“Easy Believism.” It is a big problem in American Christianity today. What is “easy believism”? It is a very prevalent but false understanding of saving faith which is rooted in the decisional theology of certain forms of American revivalism.
Easy-believism misinterprets the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone by reducing saving faith to a one-time decision of the will to “accept Jesus as personal Savior.” Accepting Jesus as Lord is viewed as advisable but not necessary for salvation. (To demand from sinners repentance from sin and the acceptance of Jesus as Lord in order to be saved is viewed as “works righteousness” by proponents of easy-believism.) From the standpoint of easy-believism, if you’ve made that one-time “decision for Christ” (usually by praying a “sinner’s prayer” or going forward for the “altar call” in response to an evangelistic appeal), then you are eternally secure and bound for heaven, even if you live the rest of your life in wilfull, unrepentant sin.
Of course, from a biblical standpoint there are many things wrong with easy believism. For example, easy believism is rooted in a very superficial view of human sin and of the human will. Easy believism at root assumes an unbiblically low view of seriousness of human sin, and thus a much too high view of the power of the human will. In the theology of easy believism, man has enough inherent goodness left in him to at least make a one-time decision for Christ without the assistance of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. But the Bible teaches that man apart from Christ is dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), and that those who are “in the flesh” (i.e., unconverted, devoid of the Holy Spirit) cannot please God (see Romans 8:5-8). If the unconverted man (the man who is “in the flesh”) could make a genuine, saving “decision for Christ” by his own power, without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, then obviously such a saving decision would be pleasing to God.
But probably one of easy believism’s biggest errors is its misinterpretration of “faith”. Easy believism equates saving faith with a one-time “decision” of the will to “accept Jesus as Savior”, while Scripture teaches that the faith by which we sinners receive salvation is an abiding in Christ (see, for example, John 15:1-7). Saving faith is not a one-time “decision for Christ”; instead, it is an abiding, ongoing, confident trust in and reliance upon Christ alone for salvation from sin as He is offered in the gospel, a confident trust produced by the Spirit of God through the word of the gospel (John 1:12-13; Romans 10:17). Saving faith doesn’t just “decide” for Christ once and then have done with Him. No, saving faith clings to Christ daily, continually, as the only hope for salvation.
Any Bible-believing Christian who is familiar with the world of American Christianity knows that “easy believism” is a very common problem in this country. How many there are in America today who rarely (if ever) darken the door of a church, who never read their Bibles and hardly ever pray (except when they want something from God, whom they conceive of as a “cosmic bellhop” who exists to make them happy and give them stuff), and who basically live lives of narcissistic self-indulgence, but who nontheless imagine that they are “saved” because they prayed some magic “sinner’s prayer” or walked an aisle once at a revival service in response to an “altar call.” I say this is a problem because, from a biblical standpoint, such “Christians” have been sadly, dangerously deceived by a false, soul-damning gospel – the “gospel” of easy believism. When taken to its logical extreme, easy-believism is quite simply a false gospel under the anathema of God (Galatians 1:8-9).
So, what is to be done about the problem of easy believism? What is the solution to this problem?
Sadly, some Christian leaders (even some who would identify as Reformed) seem to think that the best way to combat “easy believism” is by what I would call “hard believism”. In other words, they think that the way to win over those who have been deceived by the heresy of easy believism is to re-double their emphasis on the Law of God and on Christ’s call to discipleship, and to step up their calls for professing Christians to examine themselves as to whether or not they “really” believe.
Now, certainly God’s Law is good, righteous and holy (Romans 7:12), and it must be preached by the faithful pastor. God’s Law not only provides us believers with an objective guide to our sanctification in showing us a life that is pleasing to God, but more important to the issue at hand it exposes our sin and our need for Christ. And certainly the call to faith is closely connected to the call to follow Jesus as a learner (the meaning of “disciple”) of the kingdom way. Likewise, there are certainly times and occasions when it is wise for professing Christians to examine themselves before the Lord (for example, Second Corinthians 13:5; First Corinthians 11:28). But while these may help to address certain aspects of the heresy of easy believism, I do not believe they are the solution to the problem of easy believism.
What, then, is the “solution” to easy believism? Not “hard believism.” Not more emphasis on God’s Law. Not more calls to “radical discipleship.” Not by incessantly calling upon congregants to question the genuineness of their faith through soul-searching self-examination. Instead, ironically, the solution to the heresy of easy believism is to proclaim the gospel of justification by faith alone in all of its fulness and freeness!
The Law of God is good, but it condemns us as sinners and law-breakers. Christ’s call to discipleship is vital, but it (like the Law) reveals to us just how far short we fall when it comes to living up to Christ’s lofty call to “radical discipleship.” And an over-emphasis on self-examination inevitably ends up ministering to doubt rather than to faith, thereby leading sensitive or overly-scrupulous believers down the pathway toward despair. But the gospel of God’s free gift of forgiveness in Christ by faith alone inspires within us a love for the Savior who died for us and a deep desire to cast off sin and to live in grateful obedience to the One who loved us so!
After explaining the universal sinfulness of mankind and God’s solution to human sin through the justification of sinners in Christ, the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans addresses this question in response to the gospel he preached: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1, ESV) Apparently there were some in the early church who either misinterpreted Paul’s teaching on salvation by grace as a license to sin, or else Paul’s enemies slanderously misconstrued Paul’s teaching on grace as involving such a license to sin. This was basically an ancient type of “easy believism”.
How does Paul respond to this ancient version of “easy believism” – this idea that God’s grace gives believers a license to sin?
Does Paul turn to emphasizing the demands of God’s holy Law?
Does he launch into an exposition of Christ’s call to discipleship?
Does he urge the duty of self-examination before the Lord?
What, then, does Paul do? He takes his readers back to the implications of the gospel!
In answer to the question of verse 1, Paul responds as follows:
“By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:2-4, ESV)
Paul takes his readers back to their union with Christ in His saving death and resurrection, a union signified and sealed to them in their baptism. In other words, he reminds them of the gospel of their salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ, and he draws out for them the practical implications of their saving union with Christ. Because they are “in Christ” (as signified and sealed to them in holy baptism), how can they imagine that the grace of God gives them a license to sin? In Christ they have, in principle, “died to sin”. The gospel of God’s free forgiveness in Christ does not give them a license to sin. Instead, it summons them to “walk in newness of life” because of their union with Christ in His death and resurrection!
In conclusion, what is the solution to the prevailing problem of easy believism? Certainly not “hard believism”. Not law-preaching. Not moralism. Not more calls to “radical discipleship.” Not piling more burdens upon lost souls to “do more, try harder” (thereby turning the “light” and “easy” burden of Christ’s yoke – Matthew 11:28-30 – into a heavy millstone about the sinner’s neck). Instead, the solution to this heresy is ultimately the solution to all heresies: the gospel of Jesus Christ in its biblical clarity and fulness!
If we in the church want to counteract the problem of easy believism, let us seek to proclaim and make known the biblical good news of free and full salvation in Christ with greater clarity and emphasis. Moralism and law-preaching (minus the gospel) kill true holiness, but the biblical gospel inspires us believers to walk in newness of life, not out of a sense of guilt and duty, but out of love and gratitude toward the Savior who died for us.