March 24, 2014

Lordship Salvation: A Misuse of Scripture, 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.

There is one passage of Scripture that virtually always comes up in the discussion of repentance with advocates of Lordship Salvation and needs to be carefully explained. How does John MacArthur, for the Lordship view of repentance, interpret the first verse of this passage?

As metanoia is used in the New Testament, it always speaks of a change of purpose, and specifically a turning from sin. In the sense Jesus used it, repentance calls for a repudiation of the old life and a turning to God for salvation. Such a change of purpose is what Paul had in mind when he described the repentance of the Thessalonians: “You turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Note the three elements of repentance: turning to God, a turning from evil, and the intent to serve God. No change of mind can be called true repentance if it does not include all three elements. The simple but all too often overlooked fact is that a true change of mind will necessarily result in a change of behavior. Repentance is not merely shame or sorry over sin, although genuine repentance always involves an element of remorse. It is a redirection of the human will, a purposeful decision to forsake all unrighteousness and pursue righteousness instead. 9

What is the gospel, after all, but a call to repentance (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30)? In other words, it demands that sinners make a change—stop going one way and turn around to go the other (1 Thess. 1:9). 10

Those quotes represent Lordship’s classic misuse of 1 Thess. 1:9. MacArthur starts by addressing the Greek word metanoia as it is used in the New Testament, and then quotes a verse that does not even contain the word metanoia. The Greek word for “to turn” is completely different; it is epistrepho (epistrephō) and means simply “to turn, turn to or toward.” Epistrephō does not mean “to repent.”

Through the balance of this section I am going to draw from the Inspired Commentary, the Word of God, to bring out the meaning and context of 1 Thess. 1:9. Before we can draw a conclusion on 1 Thess. 1:9 we need to begin by reviewing Paul’s initial evangelistic ministry to the Thessalonicans. In Acts 17:1-4 we find Paul arriving at Thessalonica and, “as his manner was,” preaching the gospel. He was preaching Jesus who suffered and rose again. He said, “…Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” He is exhorting the Thessalonians, in their unsaved condition, to change their mind about Jesus. In verse four we see that some were persuaded, “some of them believed,” but some “believed not.” What was it in Paul’s preaching that some were persuaded of and believed? That Jesus, who suffered, died and rose again, was the Christ. In Paul’s evangelistic appeal to the Thessalonians is there any call or exhortation for “turning from evil” or the “intent to serve” for salvation? No, there is not! MacArthur is forcing “turning from evil (sin) and the intent to serve God…to forsake all unrighteousness” into the narrative of Paul’s sermon.

Those who “believed not” set in motion a wave of persecution against the new believers (Acts 17:5-9). The events at Thessalonica set a pattern for what we find in Paul’s two epistles to the Thessalonian believers.

In 1 Thessalonians 1 Paul acknowledges and praises them for their “work of faith” and “labor of love.” They set an example for others on what Bible Christianity should look like. Their fine example was being set with “patience” (v. 3) in the face of “much affliction” (v. 6; Acts 17:5-9). They were setting the right example for fellow believers (Macedonia and Achaia, vv. 7-8) to emulate how to go through persecution. The reputation of the Thessalonian church preceded Paul in his missionary travels; therefore he did not need to speak of it (v.8). Their testimony of faith and patience in the face of persecution was a living example and a sermon without words. With respect to Lordship Salvation, this raises a serious problem. If the example of the Thessalonians in their willingness to change their behavior after they believed is considered the necessary condition of true saving faith, then in what way were the Thessalonians “examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia” (v. 7)? How could they be the example to all other believers when all believers in Christ will necessarily live and behave just like the Thessalonians as Lordship advocates insist?

1 Thess. 1:9 opens with, “For they… .” The “they” is their “faith to God-ward,” which became known abroad. The Thessalonians “turned to God,” which put them in a position for the capacity to serve God. The example they became to other believers was the result of their believing the message Paul preached unto themthe One who suffered and rose again is the Christ. The “patience of hope” (v. 3) is defined in verse 10, “And to wait for his Son from heaven.” While they expected and patiently waited for Him to come they kept working out their faith and labored in love. Today when so many are occupied with His coming, we would do well to learn from the Thessalonians that we should keep occupied (doing something for Him) until He comes.

Lordship advocates who use this passage as an illustration of repentance only quote verse 9, “and how ye turned (epistrepho) to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” Grammatically, however, there are two parallel infinitives of purpose, which are found in verses 9 and 10. The sentence structure, therefore, if breaking it down into main points and sub points, could be visualized this way:

v9, For
     they themselves shew of us
           - what manner of entering in we had unto you
           - how ye turned to God from idols
                 - to serve (douleuein) the living and true God
v10,             and 
                 - to wait (anamenein) for His Son from heaven,
                              -whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus,
                              - which delivered us from the wrath to come.

There is a major problem for the Lordship position in claiming that 1 Thess. 1:9 is making the intent “to serve” a necessary description (thus condition) of genuine repentance/faith. If “to serve” is a condition/necessary description, then syntactically so must the phrase “to wait” be as well. Wait for what? “His Son from heaven,” i.e. the Second Coming of Christ. There is no other passage in Scripture that conditions the reception of eternal life on believing in Christ’s Second Coming or waiting for it!

There is simply no way the two infinitive clauses can be separated. They are both present tense, active voice, infinitives, and they are both subordinate, dependent clauses that are parallel to one another and dependent upon the main, independent clause of 1:9, “how ye turned to God from idols.”

To be born again do the lost need to believe in the Second Coming of Christ? If we accept MacArthur’s view that the Thessalonians were saved by “turning from evil and the intent to serve,” then the Scriptures also demand waiting for the second coming of Christ as a third condition for conversion.

There is, however, an even larger point with 1 Thess. 1:9-10. This passage is not even describing their initial, saving faith. The emphasis of the passage is clearly upon describing their faithful example in following the Lord subsequent to their initial, saving faith. In 1 Thess. 1:9 Paul is not speaking of how to become a believer; he wrote to them about their growth and testimony as believers.

This interpretation fits perfectly with Paul’s introductory description of these Thessalonians in 2 Thess. 1:3-4. Notice there too they are described not as to their initial, saving faith, as if Paul is saying to them there, “Your conversion was genuine.” No, he is pleased with the fact that their “faith groweth exceedingly” (1:3) and that they were exercising “patience and faith” amidst the trials they were enduring (1:4).

This interpretation, furthermore, fits perfectly with the Inspired Commentary on the Thessalonian Epistles that we have in Acts 17, where the Thessalonians’ initial, saving faith is described in 17:1-4, esp. v. 4 “persuaded” (peitho) or “believed” (KJV) and v. 5 “were not persuaded” (apeitho) or “believed not” (KJV). The content of their faith is described in v. 3, that is, they believed in Christ’s substitutionary death and bodily resurrection, which were according to the Scriptures (1 Thess. 4:14; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). There is no mention of turning from idols, serving the living God, waiting for the Second Coming, etc. Instead, what we see is that immediately upon believing, these baby Christians in Thessalonica were persecuted for their faith (Acts 17:5-9), particularly by Jewish unbelievers (1 Thess. 2:14-16).

From the Scriptures we can firmly conclude that 1 Thess. 1:9-10 is a post conversion passage. Paul is addressing the things that followed their conversion. He was teaching them post conversion truth. In verse ten he concerns himself with their growth in light of the Lord’s imminent return. At the time of their persecution Paul and Silas were ministering to them as new believers (1 Thess. 2:8). In both epistles to the Thessalonians Paul is ministering to them as new believers. Every chapter in 1 Thessalonians ends with Paul referencing the Second Coming of Christ, which is a vital truth for believers. In 2 Thessalonians 1 we find Paul speaking of their growing faith, charity toward one another and patience in persecution. Paul is commending them for their faith that grew out of their believing the gospel.

Lordship’s repentance, as MacArthur defines it, is to “stop going one way,” i.e. stop sinning and replace sinning with the “intent to serve,” i.e. do the “good works” (Eph. 2:10) expected of a born again believer. MacArthur changes the gospel from repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to a man-centered message that conditions the reception of eternal life on the lost man’s, “purposeful decision to forsake all unrighteousness,” which is an upfront commitment to certain expected levels of behavior. Believing the gospel should result in some form of a change in behavior as one grows in grace. However, nowhere in Scripture is the gospel for the reception of eternal life defined by a sinner’s intention, commitment or resolve to change his behavior.

In Defense of the Gospel: Biblical Answers to Lordship Salvation, from the chapter, What is Biblical Repentance, pp. 133-138.

9) John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus: What is Authentic Faith,
p. 178.

10) John MacArthur, Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles, p. 33.

March 19, 2014

Lordship Salvation Requirements

Last week I took some time to interact with Kent Brandenburg around an article he wrote, at his What is Truth blog, in support of the Lordship Salvation (LS) interpretation of the gospel. Kent has continued his discussion of LS with a new article. Kent makes various claims that are virtually universal among advocates of Lordship Salvation. I would like to address some of his claims here.  Kent opened his new article with this,

As a pejorative, inventors of a new doctrine of salvation have titled what is the historical and biblical plan of salvation, “Lordship salvation.” The terminology doesn't sound bad to me, so I own it. However, all sorts of garbage have been dumped on it to where it must be defined. One risk is cherry-picked quotes taken out of context. Lordship salvation isn’t hard to defend, just avoiding tortured sound bytes. (LS for Dummies, bold added)
Men who reject the Lordship Salvation interpretation of the gospel have documented scores upon scores of quotes from various LS advocates. The most prominent and prolific of these is Dr. John MacArthur. Dr. MacArthur’s core themes of LS run like a thread through all of his works on the gospel. When MacArthur speaks on LS, he is speaking in the context of the gospel, what he believes to be the requirements for a lost man to be born again, justified. We can know what teachers of Lordship Salvation believe, preach and defend by reading and/or hearing how they define their position in their own words. In the following article Brother George Zeller answers the question, What are the “Lordship Salvation Requirements” for Salvation?

What do Lordship Salvation advocates actually require of the sinner? What do they say a person must do to be saved? John MacArthur is recognized as a leading proponent of Lordship Salvation. If you search through John MacArthur’s three books on Lordship Salvation [The Gospel According to Jesus (abbreviated GATJ), Faith Works (abbreviated FW) and Hard to Believe (abbreviated HTB)] you will find numerous statements that indicate different salvation requirements. Consider the following:

Lordship Salvation Requirements

A person must have “a transforming commitment to the living Christ” (GATJ, p. ix, written by J. I. Packer).
“Follow Him in submissive obedience” (GATJ, p. 21).
Deny self, take up a cross, forsake all and follow Christ (GATJ, p. 30).
Repent, surrender and have an eagerness to obey (GATJ, p. 31).
Obey Christ (GATJ, p. 45).
Yield one’s life to the Lordship of Christ (GATJ, p. 67).
Be willing to forsake everything (GATJ, p. 78).
Commit yourself to obedience (GATJ, p. 79)
Make Christ the highest authority in your life (GATJ, pp. 86-87).
Be willing to obey (GATJ, p. 88).
Repent and follow Jesus (GATJ, p. 106).
Turn from sin (GATJ, p. 112).
Forsake oneself for Christ’s sake (GATJ, p. 135).
Be willing to sacrifice everything to acquire the kingdom (GATJ, p. 138–parables of hid treasure and pearl).
Give up all for the kingdom (GATJ, p. 138).
Totally abandon self-will (GATJ, p. 140).
Exchange all that you are for all that Christ is (GATJ, p. 140).
Make a full exchange of self for the Savior (“absolute surrender”) - (GATJ, p. 141).
Turn from sin, abandon self and intend to obey God (GATJ, p. 161).
Repudiate the old life (GATJ, p. 162).
Turn from evil and intend to serve God (GATJ, p. 163).
Surrender to Christ and choose to obey Him (GATJ, p. 170).
Deny self and follow Christ (GATJ, p. 196).
Love Christ more than your own family members, be unquestionably loyal to Him even above your families (GATJ, pages 200-201).
Obey Christ’s divine authority (GATJ, p. 204).
MacArthur teaches that James 4:7-10 is “perhaps the most comprehensive invitation to salvation in the epistles” (GATJ, p. 218). Based on this statement we must add the following requirements:
  • Submit yourself to God
  • Resist the devil.
  • Draw nigh to God.
  • Cleanse your hands.
  • Purify your hearts.
  • Be afflicted and mourn.
  • Humble yourselves.
Turn to Christ in full self-surrender (FW, p. 49).

Turn from your sins (FW, p. 74).

Surrender heart, mind and will to Christ (FW, p. 194).
Deny self (HTB, pages 2, 6).
Take up your cross daily (HTB, p. 6)
Follow Christ (HTB, p. 6).
Refuse to associate any longer with the person you are (HTB, p. 7).
The requirement for eternal life is to be willing to give up all your earthly possessions if the Lord should ask this (HTB, p. 9).
Be willing to give up as much as it takes (HTB, p. 11).
“If you want to become a Christian, slay yourself! Refuse to associate any long with yourself, reject all the things your self longs and wants and hopes for. Be willing to die for the sake of Christ.” (HTB, pages 11-12)
Totally and absolutely deny self (HTB, pages 14-15).
Be willing to hate your father and mother (HTB, p. 15)
Be willing to dump all your earthly goods (possessions)–Luke 14:33 (HTB, p. 15).
“The complete surrender of all possessions is the essence of salvation” (HTB, p. 16).
Give yourself totally to Him which involves self-denial, cross bearing and following Him in obedience (HTB, p. 67).
Deny yourself and give Him your life (HTB, p. 69).
Die to yourself (HTB, p. 70).
You must obey the Sermon on the Mount (HTB, p. 81).
Leave all your possessions behind (HTB, p. 85).
“Salvation isn’t the result of an intellectual exercise. It comes from a life lived in obedience and service to Christ as revealed in the Scriptures” (HTB, p. 93).
I have learned that this last quotation (page 93 in Hard to Believe) was not written by MacArthur, but erroneously made its way into the text by way of an editor. I’ve been told that subsequent editions of the book have corrected this. However, I do not find this quote to be out of harmony with MacArthur’s Lordship position. If self denial, full surrender, loving Christ more than anyone else, forsaking all possessions are all requirements of salvation, then why can’t obedience be added as well?
Affirm your commitment to the lordship of Christ to the point where you are willing to forsake everything (HTB, pages 132-133).
“You can’t receive His salvation if your family means more to you than He does” (HTB, p. 134).
Give up your life and embrace His (HTB, p. 178).
On the back flyleaf of the book HTB, it says, “The hard truth about Christianity is that the cost is high, but the rewards are priceless: abundant and eternal life that comes only from faithfully following Christ (emphasis mine).”


1. These Lordship salvation requirements all focus upon what the sinner must do. When it comes to salvation by grace, the true focus should be upon the finished work of Christ and what He has done. See our study entitled Do or Done? Salvation is based on God’s mercy, and it is not based on “works of righteousness which we have done” (Titus 3:5). “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). See also Ephesians 2:8-9. It is not our sacrifice that saves us, it is the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:18). MacArthur says, “We contribute nothing to our salvation” (HTB, p. 188), but if you read the list of requirements above, it seems that man does contribute a great deal.

2. As you consider this list of Lordship requirements, it is obvious that MacArthur and others like him believe that the terms of discipleship are the same as requirements for salvation. To them “What must I do to be saved?” and “What must I do to be a disciple?” are identical questions. See our paper, A Contrast and Comparison Between Discipleship and Salvation. The only requirement for salvation is faith in the Person, Work and Word of God’s only Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. The requirements for discipleship are many and are essential for the believer’s sanctification. Lordship Sanctification is biblical; Lordship salvation is not!

3. One example of a discipleship requirement is loving Christ more than your own family members, and being unquestionably loyal to Him even above your own loved ones (GATJ, pages 200-201, HTB, p. 134). In other words, Christ should be the supreme object of my love. I should love Him more than family members, more than my own possessions, even more than my own life. This discipleship requirement is merely a re-statement of the greatest commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matt. 22:37). Thus, Lordship salvation men are essentially telling us that the greatest commandment is a requirement for salvation, and since the greatest commandment sums up the 10 Commandments (Matt. 22:40), then this means that salvation is obtained by keeping the Law. And yet we know that none of us have kept the law perfectly, and none of us have loved God supremely. The greatest commandment (along with the other laws which it summarizes) condemns every one of us to hell! If loving God supremely is a salvation requirement, then all of us are doomed! We have all failed to do this. How thankful I am that Christ Jesus came into the world to save guilty lawbreakers! See 1 Timothy 1:15.

4. Lordship men actually soften the requirements of discipleship, something which our Lord never did. In many of MacArthur’s requirements we read phrases like this: be willing to forsake everything, have an eagerness to obey, be willing to sacrifice everything, be willing to hate your father and mother, etc. But the Lord said, “If you hate not father and cannot be my disciple.” He didn’t merely speak of a willingness to do it, but He spoke of actually doing it. “Whosoever he is of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). The Lord did not just speak of a willingness to forsake all possessions, but He spoke of actually doing it. So MacArthur is actually softening the requirements of discipleship. Believers do not measure up to the full demands of discipleship (even the Lord’s original twelve disciples lacked faith and full commitment on numerous occasions). The good news is that every believer completely measures up to the full demands of God's righteousness in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). God has fully provided the righteousness which we could never attain to on our own.

5. On page 9 (HTB) MacArthur states that the requirement for eternal life is to be willing to give up all your earthly possessions if the Lord should ask this. This means that the requirement for eternal life varies for different individuals. For some individuals, the requirement for eternal life would include being willing to give up all earthly possessions if the Lord should ask this. But if the Lord has not required this of other individuals, then they are exempt from this salvation requirement. According to this teaching, the requirement for eternal life varies depending upon what the Lord has asked each person to do. If this teaching is correct, then we would conclude that there is not just one plan of salvation but there is a unique and special plan of salvation specially designed for each individual. This would make personal evangelism very challenging because we would never be sure just which plan of salvation is required for the person we are witnessing to.

6. Fulfilling all the Lordship requirements is complicated indeed. According to MacArthur, salvation is not easy (GATJ, p. 182) and it is very Hard to Believe (the title of his book). How would a person under Lordship teaching ever gain assurance of salvation? Could he be sure that he has loved the Lord supremely? Has he given up all his possessions if the Lord has required him to do so, and how does he really know whether the Lord wants him to do this? Has he measured up to all the demands of discipleship? Is his level of commitment sufficient to satisfy the Lord? Has he surrendered enough? Is he sure that he has surrendered all or are there some things he is holding back? Are there areas of his life where he has not denied self? Has he “turned from sin” in every area of his life or is he still harboring some sin somewhere? If he were to examine his life based on all the requirements listed in this paper, how would he measure up? Would this self-examination lead him to full assurance of salvation? Remember, the more we look at SELF the more discouraged we will be. How wonderful it is to rest on the all-sufficient, finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. May our only boast be in the crucified One (1 Cor. 1:29 31)! “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling!”

“And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:9).

Lordship Salvation Requirements

George Zeller
Middletown Bible Church
349 East Street
Middletown, CT 06457

March 11, 2014

What is Truth? (continued from February, 2014)

The reader will want to go back over the previous article, since this issue builds on that premise.  There is only one biblical hermeneutic, and it produces a theology that is biblical.  That one system is simply the normal, plain, clear, consistent, literal use of language.  All other systems fall into one category and will allow the interpreter to insert into the text whatever he may choose.  The one biblical system is scientific, and it is mathematical.  If you use the system and its clearly defined rules, you will always come up with the same answer.

It is extremely frustrating to go to five different commentaries, written by experts, and find five different interpretations of a single passage.  These scholars are supposed to be the authority, but it seems they cannot find a common answer.  Since each text can have only one interpretation, one of those scholars may possibly be right, but…they could all be wrong, too.  It makes one wonder if any of them is right and how many other things they may be wrong about.  How can we ever be sure?

The answer is simple.  It isn’t that they have different interpretations, but rather that they use different systems of interpretation.  Since all those systems allow the reader to insert his own sincerely held views, the text becomes corrupted.  The one biblical system, however, will deliver a correct message if its rules are obeyed.

One of the major problems in this discipline is where to begin.  You have to begin and end with the Bible text.  If you begin with a denominational creed, or a theological confession, you will end up with error because you began with error.  If you begin with a covenant or reformed hermeneutic, it is impossible to end up with a theology that is biblical.  This may shock you, but there is no such thing as a dispensational hermeneutic, so you cannot begin there if you want to know what the text says for itself. It is true that the use of the one biblical system will lead to a dispensational theology, but that theology rises from the text and not from a preconceived hermeneutic.  For some, eschatology is not important; and they would say it doesn’t matter.  If you begin with the text, use the biblical system, and obey the rules, it does matter.  Foundational truth is not like a cafeteria or a dart board.  The biblical hermeneutic is clear and plain, until such time as it is corrupted by a humanly devised system.  It does matter that there is a Millennium, and it does matter where and when Christ is coming for His church.  These are clearly stated with the normal hermeneutic.

This is demonstrated in the accidental, or deliberate, misuse of the word “literal.”  It is dishonest to say that those who hold a literal interpretation see everything as literal, meaning that even pictures are the real thing.  There are some fine works on this subject, and the serious reader should consider reading them.  The normal, plain, clear, consistent, literal use of language is just that.  It is the text that tells us the answer, not some twisted grammatical pretzel.  We take everything in the text as the normal, literal use of language unless the text clearly tells us it is some other form.  Literal interpretation simply means that we accept what the Bible states, including language forms.

An illustration of this is Revelation, chapter 20.  Five times at the beginning of this chapter you see the term “one thousand years.”  What is the normal, plain, clear, consistent, literal use of this term in language?  Even a first grader could answer that one!  So why would anyone choose to corrupt the answer, as some scholars have done?  The answer is that they use the wrong hermeneutical system - one that is humanly devised - and they begin with the wrong system.  These intellectuals say that when it comes to eschatology, you have to use an allegorical system.  Who gave them the authority to make such a conclusion?  Are they smarter than a first grader?  This reminds me of the Lucifer syndrome: “I will know as much as the most high God.”

Someone will very likely write and tell me that I am not being very charitable in this discussion. There are lots of things we do not know and about which God has not given us an answer.  Those are the areas of charity.  When the normal, plain, clear, consistent use of language that God has chosen to use is being trampled underfoot, I am not obligated to be silent.

We don’t seem to have any trouble shining a light on other people’s foibles, but we are not keen on our own being looked at.  That is why we don’t use the same rule and rhetoric on our own crowd; but let me do that now.  We complain about the misuse of interpretation and systems on the part of those who “sovereignly” decided that eschatology is allegory, while at the same time we do the very same thing in our own circles when the subject is church polity.  We use literal interpretation until it comes to the doctrine of the church, and then we turn left.  Of course, we are more “respectable” than they are.  We “complicate to confuse” in order to get our own way when we really know that our practice in polity is nothing more than an adoption of cultural politics.

I am thankful for our forefathers in the faith.  They have been a wonderful blessing to us, but they are not God and they are not perfect.  Historical theology has great value, but those tenets are not the same as the Bible itself; and we should not be afraid to challenge things that jettison the plain teaching of scripture.  A strongly held view that is wrong is still wrong, no matter how many years it may have been taught.

Please continue to What is Truth, Part 3

SHEPHERD’S STAFF – March, 2014
A communication service of Shepherds Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible.  Shepherd’s Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches.  Write for information using the e-mail address, or

Shepherd’s Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min