by Mike Ratliff
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV)
Several years ago my wife fell down stairs while visiting our daughter in Oklahoma. She broke her leg. She actually shattered one of the bones right above her ankle. It required surgery and some metal plates to be used to hold her bones together. Our former Pastor came and sat with me in the waiting room while my wife’s surgery took place. We discussed all sorts of things. One of the things that we spent a great deal of time on was Easy-Believism and how those who adhere to it have an incomplete view of God. He said, “It is quite foolish to think that one attribute of God, His love, can trump His Holiness or His Righteousness or His Justice.” This from a man who is not Reformed in his theology and has even preached sermons siding with John Wesley in the Calvinist vs. Arminian debate.
The Easy-Believism vs the Genuine Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ debate is not part of the Reformed vs. Arminian debate even though some are implying that it is. I have received several comments and emails from folks who are insisting that a series like this is an attack on the Love of God as expressed in the Cross by elevating God’s Sovereignty higher than the Bible actually does. Does God’s love trump His justice? Does His love trump His omnipotence? Does His love trump His Own Word in what He says about Himself?
There is one God, only one. He is the living God. He is not subject to the whims of Men nor is He limited in any way by creation. He is all sufficient. He is infinite and all knowing (John 4:24). He is perfect in all His attributes. He is one in essence, eternally existing in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). Each Person in the Trinity are equally deserving of worship and obedience.
God the Father orders and disposes all things according to His own purpose and grace (Psalm 145:8,9; 1 Corinthians 8:6). He is the Creator of all things (Genesis 1:1-31; Ephesians 3:9). As the only absolute and omnipotent ruler in the universe, He is sovereign in creation, providence, and redemption (Psalm 103:19; Romans 11:36). He refers to Himself and is referred to by the Son as Father because He is the Heavenly Father of all who are in His Kingdom. As the Creator of all things, He is the Father to all people (Ephesians 4:6), but He is the Spiritual Father only to the redeemed (Romans 8:14; 2 Corinthians 6:18). His glory is paramount and He has commanded all things that come to pass (Ephesians 1:11). His sovereignty is complete and within that He continually upholds, directs, and governs all creatures and events (1 Chronicles 29:11), but He is neither the author nor approver of sin (Habbakuk 1:13). Being Holy, Righteous, the coming Judgment is certain, therefore, the wise fear Him (1 Peter 1:17). He chose the elect in eternity before creating the world (Ephesians 1:4-6). He saves from sin all who come to Him, adopting them into His family (John 1:12; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5; Hebrews 12:5-9).
God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, possess all of the divine attributes of God the Father (John 10:30; 14:9). God the Father created everything according to His will through the Son (John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:2). At His incarnation as Jesus, the Son remained God. He only took on the essential characteristics of humanity except that He had no sin nature. In this, He became the God-man (Philippians 2:5-8; Colossians 2:9). Since Jesus Christ is both God and man, He represents both humanity and deity in indivisible oneness. (Micah 5:2; John 5:23; 14:9,10; Colossians 2:9). He was born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23-25; Luke 1:26-35). He was God incarnate (John 1:1,14). The purpose of His incarnation was to reveal God to man, redeem men, and rule over God’s Kingdom (Psalm 2:7-9; Isaiah 9:6; John 1:29; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 7:25,26; 1 Peter 1:18,19).
In His incarnation, the Son laid aside His rights as the second person of the Trinity, assumed the place of a Son, and became a servant. However, He remained God (Philippians 2:5-8). He ministered for three years when He came of age. At the end of that time, He was arrested, tried, and executed on a cruel cross. In this He accomplished the redemption of the elect through the shedding of His blood and death on the cross. His death was completely voluntary. While on the cross He took the judgment of the Father against the sin of the elect. This redeemed them and He became the propitiation for their sins (John 10:15; Romans 3:24,25; 5:8; 1 Peter 2:24).
All sinners who believe are freed from the punishment, the penalty, the power, and eventually the very presence of sin because of the efficacy of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. These believers are declared righteous by the Father. He gives them eternal life and adopts them into His family (Romans 3:25; 5:8,9; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). It is Christ’s resurrection on the third day that seals the justification of the elect. He is now at the right hand of the Father interceding for the elect as their Advocate and High Priest (Matthew 28:6; Luke 24:38, 39; Acts 2:30,31; Romans 4:25; 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 9:24; 1 John 2:1). Christ’s resurrection confirmed three things. First, He is God the Son. Second, the Father accepted the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Third, it guaranteed the resurrection of all believers. (John 5:25-29; 14:19; Romans 4:25; 6:5-10; 1 Corinthians 15:20,23). Jesus Christ is the one through whom God will judge all mankind (John 5:22-23).
Partially adapted from the Overview of Theology found in the John MacArthur Study Bible, pages 2192-2193.
Now, is God simply Love? Yes, He is love, but He is also Holy, Righteous, and Just. The Cross is incredible. Through it, Christ purchased His people. He bought them with the price of His blood. Amen! Praise the Lord! However, does this nullify God’s character? Is He not going to judge the living and the dead? I am very grateful that my sins have already been judged. However, those who do not believe, being dead in their sins, are condemned already.
Easy-Believism is a form of the gospel whose advocates deliberately or intentionally refuse to include the necessity of surrender and submission to the Lordship of Christ at salvation. They also refuse to include the necessity of repentance from sin, but as we saw above, God’s interaction with Man is all wrapped up in saving men from the power and penalty and presence of sin without God having to violate His Holiness and Righteousness. He sent His Son to accomplish the redemption of those who will believe. To teach that He would then look the other way and not care whether a professing believer is walking in repentance or not is ludicrous.
I read one complaint today in which the person taking issue with this series used the thief on the cross as Easy-Believism in action. Didn’t Jesus tell the man that that very day he would be with the Lord in Paradise? All the man did was say, “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Is that all there was to it? Is this belief without repentance and submission to the Lordship of Christ? Here is the passage.
And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:33-43 ESV)
This is our Lord’s crucifixion. He was crucified between two criminals. As He was being crucified, what did our Lord say? He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Those crucifying our Lord took his clothes and gambled for them. People watched. Some mocked Him. Now look at the contrast between the two criminals. One showed his faith by saying that Jesus was the Christ so why didn’t He save Himself and these two fellows. What sort to faith is this? Isn’t this the same faith we see in those who come to Christ in order to “get.” This is dead faith. This is the faith the natural man has. What about the other criminal? What did he say? First, he rebuked the first criminal saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” Is this not contrition born from a heart that is under conviction and is repenting? Notice, he now fears God and sees His sin. He sees that his punishment is just. This is a heart touched by the grace of God. He believes and recognizes that Jesus is really the Christ then says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This is a recognition of Christ as Lord for He understood that He was indeed the King of God’s Kingdom. I love our Lord’s response to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” God is faithful. He saves all of His people by grace through faith, which is a gift from the Father. No one can work for it or deserve it.
My brethren, is this passage of the thief on the cross an example of what we are calling Easy-Believism? No, it isn’t All along we have been saying that God will save His people even when the one sharing the Gospel with them messes up. The tragedy of Easy-Believism is the validation to untold numbers of professing Christians that they are really saved even though they are not surrendered to the Lordship of Christ nor are they able to walk in repentance. Those who are doing this will have to answer to the Lord about this. Let us not make that mistake.
Soli Deo Gloria!