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:
GotQuestions.orgAs 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 Bible.org's Theology Program (they also disagree with Lordship):
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.
The Theology Program - Soteriology - The Doctrine of ConversionWait, 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.
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.
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 GotQuestions.org:
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).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.
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.
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