March 29, 2007

The Gospel Controversy: Faith & Obedience

In a thread at the pseudo- fundamentalist blog Sharper Iron a Pastor asked for information about the relation between faith and obedience.

Following is an excerpt from The Gospel Controversy, an article which appeared in the official periodical of Preach The Word Ministries, October-December, 1999.

The Bible teaches that true saving faith is, in itself an act of obedience to Jesus Christ. This theme is like a thread running through the fabric of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul begins by stating that the reason God made him an apostle was “for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name” (Rom. 1:5). Further, he describes the sinfulness of mankind by speaking of “them who are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness” (Rom. 2:8). Sinners are disobedient to God while they obey lawlessness. He tells the Roman Christians (and us present day believers) “that ye were the servants of sin, but ye obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Rom. 6:17). In chapter ten, Paul reiterates six times that men receive justification by faith (Rom. 10:4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11). He then equates faith with calling on the Lord (Romans 10:12, 13). After the great challenge that some have never called on Christ because they have never heard of Him (Romans 10:14, 15), Paul turns to the nation of Israel. Israel’s lost condition is not because they had never heard of Christ but because “they have not all obeyed the gospel” (Rom. 10:16). No point could be more clear. When a disobedient sinner truly trusts Christ to save him, that act of faith is itself obedience to God! Paul’s benediction to Romans concludes the theme. Speaking of the Gospel, the Apostle tells us: “But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26).

Rather than make demands on the lost that Scripture does not make, let us preach the Gospel as it is, dealing squarely with the issues of sin, repentance, and faith. The lost who respond to Christ in true faith will obey Him at that point. Convicted and convinced by the Holy Spirit, they will understand that their obedience to sin places them under the judgment of God. They will trust Christ alone for salvation, calling on Him. That is obedience to the Gospel! Those who have so trusted Christ can be trained as disciples of the Lord Jesus. They will follow Him in baptism, the first step of obedience to Christ in the Christian life. They will surrender their wills fully to Christ and follow Him. They will be willing to take up a cross, enduring humiliation, suffering, and possible death for the One who literally bore a cross to save them from sin.

Reprinted by permission

The last paragraph is key. The first highlighted portion shows that Lordship’s call for upfront commitments to obey, follow, surrender and bears the cross to get saved, are demands which the Bible does not make on a lost man.

The second highlighted portion shows that obedience should be the natural result of saving faith. Some might state it this way,
"The lost who respond to Christ in true faith will obey Him from that point forward."
This article contrasts the Lordship idea of commitments to obedience and discipleship for salvation with the Bible's plan of faith resulting in obedience and commitment to discipleship.



  1. Lou,

    I checked out the discussion you link to at Sharper Iron. There is one question that I have for you that I am sure you have addressed but I cannot get a good handle on in my own mind (I must admit that I have not purchased your book). You, of course, have made it clear that you strongly disagree with Lordship Salvation but you also disagree with Zane Hodges as to what constitutes saving faith. In one of your comments you made the statement:

    I trust we all agree none of us here are taking on the Hodges’ Mental Assent only as the “opposing position.”
    March 13th, 2007, 09:10 AM

    You have made similar comments in the past and I have never gotten clear in my mind what difference you see between mental assent and belief. I make the proposition that Jesus Christ, the lamb without spot, died on the cross for my sins so that I may be saved. If I understand you correctly (and I grant I may not be) you are saying that if a person believes that proposition they are saved but if another person only gives it mental assent they are not. I do not understand what is missing from mental assent that is included in belief. What is the difference?

    Just so you know where I am coming from, I am opposed to Lordship Salvation and hold to a position much closer to Zane Hodges. In fact Hodges and the Grace Evangelical Society (GES) are now taking the position that when a person believes they must have assurance. I am not convinced of this at all. I believed when I was five years old, of this I have no doubt. At that time I had no concept of assurance. I have no idea whether my act of faith would be classified as mental assent or belief, such nuance is foreign to a child.

    I have heard Lordship Salvation advocates use the terms "mental assent" and "easy believism" but they are including works in the mix which you are not. Any clarification you care to provide will be much appreciated.

    Glenn W.

  2. Hi Glenn:

    Thanks for checking in.

    As for terms, I write some about this in my book. Men in the Lordship and Free Grace camps did not much care for the terms, labels that were initially and still being used to identify their positions.

    Lordship Salvation, Surrender/Submission/Discipleship salvation for the LS interpretation. The Lordship advoactes have come to accept the "Lordship Salvation" label, but define it in their own terms. You'll find, for example, LS used without apology at Grace to You.

    Cheap Grace, Mental Assent, Easy Believism, No-lordship for the opposing view. Those in that camp do not appreciate those terms. I will say that “Cheap Grace and “No-lordship” can be extraordinarily misleading.

    There are other labels, but these are the mainstream.


  3. Glenn:

    A friend of mine and I discussed a number of things along the lines of your comment/questions. Here is something that came from those discussions.

    When the Lordship Salvation controversy broke out several years ago the Grace Evangelical Society (GES) was formed. Zane Hodges, Mike Cocoris, and to a lesser extent, Ryrie, wrote against the Lordship position.

    Hodges rightly identifies reformed theology as the root of the Lordship position. He, however, adopts Richard Seymour's weak position on repentance, that repentance is merely a mental acknowledgement, and not a change of mind.

    This is how the “Mental Assent Only” label came about. Understanding that faith and repentance are the two sides of the same theological coin is crucial in this matter.

    The result of “weak” repentance is that these men almost argue that a person can be saved and never evidence any fruit of salvation. I think they are right in arguing that our assurance rests on the promise of God's word, and nothing else. The following statements, one I think to be true and the other false, show my concern with Hodges and GES. Watch this:

    It does not matter how the insistence on good works is articulated. The result is inescapably the same. If works are elevated to the level of a co-condition with faith then they are clearly indispensable to assurance.

    I think that statement is correct, we must never make works a co-condition with faith. Now watch this:

    If they are only seen as the inevitable outcome of true saving faith, they become equally indispensable to assurance.

    Now I think they have checked out with Scripture. It seems to me that James 2 makes it clear that good works are an inevitable result of true saving faith. I do mean “result” not requirement, or even an upfront commitment to do the “good works," (Eph. 2:10) which is what LS demands for the reception of eternal life. This quote above is from Hodges: The Gospel Under Seige.

    Men need to be careful not to bounce off one unbiblical teaching into another.

    Some historical perspective: This is nothing new. The Anabaptists were all over the Reformers over this issue. The Reformers had many "converts" who lived ungodly lives. The Anabaptists insisted on the purity of the church.

    I hope this helps. I’ll have more later.

    God bless you.


  4. Lou,

    Thank you for your response. This clarifies some nagging questions I have had for a while.

    Glenn W.

  5. Glenn:

    No problem.

    I hope to, but have not had the time to, post more on the difference between Mental Assent Only and believing.

    I am planning to take this theme you raised and expand on it. I will probably post it as an entirely new article.

    Hope you don't mind if I use portions of your first post here as the stage setter.

    It is an excellent discussion and worth pursuing.

    Check back again for this.

    God bless you,


  6. Lou,

    Please feel free to use anything you want from my comments. I look forward to reading you post on the subject.

    Glenn W.

  7. Glenn:

    Thanks, I appreciate that.