Wednesday, November 29

Lordship Salvation

John MacArthur is one of the primary proponents of what is called "Lordship Salvation". Now, before I get too far with this view we need to find a suitable definition (too often when we discuss things like this, one person has a different opinion of how to define the viewpoint being discussed). Here are some definitions that I have found:
Lordship Salvation emphasizes that submitting to Christ as Lord over your life goes hand-in-hand with trusting in Christ to be saved. It also focuses on a changed life as the result of salvation.

All About Jesus Christ
The theology of Lordship Salvation stresses that submitting to Jesus as "Lord of your life" goes hand-in-hand with trusting in Christ at salvation. A changed life should result.
As I'm reading these two definitions (and both of these sites disagree with the Lordship view), I'm thinking, "who could have a problem with that"? We all know that the Bible teaches that our faith will result in a changed life - most of us even know that the Bible tells us to confess Christ as Lord. And this is the problem, at the surface level the Lordship view looks to be entirely Biblical - yet we haven't really delved into the specifics and resulting theological implications. Consider this definition of the Lordship view from's Theology Program (they also disagree with Lordship):
The Theology Program - Soteriology - The Doctrine of Conversion
Salvation includes both faith and repentance, which are two sides of the same coin. In repentance, the believer is committing to give up all known sin, thereby making Christ Lord of his or her life.
Wait, do you see the difference yet? This seems to be getting more legal, and, in a sense - it is. This definition is much closer to what MacArthur would actually teach about this view - because it places faith and repentance in the same breath. In fact, it actually places repentance before faith - since this view teaches that you must make Christ the Lord of your life in order to be saved.

What has occurred here, is that the cart has been put before the horse - and as a result something we "do" has contributed to our salvation. It is the same argument as the "baptismal regenerationists" who claim that we must be baptized with water in order to be saved. In fact, I would be interested in knowing how anyone can adhere to the Lorship view and argue against baptismal regeneration, because the arguments are so very similar!

Consider the full text from
Lordship Salvation emphasizes that submitting to Christ as Lord over your life goes hand-in-hand with trusting in Christ to be saved. It also focuses on a changed life as the result of salvation. Those who believe in Lordship Salvation would have serious doubts about a person who claims to believe in Christ but does not have good works evident in his life. The Bible does teach that faith in Christ will result in a changed life (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:22-23; James 2:14-26).

However, depending on the person and his circumstances, spiritual growth sometimes occurs quickly, and other times it takes a long time for changes to become evident, and even then the changes may not be evident to everyone. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is by faith alone, apart from works (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). The Bible also declares that a life changes after salvation (Ephesians 2:10). So, as you can see, it is a difficult balance to make.

So, is Lordship Salvation Biblical? Again, it cannot be denied that faith in Christ produces a change (2 Corinthians 5:17). A person who has been delivered from sin by faith in Christ should not desire to remain in a life of sin (Romans 6:2). At the same time, submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is an issue of spiritual growth, not salvation. The Christian life is a process of submitting to God in increasing measure (2 Peter 1:5-8). A person does not have to submit to God in every area of his or her life in order to be saved. A person simply has to recognize that he or she is a sinner, in need of Jesus Christ for salvation, and place trust in Him (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10). Christians absolutely should submit to Him (James 4:7). A changed life and submission to Christ's lordship are the result of salvation, not a requirement for salvation.
I believe that last statement to be key. And notice that this places the emphasis back on God, and away from what man does in order to achieve and even aid in the process of salvation.

This issue, of course, is much more complex than the above summary and my thoughts. Dr. James Sawyer wrote a fantastic article that goes much more in depth, and even shares the benefits of the "Lordship" view and the problems with the "Free Grace" view. His argument is that both sides have polarized the argument and set up straw men. But in the end, he is compelled to reject the Lordship view:
While I applaud the Lordship position in its insistence that the believer in Jesus Christ will show by his life that he is a believer, the rhetoric I hear is akin to a General George Patton slapping the G.I. who was hospitalized for nerves during WWII. Lordship teachers appear to be forcing all teaching on salvation through one grid, discipleship. This, I would argue, the Scripture does not do. I would argue that many (most?) who come to Christ are bruised, battered and shattered emotionally, as a result of the ravages of sin, both personal and corporate. They need spiritual and emotional healing, a healing that goes far deeper than most of the intellectualized theology which focuses upon positional truth as abstract and unrelated to the life of the believer. The lack of spiritual maturity in the lives of professing believers may be the result of rebellion, it may indeed be an evidence of the fact that a professing believer is in fact unregenerate, or it may in fact be a result of the deep seated psychological problems/needs which can be truly solved by learning how the believer’s identification and oneness with Christ can existentially transform his/her daily existence. I find it significant that the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:3-11), when referring to believers who were evidently not displaying Christian grace in their lives, did not call their salvation into question, rather he noted that they were, “nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” (2 Pet. 1:9).58 This condition arises when justification is separated from sanctification and made to be unimportant, abstract or theoretical.
I couldn't agree more. Next up: Free Grace


Julianne said...

I am not sure I think either view is entirely correct, though I lean more towards a Lordship salvation, because Christ Himself said we are to count the cost BEFORE we choose to follow Him. Now obviously to count the cost to follow somebody, you already must BELIEVE they exist. But you also had to believe that Christ is worth laying down your own life.

IMO, the main message of John the Baptist and Christ was REPENT. In fact in Mark 1:15, Christ preached to REPENT and believe in the gospel. It seemed to be a synchronous act to me.

Christ also said unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

I think faith includes more than belief. I think faith includes a belief that synchronously acts with repentance and Lordship. That does not mean we walk perfectly, as that is a work in progress. It means we understand that if we believe Jesus is our Savior, then we would also understand we are submitting our lives to Him.

Not sure my thoughts are clear, as I was interrupted no less than 20 times by my children while trying to type this. :-)

Stan said...

Oh, what a disappointment! Funny thing ... I have written (but not yet posted) a comment on the same topic. I, of course, have taken the opposite view. If you believe yourself to be saved and have nothing to show for it ... what makes you think you're saved?

I think "Lordship Salvation" is misunderstood because most think it makes "Lordship" a prerequisite of salvation. I read MacArthur's book on it and didn't see that. (Note: MacArthur is a Calvinist who believes that regeneration precedes faith and, therefore, repentance and salvation.) Instead, the idea is that one cannot encounter God without coming away changed, and the very popular "carnal Christian" concept ("He's just a carnal Christian. It's entirely possible to go your whole life without ever bearing fruit.") isn't defensible biblically.

Scott Arnold said...

I don't know if either of you took time to read the article at the end of my post - but it's worth the time (no matter your position).

Those who disagree with the Lordship view are not arguing that regeneration does not produce a change - in fact we know it does because Scripture tells us so. The point is this - the Lordship view (at least the way MacArthur explains it) lumps sanctification right in there with repentance and faith. It leaves no room for new believers to grow in their faith, since not only must they hear and comprehend the entire Gospel message from the start - but they must also be able to demonstrate immediate discipleship. Christ said over and over "your faith has healed/saved you" - was that the complete Gospel?

Now, I agree that it is largely synchronous, and I agree that one's life is changed and discipleship to an extent begins immediately. But IMO MacArthur takes it much too far. He seems to be saying, "I'm sorry - but deathbed conversions just aren't going to work - please have them explain the entire Gospel and show me the fruit."

Here's the distinction for me. The Lordship view says that one must demonstrate a changed life to attain salvation - I say that one will demonstrate a changed life as a result of salvation. We end up the same place - but travel a different route.

Stan said...

As I said, I read MacArthur's book on Lordship Salvation. I didn't get that out of it. But, then, I may miss a lot.

The contrary view to "Lordship Salvation", as I understand it, is the "carnal Christian" approach. It is largely and popularly believed that it is entirely possible to go your entire Christian life without ever exhibiting a single fruit. This, I believe, is what MacArthur is warning about. He contrasts it with "easy believism", the idea that "All I have to do is say the sinner's prayer and ... POOF! ... I'm saved."

Scott Arnold said...

I probably need to read the book.

My understanding from what I have read is that he has gone to an extreme opposite of those you characterize as adhering to "easy believism" (I'm not one of them). It's similar to the Perseverance argument for me (in fact, I believe them to be very closely related): we will do, work, persevere, etc as a result of our faith - as a result of repentance.

If you read the article I linked to, you will see that the author agrees with much of what MacArthur says. I would be interested in exactly what either of you disagree with in that article if you have time to read it.

Stan said...


I have read the article you linked and it is tomorrow's blog post.

Thanks in advance. (You'll understand that tomorrow.)

Scott Arnold said...

Thanks Stan. I look forward to your thoughts on the article.

It was a little academic for me, but I am in agreement with Dr. Sawyer, at least as far as I can understand him. He seems to me to have found the achilles heal of both sides - and has helped me to discard the extreme teachings of both.

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