Why Lordship Salvation is not Biblical
REPENT & REPENTANCE
I’m certainly no Greek scholar, but a simple study of the Greek words for “repent” and “repentance” show that the definition of the words mean: change your mind, reconsider, or think differently. Specifically, repentance means to change, or have your mind changed, about who God is and what He has said about Himself, about Jesus Christ, and about ourselves. Repentance is something that happens in the mind and heart as we are convinced by God’s Spirit regarding the truths of the gospel. It is not a commitment to reform our lives, a commitment to stop sinning, nor is it a commitment to completely surrender to God. Often times, when repentance is mentioned in a gospel presentation, people confuse the fruits of repentance with repentance itself. For instance, like I stated above, people tell men to repent and then define repentance as “turning from all known sin” or to “forsake all sin.” However, when people do this as they present the gospel, they are putting the cart before the horse. They are calling men to do something they are not able to do. They are requiring faith plus works to be saved. The question is, how can a man forsake all his sin when the scripture says that:
He who sins is a slave of sin. (John 8:34)
And that we are not free from the bondage of sin until we are made a new creation in Jesus Christ:
Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Rom 6:6-7)
Is a man required to forsake all his sins to receive salvation in Jesus Christ? Must a man stop sinning in order to be saved? The answer is no. Nowhere in the Bible are men required to stop sinning in order to be saved. (It’s clear from Romans 6:6-7 that we don’t even have power over sin until we’re born again.) However, if you erroneously define repentance as a complete forsaking of sin, then you are telling men that they must do something in addition to having faith in Jesus Christ for their salvation. This is a common gospel that many are preaching today; and I myself have preached it in error before. Yet it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ but instead is a gospel that leaves men in hopelessness and in bondage. How are you going to tell a man to stop sinning who is in bondage to his sin nature? Again, many today when they preach the gospel are confusing repentance with the fruits of repentance. (I’m going to speak more to this toward the end of this post.)
TWO MAIN CAMPS
As I began to notice just how many tracts that are sold are incorrect, I began to study repentance so I could understand it biblically. This inevitably led to the study of people that hold to two different views on this subject. One is called Lordship Salvation. Probably the biggest spokesman for this camp today is John MacArthur. There are many others as well who hold to this view who usually fall into the Calvinist camp. On the other end of the spectrum, you have those who are in what is called the Free Grace camp. This group has had spokesmen such as Charles Ryrie and Zane Hodges, and ministries like Grace Evangelical Society. Like many systems of theology, I’ve found that both of these positions go to extremes that make them unbiblical. With this post, I want to start, and mainly focus on Lordship salvation.
Like I said above, one of the most vocal voices espousing Lordship Salvation today is John MacArthur. In fact, he’s written a book promoting Lordship Salvation titled “The Gospel According to Jesus,” which I believe has been revised three times. This book, as far as I can tell, is the book that has most propelled Lordship Salvation to its status as an accepted doctrine in our day. It’s a doctrine that I disagree with and one that I believe perverts the true gospel of Jesus Christ. So what is Lordship Salvation? It carries the idea that for one to be saved, one must forsake all sin, be willing to carry one’s cross and die for Jesus, live a life of self-denial, and implicitly obey and fully surrender to the Lordship of Christ. But instead of me trying to explain it alone, let me quote John MacArthur and others on this subject and then comment on their quotes.
Let me say again unequivocally that Jesus’ summons to deny self and follow him was an invitation to salvation, not….a second step of faith following salvation… Those who are not willing to lose their lives for Christ are not worthy of Him. He wants disciples willing to forsake everything. This calls for full-scale self-denial – even willingness to die for His sake if necessary. (The cost of following Discipleship – The Gospel According to Jesus.)
Thus in a sense we pay the ultimate price for salvation when our sinful self is nailed to the cross…It is an exchange of all that we are for all that Christ is. And it denotes implicit obedience, full surrender to the Lordship of Christ. Nothing less can qualify as saving faith. (1st version, The Gospel According to Jesus, pg. 140)
Saving faith is a commitment to leave sin and follow Jesus at all cost. Jesus takes no one unwilling to come on those terms. (1st Version, The Gospel According to Jesus, pg. 87)
Anyone who wants to come after Jesus into the Kingdom of God—anyone who wants to be a Christian–has to face three commands: 1) deny himself, 2) take up his cross daily, and 3) follow him.” (Hard to Believe, p. 6.)
So in John MacArthur’s first quote, he says that one must be willing to forsake everything and even be willing to die for Jesus to receive salvation. Notice he is not saying that this is the attitude of believers after they have been saved; he is saying one must have this attitude in order to be saved in the first place. In his second quote, John MacArthur says for a person to be saved, they must resolve to have implicit obedience and fully surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Again, he is not saying that this should and would be the attitude of those who have been saved, but it is the attitude one must have in order to be saved in the first place. In MacArthur’s third quote, he says that saving faith is a “commitment to leave sin and follow Jesus at all cost.” If someone doesn’t commit to leave all their sin, then they cannot be saved by Jesus Christ. And lastly, in his book “Hard to Believe” MacArthur says that if anyone wants to be a Christian they HAVE to face three commands; deny himself, take up his cross, and follow him. So these three things have to be addressed BEFORE one can be saved and become a child of God. They are prerequisites to salvation; without which, if a man does not commit to, he cannot be saved and will die in his sins. Now you’re probably thinking, “What’s wrong with what John MacArthur has said? After all, a lot of these things are mentioned in the New Testament, both in the gospels and in the Epistles.” The problem with what John MacArthur is saying is that he is making the fruit that FOLLOWS belief a requirement BEFORE one can be saved. So according to Lordship Salvation, one must be willing to forsake everything, be willing to die for Jesus, resolve to have implicit obedience, fully surrender to the Lordship of Christ, commit to leave all sin, follow Jesus at all cost, AND have faith in what Jesus has done for us on the cross. Lordship Salvation, in essence, requires a sinner to do what he is unable to do. He must do and commit to do all these things in order to receive the salvation Jesus offers, even before he has the Spirit of God dwelling in him. The salvation Jesus offers is no longer a free gift to be received; it is a gift to be meritoriously achieved (earned by merit).
Steve Lawson, another proponent of Lordship salvation, says it this way:
If you want to receive this gift it will cost you the total commitment of all that you are to the Lord Jesus Christ. There are many here who think they are saved, but are not; they have never really done business with God….I want to single you out in the midst of the crowd. Have you taken up a cross in order to follow after Christ? Have you recognized your own sinfulness, acknowledged that God’s judgment is true, have you acknowledged Christ’s right to rule your life? Have you submitted to the Lordship of Christ? Have you really come to the end of yourself? Because Jesus does not begin until you end.” (The Cost of Discipleship, It Will Cost You Everything, Resolved Conference, Feb. 2007)
So according to Steve Lawson, the free gift of God will cost you. It will cost you total commitment. Speaking to non-believers, in order to be saved, he says, “Have you taken up your cross, have you submitted to the Lordship of Christ, have you come to the end of yourself?” He says Jesus won’t do anything until you’ve come to the end of yourself. But is that the gospel that you see preached in the scriptures? Did Paul walk around telling men that he has a free gift for them that they will have to purchase with their actions, or by coming to the end of themselves and picking up their cross? (Again, I’m not talking about the lifestyle one should have after becoming a believer, as a result of true faith; I’m talking about what is required for one to be saved.) No, this is not the gospel of the Bible. The gospel in the Bible is a message about the person and work of Jesus Christ to atone for our sins. It is a message that, if anyone believes, they will be saved by God on account of their faith. Lordship Salvation teaches that you must have faith AND, faith AND, faith AND… You must forsake, commit, fully surrender, etc., AND believe the gospel to be saved. It places unbiblical emphasis on what you must do and focuses less on what Christ has done, when in fact the gospel is about what Christ has done, which is something we receive by faith and are saved.
I want to quote a few men who oppose Lordship Salvation to help show the error of this theology. Most of these quotes come from a book I recently read called “In Defense of the Gospel,” by Lou Martuneac. While I don’t agree with everything he says in his book, nor everything from every author he quotes below; I think, for the most part, he accurately shows the errors in both the Lordship Salvation and Free Grace positions. Here are some quotes that help expose the error of Lordship Salvation:
“In this view, eternal salvation is not dependent on the performance of a work, but only the promise of future works. In the minds of those determined to adhere to salvation by works, this distinction supposedly allows the works of the law to be somehow added to the equation of salvation without annulling the doctrine of grace. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans would disagree. ‘For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is of none effect.’ The …expression ‘saving repentance’ is nothing more than a specific form or expression of Bilateral Contract Salvation… ‘a promise for a promise.’ The lost sinner ‘promises’ future obedience in exchange for God’s ‘promise’ of eternal life. This errant understanding of the term ‘repentance’ is the most common and pervasive form of ‘Lordship Salvation’ taught within Christendom throughout the world.” (Ron Shea, Repentance and Salvation in Scripture, Confusion Over Repentance, p.3)
J. VERNON MAGEE
(Jesus) is not putting down a condition of salvation but stating the position of those who are saved. Lordship advocates, however, consider Luke 9:23-24 an evangelistic passage meant for the unsaved. Lordship advocates believe “take up his cross daily” is a condition that must be committed to for the reception of salvation. If this is a salvation invitation, the sinner is being asked to be willing to die for Jesus in order to be saved. “If this characterizes saving faith and is made a condition for salvation, as Lordship proponents insist, one must decide to place faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord through surrender everyday without fail. Such an expectation is not found elsewhere in the Bible and makes both salvation and assurance impossible. (In Defense of the Gospel, page 87)
Conditioning salvation upon man’s “unconditional surrender,” his commitment to or promises of obedience, is not the gospel. This is the point upon which some who reject Lordship Salvation consider it the first cousin of Roman Catholicism’s sacramental works salvation. When repentance is defined as “turning from sin” its basic nature is changed from what occurs in the heart and mind to an action. A commitment to certain behavior expected of a Christian turns the gospel of grace on its head. Salvation then is no longer “the gift of God” but instead a works based message that frustrates grace (Eph. 2:8-9, Gal 2:21) (page 145, In Defense of the Gospel)
To them (Lordship advocates), the kind of faith that “does not save” is any faith that does not meet theirLordship definition of saving faith. (page 152, In Defense of the Gospel)
Lordship Salvation, according to John MacArthur’s definition of saving faith, is a barter system (page 155, In Defense of the Gospel)
Those who teach Lordship Salvation frontload faith with commitments to do the good works (Eph. 2:10)… (Page 167, In Defense of the Gospel)
Does the Lord call on the lost for a wholehearted commitment to obedient Christian living before He grants the gift of eternal life? (page 257, In Defense of the Gospel)
As Lou accurately says, Lordship salvation frontloads faith with a commitment to do good works. It becomes a barter system in which the non-believer commits to forsake all their sins, commits to carry their cross and die daily, and commits to fully surrender and to have complete obedience in order to be saved. The gospel of Jesus Christ is no longer the free gift that God offers but is a costly gift that the unconverted sinner is unable to purchase. What sinner can commit to do things that are possible only by having the Spirit of God dwell in them? When people preach a Lordship Salvation gospel, they are not preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ; they are preaching a different gospel that frustrates the grace of God.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have men like Charles Ryrie, Zane Hodges, and ministries like Grace Evangelical Society that promote what is called “Free Grace.” This position arose out of a need to address the false gospel being promoted by Lordship Salvation advocates. They understand that salvation is a free gift of God and does not require the unconverted to commit to promise or do certain works in order to be saved. The lost are saved by believing the message of Jesus Christ and putting their faith in him for salvation (John 1:12). Yet some in the free grace camp have also gone into an extreme that makes their gospel false as well. They rightly say that a believer can be saved with faith, but they erroneously say that once a person is a believer they can be so their entire life even if they show absolutely zero fruit. So in essence, they say a person can believe the facts about Jesus Christ and then live however they want to. The so called believer can continue living a habitual life of fornication, lying, stealing, etc. (name your sin) until they die and still be saved. It’s a false and powerless gospel that doesn’t have to actually produce good fruit and godliness in the lives of those who “believe.”
Lordship Salvation frontloads the gospel with works while Free Grace strips the gospel of its power. They are both wrong, and neither represents the gospel of God and Jesus Christ.
WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
Since we are saved by our faith/belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ, it would be good to define the gospel of Jesus Christ. You can find many different answers to explain exactly what the gospel is, but Paul defines it best, in its most basic and simplest form, in 1 Cor. 15:
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: (1Co 15:1-4)
Simply put, the gospel is the message that was prophesied in the scriptures and came to pass, about the death of Christ for our sins, about his burial, and his resurrection from the dead. It is a message about what God has done to redeem and save all who will repent and believe in Jesus Christ. It is not a message about how we must change our lives or commit to any works to be saved. It is a message about what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Christ from the dead for our salvation. Beginning in Genesis chapter 3, God began prophesying of a savior that would come and save us from our sins. In God’s perfect timing, just as he had prophesied, Christ Jesus came into the world to lay his life down for us. The sinless Son of God became our substitute and satisfied the wrath of God for our sins. He became a curse for us when he bore our sins in his body on the cross. As the saying goes, “We owed a debt we could not pay, and He paid a debt He did not owe.” After Christ had made satisfactory payment for our sins, he died and was buried. Three days later, God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, giving proof to all that the sacrifice Jesus had made was acceptable to God. Jesus was declared to be the son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). His mission was victorious and he defeated death and hell. Our salvation, and the power to live a new life free from the bondage of sin, was made available to us through the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. God has done everything needed to provide salvation for anyone who will believe (trust) in Jesus Christ for their salvation. There is nothing man can do to be saved apart from repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ. There is nothing man can add to the work of Jesus Christ to make him acceptable to God. No commitment, no promising, no forsaking of anything adds to the work of Christ and makes anyone acceptable to God. Only by putting one’s faith in Jesus Christ and in what he has done can a man be saved from the bondage of sin, from eternal damnation, and receive the gift of eternal life.
Being saved really is as simple as Jesus said it would be. In John chapter three, Jesus speaks to a man named Nicodemus. He tells Nicodemus that a man must be born again in order to see/enter into the kingdom of God. He then proceeds to tell Nicodemus how a man may be born again. Jesus says:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:14-16)
If you read Numbers chapter 21, you’ll read the account of when the Israelites sinned against God by complaining to Moses about their living conditions in the desert.
And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. (Num. 21:5-9)
Because of their sinful complaints that demonstrated their unbelief in God, God sent poisonous snakes into their camp. These poisonous snakes were biting the Israelites, and many of them were dying. The people realized their sin against God and asked Moses to pray to God so that he would take the snakes away. It was then that God told Moses to make a brass snake and put it on a pole. If anyone one was bitten by a poisonous snake, they could look at the snake on the pole and they would live. They would be healed from the deadly poison that was in their body. In essence, they would be saved. There was no work to be performed; no commitment needed to be made. They simply acknowledged that they had sinned and believed in the provision that God had provided. These Israelites had repented (changed their mind about their sin and about God) and put their faith in God’s provision. Their salvation was received by faith and required no bartering on the part of the Israelites. Their salvation was a free gift from God received by faith.
This event in Israel’s history was a picture of the salvation that God would bring through Jesus Christ. Man has sinned against God and is under a curse. God has provided salvation by making Jesus a curse for us. Like the cursed snake, Jesus became a curse for us when he bore our sins in his body and was crucified “on the tree.” The Israelites were saved simply by acknowledging their sin and God’s righteousness (repenting) and by putting their faith in what God had said by looking to the cursed snake on the pole. The same is true today. When a sinner repents (changes their mind and agrees with God) and puts their faith in God’s provision, the death of Jesus Christ for their sins, that man is saved. Salvation is a free gift from God. It is not received by a commitment to do future good works. It is not purchased by the sinner. It is the free gift of God. This is what Jesus was telling Nicodemus. He was pointing out to Nicodemus the manner in which he would die, that he would become a curse, and that those who have faith and believe in Christ, like the Israelites who looked to God’s provision, would be saved.
God himself, in the New Testament, frequently calls the salvation he gives a “gift” and a “free gift.”
Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. (John 4:10)
But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:15-17)
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 6:23)
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (Eph. 2:8)
It is quite clear that salvation is a free gift from God that is not purchased by any promise to do something for God. There is nothing we can do or promise that makes us acceptable to God. We are saved by receiving/believing what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
WHAT ABOUT REPENTANCE?
Repentance is most definitely part of the gospel. In fact, when Paul was speaking to the elders in Ephesus, he said:
And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:20-21)
Paul said that he had preached to both Jews and Greeks “repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.” When Paul preached repentance, he did not preach “stop sinning” or to “forsake all your sin” or tell them they “must meet all the conditions of discipleship.” Paul preached the gospel that he declared in 1 Corinthians 15. He preached the message about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead for our salvation, as the scriptures had foretold. Paul sought to preach the truth about God and the person of Jesus Christ so that those he preached to might “think differently” and “have their mind changed” by the Spirit of God towards the truth. When you see Paul preaching in the Jewish synagogues, he is reasoning with the Jews from the scriptures so they will change their minds about the truth of the Messiah. Paul, by his reasoning and by the Spirit of God, is trying to change the minds of his listeners, which would bring them to true repentance towards God.
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, (Acts 17:1-2)
And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. (Acts 18:4)
And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. (Acts 18:19)
And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. (Acts 24:25)
Paul reasoned with the Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism in the synagogue about the truth of Jesus Christ and the need for the forgiveness of their sins. Again, Paul, by the word of God and the Spirit of God, was seeking to change their minds concerning the truth of Jesus Christ. He was seeking to bring them to repentance. Once someone is convinced of the truth, they can acknowledge their sin and God’s righteousness and place their faith in Jesus Christ. True repentance and faith are always linked together. But repentance, as it relates to the gospel and being saved, is not “forsaking ones sins” or “forsaking all sin” or even “fullysubmitting to the Lordship of Christ” (as MacArthur says). It is to think differently and correctly regarding the truth about God, Jesus Christ, man, and our sin.
THE LORDSHIP OF JESUS CHRIST
So what does the scripture mean when it uses phrases like the “Lord” Jesus Christ? Of course, Jesus certainly deserves the title of Lord, because that’s exactly what he is. Here are two verses that specifically use the title of Lord when referring to Jesus in regards to believing unto salvation.
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (Act 16:31)
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom 10:9-10)
So the question is, does the calling of Jesus Lord in these verses mean that one must understand all the implication of what it means to completely follow Jesus as Lord? Must one fully come to the understanding, as John MacArthur says, that Lordship denotes implicit obedience and a full surrender to Jesus Christ? That nothing less than this qualifies as saving faith? Must a non-believer make an upfront commitment to completely obey every aspect of Christian living? OR, when Lord is used, is it a title of Christ that denotes his supreme authority? Biblically, the word Lord denotes authority. It is a title used of Christ, but it is a title that is also used of men (Gen 18:12, 1 Peter 3:6). In its relation to Christ it denotes his supreme authority. God has made Christ ruler over all. He is both the Christ (anointed one) and Lord (the supreme ruler) as this verse says:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Act 2:36)
When the scriptures use the term Lord in relation to Christ, it is speaking of his position as the supreme authority in God’s kingdom, and specifically as God’s Son. Albert Barnes says,
Here it means clearly that God had exalted him to be the king so long expected; and that he had given him dominion in the heavens, or, as we should say, made him ruler of all things.
By calling Jesus Lord in these verses, it is not saying that one must understand every implication of what it means to call Jesus Lord. Language like that is not used in the scriptures. A person must believe in the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, who died for our sins, was buried, and raised from the dead (John 20:31). It is their faith in Christ and his work that saves them. While the unconverted will call Jesus “Lord”, and “call on the name of the Lord”, most do not understand the full implication of what it means (it’s not even a common word in our vocabulary today). Depending on the work of God in a person at their conversion, and their knowledge of biblical truth, people will have different depths of understanding about what it means to follow Jesus as Lord. Some have more of an understanding and some people have less of an understanding. But people are not saved based on the depth of their understanding about what it means to follow Jesus as Lord. They are saved by believing the gospel. Believers learn what it means to follow Jesus as Lord as they read the scriptures and grow in the knowledge and grace of God.
Here’s what John Piper has correctly said on submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, which directly conflicts with what MacArthur and Lawson have said:
Something may be real even when we don’t understand it fully or even use the right language to describe it. For example, is a person not ‘born again’ just because he has never heard the term ‘born again’ and does not relate to Jesus in those terms but only in terms of faith and forgiveness and atonement? No. A person is just as born again if he believes in Jesus, even if he has never heard of the word ‘regeneration’ or the term ‘born again.’ Many have been born again and saved through gospel tracts which say nothing about the term ‘rebirth.’ … [N]one of us yet understands the full implications of the lordship of Christ on our lives. I am struggling every day to know what the Lord is requiring of me in specific choices among good options. I am learning every day the extent of his lordly control of the world and his mysterious ways of fulfilling his promises as Lord of my life and my church. Submitting to the lordship of Christ is a lifelong activity. It must be renewed every day in many acts of trust and obedience. Submission to Christ’s lordship is not merely a once-for-all experience.” Our submission to Christ is imperfect and progressive.
Due in part to some unhelpful rhetoric by proponents of lordship salvation, some have objected that it places sanctification before salvation. If people are to give up/turn from all of their sins before they are saved, then, in essence, they are to become sanctified before they are saved. This is something that no Christian has achieved in this life—not even Paul could claim such an achievement at the end of his life (Phil. 3:12)
Piper rightly says that believers grow in their understanding of what it means to submit to the Lordship of Christ as they grow in their relationship with Christ.
Christ having the title of Lord does imply that we are to obey him. The obedience an unbeliever must have is to obey God in regards to repenting and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. They must turn to Christ who is the Lord. Yet they do not have to fully understand every implication of Christ’s Lordship in their lives in order to be saved. Let me give you an example. When I was saved, I simply believed that Jesus died for my sins and I asked him to save me. I did not know what it meant to fully surrender my entire life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I just knew that Jesus was God’s Son and that I needed to be forgiven. I broke down under the realization of God’s love and I put my faith in Christ. He saved me and put his Spirit inside me. When I received the new birth, I had a greater understanding that Christ Jesus was Lord (God in the flesh, God’ Son, Divine). There were some things that God helped me to immediately see that were sins. By his grace I was delivered from them and was able to put them away. However, even as a new believer, for a period of time, I lived in fornication with my girlfriend. I wasn’t aware that this was wrong and no one told me. However, as I grew in grace and read the scripture, my girlfriend (now my wife) and I both realized that what we were doing was wrong. We then decided to move back home with our parents. We had believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to save us, and now, as we were growing in our knowledge of him, he was showing us what it meant to follow him as Lord. I did not begin to understand all the implications of “Lordship” until I was born again and until I started to read the word of God. Fully submitting to the Lordship of Christ (as it relates to changing our lifestyle) is the result of being born again. It is progressive and ever growing as we follow the Lord. Again, when one is born again, they will understand that Jesus is God’s Son, that he is the Lord (supreme ruler/authority), one to be submitted to; but they will not fully understand the implications of Lordship until they belong to the Lord and have the Spirit of God in them. When a man has been born again, they WILL want to follow Jesus as Lord and bring every area of their life in submission to him, even if they stumble at times. It will be the result of salvation and not a pre-requisite for salvation.
So I ask the questions again, how can a non-believer forsake all their sin when they are in bondage to sin? How can a non-believer completely submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all areas before they are saved, and as a requirement to be saved? Is it the unbeliever’s promise to do these things that saves them? Or is it genuine faith in what God has done through the Lord Jesus Christ to save us?
WHAT IF AN UNBELIEVER KNOWS, BUT WONT?
What if an unbeliever knows that certain things they do are sin and they are simply unwilling to give them up, but they want Jesus to save them? Can they be saved? No, they cannot. They have not repented. They have not change their mind and come to think rightly and agree with God. In the bible the rich young ruler wanted eternal life but was not able to receive it. Christ pointed out his sin but the young ruler was unwilling to turn this area of his life over to the Lord. Christ gave this man the right knowledge about the idolatry in his heart, but the man was unwilling to repent and agree with God and turn this known, sinful area, over to the Lord. He might have agreed with Jesus that his greed was sin, but he did not have true repentance that proves itself with fruit following. However, even if the rich young ruler had turned from his greed and received eternal life by putting his faith in Jesus; there would be continual instances in which he would have to learn to submit to the Lordship of Christ as he grew in grace. Just like we all do.
Now if an unbeliever recognizes their bondage to certain sins, but they feel powerless to give them up, they can come to Christ and be saved; that is, they are not desiring to hold on to them, they are asking Christ to free them from their sin. They have faith in Christ but know they are in bondage. If an unconverted man is in bondage to lust or drugs, he doesn’t have to forsake them to be saved. He can confess his bondage and inability that he recognizes he has, and put his faith in Christ asking God to do in him what he cannot do. If he believes the gospel and repents (in heart and mind) Christ will receive him and give him the power to do what he cannot in himself. Christ helps those who can’t help themselves. (Matt. 11:28-30, John 8:34-36)
MAKING SANCTIFICATION A PREREQUISITE FOR SALVATION
The bottom line with the Lordship Salvation gospel is that it makes the evidence of salvation, the sanctification of a believer, a requirement for salvation. It puts the cart before the horse. By defining repentance as a change in lifestyle, it requires this change of lifestyle, or the promise of changing one’s lifestyle, as a pre-requisite for salvation. Salvation no longer becomes a gift but is something that must be purchased by changings one’s ways or by promising to do so in the future. Salvation becomes a barter system in which man promises to God to do something, instead of simply believing and receiving what God has done for us in Christ.
When you falsely preach to a man that he must forsake all his sins and believe in Jesus Christ, you are requiring a man to do what he can’t do. You are putting the cart before the horse. This is exactly what Lordship Salvation does. It requires the FRUIT OF REPENTACE before the repentance.
THE RIGHT ORDER
Look at what John the Baptist says about repentance:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. (Mat. 3:7-8)
John is telling these Pharisees and Sadducees that if they have repented they should bear/produce fruit that shows they have repented. The repentance (change of mind and heart) comes first, and the fruit (the change of lifestyle) comes second.
The apostle Paul says the same thing:
but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. (Acts 26:20)
Paul told the Gentiles to repent (change their mind) and turn (have faith) to God AND THEN show forth their repentance with their works, with their changed lifestyle. Unlike the Lordship Salvation advocates, Paul keeps everything in the right order. He does not require the unconverted to do or commit to do something they can’t. He does not require the unconverted to do or commit to do something in exchange for salvation. Paul preaches salvation as a free gift to those who will believe.
Paul again sums up our salvation and the order of things in the epistle to Titus:
who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:14)
Jesus first saves us from our sins, and then we do works that show our faith. Sanctification follows salvation; it does not come before.
A FEW EXAMPLES FROM ACTS
As I mentioned above, Paul and the apostles kept things in the right order. They preached Jesus Christ and him crucified. They preached about a man that was resurrected from the dead, proving that he was approved by God to be the judge of the living and the dead. They preached that if any man would repent and put their faith in Jesus, God would forgive his sins and give him eternal life. Paul and the other apostles did not tell men that they must forsake all theirs sins, meet all the conditions of a disciple to be saved, or commit to full surrender and implicit obedience AS a conditon or prequiste to receiving salvation.
Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. (Acts 8:35-38)
In this passage, the Eunuch is reading from Isaiah 53. Philip stays in this passage and preaches Christ to the Eunuch. When the Eunuch asks if he can be baptized, Peter doesn’t say, “Do you commit to carry your cross daily, do you commit to forsake all your sins, do you commit to meet all the conditions of discipleship from this day forward?” No, Philip does not ask him to do what is expected of those who are saved. Peter tells the man, “If you believe in Jesus Christ with all your heart, you can be baptized.” So he is telling the Eunuch that if he has faith in Jesus Christ, he can then do what believers do: be baptized. Peter is telling him that his belief saves him and that he can be baptized, showing his genuine faith and repentance.
To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. (Acts 10:43-44)
Peter preaches the truth about Jesus Christ to Cornelius and his household. He concludes by telling them that whoever believes in Jesus will have their sins forgiven. It is evident that they believed, as the Holy Spirit was given to them. Again, saved by faith.
And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (Acts 16:26-31)
Here is the clearest explanation to the question, “What must I (or any man) do to be saved?” This jailer must have come under some conviction regarding the truth of Christ and the gospel. He must have known why Paul was in prison and that these men were preaching that people needed to be saved through Jesus. So after this miraculous event, the jailer asks what he must do to be saved. Notice Paul doesn’t saying anything that the Lordship Salvation advocates say. He simply tells him to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will be saved. He tells him to look to Christ, just like Jesus says to do in John 3 when talking about the snake on the pole. He didn’t have to forsake all known sin to be saved or commit to do future works; he simply had to put his faith in Jesus Christ. His faith in Jesus Christ, like all believers’ faith in Jesus Christ, then gave him the power to forsake his sins and to truly live for Jesus.
WHY LORDSHIP SALVATION(ISTS) GET IT BACKWARDS
So the question is why do those who preach a Lordship Salvation gospel get it backwards? Why do they require of the unconverted what they cannot do? Why do they lay on the unconverted conditions of discipleship that are directed towards believers? There are probably many answers to these questions, but I think, from my own experience and from observing the preaching of others, that they do it in an effort to prevent false conversions. We live in a day in which everyone says they are a Christian, regardless of the lifestyle they are living. Many churches, like many of those in the Free Grace camp, teach a false gospel that says one can believe in Jesus and not show any fruit, a powerless, worthless gospel. It seems in an effort to counter this doctrine that produces many false converts, people have swung to the other side of the spectrum and now require the unconverted to do, and commit to do, things that they cannot do apart from the indwelling power of God’s Spirit. They add to the gospel of Jesus Christ in an effort to keep people from becoming a false convert. In doing so, they pervert the true gospel of God’s grace and the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. They do this largely because of their false understanding of repentance. They confuse repentance with the fruit of repentance. By doing so, they take away the free gift of God and make the narrow gate even narrower than Jesus made it. In their zeal to keep from producing false converts, they, most likely unintentionally, make the gospel more about what the sinner must do in changing their actions and committing to change their actions, instead of simply receiving and believing what Jesus Christ has done for them.
AGAIN, WHAT THE ORDER SHOULD BE
Simple. We should preach the gospel like the apostle Paul, like the apostle Peter, etc. They presented the truth about Jesus Christ, reasoned with men from the scriptures, and called men to repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ to receive the free gift of God. They didn’t call the lost to forsake everything to be saved, nor did they tell them to stop sinning, to forsake all their sins, or to meet the conditions of discipleship to be saved. They simply told people the truth about Jesus Christ and implored men to repent and believe in Jesus. They knew that genuine fruit would follow those who believe, that the work of sanctification would be evident in the lives of those who had real faith. This passage shows the correct order:
Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. (Acts 19:18-19)
The people became believers in Jesus Christ. They simply received the message about what God had done for them in Jesus Christ. They had a faith in Jesus. Their genuine faith led them to confess their witchcraft and to burn their pagan books. They did not have to do these things to be saved; they did these things because they were saved. Lordship Salvation reverses the order and requires men to do these works in order to be saved, instead of them being the fruit of genuine conversion.
WHAT GOSPEL ARE YOU PREACHING?
Are you telling men that they must forsake all their sins, fully submit to the Lordship of Christ (even though they don’t understand all the implications of what that means), or meet all the conditions of discipleship before they can be saved? Are you making salvation difficult and costly, demanding a price that the unconverted cannot pay? Are you requiring the lost to do what only the saved can do, by the Spirit and power of God? Are you making the narrow gate narrower than Jesus made it? Are you laying burdens on men that neither you nor any other believer could do when you were unconverted? In your zeal to prevent false conversions, are you preaching a gospel that adds to faith in Christ? OR are you preaching the free gift of God that is received by faith through and in Jesus Christ? Are you preaching the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, which is received by faith alone? It makes a difference. As I said before, “The gospel is a message to be received, not meritoriously achieved.” The true preaching of the gospel should strip a man down and show him that there is nothing he can do to save himself. No good works or commitment to do good works will save him. God has already done everything needed for the salvation of anyone who will BELIEVE. Salvation is a free gift to be received. Don’t be so worried about making false converts that you end up preaching a gospel that is no gospel at all. Preach the gospel as God’s free gift to be received by faith, and God will do the rest.
I’ll end by leaving you with an account of the conversion of Charles Spurgeon, a man who “looked” to Christ and was saved.
It is without doubt the best known conversion in the history of the Church. It was on a wintry Sunday, January 6 1850, his school being temporarily closed because of an outbreak of fever, that the 15 year-old Spurgeon found himself in Colchester and on his way to the local Congregational Chapel. But the snow and sleet intensified so that he turned down a side lane called Artillery Street and came to the Primitive Methodist Church. He was thus able incidentally to continue in his determination to visit every congregation in Colchester to find someone who would tell him where he might find relief from the condemnation of the law. His mother had also talked with him positively about this congregation. It is any port in a storm, and so the teenager entered this building for the first time to attend the morning service. There were no more than a dozen or fifteen people present: even the minister had failed to arrive because of the weather. It was the wrong church, the wrong congregation, the wrong weather and the wrong preacher. Into the pulpit climbed a thin-looking man, a shoemaker or tailor, Spurgeon was never to know anything about him. He announced his text as Isaiah 45:22, ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else.’
Spurgeon says, “He had not much to say, thank God, for that compelled him to keep on repeating his text, and there was nothing needed – by me, at any rate – except his text. I remember how he said, ‘My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just ‘Look!.’ Well, a man needn’t go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look… A child can look. One who is almost an idiot can look. However weak, or however poor a man may be, he can look. And if he looks the promise is that he shall live.’ He went on in his broad Essex accent, ‘Many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves. But it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some say look to God, the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. It is Christ that speaks. I am in the garden in an agony, pouring out my soul unto death; I am on the tree, dying for sinners; look unto Me! I rise again. Look unto me! I ascend into heaven! Look unto me. I am sitting at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner look unto me! Look unto me! Some of ye say, “We must wait for the Spirit’s workin”‘. You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, “Look unto Me”.’
The preacher managed to spin that out for ten minutes and then, running out of anything fresh to say, looked at his congregation and picked on Spurgeon, “Young man, you look very miserable,” he said. “Well,” said Spurgeon, “I did look miserable, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit about my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home.” The preacher went on, “and you always will be miserable – miserable in life and miserable in death – if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” And then he shouted at the top of his voice as I think only a Primitive Methodist can, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but to look and live!” And I did look.”
“I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said – I did not take much notice of it – I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, ‘Look!’ what a charming word it seemed to me.
“Oh I could have looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which alone looks to him. O that somebody had told me this before, ‘Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.’”
Recounting his conversion another time he says:
“Now let me tell the story. It was on a day, never to be forgotten, when I first understood that salvation was in and through Another, that my salvation could not be of myself, but must be through One better and stronger than I. And I heard, and oh, what music it was! – that the Son of God had taken upon himself our human nature, and had, by his life and death, wrought out a perfect salvation, finished from top to bottom, which he was ready to give to every soul that was willing to have it and that salvation was all of grace from top to bottom, which he was ready to give to every soul that was willing to have it, and that salvation was all of grace from first to last, the free gift of God through his blessed Son, Jesus Christ.
“Then I had this vision – not a vision to my eyes, but to my heart. I saw what a Saviour Christ was, divine as well as human. I saw what sufferings were his, what a righteousness his was. Now I can never tell you how it was, but I no sooner saw whom I was to believe than I also did believe in one moment. I did take him as my Saviour. To my own humiliation, I must confess that I did it because I could not help it; I was shut up to it. That law-work, of which I told you, had hammered me into such a condition that, if there had been fifty other saviours, I could not have thought of them, I was driven to this One” (MTP, 1895, p.101-104).
***By mentioning men like John MacArthur and Steve Lawson, I am in no way implying that they are not believers. I simply believe that by their adding works to faith in Jesus Christ, they are not preaching the gospel as we see it preached in the scriptures. I’m sure the Lord uses these men in many ways, even though they are in error in this regard. I know the Lord has used me and worked in me even when I have believed or preached things that turned out to be false. The Lord is gracious and patient and loving with his people.