The following appeared at Pulpit Magazine on Septemeber 29th, 2006. This paragraph from Dr. MacArthur’s post titled True Faith and True Grace encapsulates the major elements in the Lordship controversy. Dr. MacArthur wrote:
“Those who teach that repentance is extraneous to saving faith are forced to make a firm but unbiblical distinction between salvation and discipleship. This dichotomy, like that of the carnal/spiritual Christian, sets up two classes of Christians: believers only and true disciples. Most who hold this position discard the evangelistic intent of virtually every recorded invitation of Jesus, saying those apply to discipleship, not to salvation.”One of the most significant errors with Lordship Salvation is the confusing of passages meant for the born again disciple of Christ (such as Luke 9:23-24, 14:25-33) and presenting them as though they are evangelistic appeals directed to the lost. It is from this error, where much of the Lordship interpretation of the gospel flows. This error leads to a faulty definition of faith, redefines the role of biblical repentance in salvation, both of which result in a gospel message that frustrates grace (Gal. 2:21). Following are three examples of how John MacArthur’s discipleship gospel redefines the faith that saves:
“The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience. . . . Forsaking oneself for Christ’s sake is not an optional step of discipleship subsequent to conversion; it is the sine qua non of saving faith.” (The Gospel According to Jesus [Revised & Expanded Edition], p. 27, 142.)
“Thus in a sense we pay the ultimate price for salvation when our sinful self is nailed to a 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.” (The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 140.)
“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….” (The Gospel According to Jesus [Revised & Expanded Edition], p. 221).Lordship Salvation conditions the reception of salvation on a lost man’s upfront commitment to what should be the results of salvation. A commitment to perform the “good works” (Eph. 2:10) expected of the disciple of Christ is Lordship’s requirement FOR salvation. The lost man is expected to make a commitment toward what he will do, or become, in “exchange” for what Christ has done for him. John MacArthur states that position this way,
“That is the kind of response the Lord Jesus called for: wholehearted commitment. A desire for Him at any cost. Unconditional surrender. A full exchange of self for the Savior. It is the only response that will open the gates of the kingdom.” (The Gospel According to Jesus [Revised & Expanded Edition], p. 148.)In one of the clearest expressions of portraying discipleship as though it is the key to salvation Dr. MacArthur wrote,
“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.)The faith that saves is more than simple acknowledgment. Faith is basically a trust or confidence in someone or something. For salvation Jesus must be the object of faith. Faith goes beyond acknowledgement when the lost man transfers his dependence on Christ to save him from the penalty of sin. Mere acknowledgement of what Jesus has done does not save. When biblically defined- faith does not include upfront promises of commitment and surrender.
Discipleship comes at a cost, salvation (justification) does not! It is clear that Lordship Salvation requires much more than a faith that acknowledges one’s sin, a pending judgment for sin, and one’s need of the Savior. The Lordship position does not depend solely on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Lordship Salvation, according to John MacArthur above, is a barter system, an “exchange” of what man must offer Christ to receive His free gift of salvation. To imply that receiving the free gift of God requires that man “pay the ultimate price” is a gospel of faith plus works.
My book, In Defense of the Gospel does not contain errors that are so common in the works of other men who have written in objection to Lordship Salvation. Many have been alarmed at the increasingly meaningless presentation of a gospel that seems to ignore the Person of Christ, the sinfulness of man, the finished work of Christ and the pending judgment of God. This gospel calls men to salvation when they have been given only a vague idea of just what they need to be saved from. There is, furthermore, a reductionist interpretation of the content of saving faith, with which I strongly disagree. The most extreme example of this reductionist view is known as the “Crossless” gospel. This is a relatively new interpretation of the Gospel originated by (the late) Zane Hodges and is almost exclusively perpetuated by the Grace Evangelical Society’s membership.
My book does not minimize or reject the lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus is Lord and Savior throughout all eternity. We all agree that Jesus is the Savior; the only hope mankind has for eternal salvation from sin, death and Hell (Acts 4:12). We all agree that Jesus is the Lord, the King of Kings, and all power belongs to Him (Rev. 19:16; Matt. 28:18). If He is not the Lord, He is not God. If He is not God, He is not the Savior. Christ’s lordship, however, should not be used to create a message where the reception of salvation is conditioned on a lost man’s upfront commitment to surrender and submission, which Lordship Salvation does.
Pastor George Zeller wrote an article titled, The Relationship Between God’s Grace and Lordship Legalism, which appears in the appendix of my book. Following is a brief excerpt.
“Don’t confuse saving faith with that which saving faith ought to produce. Don’t confuse repentance with the fruits of repentance. Behavior and fruit are the evidences of saving faith but they are not the essence of saving faith. Don’t confuse the fruit with the root. Before you can “come after” Christ in discipleship (Luke 9:23; Matt. 11:29-30), you must “come unto” Christ for salvation (Matthew 11:28). Discipleship is not a requirement for salvation; discipleship is the obligation of every saved person.”When a man tries to carefully introduce verses about discipleship as part of God’s plan for salvation, remember that the Bible teaches we come to Christ for salvation and that we come after Christ in discipleship. It is wrong to present discipleship verses as salvation verses. We must not use verses intended to teach discipleship to try to lead a man to Christ. To do so creates confusion and frustration. It becomes a gospel of faith, plus works.
Lordship Salvation demands from a lost man a promise of what he will do, or become, to receive the gift of eternal life. Once man offers anything in addition to the finished work of Christ for salvation that message becomes false through the addition. A gospel that calls for man to do or offer anything in addition to what Christ has done is wrong!
Dr. MacArthur- I know you mean well, you believe you are being true to the Scriptures. Changing the terms of the gospel, however, to upfront demands for commitment and surrender in “exchange” for salvation, will not make the problems of loose living carnality found in some professing believers go away.
In Defense of the Gospel fully defines and biblically answers the doctrinal and practical problems with Lordship Salvation. I wrote my book to alert Christians, across the broad spectrum of evangelical Christianity, about Lordship’s works based, man-centered interpretation of the gospel that frustrates grace (Gal. 2:21).
There are many areas where one must balance soul liberty and Christian charity and agree to respect different views. The gospel, however, is not an area in which we can agree to disagree. The doctrine of Lordship Salvation and the Lordship advocates must be vigorously debated, and its spread biblically resisted.
Portions from the above are selected excerpts from In Defense of the Gospel: Biblical Answers to Lordship Salvation.