Free grace salvation means we are forgiven, justified, and saved solely by God’s grace, and not by any human effort or merit. All humanity is inherently sinful and unable to earn entrance into heaven. Our good works do not save. They never have and never will. Salvation is entirely a work of God. He offers it to sinful humanity as a gift, given freely and unconditionally to all who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, believing He died for our sins, was buried, and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). Faith in Christ is the only condition for salvation. Faith does not save. Christ saves. Faith is merely the instrument by which we receive the free gift. And we are saved by grace, which means we don’t deserve it. Scripture reveals, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Some think their obedience to the Law saves them; however, “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal 2:21).
The Bible reveals we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). Paul is emphatic that we are justified by faith and not by works, saying, “to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom 4:5). Justification is a single act that occurs at the moment we trust in Christ as Savior. It’s a one-and-done event. At that moment, we are declared just in God’s sight, not because of any righteousness of our own, but because of “the gift of righteousness” (Rom 5:17) that God gives to us at the moment of salvation. This is God’s righteousness, and is gifted to us “apart from works” (Rom 4:6). It is “the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil 3:9). It is this free gift of God’s righteousness that makes us acceptable in His sight.
Furthermore, at the moment of faith in Christ, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7), have “passed out of death into life” (John 5:24), are given “eternal life” (John 10:28), and are among those “whose names are in the book of life” (Phil 4:3). As a result, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). We will never experience the Lake of Fire. Never. As Christians, “our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20).
Good Works Should Follow Salvation
Once saved and justified in God’s sight, the Lord directs us to “press on to maturity” (Heb 6:1). That is, to grow up spiritually and become mature Christians who walk by faith (2 Cor 5:7; Heb 10:38). This glorifies God, edifies others, and results in the best life possible in this world. Good works is what God expects of His people. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). Paul wrote, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph 2:10). The Lord instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit 2:12) and to be “zealous for good deeds” (Tit 2:14). We agree with Paul who wrote, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10). God clearly calls His people to a life of obedience and good works. There is no question about this. The Scriptures are plain on the matter, instructing us, “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (1 Pet 1:15).
What About Lordship Salvation?
Though good works should follow justification, they are never the condition of it. Unfortunately, there are some who teach Lordship Salvation, which conflates justification with sanctification. Justification is single event whereby we are declared righteous by God at the moment of faith in Christ. Sanctification is the process of growing spiritually and advancing in a life of good works. Those who advocate Lordship Salvation teach that in order to be saved, one must believe in Christ as Savior AND submit to His lordship, which means committing to a lifetime of obedience. According to John Frame, “you cannot accept Christ as Savior without accepting him as Lord…To receive Jesus as Lord is to make a commitment to keeping his commandments.” And John MacArthur wrote, “Saving faith is a commitment to leave sin and follow Jesus Christ at all costs. Jesus takes no one unwilling to come on those terms.” Though I love these men and appreciate much of their writings, I disagree with them on this matter, as their view presents salvation as a two-step-process where faith + commitment = salvation. They teach faith in Christ PLUS a total commitment to a life of obedience. According to Charles Bing:
“This view [of Lordship Salvation] demands that a person is saved through faith, but a faith that commits and surrenders to Jesus as the Lord of all of one’s life. In other words, commitment and surrender are conditions of salvation. Resulting from this starting point is the belief that a true Christian is therefore one who evidences that commitment and surrender in a life of good works…[in this view] God’s grace is no longer free, faith becomes works, and the unbeliever is subject to a performance basis for acceptance with God.”
Problems with Lordship Salvation
There are several difficulties with Lordship Salvation. Firstly, it fundamentally undermines the concept of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and appeals to those who, in pride, feel they can earn their salvation by means of good works. Such a view naturally becomes anthropocentric rather than Christocentric. No greater offense can be given to a legalist than the concept that salvation is entirely and freely by grace, as it gives all glory and credit to Christ, leaving none for them. Let them be offended, and let all glory rest in Christ alone! Secondly, it destroys one’s assurance of salvation, for if one’s eternal destiny is dependent on ongoing obedience, that person will never know if they’ve done enough to prove they were saved in the first place. Add to this the reality that sin is still present in an ongoing way in the life of believers (requiring regular confession; 1 John 1:9), it means sinless perfection will not happen this side of heaven. This means believers will never know if they’ve done enough to prove their salvation to themselves or others, for if their salvation (hypothetically) requires a hundred good works, how do they know it’s not really a hundred and one, or a hundred and two? They don’t know, so assurance is lost. But God wants us to have assurance, as the Bible states, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Thirdly, those who feel like they are displaying a lifestyle of good works that proves their salvation, there is the possibility of swelling pride and an attitude of condescension as they become fruit inspectors in the lives of others. In this case, legalism will fill the heart, and we know “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Prov 16:18). Fourthly, Lordship Salvation can be confusing, overwhelming, and discouraging for the new Christian who probably knows little to nothing about the Bible and his new relationship with the Lord. Because we cannot live what we do not know, learning God’s Word necessarily precedes living His will. But this takes commitment, humility, and time. And even when we know God’s Word, it’s no guarantee we’ll obey it. This is why James wrote, “prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves (Jam 1:22), and “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (Jam 4:17)
Salvation is Free
Salvation is free. Paid in full by the Lord Jesus who died in our place on the cross, Who “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). Once saved, God calls us to a lifelong process of sanctification. Sanctification is the life we live after being justified, and this process continues until we leave this world, either by death or rapture. The sanctified life requires us to learn and live God’s Word (2 Tim 2:15; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18), walk by faith (2 Cor 5:7; Heb 10:38), be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16), and make ongoing good choices to stay on the path of God’s will.
What Happens When We Sin?
Do we sin as Christians? Yes. We sin as Christians. It is possible for a Christian to sin, and to sin as badly as any unbeliever. However, unlike the unbeliever, God disciplines His own (Heb 12:5-11), which includes the removal of eternal rewards (1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 John 1:8), and, if necessary, disciplines the Christian to the point of physical death (1 Cor 11:30; 1 John 5:16). It’s never the will of God that we sin, but when we sin, it’s always His will that we handle it by means of confession (1 John 1:9), and then get back into our walk with the Lord.
Let’s be those Christians who commit ourselves to the Lord, learn and live His Word, advance to spiritual maturity, live holy lives, and live sacrificially for the good of others. This glorifies God, edifies others, and results in the best life we can live in this fallen world.
Dr. Steven R. Cook
- The Gospel Explained
- The Manifold Grace of God
- A Look at Grace
- God’s Imputed Righteousness
- Not of Works
- Christianity is Not a Religion
- Restoring Fellowship with God
- When a Believer Perpetually Sins
- Divine Discipline for the Christian
- The Lord is Slow to Anger
- Great and Least in the Kingdom of Heaven
- God’s Grace is Sufficient
 John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 197.
 John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1988), 87.
 Charles C. Bing, Grace, Salvation, and Discipleship: How to Understand Some Difficult Bible Passages (Brenham, TX: Lucid Books, 2015).