October 7, 2006

John MacArthur’s Discipleship Gospel

The following appeared at Pulpit Magazine on Septemeber 29th, 2006. This paragraph from Dr. MacArthur’s post titled True Faith and True Grace encapsulates the major elements in the Lordship controversy. Dr. MacArthur wrote:

Those who teach that repentance is extraneous to saving faith are forced to make a firm but unbiblical distinction between salvation and discipleship. This dichotomy, like that of the carnal/spiritual Christian, sets up two classes of Christians: believers only and true disciples. Most who hold this position discard the evangelistic intent of virtually every recorded invitation of Jesus, saying those apply to discipleship, not to salvation.”
One of the most significant errors with Lordship Salvation is the confusing of passages meant for the born again disciple of Christ (such as Luke 9:23-24, 14:25-33) and presenting them as though they are evangelistic appeals directed to the lost. It is from this error, where much of the Lordship interpretation of the gospel flows. This error leads to a faulty definition of faith, redefines the role of biblical repentance in salvation, both of which result in a gospel message that frustrates grace (Gal. 2:21). Following are three examples of how John MacArthur’s discipleship gospel redefines the faith that saves:
The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience. . . . Forsaking oneself for Christ’s sake is not an optional step of discipleship subsequent to conversion; it is the sine qua non of saving faith.” (The Gospel According to Jesus [Revised & Expanded Edition], p. 27, 142.)
Thus in a sense we pay the ultimate price for salvation when our sinful self is nailed to a cross. . . . It is an exchange of all that we are for all that Christ is. And it denotes implicit obedience, full surrender to the lordship of Christ. Nothing less can qualify as saving faith.” (The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 140.)
Let me say again unequivocally that Jesus’ summons to deny self and follow him was an invitation to salvation, not . . . a second step of faith following salvation….” (The Gospel According to Jesus [Revised & Expanded Edition], p. 221).
Lordship Salvation conditions the reception of salvation on a lost man’s upfront commitment to what should be the results of salvation. A commitment to perform the “good works” (Eph. 2:10) expected of the disciple of Christ is Lordship’s requirement FOR salvation. The lost man is expected to make a commitment toward what he will do, or become, in “exchange” for what Christ has done for him. John MacArthur states that position this way,
That is the kind of response the Lord Jesus called for: wholehearted commitment. A desire for Him at any cost. Unconditional surrender. A full exchange of self for the Savior. It is the only response that will open the gates of the kingdom.” (The Gospel According to Jesus [Revised & Expanded Edition], p. 148.)
In one of the clearest expressions of portraying discipleship as though it is the key to salvation Dr. 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.)
The faith that saves is more than simple acknowledgment. Faith is basically a trust or confidence in someone or something. For salvation Jesus must be the object of faith. Faith goes beyond acknowledgement when the lost man transfers his dependence on Christ to save him from the penalty of sin. Mere acknowledgement of what Jesus has done does not save. When biblically defined- faith does not include upfront promises of commitment and surrender.

Discipleship comes at a cost, salvation (justification) does not! It is clear that Lordship Salvation requires much more than a faith that acknowledges one’s sin, a pending judgment for sin, and one’s need of the Savior. The Lordship position does not depend solely on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Lordship Salvation, according to John MacArthur above, is a barter system, an “
exchange” of what man must offer Christ to receive His free gift of salvation. To imply that receiving the free gift of God requires that man “pay the ultimate price” is a gospel of faith plus works.

My book,
In Defense of the Gospel does not contain errors that are so common in the works of other men who have written in objection to Lordship Salvation. Many have been alarmed at the increasingly meaningless presentation of a gospel that seems to ignore the Person of Christ, the sinfulness of man, the finished work of Christ and the pending judgment of God. This gospel calls men to salvation when they have been given only a vague idea of just what they need to be saved from. There is, furthermore, a reductionist interpretation of the content of saving faith, with which I strongly disagree. The most extreme example of this reductionist view is known as the “Crossless” gospel. This is a relatively new interpretation of the Gospel originated by (the late) Zane Hodges and is almost exclusively perpetuated by the Grace Evangelical Society’s membership.

My book does not minimize or reject the lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus is Lord and Savior throughout all eternity. We all agree that Jesus is the Savior; the only hope mankind has for eternal salvation from sin, death and Hell (
Acts 4:12). We all agree that Jesus is the Lord, the King of Kings, and all power belongs to Him (Rev. 19:16; Matt. 28:18). If He is not the Lord, He is not God. If He is not God, He is not the Savior. Christ’s lordship, however, should not be used to create a message where the reception of salvation is conditioned on a lost man’s upfront commitment to surrender and submission, which Lordship Salvation does.

Pastor George Zeller wrote an article titled,
The Relationship Between God’s Grace and Lordship Legalism, which appears in the appendix of my book. Following is a brief excerpt.
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.”
When a man tries to carefully introduce verses about discipleship as part of God’s plan for salvation, remember that the Bible teaches we come to Christ for salvation and that we come after Christ in discipleship. It is wrong to present discipleship verses as salvation verses. We must not use verses intended to teach discipleship to try to lead a man to Christ. To do so creates confusion and frustration. It becomes a gospel of faith, plus works.

Lordship Salvation demands from a lost man a promise of what he will do, or become, to receive the gift of eternal life. Once man offers anything in addition to the finished work of Christ for salvation that message becomes false through the addition. A gospel that calls for man to do or offer anything in addition to what Christ has done is wrong!

Dr. MacArthur- I know you mean well, you believe you are being true to the Scriptures. Changing the terms of the gospel, however, to upfront demands for commitment and surrender in “
exchange” for salvation, will not make the problems of loose living carnality found in some professing believers go away.

In Defense of the Gospel fully defines and biblically answers the doctrinal and practical problems with Lordship Salvation. I wrote my book to alert Christians, across the broad spectrum of evangelical Christianity, about Lordship’s works based, man-centered interpretation of the gospel that frustrates grace (Gal. 2:21).

There are many areas where one must balance soul liberty and Christian charity and agree to respect different views. The gospel, however, is not an area in which we can agree to disagree. The doctrine of Lordship Salvation and the Lordship advocates must be vigorously debated, and its spread biblically resisted.


Portions from the above are selected excerpts from In Defense of the Gospel: Biblical Answers to Lordship Salvation.


  1. You wrote on Pulpit Magazine... Lordship Salvation, as you present it, demands from a lost man a promise of what he will do, or become, to receive the gift of eternal life. Once man offers anything in addition to the finished work of Christ for salvation that message becomes false through the addition. A gospel that calls for man to do or offer anything in addition to what Christ has done is wrong!

    Dr. MacArthur- I know you mean well, you believe you are being true to the Scriptures and defending truth. Changing the terms of the gospel, however, to include upfront demands for commitment and surrender in “exchange” for salvation, will not make the problems of Easy-Believism and the loose living of professing believers go away.

    Sir you need to re-read the article because Dr. MacArthur said nothing of the kind. Why do you have to read things in this article that he did not say?
    A proper understanding of regeneration would correct your false thinking. Shame on you.

  2. JCat:

I have read all of Dr. MacArthur's major works on Lordship Salvation. I have dealt with this issue extensively since 1996 and in a smaller way since 1988 when his first book was released. I understand the Lordship position and its inherent problems.

    When I use terms like "surrender, commitment, exchange" those are from Dr. MacArthur's own books. I let Dr. MacArthur define his position for himself through extensive use of quotes from his books.

    As for regeneration: I believe I read a post you wrote in which you make a case for the regeneration before faith position. That is another extreme position, which cannot be supported in the Bible. 

Reformed theologians, who advocate Lordship Salvation, must come to an extra-biblical, a rational view of the order of salvation: regeneration before profession of faith rather than simultaneous to it. 

That position is another avenue that leads to the errors of Lordship Salvation. I address this quite thoroughly in my book.


  3. MacArthur's teaching is pretty rotten.

    "If He is not the Lord, He is not God. If He is not God, He is not the Savior."

    This is true, but people are not always consistent in their logic. A person may come to trust in Jesus Christ for eternal life without coming to believe in the deity of our Lord.

    Belief in the deity of Christ is never identified as a condition of receiving eternal life.

    A Different Joseph Smith?

    Offenders for a word

  4. "I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins," (John 8:24).

    "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation," (Romans 10:9-10).

  5. With regard to John 8:24, is this talking about eternal salvation or phsycial death through judgment? And does it apply to everyone or just those our Lord spoke to?

    Why is belief in the deity of Christ never explicitly identified as a condition of receiving eternal life?

    Why do you think that Romans 10:9-10 refers to reception of eternal life as opposed to other aspects of salvation?

  6. Jazzy wrote, "A proper understanding of regeneration would correct your false thinking."

    When he says, "a proper understanding of regeneration" he means the Calvinistic presupposition of regeneration before faith.

    I understand that regeneration before faith is based on nothing more than the rationalistic fatalism of circle logic of five point Calvinism.

    It is that extra-biblical teaching that contributes to the false LS gospel.


  7. Dear Guests:

    I want all of you to understand that Dyspraxic Fundamentalist (DF) is an advocate of the Zane Hodges, Bob Wilkin Crossless/Deityless interpretation of the Gospel. I want each of you to read, Is the “Crossless” Label the Right Label?

    This article will give you some feel for how Hodges/Wilkin (Grace Evangelical Society) have assaulted the Person and work of Jesus Christ through reductionist heresy.


    PS: DF is also supportive of Joey Faust's gross heresy of Millennial Exclusion.

  8. >>With regard to John 8:24, is this talking about eternal salvation or phsycial death through judgment?

    Dyspraxic, you cannot be serious!

    If those who believe in Jesus' Deity escape physical death, then only Enoch & Elijah believed!

  9. I have been saved for 3 years,I was saved by faith alone in Christ, I never remember counting the cost or surrendering all. I just believed and I was saved. It was after I was saved that i started denying self, take up my cross daily and follow my Lord.
    I have been a strong follower of Dr MacArthur, but in his Lordship teaching, even though I am a babe in Christ, 2 + 2 never came up to 4! And by the grace of God, the Lord has opened my eyes to the false teachings of Lordship Salvation. Thank you for this post, God bless you...

  10. Jean:

    It is a blessing to hear from you. Gad that what I have posted has been helpful to you.

    You wrote, “It was after I was saved that I started denying self, take up my cross daily and follow my Lord.”

    That is the natural and biblical order of things. LS, however, calls on the lost for an upfront commitment to those things that should follow salvation FOR salvation.

    That is how we can know for certain that LS is antithetical to the Gospel, i.e. the free gift of God through of Jesus Christ our Lord.

    While I to can appreciate some things coming from Dr. MacArthur the fact that he is teaching a works based, non-saving message I could never in good conscience point anyone in his direction.

    Kind regards,


  11. LM said...

    >>Discipleship comes at a cost, salvation does not!<<

    I believe this comment sums up all that you were saying on the subject of Lordship Salvation. for until I read the above, the subject was very fuzzy to me.

    However, what is not clear to me is the distinction, if one exists, between discipleship and salvation. It would also be helpful to me, if you could say what is the cost of discipleship, and who pays the bill?


  12. Tom:

    I am grateful to read that you found this helpful.

    Later today, I will reply with more to clarify the distinction.

    In the meantime you might like to read some of the articles on LS at my blog. Right now there is an on-going discussion that you might find helpful. See-

    The Fault Line for Fracture... .

    Kind regards,


  13. Hello Tom:

    You asked, “However, what is not clear to me is the distinction, if one exists, between discipleship and salvation. It would also be helpful to me, if you could say what is the cost of discipleship, and who pays the bill?”

    If I can in summary form, I’d like to respond to your good question as follows.

    The lost are called to come TO Him FOR Salvation. Once born again, the new believer is commanded to Follow AFTER Him in Discipleship.

    The cost of discipleship for the believer is whatever the Lord calls on him to do. If you read Romans 12:1-2 and agree to do what is there, “present your body…,” the Lord will take you up on that, get busy in your life and thereby you will learn the cost of discipleship as He reveals it to you.

    I remember in October 1986 committing my life to whatever Rom. 12:1-2 had for me. I remember praying and telling the Lord, “I don’t care what it is, where it takes me or what the cost; if You call me to do something, I’ll do it!” And I meant it, still do!

    The Lord took me up on that commitment. I have never regretted anything He has had for me since then.

    Who Pays the Bill?” Jesus Paid it All, but we get the privilege and opportunity to invest our lives in service to Him for the glory of God.

    I hope this helps.


  14. If a man is truly righteous, he’ll repeat the words of God, not twist the Bible to fit a faith of his own, which Calvinism does. Aren’t the Calvinists the puritans (see “holier than thou” at Isaiah 65:5)

    I've always gotten the impression that John MacArthur believes he's perfectly righteous, and well might be....according to the rules of righteousness he establishes for himself (see Rom 10:1-3) Wasn't that the problem with Israel, whom the Calvinists have replaced?

    Jesus said what Israel lacked were the weightier matters of the law.... judgment, mercy, and faith. (Matt 23:23) In Calvinism we see no judgment (just a decree), no mercy (for one's enemies), and the faith? It's been reformed (corrected) by John Calvin. So there is your choice, believe the faith (truth) of Jesus Christ and ‘his’ righteousness or the reformed (corrected) faith of John Calvin and his type of righteousness. Free-will indeed ….to choose your own leader.

  15. The desire to turn from sin and to submit oneself to Christ's authority will accompany faith at conversion. However, faith is the only entity that receives justification. Just because other things such as submitting to Christ's authority accompanies faith does not mean that justification is received by faith plus something else. Those things that accompany faith are not the means by which justification is received.

  16. Curtha...:

    In that short paragraph you did a great job of defining the crux of the LS error. You are drawing the proper distinction between salvation (justification) and discipleship (sanctification).



  17. I preach the ingredients of repentance and faith for genuine conversion and salvation. What seems to be missing from your presentation, Lou, are two things:

    1) MacArthur is reformed. Reformed theology teaches "monergism." How, then, can he be accused of teaching salvation by "faith + works?" Reformed theology also teaches that regeneration precedes faith, which would explain why the majority of those who hold to "lordship salvation" (I don't like the term, obviously) teach that particular order. An unborn baby does nothing to be born; in the same way, the unbeliever does nothing to be born again. God does it all.

    2) You seem to be forgetting that repentance is commanded of the sinner, but also referred to as being granted (e.g., Acts 11:18). Repentance from sin and toward God, therefore, is no more a "work" than faith is. Both originate in God. Remember, we "lordship salvation" folks are monergistic. That's why we can maintain that it be the biblical condition - along with faith - for salvation that it is because, ultimately, God grants it - along with saving faith.

  18. Brother Bill:

    I am out-of-town with little time for or access opportunity to the Internet. I'll have to get back you in a few days on your notes above. For now I'll direct you to Can an Unregenerate Person Believe the Gospel? and George Zeller's The Dangers of Reformed Theology. where much of what you raised is answered.

    Kind regards,


  19. Lou, I look forward to discussing this further with you when you get back. I read the chapter pertaining to our discussion from "The Dangers of Reformed Theology." I found what I feel is a certain "straw man" created regarding "extreme Calvinists." According to a quote from a linked article called "Does Regeneration Precede Faith?": "Faith and regeneration take place simultaneously. They both take place at the same instant of time. One is the response of a lost, sinful man to the gospel; the other is the supernatural work of God." I find it problematic that men like R.C. Sproul would teach that infants can be regenerated years before actually believing. Maybe it's my non-reformed upbringing kicking in here, but I agree with the idea that faith and regeneration are simultaneous. My only difference would be that regeneration would have to take place "a split second before" saving faith. This is how I deal with this view. Therefore, I see no conflict with your camp, nor with scriptures that command "belief" to be saved. The question is not what IS mentioned as the criteria for salvation (to which I would add "repentance"), but what is NOT mentioned, but clearly implied: regeneration...that is, we hold to monergism in salvation vs. synergism.

  20. Bill:

    I'm home, at work and under the weather, but wanted to get a note to you before much longer.

    You need to understand that Divine sovereignty and human freedom are both truths in the Bible. They are not competing truths. So, while God commands all men everywhere to repent and repentance being granted, man must choose to repent toward God and faith toward Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).

    Faith and repentance is NOT the gift of God; salvation is to the repentant unsaved who places his faith in who Jesus is and what He did to provide salvation.

    LS men err terribly when they misinterpret repentance “change of mind” into man making a commitment to “turn from sin, to stop sinning and start obeying.” That is where LS becomes works based, man-centered, a non-saving message that corrupts the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3) and frustrates grace (Gal. 2:21).


  21. To Adam Smith:

    FYI, your extended comment, submitted this morning, will not appear here for the simple reason that I do not allow for any promotion, teaching of LS's false interpretation of the gospel from my blog. There are plenty of pro-LS sites whereby that can be done.

    This is a place where the theology of LS is exposed from the writings of its most recognizable advocates, such as John MacArthur, and a safe haven from MacArthur’s egregious errors on the gospel of grace.


  22. Hi Lou,

    You mention that one should not confuse discipleship with salvation; that discipleship passages should not be used as an evangelistic appeal towards the unsaved.
    However, didn't Jesus do this with the unsaved in passages like Mark 8:34-38 and Mark 10:17-30?
    How do you interpret these passages when Jesus said if you would not lose your life for his sake and the gospel's you would lose your soul? Similarly, in Mark 10:21, why did Jesus tell the rich man to sell all and give to the poor, take up the cross and follow him to address his question regarding inheriting eternal life?

    Similarly in Matthew 10 Jesus sends his disciples to preach to the unsaved (v. 6-7) and then gives them instructions on what to say. How do you interpret the phrase "not worthy of me" in v. 37-38? Does it mean Jesus would not enter into a relationship with them? (compare with Luke 14:26-27)
    and would you agree or disagree that verse 39 teaches one will lose their life spiritually if one does not lose their life for Christ's sake?

    I am perplexed because I am in the process of studying both sides of the Lordship debate, and very few (if any) of the non-lordship side deal with these passages. (I want to be up front with you - I am leaning towards the Lordship side at the moment)

    So your answer to these would be most helpful.
    Thanks in advance for your time,

    Bro. Stephen

    1. Bro. Stephen

      Thanks for your inquiry. It would be most helpful to know in some detail how you’d define the “non-lordship side….”

      In my blog you might see that I have dealt with the egregious errors of a doctrine originated by the Grace Evangelical Society (GES), Zane Hodges, and Bob Wilkin. Their reductionist heresy is commonly known as the “Crossless” gospel. They teach that a lost man can be unaware or consciously the deity of Christ, yet still be born again by beveling in the name of “Jesus,” apart from knowing who Jesus is and what He did to provide salvation. There is no more egregious reductionist heresy ever taught in the NT Church. I trust your comparative study is not Lordship Salvation (LS) as opposed to the GES’s “Crossless” gospel. The Hodges/Wilkin “Crossless” gospel is as far off the one true Gospel of Christ as John MacArthur’s Lordship Salvation works based message is to the other end of the soteriological pendulum swing.

      As for address your questions on the discipleship passages I direct your attention to my book, the revised & expanded edition. The Kindle version would be the better choice for search and study purposes. The blog articles here are snapshots of the larger work. The chapter in my book addresses virtually all of the verses, in the context of LS and the Gospel, you are studying. That chapter is titled, Salvation & Discipleship: Is There a Biblical Difference? Another book I’d recommend is Charles Ryrie’s, So Great Salvation.

      Let me close by saying that in all of our doctrine we must strive to keep a balance. We do that by recognizing there are extremes. In the Gospel debate among genuine born-again, well-meaning believers has been over the extremes of Lordship Salvation and the so-called “non-lordship” in its most egregious form the “Crossless” gospel. Both are wrong, there is a Gospel of grace at the center.

      I trust, in the limited space, this has been helpful.

      Yours faithfully,

      Lou Martuneac

    2. Hi Bro. Lou,
      Thanks for taking time to respond to my post.
      Quick background on me. I am not a Calvinist. However, I do believe the Bible teaches both election and the free-will of man. I use the KJV by conviction too.
      I am not talking about the Crossless gospel, but the more traditional debate around Lordship. But I would agree with you that anyone denying the deity of Christ is not saved according to John 8:24, 1 John 4:1-3, 2 John 7-11.
      I did buy your book and have given it a fairly good read. You mention a number of times in it that Christ’s calls to discipleship were for believers. However, when I study the Bible, I find just the opposite!
      For example, while Mathew 16:24 says Jesus was addressing his disciples, the parallel account in Mark 8:34 adds the fact that Jesus began his teaching in Mark 8:34-38 when he had called the “people” unto him with his disciples also.
      In Luke 14:25, Jesus turned to “great multitudes” and taught them the passage that follows in Luke 14:26-35.
      Jesus gave Matthew 10:37-40, amongst many other instructions in Matthew 10, to his disciples to preach to the lost sheep of Israel (verses 6-7).
      One has to look at Matthew 11:7 to see that Jesus was addressing “the multitudes” in Matthew 11:28-30.
      Although you do an admirable job in your book of showing how Jesus exposed the rich young ruler’s idolatry and covetousness with the law to show him salvation is not obtained by works, you failed to address why Jesus asked him (an unbeliever) to “come, take up the cross and follow me” (Mark 10:21), which is a clear call to discipleship!
      Furthermore, a reasonable exegesis of Mark 8:34-38 would show that unless one becomes Christ’s disciple by denying self, taking up the cross and following Jesus, i.e. losing one’s life for Jesus’ sake and the gospel’s, one would lose their soul!
      Of course, the scriptures teach that divine grace would be absolutely necessary for both receiving salvation and for living out the life of a disciple (Titus 2:11-14).
      However, Mark 8:34-38 raises some serious implications, especially since Jesus called the “people” to hear his message, (the large majority of which would have been unsaved according to Matthew 7:13), and the text indicates that the one who fails to be Christ’s disciple would lose not rewards, but one’s soul!
      If this passage is intended for believers, then it would mean that believers (who possess eternal life according to many scriptures) could lose their soul if they do not become Jesus’ disciple (i.e. deny self, take up the cross and follow Jesus). This would contradict the doctrine of eternal security, which has substantial scriptural support.
      Alternatively, a fair and careful examination of the text would seem to indicate that this must be an evangelistic call to a radical faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that all believers (no doubt to different degrees) are in fact disciples that live out their faith by denying self, taking up their cross and following Jesus Christ as their Lord!
      Could you please support your position that Jesus’ call to discipleship is exclusively for believers by explaining why Jesus directed his message in Mark 8:34-38 to the “people”, and also as to why so many other texts have Jesus directing his call of discipleship to unbelievers as referenced above?
      Thanks so much,
      God Bless
      Bro. Stephen

    3. Lordship Salvation (LS) requires an upfront commitment to discipleship as an indispensable condition for the reception of eternal life. LS demands an upfront promise to perform the "good works" (Eph. 2:10) expected of a genuinely born again Christian to become a Christian. 

      It is this, and related LS teaching, that corrupts the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3) and frustrates the grace of God (Gal. 2:21).

      In answering MacArthur's original TGATJ, Dr. Ernest Pickering, commented on Mark 8:34.  He wrote, "Salvation is free; discipleship is costly. Salvation comes by receiving the work of the cross; discipleship is evidenced by bearing the cross (daily submission to the will of God). Christ here is not giving instructions about how to go to heaven, but how those who know they are going to heaven should follow Him."

      I urge you to read, as a study, the chaper, Salvation & Discipleship: Is There a Biblical Difference?

      Kind regards,