The problem of easy believism is a legitimate threat to Christian orthodoxy, but to properly address how it departs from biblical doctrine, it is important to identify its characteristics and to guard against its misrepresentation. In the first place, it is vital to establish that easy believism is distinct and separate from the biblical pattern of gospel preachers articulating the facts of the gospel and telling sinners to believe that gospel. The biblical presentation of the gospel as the message of Jesus Christ is clear: He lived a life of perfect obedience, He died for our sins in a sacrificial and substitutionary death, and He rose from the dead (1 Cor 15:1-4). The means by which this gospel is appropriated in the life of a sinner is through faith and repentance, both of which are graces given by God (faith as a gift, Eph 2:8-10; Phil 1:29; repentance as a gift, Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25). The Bible frequently links justification (the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) to the instrumentality of faith. We acknowledge that faith itself is a gift of God, but this does not mean we do not call on sinners to believe the gospel, but just the opposite – we call all men everywhere to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Mk 16:15). The sovereignty of God, in which He gives the grace of faith to His elect, does not minimize the use of the means of gospel preaching that calls hearers to believe that gospel (Rom 10:14-17). This is the gospel logic that underlies Paul’s invitation for the Philippian jailer to believe on Christ (Acts 16:31), Jesus’s invitation for “heavy laden” sinners to “come” to Him (a metaphor for believing on Him) in Matthew 11:28-30, and Yahweh of Israel’s calls to “look” and “come” (Isa 45:22; 55:1). In sum, gospel preaching is articulating biblical truth based on the consistent exegesis of scripture.
However, easy believism replaces the biblical pattern with a formulaic approach that obscures or truncates gospel truths into an oversimplified presentation. For example, one version of easy believism rushes sinners through the “Romans Road” which consists of a handful of verses in Romans such as Romans 3:23; 6:23; 10:9; and 10:13. In this scenario, the evangelist or “soul winner” will stress the sinfulness of man, death as a penalty for sin, and the need for sinners to call on God to be saved. However, in many cases, the “Romans Road” presentation skips over a more robust presentation of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and the need for sinners to receive the imputation of Christ’s righteousness by faith (Rom 4:22-25; 5:12, 18-19). Upon getting the sinner to generically agree with his guilt and the need to call on God, the “soul winner” leads the sinner through a “sinner’s prayer” followed up by a similarly hurried presentation of “eternal security” based on proof texts such as 1 John 5:13. Based on this interaction, the “soul winner” assures the sinner that he should never doubt his salvation, and thus, the “soul winner” counts that sinner as being legitimately converted. This is consistent with certain strands of Arminian or synergistic theology that affirm the sinner’s will as being ultimately determinative of one’s salvation, which is contrary to Scripture (Jn 6:44; Rom 9:16).
Worse yet, by giving sinners a premature dose of assurance, those who practice easy believism proceed to undermine the biblical doctrine of sanctification. While we can appreciate their desire to protect justification by faith alone by guarding against any sort of mixture of human works, and while it is important to resist those who would undermine the grace of God in so doing (cf. Rom 11:6), the Scriptures present justification and sanctification as being distinct and yet closely related in the experience of the believer in Christ. In the Second London Confession of 1677/89 (2LCF), chapter 11 (“Of Justification”), paragraph 2 helpfully explains this when it states, “Faith thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument in justification; yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.” If a sinner is justified freely by God’s grace, there will be good works in his life, and while those works do not contribute anything to his salvation, they are “the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith” (2LCF 16:2). Easy believism tends to focus on the work of Christ in dealing with the penalty of sin (justification) but gives little attention to the work of the Spirit in dealing with the power of sin in the Christian life (sanctification). For “soul winners” that rush to present the “Romans Road” or other similarly constructed “gospels,” there is a tendency to neglect the doctrine of sanctification in the Christian life which leads to defective churchmanship and a host of other practical problems.
Therefore, while easy believism may include a call to believe of some kind, it is different than true gospel preaching. To confuse easy believism with true gospel preaching is wrong. Instead of labelling the biblical pattern of gospel preaching as “easy believism,” we would call those who do so to study the issue, learn the differences, and to conform to a biblical view of the topic.
- The Good News: what is the Good News (“Gospel”)?
- The Lawful Use of God’s Law: clarifications on the three uses of the law
- A Necessary Distinction: the distinction and relationship between justification and sanctification
Written by Pastor Jim Butler, with contributions from Isaac Szijjarto.