There are many articles of faith that are fundamental to all evangelical teaching. For example, there is agreement among all believers on the following truths:
(1) Christ’s death purchased eternal salvation;
(2) the saved are justified by grace through faith in Christ alone;
(3) sinners cannot earn divine favor;
(4) God requires no preparatory works or pre-salvation reformation;
(5) eternal life is a gift of God;
(6) believers are saved before their faith ever produces any righteous works; and
(7) Christians can and do sin, sometimes horribly.
There is a dangerous distortion of the gospel being taught in many evangelical churches today. It teaches that Christians may completely abandon Christ, the church, the Bible, and live in unrepentant sin for the rest of their lives and yet still be assured of eternal life with God.
This teaching is sometimes referred to as “easy-believism.”
What does Scripture teach that is embraced by those who affirm a biblical view of regeneration and conversion but rejected by proponents of “easy-believism”? The following are nine distinctives of a biblical understanding of salvation and the gospel.
First, Scripture teaches that the gospel calls sinners to faith joined in oneness with repentance (Acts 2:38; 17:30; 20:21; 2 Pet. 3:9). Repentance is a turning from sin (Acts 3:19; Luke 24:47) that consists not of a human work but of a divinely bestowed grace (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25). It is a change of heart, but genuine repentance will also effect a change of behavior (Luke 3:8; Acts 26:18-20).
In contrast, easy-believism teaches that repentance is simply an intellectual change of thought and that no turning from sin is required for salvation. Many churches have adopted this view in contrast to what Scripture teaches. Grace is being viewed as a cover for unrepentant license and licentiousness.
Second, Scripture teaches that salvation is all God’s work. Those who believe are saved utterly apart from any effort on their own (Titus 3:5). Even faith is a gift of God, not a work of man (Eph. 2:1-5, 8). Because it comes from God and not man, real faith cannot be defective or short-lived but endures forever (Phil. 1:6; cf. Heb. 11).
In contrast, easy-believism teaches that faith might not last and that a true Christian can completely cease believing and yet still be assured of salvation and entry into heaven with or without faith.
Third, Scripture teaches that the object of faith is Christ Himself, not a creed or an experience or an altar call or a sinners’ prayer (John 3:16). Faith (belief) therefore involves personal commitment to Christ (2 Cor. 5:15). In other words, all true believers follow Jesus (John 10:27-28).
In contrast, easy-believism teaches that saving faith is simply being convinced or giving credence to the truth of the gospel and doesn’t include a personal commitment to the person of Christ in terms of daily life and practice.
Fourth, Scripture teaches that real faith always produces a changed life (2 Cor. 5:17). Salvation includes a transformation of the inner person (Gal. 2:20). The nature of the Christian is new and different (Rom. 6:6). The unbroken pattern of sin and enmity with God will not continue when a person is born again (1 John 3:9-10).
Those with genuine faith follow Christ (John 10:27), love their brothers (1 John 3:14), obey God’s commandments (1 John 2:3; John 15:14), do the will of God (Matt. 12:50), abide in God’s Word (John 8:31), keep God’s Word (John 17:6), do good works (Eph. 2:10), and continue in the faith (Col. 1:21-23; Heb. 3:14). These are not without failures and shortcomings, yet true believers continue to pursue righteousness throughout this life.
In contrast, easy-believism teaches that although some spiritual fruit may come, that fruit might not be visible to others and Christians can even lapse into a state of permanent spiritual barrenness (again with assurance of salvation and eternal union with God in heaven).
Fifth, Scripture teaches that God’s gift of eternal life includes all that pertains to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3; Rom. 8:32), not just a ticket to heaven when we die.
In contrast, according to easy-believism, only the judicial aspects of salvation (e.g., justification, adoption, and positional sanctification) are guaranteed for believers in this life; practical sanctification and growth in grace require a post-conversion act of dedication. Yet the Bible never teaches that sanctification involves a secondary post-conversion act of dedication.
The same faith that justifies a sinner before God is the same faith that also sanctifies. Without sanctifying faith there has been no justifying faith. True faith does both. They are two sides of the same coin. Where there is one, the other is also present.
Sixth, Scripture teaches that Jesus is Lord of all, and the faith He provides enables unconditional surrender of the will to Him (Rom. 6:17-18; 10:9-10). In other words, Christ has not bestowed eternal life on those whose hearts remain set against Him (James 4:6). More people don’t enter heaven simply because we change the terms of salvation. People don’t come to faith as a result of our redefining the gospel.
Surrender to Jesus’ lordship is not an addition to salvation; the command to submit is at the heart of the gospel invitation throughout Scripture. In contrast, easy-believism teaches that submission to Christ’s supreme authority is not relevant to the saving transaction and they give assurance to those who are unrepentant about their sin.
Seventh, Scripture teaches that those who truly believe will love Christ (1 Pet. 1:8-9; Rom. 8:28-30; 1 Cor. 16:22). They will therefore long to obey Him (John 14:15, 23). In contrast, easy-believism teaches that Christians may fall into a state of lifelong carnality without repentance.
Eighth, Scripture teaches that behavior is an important test of faith. Obedience is evidence that one’s faith is real (1 John 2:3). On the other hand, the person who remains utterly unwilling to obey Christ does not evidence true faith (1 John 2:4).
In contrast, easy-believism teaches that disobedience and prolonged sin are no reason to doubt the reality of one’s faith.
Ninth, Scripture teaches that genuine believers may stumble and fall, but they will persevere in the faith (1 Cor. 1:8). Those who later turn completely away from the Lord show that they were never truly born again (1 John 2:19).
In contrast, easy-believism teaches that a true believer may utterly forsake Christ and come to the point of not believing without repentance. They teach that if a person ever professed faith in Christ they are eternally saved even though they have become apostates to the faith once delivered to the saints.
No major orthodox movement in the history of Christianity has ever taught that sinners can spurn the lordship of Christ yet lay claim to Him as Savior.
Yet this is being taught in many evangelical churches in America today. The result is a corruption of the gospel which leads lost people to think they’re saved even when no change has taken place in their heart. It leads people to think that God accepts them on their own terms and lets them rule their lives without regard to Him.
This is a critical issue in the church. I have spent hours in conversation and in written correspondance with people who believe this way. I am astonished that this is actually being taught!
This issue is not a trivial one. In fact, how could any issue be more important? The gospel that is presented to unbelievers has eternal ramifications.
If it is the true gospel, it can direct men and women into the everlasting kingdom. If it is a corrupted message, it can give unsaved people false hope and leave them unaware of their impending damnation apart from genuine faith in Christ.
This is an issue that every Christian must understand in order that the gospel may be rightly proclaimed to all the nations.
With love in the Truth,