April 4, 2013

Can You Be a Christian and Not Love Jesus?

by Nathan Busenitz

I wrote a version of this article several years ago for the Pulpit blog. But the issue came up again in my seminary classes just this past week. In light of that discussion, I thought it might be timely to introduce the subject again, here on the Cripplegate.

At its heart, I believe the lordship debate can be boiled down to this one question: Can a person truly be a member of God’s family and yet not be characterized by a love for Christ? Or to put it more directly, Can you be a Christian and not love Jesus?

The Free Grace advocate, in order to be consistent with the non-lordship system, must answer “yes” to this question. Thus, in his book Absolutely Free!, Zane Hodges vehemently rejects the assertion “that no true Christian fails to love God” (p. 130), accusing those who hold this belief as teaching a form of works-salvation. In the words of Hodges, “The scriptural revelation knows nothing of a doctrine in which Christian love for God is guaranteed by the mere fact that one is a Christian” (p. 131).

In other words, according to Free Grace, you can be a Christian and not love Jesus.

The Free Grace position is perhaps best illustrated by an example given by Zane Hodges. This quote comes from a message that Hodges delivered at the Church of the Open Door, pastored by G. Michael Cocoris. The series of tapes is entitled, “Great Themes in the Book of Hebrews.” The online source for this quote, along with several other similar quotes, comes from here.

I have a friend, and more than a friend, a man who labored with me side by side in the ministry of God’s Word in the little group that has become __________ Bible chapel and this friend has fallen away from the Christian faith. He graduated from Bob Jones University and from Dallas Theological Seminary. And about the time when he and his wife left Dallas his wife contracted a very serious illness which over the years got progressively worse until she was reduced to being a complete invalid, and after the death of his wife I visited my friend (who now lives in the Midwest and who teaches Ancient History in a secular university).

And as we sat in the living room together, face to face, he told me very frankly but graciously that he no longer claimed to be a Christian at all, that he no longer believed the things that he once preached and taught, and the situation was even worse than he described because I heard through others that in the classroom on the university campus he often mocked and ridiculed the Christian faith. As I sat in that living room I was very painfully aware that it was impossible for me to talk that man into changing his mind. It was impossible for me to talk him back to the conviction he had once held. It was impossible for me to renew him to repentance. You want to find someone harder to deal with than an unsaved person? Find a person like that….

Oh how disgraceful for a man to have known the truth and proclaimed the truth and then to deny the truth! He has put the Son of God to an open shame! Well you say, “I guess he’s headed for hell, right? I guess he’s headed for eternal damnation. He’s renounced his Christian faith.” Wait a minute. I didn’t say that, and neither does the writer of Hebrews. Let me remind you that Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He that cometh to Me shall never hunger and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.” And He also said, “He that cometh to Me I shall in no wise cast out.”… God’s will is that He lose no one (John 6:37-40). He has never lost anyone and He never will! And I grieve because my friend and brother has lost his faith but Christ has not lost him. He has lost his faith but Christ has not lost him! Do you believe in the grace of God? (emphasis added)

That is an astounding conclusion, especially in light of the New Testament’s emphasis on the perseverance of true faith and the dangers of apostasy. Nonetheless, it is statements like this that characterize the “Free Grace” (non-lordship) position, and help underscore the need for a biblical response.

By contrast, the lordship view asserts that all true believers will be marked by a genuine and life-long love for their Savior.

Those who do not love Jesus demonstrate that they are not truly Christians. A person might give intellectual assent to the facts of the gospel, but if his life is void of love for Christ, he is still lost in his sins. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.”

There are many places in Scripture where this point could be defended. Of these, one of the most straightforward is John 8:42. In this passage Jesus Himself makes the issue unmistakably clear. Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.”

The weight of our Lord’s words settles the issue: Those who do not love Christ are not part of the family of God. And how can we know if we love Christ? Later in the gospel of John, our Lord answers this question as well.

John 14:15: “If you love me you will keep My commandments.”

And also John 15:14: “You are My friends if you do what I command you.”

According to the lordship view, repentance is a divinely-initiated, divinely-empowered, divinely-enabled change of heart, a turning from love for sin and self to love for Christ. It is not a human work, but is a gift from God (2 Tim. 2:25), in which He changes the sinner’s heart at the moment of regeneration.

If this change of heart has not occurred, then regeneration has not taken place either. But if regeneration has occurred, then the heart has also been changed. And if the heart has been transformed, it will evidence itself in a life of love for Christ and obedience to Him (the “fruits of repentance”—cf. Luke 3:8; Acts 26:20).

If there is no obedience, John 14:15 says that it betrays a lack of love for Christ. If there is no love for Christ, John 8:42 says that God cannot be your Father. And if God is not your Father, then you are not saved. In fact, if God is not your Father, your father is the devil, as Jesus makes clear just a couple verses later in John 8:44.

This is the essence of lordship salvation (coming straight from the gospel of John).

As the apostle John wrote elsewhere, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 John 2:3–6)

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • busdriver4jesus

    As a recovering refugee from a FG church, I shudder to think of the damage caused by this teaching… millions with a false assurance that they can be headed for heaven while they give Jesus the finger.

  • Thank you Professor Busenitz! This article brings great insight and clarity into this discussion. Thank you for your clear teaching of God’s word!

  • SuzanneT

    Yes, thanks for bringing clarity and insight to this indeed..

    I just never understood the LS “controversy”. I mean what’s the problem? God, by the Power of His Spirit, comes in and raises us from death to Life, we die to ourselves and come alive in Christ our LORD, He is our all! What part of that can possibly not be understood by a truly regenerated sinner?

    The exchange here illustrated by Zane Hodges is quite sad, but the man needed proper biblical counsel not a new (as such) theology!

  • Thanks for a Biblical defense of the truth Nathan.
    Jonathan Edwards’ “A Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections” should be compulsory/recommended reading for anyone who needs help on this subject. A free eBook is available for everyone here: http://www.searchandtrace.net/shop/a-treatise-concerning-the-religious-affections-by-jonathan-edwards/

  • Tom Drion

    Thanks Nathan, great article… would love to hear a follow up on “Can You be a Christian and Not Love Christians” – or “Can You be a Christian and Turn Your Back on Other Christians”
    I rarely comment, but am enjoying this blog greatly and am so grateful for it!

  • Phoenixrising212

    Ok so are you saying that we can be a Christian and not love Jesus, because that is not what the Bible says as quoted in your own article. However, if you are saying that a person who has left Jesus can come back to him, I completely agree.