September 20, 2022

In Defense of the Gospel, Review: Its Biblical Accuracy in Answering the Lordship Position

Every believer in Jesus Christ must be informed about the subject of Lordship Salvation. It is one of the most popular, yet dangerous aberrations of the true gospel in existence today. While it claims to uphold salvation by grace through faith alone, it practically opposes this truth by adding extra-biblical stipulations such as commitment to serve, dedication, obedience, surrender, on-going discipleship, turning from sins, and faithful perseverance to the end of one’s life. All of these become practical requirements for entering heaven’s glory one day according to the Lordship Salvation scheme. In the book, In Defense of the Gospel, Lou Martuneac has provided the body of Christ with a very informative and helpful explanation of this significant difference between the false gospel of Lordship Salvation and the true, saving gospel of God’s grace.

The author knows his subject well. He is battled-tested. He first encountered this false form of the gospel and combated it on the African mission field. Later he had extensive interaction with leading advocates of this view in North America. Martuneac has been indefatigable in defending the truth of salvation by grace alone, and his book reflects this experience through its judicious selection of quotations documenting the Lordship position. One will not find here straw men being erected and then being knocked down all too-easily, leaving the reader without any real help in answering Lordship Salvationists. Instead, one will find that the author is as committed to the truth in fairly representing the opposing viewpoint as he is in his own handling of God’s Word—the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

In this respect, the most important feature of this book is its biblical accuracy in answering the Lordship position. The book’s content is consistent with its subtitle: “Biblical Answers to Lordship Salvation.” In Defense of the Gospel opens with an introduction to the problem of Lordship Salvation, and then provides an historical overview of the Lordship controversy up to the present day. This is followed by chapters dealing with each of the main problem areas in Lordship Salvation including the distinction between discipleship and salvation, the reality of the carnal Christian, the real meaning of repentance, the nature of saving faith, and the deity of Christ as “Lord.” These chapter-topics are followed by chapters treating key passages in the Lordship debate, such as Romans 10:9-10, Acts 16:30-31, and the rich young ruler passages in the Gospels.

What are Martuneac’s doctrinal conclusions in each of these areas? Here is a brief sampler to whet the appetites of prospective readers:

(a) In the chapter “Salvation and Discipleship: Is There a Biblical Difference?” the author appropriately distinguishes between the free gift of salvation and the costliness of discipleship in the Christian life for rewards. He writes, “Salvation and discipleship are two separate and distinct issues. Salvation is the gift of God to an undeserving Hell-bound sinner. Discipleship is what ought to flow from the man or woman who through the shed blood of Jesus Christ has been redeemed from sin, death, and Hell. Confusing the cost of discipleship for the believer with the gospel of grace through faith is one of the most disconcerting errors of Lordship Salvation” (p. 85).

(b) In the chapter “Can There Be a Christian Who Is Carnal?” Martuneac proves the reality that a person can be simultaneously born again (“a Christian”) and walking according to the flesh (“carnal”). He uses 1 Corinthians 3:1-4; Romans 7:14-25; and numerous Old and New Testament characters to support this biblical reality. He concludes by stating: “Lordship advocates who struggle with the reality of carnal Christians in the church would do well to read again 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. They would do well to let the Bible say what it says, without the trappings of logic and rationalizations to make it fit their system. They would do well to refrain from trying to force the Scriptures into conformity with the presuppositions of Lordship Salvation. The Bible is clear: a man can be genuinely born again, indwelled with the Spirit of God, and live as a carnal Christian at the same time” (p. 119).

(c) In the chapter “What Is Biblical Repentance?” the author humbly acknowledges that he has made significant changes to this chapter on repentance from the original edition of the book (p. 123). It is clear that his doctrine of repentance is the same as traditional Free Grace stalwarts such as C. I. Scofield, Lewis Sperry Chafer, and Charles Ryrie. These men of God all taught that saving repentance is the change of mind about God, sin, the Savior, and salvation that is inherent to faith in Christ for eternal life. Martuneac defines saving repentance the same way, as “a change of mind where one recognizes he is a hopeless, Hell-bound sinner before a just and holy God. When he agrees with the convincing and convicting work of the Holy Spirit that he is a sinner (John 16:7-9) and transfers his dependence to the Lord Jesus Christ for his salvation—he has biblically repented. Biblical repentance is a change of mind that should produce the fruit of a change in direction from self and sin toward God. The fruit that should follow is distinct from repentance itself” (pp. 145-46). This is contrary to the Lordship Salvation position which defines repentance for eternal life as a turning from sin that will necessarily lead to a changed life and changed behavior pattern. In distinction to the Lordship view, Martuneac states that the “evidences of a changed life” are “not automatic or the necessary result of a person having initially repented about Jesus Christ at the time of new birth” (p. 147).

(d) In the chapter on “What Is Biblical Saving Faith?” Martuneac defines faith as “a child-like trust in God, which accepts the record He has given of His Son” (p. 150). He goes on to demonstrate how Lordship proponents load the word “faith” with meritorious concepts such as obedience, full surrender, paying the price, and exchanging self for salvation. Martuneac rightly objects to this “barter-system” of salvation, saying “the faith that saves man from the penalty of his sin cannot include any kind of meritorious works. . . . Salvation is obtained through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Man is saved by faith plus nothing!” (p. 151, ellipsis added).

In Defense of the Gospel continues to present the clear truth of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone by examining one-chapter-at-a-time three key passages that frequently arise in the Lordship debate. The chapter on Romans 10:9-10 shows that submission to the lordship or mastery of Christ is not being required for salvation, but belief and acceptance of Christ’s deity as sovereign are being taught. Likewise, to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” in Acts 16:31 does not make believing synonymous with surrendering all areas of the life to the lordship of Christ in order to be born again. Nor did Christ require the rich young ruler to be good and to keep the Ten Commandments in order to enter into eternal life, which is the Lordship interpretation. Instead, Christ was seeking to show the man his sinfulness, self-righteousness, and self-reliance, which was standing in the way of his faith in Christ.

Finally, the book contains three concluding chapters exhorting the reader to stand strong for the truth of the gospel and that this is an issue of biblical separation if there ever was one. This subject of separation is rarely addressed in the Lordship debate, and I am grateful that Martuneac’s book offers this distinctive appeal that is so sorely needed in our day.

There are also eight insightful appendixes at the end of the book on various subjects relating to Lordship Salvation, including the especially important connection between Calvinistic Reformed theology and the doctrine of Lordship Salvation.

The book contains endorsements on the back cover from notables such as Drs. Robert P. Lightner, Ron Comfort, and Charlie Bing, as well as evangelist John R. Van Gelderen. The book is sturdy, well-constructed, and reasonably priced for a standard-sized paperback.

It is also important to note that though this book is consistent with a Free Grace position on salvation in its opposition to Lordship Salvation, In Defense of the Gospel does not hold to the Grace Evangelical Society’s version of “Free Grace.” Sometimes Lordship Salvationists wrongly assume that all Free Grace people adhere to the unbiblical views of the G.E.S. regarding (1) repentance not being a necessary condition for eternal life and (2) not needing to believe in the deity of Christ and His finished work to be born again (i.e., the “crossless gospel”). Martuneac thankfully maintains the biblically balanced view of the nature and content of saving faith in his book by expressly opposing these excesses of Zane Hodges, Bob Wilkin, and the teachers of G.E.S. theology (pp. 31-35).

So where does In Defense of the Gospel fall among the various good books currently on the market that are opposed to Lordship Salvation? In comparison to Charles Ryrie’s So Great Salvation, Martuneac’s book is beneficial in addressing the subject of Lordship Salvation more directly and more thoroughly. (Martuneac’s book is roughly twice the length of Ryrie’s.) On the other hand, it is not as technical and exegetically “heavy” as Charlie Bing’s book, which was originally his doctoral dissertation. In Defense of the Gospel is geared to the average person and is quite readable. Martuneac is to be commended for providing believers with another very valuable resource on this critical subject. I strongly recommend this book.

Pastor Tom Stegall