After my sermon from two weeks ago (“What Do You Know About Salvation — an Introduction to 1 John”), someone in another city listened to the audio and emailed me the question, “What is your position on Lordship Salvation?”
Here is how I answered him.
There is a short and a long answer to your question. The short answer is, “Yes, I hold to Lordship Salvation.” (That being said, I do not care for the term because it, like so many other theological terms like dispensationalism and Calvinism, it denotes too many differing things to hearers of the term so that there is often misunderstanding about what is said.)
There is a longer answer (and reason) for that answer.
It was while I was in seminary that I first heard the term “Lordship Salvation” — probably in 1984-1985 when the debate was just beginning to rage. I had to write a paper on the topic and came to the conclusion that it was likely a semantic issue — both sides were likely saying similar things but using differing terms. My professor — and time and study — corrected me! Part of the reason that I came to the conclusion was that I could not believe that men whom I respected and loved — like Charles Ryrie and other professors and mentors from Dallas Theological Seminary — could hold to a salvation that is not transformational. And at the same time, I could not think that a man like John MacArthur would hold to a works-based salvation.
When I came to Grace more than 20 years ago, that was largely my position. Then I started working my way through the Scriptures through slow expositional preaching — largely in the New Testament. Over and over again I saw that while salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (three of the five key components of the Reformation), I also came to see biblically that saving faith is never without accompanying works. The works do not save, but the works come through the power of the Spirit — the One who resides in the believer cannot do anything but bear fruit (e.g., Gal. 5:22ff; Eph. 5:10; etc.). A believer is not perfect; he will still sin regularly, even daily, but he is grieved by his sin and he is repentant for that sin and the overall trajectory of his life is to please Christ and grow in Christ. There will be differing amounts (quantity) and kinds (and quality) of fruitfulness, but there will be aspects to his life of which others will say of him, “I know him — and the only reason he can do that is because of the work of Christ and the Spirit in him…”
Around 1997, our church also started taking groups of men to John MacArthur’s Shepherds’ Conference each year. During that time, my view on this position was shaped not so much by his direct teaching on salvation, but by his teaching and my growing understanding of the nature of church ministry. A church that is faithful is a church that practices discipline (not just the final step of excommunication, but all four stages, beginning with a brother going to a brother when he sees him sinning). It became evident to me that obedience to practice discipline and discipleship cannot take place in a church that holds to a non-lordship view of salvation. In the past few years, we have also become significantly involved in biblical counseling, having several key leaders trained as counselors through NANC, becoming a training center for NANC, and more. Again, as I thought through issues related to biblical counseling it was again evident that only if one held to a position of salvation like Lordship could one be genuinely effective in counseling and discipling others.
And all during these years I continued to read and study both the Scriptures and those who were writing on the topic and salvation, and it became increasingly clear that the most lucid and faithful writers were those who held to some form of what is commonly called Lordship Salvation — men like MacArthur and John Piper and Mark Dever and many more (I particularly commend to you John MacArthur’s recent book, Slave, and John Piper’s article, “Letter to a Friend Concerning the So-Called ‘Lordship Salvation.’”) Meanwhile, the non-lordship position was championed by people like Robert Wilkin, who has written a great many unbiblical (and I believe, foolish) things like: “…the Lord Jesus never said that in order to be born again one must believe in His deity, His death, or His resurrection. The Lord Jesus simply called for faith in Himself.” (Similarly, Wilkin’s mentor, Zane Hodges, wrote many unfortunate things like, “In recent years I have become aware of a way of presenting the gospel invitation that troubles me.…I have heard people say this: ‘In order to be saved you must believe that Jesus died on the cross.’…Whenever I hear that nowadays, I get extremely uncomfortable.”) A salvation that is based on Jesus apart from His death and resurrection? Believing in Jesus apart from the primary things which Christ came to do? Paul said these truths were of first importance (1 Cor. 15:2ff), so I think it is safe to say that a faith that is in a Christ apart from the cross and resurrection is no faith at all.
Additionally, again as a result of regular preaching and counseling, I believe that the contemporary church has too often succumbed to a subtle temptation to pervert the meaning of the gospel. We talk often (as we should) about the truth that in Christ’s death, God makes available salvation from Hell and God’s judgment and wrath — we might call this salvation from the penalty of sin. That is absolutely true. But it is also just as true that in Christ’s death, God makes available salvation from ongoing sin. Those who prior to salvation could do nothing righteous now can do works of righteousness that please the Lord. We might call this salvation from the power of sin. Too many churches focus on the former aspect of salvation as being the primary aspect of salvation and diminish the second aspect as being “optional.” Yet reading passages like Romans 5-8 (cf. Especially 6:1-2, 12-16, 20-22 8:12-14, 28-29) and 2 Cor. 5:9-17 reveals that fundamental to Christ’s death is that He has freed us to live for Him and in obedience to Him. To love Christ is to obey Christ — Jn. 14:15, 21, etc. (which means that disobedience to Christ also means hatred of Him). Too many believers have a fragmented view of salvation that leaves them believing a partial gospel — salvation from Hell, but not salvation from sin. This leaves them ensnared and trapped by sin, hopeless to find a way out (or even unable to experience a desire for pleasing God through joyful obedience to Him).
Were you to attend GBC would you hear me or any others walking around talking about the merits of Lordship Salvation? It’s highly unlikely. I cannot remember a time when I’ve used the term in a sermon or even in a conversation (except a conversation like this one with you when I am asked about it), and I don’t often hear others using the term either. However, will you hear us talk often about sanctified living and the fruit of righteousness and the power of the Spirit to change us as a fundamental aspect of the spiritual life? Yes. Will you hear us speak of the power of the gospel to transform and change lives? Yes. Will we practice discipline and will we confront sin as a part of discipleship? Yes. Will we talk about salvation in terms of freedom from both the penalty and power of sin? Yes.
That is the kind of Lordship Salvation that we believe the NT teaches and that we follow.
I trust that this has been helpful to you…
In His grace,