Lordship Salvation: A Primer on the “Lordship Salvation” Controversy

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

Jude 3

Why do you want to do another book on ‘lordship salvation’?” a friend recently asked. “Hasn’t that issue been beaten to death?”

I admit that a part of me echoes that sentiment. Originally I had no intention of writing a sequel to The Gospel According to Jesus. That book was in preparation for several years, and when I finally completed it I was eager to move on to something different. Although I felt there was much more that could be said, I was satisfied that the book adequately covered the subject. I was not trying to place myself at the nucleus of an ongoing debate. Most of all, I did not want the “lordship salvation” controversy to become the single focus of my ministry.

That was five years ago. Today I sense something of what Jude must have felt when he penned the verse quoted above. An urgent prompting in the deepest part of my soul constrains me to say more.

Is This Really a Crucial Issue?

A major reason for my concern has to do with some popular misconceptions that cloud the whole controversy. “Lordship salvation” has become the most talked about and least understood theological topic in evangelical Christendom. Nearly everyone seems to know about the debate; few truly understand the issues. It is easy to find strong opinions on both sides. But ferreting out people with genuine understanding is another matter. Many suppose the whole thing is a superficial conflict and the church would be better off if everyone forgot about it. One very well known Christian leader told me he had purposely avoided reading any books on the matter; he didn’t want to be forced to take sides. Another told me the issue is unnecessarily divisive.

Yet this is not theological trivia. How we proclaim the gospel has eternal ramifications for non-Christians and defines who we are as Christians. Nor is the lordship question a theoretical or hypothetical problem. It raises several fundamental questions that have repercussions at the most practical level of Christian living.

How should we proclaim the gospel? Do we present Jesus to unbelievers as Lord, or as Savior only? What are the essential truths of the gospel message? What does it mean to be saved? How can a person know his or her faith is real? Can we have absolute assurance of salvation? What kind of transformation is accomplished in the new birth? How do we explain sin in the Christian’s life? How far in sinning can a Christian go? What relationship is there between faith and obedience? Every area of Christian living is affected by one or more of those questions.

Of course, that’s not to say the lordship discussion is purely pragmatic. A number of crucial doctrines have surfaced in the debate: dispensationalism, election, the ordo salutis (“order of salvation”), the relationship of sanctification and justification, eternal security, perseverance of the saints, and so on.

Don’t be put off. You may not immediately recognize some of those terms or be able to define them all, but if you’re a Christian, every one of them is important to you. You ought to have a basic understanding of what they mean and how they relate to Scripture and the gospel message. Doctrine is not the exclusive domain of seminary professors. All true Christians must be concerned with understanding sound doctrine. Doctrine properly understood can never be a merely academic pursuit. It is the discipline of discerning and digesting what God is saying to us in His Word so we can live lives that glorify Him. Doctrine forms the belief system that controls and compels behavior. What could be more practical—or more important?

Let’s keep that perspective in mind as we approach this controversial topic. Do we disagree on doctrinal matters? Let’s look together at what God’s Word says. Theological systems, polemics, elegant rhetoric, or bombast and bravado may persuade some people, but not those who seek to know the mind of God. God’s truth is revealed in His Word, and it is there we must ultimately go to settle this or any other doctrinal issue.

What Is “Lordship Salvation” All About?

The gospel call to faith presupposes that sinners must repent of their sin and yield to Christ’s authority. That, in a sentence, is what “lordship salvation” teaches.

I don’t like the term lordship salvation. I reject the connotation intended by those who coined the phrase. It insinuates that a submissive heart is extraneous or supplementary to saving faith. Although I have reluctantly used the term to describe my views, it is a concession to popular usage. Surrender to Jesus’ lordship is not an addendum to the biblical terms of salvation; the summons to submission is at the heart of the gospel invitation throughout Scripture.

Those who criticize lordship salvation like to level the charge that we teach a system of works-based righteousness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although I labored to make this as plain as possible in The Gospel According to Jesus, some critics continue to hurl that allegation. Others have imagined that I am advocating a new or modified doctrine of salvation that challenges the Reformers’ teaching or radically redefines faith in Christ. Of course, my purpose is just the opposite.

Therefore, let me attempt to state the crucial points of my position as plainly as possible. These articles of faith are fundamental to all evangelical teaching:

Christ’s death on the cross paid the full penalty for our sins and purchased eternal salvation. His atoning sacrifice enables God to justify sinners freely without compromising the perfection of divine righteousness ( Rom. 3:24–26 ). His resurrection from the dead declares His victory over sin and death ( 1 Cor. 15:54–57 ).

Salvation is by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone—plus and minus nothing ( Eph. 2:8–9 ).

Sinners cannot earn salvation or favor with God ( Rom. 8:8 ).

God requires of those who are saved no preparatory works or prerequisite self-improvement ( Rom. 10:13 ; 1 Tim. 1:15 ).

Eternal life is a gift of God ( Rom. 6:23 ).

Believers are saved and fully justified before their faith ever produces a single righteous work ( Eph. 2:10 ).

Christians can and do sin ( 1 John 1:8 , 10 ). Even the strongest Christians wage a constant and intense struggle against sin in the flesh ( Rom. 7:15–24 ). Genuine believers sometimes commit heinous sins, as David did in 2 Samuel 11.

Alongside those truths, I believe Scripture teaches these:

The gospel calls sinners to faith joined in oneness with repentance ( Acts 2:38 ; 17:30 ; 20:21 ; 2 Pet. 3:9 ). Repentance is turning from sin ( Acts 3:19 ; Luke 24:47 ). It is not a work but a divinely bestowed grace ( Acts 11:18 ; 2 Tim. 2:25 ). Repentance is a change of heart, but genuine repentance will effect a change of behavior as well ( Luke 3:8 ; Acts 26:18–20 ).

Salvation is all God’s work. Those who believe are saved utterly apart from any effort on their own ( Titus 3:5 ). Even faith is a gift of God, not a work of man ( Eph. 2:1–5 , 8 ). Real faith therefore cannot be defective or short-lived but endures forever ( Phil. 1:6 , cf. Heb. 11 ).

The object of faith is Christ Himself, not only a creed or a promise ( John 3:16 ). Faith therefore involves personal commitment to Christ ( 2 Cor. 5:15 ). In other words, all true believers follow Jesus ( John 10:27–28 ).

Real faith inevitably produces a changed life ( 2 Cor. 5:17 ). Salvation includes a transformation of the inner person ( Gal. 2:20 ). The nature of the Christian is different, new ( Rom. 6:6 ). The unbroken pattern of sin and enmity with God will not continue when a person is born again ( 1 John 3:9–10 ).

The “gift of God,” eternal life ( Rom. 6:23 ), includes all that pertains to life and godliness ( 2 Pet. 1:3 ; Rom. 8:32 ), not just a ticket to heaven.

Jesus is Lord of all, and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender ( Rom. 6:17–18 ; 10:9–10 ). He does not bestow eternal life on those whose hearts remain set against Him ( James 4:6 ).

Those who truly believe will love Christ ( 1 Pet. 1:8–9 ; Rom. 8:28–30 ; 1 Cor. 16:22 ). They will therefore long to obey Him ( John 14:15 , 23 ).

Behavior is an important test of faith. Obedience is evidence that one’s faith is real ( 1 John 2:3 ). On the other hand, the person who remains utterly unwilling to obey Christ does not evidence true faith ( 1 John 2:4 ).

Genuine believers may stumble and fall, but they will persevere in the faith ( 1 Cor. 1:8 ). Those who later turn completely away from the Lord show that they were never truly born again ( 1 John 2:19 ).

That is my position on “lordship salvation.” Anyone who supposes I have some deeper agenda has misunderstood what I am saying.

Radical or Orthodox?

Most Christians will recognize that the points I’ve listed are not new or radical ideas. The preponderance of Bible-believing Christians over the centuries have held these to be basic tenets of orthodoxy. They are standard precepts of doctrine affirmed, for example, by all the great Reformed and Calvinist creeds. Though our Wesleyan brethren might disagree on a few of the particulars, most of them would quickly affirm that the lordship of Christ is at the heart of the gospel message. No major orthodox movement in the history of Christianity has ever taught that sinners can spurn the lordship of Christ yet lay claim to Him as Savior.

The truth is, the no-lordship gospel is a fairly recent development. Although most advocates of the no-lordship view write and speak as if their teaching represented historic mainstream evangelical Christianity, it does not. Except for a circle of North American pastors, authors, and conference speakers, practically no church leader in the world defends no-lordship doctrine as orthodox. Until recently in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, for example, being a Christian could literally cost a person everything. There the notion of faith without commitment is unthinkable. In England and the rest of Europe, Christian leaders I have met condemn no-lordship teaching as an American aberration. The same is true in other parts of the world I’m familiar with.

This is not to say that no-lordship teaching poses no threat outside the United States. Over the past three or four decades gospel tracts, how-to books on witnessing, radio and television broadcasts, and other media have carried the no-lordship message to the uttermost parts of the earth. The so-called simple-faith gospel—no repentance, no surrender, no commitment, no changed life—has had a horrific influence on the vocabulary of evangelism. Because no-lordship terminology (“accept Jesus as Savior” now, “make Him Lord” later) has become familiar and comfortable, many Christians’ thinking about the gospel is fuzzy. When so many of the purveyors of no-lordship salvation brashly level charges of heresy against those who oppose their teaching, is it any wonder sincere Christians are genuinely confused? Which system represents true orthodoxy?

What Does the No-lordship Gospel Teach?

I have listed sixteen beliefs of lordship salvation. The first seven are tenets every major no-lordship advocate would also affirm:

Christ’s death purchased eternal salvation.

The saved are justified through faith in Christ alone.

Sinners cannot earn divine favor.

God requires no preparatory works or pre-salvation reformation.

Eternal life is a gift.

Believers are saved before their faith produces any righteous works.

Christians sin, sometimes horribly.

On that much we all agree. Those who espouse the no-lordship position, however, differ dramatically from lordship salvation on the remaining nine points. Instead they teach:

Repentance is a change of mind about Christ ( SGS 96, 99). In the context of the gospel invitation, repentance is just a synonym for faith ( SGS 97–99). No turning from sin is required for salvation ( SGS 99).

The whole of salvation, including faith, is a gift of God ( SGS 96). But faith might not last. A true Christian can completely cease believing ( SGS 141).

Saving faith is simply being convinced or giving credence to the truth of the gospel ( SGS 156). It is confidence that Christ can remove guilt and give eternal life, not a personal commitment to Him ( SGS 119).

Some spiritual fruit is inevitable in every Christian’s experience. The fruit, however, might not be visible to others ( SGS 45). Christians can even lapse into a state of permanent spiritual barrenness ( SGS 53–54).

Only the judicial aspects of salvation—such as justification, adoption, imputed righteousness, and positional sanctification—are guaranteed for believers in this life ( SGS 150–52). Practical sanctification and growth in grace require a postconversion act of dedication.

Submission to Christ’s supreme authority as Lord is not germane to the saving transaction ( SGS 71–76). Neither dedication nor willingness to be dedicated to Christ are issues in salvation ( SGS 74). The news that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead is the complete gospel. Nothing else must be believed for salvation ( SGS 40–41).

Christians may fall into a state of lifelong carnality. A whole category of “carnal Christians”—born-again people who continuously live like the unsaved—exists in the church ( SGS 31, 59–66).

Disobedience and prolonged sin are no reason to doubt the reality of one’s faith ( SGS 48).

A believer may utterly forsake Christ and come to the point of not believing. God has guaranteed that He will not disown those who thus abandon the faith ( SGS 141). Those who have once believed are secure forever, even if they turn away ( SGS 143).

Some of the more radical advocates of no-lordship doctrine do not stop there. They further stipulate:

Repentance is not essential to the gospel message. In no sense is repentance related to saving faith ( AF 144–46).

Faith is a human act, not a gift from God ( AF 219). It occurs in a decisive moment but does not necessarily continue ( AF xiv, 107). True faith can be subverted, be overthrown, collapse, or even turn to unbelief ( AF 111).

To “believe” unto salvation is to believe the facts of the gospel ( AF 37–39). “Trusting Jesus” means believing the “saving facts” about Him ( AF 39), and to believe those facts is to appropriate the gift of eternal life ( AF 40). Those who add any suggestion of commitment have departed from the New Testament idea of salvation ( AF 27).

Spiritual fruit is not guaranteed in the Christian life ( AF 73–75, 119). Some Christians spend their lives in a barren wasteland of defeat, confusion, and every kind of evil ( AF 119–25).

Heaven is guaranteed to believers ( AF 112) but Christian victory is not ( AF 118–19). One could even say “the saved” still need salvation ( AF 195–99). Christ offers a whole range of postconversion deliverance experiences to supply what Christians lack ( AF 196). But these other “salvations” all require the addition of human works, such as obedience, submission, and confession of Jesus as Lord ( AF 74, 119, 124–25, 196). Thus God is dependent to some degree on human effort in achieving deliverance from sin in this life ( AF 220).

Submission is not in any sense a condition for eternal life ( AF 172). “Calling on the Lord” means appealing to Him, not submitting to Him ( AF 193–95).

Nothing guarantees that a true Christian will love God ( AF 130–31). Salvation does not necessarily even place the sinner in a right relationship of harmonious fellowship with God ( AF 145–60).

If people are sure they believe, their faith must be genuine ( AF 31). All who claim Christ by faith as Savior—even those involved in serious or prolonged sin—should be assured that they belong to God come what may ( AF 32, 93–95). It is dangerous and destructive to question the salvation of professing Christians ( AF 18–19, 91–99). The New Testament writers never questioned the reality of their readers’ faith ( AF 98).

It is possible to experience a moment of faith that guarantees heaven for eternity ( AF 107), then to turn away permanently and live a life that is utterly barren of any spiritual fruit ( AF 118–19). Genuine believers might even cease to name the name of Christ or confess Christianity ( AF 111).

Appendix 1 is a chart in which the major differences and similarities of the various views are shown side by side.

What Is Really at the Heart of the Lordship Debate?

It should be obvious that these are real doctrinal differences; the lordship controversy is not a semantic disagreement. The participants in this debate hold widely differing perspectives.

Nevertheless, the issues have often been obscured by semantic distractions, distorted interpretations of lordship teaching, mangled logic, and emotion-laden rhetoric. Often it is easier to misconstrue a point than answer it, and sadly that is the tack many have taken. All it has done is confuse the real issues.

Please allow me to address some of the most troublesome fallacies that have hampered understanding and resolution of the lordship question.

The lordship controversy is not a dispute about whether salvation is by faith only or by faith plus works. No true Christian would ever suggest that works need to be added to faith in order to secure salvation. No one who properly interprets Scripture would ever propose that human effort or fleshly works can be meritorious —worthy of honor or reward from God.

The lordship controversy is a disagreement over the nature of true faith. Those who want to eliminate Christ’s lordship from the gospel see faith as simple trust in a set of truths about Christ. Faith, as they describe it, is merely a personal appropriation of the promise of eternal life. Scripture describes faith as more than that—it is a wholehearted trust in Christ personally (e.g., Gal. 2:16 ; Phil. 3:9 ). Not merely faith about Him; faith in Him. Note the difference: If I say I believe some promise you have made, I am saying far less than if I say I trust you. Believing in a person necessarily involves some degree of commitment. Trusting Christ means placing oneself in His custody for both life and death. It means we rely on His counsel, trust in His goodness, and entrust ourselves for time and eternity to His guardianship. Real faith, saving faith, is all of me (mind, emotions, and will) embracing all of Him (Savior, Advocate, Provider, Sustainer, Counselor, and Lord God).

Those who have such faith will love Christ ( Rom. 8:28 ; 1 Cor. 16:22 ; 1 John 4:19 ). They will therefore want to do His bidding. How could someone who truly believes in Christ continue to defy His authority and pursue what He hates? In this sense, then, the crucial issue for lordship salvation is not merely authority and submission, but the affections of the heart. Jesus as Lord is far more than just an authority figure; He’s also our highest treasure and most precious companion. We obey Him out of sheer delight.

So the gospel demands surrender, not only for authority’s sake, but also because surrender is the believer’s highest joy. Such surrender is not an extraneous adjunct to faith; it is the very essence of believing.

Lordship salvation does not teach true Christians are perfect or sinless. Wholehearted commitment to Christ does not mean that we never disobey or that we live perfect lives. The vestiges of our sinful flesh make it inevitable that we will often do what we do not want to do ( Rom. 7:15 ). But commitment to Christ does mean that obedience rather than disobedience will be our distinguishing trait. God will deal with the sin in our lives and we will respond to His loving chastisement by becoming more holy ( Heb. 12:5–11 ). I labored to make this clear in The Gospel According to Jesus. For example, I wrote, “Those with true faith will fail—and in some cases, frequently—but a genuine believer will, as a pattern of life, confess his sin and come to the Father for forgiveness ( 1 John 1:9 )” (p. 192).

Nevertheless, a few critics have tried to portray lordship salvation as a thinly disguised form of perfectionism. One dear brother—a Christian radio personality—wrote me to suggest that qualifying comments in the book like the one I just quoted are actually inconsistent with my overall position. He assumed that these were “disclaimers” added by an editor trying to “tone down” my book. He evidently surmised that my real intent was to teach sinless perfection as the test of true salvation. He had missed the point entirely.

Of course Christians sin. They disobey. They fail. We all fall far short of perfection in this life ( Phil. 3:12–5 ). “We all stumble in many ways” ( James 3:2 ). Even the most mature and godly Christians “see in a mirror dimly” ( 1 Cor. 13:12 ). Our minds need constant renewing ( Rom. 12:2 ). But that doesn’t invalidate the truth that salvation in some real sense makes us practically righteous. The same epistle that describes the Christian’s hatred of and battle with sin ( Rom. 7:8–24 ) first says that believers are free from sin and slaves of righteousness ( 6:18 ). The same apostle who wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves” ( 1 John 1:8 ) later wrote, “No one who abides in Him sins” ( 3:6 ). In one place he says, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” ( 1:10 ), and in another, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in Him” ( 3:9 ).

There’s a true paradox—not an inconsistency—in those truths. All Christians sin ( 1 John 1:8 ), but all Christians also obey: “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments” ( 1 John 2:3 ). Sin and carnality are still present with all believers ( Rom. 7:21 ), but they cannot be the hallmark of one’s character ( Rom. 6:22 ).

Scripture clearly and repeatedly confirms the lordship viewpoint on this matter: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God” ( 3 John 11 ). That speaks of direction, not perfection. But it clearly makes behavior a test of faith’s reality.

The sinner’s role in salvation is not the main issue in the lordship controversy. The heart of the debate deals with how much God does in redeeming the elect.

What happens at regeneration? Is the believing sinner really born again ( John 3:3 , 7 ; 1 Peter 1:3 , 23 )? Is our old self really dead, “crucified … that we should no
longer be slaves to sin” ( Rom. 6:6 )? Are believers really “partakers of the divine nature” ( 2 Pet. 1:4 )? Is it true that “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” ( 2 Cor. 5:17 )? Can we really say, “Having been freed from sin, [we are] slaves of righteousness” ( Rom. 6:18 )?

Lordship salvation says yes.

This, after all, is the whole point of redemption: “Whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” ( Rom. 8:29 ). Does that conforming work of God—sanctification—begin in this lifetime? Again, lordship salvation says yes.

Scripture agrees. “We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” ( 2 Cor. 3:18 ). Though “it has not appeared as yet what we shall be,” it is nevertheless certain that “when He appears, we shall be like Him.… And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” ( 1 John 3:2–3 ).

There’s more: “Whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” ( Rom. 8:30 ). Notice God’s part in salvation begins with election and ends in glory. In between, every aspect of the redemptive process is God’s work, not the sinner’s. God will neither terminate the process nor omit any aspect of it.

Titus 3:5 is clear: Salvation—all of it—is “not on the basis of deeds which we have done.” It is God’s work, done “according to His mercy.” It is not merely a declaratory transaction, legally securing a place in heaven but leaving the sinner captive to his sin. It involves a transformation of the disposition, the very nature, through “the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” as well.

The question is not whether we’re saved by grace, but how grace operates in salvation. No-lordship advocates love to portray themselves as champions of grace. But they characterize grace in an anemic way that misses the whole point. God’s grace is a spiritual dynamic that works in the lives of the redeemed, “instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” ( Titus 2:12 ). True grace is more than just a giant freebie, opening the door to heaven in the sweet by and by, but leaving us to wallow in sin in the bitter here and now. Grace is God presently at work in our lives. By grace “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” ( Eph. 2:10 ). By grace He “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” ( Titus 2:14 ).

That ongoing work of grace in the Christian’s life is as much a certainty as justification, glorification, or any other aspect of God’s redeeming work. “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” ( Phil. 1:6 ). Salvation is wholly God’s work, and He finishes what He starts. His grace is sufficient. And potent. It cannot be defective in any regard. “Grace” that does not affect one’s behavior is not the grace of God.

Repentance is not incidental to the gospel. 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 ). Paul’s evangelistic invitations always demanded repentance: “God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent” ( Acts 17:30 ). Here’s how Paul described His own ministry and message: “I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance ” ( Acts 26:19–20 , emphasis added). Repentance is what leads to life ( Acts 11:18 ) and to the knowledge of the truth ( 2 Tim. 2:25 ). Thus salvation is impossible apart from repentance.

Advocates of the no-lordship position frequently suggest that preaching repentance adds something to the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone.

But faith presupposes repentance. How can those who are mortal enemies of God ( Rom. 5:10 ) sincerely believe in His Son without repenting? How can anyone truly comprehend the truth of salvation from sin and its consequences, unless that person also genuinely understands and hates what sin is? The whole sense of faith is that we trust Christ to liberate us from the power and penalty of sin. Therefore sinners cannot come to sincere faith apart from a complete change of heart, a turnaround of the mind and affections and will. That is repentance. It is not a supplement to the gospel invitation; it is precisely what the gospel demands. Our Lord Himself described His primary mission as that of calling sinners to repentance ( Matt. 9:13 ).

We often speak of the salvation experience as “conversion.” That is biblical terminology ( Matt. 18:3 ; John 12:40 ; Acts 15:3 ). Conversion and repentance are closely related terms. Conversion occurs when a sinner turns to God in repentant faith. It is a complete turnaround, an absolute change of moral and volitional direction. Such a radical reversal is the response the gospel calls for, whether the plea to sinners is phrased as “believe,” “repent,” or “be converted.” Each entails the others.

If someone is walking away from you and you say, “Come here,” it is not necessary to say “ turn around and come.” The U-turn is implied in the direction “come.” In like manner, when our Lord says, “Come to Me” ( Matt. 11:28 ), the about-face of repentance is understood. Nowhere does Scripture issue an evangelistic appeal that does not at least imply the necessity of repentance. Our Lord offers nothing to impenitent sinners ( Matt. 9:13 ; Mark 2:17 ; Luke 5:32 ).

Again, repentance is not a human work. Jesus said, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” ( John 6:44 ). It is God who grants repentance ( Acts 11:18 ; 2 Tim. 2:25 ). Repentance is not pre-salvation self-improvement. It is not a question of atoning for sin or making restitution before turning to Christ in faith. It is an inward turning from sin to Christ. Though it is not itself a “work” the sinner performs, genuine repentance will certainly produce good works as its inevitable fruit ( Matt. 3:8 ).

The lordship salvation controversy is not churchwide. Because of the publicity given to the lordship debate over the past five years, one might get the impression that the entire worldwide evangelical movement is split over these issues. But as I noted earlier, modern no-lordship theology is primarily a North American phenomenon. Certainly it has been exported to some parts of the world by missionaries and others trained in American schools, but I know of no prominent Christian leaders from outside North America who have undertaken to defend the no-lordship view on doctrinal grounds.

To be even more specific, the modern lordship controversy is primarily a dispute among dispensationalists. Appendix 2 explains dispensationalism and why it is at the heart of the lordship debate. Without getting into a technical discussion about theology at this point, let me simply note that one arm of the dispensationalist movement has developed and defended no-lordship doctrine. Their influence on the evangelical culture has been widespread. As the lordship controversy has been debated on radio talk shows and in other popular formats, it has begun to seem like a monumental conflict threatening to divide Protestant Christianity in a major way. The truth is, only one branch of dispensationalism has risen to defend the no-lordship view.

Who are the defenders of no-lordship dispensationalism? Nearly all of them stand in a tradition that has its roots in the teaching of Lewis Sperry Chafer. I will show in Appendix 2 that Dr. Chafer is the father of modern no-lordship teaching. Every prominent figure on the no-lordship side descends from Dr. Chafer’s spiritual lineage. Though Dr. Chafer did not invent or originate any of the key elements of no-lordship teaching, he codified the system of dispensationalism on which all contemporary no-lordship doctrine is founded. That system is the common link between those who attempt to defend no-lordship doctrine on theological grounds.

The New Testament epistles do not present a different gospel than Jesus Himself preached. One of the hallmarks of Dr. Chafer’s brand of dispensationalism was the way he segmented the New Testament, and particularly the teachings of Christ. As we’ll note in Appendix 2 , Chafer believed many of our Lord’s sermons and evangelistic invitations were intended for people in another dispensation. He contrasted Jesus’ “kingdom teachings” and His “grace teachings.” Only the “grace teachings,” according to Chafer, can be legitimately applied to this present age.

Many dispensationalists have abandoned that kind of thinking, but some still do not believe the gospel according to Jesus is even relevant to the discussion of lordship salvation. “Of course Jesus taught a lordship message,” one old-line dispensationalist brother wrote me. “He was preaching to people under law. Under grace we must be careful to preach a grace message. We must preach the gospel according to the apostles.”

So for the remainder of this book we will focus on the apostles’ preaching and teaching. We will take an especially close look at the apostle Paul’s teaching. We will examine what the apostles taught about the key doctrinal issues in the lordship debate: faith, grace, repentance, justification, sanctification, sin, works, assurance, perseverance, and the gospel message. A clear fact will emerge: The gospel according to Jesus is the same as the gospel according to the apostles. The faith it calls for is not dormant, but dynamic; it is a repentant, submissive, trusting, enduring faith that works.[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2000). The gospel according to the Apostles: the role of works in the life of faith. Nashville, TN: Word Pub.

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