Unpacking the Difference Between the Gospel of Grace and the Works-Based Approach of Lordship Salvation, Final
Dear Guests of IDOTG:
This is the final of the two part series by Pastor Tom Stegall. You may read Part One and find that Pastor Stegall is answering this question,
Lou, if a person wanted to still be an idolator and be a Christian, would you tell him:Pastor Stegall opened by stating,
a) he could not continue in idolatry
b) he would need to stop the idolatry after he accepts Christ
This is a loaded theological question that will require some careful unpacking. Yet, it is worthwhile to answer since it presents an opportunity to highlight once again the radical difference between the biblical, grace-oriented approach to salvation and the inherently meritorious, works-based approach of Lordship Salvation.Let's continue now with the conclusion of this compelling series.
Another question that must first be addressed before someone could answer the question above is, what is idolatry according to the Bible? Is it not giving to any created thing the honor and devotion that is due only to the Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ? Many people don’t even realize the extent to which they are idolatrous when they first believe in Christ. When a man loves football to such an extent that he chooses to skip church on Sunday mornings in order to catch the pre-game show and not miss the kick-off and watches his favorite team for at least 3 hours each game, how is he NOT an idolater?! And if a person has to be willing to give up certain sins, such as idolatry, to be saved, isn’t this really saying that he has to be willing to give up watching football and come to church in order to be saved? Sounds like a works-salvation to me! And what else does he have to give up before he has forsaken all forms of idolatry and is now finally saved? For that matter, since the first two commandments prohibit having any other gods before the LORD or making idolatrous images (Exod. 20:1-4), isn’t this approach really requiring that a person must keep the commandments, the Law, in order to be justified in the sight of God? That is not salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone but is the very meritorious, legalistic, works-based salvation so clearly condemned in the New Testament (Rom. 3:19-28; Gal. 1:6-9; 2:16; 3:1-13; 5:1-6).
Finally, we must ask regarding Kime’s propositional question, what does the phrase “wanted to still be an idolator” mean? The term “wanted” has also been left undefined and is quite ambiguous. What verse in all of Scripture speaks in terms of “wanting” versus “not wanting” certain sins in order to be saved, born again, justified, redeemed, receive eternal life, etc.? The issue and condition of eternal life is always stated to be a matter of “believing” something. It is conspicuous that Scripture never presents the condition for salvation in terms of us being willing not to sin certain sins or sin to a certain unacceptable degree. Why are there no Bible verses that say something along this order, “He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him and wills not to sin, shall not perish,” (John 3:16); or “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and will not to sin, and you shall be saved,” (Acts 16:31)? Therefore, we must ask, is this question at hand derived from what WE think God must require for salvation or is it driven by what GOD has actually stated in His Word to be the condition for salvation?
The Bible itself nowhere requires that we must be willing to no longer sin in some particular area before God will save us.
Romans 3:24-25 says, “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood....” Some professing but legalistic Christians view God as not being practically satisfied with the work of His Son. They think that they must resolve to do something about their sins in order to satisfy God before He is willing to save them. Their own resolve practically becomes the propitiating factor with God. No longer is it Christ Jesus “Himself” who is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2), it is Christ plus the determined sinner that ultimately brings satisfaction for sin in God’s sight. Yet, it is solely the Rock of Ages upon which we are rest our confidence for acceptance before God, as the hymn writer put it years ago: “Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, these for sin could not atone, Thou must save and Thou alone.”
God already knows our future earthly life and walk with all its sins and failures at the moment of new birth; and yet in spite of foreseen future failure He accepts us and clothes us with His righteousness. And if this is true, we must then ask, from God’s perspective, why would He be any more willing to save a person who willed and determined not to sin and yet still ended up sinning anyway (as all Christians do) versus the one who didn’t resolve or determine to stop sinning and yet still ended up sinning just the same? In either case, both parties still sin and God knows they will both still sin. From God’s vantage point, at the very moment He regenerates a soul He already knows that individual is going to choose to sin after the new birth, and yet He accepts that person on the basis of the finished work of His Son not their future performance or even their present determination not to sin.
In fact, to say that God will only save the one who wills or determines to stop sinning and yet continues to sin anyway (as all Christians do after conversion) actually depreciates the holiness and righteousness of God. It does this by teaching in essence that God is not so concerned with whether we actually commit sin but only that we desire not to. In other words, the committal of sin is inconsequential; it is the intentions that count! But salvation is never granted to mankind on the basis of his good intentions, but only on the basis of the perfect, finished work of Christ which is the only thing that satisfied the just requirements of an infinitely righteous God.
With that said, one final clarification is in order regarding Kime’s proposition and the sole condition for becoming a Christian (i.e., becoming born again). The preceding explanation should not be misinterpreted to mean that a sinner can actually consider sin to be a good thing, or acceptable, while still exercising faith in Christ for salvation. That is impossible. In order for people to place their faith in Christ’s propitious death for their sins, they must come to a realization and acceptance of the fact that they are sinners (Rom. 3:9-12). As such, they come to accept the fact that they are guilty before God and worthy of His judgment (Rom. 3:19-20), and that apart from Christ’s finished work and salvation by grace, they stand separated from a holy God (Rom. 3:23-25). When this realization and acceptance occurs within a lost sinner, this is biblical repentance. Such repentance is inherent to faith in Christ (Acts 20:21). Therefore, when lost people come to see their sin and its consequences, the normal result is to no longer intend to continue sinning out of sheer gratitude and appreciation for Christ’s atoning death. But although this determination normally accompanies repentance, it is not inherent to repentance; nor is it necessary for salvation. It is necessary for on-going fellowship with God (1 John 1:3-10).
Pastor Tom Stegall
Pastor Tom Stegall is author of the new book, The Gospel of the Christ: A Biblical Response to the Crossless Gospel Regarding the Contents of Saving Faith and pastor of the Word of Grace Bible Church in West Allis, WI.
Previous articles by Tom Stegall include:
Vigilance Regarding the Truth of the Gospel: Reengaging the Heresy of the GES “Crossless” Gospel
Does “Final Salvation” Serve as a Cover for Works-Salvation?
The Gospel of the Christ: The “No Lordship” Counter-Claim
Is the Message of Salvation in Luke’s Gospel?