One of the most hotly debated issues in the Lordship Salvation (LS) controversy revolves around the doctrines of salvation and discipleship. Most LS advocates see these as one and the same. LS advocates blur the lines of distinction, which creates an evangelistic message that conditions the reception of eternal life on a lost man’s upfront commitment to what should be the results of a genuine conversion in discipleship.
In one of the clearest expressions of portraying discipleship as though it is the key to salvation 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.)That teaching by MacArthur exemplifies one of the egregious errors that gave the NT church the works based, man-centered theology of Lordship Salvation.
How can the Scriptures teach that salvation is a free gift of God if the human cost to become a disciple, that is, to be born again, is very great as Lordship Salvation advocates insist? Salvation is either the free gift of God, or it is costly to man. The Bible teaches that “the gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:23), but discipleship or following Christ is costly (Luke 14:26-27). (IDOTG, pp. 73-74)Baptist College of Ministry website and with the author’s permission it is being reproduced here as a multi-part series. I am hopeful every guest will read this series with discernment and prayerfully consider the plain teaching of Scripture as Dr. Flanders presents it.
The issue is, How can my sins be forgiven? . . . Through faith I receive Him and His forgiveness. Then the sin problem is solved, and I can be fully assured of going to heaven. I do not need to believe in Christ’s second coming in order to be saved. . . . But I do need to believe that He died for my sins and rose triumphant over sin and death. I do not need to settle issues that belong to Christian living in order to be saved. (So Great Salvation, p. 40.)
His words were mysterious, and yet compelling and powerful. They were spoken in response to the arguments the Pharisees had made against His claims that day. It was the day He had rescued the woman taken in adultery from her condemners, and then had said, “I am the Light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
After His critics objected to Him referring to Himself in such a way, He expanded on His claims. He said that He is from above, that God is His Father, that He is not of this world, that if they will not believe in Him they will die in their sins, and that He even has the right to use the divine name “I AM” in reference to Himself (read John 8:12-27). These were astounding claims, but somehow they were convincing and convicting to the hearers. Then He spoke of a day that was coming when these very critics would lift Him up on a cross.
“When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do those things that please him.” (John 8:28-30) Whenever Jesus spoke of His being “lifted up,” He was talking about being crucified (see also John 3:14-15 and 12:23-33). He said that the events surrounding His sacrifice at Calvary would convince even these hearers of His claims. His words were so powerful that many of those who heard him say them “believed on him.” Readers of the book of John recognize this phrase as describing the decision that saves the sinner and gives him eternal life. That’s what we see in John 1:12-13, 3:36, 6:47, and so many other passages that speak of believing on Him for everlasting life! The hearers believed on Him and were saved. To believe on Jesus is to depend on Him for salvation, to trust Him for deliverance from eternal condemnation, to rely on Him for the forgiveness of sins and eternal redemption. They had become believers in Christ, and therefore they were saved.
When He knew that they had trusted Him for their salvation, Jesus told them to “continue in my word” and become His “disciples indeed.” Then He promised them that if they would follow Him as His disciples, they would “know the truth” and the truth would make them free. This promise relates back to what they had heard Him say to the woman after assuring her that He would not condemn her (see verses 11-12): “Go, and sin no more.” When a sinner is rescued from the condemnation of sin, he can then experience deliverance from the power of sin in his life. He had just said that those who follow Him will not “walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Release from condemnation ought to motivate the forgiven one to follow the Savior, and this life of commitment to Him will bring the power to overcome sin.
These concepts are certainly connected, but the book of John makes it clear that they are not the same. Believers will fail to live a holy life unless they understand discipleship, and they will lack assurance of their salvation if they confuse salvation with discipleship.
Have you noticed that a distinction is made in the Bible between believers and disciples? In John 2:11 we are told that Jesus did His first miracle “in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory, and his disciples believed on him.” Back in chapter 1, we are told about the men who decided to follow the Lord Jesus, and in chapter 2, verse 2, they are called “his disciples.” Having seen His miraculous power, these disciples “believed on him.” They became believers.
In John 6 we read about a time when “many of his disciples went back, and walked with him no more.” It happened after they heard Him make some bold statements about Himself and about receiving eternal life through Him (read verses 47-68). “Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” They had promised to follow Him as their Master and Teacher, but now they realized that He wanted them to depend on Him for their very salvation, and they just were not ready for this. When they complained, Jesus told them, “There are some of you that believe not.” They were disciples of Jesus, but not believers. The prime example of an unbelieving disciple was Judas the traitor, and the scripture says as much in verses 64 through 71. The unbelievers (including Judas) among them were real disciples of Jesus. It is the Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that calls them His disciples. They were indeed disciples of Jesus, but they had never believed on Him as their Savior. Let us learn what the distinction is.
Please continue with Part Two of this series.
Dr. Rick Flanders has an itinerant preaching ministry for revival. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr. Rick Flanders Revival Ministries