What’s Wrong with “The Four Spiritual Laws”?

When I was a new convert, I was taught to use a little booklet called “The Four Spiritual Laws” to present the gospel. This presentation was intended to furnish every believer with the necessary equipment to effectively convey the gospel to unbelievers, making everyone an evangelist. It contains some of the fundamental truths of the Scripture, and presents them in an orderly and logical way, so that it is very easy to understand. The same kind of presentation is still being taught and used today. Unfortunately, it is defective in some very important ways; and tends to mislead people into a false and meaningless profession of faith, which is a great evil.

Let us now examine the case in detail, in order that the criticisms which I have made can be established by the claims of this tract, compared with the teaching of holy Scripture.

Here are the Four Spiritual Laws, as found at the website, www.4laws.com.

1. God loves you and created you to know Him personally.

2. Man is sinful and separated from God, so we cannot know Him personally or experience His love.

3. Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for man’s sin. Through Him alone we can know God personally and experience God’s love.

4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know God personally and experience His love.

It is wholly unlike the evangelism of Jesus

And first, nowhere in the gospels do we find Jesus telling a sinner, at the first contact, that God loved him, or that He had a wonderful plan for his life, or that God wanted a personal relationship with him. Yet the Four Spiritual Laws begins with the following words: “God loves you and created you to know Him personally.” The original version read, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”. I would argue, that if Jesus did not do this, then there must be some reason why He did not. This should at least be a caution to us.

It is wholly unlike the evangelism of the Apostles

Next, I would observe that there is no example, anywhere in the Apostolic preaching, of this kind of presentation.

If we examine the book of Acts, which gives us the inspired record of some of the Apostolic sermons and conversations, we will find that they vary greatly in content, depending on the occasion and the audience. But none of them begins with the declaration that God loves everyone in the audience, and wants them to be happy. As I said, the Apostles never start their messages in this way. I will discuss other reasons for avoiding this order of presentation, both psychological and doctrinal, at a a later time; but here the point is that, for whatever reason, the apostles never used it.

Neither Jesus nor the Apostles used a fixed formula in their evangelism.

The other point, which I have already touched on, is that neither Jesus nor the Apostles used a “one-size-fits-all” or “canned” presentation, or a formula in their evangelism. You may ransack the New Testament; but if you do, you will not be able to come to any other conclusion.

One might argue that they did not forbid the use of such tools; and that is correct. But should we not follow their example in this? I suggest that there is a good reason for doing so. For example, people are very different in personality, psychology, intelligence, education, experience of life, even in how they are feeling at the moment. There is no substitute for the sensitivity that allows us to “read” our hearer, and to speak to him in terms that take account of his personal perceptions and prejudices. We must also be sensitive to the guidance of the all-knowing Holy spirit, Who may move us to say something which seems odd to us; but is perfectly adapted to the person, whose heart is unknown to us.

Besides, the use of a formula is impersonal; and people do not usually open themselves up to impersonal presentations. Many of them will feel that you are trying to sell them something, and to manipulate them into doing what you want. Polite people will listen to you — politely — pray the prayer with you — politely — and then go on with their polite lives as if you had never been there.

Should we tell a sinner that God loves him?

God exercises a love of benevolence — goodwill — to all of his creatures, including sinful men. But this love of benevolence is not the love that moved God to send His Son into the world that we might be saved. It is the love that moves God to send rain upon the just and the unjust. It is the love that sustains and blesses men of all sorts through a kind providence.

The love that moved God to save sinners is a special love which He has for His chosen, and no others. That God has elected some men to eternal life, and not all, is the clear teaching of Scripture. There are more than sixteen occurrences of the word, “elect” in the AV New Testament. Six times, the word, “election” appears. Add to this the number of places where God’s people are said to be “chosen” — sixteen, and you have a total of thirty-eight. And this doesn’t include the number of times that the fact of election is referred to in other ways, or the references to “predestination”, which is a parallel concept. I urge the reader to run his own search of these terms, and read them in context. Perhaps the clearest proof-text is found in Paul’s epistle to the Romans:

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son.

And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? (Rom 9:6-24)

That these elect persons are the object of a special and redeeming love is just as plainly taught. Jesus went to the cross to save all those who would become believers — and no others. But Scripture teaches that only those who are called by an effectual call and regenerated by the Holy Spirit are able to believe. He gives faith and repentance and everything necessary to their final salvation as a free gift — not to all — but to His chosen ones.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. (Rom 8:28-34)

The meaning of “Redemption”

In fact, the word “redeem” and the concept of redemption appear throughout the Bible; but we never find a redemption of an indefinite set of people. It is never in doubt who is to be redeemed, for redemption is not the possibility of deliverance, but deliverance itself! Once the ransom is paid, the object(s) of redemption must be released. If Christ died for the redemption of every man, then all men must be delivered from the bondage of sin, that is, saved. But all men are not saved, therefore, Christ did not die for all men.

Furthermore, we believe that Christ died for our sins, to take them away by the substitution of Himself. Those for whom He was the substitute have had their sins taken away, and they can never come into condemnation. If He was a substitute for all, then all of their sins are taken away, and all of them must be saved. God actually punished particular sins, and once they have been punished, they can never be punished again. Justice is satisfied for those whose sins have been atoned for by Jesus Christ. But many men die in their sins, and are punished for them; therefore Christ did not die for all.

Christ died for His chosen people

This is why we find Scriptures which tell us that Jesus died for a particular group of people, like these:

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. (John 6:37-39)

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. (Ephesians 5:25)

[Note: This doctrine, often called “particular redemption” is further set forth, explained, and proved in my essay, “The Biblical doctrine of Particular Redemption”, also posted on this website. I am aware that a few particular texts of Scripture seem to be against this view, and that the prevailing teaching is that Christ died for everyone, to make it possible — not certain — that they might be saved. But the texts I have shown you, and the irrefutable proofs that I have given above are conclusive. No one who claims to believe in the infallibility of Scripture can evade the force of them, except by resorting to self-deception. There can be no room for doubt on this subject; so that any individual texts which seem to oppose this doctrine must have an interpretation that is in harmony with it, without twisting them. I have further addressed this in the essay on particular redemption referred to above.]

To tell a sinner, who shows no signs of penitence or even conviction of sin, that God loves him, is to tell him what he probably already believes to be true, but which you do not know to be true. It is therefore, a lie. He thinks that God must love him, because he thinks that he is a good person. It is the evangelist’s job to convince him that he is not good at all; but that he only thinks so because he loves himself supremely. He excuses all his errors except a few which he cannot, minimizes those he can’t excuse, and magnifies anything that he has done which he thinks proves him virtuous. To tell him that God loves him with a love that moved Him to sacrifice His Son for his salvation is to confirm him in his delusion. “Of course He did!” says the sinner. “I’m worth it!”

But no one knows that he is the subject of redeeming love until he is actually saved. And the benevolence of God, which extends to all men, is not sufficient to keep God from sending impenitent sinners to Hell! So it is incorrect and misleading to tell the sinner that Christ died for him in particular, on the basis of God’s general benevolence.

This distinction between redeeming love and general benevolence is therefore of the utmost importance. And the writer of the Four Spiritual Laws fails to make the distinction. This is because he does not believe in it. He was an Arminian, which is a theological term for those who believe that God loves everyone with the same kind of love. According to this view, God earnestly desires everyone to believe and be saved, but he leaves it up to them to make the choice themselves, because they all have the capacity to choose; and it would make man a mere automaton or puppet if God interfered with the freedom of his will.

God is Sovereign in salvation

But the Scripture teaches something quite different, namely, that God is the absolute sovereign, and that His will determines everything that comes to pass. If He wills that I should be saved, there is nothing in the world, least of all my puny will, that can stop Him from saving me. Consider the words of Jesus, as recorded in John 6:37-39:

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.

And John 6:44-45:

No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.

These words are explicit and plain. They echo the theme of God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation which pervades the whole of Scripture. Arminianism is really a philosophical scheme, imposed by men upon Holy Scripture. The basic argument is that man is just a puppet if God determines His actions beforehand. In other words, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty cannot be true, because we know that man has a free will. Thus the Scripture is made void by human reason.

The fact is, that nothing happens without a cause. There must be an underlying reason why we choose what we do, in any given case. The will cannot determine itself; for then the cause would be identical with the effect, which is nonsense. I have no trouble believing that I really choose what I will do; but that God is behind all my choices, carrying out His own plan without my knowledge.

Sinners are unable to choose Christ

But there is another problem with the Arminianism expressed in the Four Spiritual Laws. It assumes that man can choose Christ in the same way that one can choose to either get out of bed in the morning, or to stay in it and snooze for a while. There is a great difference between the choice of Christ and ordinary choices. It is this — that choosing Christ involves a complete transformation in us, which we as sinners cannot sincerely desire. By nature, we love our sins, and are loath to part with them. We are not interested in the pursuit of holiness, and we certainly do not want to hazard all for the love of Christ! How does it come about that some actually do choose that which their whole sinful nature is dead-set against? Can one ordinary decision of ours really bring about such a change? How do we then escape the bondage of sin? Does not Scripture say that Christ is the only savior from sin? If we have to save ourselves from sin in order to choose Christ, than He is not the savior; but we ourselves.

The Bible teaches that man is corrupted in his thoughts, his emotions, and his will. For him to repent of his sins and believe the gospel requires a work of the Holy Spirit called “the new birth” or “regeneration”. This must take place before he can choose Christ. Any mere “decision for Christ” that he makes prior to this work of God is futile, and will lead him to be a false professor, being under the deadly illusion that he is saved, when he is not. Thus, the Four Spiritual Laws endangers immortal souls!

Countless people have been “evangelized ” by the Four Spiritual Laws and by Arminian preachers like Dr. Billy Graham, famous for his “Hour of Decision” broadcasts and city-wide crusades. These people have been made the unsuspecting dupes of the unbiblical teaching that God does not save whomever He wills, but that men determine for themselves whether they will be saved. They have made decisions for Christ which make little or no change in their lives. And they have not only been told that they are undoubtedly saved; but that it is unbelief and a sin to doubt it! The churches have been inundated with these unspiritual people, with many evil consequences.

Does God have a wonderful plan for everyone’s life?

This statement in the original Four Spiritual Laws also ignores the distinction between the elect, who are loved with a redeeming love, and the non-elect (usually called the “reprobate”) who are only loved with a general benevolence. By this goodwill of God, people are not always destroyed for their sins right away; but after God has given them a long time to repent. Thus the Amorites were spared for 400 years before judgment fell, and Nineveh was sent the prophet Jonah to turn them from their sins and to thus avoid immediate destruction.

It is true that God would be pleased to give us all a good life if we would only repent and believe the gospel. But it would not be the “good life” that a sinner desires. It would be the good that God chooses for Him, which would be wonderful in that he would enjoy communion with God and with the church, and in the fact that he would receive and enjoy all spiritual blessings in Jesus Christ. But that wonderful life will most certainly entail much sacrifice, hardship, misunderstanding, and persecution, and perhaps poverty as well. The “health and wealth gospel” of today was born out of this idea, planted in the hearts of so many, that God wants to give us all a wonderful life according to the desires of unspiritual men.

But to tell someone that God has a plan for his life that is wonderful is to say something that we do not know to be true. God’s plan for that particular life may be to treasure up wrath until he dies and goes to hell. When we use the word, “plan”, it suggests God’s fixed, decreed, predestinated, universal plan, which determines who will be saved and who will not:

Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, (Romans 9:21-23)

We do not know who are vessels of mercy until they become Christians, and we never know who are vessels of wrath, for it is possible for Almighty God to call even the worst sinner on his deathbed.

The Four Spiritual Laws errs in that this whole first “law” is erroneous and misleading; and should be left out of the presentation entirely. A better place to begin would be the second “law”, which states that God is holy, and cannot have fellowship with sinners. We will now proceed to comment on the second “law”:

2. Man is sinful and separated from God, so we cannot know Him personally or experience His love.

This is true, as far as it goes, and the accompanying diagram and comments do mention the word, “holy”. But this is the only occurrence of the word in the whole document! Other words one would expect to see in an evangelistic tract are likewise scarce or missing entirely. “Repentance” is mentioned but once, and “wrath” and “Hell” not at all! The consequence of dying impenitent is only described in privative terms: “separation from God”. He is not told that hellfire awaits him! The new gospel, which this tract represents, does not have much use for those words, for the goal is to reach the sinner without running the risk of offending him and driving him away. But these words, and the thoughts they convey, are indispensable to the faithful proclamation of the biblical gospel.

How the sinner’s mind works

When a sinner reads that man is sinful, this does not offend him, because he automatically thinks of everyone else but himself, and he knows very well that they are sinful. When he reads that man is separated from God, this does not concern him; for he has no interest in being close to God. In his wicked heart, he would rather be as far from God as he can get! Likewise, he is not going to be greatly moved when it is pointed out to him that he cannot know God personally or experience His love. These are just words to Him until he realizes that he is a sinner. None of these things imply that he has anything to lose (that he cares about losing) by continuing to ignore God or to pursue his false religion.

God’s wrath is missing

What he needs to hear is that a holy God is deeply offended by his neglect of Him, and by his numberless violations of His law, and that he is under wrath already. He needs to hear plainly that unless he repents, he will be under God’s wrath forever. What he needs to hear is a faithful, compassionate warning that unless he embraces the gospel, he will certainly spend eternity in the fires of Hell!

But the new evangelism is based on the fear of offense. It represents the view that people cannot be helped if we upset them with all these scary terms that are relics of an insensitive past. That Jesus and the Apostles and all the prophets used language that we would deem harsh does not seem to have occurred to them. It should be used because there is no other way to tell the whole truth, to adequately describe the danger they are in, and yes — to alarm them, so that they will flee from the wrath to come!

In fact, the new gospel and the new evangelism of the Four Spiritual Laws departs radically from the message of holy Scripture. Even when it is telling the truth that we are separated from God, it lies by not telling the whole truth. So instead of arousing Godly fear, it puts men to sleep! It gives them a false picture of a situation that demands their immediate surrender to the will of God!

The holiness of God should not be a footnote to a diagram. It is the great fact that the sinner must be made to understand. Only when a man understands that the Ruler of the universe is so morally pure, that He cannot pardon sin without the intervention of a Redeemer and a blood sacrifice of infinite value — only when he sees his violations of God’s law as endangering to him — only when he sees that his case is desperate, and that he is in the hands of an angry God, who can save him or destroy him — is there hope that he will forsake his sin and bow the knee to God.

The third law

3. Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for man’s sin. Through Him alone we can know God personally and experience God’s love.

What I have said about the previous “law” applies here. The new gospel is not about escaping the wrath of a holy God. It is about having God as our buddy. The little matter of our sin, which throughout the tract is an undefined concept, should not trouble us too much. All I have to do is make a decision to receive Christ and pray a prayer inviting him into my heart, and then I will enjoy a comfortable and happy life with Jesus as my co-pilot! The absurdity lies upon its face. This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, but a caricature of it, a perversion, a grave distortion!

The fourth law

4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know God personally and experience His love.

This is an improvement on the original version of the tract; for it mentions that we must receive Christ as Lord. The old one said that this was an option after we received Him as Savior. The reader is left with the distinct impression that it would be better to ask Christ to take the throne of your life; but you don’t have to do it in order to be saved.

It is certainly true that we must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord before we can know God personally and experience His love. I have no quarrel about this part. But once again, the issue of God’s wrath is carefully avoided. All that I have written about this above applies to this “law” as well.

We have reviewed the Four Spiritual Laws, one by one, and found many serious defects and departures from the gospel of Jesus Christ. In drawing attention to these things, I have no intention of condemning everyone that has used them; nor do I mean to say that no one could be saved by someone using this tract as a basis of instruction. Nothing that man creates is ever perfect, and all of us unintentionally err in many things. But I believe that this form of presentation should not be used as a basis for evangelism because it is so deeply flawed that it misrepresents the real issue which the sinner must confront, and because it tends to make false converts. These are real and very serious issues that must be addressed.

What is the alternative?

If I were to offer my own “Four Spiritual Laws”, they would go something like this:

1. God created us, preserves us, and deserves the obedience of a father from us. He is also our rightful ruler and our judge. He is absolutely holy and righteous, and is incapable of doing wrong or allowing any evil act to go unpunished.

2. We have not rendered to God the obedience due Him. Because He is holy, we are under His judgment, His wrath and curse; and will be damned forever, if we are not saved by Jesus Christ. He is the one sacrifice that a holy God could accept, since He is pure and holy Himself. His obedience and sufferings — offered for us, and accepted as if they were our own, in our stead — alone can save us.

3. We cannot, by any act of our own, save ourselves, or obligate God to save us. Salvation is His work alone, and is bestowed according to His sovereign will. He regenerates His loved ones, His chosen, and gives them the grace of faith and repentance, without which they cannot believe to the saving of the soul.

4. Nevertheless, we are all obligated to submit to Jesus Christ and believe His claims; which, if we do, we can know that we are elect, that our sins are forgiven, and that we are heirs of eternal life.

I do not favor a “canned” approach to evangelism, as I stated earlier. People are different; and as Jude said, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” (Jude 1:21-23)

Rather, these laws represent the cardinal truths which any evangelistic approach must attempt to impress upon the sinner. Our first aim is to convict of sin, so that the sinner may see his need of Christ. Our second aim is to proclaim the work of Christ, which He accomplished in behalf of sinners. The Holy spirit must lead us if we are to be effective. And while we must press the danger of the sinner’s position, and the peremptory command of Christ to repent here and now; we must not expect that there will always be immediate results. One sows, another waters, but God gives the increase — in His own way and in His own time. Some will respond immediately. They are like ripe fruit, ready to be picked, usually because others have labored before us, preparing their souls. And some will take more time, according to God’s providential dealings with them.

“The Four Spiritual Laws” approach, on the other hand, calls upon the sinner to “pray the sinner’s prayer” on the basis that he has mentally understood the things that he has just been told, and nothing more. This is not only unsound, but dangerous. Faith is not a mere intellectual assent to the truth of the gospel. It involves conviction of sin and (ordinarily) emotional involvement. Conviction of sin is a terrible experience; and the process of conversion can be very painful. The terrors of the Lord whose laws we have despised are often prolonged; and the peace that finally comes from receiving Christ is a powerful experience for those who have known such fears. We must never be hasty to recognize as conversion a mere agreement to the truth of Scripture. That is just the beginning. There must be a radical change in the life.

Conclusion

We have weighed the “Four Spiritual Laws” and the philosophy of evangelism that they represent, and have found them wanting. Evangelism is no easy task, and requires at least a rudimentary knowledge of the doctrine of grace as taught in the Scriptures. But this does not mean that new believers cannot witness to their own experience of God’s saving grace, and to invite others to look into it for themselves. It does not prevent inviting them to meet with more advanced believers or their pastor, and it does not prevent them from inviting others to church or evangelistic meetings, or giving them sermons to listen to or read.

To new believers in Christ, I would share the exhortation of the Apostle Peter: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” That is their immediate duty: to grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that they may know Him, live for Him, and have a solid prayer life. Nothing else can prepare them for an effective evangelistic outreach.

Howard Douglas King

September 8, 2018

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