Precisely Personal

It’s been a good while since I wrote anything about the Free Grace Food Fight — for a long while, there didn’t seem to be much to say. Of late, I had occasion to interact with a GES ally, and found that the discourse has (and in some ways, hasn’t) shifted. The current presentation, according to him, looks something like this:

If these 3 things are true of a person then that person is saved no matter what misconception he may have or hold…

  1. The right vehicle for reception of the gift of God: faith
  2. In the right Person: Jesus of Nazareth
  3. For the purpose of receiving the benefit of His offer: eternal life.

If it’s the correct condition – faith – in the right Person – Jesus of Nazareth – for the benefit He offers – eternal life – then this man is saved no matter what misconceptions about reality he may have. Period.

This person has, with the divine needed precision, fulfilled the condition to receive everlasting life.

Compared to that simple and precise formulation, I’m told, my own position is imprecise and will lead people to doubt. I see two problems here.

First, the precision they think they have is largely an illusion. It looks pretty clean: three well-formed, carefully worded statements, and that’s that. All neoclassically bright and shiny; what could be the problem? The problem is that in order for those statements to convey the precise meaning they have in mind, the terms have to be defined. Chiefly: Who is this Jesus of Nazareth? Without a definition there, the statements don’t mean much, and once we start defining who exactly we mean by “Jesus of Nazareth,” we’ll find that the position is a bit more complicated than they’re letting on.

Second, my position only looks imprecise from that vantage point because they’ve committed a serious category error. I actually agree that the Bible has specified precisely what is required to receive eternal life. It’s right there in John 3:16: believe in Him.

The difference between us is that they think “believe in Him” is imprecise shorthand, and their three propositions define it more precisely. I do not agree. That position requires an unstated (and insupportable) premise: that faith is always and only assent to certain specific propositions. If that is the case, then we can quibble over the exact content of the propositions (and boy, have we!), but something like their position absolutely must be true.

However, the unstated premise is flawed. Faith is a fundamentally personal interaction that can be truly described in propositions but is not reducible to them. You trust in Jesus to save you; that’s all. What if you stole a candy bar or committed a murder? Trust in Jesus; He’s got it. What if you flunked a soteriology exam? Trust in Jesus; He’s got it. Even if it was that really short exam from Evangelism Explosion? Yes, even then. Trust in Jesus; He’s got you. What if I somehow trust Him wrong? He’s already planned for that. Trust in Jesus; He’s got you.

There is no precise mechanism. There is no mechanism at all. There is a Person, arms outstretched, ready to rescue anyone who calls to Him for help. “Believe in Him” means precisely what it says: trust in this Person, and He will save you. It is as simple as that.

In nearly 20 years of pastoral practice and nearly 40 years of evangelism, I do not find this message to be grounds for a lack of assurance.


3 Responses to Precisely Personal

  1. David Wyatt says:

    Praise the Lord Bro. Tim, I absolutely could NOT agree more. I love my brothers and sisters at GES as you do, but their later position (Not so much the earlier one from their inception), the one that you outlined here, had caused me MUCH doubt in the past. The Lord has graciously walked me through this and I praise His name that He has used it for His glory as I could never have worked myself out of the fog and despair it brought. I cannot blame anyone but myself, but I’m so thankful that His love seems even clearer now that He is walking me through it hopefully to somehow help others in some way. Anyway, thank you dear brother for this.

  2. David Bell says:

    I’ve always appreciated your input on this subject, Tim. You’ve helped me a lot and I think I’ve got a grasp on the issue until I run into Mormons whose propositions are so messed up! So I’d like to ask, if I might: where do you begin when witnessing to them?

  3. Tim Nichols says:

    David, I start the same place as above: Who is this Jesus of Nazareth? Let’s dig into the four gospels that we all agree are Scripture and find out. I generally start with the gospel of John. In both LDS and Muslim traditions, the gospels are highly valued, but many people haven’t ever read them. Most folks welcome the opportunity to sit down and read together.
    And you’ll get more out of it than you think — seeing the gospels through the eyes of someone who’s reading them for the first time is a special thing.

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