by Andy Woods
– Lordship Salvation is the idea that an unbeliever must commit all areas of his life to Christ as a condition for being saved. Another way of articulating Lordship Salvation is, “if Jesus is not Lord of all then He is not Lord at all.” Lordship Salvation began to significantly enter the American evangelical community in the 1980’s through the ministries of various prominent theologians and pastors. The movement began with the well-intentioned concern to address too much carnality in the Christian world. However, the proposed solution to this legitimate concern was to increase the sole requirement for salvation in an attempt to argue that carnal Christians were never really saved in the first place since they had never initially yielded to Christ’s Lordship. Sugar Land Bible Church does not believe in or teach Lordship Salvation. For example, Position Statement #6 in our church constitution says, “…repentance, as in a person willfully turning from sin, cannot be a condition for salvation.” Many people look at the Lordship controversy as merely semantics. They believe that this issue has no real significance for practical living or ministry. In actuality, Lordship Salvation introduces at least five problems into the life of a church.
5 PROBLEMS WITH LORDSHIP SALVATION?
First, Lordship Salvation changes the very heart of the Gospel, which only requires a child-like faith. There are probably somewhere between 150 to 200 New Testament passages which singularly condition a lost person’s salvation upon belief alone in Christ (John 3:16; 6:28-29; Acts 16:31; Rom 1:16, etc…). Belief is a synonym for faith or confidence or trust in God’s provision. The moment a lost person exercises trust in Christ is the moment he is saved. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Theologian and founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, entitled this biblical phenomenon: “Belief: God’s One Condition of Salvation.” Why has God made salvation so simple? God has designed salvation as a free gift (Rom 4:4). If there were some human action to be performed beyond belief then salvation becomes something that we do rather than what God does. Such a human insertion reduces salvation’s free gift status by making it something we earn. In other words, under the Lordship Salvation model, surrender or commitment becomes a work that one does to earn salvation despite the fact that the Scripture is clear that salvation is not by works (Eph 2:8-9; Isa 64:6). Also, God has specifically designed salvation so that the principle of human boasting is eliminated (Rom 3:27; 4:2). Yet, if the unsaved could do anything to merit salvation beyond simple belief, such as commit or surrender, then he has contributed to the salvation process and thus has something to boast over. God cannot allow this to happen given His aversion to pride of any sort. Lordship Salvation perverts this divine order by making salvation something we do for God rather than something He does for us. It is Christ who saves us rather than our surrender or commitment to Him.
Second, Lordship Salvation places an impossible requirement upon the unsaved. The unsaved person is dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1) and thus incapable of doing anything of spiritual value, such as obey, submit, forsake, etc. By making these other things the conditions of salvation rather than simply believing, obstacles are placed in front of the unbeliever that he or she is incapable of fulfilling. The lost are capable of doing only one thing that is pleasing to a holy God: trusting in His provision for salvation. What then shall we make of the numerous biblical commands for the lost to repent (Acts 2:38; 17:30; 2 Pet 3:9)? The Greek word translated repent is metanoeō. It comes from two Greek words meta and noeō. Meta means change, as in metamorphosis. Noeō means “to perceive.” From the word noeō we get the English word notion, which refers to an idea emanating from the mind. Thus, repent or metanoeō means to change one’s mind about Christ rather than to change one’s behavior in order to come to Christ. In this sense,repentance is a synonym for faith. Position Statement #6 captures this idea when it says, “With respect to salvation, repentance is a change of mind regarding the Person and work of Christ.”
Third, Lordship Salvation ignores the possibility of a carnal Christian. If complete commitment and yielding to Christ is an initial prerequisite for salvation, then there is no such thing as a believer who is carnal or not completely surrendered to Christ. Yet the Bible contains numerous examples of carnal believers. For example, Lot, who is called “righteous” three times (2 Pet 2:7-8), exhibits perpetual unrighteous behavior (Gen 19:30-38). Similarly, the Corinthians are called saints (1 Cor 1:2) yet the rest of 1 Corinthians reveals their un-saintly behavior. Thus, Paul refers to them as carnal believers (1 Cor 3:1-3). While carnal Christianity is obviously not God’s perfect will for His children, such a categorization is a legitimate possibility.
Fourth, Lordship Salvation confuses sanctification with justification. After coming to Christ, God issues another call for His children to pursue practical sanctification or discipleship. For example, those whom Christ called to be His disciples, like Peter, were already believers (Matt 16:24-25). We see the same salvation pattern at work through Old Testament Israel. First, the nation was redeemed through the Passover Lamb and then, sometime later, the nation was put under the Mosaic Law for purposes of sanctification (Exod 19:1 ff). Thus, submission to Christ’s Lordship is a prerequisite for this second step of sanctification rather than for the initial step of justification. Therefore, the Scripture teaches Lordship Sanctification rather than Lordship Salvation. Lordship Salvation confuses this two-step approach by reading the principles for sanctification back into what is required for justification. In other words, what is the result of salvation mistakenly becomes the initial requirement for salvation. This mistake is tantamount to putting the cart before the horse.
Fifth, Lordship Salvation destroys the believer’s assurance of salvation. Lordship advocates never precisely define what kind of commitment to Christ is necessary in order to become a Christian. How much surrender is required? How long is this surrender to last? How much fruit must this surrender produce? Because these questions are never precisely answered, the believer spends the rest of his Christian life wondering if he truly made enough of a commitment to become a Christian. Because of the believer’s potential for “backsliding,” the Christian can never really know until his dying day if he is a committed Christian. Thus, Lordship Salvation steals the joy that accompanies the knowledge that one’s eternal destiny is sealed. Far from such a guessing game, Christ gives all believers instantaneous assurance of salvation at the point of justification (John 5:24; 6:47).
In sum, although Lordship Salvation represents the right diagnosis of a problem, it holds out as the solution the wrong cure. The remedy for carnal Christianity is preaching more aggressively on the manifold blessings that accompany the sanctified life and the importance of the Spirit-filled life (Eph 5:18) so as to avoid the prospect of forfeiting rewards at the Bema Seat (1 Cor 9:24-27; 2 John 8; Rev 3:11). Let us hold out these genuine cures for carnal Christianity rather than embrace the false cure of Lordship Salvation. Such a false cure fundamentally alters the Gospel, which is the best news that God ever gave man.
Great article …thank you. I especially like this: “Lordship Salvation destroys the believer’s assurance of salvation. Lordship advocates never precisely define what kind of commitment to Christ is necessary in order to become a Christian. How much surrender is required? How long is this surrender to last? How much fruit must this surrender produce? Because these questions are never precisely answered, the believer spends the rest of his Christian life wondering if he truly made enough of a commitment to become a Christian.” Exactly!
Andy, I have a question: Do you think proponents of Lordship salvation would nuance your definition differently? Do you think they would all define it in the way you’ve stated it?
Thanks Jim for the encouragement on the article. I think I Lordship advocates would commonly portray the Gospel in the way I have outlined in the article. Here is a representative quote.
“The gospel according to Jesus calls sinners to give up their independence, deny themselves, submit to an alien will, and abandon all rights in order to be owned and controlled by the Lord. By confessing Jesus as Lord (Kurios), we automatically confess that we are His slaves (douloi).” – John MacArthur
In Him, Andy
Great read. I think ALL Christians should read this. It is one of the best articles I have read on this subject.
Amen. Very well stated. It is so sad that a great number of believers
Do not know this truth. God bless
Well done. Thanks for preparing this information.
Andy, i have a question. When u say “Repentance” means a change of mind as it relates to the person of Christ and not a change of behavior. Do u mean this for the “initial” belief in Christ for salvation only? Because, If salvation is not accompanied by a change of behavior after coming to Christ, then is it genuine faith? Pls help me understand this more clearly.
Greg, my view on it is the typical free grace perspective. When a person trusts in Christ alone for salvation he is justified before God. End of story! Good works should normally and eventually follow in the life of the true believer. However, sometimes they do not. See my third point above. Another way of saying it is that good works are desired but not automatic. Some believers make far greater progress in progressive sanctification then do others. Some learn about and cooperate with the divine resources that they now have in Christ to a greater extent than others. The judgment seat of rewards exists to reward believers who have made great progress and to not reward believers who have made limited or minimal progress. If progressive sanctification and good works were automatic for all, then the judgment seat of rewards would be unneeded.
In Him, Andy
Well done post. Could you clarify what you think Paul meant in Eph 2:5 and 8? Should this be understood as “By grace you have been justified through faith?” Contextually, how does this related to Eph. 2:2-3?
Amen. I believe in Lordship Salvation because
– Jesus is Lord
– I am saved by the Lord
– He is the Lord of my life
– “When we walk with the Lord in the light of his Word what a glory He sheds on our way…”
– If Jesus is not Lord in deed, then he is not Lord indeed.
– what died on the Cross? –> the Lord, see I Cor 2:8, “crucified the Lord of glory”
– as a believer I am encouraged to seek the Lord’s will
– the Lord is my Shepherd…
Lordship Salvation is nothing more than realizing that Jesus is Lord and accepting his rulership over your life. After all his name is The Lord Jesus Christ. He is who is.
Hey Mark! I agree with you completely that Jesus is Lord, but what exactly is the definition of Lord? When defining biblical terms it is important to look at the semantic range of how words are used. For example, “lord” has several meanings throughout scripture. It can mean master, people call superiors “lord,” an animal’s owner is its “lord,” and Lord can also mean Deity. A commonly used text is Romans 10:9 (paraphrased) if you confess Jesus as Lord you will be saved.” But if you look in the context of the passage Paul quotes Joel in vs 12 and says “everyone who calls on the name or the Lord will be saved.” The Hebrew word Joel uses in 2:32 for Lord is Yahweh. Paul is simply saying in the context to confess Christ as God to be saved. This does not lead to the implication of making him “Lord of your life.”
Allow me to advocate for the opposing view if I may. Just a couple of initial thoughts for consideration. When Jesus called his disciples, he did not ask them to believe in him but called them to follow him; in fact their belief arose as a consequence of following him. Similarly, when the rich young ruler specifically asked what he must do to receive eternal life, Jesus did not tell him to just believe but required him to sell his possessions and follow him. So did following after the Lord somehow get thrown out after his resurrection?
As you wrote, belief and repentance are synonymous with faith. While repentance does mean change of mind, the idea that no corresponding change of behavior is expected is alien to the gospel as preached in the NT. That’s why James wrote that faith without works is dead (Js 2:26).
The Apostle Paul was the most prolific writer in the NT so it makes sense to see exactly what gospel he preached. Paul specifically describes the gospel that he preached in Acts 26:20. “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and DEMONSTRATE their repentance BY THEIR DEEDS. It is clear that Paul not only expected a change of mind but a corresponding change of behavior as well.
Lordship salvation does not ignore the possibility of a carnal Christian. A carnal Christian defined is a believer who continues to walk after the flesh and not according to the spirit. Are their any consequences to being a carnal Christian? Paul addresses this question on Rom 8:12-13: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation-but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For IF you live according to the flesh, YOU WILL DIE; but IF by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, YOU WILL LIVE.” These verses describe the potential death of born-again believers, referred to as the brethren in v. 12. If this death were not a real possibility, the warning would be nonsensical. We also know that this warning pertains to spiritual death – not physical death – because everyone dies physically irrespective of how we live our lives. Moreover, one must have spiritual life in order to be in danger of spiritual death. You cannot threaten a spiritually dead person with spiritual death. Such a person is already dead. Therefore, it must be concluded that these are regenerate brethren who are being warned of dying. Also note that this verse is conditional – not unconditional – as indicated by the word “if.” IF those believers walk according to the flesh = they will die spiritually. IF those believers walk according to the Spirit = they will have eternal life.
There is no artificial dichotomy between salvation and sanctification but there is equivalence as Scripture says that “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). Furthermore the idea that salvation is a one-time static event that is only restricted to a moment of belief in the past is not borne out by verses that depict salvation as a process with past, present and future aspects. There is no argument that we have been saved in the past but in the present we are also being saved (1 Cor 1:18) and we will be saved (Matt 24:13; Rom 5:9, 8:23). The tension between all 3 tenses is vividly depicted by Paul as he again describes what the gospel truly is in Col 1:21-23: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled [past] you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— IF YOU CONTINUE [present] in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the HOPE [future] held out in the gospel. THIS IS THE GOSPEL that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. The claim that we only need to believe and do nothing else is foreign to the gospel Paul preached.
There is no need to wonder about our assurance as Christians if we allow the scriptures to speak for themselves. First of all, we all sin and no one is without sin (1 Jn 1:10). When we confess our sin, God forgives us (1 Jn 1:9). However there is a condition attached in v.7 – “But IF we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. The condition of walking [present tense] in the light is characteristic of a believer whose lifestyle is said to be abiding in Christ. Yes, that person sins but it is the exception rather than the rule. God forgives that person. Is the same assurance given to those who don’t abide and are not walking in the light? The answer is “no” as John elaborates further in 1 Jn 3:4-10 that those who are practicing sin, practice lawlessness; are not abiding in him and are children of the devil. Thus John’s warning in 1 Jn:3 is parallel to and consistent with Paul’s warning to believers in Rom 8. Habitual sin does not just result in loss of reward but results in the loss of eternal life – so I submit that the free grace message is not the gospel as depicted in the scriptures.
Because Paul in Rom. 8 refers to the way believers can walk, either by the Spirit or by the flesh, the ideas of life and death cannot refer to spiritual death, for then it would render the possibility that a believer can spiritually die, which would negate what Paul already said, that a believer has the gift of God, eternal life in Christ Jesus, Rom. 6:23. Paul does indeed give the possibility that a believer can walk according to the flesh, and thus encounter death, but this must mean a quality of life which is separated from peace, a dead quality of life, a non-abundant life.
1Jn 3 says that no one born of God sins. It is a simple present tense. What this means it that Christians have a born of God nature (seed) that doesn’t sin. In our positional nature as those born of God we do not sin. This is similar to Paul’s idea of walking in the Spirit, living according to who we are in Christ and abiding in Christ. It doesn’t mean Christians won’t sin or won’t sin habitually (whatever that means, we all sin every day) it means that we should recognize who we are, those born of God, and recognize that this means we do not need to sin.
The free grace gospel remains intact.