Easy Believism
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Surprisingly, there are quite a few internet sites discussing “Easy Believism.” The Gospel proclamation of salvation by God’s grace, through faith, can be diluted into a caricature that makes it seem as if it’s possible for a person to become a Christian without any change in behavior. The logic seems to be that you can’t be saved by works, so your works don’t matter. Just believe in Jesus, and you can be secure in your salvation.

Now, you don’t have to read far in the New Testament to realize that this isn’t true. Sincere repentance is part of the challenge Jesus brought throughout his ministry, and as the Gospel spread, people who believed always responded with confession of sin and dramatically changed lives. Paul went so far as to say they became “new creations.”

And yet, “easy believism” has always been an attractive alternative pseudo-gospel. Throughout church history, there have been an ample number of preachers ready to offer shortcuts, halfway-covenants, how-to formulas and comfortable reassurances. This is certainly true as well in our twenty-first century American churches, in which material affluence and unlimited opportunity are assumed to be our birthright.

In the 1950s, Norman Vincent Peale attracted many followers through his book, The Power of Positive Thinking, as well as his weekly radio programs which followed the same theme: Your personal salvation will come from closing your mind to negative messages and fully embracing the positive — what you believe you become. Peale never pretended to be an evangelical,* but today you can listen to back-to-back TV preachers proclaiming a similar message as Biblical truth. They seldom talk about personal sin and the need for repentance. Instead, they encourage people to reach out and take God’s blessings, which are hanging like fruit from a tree. There is no cost, and no effort is required. It’s all free and abundant. This is a popular kind of “easy believism.”

There is another expression of “easy believism” that takes on many shapes and sizes. It’s the fascination with new ideas, fads, practices, legends, conspiracy theories, lost Gospels, revelations, secret numbers etc., etc., etc. It’s amazing that people who are skeptical about what God reveals in the Bible will swallow just about every other bizarre teaching without blinking. Hollywood can sell any movie that has to do with a Lost Ark or a secret code on a DaVinci painting, not to mention an exorcism of a demon from a child. The public eats these things up.

But here’s what doesn’t sell — the day-to-day reality of an emerging Christian life, as a believer struggles to submit to the challenges of obeying the Lord, of trying to put others before self, of avoiding the pitfalls of fleshly indulgence. What lead actor would accept a part in this movie?

Yes, salvation is by God’s grace alone. And this grace is so awesome and unlimited that, as Paul wrote, “where sin increases, grace abounds all the more” (Romans 5:20). But just after these words in Paul’s letter, he confronts the “easy believism” that some of his readers may falsely conclude from his grace teaching:

“What then are we to say? Should we continue to sin in order that grace may abound? No way!** How can we who died to sin go on living in it? . . . Our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:1-2, 6)

Christian faith can never be reduced to an “easy believism.” God’s grace is much more muscular than that! His salvation is total and eternal.

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* Adlai Stevenson, a presidential candidate in 1952, said, “Speaking as a Christian, I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.” Not at all relevant to this article, but a great quote.

** This modern exclamation seems to me to be a good way to translate the strong Greek expression, which is pretty anemic in many English versions.