June 11, 2010

Archival Series: Lordship Legalism

Dear Guests of IDOTG:

Today, I am beginning a new weekend only series. Most Friday nights I will be reproducing some of the best from the four years of archived articles at IDOTG. Today we begin with an article written by Pastor George Zeller, which appears as Appendix D in the revised and expanded edition of In Defense of the Gospel. You may return to the original The Relationship Between God’s Grace & Lordship Legalism from 2006 for the thread discussion that took place then or submit your comment here.

This brings us to a teaching of our day, common in Reformed circles, popularly known as LORDSHIP SALVATION.

Essentially Lordship salvation teaches that simple faith in Jesus Christ is not enough for salvation. Something else is needed. A solid commitment to Christ as Lord is needed. A person needs to surrender to the Lordship of Christ. A willingness to obey Christ’s commands is necessary. Also the sinner must fulfill the demands of discipleship or be willing to fulfill them. This includes loving Christ supremely, forsaking possessions, etc. (see Luke 14:25-33).

What do Lordship teachers do with Acts 16:30-31? [“And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”] This verse teaches that the sinner must do the believing and that God must do the saving. It teaches that faith and faith alone is necessary for salvation. It does not say, “Believe and surrender to Christ’s Lordship and fulfill the terms of discipleship and thou shalt be saved.” It simply says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” What does it mean to believe? The hymn-writer has explained it in very simple terms, “Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His Word, just to rest upon His promise, just to know THUS SAITH THE LORD!”

Those who teach Lordship salvation are forced to redefine saving faith. It means more than just simple, childlike faith in Jesus Christ. They might say something like this: “We believe in Acts 16:31 just as much as you do, but you need to understand what the word ‘believe’ really means. ‘Believe’ means more than just believe. Saving faith involves much more.” What does it mean to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? Lordship salvation teachers would say that it involves the following: It means surrendering to His Lordship. It means turning from sin. It means submitting to His authority and to His Word. It means obeying His commands, or at least having a willingness to obey. It means fully accepting all the terms of discipleship.

Consider this last statement. Does saving faith really involve accepting all the terms of discipleship? Does saving faith really include such requirements as loving Christ supremely, forsaking all that one has, denying self, etc. (Luke 14:25-33, etc.)? A saved person should do all of these things, but he does not do these things in order to be saved. He is saved because he throws himself upon the mercy of a loving Saviour who died for him. One reason why he needs to be saved is because he does not love Christ supremely. He is guilty of breaking the greatest commandment! It is not our COMMITMENT that saves us, it is our CHRIST who saves us! It is not our SURRENDER that saves us, it is our SAVIOUR who does! It is not what I do for God; it’s what God has done for me.

Avoid the dangerous error of taking what should be the RESULT of salvation and making it the REQUIREMENT of salvation: It is because I am saved that I surrender to His Lordship (Rom. 12:1-2). It is because I am saved that I turn from sin and begin to learn what it means to live unto righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24). It is because I am saved that I follow Him in willing obedience (1 John 2:3-5). It is because I am saved that I agree to the terms of discipleship and begin to learn all that discipleship involves (Luke chapter 14).

It is because I am saved that I submit to His authority over every area of my life (Rom. 6:13). I do these things because I am saved by the grace of God, not in order to be saved. Do not turn the results into requirements! Don’t turn the grace of God into legalism [adding unbiblical requirements to the gospel message].

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.

Salvation involves Christ loving me (Rom. 5:8; Gal. 2:20); discipleship involves me loving Christ (Matthew 10:37). Because we are justified freely by His grace we measure up to the full demands of God’s righteousness in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). Because we are frail we often fail to measure up to the full demands of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33). The requirements of discipleship are many; the requirement for salvation is simple faith and trust in the Saviour.

Please visit the Middletown Bible Church site for a host of articles by George Zeller on a wide range of theological concerns.

Brother George Zeller wrote one of two forewords for my new book. Continue to Available Now: What to Expect, 4 where you may read his foreword and an excerpt from In Defense of the Gospel: Biblical Answers to Lordship Salvation.


  1. Hello Lou,

    I appreciate your desire to make salvation as gracious as possible but you are perpetuating a false gospel.

    Repentance IS the gospel.

    Mark's account of the great commission says to "preach the Gospel to all creation." In Luke's parallel account it says "repentance for the forgiveness of sins shall be preached."

    In Luke 9:6 is says the disciples were "preaching the gospel", in the parallel account in Mark 6:12 it says they preached "that people should repent."

    Our Lord even gave the perfect object lesson of what exactly repentance for forgiveness of sins looks like in Matt. 12:41 The men of Nineveh repented for the forgiveness of sins. Jonah 3:5-10 shows how they believed God and repented and God forgave them after they repented.

    Forgiveness of sins has always required sinners to repent to be forgiven. Old Testament and New, Ezekiel 18:30-32, Judges 10:6-16. The Prophets all warned of God's judgement and called sinners to repent, all the way through to John the Baptist and then Jesus, then Jesus commanded His disciples to preach repentance for forgiveness of sins (Lk. 24:47) they obeyed this command in the Book of Acts 2:38, 17:30, 20:21 etc.

    In fact, the great Apostle Paul told Agrippa in Acts 26:19 that his message everywhere he went was "repent, turn to God and prove your repentance by your deeds."

    Even sinning brothers are required to repent to be forgiven and reconciled to another sinful creature.(Matt. 18) Would Holy God apply the blood of His Son to an unrepentant sinner?

    Repentance is the work of God in the heart of the sinner yet God requires us to call on sinners to repent. And yes, repentance is the first act of obedience and surrender. It is a 180 degree turn from loving ourself(sin) and turning from ourselves in faith to the only One who can forgive us.

    The Prodigal son is the most descriptive picture our Lord gave us of what takes place when a sinner is saved. He turns from going his way(repentance) in rebellion to his father, and comes to him in faith that he'll be received and surrenders his life to him.

    Jesus doesn't say he just believed his father would forgive him while he continued to run from him going his own way.

    Today Jesus might have told it this way....

    "Now the older brother went after his younger brother and found him in a brothel. He said, brother don't you know that you are sinning against your father? Don't you know your father loves you and wants to forgive you and be reconciled to you? The younger brother said, yes. Then his older brother said, well if you just believe this to be true you can repeat this prayer after me and be forgiven and reconciled to the father. So he led the younger brother through a prayer and left him in the brothel and went his way with joy in his heart knowing his brother had received his father's complete forgiveness."

    That is exactly what a no repentance gospel is doing today.

    We should proclaim the gospel our Lord commanded us to proclaim. Otherwise we might hear "why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say."

    If He really is our Lord we will do what He told us to do, and if we aren't can we really say He is our Lord?

    Kinda sounds like Lordship Salvation.


  2. Jonathan:

    It is late so I’ll try to have more for you tomorrow. For now, I’d like to suggest that you search for any comments where I state that repentance is unnecessary for salvation. If you find that then you might have a case for suggesting I preach a false gospel. Until then you might read the following links. Afterward you might engage the article by George Zeller.

    What is Biblical Repentance?

    How Does the Lordship Advocate Define Repentance?

    Now, if you were to state that the late Zane Hodges, Bob Wilkin and the Grace Evangelical Society strip repentance for salvation from the Gospel you'd be correct and within your rights to state they preach a "false gospel." See-

    The Free Grace Fracture...

    Drifting Far Off the Marker, Part 2


  3. Jonathan:

    I want to share some excerpts from my book, In Defense of the Gospel: Biblical Answers to Lordship Salvation. I trust these will help you to recognize where my deepest concerns rest with the LS interpretation of the Gospel.

    “…please bear in mind that the Lordship Salvation controversy primarily revolves around the requirements for salvation, NOT the results of salvation. A genuine conversion should evidence itself in genuine results. New believers will vary in levels of growth, but growth should be evident to some degree. The primary focal point of controversy, however, is Lordship’s requirements for the reception of eternal life, i.e. how to become a Christian.” (p. xvi.)

    “As we begin to look at Lordship Salvation it is imperative that a clear distinction be drawn in regard to where the core area of debate is, and where it is not. The major issue and crux of the doctrinal controversy is over Lordship’s definition of how the lost are born again. Concerns in regard to the discipleship of genuine believers are an important discussion, but for me that is not where the main controversy lies. The crux of the Lordship debate is over the requirements for salvation, not the results of salvation.

    One of the central questions that fuels and defines the Lordship debate is: What is required of a sinner that would constitute “saving faith,” i.e. the faith that results in his being born again? For a lost man to be born again must his faith in Christ include a “willingness to forsake everything, wholehearted commitment, unconditional surrender and a full exchange of self for the Savior?” Numerous statements to that effect from the advocates of Lordship Salvation are the focal point of the doctrinal controversy. These alleged “overstatements” have never been edited, explained, or eliminated by the men who make them. In fact, over the years, these statements have been reiterated and reinforced.” (p. 47.)

  4. Jonathan:

    And this from my book on page 125.

    “Repentance is not simply knowing you are a sinner. It is not confessing and feeling sorrow about some sin. Confession and remorse may indicate only that one is sorry that his sin was discovered and will do it again the next time he gets a chance. Repentance is not making a resolution and turning over a new leaf with the intent to do better with one’s life. True biblical repentance is not making a decision to stop committing sin or a specific list of sins. That is reforming the life. Reformation or the commitment to reform toward better performance in life does not save. A commitment to reform as a requirement for salvation frustrates the grace of God.”

  5. Jonathan, I would like to chime in with my comments on repentance that I believe is also in line with Lou's view.

    A lost sinner MUST repent (change of mind) or remain lost, Amen?

    Concerning sin, the lost person must have a change of mind. That is, to no longer view sin as "ok" or "not that bad", but to view it as an offense against the Lord. To recognize their need for salvation because they are lost in their sins, and deserving of the judgment of our Holy God. To have a desire to not suffer the eternal consequences of dying in their sins.

    Concerning faith, the lost person must change their mind from unbelief to belief, facilitated by a change of attitude from one of arrogance to humility before the Lord.

    Concerning God, it is to change one's mind and recognize that the sinner's way of salvation (good works, not sinning too much, etc...) is wholly inadequate, and to acknowledge that God's way (believing the Gospel) is the only way of salvation.

    The Gospel: To accept the Lordship of Christ, that is, to acknowledge his Deity, that Christ is God in the flesh. To believe that as our Substitute, He shed His blood and died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and bodily rose from the dead on the third day. By accepting Christ alone for who He is and what He has done for us, the sinner changes his mind from trusting all other things, and believes God alone.

    This is the message that delivers a hell-bound soul to a Heaven-bound soul.

    To add to this an upfront commitment of turning from all sin in one's life, or a commitment of service as a requirement (or exchange) for eternal life means that it is no longer free, but costly. Let me be clear, the lost person pays no such price, nor does God require it in order to be saved. A sinner trusting in such efforts remains lost.

    John MacArthur calls this paying of a costly price in order to receive a free gift, "a paradox", as if that settles it. The Holy Bible gives that false teacher no such liberty to teach what he does.

    Holy Scripture warns the saints to stay true to the Gospel lest they lose their reward.

    In one regard I can agree with MacArthur - it is not a light matter we deal with.

    I will stand on the side of the Gospel, and on that Day God will show all those who were on the right side.

    I pray you'll be one of them.


  6. Jonathan:

    Although you've not responded to or added anything new to this discussion you initiated I trust you have been helped and/or edified in some way from what Phil and I have shared here.


  7. Lou,

    Actually I was just trying to decide if it is worth it to try to get you to see what the Bible says is what it means.

    The best hermeneutics allow the Bible to interpret itself, not to read your own interpretations into the text.

    I can see you acknowledge a need for repentance but you are re-interpretating what repentance means.

    Here are a couple clear examples where scripture defines repentance.

    Jesus used Nineveh as an example of repentance. Matt. 12:41

    In Jonah 3:8 the King of Nineveh says "Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence." Then verse 10 "when God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened."

    Ezekiel 18:30-32 "Therefore O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovreign Lord. Repent! and live."

    The Lord's instruction to Paul -Acts 26:18 "...to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me."

    As Paul recounts this to Agrippa he says ..."I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds."

    Of course these are just a few examples where scripture makes plain as day that God call sinners to turn from their sins to be forgiven.

    Here's a couple human definitions...

    Westminster Catechism- "Repentance unto life is a saving grace whereby a sinner out of a true sense of his sin and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ doth with grief and hatred of his sin turn from it unto God with full purpose of and endeavor after new obedience."

    Charles Spurgeon - "There must be a true and actual abandonment of sin and a turning unto righteousness in real act and deed in every day life. Repentance to be sure must be entire. How many will say Sir, I will renounce this sin and the other...but there are certain darling lusts which I must keep hold? Oh sirs, in God's name it is not the giving up of one sin nor 50 sins which is true repentance. It is the solemn renunciation of every sin. If thou dost harbor one of those accursed vipers in thy heart and dost give up every other, that one lust like one leak in a ship will sink thy soul. Think it not to give up thy outward vices, fancy it not enough to cut off the more corrupt sins of thy life, it is all or none which God demands. Repent says He, and when He bids you repent, He means repent of all thy sins otherwise He can never accept your repentance as real and genuine. All sins must be given up or you will never have Christ. All transgression must be renounced or else the gates of heaven must be barred against you. Let us remember for repentance to be sincere it must be entire repentance. True repentance is a turning of the heart as well as the life. It is the giving up of the whole soul to God to be His forever. It is the renunciation of the sins of the heart as well as the crimes of life."

    When letting scripture interpret itself, along with viewing what the church held to for 1900 years it is clear that the central element of the gospel is calling sinners to turn from their sins.

  8. Jonathan:

    If salvation is conditioned on a lost man’s promise “to turn from their sins to be forgiven,” then salvation is conditioned on a work of man. That is tragically, exactly what Lordship Salvation is. LS is a message that corrupts the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3) and frustrates grace (Gal. 2:21). In the opening pages (pp. 128-129) of my chapter on repentance I include the following, which answers your contention.

    Classic Lordship Salvation contends that repentance is turning from sin(s) or the resolve to turn from sins…. Jurist theologian Ron Shea (Th.M., J.D.) explains that Lordship’s front-loading of the gospel is fundamentally a bilateral contract at law.

    “In this view, eternal salvation is not dependent on the performance of a work, but only the promise of future works. In the minds of those determined to adhere to salvation by works, this distinction supposedly allows the works of the law to be somehow added to the equation of salvation without annulling the doctrine of grace. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans would disagree. ‘For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is of none effect.’ The…expression of ‘saving repentance’ is nothing more than a specific form or expression of Bilateral Contract Salvation . . . ‘a promise for a promise.’ The lost sinner ‘promises’ future obedience in exchange for God’s ‘promise’ of eternal life. This errant understanding of the term “repentance” is the most common and pervasive form of “Lordship Salvation” taught within Christendom throughout the world.”

  9. Jonathan:

    In this comment I define repentance with an excerpt from my book, In Defense of the Gospel, pp. 130-131.

    The Hebrew word translated “repent” in the Old Testament is nacham, which means “to draw a deep breath,” an expression of deep feeling of either relief or sorrow (Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, p. 87). The meaning “to repent” or “to regret” in the Old Testament is nearly always used of God rather than man, but not exclusively (Job 42:6; Jeremiah 8:6; 31:19). G. Michael Cocoris identifies a key factor in the Old Testament usages:

    “The conclusive evidence that repentance does not mean to be sorry for sin or to turn from sin is this: in the Old Testament, God repents! To illustrate: in the King James Version of the Old Testament, the word repent occurs forty-six times. Thirty-seven of these times, God is the one repenting (or not repenting). If repentance means sorrow for sin or turning from sin, God is a sinner.”

    [What about New Testament Repentance?]

    The noun metanoia, repentance and its verb form metanoeo, to repent are the New Testament counterparts to the Old Testament nacham. It would be incorrect, however, to view the two words as identical in meaning. That the use of metanoeo in the LXX differs from its use in the New Testament demonstrates the development of a precise theological meaning for metanoia, repentance in the New Testament. For an explanation of this development, see “Conversion” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology.

    In the New Testament metanoia, repentance expresses the root meaning of the word “repentance,” which is a change of mind. The etymology of the word also brings out this idea. Regarding the prefix meta (meta), which is generally translated after, Thayer states,

    “. . . a preposition . . . and hence prop. in the midst of, amid, denoting association, union, accompaniment. . . . In composition, [when prefixed to another word as with metanoia] meta denotes 1. Association, fellowship, participating, with . . . 2. Exchange, transfer, transmutation.”

    The root noia comes from the word nous, which means mind. The connection between meta and nous leads us to define “repentance” as “afterthought, change of mind.”

  10. Hello Lou,

    Since first reading Pastor Zeller's writings I have enjoyed them. I am concerned however by his following statements:

    "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."

    Could you show me any verse in the Bible that teaches certain behavior is an, or the evidence of saving faith?


  11. Jimmy/All:

    I am posting here Brother George Zeller's reply to your question, which he sent to me and Jimmy via e-mail.


    Thanks for your question regarding the evidence of being born again.

    Someone once asked, "If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"

    "Faith worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6). Faith is the root; love is the fruit. And "love" here probably refers to the entire "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-23).

    As brother Martuneac has said on page 152 of his revised book, "James 2:14-26 is very clear; a genuine conversion should evidence itself in genuine results" (that is, good works).

    If a person has truly believed on Christ, how is this evidenced? One obvious evidence is that a true believer will have a strong desire to see others come to know Christ as Saviour. If there is no such evidence, something is drastically wrong.

    Saving faith should be evidenced by a strong desire for the Word of God (1 Pet. 2:2-3).

    If a person has come to know Christ, this should be evidenced by obedience to Christ's commands (1 John 2:3-4).

    If a person has truly believed and is one of Christ's sheep, then we should see this person listening to and following the Shepherd (John 10:27).

    If a person has passed from death unto life, then there ought to be a love for the brethren (1 John 3:14-15).

    Much more could be said, but these points and others are developed on the following web pages:

    Here; Here; Here; Here; Here

    I hope this is of help.

    In Christ,

    George Zeller