into existence. But these must come about only as we have made sure to ground our theology on proper exegetical procedure and proper hermeneutical principles.
Many of us in the FGA have attended advanced Bible training institutes, Bible colleges and or seminary. That means that many of us have been trained in how to study the Bible or have had a course in Hermeneutics. Might I challenge each of you who have so been trained to make sure you are passing on to others the joy of learning how to study the Bible. I teach Hermeneutics at the seminary level for a living. But I also have just finished teaching a group of laymen a 6 week 2 hour per week course on Bible study methods. (Prof Howie Hendricks lives on forever.) I have done this for the past 33 years. Many of you have done the same both here in the U.S. and overseas. Literally thousands of people have learned how to study the Bible on their own. (If this is not part of 2 Timothy 2:2 then I do not know what is.) I believe this focus on the text has kept the grace issue alive and well.   So here is the bottom line:
"If you can, do --- If you cannot
then find someone who can help you."
 If you can teach others how to study the Bible for themselves then might I challenge you if you are a pastor or church planter to form a group from your church each year and plan to teach some of your people the joy of discovery. If you are a layman, who has been trained in how to study the Bible, ask the Lord to lead you to others whom you can teach.
If the Free Grace movement loses its focus on the text and its ability to exposit the text then we are one generation from - if not extinction, then irrelevance.
Serving Him with you
Until He comes for us,
 Dr. Fred Chay
President, FGA

Monday, February 14, 2011

The wrong program

by Ryan Lambros
 
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
 
I upgrade my PC from Vista to Windows 7 about a month ago. I love the change. However, recently I had a serious problem. My lovely computer would freeze up on me right after starting it up. After running numerous diagnostic tests, of which I had no clue what they mean since I’m not a computer nerd, it showed I had a hard drive error. Darn it. So, I searched Google to see if anyone else had this problem and if there was fix. After sifting through tons of people basically telling me that my hard drive was a “goner” because my hard drive had been fried by a virus, I found a different perspective: the wonderful cause of the defective hard drive was directly associated with an antivirus software I was using! After simply uninstalling the antivirus software, my computer worked flawlessly. The reason was that the antivirus software was not designed to work correctly (although sometimes it could) with my upgraded Windows 7.
 
I won’t say what software it was. I am not into bashing certain products. If you want to know then you can ask me personally, but I found it really fascinating that the one thing I relied on to protect my computer’s brain was the one thing that was corrupting it. This brought to mind a spiritual aspect Paul discusses with his audience in Galatians. His main point for the letter was to bring them back to the Gospel of Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone as opposed to a legalistic “gospel” that proclaimed salvation by adherence to the law.
 
Paul’s intention was never to “bash” the law and state that it served no purpose or had no place.
 
“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:23-26)
His intention was to show that:
 
“…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal. 2:16).
 
Paul shows that the law is deadly when it is applied as the Gospel. Through Christ we are free and are no longer to submit to legalism. Yet, how often do I apply legalism as the Gospel. I put so much trust in doing good things, keeping the “laws” of God, and operating out of legalism instead of out of God’s grace!
 
Just like I trusted my computer’s antivirus program to protect my computer, which it actually turned out to damage it more, so often do I trust my heart’s “antivirus” program (legalism) to protect my heart, thus hurting ME more. It slows my relationship with God. It “freezes” me in my pursuit of holiness. It discourages me when I try to “operate” in God’s plan for my life. What we need is to apply the new antivirus…the true Gospel of grace.
 
Let me tie this metaphor together (even though, like all metaphors, it eventually breaks down).
 
The upgrade to Windows 7 is like Christ’s redemptive work for us (I may get struck by lightning for comparing Windows to that, but oh well). The old antivirus software used is the law. It worked with the old system (pre-Christ) fairly well. Sure, any antivirus shouldn’t be needed, but every computer has problems (metaphor for indwelling sin? Eh, maybe a bit much). The old antivirus didn’t totally fix every problem every time, but it allowed for Vista to operate well. Yet, once the upgrade happened, I no longer needed the old antivirus; I simply needed to apply a “new antivirus.” In fact, by keeping the old one around, I was hurting myself even more.
 
The same applies to us when we attempt to operate out of legalism (old antivirus) instead of grace (the new antivirus). We are using “old protection” on a system that has been upgraded (Christ’s redemption). Oh yes, legalism can give you a wonderful assurance of security, satisfaction, and self-righteousness, but realistically it will fry your heart (hard drive).
 
Applying the Gospel to our lives is like using the new antivirus. We have been redeemed by Christ and that gives us freedom! We are not to trust in the old antivirus, but we are to trust in God’s grace of the Gospel! Only when we apply the Gospel will our hearts be free to run without freezes, not slowed down, and never ultimately crash. What was “good” before can be such a detriment to our lives now.
 
Are you using the old antivirus of legalism to rule your heart? Or are you using God’s antivirus of grace to keep your heart free, running the race set before you? We have a new antivirus that was provided for us by God: grace through Jesus Christ. Will you trust in that or the crutch of legalism to help in your pursuit of holiness?
 
Ryan Lambros is an FGA member and has worked in youth ministry in several capacities.  He graduated from Southwestern College (now Arizona Christian University) with a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration.  He can be reached at ryan@maricopasprings.com.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Branch is a Branch…

By Dr. Fred Lybrand
Okay,
So I'm in the shower (weird how we think there) and I'm going over John MacArthur's view of John 15 about abiding (in my mind). I listened to MacArthur at a pace of 6 tapes a week for two years in my early days after coming to faith.
He described the branches that were 'thrown in the fire' as false branches (Judas Branches). Lest you think I'm making this up, I tracked it down:
There were the true branches and there were the false branches in the analogy. The true branches are represented by the eleven and the false branches are represented by Judas Iscariot. That whole thing flows out of the context of Judas' betrayal. And at that point, the "In Me" simply means "identification." I don't think you can push too much theology into that "in Me" and say that it means absolute conversion. It's attachment at that point, that's all. And I think you have a Judas branch, and I think what it's saying is that there will be people who will attach themselves superficially to Christ but in evidence bearing no fruit at all, will ultimately be cut off and cast into the fire because they show they have no life, because if they are had any life at all, they would have fruit. So I think it's a graphic illustration of the whole context of what the disciples have just been through with them as compared to Judas.
(from: http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/1301-N-8.htm )
So, I did a little more digging and found that my old pastor and teacher Ken Gangel said something similar in the Holman NT Commentary on John 15:
15:6. Verse 6 narrows other possible interpretations of verse 2. We struggle a bit with the words, "he cuts off." But thrown away and withers takes it further than we want to go in any reference to people who may have been true believers at one time. Certainly the words thrown into the fire and burned could never refer to those who were at one time true believers.
Blum treats this carefully and wisely:
These words have been interpreted in at least three ways: (1) the "burned" branches are Christians who have lost their salvation. (But this contradicts many passages, e.g., 3:16, 36; 5:24; 10:28-29; Rom. 8:1.) (2) the 'burned' branches represent Christians who will lose rewards but not salvation at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:15). (But Jesus spoke here of dead branches; such a branch "is thrown away and withers.") (3) the "burned" branches refer to professing Christians who, like Judas, are not genuinely saved and therefore are judged. Like a dead branch, a person without Christ is spiritually dead and therefore will be punished in eternal fire (cf. Matt. 25:46) (Blum, p. 325).
(from Kenneth O. Gangel, vol. 4, John, Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference, 283-84 [Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000]).
Yes, of course it is strange that fire means literal hell in an analogy...and...yes, of course, it is strange that 'in Me' doesn't mean 'in Me' (within their own view) consistently throughout the passage.
But what really struck me under the 98 degree stream of water was the whole idea of a FALSE BRANCH.
The reason this struck me (all these years later) is that there is NO SUCH THING in reality as a FALSE BRANCH. There are parasites (mistletoe) that look like they belong to the tree, yet Christ clearly (and easily could have said that) said the were vine branches. Back then there were no such things as ARTIFICIAL BRANCHES either. Artificial came along with wax and plastics and science ('contrived by art' around 1300AD). Christ is using a real, live thing as an illustration.
When the Lord uses sheep, He says some of the sheep are "not His." He does not say that they are false sheep (you know...look like the real thing...but really aren't sheep). False prophets are still real people and false teeth are still used for teeth....and, we know where these things come from.
But, where would a false branch come from? In nature (certainly in the NT era) no one had a notion or word for 'false' branch (any more than they would have for a false rock, stream, or fish). The branches are real, and they are In Christ. Obviously you must understand Him to be speaking of losing salvation or losing reward (see 1 Cor 3).
From Whence Cometh this Interpretation?
Necessity...and...it turns out to be a wonderful example of eisegesis, or imposing meaning on a text. Since Blum/Gangel exclude any alternate meanings of the word 'dead' in the context, they miss the obvious nature of the warning for believers. Therefore, with that as impossible and losing one's justification as impossible (I agree)---all that is left for MacArthur, et al, is to make up the notion that there could exist in Christ's mind (and on the earth) the idea that some branches (in Him) are actually fake or artificial branches.
I love these guys and I have no bones to pick, but all of us must learn to be very, very careful when we handle the Word of God. Saying, "It must mean A because B is false elsewhere, can easily tempt us not to read the actual words of the text."
My practice is to try to settle on a meaning from the immediate passage BEFORE I compare it to other places in the Word. The comparison is valuable, but it is a dangerous way to interpret a passage by imposing meaning from elsewhere right off the bat! The Analogy of Scripture is great, but you must inductively begin with the parts rather than than the whole.
So, what do you think?
Fred Lybrand’s bio may be found here.
http://www.backtofaith.com