“What must I do to be saved?” biblical evaluation and response, 3
Definition of Lordship Salvation, Survey of Lordship S Debate 5
Practical issues, Theological issues, Social issues 7
FAITH AND SALVATION 9
Lexical Arguments, Pisteuw in Relation to Its Etymological Root 10
Pisteuw in Relation to Its Use with Prepositions 12
Faith as Obedience Romans 1:5; 16:26 14
John 3:36; Acts 6:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 18
Hebrews 3:18-19 and 4:6; 5:9 20
Faith as Resulting in Measurable Works, Jas 2:14-26 22
John 15:1-8 29
Matthew 7:15-20 34
John 6:28-29 35
Galatians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11, Ephesians 2:10 36
Faith as Submission John 1:12 37
Faith as Spurious, John 2:23-25; 8:30-31; and Luke 8:4-8, 11-15 38
Faith as a Gift of God, Eph 2:8-9 44
Biblical Understanding of Faith as a Human, Simple Response 47
Faith as a Volitional Response 49
Faith as Determined by Its Object 50
Faith as a Non-Meritorious Response, Conclusion 51
REPENTANCE AND SALVATION 52
Lexical Arguments of Metanoew with Metamelomai 54
Repentance in Offer of Salvation John the Baptist 58
Jesus Matthew 4:17/Mark 1:15; Matthew 11:20-21/Luke 10:13/ Luke 15 60
Apostles, Acts 2:37-38; 3:19; 8:22; 14:15; 1 Thessalonians 1:9 63
2 Cor 12:21; Heb 6:1; Rev 2 and 3; Rev 9:20-21; 16:9, 11 67
Repentance Fruit; Gift of God, Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25; Rom. 2:4 70
Repentance in Salvation John 3 John 4; Luke 7:37-50, 18:9-14 74
Biblical Repentance, Inner Attitude, Volitional Response 76
Repentance as an Emphasis of the Gospel, Epistles 78
Repentance in Relation to Faith, Hebrew 6:6 80
CHRIST’S LORDSHIP AND SALVATION. Lexical Arguments 83
Pre-New Testament Usage; New Testament Usage 84
Jesus is Lord kurios in salvation Ph 2:5-11 2 Pet 1:11 and 3:18 87
Jesus as Lord 2 Corinthians 4:5 90
Position of Jesus as Lord Lu 2:11; Phil 2:5-11; 2 Pet 1:11 and 3:18 93
Proclaim Jesus as Lord 2 Cor 4:5. Psalm 110, Acts 2:36, 10:36 , 16:31 97
Jesus as Lord Rom 10:9-10, John 20:28; 1 Cor 12:3 103
Christ’s Lordship in Salvation Acts 8:5, 111
Rulership in sanctification, Subjectivity of Submission, Objectivity 113
Example of Uncommitted Believers Acts 19:10-19 115
DISCIPLESHIP AND SALVATION. Lordship costly discipleship 118
Lexical Arguments, The Meaning of “Disciple”, John 6 120
Meaning of “Follow” John 10:27-28 125
Discipleship as Costly Mt 16:24-27; 10:37/Mk 8:34-38/Lk 9:23-26; 14:26 128
Deny himself Mt 16:23/Mk 8:33 Loses his life.Luke 9:24; Matt 10:39 131
Whoever is ashamed of Me Mark 8:38/Luke 9:26/Matt 10:32-33; 16:27 135
Lordship submission to Lord for salvation. Mt 10:37; 11:28-30/Lk 14:26 136
The rich young ruler, Matthew 19:16-21/ Mark 10:17-22/ Luke 18:18-23 143
The calling of the first disciples: Mt 4:18-22; Mk 1:16-20; Lke 5:1-11 149
Discipleship in the Parables Matt 13:43-46 152
Discipleship as Distinguished from Salvation John 6:60-64; 8:30-31 155
Discipleship as Related to the Freeness of the Gospel “costly grace” 157
Discipleship as a Christian Duty Titus 2:11-12 161
Discipleship as Related to the Reality of Sin in Believers 1 Cor. 3:1-3 162
Faith Salvation Rm1:5;16:26; Jn3:36; Act6:7; 2Tes 1:7-8; Heb 3:18-19;4:6;5:9. 165
Faith obedience James 2:14-26 166
Repentance and Salvation 167
Christ’s Lordship and Salvation 169
The Relationship of Law to Grace 173
The Relationship of Justification to Sanctification 175
Security, Perseverance, and Assurance 177
The Reality of Sin in the Believer 179
Lordship Salvation, A Biblical Evaluation and Response – Charles Bing
“What must I do to be saved?”
Lordship Salvation “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:31) includes theological implications and commitments which many modern evangelistic presentations have misrepresented, distorted, or concealed. 3
Paul cursed those who pervert the true gospel (Gal. 1:9-10).
Lordship and non-Lordship teachers have each charged the other
with heresy and corruption of the gospel.
A. W. Tozer, Lordship Salvation, charges “a notable heresy has come into being throughout our evangelical Christian circles—the widely-accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need Him as Saviour and that we have the right to postpone our obedience to Him as Lord as long as we want to.” 4
Charles C. Ryrie: “The message of faith only and the message of faith plus commitment of life cannot both be the gospel; therefore, one of them is a false gospel and comes under the curse of perverting the gospel or preaching another gospel (Gal. 1:6-9), and this is a very serious matter.” 5
The Lordship Salvation presentation of the gospel is necessarily more involved than Free Grace as seen in J. I. Packer’s comment: “In our own presentation of Christ’s gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress as Christ did on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to respond to the message of free forgiveness.” 6
Lordship Salvation also has effect upon the assurance of the believer.
Assurance from the objective promise of God recedes in importance to the subjective assessment of the quality of faith of the one professing faith and the equally subjective evaluation of visible fruits of obedience in one’s life.
This makes absolute assurance impossible in this life, so it is taught, “Doubts about one’s salvation are not wrong so long as they are not nursed and allowed to become an obsession.” 8
No longer is emphasis on gospel proclamation as “only” salvation from sin, because it is believed the gospel itself demands that people and societies be brought under the lordship of Christ.
Need for biblical evaluation and response
John MacArthur has attempted the most in-depth biblical presentation of Lordship doctrine in his book The Gospel According to Jesus. 10
The two most articulate responses to MacArthur to date are Charles C. Ryrie’s So Great Salvation and Zane Hodges’s Absolutely Free. 11
Ryrie’s book is a concise theological answer, which does not evaluate or critique many of the biblical interpretations argued by Lordship proponents.
Hodges’s book deals with many of the Lordship passages, but not all.
These responses to Lordship Salvation were written at the popular level,
so there is a need for a comprehensive and in-depth evaluation, critique, and response to the many biblical arguments used by Lordship advocates.
This study intends to fill this need by a careful systematization and examination of Lordship Salvation’s specific biblical arguments.
The Scope of the Study
The study will limit itself to the most prominent lexical arguments and
proper exegetical and hermeneutical procedure of relevant Scripture.
Appendix will briefly present the major theological issues (the relationship of law to grace, the relationship of justification to sanctification, the doctrines of security, perseverance, and assurance, the reality of sin in the believer). There the primary differences between the Lordship and non-Lordship positions will be briefly presented, but not evaluated.
A Definition of Lordship Salvation
Kenneth L. Gentry, himself a proponent, offers this defining position:
The Lordship view expressly states the necessity of acknowledging Christ as the Lord and Master of one’s life in the act of receiving Him as Savior. These are not two different, sequential acts (or successive steps),
but rather one act of pure trusting faith. 14
Richard P. Belcher identifies Lordship Salvation as that which believes
“true saving faith includes in it a submission to the Lordship of Christ. 15
Thus the central tenet of Lordship Salvation is that submission of one’s life to Christ as Master is the only true expression of saving faith.
It will be seen in subsequent chapters how such a definition of Lordship Salvation supports their understanding of faith, repentance,
Christ’s lordship, and discipleship in relation to salvation. 16
The opposing view is often called the “non-Lordship” view, or even derogatorily “Easy-believism,” 17 but neither is acceptable. 18
For this study, the “non-Lordship” view will be called the “Free Grace.”
Free Grace holds salvation is a gift of God realized by man only through the simple response of faith, which is defined as “trust, confidence in.” 19
A Survey of the Lordship Salvation Debate
Lordship Salvation seems to flow naturally from a strong Calvinism most often found in Reformed theology, and is inherent in some expressions of the Reformed doctrines of assurance and perseverance.
Belcher explains the connection to Calvinism:
Lordship salvation flows from a Calvinistic foundation. God has chosen a people and He will save them. He regenerates them and grants them the gifts of repentance and faith. Such a work of salvation transforms them. God has also justified them and He has begun the work of sanctification in them which He will also perfect. Through trials, difficulties, and failures,
they are not only eternally secure but will persevere in holiness and faith. 22
Lordship Salvation held positions similar to those found in later Reformed doctrines on assurance and perseverance.
Explicit Lordship conditions for salvation are absent or controversial in the writings of the Reformers and cannot be taken for granted. 23
Later Reformed thought of faith and assurance strayed significantly from that of the Reformers it claimed to represent. 24
By the time of the Westminster Confession of Faith
(1643-49; English Calvinism’s influential statement of Reformed theology) assurance was separated from the essence of faith
making it more dependent upon subjective evidences. 25
Some tenets of Reformed soteriology were challenged in the early 1900’s by dispensationalist theologian Lewis Sperry Chafer.
Chafer did more than any other theologian to emphasize the doctrines of grace for decades to come. 26
Themes common in his writings were the freeness of grace in salvation, the efficacy of simple saving faith, and the reality of carnal Christians. 27
He criticized those who attached conditions to the gospel
such as those found in Lordship theology today.
For example, Chafer wrote,
“Outside the doctrines related to the Person and work of Christ, there is no truth more far-reaching in its implications and no fact more to be defended than that salvation in all its limitless magnitude is secured, so far as human responsibility is concerned, by believing on Christ as Savior.
To this one requirement no other obligation may be added without violence to the Scriptures and total disruption of the essential doctrine of salvation by grace alone.
Only ignorance or reprehensible inattention to the structure of a right Soteriology will attempt to intrude some form of human works with its supposed merit into that which, if done at all, must, by the very nature of the case, be wrought by God alone on the principle of sovereign grace. . . .
But even when the supernatural character of salvation is recognized, it is possible to encumber the human responsibility with various complications, thus to render the whole grace undertaking ineffectual to a large degree. These assertions lead naturally to a detailed consideration of the more common features of human responsibility which are too often erroneously added to the one requirement of faith or belief (emphasis his).” 28
Dietrich Bonhoeffer promoted the idea of a “costly” salvation and preached against “cheap grace,” 29
John R. W. Stott debated and defended Lordship Salvation in published works during the years 1958 and 1959. 30
J. I. Packer also espoused LS in his key work on evangelism in 1961. 31
Charles C. Ryrie 1969 devoted one chapter of his book,
Balancing the Christian Life, to refuting Lordship Salvation.
Works by A. W. Tozer (1974), Kenneth L. Gentry (1976), and Arend ten Pas (1978) argued against Ryrie and what they called “easy believism.” 32
Zane C. Hodges whose book, The Gospel Under Siege(1981),
asserted the Free Grace position while refuting the Lordship position. 33
John MacArthur incorporated into his Shepherd’s Conference a “Lordship Salvation Syllabus” (1981) which argued the Lordship position. 34
In 1986 James Montgomery Boice published a book espousing costly discipleship, which he equated with salvation. 35
Debate reached a peak with the Lordship teaching of MacArthur asserted and defended in The Gospel According to Jesus (1988).
Both Ryrie and Hodges responded immediately with their own books (1989) defending the Free Grace position and answering the Lordship position. 36
Grace Evangelical Society 1986 by Robert N. Wilkin and other Free Grace supporters states as its purpose: “To promote the clear proclamation of God’s free salvation through faith alone in Christ alone, which is properly correlated with and distinguished from issues related to discipleship.” 37
Issues Behind the Modern Controversy
Lordship concern about the preponderance of false professors and uncommitted Christians in the churches is seen in MacArthur’s introductory comments in The Gospel According to Jesus:
“This new gospel has spawned a generation of professing Christians whose behavior often is indistinguishable from the rebellion of the unregenerate. Recent statistics reveal that 1.6 billion people world-wide are considered Christians”.
A well-publicized opinion poll indicated nearly a third of all Americans claim to be born again.
Those figures surely represent millions who are tragically deceived.
Theirs is a damning false assurance. ________
Information Please Almanac (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988), p. 400.
 George Gallop, Jr. and David Poling, The Search for America’s Faith (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), p. 92. 38
Likewise, Chantry states,
Products of modern evangelism are often sad examples of Christianity. They make a profession of faith, and then continue to live like the world…
Only a small proportion of those who ‘make decisions’
evidence the grace of God in a transformed life…
All of this is related to the use of a message in evangelism that is unbiblical …Evangelicals are swelling the ranks of the deluded with a perverted Gospel. 39
The concern over false professors has naturally led to the denouncement of much modern evangelistic preaching and methods of asking for public decisions or other forms of evangelistic invitations. 40
The Lordship concern is thus a very good one.
They desire a genuine Christianity that demonstrates consistency between profession and conduct.
They are motivated by the worthy desire to see those who profess Christ go on to maturity and fruitfulness.
Faced with the sad realities of inconsistent behavior, “backsliding,” and outright apostasy by some professing Christians, they have proposed a gospel that demands up front an exclusive commitment to an obedient lifestyle in hopes of minimizing these problems.
Anything but the Lordship gospel is labeled “a perverted gospel” 41
or a “heresy” 42 in apparent identification with the Apostle Paul’s concern expressed in Galatians 1:6-10.
To Lordship proponents the controversy with Free Grace proponents is therefore no small debate or matter of semantics,
but a debate about two very different views of the gospel and salvation. 43
Gospel fails to bring people into the struggle for social change is false gospel. 44
Jim Wallis criticizes any gospel which omits costly discipleship and the demand for obedience in all areas of life because it is “biblically irresponsible and implicitly endorses a low view of Christ by suggesting the gospel is not relevant to the wider issues of human life and society.”
He then includes social change in the content of the gospel:
Our gospel is God’s good news of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord who brings forgiveness, reconciliation, and a new creation; of his cross and resurrection which have won and sealed the victory over the forces of destruction and death; and of a radically new kind of community, a new humanity united in Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live according to the standard and character of a new order. 45
CHAPTER 2 : FAITH AND SALVATION.
Both sides of the Lordship debate would agree that faith is the necessary response required of a person for eternal salvation.
The debate’s over the definition and content of the volitional aspect of faith.
The classic three-fold definition of faith as
notitia (knowledge, understanding), assensus (assent, agreement), and fiducia (the volitional aspect) is accepted by some on both sides, 1
but does not resolve the debate;
it simply focuses the debate on the nature of the volitional aspect.
The issue of faith in the Lordship controversy is whether its volitional aspect involves only simple trust or confidence in something (F G position),
or that plus a deeper commitment that includes surrender and obedience. (Lordship Salvation assumes the latter position).
Advocates argue that there are different kinds of faith; one which is merely intellectual and cannot save, and one which is volitional and saves. Evidently, volitional trust and reliance upon falls short of saving faith.
Enlow’s remark is representative of the tendency to qualify faith:
To “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” involves more than knowledge, assent and trust (reliance). True, one must know about God’s provision, he must assent to the truth of the gospel and he must rely on Christ to save him.
But to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ means more than to believe that He is Lord and more than to rely on Him to give eternal life.
It also means to receive Christ as one’s own Lord, the ruler of one’s own life. 2
Enlow proposes a definition of faith that involves not only trusting Christ for salvation, but submitting to Christ as Ruler of all of one’s life.
The debate, then, is not over the object of faith,
but focuses instead on the kind of faith.
Gentry : There is a kind of faith that does not save.
“Empty faith is too often promoted today; all faith is not saving faith.” 3
This inadequate kind of faith is said to be “only intellectual acquiescence”
or “a casual acceptance of the facts regarding Jesus Christ.” 4
If simple trust or confidence does not save, then what kind of faith does?
Lordship proponents answer with a rather elaborate definition.
Mueller claims that faith is “synonymous with obedience.” 5
Thus it follows that true faith will have measurable works or visible fruit:
“Faith obeys. Unbelief rebels. The fruit of one’s life reveals whether that person is a believer or an unbeliever.” 6
Furthermore, saving faith is the commitment and surrender of one’s life to the Lord as Master. 7
Also, since faith is considered a gift of God, it is viewed as a dynamic which “guarantees its endurance to the end.” 8
Lordship argue there is a faith that does not save, or a spurious faith,
from the lexical nature of the faith word group, and Bible passages.
An Evaluation of the Lexical Arguments
Two major lexical arguments are employed to support the idea of faith
as obedience, surrender, submission, and commitment.
The first considers the root of the words pisti”/pisteuw.
The second argues from the occurrence of pisteuw with prepositions.
Pisteuw in Relation to Its Etymological Root
LS argument claims that since pisteuw is related to peiqw and both derive from the root piq-, faith can have the sense of “obedience”.
The word peiqw may sometimes be used in the Scriptures to mean “obey,” but its basic and overwhelmingly prevalent meaning is “convince, persuade, come to believe.” 9
However, to fortify the argument that pisteuw can mean obedience, Lordship proponents also argue from the meaning of the common root piq-.
Gentry asserts that piq- has the sense of “to bind” and from this draws the conclusion that “The idea of ‘bind’ has a dominant influence on the
concept of faith and is of great significance to the Lordship controversy.” 10
Likewise, Mueller cites Becker who gives piq- the sense of “obey.” 11
Still, Becker admits that this root has the basic meaning of “trust”; 12
a meaning which should only be altered with unequivocal evidence.
FG argues the same restraint should govern the interpretation of peiqw.
Though there is evidence for occasionally interpreting this word as “obey,” these instances comprise a minority of its uses. 13
The normative use in the active voice is “convince, persuade,” and in the perfect tense “depend on, trust in, put one’s confidence in.” 14
If one attempts to define pisteuw by linking it to peiqw, as Lordship proponents do, the comparison should be based upon the primary meanings of each word and the primary meaning of their common root, piq-. When this is done, one can only safely arrive at “trust” for a definition of pisteuw.
At this point a question of methodology must be asked and answered: Should the meaning of a word be determined by the meaning of its root,
as the Lordship side does with pisteuw?
FG says the linguist, James Barr, answers that such comparisons should never supplant the meaning derived from context and usage:
…the “meaning” of a “root” is not necessarily the meaning of a derived form.
Still less can it be assumed that two words having the same root suggest or evoke one another?
In many cases the “root fallacy” comes to much the same thing as “etymologizing”, i.e., giving excessive weight to the origin of a word as against its actual semantic value. . . .
…..The main point is that the etymology of a word is not a statement about its meaning but about its history; it is only as a historical statement that it can be responsibly asserted, and it is quite wrong to suppose that the etymology of a word is necessarily a guide either to its “proper” meaning in a later period or to its actual meaning in that period. 15
FG: thus the Lordship argument that pisteuw has the sense of “obey” merely because of its relation to peiqw and the root piq- is tenuous at best.
Such a crucial soteriological term should be handled with more care. Context and usage must determine the meaning of pisteuw.
Lordship proponents argue from several standard dictionaries which define faith as obedience and submission but neglect context and usage. 16
For example, Vine’s three-fold characterization of faith as “a firm conviction . . .a personal surrender . . .
[and] conduct inspired by such surrender” is quoted by MacArthur. 17
But Vine merely proof-texts the second and third elements with the questionable passages John 1:12 and 2 Cor 5:7 respectively. 18
In addition, Bultmann is cited by many for his suggestion that faith can have the sense of “obey.” 19
However, Bultmann does affirm that the essential meaning of pisteuw is “to rely on” or “to trust.” 20
Also, it should be noted that he supports his conclusion that faith can mean obedience by appealing to biblical passages and to theology.
The passages he cites are those often quoted by Lordship proponents and will be discussed later in this chapter. 21
The influence of Bultmann’s theology of Heilsgeschichte or “salvation history” on his understanding of faith can be seen from this sample statement:
For the figure of Jesus Christ cannot be detached from its “myth,” i.e., the history enacted in His life, death and resurrection. This history, however, is salvation history. That is, the man who accepts the kerygma in faith recognizes therewith that this history took place for him. Since Jesus Christ was made the Kurios by His history, acceptance of the kerygma also includes acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as the Kurios. This is expressed in the formula pistis eis ton k?rion jj@hmwn Isoun or the like. 22
FG: The bearing of Bultmann’s theology on his definition of faith is emphasized to show that his view of faith relies more on his theology than on semantical usage. 23
On this basis, a Lordship position can easily be argued to the neglect of proper linguistic principles. Relating pisteuw to peiqw or their root piq- does not conclusively prove or attest to a definition of obedience for pisteuw. Meaning must come primarily from the context and usage.
Pisteuw in Relation to Its Use with Prepositions
Another Lordship argument differentiates two kinds of faith according to whether prepositions are used with the verb pisteuw or not.
This is best expressed by Gentry’s own words:
To the Greek mind, the idea of “belief” could have two connotations, each expressed by distinct syntactical structures. To believe a person was one thing, but to believe in or upon a person was quite another.
The prepositions eis (“into”), epi (“upon”), and en (“in”) make a remarkable difference in the meaning of a sentence when used in associations with pisteuw. . Thus for a Greek-speaking person to say that he believed “into” (eis plus the accusative), or “upon” (epi plus the accusative or dative) someone, it was a strong statement to the effect that he was placing his entire confidence, trust, or hope into that person or grounding it upon his character as revealed to him. . .
The very act of placing faith into Christ must imply submission to Him. . . .
Many people may claim to believe Christ (in the sense of pisteuo plus the dative case without a preposition),
but this is a far cry from placing one’s trust wholly in Him. 24
FG: The Lordship position thus distinguishes between effective faith (pisteuw ei”) that submits to the Lordship of Christ and mere intellectual assent (pisteuw without a preposition) which is empty faith. However, the claim of a “remarkable difference” determined by the presence or absence of prepositions with pisteuw must be compared to the biblical evidence.
FG: Different kinds of faith is most frequently argued from uses of pisteuw
in the Gospel of John.
However, after noting every use of pisteuw in John 25
Schnackenburg concludes, “In many texts, pisteuw ei” is on the same footing as a @oti-clause . . .” and “Often the absolute pisteuein means the Johannine faith in the fullest sense . . .” 26
Thus one should not so easily delete the soteriological significance of pisteuw plus @oti- in John.
This is the construction found in clear salvation verses like John 8:24, “believe that I am He,” and 20:31, “believe that Jesus is the Christ”. 27
Likewise, pisteuw plus the dative without a preposition is used in a clear salvation verse, John 5:24, “believes him who sent me” (NIV). 28
To agree that pisteuw with a preposition may emphasize the moral element of personal trust or emphasize the object of faith does not mean that constructions without these prepositions represent less than saving faith.
A number of scholars observe that to “believe in” and to “believe that” are used interchangeably in John. 29
FG: After studying the data in John, Christianson concludes,
?The difference between the pisteuw ei” and pisteuw @oti constructions is not one of meaning. Both mean one and the same thing: voluntary acceptance of a specific proposition. The difference between the two constructions is that pisteuw @oti introduces an explicit statement of the proposition which is accepted while pisteuw ei” does not. The pisteuw ei” construction thus functions as an abbreviation for the pisteuw @oticonstruction. 30
FG: Morris also comments on the various constructions of pisteuw in John:
The conclusion to which we come is that, while each of the various constructions employed has its own proper sense, they must not be too sharply separated from one another. Basic is the idea of that activity of believing which takes the believer out of himself and makes him one with Christ. But really to believe the Father or really to believe the facts about Christ inevitably involves this activity. Whichever way the terminology is employed it stresses the attitude of trustful reliance on God which is basic for the Christian. 31
What is found in John appears to hold true for the rest of New Testament literature. From his study of pisteuw Bultmann is able to affirm that pisteuw ei” is equivalent to pisteuw @oti in the New Testament. 32
FG: The non-prepositional construction of pisteuw is used in verses that clearly speak of salvation (eg., Acts 16:34; 18:8; Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6; 2 Tim 1:12; Titus 3:8; Jas 2:23). Similarly, pisteuwplus @oti is also used in salvation passages (eg., Matt 9:28; Rom 10:9; 1 Thess 4:14).
Berkhof concurs, as seen in his comment on the construction pisteuw plus the dative: “If the object is a person, it is ordinarily employed in a somewhat pregnant sense, including the deeply religious idea of a devoted, believing trust.” 33
Thus Gentry’s purported distinction between effective faith and deficient faith, or the difference between the volitional act of committing one’s life to Jesus as Master and mere intellectual assent to historical or doctrinal facts, has little basis. Such a sharp distinction between the “heart” and the “head,” argued from whether pisteuw is followed by ei” or @oti lacks support.
The notion of different kinds of faith in John and other Bible books is derived theologically more than lexically. 34
FG: None of the New Testament authors speak of those who truly believe.
Faith normally refers to that which trusts in Jesus Christ for eternal life.
One may conjecture intellectual and volitional aspects to faith,
but this distinction is not clearly seen, especially in such a way as to place one against the other. 35
While pisteuw with the prepositions epi, ei”, and en may emphasize or clarify the object of belief, they do not distinguish between qualities of belief.
An Evaluation of Key Bible Passages
LS: Bible passages used to support the Lordship idea of faith.
Some passages appear predictably as major arguments while others
are of a minor nature. Here, the major passages used will be evaluated.
Passages categorized according to Lordship definition of faith:
Faith as obedience, faith as resulting in measurable works,
faith as submission, faith as spurious, and faith as a gift of God.
Where faith touches repentance, discussion will be in chapter three.
Faith as Obedience
Mueller states “Faith is synonymous with obedience.” 36
Likewise, Stott claims “Faith includes obedience” 37 and
MacArthur contends “Scripture often equates faith with obedience.” 38
By far the primary Scriptures used to support this are two passages in Romans which link faith and obedience (Rom 1:5; 16:26).
Used less often, but similarly, are: Acts 6:7; 2 Thess 1:7-8; John 3:36; and passages from Hebrews 3, 4,and 5.
Romans 1:5; 16:26
The phrase pakohn pisteuws, “obedience to the faith,” in Rom 1:5 and 16:26
is used to make faith and obedience essentially the same.
Gentry states that “Paul often speaks freely of the ‘obedience of faith’
as the way of salvation (Rom 1:5; 6:17; 16:26).
Thus faith binds a man in obedience to Christ.” 39
Stott has the same understanding.
He defends his interpretation with three arguments. 40
First Rom 1:5 and 16:26 concern proclamation of gospel to heathen nations:
“The call of God in the gospel is not just to receive Jesus Christ,
but to belong to Him, not just to believe in Him, but to obey Him.”
Second, he argues grammatically:
?the Greek phrase is very compact. Neither noun (“obedience” and “faith”) has an article, which we should expect if a distinction was being drawn between them and one were to be conceived as a result of the other. Instead, “obedience of faith” appears to be the one response desired by the evangelist, a personal abandonment of obedience-and-faith or, if you prefer, “obedient faith.”
Third, he argues that obedience characterizes conversion in Rom 6:17.
Stott is occupied with arguing against the view that “obedience of faith” refers to sanctifying obedience which comes after saving faith.
He does not address an alternative interpretation that faith is the obedient response of sinners to the gospel. 41
This interpretation counters his first argument because the command to believe is the only command relevant to the unbelieving heathen nations. However, it must be tested grammatically.
Grammatically, one does see a close relationship between “obedience” and “faith” in pakohn pistews. This relationship is variously interpreted:
1) It is an objective genitive in which faith means “the faith,”
i.e., the body of Christian truth, 42 or “the authority of faith.”
However, the absence of the article argues against this.
2) It is a subjective genitive in which obedience springs from faith. 43
3) It is an epexegetic or appositional genitive in which faith is the obedience called for. 44
FG: Morris prefers not to understand it strictly appositionally. He comments,
While faith and obedience go together, they are not identical. Why use two words for one meaning? It seems rather that the gospel is seen as demanding the response of faith. Accordingly, the way to obey is to believe. 45
Though the subjective genitive is grammatically preferable to the objective genitive, the context of salvation in chapter 1 (cf. vv. 13-17) favors Morris’ understanding over both.
FG: Stott may be right in noting that the phrase “obedience of faith” describes one response, but it is not necessary to make one aspect the result of the other. The single response would be the obedience of the nations to the command to believe in the gospel. 46
This interpretation is also more consistent with Paul’s argument in Romans which condemns men as sinners and pictures their refusal to believe (especially Israel) in the free gift of salvation as disobedience to the gospel which was continually preached to them (10:16-18).
FG: Morris concurs in his comment on the phrase “obedience of faith” in
Rom 1:5: “It is not without interest that this epistle, which puts such stress on the free salvation won for us by Christ’s atoning act, should also stress the importance of obedient response.” 47
FG: Furthermore, in the section of the epistle where Paul argues
for faith as the only requirement for justification (3:21–5:21),
obedience is never mentioned to qualify faith.
More specifically, in Rom 4:1-4 Paul argues conclusively that faith and works are mutually exclusive because the nature of works nullifies the free gift.
He goes on to declare that it is “by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (5:19).
His argument is that Christ obeyed (He worked), and sinners get the saving benefit of His obedience by the exercise of faith, not by their own obedience or works.
To insist that sinners obey or even be willing to obey is to make human merit a requisite of the free gift, which negates the essence of a gift.
This asks of the unregenerate a very Christian decision and confuses the issue of salvation with issues of the Christian life, as Godet correctly argues in his comment on Rom 1:5: “It is impossible to understand by this obedience the holiness produced by faith. For, before speaking of the effects of faith, faith must exist.” 48
FG: The distinction of the pre-conversion decision and post-conversion commitments answers Stott’s third argument that Rom 6:17 characterizes conversion as obedience. 49
This text says, “you were (imperfect of eimi) slaves of sin, yet you obeyed (aorist of pakoh) from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered (aorist of paradidwmi).” The obedience spoken of took place subsequent to their deliverance or committal to this doctrine. 50
Paul is thanking God for their salvation which amounted to a change of masters or ownerships (v. 17a).
In his reflection on their spiritual history, he now recognizes that they were not only freed from sin,
but had also inclined themselves to serve righteousness (v. 18).
FG: Newell argues that verse 17b explains how this came about:
These Christians became obedient from the heart to their resurrection position. They not only reckoned that position true; but they absolutely surrendered their all to it. 51
FG: Cranfield similarly reasons that the explanation for Paul’s interpolation of verse 17b between 17a and 18 is “Paul’s special concern at this point to stress the place of obedience in the Christian life–the fact that to be under God’s grace involves the obligation to obey Him.” 52
This honors the immediate context which is unmistakably speaking of sanctification and the decision to “present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness,” (v. 19).
Only after one is “set free from sin” can there be “fruit to holiness,” (v. 22), thus the obedience in 6:17 follows saving faith; it is not part of it.
FG: The evidence presented suggests that the “obedience of faith” spoken of in Rom 1:5 and 16:26 is obedience to the command to believe the gospel. Therefore, these passages should not be used to support the Lordship position that faith itself is in essence obedience.
John 3:36; Acts 6:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8
These passages are also popularly used by Lordship proponents to equate faith with obedience. 53 The argument from each is similar. These arguments will now be examined.
In the New American Standard Version John 3:36 reads, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
MacArthur asserts that this equates disobedience with unbelief, then continues, “Thus the true test of faith is this: does it produce obedience?
If not, it is not saving faith. Disobedience is unbelief. Real faith obeys.” 54
His understanding of obedience is explained elsewhere in his book:
“obedience to Jesus’ commands is clearly enjoined by texts such as John 3:36.” 55
FG: Participle from apeiqew, translated by NASB “he who does not obey,”
is translated by the KJV and the NKJV “he who does not believe.” 56
A reason for this is given by Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich who recognize the controversy here, but support the translation with this explanation:
Since, in view of the early Christians, the supreme disobedience was a refusal to believe their gospel, apeiqew may be restricted in some passages to the mng. disbelieve, be an unbeliever.
This sense?seems most probable in [John 3:36, et al]. 57
FG: A comparison to the parallel verse in 3:18
where unbelief brings condemnation would support this meaning.
Indeed, John’s condition for salvation is overwhelmingly framed in the language of belief and unbelief. 58
The choice of apeiqew to suggest unbelief in this passage amplifies the point of the context.
John is arguing that a greater than he (Jesus Christ) has come (3:28-31). This One is sent by the Father, speaks the Father’s words (3:34),
and has been given all authority by the Father (3:35).
Thus in terms of Christ’s authority, the rejection of Christ’s testimony is characterized as the disobedience or rebellion which refuses to believe Him (3:32). It is therefore consistent with John’s Gospel, the “Faith Gospel,” if apeiqew is understood as disobedience to the command to believe.
This passage contains one of the familiar progress reports of Acts
(cf. 2:47; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31).
Other reports of the spread of the gospel refer to those who “believed”
(e.g. 2:44; 4:4; 11:21), but here the report is expressed differently:
“a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”
MacArthur thus comments,
“Acts 6:7 shows how salvation was understood in the early church,”
then goes on to argue that obedience is “an integral part of saving faith.” 59
FG: One wonders why MacArthur chooses this single verse to represent how the early church understood salvation, when Acts itself normally uses the word “believed”. This verse is the rare exception.
FG: In contrast to MacArthur, Marshall takes the phrase
“obedient to the faith” (phkouon thi pistei) in the sense of
“obedience of faith” as in Rom 1:5 discussed above: “Obedient to the faith means obedient to the call for faith contained in the gospel.” 60
While this is plausible, two significant differences with Rom 1:5 should be noted: First, the verb form is used, not the noun, for pakouw; Second, pistis is articular rather than anarthrous.
The verb form phkouon is in the imperfect tense, which indicates a progressive incomplete action. This sets it off from pisteuw in the aorist found in the other progress reports (2:44; 4:4; 11:21). While these aorists denote initial saving faith, the imperfect here could denote continued progress in “the faith.”
The articular tei pistei indicates that the body of Christian truth as a whole is meant rather than personal faith. 61
In other words, a great many priests who had believed (implied) were continuing to obey the new standard of Christ’s teachings.
Others understand the imperfect to mean that a great many priests kept on joining the church, 62 or joined one by one. 63
Still, their obedience is seen in relation to a new system of belief as a whole, not to initial personal faith.
FG: Reference to obedience is not surprising at this point in the narrative.
In the last half of chapter five, Peter and John are obedient to God rather than men in preaching the gospel (5:29). Then Gamaliel reminds the Jewish leaders of the futility of obedience to a cause that is not of God (5:36-37).
In comparison, many of the priests of Israel were now obeying the new Christian teaching (6:7).
Finally, the contrast of obedience and disobedience to God is highlighted
in Stephen’s message (cf. 7:35, 39, 51-53). Unlike Israel’s leaders in the past, these priests have submitted in obedience to God’s will.
The unique language of this verse should guard against using it independently to argue how salvation was understood in the early church.
It does not demonstrate that obedience is a part of personal saving faith.
2 Thessalonians 1:7-8
Another passage used by Lordship to equate faith with obedience. 64
The pertinent words are in verse 8: “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey
(tois mh pakouousi) the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
FG: That obedience refers to the command to believe is clear from the context which contrasts the fates of those who do not obey the gospel (v. 8)
and those who have obediently believed (v. 10).
FG: Also, the second phrase, “do not obey the gospel,”
is used synonymously with the first, “do not know God,” in verse 8. 65
In the context, both point to the lack of salvation and not a lack of works,
as the basis of eschatological judgment.
To not obey the gospel is to reject Christ’s revelation of Himself
and refuse the invitation of the gospel. Morris notes,
The second clause?involves the rejection of the revelation that God has given in His Son.
The gospel is a message of good news, but it is also an invitation from the King of kings. Rejection of the gospel accordingly is disobedience to a royal invitation. 66
Thus the passage in no way supports
the idea of faith as obedience to a set of commands.
Hebrews 3:18-19 and 4:6; 5:9
FG: These passages in Hebrews are discussed separately
because of the distinctive nature of this Epistle and its use of terms.
Lordship advocates generally assume the salvation spoken of in the Epistle is eschatological from hell, an interpretation that must be evaluated by the contexts of the passages and the book itself.
Hebrews 3:18-19; 4:6
The Lordship argument from these verses is similar to that for the previous passages. Disobedience is said to be the same as unbelief since
3:18 says the Israelites did not enter God’s rest because they “did not obey” and 3:19 says they did not enter “because of unbelief.”
MacArthur claims that this passage equates disobedience and unbelief. 67
Mueller claims the same, and adds
4:6 which states that disobedience prevented entrance into God’s rest. 68
FG: In the context, the author of Hebrews is describing the sin
of the Israelites in the wilderness by both its cause and its effect.
Unbelief is cause of disobedience just as faith is the cause of obedience.
Unbelief is described as disobedience because this focuses on the Israelites’ refusal to believe God’s promise concerning the promised land, and their consequent refusal to obey His command to possess it.
Their unbelief is also evidenced in their fearful report (Num. 13:31-33)
and their desire to return to Egypt (Num. 14:1-4).
To say that unbelief is the cause of disobedience recognizes a vital relationship between the two, but does not make them equal.
FG: It is interesting that MacArthur quotes Vine on 3:18-19
who says that disobedience is the “evidence” of unbelief, because this
is far from making disobedience and unbelief equal as MacArthur does. 69
“He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him
(tois pakouousin),” are used by Lordship to argue that faith is obedience. 70
FG: The “all” obviously refers to believers because Jesus is the author of their salvation and they “obey”. It can also be seen that the present tense of pakouw indeed denotes continued acts of obedience.
However, the salvation spoken of is not salvation from hell.
It must be pointed out that the argument of the book is concerned with keeping Christians 71 from falling away
and keeping them in the full benefits of Christ’s ministry.
FG: Also, the concept of “salvation” in Hebrews has a distinct sense
of not only a final deliverance from hell, but a present and future aspect
that relates to the believer’s rest (4:1, 3, 6, 9-11). 72
This is emphasized by the adjective “eternal” and
the comparison of salvation to a future inheritance (1:14; 7:25; 9:15, 28).
The writer of Hebrews apparently uses “obey” in relation to believers
to emphasize the obedience of Jesus Christ
set forth in the verses which precede verse 9.
As the office of High Priest was obtained through His obedience 4:15; 5:7-8 so believers also obtain their blessing through obedience.
The obedient act of initially believing in Christ is the first act of obedience places sinners under the benefits of Christ’s priestly sacrifice and ministry. Then by continued obedience, they avail themselves of the benefits of His High Priestly ministry to believers,
a privilege that can be forfeited (unlike salvation from hell).
FG: It has been argued that faith as obedience is not supported from
these Scriptures, unless obedience to the command to believe is meant.
That obedience springs from faith is obvious from some Scriptures Heb 11 Also, the inner disposition reflected by one’s faith, and the act of obeying the command to believe, surely incline the new believer towards obedience so that faith implies obedience.
However, there appears to be no good scriptural basis for confusing faith and obedience in essence.
Faith as Resulting in Measurable Works
With faith defined as obedience, it is no surprise that Lordship advocates also argue that true believers will live a life of obedience evidenced by measurable works.
The word “measurable” is carefully chosen in this discussion,
because Lordship proponents can only evaluate the salvation experience
of someone based on what they can measure outwardly.
MacArthur states, “The fruit of one’s life reveals whether that person
is a believer or an unbeliever. There is no middle ground.” 73
To MacArthur, the fruit must be measurable or
“abundant–not something you have to scrounge around looking for.” 74
Therefore, the issue in this section is not whether professing Christians bear fruit or not, but whether they bear measurable fruit,
or fruit that can always be seen and measured by some standard.
FG: It will soon be apparent that this Lordship understanding of faith
is vulnerable to the charge of subjectivity.
While it is clear that God desires all Christians to bear fruit (Eph 2:10),
and it is certainly an inference from Scripture that all do (1 Cor 4:5),
it must be proved whether the Scriptures ascribe
a certain measure of works which validates salvation.
FG: Ryrie agrees every Christian bears fruit, but 3 appropriate caveats:
1) This does not mean that a believer will always be fruitful, for
if there can be minutes of unfruitfulness, why not days, months, or years?; 2) Fruit is not always obvious to an observer, but can be private or erratic; 3) One’s concept of fruit is often incomplete, for biblically speaking,
fruit includes less obvious things such as character traits, praise to God, and giving of money. 75
The Lordship position uses a number of passages to show the necessity of measurable fruits to genuine faith.
Virtually all refer to Jas 2:14-26, therefore this passage will be discussed first.
John 15:1-6 is used to a lesser extent.
Other passages which will be discussed are
Matt 7:15-20; 7:21-23;
John 6:28-29; Gal 5:6; 1 Thess 1:3; 2 Thess 1:11; and Eph 2:10.
This passage may be the crux interpretum in the Lordship debate. 76
Declared by Roman Catholics to be Achilles’ heel of the Reformation, 77
they are similarly used by Lordship advocates against the Free Grace view.
The difference seems only a matter of emphasis.
Instead of the Romanist assertion that faith plus works obtains salvation, the Lordship adherent argues that the kind of faith that works obtains salvation.
In asserting this, Lordship proponents have been charged with
conditioning salvation upon works.
FG: Hodges says,
It is pure sophistry to argue that what is meant in such [Lordship] theology is only that works are produced by grace and are simply its necessary results.
On the contrary, if I cannot get to heaven apart from the regular performance of good works, those works become as much a condition for heaven as faith itself. Many theologians who hold to the kind of synthesis we are discussing, honestly admit that good works are a condition for heaven! 78
The conclusion that works are a condition of salvation is indeed admitted
by some commentators who take the words of James at face value.
For example, one writes, “Logically, then, good works must be a condition of justification.” 79
Another states, “The exegesis has shown beyond doubt that James is very critical of faith alone and insists that works are necessary for salvation” 80
and, “for James works are the necessary presupposition for salvation and the decisive soteriological element without which faith is dead and cannot save (emphasis his).” 81
FG: Of course, Lordship interpreters do not admit this, preferring instead to say that works are the necessary fruit of the faith necessary for salvation.
They argue that Jas 2:14-26 denounces a sterile intellectual faith
as opposed to a genuine saving faith evidenced by works.
Not all faith is redemptive. James 2:14-26 says faith without works is dead and cannot save. James describes spurious faith as pure hypocrisy, mere cognitive assent, devoid of any verifying works—no different from the demons’ belief. 82
Likewise, Mueller uses this passage to argue that
the true faith that saves (justifies) is the faith that also produces appropriate works (sanctifies). In James’ thinking, “to be justified by faith” is equivalent to saying “to be justified by works” when the latter works are the fruit of saving faith. To James, these fruits are indispensable and distinguish saving faith from its non-soteric counterfeit (cf. 2:19). 83
FG: But Saucy admits that calling works in James the necessary
“fruit” of faith is including obedience in the essence of faith:
If some kind of obedience, represented by the works of James, is necessarily the fruit of saving faith, then it is difficult to see how some dimension of obedience can be totally excluded from the seed of faith. Surely there is something alike in the essence of a particular fruit and the essence of the seed that produced it. 84
MacArthur’s view represents the Lordship view of James 2:14-26. 85
The popular view is it concerns the reality of faith in relation to salvation. MacArthur says, “[James] says that people can be deluded into thinking they believe when in fact they do not, and he says that the single factor that distinguishes counterfeit faith from the real thing is the righteous behavior inevitably produced in those who have authentic faith.” 86
This interpretation arises from the assumption that James is speaking
of salvation as eschatological and justification as forensic
(in the same sense as Paul in Romans 3 and 4). 87
FG: Therefore, the first question to be answered
concerns the central issue James addresses in 2:14-26.
An important interpretive key to this passage
is a correct understanding of the spiritual condition of James’ readers.
There seems every indication that the readers were true believers.
They were born from above (1:18), possessed faith in Christ (2:1), and
were considered “brethren” (1:2, 19, 2:1; 14; 3:1; 4:11; 5:7, 10, 12, 19). 88
Clearly, the “brothers” (adelfoi) are addressed in the introductory 2:14.
Also in verse 14, the impersonal tis serves as James’ hypothetical example and gives no clue as to spiritual condition in and of itself.
FG: The closest identity to the tis in verse 14 is the tis in verse 16
which apparently speaks of the same hypothetical person and
where it is qualified by autois ex mwn for the meaning “one of you”.
James assumes that there are individuals among his Christian readers
who can have faith without works.
The nature of this “faith” mentioned first in verse 14 is a controlling factor in one’s interpretation. Is it a genuine Christian faith or a false faith?
MacArthur argues it is this person’s “empty profession.”to be a believer, 89
He supports this from the articular use of pistis at the end of the verse:
“That faith cannot save him, can it?” 90
FG: However, it is debated whether his interpretation should lean so heavily on the articular pistis when the same construction
is found in 2:17, 20, 22, and 26 with no such understanding.
Examination shows that when James uses faith as the subject, he also uses the article. 91 The fact that this person “says” (legh) he has faith appears only to state an assumption, the reality of which is not challenged by James. James challenges only the “profit” of such a faith without works. The profit he has in mind is expressed in the use of the verb swzw in verse 14.
MacArthur understands the verb and the context to refer to eternal salvation. 92
FG: But this may not harmonize with its usage in James.
Though it can surely refer to salvation, swzw is sometimes used in the general sense of “deliver” or “preserve” from danger loss, physical death.
Its use in 1:21, in context, probably refers to deliverance from the deadening effect of sin in the Christian’s life. 94
Its other use in 5:20 evidently refers to deliverance from physical death. 95
FG: The context suggests from what one is saved in 2:14-26.
The motif of judgment brackets this passage (2:13; 3:1).
Since he is addressing Christians, the judgment seat of Christ must be in view.
Verse 2:14 appears after a discussion of this judgment (v. 13)
without a connecting particle showing the continuity of thought
about accountability at the judgment.
The judgment seat of Christ is a judgment based on the believer’s works
(1 Cor 3:13; 2 Cor 5:10), which fits James’ concern exactly.
FG: Radmacher comments, “Faith without works is useless in this life and results in serious loss at the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 2 John 7-8).” 96
The illustration of the destitute brother or sister who is verbally blessed but not helped (2:15-16) shows that this lack of works is profitless
(or useless, dead) 97 both for the needy person in this life
and consequently to the Christian at the judgment seat of Christ. 98
FG: That James speaks of a genuine faith which cannot “save” a Christian at the judgment seat of Christ is consistent with the New Testament’s usage of swzw and its teaching on the bema.
FG: In 1 Cor 5:5 swzw is used of the believer at the bema
who is saved from suffering a loss of some kind.
This believer is already saved from hell, therefore he (as those in James)
is saved from having his unworthy works burned (1 Cor 3:12-15)
or from suffering a loss of reward and whatever other benefits are bestowed at the bema. 99
FG: Thus it seems the profit of which James speaks is not salvation,
but advantages accrued in this life and at the judgment seat of Christ.
Therefore, James is not concerned with the reality of the readers’ faith,
but the quality (1:3, 6; 2:1; 5:15)
and usefulness (1:12, 26; 2:14, 16, 20 [NASB]) of their faith.
Though most assume James argues a vital faith will manifest itself in works, upon closer examination he is saying the reverse:
that without works faith is useless or unprofitable.
FG: This is his thesis, stated summarily in 2:17:
“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
The word “dead” (nekra) answers to the word “profit” (ofelos)
in the question of 2:16 thus rendering the sense “unprofitable” or “useless.” This sense fits the overall concern of his epistle.
He is concerned that the readers’ faith in Christ produce maturity (1:2-4) and the righteousness of God (1:19-20) in the face of trials.
Such results come only when one acts on the Word (1:22-25),
bridles the tongue (1:26; 3:1-12), and engages in good works (1:27).
This kind of faith in trials is profitable because it earns reward
from God (1:12) and thus is not “useless” (1:26). 100
Another MacArthur argument uses the objector’s sequence in 2:18-20. Recognizing the difficulty of delineating exactly which words belong to the objector and which to the respondent, he concludes,
“However one reads it, the essential point is clear:
The only possible evidence of faith is works.” 101
He goes on to argue that verse 19 is James’ “assault on passive faith” which shows “Orthodox doctrine by itself is no proof of saving faith.” 102
FG: In this objector’s sequence, a common interpretation takes the first half of the verse as an objector’s words and the last half as James’ reply.
The objector is then saying one person may be gifted in faith and another in works, i.e., that faith and works can be divorced and either is allowable. James then challenges this in his reply. 103
FG: However, it is likely that verses 18-19 are the words of a supporter
of James interjected here in response to the speaker of verse 16.
“The writer, with his usual modesty, puts himself in the background,
does not claim to be the representative of perfect working faith,
but supposes another to speak.” 104
This may be indicated by the use of tisboth in verses 16 and 18.
The All of verse 18 shows objection to the speaker of verse 16.
Verse 18 recognizes the possibility of faith without works (cwris), 105
but implies the speaker’s superiority of faith with works.
The NASB attributes all of verse 18 to the speaker.
FG: However, it makes sense that the speaker says verse 19 as well,
since he is arguing against faith without works.
Verse 19 shows that faith (Su pisteueis) is good (Kalws poieis),
but not necessarily of practical benefit without works, for
the demons believe (ta daimonia pistesousi) the same and only tremble. They truly believe there is one God, but there is no profit because their aversion to good works brings them only the fearful prospect of judgment.
James then joins his ally in rebuking the speaker of verse 16 with his words in verse 20. 106
His conclusion in verse 20 echoes the conclusion in verse 17:
Faith without works is useless. 107
FG: Whatever view of the objector’s sequence one takes,
it must be admitted that all verses 19 and 20 affirm is that monotheism,
though commendable as a belief, can be held by men and demons
to no profit if it is without appropriate good works. 108
Monotheism is much different from faith in Jesus Christ as Savior,
thus verse 19 does not speak of a deficient soteriological faith.
Another Lordship argument comes from James’ examples of working faith in Abraham and Rahab (2:21-25). The text states that both Abraham and Rahab were “justified by works” (ex ergwn edikaiwqh; vv. 21, 25).
MacArthur understands this to refer to forensic justification before God. 109
FG: Such an understanding fuels the perennial debate about whether James contradicts Paul; a debate that is unnecessary
if James’ use of justification is understood in context.
It appears that the justification of which James speaks
is not that which is before God, but before men.
FG: As argued above, salvation from hell is not James’ concern in the epistle. Rather, he is concerned about the quality of his readers’ faith.
Whether verse 22 is considered a statement or a rhetorical question,
James is asserting that Abraham’s works made his faith “perfect,”
not vice versa, though his faith was cooperating with (nergei) 110 works. The passive verb eteleiwqh has faith as the subject and works
as the instrument with perhaps God as the acting agent.
The verb itself means “to perfect” (or “to complete, bring to an end, finish, accomplish,” 111 cf. 1:3-4).
Abraham’s works were used to perfect the quality of his faith.
Such a faith made perfect or mature 112 was profitable to him.
The examples of Abraham and Rahab answer the question
posed in verse 20 about the usefulness of faith without works. Faith is proved to be a useful and profitable faith when it is shown before men. The visible display of faith fulfills the challenge set forth in verse 18
(“Show me your faith”) and wins the approval of men who declare that Abraham, for one, was intimately related to God
(“And he was called the friend of God,” v. 23).
FG: It is therefore entirely valid to speak of a justification before men
in the sense of a visible vindication of invisible faith.
The Apostle Paul alludes to such a justification in Rom 4:2:
“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something of which to boast, but not before God.”
In agreement with Paul, James 2:24 states there are two kinds of justification; one concerns practical righteousness before men,
and the other judicial righteousness before God.
FG: Longenecker remarks on the lack of conflict
between Paul’s and James’ use of the word “justification,”
James uses it more phenomenally to mean the recognition of existing goodness and of acts of kindness, whereas Paul employs it more forensically to mean that which God gives to the ungodly.
Or, to put it in a slightly different way, Paul employs the verb “to justify” with respect to God’s acceptance of man, whereas James employs the same verb to mean the recognition of what is good, helpful and kind. 113
Certainly James’ concept of practical justification presupposes Paul’s forensic concept, but they are not one and the same.
James ends his discussion with an analogy that illustrates and repeats his thesis: “For as the body without the spirit is dead,
so faith without works is dead (nekra) also” (v. 26).
FG: While most assume that the analogy teaches true faith animates works, James’ point is the opposite
because the animating principle in the analogy is not faith, but works.
It is works which vitalizes or makes faith useful,
just as the spirit vitalizes or makes the body useful.
MacArthur agrees, “There is no question that Jas 2:26 pictures works as the invigorating force and faith as the body.” 114
James says the key to a useful, living faith is good works.
He does not say a living faith is the key to good works.
So the issue in James is not whether faith exists in a person,
but how it becomes profitable or useful to the Christian. 115
FG: MacArthur’s interpretation of James 2:14-26 does not adequately treat the passage in light of the argument of the book, the immediate context,
the meaning of crucial terms, and the direct statements of the text.
The alternative interpretation offered above seeks to resolve the theological tension over works in relation to faith in light of these crucial facts.
However they may try to explain this theological tension,
the Lordship interpretation of Jas 2:14-26
still sadly focuses on the quality one’s faith instead of one’s Savior.
Though this passage does not explicitly link faith to works, it will be discussed here because that is exactly the interpretation often given it. Laney, in arguing against a dichotomy between faith and fruit,
makes the connection to faith in this passage through the verb “abide,”
which he claims “is equivalent to believing in Christ,” and therefore,
“There is no fruit without faith, and there is no faith without fruit.” 116
Thus the issue is whether this passage teaches
that saving faith must bear measurable fruit.
Laney’s argument is summarized here:
The fate of the fruitless branches of verse 2 is determined by the word airei, best translated “remove,” which denotes judgment.
These branches are the same as in verse 6 which says they are “cast out,” something Jesus promised never to do to believers (John 6:37),
therefore they are professing believers
severed from their superficial connection with Christ.
Furthermore, their fate of being burned is the destiny of unbelievers only. He also notes the progressive nature of belief in John’s Gospel
as an indication of the possibility that faith can fall short of salvation. 117
“Abide,” therefore, is said to equal genuine faith,
and those who abide will bear visible fruit.
FG: Observation should begin with the wider context.
In John, chapters 13-17 form a unique unit of intimate dialogue between Jesus and the disciples on the eve of His arrest.
The evangelistic interest of Jesus, prominent in chapters 1-12,
is left behind as Jesus addresses His believing disciples.
The vast proportion of His message is delivered after Judas,
the only unbeliever, leaves (13:31ff.). The lack of an evangelistic appeal signals that an evangelistic motif for 15:1-8 is out of place.
Instead, Jesus is concerned about the future fruitfulness of the disciples who will do “greater works” than He (14:12)
with the resources of prayer (14:13-14) and the Holy Spirit (14:15, 26).
FG: Jesus uses the analogy of the vine and vinedresser as He reflects Old Testament symbolism in which God pictures His covenant people as a vine (Ps. 80:8-16; Isa. 5:1-7; Jer. 2:21; 5:10; 12:10; Eze. 15:1-8; 17:1-24; Hos. 10:1). Since Jesus is the true vine, any branches in Him belong in a special relationship to Him.
He says of the branches in verse 2 that they are “in Me,”
thus designating this vital relationship.
Laney prefers to take the “in Me” adverbially
as the sphere in which fruit-bearing can take place, rather than adjectivally as a modifier of “branch.” He asserts that word order is not definitive. 118
FG: The fact that most commentators do not consider the phrase problematic and also assume the adjectival interpretation is significant. 119
The closer proximity of en emoi to Pan klhma than feron supports the adjectival interpretation. Also, the phrase, “You are the branches” (meis ta klhmata) in verse 5 specifies that the disciples are the branches in Christ. Furthermore, Laney admits that “in Me” is used elsewhere in John
to signify genuine salvation (6:56; 10:38; 14:10-12, 30; 17:21). 120
The statement of verse 3 is that the disciples are “already clean” (Hdh…kaqaroi), a reference to their salvation (cf. 13:10).
One must ask why Jesus abruptly reminds them of this.
It appears he is laying the foundation for his following exhortation which will challenge them in an aspect of Christian truth: “Abide in Me.”
FG: This command in verse 4 is addressed to the disciples
(the imperative Meinateis second person plural), as is the possibility of not bearing fruit expressed by oude meis ean mh en emoi meinte:
“neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”
In verse 5 a similar possibility is assumed in the phrase cwris emou ou dunasthe poiein ouden: “without Me you can do nothing.”
FG: The third class condition used in verse 6 (Ean mh tis meinh en emoi)
also supports the possibility of not abiding
just as it also shows conditionality in verses 7, 10, and 14. 121
The indefinite tis may temper Jesus statement of possibility
by giving the benefit of the doubt to the disciples
in regards to the possibility of judgment without totally excluding them.
Yet it remains a real possibility that the disciples could not abide.
The meaning of “believe” for menw in this passage does not make sense
if the disciples are addressed, for they are already clean (v. 3).
FG: The consequences of not abiding
are stated most graphically in the controversial verse 6.
Laney, holds the consequences of being cast out, withered, gathered, cast into the fire, and burned speak of those who profess to be Christians but
are not and thus are severed from their superficial connection with Christ. He cites only 1 view consistent with the interpretation these are Christians; the view that the consequences speak of believers disciplined by death.
He then refutes this by noting that the removal of the branch is
a prelude to judgment, not the blessing of fellowship with Christ in heaven.
FG: But Laney does not consider another interpretation consistent with his assertion that judgment is in view. 122
According to this interpretation, the judgment is not the final judgment
of unbelievers, but that of the believer at the judgment seat of Christ.
As Harrison notes, “Since the subject is the bearing of fruit and not eternal life, the burning is a judgment upon fruitlessness, not an abandonment to eternal destruction.” 123
A number of commentators admit that the symbolism of verse 6 is obscure. Erdman cautions appropriately that the figure cannot be taken too rigidly: “The thought is not to be pressed as to raise the question of the loss of souls who are once united with Christ. We are concerned here with service rather than salvation.” 124
Westcott also believes this refers to the fate of true believers and refuses to press the figure. Commenting on the identity of “they” (the ones who gather), he says, “The indefiniteness of the subject corresponds with the mysteriousness of the act symbolized.” 125
FG: It is likely Jesus Himself did not clarify the figure so that the hearer would be left with the single impression that fruitlessness in His children would be severely judged.
FG: In light of subsequent New Testament revelation, the only judgment facing the Christian is the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:12-15; 2 Cor 5:10).
Paul acknowledged a certain sense of fear involved in the accounting before the bema (2 Cor 5:11), therefore the unpleasant imagery of burning is not inconsistent.
Moreover, the judgment seat of Christ will result in the burning of unworthy works (1 Cor 3:15).
If the figure must be pressed, the unfruitful works of the believer
could be those which are burned in verse 6. 126
FG: Even Boice, a Lordship advocate, comments,
True, the matter of burning is often associated with hell and therefore the loss or non-possession of salvation. But that does not mean that it is always associated with it or that it is associated with it here. On the contrary, burning is not always used of hell, as the passage in 1 Corinthians about works proves. And it is its association with the destruction of useless works rather than with the loss of salvation that is most appropriate in this passage. It is always dangerous to try to interpret a parable on any level other than that involved at its most basic point. 127
The change from tis as the one who “does not abide,” “is cast out as a branch, and is withered” to the neuter auta for that which is actually gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned may support Boice’s view.
FG: Somewhat more convincing is the view that the figure
simply points to the uselessness of the life of a believer without fruit.
It was well known to John’s readers that grape vines without fruit
were virtually useless and burned as debris (Eze. 15:1-8). 128
Thus Jesus graphically pictures the life of the fruitless believer as a useless life, as He also indicated in verse 5: “without Me you can do nothing.”
There is no reason that the fire must be literal
since the other elements (Vine, branches, fruit) are allegorical.
FG: If fruitfulness in service is the subject, airei in verse 2
would then speak of something other than eternal judgment.
One possibility is to translate airw as “remove” or “cut off” so it refers
to believers whom the Lord removes from earth through death. 129
However, a better view translates the word “lift up.”
In this view, the vinedresser is seen lifting the blossoming grape branches off the ground so that they will be more exposed to the sun
and less susceptible to damage, and thus become fruitful. 130
Once fruitful, the second half of verse 2 (connected by kai) 131
says they are pruned to produce “more fruit.”
This interpretation of airw is consistent with the figure introduced in verse 1 and the ultimate desire for fruitfulness mentioned at the end of verse 2
and in verse 8.
It is also consistent with the use of the word airw as “lift up”
elsewhere in John (cf. 5:8-12; 8:59; 10:18,24).
Significantly, Jeremias, in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, defines airwfirst as “to lift up from the ground.” 132
FG: Therefore, the word “abide,”
though it may have some conceptual overlap with “believe,” 133 is chiefly
a word for Christians which describes the most intimate union with Christ. Lexically, menwhas the meaning “remain, stay, continue, abide.” 134
Not only is it distanced lexically from “believe,” but the immediate context does the same:
Verse 7 indicates it is the condition for answered prayer, and in verse 10 abiding is a result of keeping Christ’s commandments (cf. 1 John 3:24).
The fact that Christ also abides in the disciples (John 15:4, 5, 7)
shows that menw does not denote saving belief,
but rather an intimate relationship presupposing faith.
It is a word used to describe a fuller progression of faith in John;
a faith not progressing to salvation, but from it.
FG: Besides the evidence cited, the inevitable weakness of Laney’s view of John 15, and Lordship insistence on quantifiable fruit in general,
is the subjectivity of determining
when a person is fruitful enough to be considered saved.
The use of John 15:1-8 to support faith as resulting in measurable works
is in essence an unprovably vague and subjective argument. It can hardly be claimed that “fruit is the ultimate test of true salvation.” 135
This passage is used similarly to John 15:1-8
to argue that fruit is the necessary proof of salvation. 136
The key thought is found in verse 16:
“You will know them [false prophets] by their fruits” (cf. v. 20).
But here the subject of the passage is false prophets (v. 15),
not professing Christians in general.
FG: Strictly speaking, the test in 7:15-20 is not for discerning true salvation
but for discerning whether a prophet is of God.
Also significant is that the test itself is not no fruits but bad fruits (v. 17).
In their initial impression (when they first “come to you,” v. 15) these
false prophets are indiscernible in words and works from other believers (they have “sheep’s clothing,” v. 15).
However, given time to ripen, their fruits will betray them (v. 16).
Likewise, a tree cannot be judged good or bad from its outer appearance, but from what fruit it produces (vv. 17-18).
Thus the true test of a prophet is whether his fruits are good or bad.
“Fruits” can refer to both works Matt 3:8; 13:23 and words Matt 12:33-37.
This passage, therefore, only teaches how to discern a false prophet,
not how to discern whether one is saved or not.
This passage is also quoted by Lordship proponents as evidence that faith which saves must manifest itself in works of obedience. 138
FG: Given their understanding, the passage would actually teach against using works as proof of salvation, because the works performed in verse 22
do not reveal the professors’ true spiritual condition
as shown by the subsequent rebuke (v. 23).
In context, 7:21-23 is chiefly concerned with the false prophets
discussed in 7:15-20 (cf. v. 22—they “prophesied”).
Their prophetic “ministries” of good works are acknowledged (v. 22),
but have no merit in the day of final judgment.
The only criterion given is whether they did the will of the Father (v. 21).
However, the Father’s will could not be good works lest it be concluded that they are saved by works. 139
Those who hold that this refers to a life of obedience must acknowledge that the Father’s will is perfect obedience (Matt 5:48), an impossible standard for unsaved men to reach.
FG: Jesus elsewhere characterized believing as doing the work of God (John 6:28-29). It would therefore be consistent if here “My Father’s will” referred to the response of repentance and faith in the gospel (cf. 2 Pet 3:9).
Both MacArthur and Mueller use this dialogue between Jesus and some followers to argue that faith is a work. 140
FG: Jesus’ answer to those who ask,
“What shall we do that we may work the works of God?” is
“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
Believing is not here called a work that God produces, 141 for the
question from the followers is “what shall we do” (v. 28, emphasis added). Rather, “the work of God” refers to that which God requires of men. 142
This work, however, is not something done as a human merit
or a work of the law, which was what the questioners expected to hear
as signified by their use of the plural “works.”
It is only the act of believing that God requires,
as indicated by Jesus’ answer using the singular “work” (cf. 1 John 3:23).
FG: As Blum observes,
Jesus’ response to their question was a flat contradiction of their thinking.
They could not please God by doing good works.
There is only one work of God, that is, one thing God requires.
They need to put their trust in the One the Father has sent. 143
Galatians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11
In these verses faith is associated with works.
The phrases “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6) and “work of faith”
(1 Thess 1:3; 2 Thess 1:11) are sometimes referred to as proof
that “faith is active in the life and manifests its activity within
by producing results in the life.” 144
It cannot be denied that faith produces these results. 145
FG: In the Thess passages the faith referred to is not initial saving faith
as supposed, but faith which relates to living the Christian life. 146
The parallel phrases “labor of love” and “patience of hope” in 1:3
confirm that the post-conversion life of faith is in view. Just as labor is prompted by love and patience by hope, work is prompted by faith. Besides, the Apostle Paul is simply acknowledging that the Thessalonians’ faith was seen in works;
he says nothing about whether it must be seen to be legitimate.
Galatians 5:6 is also used to argue that the faith which saves
works through love, as if love proved this faith to be genuine. 147
FG: However, it appears the passage discusses faith
in the context of sanctification, not justification.
Paul speaks to believers (4:31; 5:1) who are “in Christ” (5:6)
to persuade them to walk in the Spirit by faith (5:5, 16)
and keep the ethic of love not law (5:14).
The benefit in view (“avails anything”) is not salvation from hell,
but the righteous fruit of a life governed by faith (5:5, 22-23). 148
Luther seems to recognize this context in his comment on 5:6:
Paul goeth not about here to declare what faith is, or what it availeth before God; he disputeth not, I say, of justification (for this hath he done largely before), but as it were gathering up his argument, he briefly sheweth what the Christian life itself is????Wherefore, seeing this place speaketh of the whole life of Christians, no man of good sense can understand it as concerning justification before God. 149
Paul, therefore, is not addressing the reality of justifying faith,
but the efficacy of sanctifying faith.
This verse is used in much the same way as those above:
to argue that the faith that saves will produce measurable works. 150
But this seems more than the verse really says.
“Created . . . for (epi) good works” means that God purposed 151 every Christian have good works, and though it may be inferred that they will,
this phrase says nothing about the fulfillment of the purpose
or what measure of works validates faith.
These works were prepared by God beforehand (ois prohtoimasen ho qeos) so that Christians might walk in them (@ina en autois peripathsawmen).
The purpose clause signified by the @ina uses the subjunctive mood of peripatw to express expectancy and probability, but not certainty. 152
The clause states a purpose, not a promise.
Ephesians 2:10 shows that God’s desire for every believer is to walk in the good works He has designed,
and surely every believer has some good works (1 Cor 4:5),
but it does not make them the decisive validation of genuine faith.
Faith as Submission
The issue of submission/surrender/commitment in relation to salvation
is fully discussed in chapter five under discipleship and salvation.
However, one passage sometimes used to support the idea of faith as submission,
John 1:12, should be discussed here because it mentions faith explicitly.
Since submission of one’s life to the Lord is at heart of Lordship theology
it is not surprising that saving faith is defined as such a commitment.
in true faith there is an element of submission. Faith is directed towards a Person. It is in fact a complete commitment to this Person involving not only an acceptance of what is offered but a humble surrender to what is or may be demanded. 153
Arguments to support this idea of faith often refer to the interpretation of pisteuw eis in John, as discussed earlier.
In John 1:12, however, appeal is also made to the use of “receive”
as a synonym of “believe.”
Taking the argument further, it is insisted that Christ
must be received as Lord of one’s life if there is to be salvation. 154
The word “receive” can be taken as a parallel to “believe,”
but this in no way proves the Lordship argument.
FG: The basic meaning of lambanw is “take, receive, accept” not “submit, surrender, commit.” 155 The word “receive” is used in 1:12 in contrast to those who “did not know” and “did not receive” Jesus Christ (1:10-11). These negative parallels show that to “receive” is also to “know” (ginwskw). Therefore, acknowledgment and recognition of who Jesus is
(as the Messiah and Son of God, cf. 6:69; 8:28; 20:31) is in view,
not submission to Him as Lord of one’s life.
Faith as Spurious
In view of Lordship Salvation’s understanding of faith seen thus far,
it is not surprising this position sees some examples of believing
in the Scriptures as inadequate for salvation.
They claim these are examples of only intellectual or emotional faith,
not the necessary obedient or submissive faith, and thus spurious.
Though “false faith” is usually argued from Jas 2:19 as discussed above,
John 2:23-25; 8:30-31; and Luke 8:4-8, 11-15 are claimed as examples of this kind of insufficient faith.
In interpreting these passages, the preponderance of commentators assume the same position as the more vocal Lordship advocates.
The argument from this passage focuses on the significance of the terminology in verse 23 and the reaction of Jesus in verse 24.
Speaking of Jesus in Jerusalem at the Passover, it is said that
“many believed in His name when they saw the signs which he did.
But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men.”
Commenting on those said to have “believed” in verse 23,
MacArthur states, “Their kind of belief has nothing to do with saving faith,
as we see from John’s testimony that “Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men” (2:24).
That’s a clear statement about the inefficacy of artificial faith. 156
Many commentators agree with MacArthur’s assessment of an artificial faith for these “believers.” 157 Three reasons are posited for this conclusion:
1) They only believed in Christ’s name, not His person (v. 23);
2) They only believed in the signs, not in Christ as the Messiah (v. 23);
3) Jesus rejected their faith (v. 24).
FG: The first argument must admit that there is no explicit denial
of the reality of true faith in this passage.
The phrase “believed in His name” (episteusan eus to onoma autou) in 2:23 would be taken the same as in 1:12 were it not for V 24 (explained below). In 1:12 “those who believe in His name” are those who receive Christ
and become God’s children.
Likewise, in 20:31, the purpose statement of the book,
salvation is indicated by the phrase “life through His name.”
Also, the converse—not believing in the name of the Son of God—
merits eternal condemnation (3:18).
Furthermore, it seems inconsistent for commentators to argue that
“believe in” (pisteuw eis) is John’s technical term for saving faith,
yet deny that same meaning in 2:23. 158
That John chose to use such language when he could have easily used other is convincing evidence that he meant these people were saved.
FG: Second, the supposed inadequacy of sign-based faith
(insufficient faith prompted by signs) is not supported by the text
which states that they believed “in His name.”
This is significant faith regardless of what prompts it
because the person of Christ is the object of faith, not signs.
The verb qeorew for “saw” can have the basic meaning of
“see” or “perceive” with physical eyes, but could also denote
the perception of mind and spirit, 159 which may be the sense here.
It is used more clearly with this meaning elsewhere in John. 160
Christianson uses three other lines of argument to show
that faith based on signs can be fully effectual:
1) Signed-based faith is seen elsewhere in John
(1:47-49; 2:11; 4:52-53; 10:41-42; 11:42, 45; 20:26-29);
2) The Lord Himself encouraged faith based on signs (1:50-51; 10:37-38; 14:11); and
3) The Apostle John expected signs to prompt faith (12:37), something he declared in no less than his purpose statement for the Gospel (20:31). 161
FG: Finally, one should consider faith that is prompted by the resurrection of Christ, the greatest of His signs.
Faith based on signs may not be on the same level of blessedness
as faith exercised apart from signs (20:29),
but there is nothing to indicate it does not result in salvation in 2:23.
The third argument appears the most viable because the response to faith described in verses 24-25 is not typical of Jesus.
FG: What is the significance of “Jesus did not commit Himself to them” (v 24)? John evidently intends a word play against the use of pisteuw in verse 23, for “commit” is a transitive use of pisteuw and is used nonsoteriologically.
The negative use of pisteuwin verse 24 indicates Jesus’ lack of confidence in these believers, the reason for which is given in the remaining clauses. The phrases “because (Dia) He knew (ginwskein) all [men]” (v. 24) and
“He knew (eginwske) what was in man” (v. 25) indicate a supernatural knowledge about these people that led to an unfavorable impression.
The phrases say nothing explicit about the salvation experience
of the believers or the genuineness of faith, so the conclusion
that Jesus did not commit Himself to them because they had not truly believed must come from inference or theological presuppositions.
FG: A better inference incorporates the conclusions
cited in response to the first two arguments: that “believed in His name”
and sign-based faith legitimately describe genuine faith.
In this way the unclear “Jesus did not commit Himself to them”
is interpreted in light of the clearer language of “believed in His name.”
If taken as genuine faith, Jesus did not want to commit Himself to these believers because their faith was lacking in obedience at this early point. The word “commit” would then denote the intimate relationship with Jesus that brings further disclosure of His person
and which is conditioned upon obedience (14:23; 15:14-15).
The immature faith of “untrustworthy believers” 162
is a subtle motif in John (9:22; 12:42-43; 19:38). 163
FG: Sadler’s words form a fitting conclusion to this discussion:
It has been said that their faith was a false faith, because Jesus, who saw their hearts, did not trust Himself to them. But we have no right to say this: for in the scriptures, especially in this Gospel, every degree of faith is recognized as faith. If it exhibits weakness and deficiency, it is not because the faith is deficient, qua faith, but because the heart is shallow. Faith is a product of the Word of God, received into the heart. It may spring up, and afterwards wither, or be choked; but the springing up is real for the time, and it withers because it has no root, on account of the shallowness of the ground of the heart?
FG: Jesus not committing Himself to them may be best understood by contrasting His conduct to them with that of His Apostles, to whom He says,
“I have called you friends for all things that I have heard from my Father,
I have made known to you” (xv. 15). 164
Speaking again of Jesus’ ministry, this passage says,
“As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him,
‘If you abide in My word, you are my disciples indeed’.”
Spurious faith is also claimed in this passage, as exemplified in this statement by Morris:
This section of discourse is addressed to those who believe, and yet do not believe. Clearly they are inclined to think that what Jesus said was true.
But they were not prepared to yield Him the far-reaching allegiance that real trust in Him implies. 165
The usual reasons for this position are several:
1) It is argued that “believed Him” in verse 31 indicates inadequate faith
by the use of pisteuw without the preposition eis;
2) Jesus gives a condition for becoming disciples
which is equated with salvation (v. 31);
3) It is said that the hostility of these believers continues (vv. 33ff.)
and Jesus calls them children of the devil (v. 44).
FG: The first argument goes against evidence to the contrary.
It is obvious that those addressed in verse 31 are the same as those in verse 30 who “believed in Him,” a strong term denoting salvation. 166
As argued earlier in the chapter, the construction of pisteuw without the preposition in verse 31 does not prove faith is inadequate. 167
In the context, salvation must be meant since in verse 24
pisteuw with no preposition is used when Jesus states
“if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
Also, John 5:24, a clear salvation verse, no prepositionaccompanies pisteuw.
Sadler rightly concludes,
All this shows that too much stress is laid on the difference between believing on Him and believing Him, particularly when we find that believing Him that sent Him (Ch. v. 24, Revised), expressed the fullest belief unto life. 168
FG: The second argument should be evaluated in light of this evidence.
In verse 31, the condition for becoming disciples (Ean @?meis meinhte en tw logw) need not be construed as an admonition to unbelievers.
In fact, the opposite is indicated by the emphatic pronoun meis
which distinguishes the true believers from the rest of the Jews. 169
Also, Jesus admonishes them not to enter His word,
but to abide (menw) or continue in it.
The aorist subjunctive (Ean…meinhte) indicates a difference among believers: “All are disciples of Jesus who in any way believe in his word,
but those are truly disciples who once for all become fixed in his word. Hence also the ‘if’.” 170
Those who do abide in His word “are” (present tense eimi)
“disciples indeed” (alhqws maqhtai) who “will know” (future tense ginwskw) the truth and will be set free (future tense eleuqerow) by it.
Knowledge of the truth and freedom are results of both initial faith in Him as well as future results from continuing to abide in Christ’s word, or teaching. The assumption that they are already in His word indicates “abide”
is a condition for further knowledge of the truth and freedom in Christ. Discipleship, as intimacy with Christ, is elsewhere in John made conditional on love and obedience (e.g., 13:35; 14:15, 21, 23; 15:4, 7, 10, 14). 171
FG: The third argument from this passage notes the hostile objections of verses 33 and following.
This continuing hostility reflects the opposition of the Jews,
which is a major motif of this section.
FG: Thus far, verses 31-32 show Jesus briefly directing His attention
to those Jews who were saved as He taught in the temple.
John’s commentary in verse 30 is inserted before Jesus’ remarks
to direct the reader to a change of focus by Christ before the
opposition resumes in verse 33 as a reaction to Christ’s remarks.< 172
Lenski notes that the editorial significance of the information is similar to that in verse 27 which
explains to the readers why Jesus turned to prophecy in verse 28. 173
FG: As soon as He finishes his remarks to these believers,
the Jews raise another objection, just as they have been doing
from the start of the dialogue (cf. 8:13, 19, 22, 25).
The objection of verse 33 is totally out of character
with the inclination of those mentioned in verses 31 and 32.
The identity of those in verse 33 is assumed, as Lenski argues,
“John does not need to say in v. 33 who these objectors are,
for we have heard them from the very start,
and their objection is of the same type as before.” 174
Jesus thus calls the unbelieving Jews children of the devil (v. 44).
The above interpretation is most reasonable because it prevents Christ, who says in verse 45 “you do not believe Me,” from contradicting
John in verses 30-31 who said they “believed in Him” and “believed Him.”
It also has greater textual and theological consistency
than that which labels these “unbelieving believers.”
Luke 8:4-8, 11-15
The parable of the soils is also used by Lordship advocates
to argue for spurious or temporary faith. 175
The parable and its interpretation is found in Matt 13:3-23 and Mark 4:3-20, but the account in Luke is of special interest to this study because it says that the second soil (shallow soil on the rock) represents those
who “believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away” (8:13).
Luke is the only author to say these believed. 176
Concerning this second group, the argument for the Lordship position says of their reception of the gospel (the seed sown),
No thought is involved, no counting of the cost. It is quick, emotional, euphoric, instant excitement without any understanding of the actual significance of discipleship. That is not genuine faith. 177
FG: It could be argued that hermeneutically it is unwise
to press every detail of a parable for theological subtleties.
Whether these groups genuinely believed or not may not be significant to the main point of this parable which simply teaches that people respond differently to the gospel and those with good hearts bear abundant fruit. However, it is significant that the word “believe” is used of the second group, for it has been argued in passages studied so far that “believe” signifies authentic faith.
There is evidence to suggest that “believe” means
no less than saving faith here.
First, it is observed that only the first group has the word
(obviously the gospel) snatched from them by Satan
“lest they should believe and be saved” (v. 12).
But those of the second group (v. 13)
receive the word and believe apart from Satan’s interference. 178
The text indicates by grammatical (de) and literary contrasts
that belief clearly secures salvation,
something the devil understands when he takes away the word in verse 12. This being so, it would be a hermeneutical travesty to give “believe” in verse 13 a different meaning from verse 12 without overwhelming support. 179
Marshall argues that Luke’s use of pisteuw in this passage is
in no way distinctive from other soteriological uses in the Synoptics. 180
In addition, this formula of decomai with ton lwgon (“receive the word”) is used consistently by the early church for belief that brings genuine salvation (Acts 8:14; 11:1; 17:11; 1 Thess 1:6 [adds “with joy” as Luke does]; 2:13). 181
FG: What may make this belief in verse 13 seem spurious
is the phrase “for a time” (pros kairon) that modifies pisteuw, and the
related fact that in time of testing these believers “fall away” (afistantai). Obviously, both indicate a faith that does not endure,
but they also fall short of denying the initial reality of that faith.
If these details are to be pressed for significance in relation to the reality of faith, then it must also be admitted that real germination and growth also occurred, because the seed (word of the gospel) “sprang up” (v. 6). Furthermore, it should be noted that Luke gives the reason for the withering of the second group’s growth as both “it lacked moisture” (8:6)
and “these have no root” (8:13), to which Matthew and Mark add
mention that this group “did not have much earth” (Matt 13:5; Mark 4:5).
The concepts are all related, but in no way jeopardize the integrity of the initial reception of the word as all relate to growth, not germination. 182
In fact, the concept of being “rooted” is used elsewhere of the
basis for ongoing sanctification after salvation (Eph 3:17; Col 2:6-7).
Finally, the possibility that real faith can fail seems implied by the Lord Himself in Luke 22:32 when He tells Peter,
“I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail.” 183
FG: There must always be caution when using parables to teach doctrine, especially the major doctrines of soteriology.
The interpretation of parables must be held accountable to
the plain teaching of Christ and the rest of the New Testament. 184
In this context, Jesus is teaching there will be
various degrees of acceptance of the message of the gospel.
He is not teaching how people are saved.
FG: There is sufficient evidence not only to question but also to reject
the Lordship argument that the parable of the soils, specifically Luke 8:13, teaches the possibility of a spurious faith.
Faith as a Gift of God
The Lordship concept of faith relies heavily on the assumption
that saving faith is a gift of God which contains
a divine dynamic to sustain the believer in a righteous life.
Faith is said to be a “saving energy” which is “divinely produced.” 185
The logical conclusion is stated by Miller:
“if it is accepted that faith is a gift of God, then it would seem possible
to assert that part and parcel of the gift of faith is the ability and will
to commit one’s life to the object of saving faith, Jesus Christ, not just
the ability to place trust in His promise to deal with the sin question.” 186
Likewise, MacArthur concludes, “The faith God begets includes both the volition and the ability to comply with His will;
In other words, faith encompasses obedience.” 187
Support for faith as this kind of a gift from God centers on the text Eph 2:8-9
“By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves;
it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone one should boast.” 188
FG: The crucial interpretational problem
is the identity of the antecedent of the demonstrative pronoun touto, “that,” connected by kai to the preceding Th gar cariti (grace) esteseswsmenoi
(perfect passive participle of swzw) dia ths pistews (faith).
Is it “grace,” “faith,” or salvation as a whole?
Less common is the view that “grace” is the antecedent,
for then it would be redundant to call it a “gift.”
A few commentators argue that “faith” is the antecedent, 189
a view just shown to be most conducive to Lordship theology.
FG: However, this is unlikely since “that” (touto) is neuter
but “faith” (and “grace” also) is feminine.
The antecedent of the demonstrative pronoun “that”
is best taken as the concept of salvation presented in the verse.
FG: Exegetical support for this is compelling.
First, this is consistent with salvation by grace as the governing theme
of the context beginning in chapter 1, and especially in 2:4-9.
Second, as Hoehner notes, it is common for the neuter touto
to refer to the previous phrase or clause, as in 1:15 and 3:1. 190
Third, there is parallelism between “not of yourselves” in verse 8
and “not of works” in verse 9 which best harmonizes with
the concept of salvation by grace through faith rather than faith only.
Many commentators support the view that the antecedent is salvation. 191
MacArthur concedes somewhat, but contends that since faith is
part of the process of salvation in this passage, it is a gift of God also. 192
But this too easily confuses the gift (salvation),
the grounds (grace), and the means (faith). 193
FG: The Lordship conclusion that faith is a gift of God is a theological inference as Hoekema admits:
It is hard to find specific biblical texts teaching that faith is the gift of God.
The fact that we are completely dependent on God for our salvation
as well as everything else certainly implies that we cannot have true faith
unless God enables us to do so. 194
However, there are some theological problems with faith as a gift of God
in the way Lordship advocates interpret it. 195
FG: First, when faith is called a dynamic (the same as calling it a power),
it is confused with the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is the agent of salvation and the Power that effects a changed life. Faith is the instrument of salvation which, when
exercised as a response to God’s grace, secures the Spirit’s salvation.
Second, the idea of faith as an infused substance resembles Roman Catholic sacramentalism and neglects the aspect of human response. 196
Third, if faith is the gift of God’s saving power, the demand for people to “believe” seems misplaced. A command to “accept God’s power” would be more appropriate, yet this is not how the gospel is presented in the Bible.
Finally, if faith is infused as a divine dynamic that guarantees good works, the many admonitions to good works in the New Testament
seem eviscerated of real significance.
The Holy Spirit is the effectual power for both salvation (John 3:5)
and the believer’s sanctification 197 through the exercise of one’s faith. Faith is not an “energy” or a “dynamic;”
these terms must be reserved for God the Spirit.
The Lordship understanding of faith as an infused energy seems
beyond biblical validity, especially if Ephesians 2:8-9 is the chief appeal. 198
A Biblical Understanding of Faith
Having argued what faith is not, it is necessary to articulate a definition
and description of faith consistent with the biblical evidence.
The purpose of this section is to state the nature of faith in a way reflects the biblical evidence as that to which Lordship advocates must respond.
Faith as a Human Response
FG: It is clear that faith is a human response for the simple reason
that God commands it of men (Acts 16:31).
As shown above, the gift of Eph 2:8-9 is salvation, not faith. 199
Faith does not come from outside a person, but from within.
Berkouwer rightly says,
faith is not a gift in the sense of a donum superadditum added to the human nature as a new organ. This would mean that an unbeliever is less of a human than a believer. Such a notion is the result of cutting off faith from total concreteness of human life. 200
God Spirit convicts people of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11) by His revelation of the truth about Jesus Christ in the gospel (2 Cor 4:6). In this way God stirs people to respond and draws them to Himself (John 6:44), but in the end faith is a person’s own responsibility.
It is not necessary here to harmonize this human side of salvation with the doctrine of divine election, but only to note the Bible clearly teaches both, and a person must accept both
whether or not the mystery can be fathomed. 201
Faith as a Simple Response
FG: Since faith is not a “divine dynamic” but a human response,
it can be stripped of the cumbersome requirements attached to
it by Lordship teachers.
Obedience, measurable works, and submission, if included in faith,
would depend on a divine infusion of power.
Faith would be the result of salvation
instead of salvation the result of faith as Acts 16:31 so clearly demonstrates.
Faith as a simple response is evidenced in many Bible passages;
so many that discussion of them all would be redundant.
Some exemplary ones will be mentioned briefly.
FG: Since the purpose of John’s Gospel is to bring people to faith in Christ (20:30-31), it should be the primary source of instruction
on the nature of faith.
Here the verb pisteuw is used almost one hundred times
in relation to salvation.
One example of a full invitation to salvation through faith is found
in the simple words of 3:15 and 16:
“Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
There are no conditions attached here, only the synonym “look” for believe (3:14; cf. Num. 21:8-9), the force of which is captured by Hogan:
“In ‘looking,’ there is no idea of committal of life,
no thought of healing being deserved,
no question concerning the subsequent life of the looker,
no possibility of surrender to the object of vision.” 202
With equal simplicity Jesus told the woman at Sycar,
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you,
‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him,
and He would have given you living water.”
If there are hidden conditions to salvation other than the simple request of faith, Jesus would be guilty of deception. 203
FG: Other offers in John are just as simple and clear
(1:12; 5:24; 6:47; 7:37-38; 8:24; 9:35-38; 11:25-26; 12:46),
as is the purpose statement in 20:31:
“but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
Another key passage that explicitly argues the necessity of faith alone
for salvation (justification) is Romans 4.
Nothing in this passage includes in faith the ideas of commitment, submission, or obedience. Faith is instead contrasted with anything that would make justification a reward for human merit (Rom 4:4-5, 16).
The general nature of simple faith is seen in the unencumbered formula “Ask, and it will be given to you” in Matt 7:7.
Such a promise assures that the simple response of man
to God’s free gift of salvation will also be rewarded.
As Machen asserts, “Certainly, at bottom, faith is in one sense a very simple thing; it simply means that abandoning the vain effort of earning one’s way into God’s presence we accept the gift of salvation which Christ offers so full and free.” 204
Godet’s comment on Paul’s concept of faith is similar:
“Faith, in Paul’s sense, is something extremely simple, such that it does not in the least impair the freeness of salvation. God says: I give thee; the heart answers: I accept; such is faith.” 205
The simplicity of faith for receiving the gift of salvation
persists to the closing words of the Bible:
“And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17).
Faith as a Volitional Response
If one claims there are different kinds of faith, one empty or intellectual and another effectual or volitional, it is unsafe to claim support from the Bible. FG: The passages studied in this chapter can be used to argue that in the Scriptures, the response of faith in the gospel anticipates genuine faith.
And though Bible passages may on occasion emphasize either the aspects of knowledge and assent (e.g. John 11:26-27; 20:31; 1 John 5:1; 1 Cor 15:1-11) or the volitional aspects (e.g. the commands to believe),
the three are never wholly separated, nor can they be. 206
FG: Saving facts are necessary to saving faith, 207
so is agreement with the facts,
but the response to the command to believe those facts is also essential. While it could be said that mere knowledge and mental assent without
a personal response falls short of the biblical understanding of saving faith, it is doubtful that such psychologizing of faith
should really be imposed on the Bible.
The construct of faith as knowledge (notitia), assent (assensus), and volition (fiducia) may be used to describe the nature of faith psychologically,
but should not be used to distinguish different kinds of faith biblically. 208
Still the volitional aspect of faith must be articulated,
because this is where the Lordship controversy centers.
FG: Hodges defines faith as “receiving the testimony of God.
It is the inward conviction what God says to us in the gospel is true.” 209
But he also calls it “an act of appropriation,” 210
which seems to imply a personal response
of embracing as trustworthy the object (or promise) in view.
No more than this can be understood by saving faith.
Faith as a commitment of the totality of one’s life to the Lord
simply has no biblical support.
The only commitment that might be said to characterize faith
is the commitment of one’s eternal destiny to Christ for salvation. 211
But this is actually secondary to the primary idea of passive appropriation.
FG: Machen notes,
The true reason why faith is given such an exclusive place by the New Testament, so far as the attainment of salvation is concerned,
over against love and over against everything else in man
is that faith means receiving something, not doing something or
even being something. To say, therefore, that our faith saves us means that
we do not save ourselves even in the slightest measure, but that God saves us. 212
Faith as Determined by Its Object
FG: Since faith in the Bible always speaks of genuine faith,
what determines its validity in the Scriptures is not its quality, but its object. Warfield writes, “The saving power resides exclusively, not in the act of faith or the attitude of faith or the nature of faith, but in the object of faith.” 213
One is not saved by faith as a condition, but through faith as a means. 214
To examine the quality of one’s faith is therefore a misplaced emphasis.
Again, Machen’s words are appropriate:
The efficacy of faith, then, depends not upon the faith itself, considered as a psychological phenomenon, but upon the object of the faith, namely Christ.
Faith is not regarded in the New Testament as itself a meritorious work
or a meritorious condition of the soul;
but it is regarded as a means which is used by the grace of God:
the New Testament never says that a man is saved on account of his faith,
but always that he is saved through his faith or by means of his faith;
faith is merely the means which the Holy Spirit uses
to apply to the individual soul the benefits of Christ’s death (emphasis his). 215
FG: To emphasize the quality of one’s faith necessarily means
that the object of faith is de-emphasized. 216
The proper object of faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ
as declared in the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-11, 14, 17).
Genuine faith in an improper object cannot save (Jas 2:19).
This truth is born out in the many miracle narratives
which show that simple faith secures the power of God.
Most notable is the account of the boy with the mute spirit and his father who received a miracle though his faith was small (Mark 9:14-29).
In the parallel account (Matt 17:14-21) Jesus used the occasion to teach that faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to secure miracles (cf. Luke 17:6). A small faith is not inferior in quality, but in amount.
Such is also the case with saving faith.
FG: Weak faith will not remove mountains, but there is one thing at least
that it will do; it will bring a sinner into peace with God.
Our salvation does not depend upon the strength of our faith;
saving faith is a channel not a force. 217
The sad consequence of examining the quality of faith instead of its object is simply that one begins to put faith in one’s faith instead of its object. Objectivity is surrendered to subjectivity
and inevitably assurance of salvation is impossible. 218
Machen expresses it this way:
it is not as a quality of the soul that faith saves a man,
but only as the establishment of contact with a real object of the faith.
Faith is, indeed, nowadays being exalted to the skies;
but the sad fact is that this very exaltation of faith is leading logically
and inevitably to a bottomless skepticism which is the precursor of despair. 219
Faith as a Non-Meritorious Response
It has already been observed from Paul’s definitive theology of the gospel, his Epistle to the Romans, that salvation is a free gift (Rom 6:23)
secured by the obedience of Christ, not the sinner (Rom 5:15-21).
Faith in and of itself can have no merit (Rom 4:4-5, 16).
Faith as a divinely prompted yet human response
in no way makes it a meritorious work that earns salvation.
The lexical evidence and Bible passages do not support the Lordship definition of faith as obedience, willingness to obey, or submission.
Neither can it be shown that faith is a “divine dynamic”
which is a gift from God
or that it guarantees a certain measure of works, though it implies works. Furthermore, there is no strong argument that the Bible contains examples of spurious faith. Faith is always real faith.
The lexical evidence shows that faith is trust, reliance upon,
or confidence in something.
Biblical passages demonstrate its simplicity as a human response.
It involves man in his intellectual and volitional capacities
which should not be separated.
The validity of faith is determined by the quality of its object,
not the quality of faith itself.
What makes saving faith different from any other faith is its object.
Therefore, saving faith is defined as trust or confidence
in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior from sin.
It is a personal acceptance of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ
on the cross for the sinner.
FG: There is full agreement with Calvin’s definition of faith:
Now we shall have a complete definition of faith, if we say,
that it is a steady and certain knowledge of the Divine benevolence towards us, which, being founded on the truth of the gratuitous promise in Christ,
is both revealed to our minds, and confirmed in our hearts, by the Holy Spirit. 220
When one believes, he takes God at His word and personally appropriates the provision of Christ’s free gift of salvation for himself.
This is saving faith.
CHAPTER 3: REPENTANCE AND SALVATION.
The role of repentance in salvation is a second area of great controversy in the Lordship debate.
At the heart of the disagreement is the precise meaning of the term
as used particularly in the New Testament in soteriological contexts.
After examining the controversy over the nature of repentance in relation to salvation, this chapter will proceed to evaluate the lexical arguments
and the key Bible passages used by Lordship advocates.
The chapter will then conclude with a biblical understanding of repentance.
The controversy over repentance concerns the scope of its meaning in soteriological passages.
That the Scriptures sometime refer specifically to a repentance involved with salvation is generally accepted by both sides. 1
While Free Grace advocates think of repentance in terms of a
“change of mind,” 2
Lordship proponents argue for a narrower definition of repentance
as that which is always related to sin.
Gentry declares, “The necessary element in salvatory repentance
is a true recognition of one’s evil state and
a decided resolve to forsake sin and thrust oneself at Christ’s mercy.” 3
Likewise, Mueller asserts, “Repentance is related to the issue of sin,
which also includes unbelief in Christ” (emphasis his). 4
MacArthur writes that the primary New Testament word, metanoia, “always speaks of a change of purpose, and specifically a turning from sin” (emphasis his). 5
Pink’s definition is typical of the Lordship understanding of repentance: “Repentance is a supernatural and inward revelation from God, giving a deep consciousness of what I am in His sight, which causes me to loathe and condemn myself, resulting in a bitter sorrow for sin, a holy horror and hatred for sin, and a turning away from or forsaking of sin.” 6
Such a definition makes turning away from sin, though stated as a result,
an essential and necessary component of repentance. 7
The criticism of the Free Grace understanding of repentance
as a change of mind is thus stated by MacArthur:
This kind of repentance has nothing to do with turning from sin or abandoning self. It is utterly devoid of any recognition of personal guilt,
any intent to obey God, or any desire for true righteousness. 8
MacArthur demonstrates his difference with the Free Grace view
when he gives this three-fold significance to repentance:
1) Intellectually it is a recognition of sin;
2) Emotionally it includes an element of sorrow; and
3) Volitionally it is a “change of direction… a determination—
to abandon stubborn disobedience and surrender the will to Christ”
which for MacArthur must result in an observable change of behavior. 9
Finally, some Lordship advocates assert that repentance can be synonymous with faith 10 ,
an assertion allowed by some in the Free Grace position. 11
Others say that repentance and faith belong together as an
“indissoluble pair” and are the constitutional elements of conversion; repentance being the negative aspect of conversion, and faith the positive. 12
Whatever the relation there is general agreement on the Lordship side with Pink who says, “They who leave out repentance, are preaching ‘another gospel’ (Gal. 1:6).” 13
Lexical evidence is certainly not the main argument of the Lordship position, but must be considered for a balanced understanding of the parameters of repentance.
The main Lordship argument is built upon a number of Bible passages, most of which will be examined in some detail after an evaluation of the lexical evidence.
An Evaluation of the Lexical Arguments
The lexical argument for the Lordship understanding of repentance involves three New Testament words: metanoew, metamelomai, and epistrefw.
The primary word, metanoew, is often associated with the other two
to define repentance, its usual translation.
MacArthur thus explains how he understands repentance:
Repentance is also not simply a mental activity; genuine repentance involves the intellect, emotions, and will.18
“Of the three words that are used in the Greek Gospels to describe the process, one emphasizes the emotional element of regret,
sorrow over the past evil course of life, metamelomai;
“a second expresses reversal of the entire mental attitude, metanoew, …
the third denotes a change in the direction of life,
one goal being substituted for another, epistrefomai.
18Cf. Berkhof, p. 486. 14
This section of the study will examine the relationship of metanoew
and its translation “repentance” to metamelomai and epistrefw.
It will also discuss the meaning of metanoew in the New Testament.
The Association of Metanoew with Metamelomai
MacArthur links metamelomai with metanoew which invests the latter with emotional and soteriological significance.
FG: The word metamelomai is usually defined as
“change one’s mind, regret, repent” 15
and expresses emotional sorrow over a past decision or stance. 16
The six uses of metamelomai in the New Testament
never refer to the repentance associated with salvation. 17
Laubach states that the term looks back,
“Hence, it does not necessarily cause a man to turn to God.” 18
Vincent notes that metamelomai has
“a meaning quite foreign to repentance in the ordinary gospel sense.” 19
Gentry agrees with Vincent and concludes,
“It is simply never used in the gospel message.” 20
Indeed, 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 shows that sorrow, expressed by metamelomai, is not identical with repentance, expressed by metanoew.
In this passage, Paul explains that sorrow can lead to repentance or death.
Judas regretted (metamelomai ) his betrayal of Jesus,
but did not find salvation (Matt. 27:3). 21
Thus the use of metamelomaito connect soteriological repentance
with emotional sorrow for sins has no biblical or lexical foundation.
Usually, the connection is assumed
without an attempt to explain any biblical or lexical relationship.
The Association of Metanoew with Epistrefw
FG: The verb epistrefw is used thirty-six times in the New Testament
and is generally translated transitively “turn someone or something”
and intransitively “turn around, turn back.”
Some uses convey a definite moral content. 22
It is used to speak of salvation and conversion fourteen times. 23
In the salvation contexts, the emphasis is on the object of faith as that
to which one turns.Only three times is it mentioned from what one turned.
In these instances it is “vain things” (Acts 14:15),
“darkness” and “the power of Satan” (Acts 26:18), and “idols” (1 Thess. 1:9).
Rather than some sin which must be forsaken, what seems emphasized
as that to which and from which one turns is the object of one’s trust. 24
It cannot be ignored that the word is never translated “repent,” 25
therefore any attempt to define metanoew using epistrefw
appears motivated by dogmatics.
The Meaning of Metanoew
FG: The English word “repent” is used to translate the Greek word metanoew. Gentry correctly asserts that a discussion of repentance
in relation to salvation should focus on the meaning of metanoew. 26
But does this term always speak of a “change of purpose,
and specifically a turning from sin” as MacArthur claims? 27
The basic meaning of Greek word metanoew is “to change the mind.” 28
This is the uniform opinion of lexicographers and Lordship proponents.
Gentry’s own analysis states,
Metanoeo comes from the conjoining of meta, “after,”
with noeo, “to perceive, think” (related to nous, “mind”).
Thus, “to perceive afterwards,” implying a change of mind. 29
FG: The pre-Christian and extra-biblical field of meaning for metanoew
is set forth by Behm:
In pre-biblical and extra-biblical usage metanoew and metanoia are not firmly related to any specific concepts.
At the first stage they bear the intellectual sense of “subsequent knowledge.” With further development both verb and noun then come to mean “change of mind.” …The change of opinion or decision, the alteration in mood or feeling, which finds expression in the terms, is not in any sense ethical.
It may be for the bad as well as for the good… For the Greeks metanoia never suggests an alteration in the total moral attitude, a profound change in life’s direction, a conversion which affects the whole conduct… 30
In light of this admission, it is unfortunate that the basic meaning of
“to change the mind” is eclipsed by the Lordship insistence
on something more from the word itself in the New Testament. 31
MacArthur argues for the basic meaning of “change of mind” then says,
“but biblically its meaning does not stop there.” 32
Likewise, Mueller echoes,
“Repentance is far more than a “change of mind” about who Christ is.” 33
A justification for this conclusion is set forth by both Behm and Goetzmann.
Behm argues that metanoew in the LXX “approximates”
the Hebrew word shWb, “to turn.” 34
FG: But this logic is easily refuted by Wilkin who notes,
The term shWb was used 1,056 times in the Hebrew text.
None of those occurrences is translated by metanoew in the Greek OT. Not one. This is inexplicable if the translators of the LXX felt that metanoew was a good translation of shWb.
Rather, the translators routinely used strefw and its various compound forms to translate shWb. 35
Goetzmann claims the New Testament also uses metanoew to express the force of shWb, 36 but again, epistrefw , not metanoew, is the choice
of the New Testament writers to convey the meaning “turn around.”
FG: Thus it is concluded that the word metanoew
denotes basically a change of mind.
The definition that takes it as a turning from sins
is suspected of being theologically derived.
Of course, sin can be that about which the mind changes
depending on the biblical context.
It is recognized that nous or “mind,” as used by the authors of Scripture,
can denote more than intellect.
It can refer to the “total inner or moral attitude”, 37 the “inner man,” 38
or the “sum total of the whole mental and moral state of being”. 39
Thus, while the basic meaning is “to change the mind,”
there is sometimes implication of emotional and volitional elements,
but never is a change in behavior necessary to the word itself. 40
It is unfortunate that metanoew is translated “repent” in the English Bible,
for the English etymology denotes more the idea of penitence as sorrow,
or worse, the Catholic doctrine of penance,
than it does the more accurate “change of mind.” 41
All that is certain is that the word itself merits no strict definition
in terms of action, sin, or sorrowful emotion,
though these things are often closely related and sometimes implied.
The context must decide the meaning of metanoew in the New Testament.
Key passages using metanoew will now be examined in their contexts.
An Evaluation of Key Bible Passages
The Lordship case for making repentance always related to sin,
a resolve to turn from sin, and a turning from sins for salvation
is argued from a number of Bible passages.
FG: The major passages will be examined first where repentance is used
in relation to the offer of salvation, then in relation to sins,
its production of fruits, and its characterization as a gift from God.
Finally, the idea of repentance will be examined in some salvation narratives.
Passages which do not have the idea of soteriological repentance
may only be noted in brief.
Repentance in Relation to the Offer of Salvation
From a number of passages concerning the offer of salvation
Lordship proponents adduce that repentance was presented
as the resolve to forsake sins, or the actual turning from sins.
The approach taken here is to consider all of the passages that relate repentance to the offer of salvation in the preaching of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles, and see whether Lordship claims are justified.
The Preaching of John the Baptist
John preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2).
A “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4/Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; cf. Matt. 3:11).
Does his preaching require of people that they resolve to forsake sins
or actually turn from sins in order to be saved? 42
FG: Paul’s commentary in Acts 19:4 on John’s “baptism of repentance”
is important in understanding John’s use of repentance.
If by “repent” John meant a change of mind new attitude and disposition 43
it is easy to understand the meaning of Acts 19:4.
Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance,
saying to the people that they should believe
on Him who would come after him, that is, on Jesus Christ.”
The Ephesian disciples had not believed on Jesus Christ
and therefore had not received the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-3).
Having been baptized by John, they were obviously Jewish believers.
However, the new revelation of the gospel of grace
demanded that they come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, Paul considers John’s baptism as preparatory to faith in Christ.
FG: Another important commentary on John’s use of repentance
in the offer of salvation is found in Acts 13:24
which not only infers that John’s preaching was preparatory to Christ,
but states that its audience was specifically “all the people of Israel.” Repentance for Israel had distinct significance under the Mosaic covenant in that it was the means by which the sinning nation repaired their covenant with God and returned to His blessing (Deut. 30:2, 10; 2 Chr. 7:14). 44
Only in such a state of blessing
could the nation as a whole accept Jesus as their Messiah.
Repentance in John’s preaching was designed to prepare the nation of Israel for faith in Jesus Christ, their Messiah.
It called for a change of attitude (about their present condition and/or the coming Messiah) from which covenant obedience should naturally flow
and the acceptance of faith should follow.
Repentance for the Jews in the context of John’s preaching
cannot be divested of covenantal implications.
Therefore, it is ill-advised to give similar emphasis to John’s preaching
of repentance to Israel during the transition period between law and grace to the offer of salvation for all people after this period. 45
The preaching of Jesus
The preaching of Jesus recounted in the Gospels normally uses repentance in reference to eternal salvation.
There is sometimes a recognizable emphasis on repentance
in relation to sin(s).
However, it must be seen whether Jesus demanded a reformation of life.
Matthew 4:17/Mark 1:15; Matthew 11:20-21/Luke 10:13
FG: As with John, Jesus’ preaching was at times directed toward the nation of Israel in the context of covenantal obligations (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:15).
This is most obvious in His upbraiding of the impenitent Jewish cities
(Matt. 11:20-24/Luke 10:13-16).
These were the cities to which the 12 apostles were sent when Jesus said “Do not go to the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.
But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5-6).
Their refusal to repent (Matt. 11:20-21/Luke 10:13; cf. Mark 6:12)
was a refusal to change from their sinful attitude of self-righteousness
and rejection of God’s righteousness in Christ. 46
FG: Jesus’ words in Mark 1:15, “Repent, and believe in the gospel,”
may give the clearest sense as to why Jesus preached repentance.
It expressed in covenantal terms the way in which the Jews
could restore their relationship with God through the Messiah.
Command “Repent” reminded covenant obligations had been neglected; the command “believe in the gospel” looked forward to the work of Jesus the Messiah and the faith that would appropriate that work for salvation.
Matthew 9:13/Mark 2:17/Luke 5:32
The account of Matthew’s conversion is sometimes told so as to emphasize Christ’s call to repentance in terms of turning from sins to follow Christ.
In the account, Jesus’ only words to Matthew are “Follow Me” (Matt. 9:9).
However, to emphasize repentance from sins MacArthur embellishes the scriptural record with the statement, “Matthew was unequivocally the vilest, most wretched sinner in Capernaum.” 47
FG: It is more accurate to say that the emphasis of the text lies not on sins in general, but on attitudes, i.e., the contrast between Matthew’s sense of unrighteousness and the self-righteous pride of the Pharisees. 48
The Lord’s saying, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matt. 9:13; Luke 5:32) 49 focuses on self-perceptions as attitudes that separate those who would obey Christ’s call
from those who would not.
Those who come to repentance have changed their thinking
about their own lack of righteousness and have come to acknowledge
their sinfulness and need of “healing” (Matt. 9:12; Luke 5:31).
Thus only sinners, or those who realize their need of righteousness,
are ready to change their minds about Christ’s offer of forgiveness.
Repentance, then, is spoken of in terms of one’s thinking about himself
and the need for Christ’s salvation.
Matthew 12:41/Luke 11:32
When answering the Pharisees’ request for a sign, Jesus rebukes
their unbelief and contrasts them with the Ninevites of Jonah’s day
who “repented at the preaching of Jonah.”
The condemnation of the contemporary generation’s unbelief
in contrast to the repentance of the Ninevites
shows that Jesus’ use of repentance was applied to Gentiles also.
The Ninevites changed their minds and hearts when they heard Jonah.
FG: The change of mind, however, did not focus on sin and their resolve
to forsake it, 50 but on God and his message of judgment. 51
Jonah 3:5 is explicit: “So the people of Nineveh believed God.”
Jesus is contrasting His generation’s unbelief with the Ninevites’ belief which was displayed in acts of mourning resulting from repentance.
Luke 13:3, 5
Jesus tells an “innumerable multitude” (12:1) that just as the Galileans were killed by Pilate (13:1-2) and the eighteen were killed by the tower in Siloam (13:4), “unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” 52
The point of teaching is that those who died
were not more sinful than anyone else (13:2, 4).
Judgment awaits all who do not repent.
FG: The message had special significance to the sinful nation of Israel,
as illustrated in the following parable of the fruitless fig tree (13:6-9).
Unless there is evidence of repentance (“fruit”)
during the time of opportunity (13:8) the nation would be judged. 53
Exactly what they must change their minds about
is not immediately clear in the context,
but it is obviously related to their attitudes which rejected Christ thus far.
There is no explicit reason to conclude that He was telling them to
“resolve to turn from sins” or “turn from sins.” 54
A change of attitude, mind, or disposition which would cause them to forsake their unbelief and make them amenable to trusting in Jesus as Messiah and Savior is as much as one can conclude from the passage.
Jesus also highlights repentance in the three parables of Luke 15.
The central point is stated in the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin:
God and heaven rejoice “over one sinner who repents” (15:7, 10).
This thesis is poignantly illustrated in the parable of the lost son (15:11-32).
FG: The parables were given in response to the self-righteous Pharisees,
who did not see themselves as sinners, to teach that repentance
from such an attitude brings the Father’s joyful acceptance.
The lack of any emphasis on turning from specific sins must be noted.
The parables of the lost sheep and lost coin
do not mention turning away from sins at all.
In the parable of the lost son, repentance can be identified
with the son’s change of mind in the far country when he “came to himself” and decided to trust in his father’s mercy. 55
His return (v. 20) was a logical implication of his decision. 56
FG: Furthermore, there is no reason to consign this teaching to the soteriological realm only, for this is not explicit in the passage.
The audience is both “sinners” (15:1), who represent the unsaved,
and “the Pharisees and Scribes” (15:2), who
represent the covenant nation Israel in their deluded self-righteousness. Jesus was simply teaching that when anyone changes his mind
about his own unrighteousness and trusts in God’s mercy,
he will be joyfully accepted by God.
The moral of these stories is stated broadly enough to apply
to a repentant unbeliever or a repentant believer. 57
Another mention of repentance that could be construed as salvific
is in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
Here the rich man in Hades begs Abraham
to send Lazarus to his five brothers so they will escape a similar fate.
When Abraham refuses, the rich man argues,
“if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (16:30).
FG: Abraham’s answer shows that the idea of repentance here
is chiefly that of holding a particular attitude, for he says that
the brothers will not be “persuaded” (i.e., believe in Jesus, about whom Moses and the prophets wrote) even by one risen from the dead (v. 31).
Repentance, then, is a persuasion of the soul,
a change of the mind and heart akin to faith.
It may refer here to both a change of mind about their unbelief
as well as a change of mind about Christ.
There is no mention of turning from all sins.
A final mention of repentance by the Lord comes after His resurrection when He commissioned the disciples with the words,
“repentance and remission of sins should be preached to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).
FG: It is clear that Jesus intended the message of repentance
to go beyond the Jews to the Gentiles,
but it is not stated explicitly what is to be the focus of their repentance.
It can be safely said that He wanted all people everywhere to come to
a change of mind, attitude, and disposition towards themselves and
His gospel message, especially in view of His death and resurrection. 58
This seems a general way of expressing His desire
that all men be restored to God’s favor.
The change of attitude would include the more specific faith in Christ.
The preaching of the apostles
Peter and Paul preached or mentioned repentance
in their offers of salvation.
The book of Acts is the record of how they did so in fulfillment of Luke 24:47.
Peter’s pentecostal sermon is the first example
of the apostolic preaching of repentance.
In 2:38 he responds to the crowd’s question of “What shall we do?” (v. 37) with the words, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized
in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins;
and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
FG: The text describes the emotional state of the people:
they were “cut to the heart” (katen?ghsan).
This word connotes a “sharp pain connected with anxiety, remorse. 59
If this describes their feelings, then Peter’s admonition to repent must certainly address another kind of response
besides emotional grief lest it be superfluous.
The people were driven by their feelings of remorse to seek an avenue of change, thus Peter says “Repent.”
There are several clues in the context about the focus of their repentance.
Peter addresses the specific sin of their (the Israelites’)
crucifixion of the Lord Jesus (v. 36).
Verse 37 begins, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart.” Their source of remorse was the mistake of crucifying the Messiah.
Now they must repent, or change their minds about who He is
and change their disposition toward Him. 60
The condemnation of Christ had been done in ignorance (Acts 3:17; 13:27),
but in raising Jesus God showed the Jews they had made a mistake:
they had crucified the Christ (Acts 2:36). Now, however, the Jews
are given a chance to change their minds, to repent (2:38; 3:19; 5:31). 61
FG: When they so change their minds, they will see Christ as their Messiah and Savior and receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The exhortation to be baptized is an exhortation to display the fruits of invisible repentance in a visible act
that would separate them from the nation under judgment
and identify them with the new community of believers. 62
They had already come to regret their sin,
now Peter urges them on to a change of mind about Christ.
Of course, repentance to the exclusively Jewish addressees (vv. 14, 22, 36) had special significance in that they had to change their attitude about
their own righteousness in contrast to God’s provided in the Messiah. 63
The progression in Acts 2:37-38 is expressed by 2 Corinthians 7:10:
“For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation.
“From their sorrow the Jews are led to the point of repentance,
and being repentant they believe in Christ (v. 44).
Repentance, though motivated by their remorse over the sin of crucifying Christ, focuses more on their thinking about Christ than on their sin.
Another occasion of Peter preaching repentance
is in his sermon on Solomon’s portico (3:11-26).
The audience and issues appear similar to that of the pentecostal sermon. The Jews must come to see their error in crucifying the Messiah (3:14-15) and change their minds about Him (17-19).
FG: Bruce says,
“All that they had to do to avail themselves of this salvation was to change their former attitude to Jesus and bring it into line with God’s attitude.” 64
The internal and mental aspect of repentance
is emphasized by Peter’s mention of their “ignorance” (v. 17).
There is no indication of necessary external actions such as the forsaking of sins.
In fact, Peter’s second command, “be converted” (v. 19, from epistrefw ), distinguishes the logical outward result of the inner attitude.
“It denotes the action which results in the change of mind
indicated by repentance.” 65
The preaching of repentance to Simon the Sorcerer
has an altogether different context.
FG: Here Peter addresses an individual about a specific sin:
that of presuming to buy the power of the apostolic office (v. 19). Furthermore, the issue is not salvation, but deliverance from temporal judgment, 66 for it is clearly stated that Simon had believed (v. 13)
and there is no reason to take this as less than salvific. 67 This shows that repentance can be demanded of believers as well as unbelievers.
Acts 14:15; 1 Thessalonians 1:9
Another passage cited by Lordship proponents is Acts 14:15,
where Paul tells those in Lystra that “We…
preach to you that you should turn from these vain things to the living God.”
Usually correlated with this is 1 Thess 1:9 where Paul reminds the Thess, “you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” 68
FG: The argument that this defines repentance is weakened by the simple observation that no form of the word repentance is used in either passage.
The verb “turn/turned” is epistrefw which is never translated “repent”
in the English New Testament.
Had this been what Paul wanted to say, he could have used metanoew.
But in these passages, Paul is focusing on the desired (Acts 14:15)
and actual (1 Thess. 1:9) result and the outer manifestation
of the implied inner repentance and faith 69 of his subjects.
Thus the turning is related to, but distinct from, what caused it.
The next incidence of preaching repentance in relation to salvation
occurs in Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus in Athens (17:22-31).
His words explicitly extend to all men: “Truly, these times of ignorance
God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (v. 30). FG: The tenor of Paul’s message shows that he tailored it
to those in basic “ignorance” of the gospel message. 70
As Gentiles, they were excluded from the mold of Jewish theology.
Yet repentance is required of all such men in ignorance
because they must come to the point of recognizing the true God
as opposed to their errors of idolatry.
FG: Ironside comments,
…these supercilious scoffers of the Areopagus were not ready for the message of pure grace. They needed to realize their true state before God.
To them the call came, “Change your minds! Your whole attitude is wrong.
Repent and heed the voice of God. 71
In this passage, the juxtaposition of “repent” with “we ought not to think”
(v. 29) and “ignorance” (v. 30) denotes the internal nature of repentance rather than the Lordship characterization of turning from sins.
It is here a change in conviction and attitude about worshiping false gods
to worshiping the true God. 72
Such an attitude is necessary for faith in Christ to follow.
The above understanding of repentance is exemplified in Paul’s description of his ministry to the Ephesian elders (20:17-35).
He characterized his past ministry as “testifying to Jews and also to Greeks,
repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 21).
This affords an important insight
into the significance of repentance in relation to salvation.
Paul mentions two aspects of obtaining salvation, the general “repentance toward God” and the more specific “faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jesus Christ is God’s specific way
by which people can come into a right relationship with God.
The second phrase thus adds specific content to the first
and shows there is sometimes a close relationship
in the ideas of repentance and faith in relation to salvation. 73
Also noteworthy is that repentance is towards God, not away from sins.
In conclusion to this section, these passages which speak of repentance
in relation to the offer of salvation
show that repentance is an inner change of mind and heart.
That about which one repents varies from sin, to God,
to one’s opinion about Jesus Christ.
Sometimes the biblical text shows that the result of repentance
is faith in Christ; at other times the result is turning from sins.
But these results are not properly in the realm of the term itself, though they are often implied.
Repentance in Relation to Sins In a number of other passages,
it is obvious that specific acts of sin are closely tied to repentance.
FG: There is nothing, however, to suggest that repentance itself
demands more than a change of attitude about the acts,
though this leads to a change in conduct.
It should also be noted that these verses, for the most part, do not refer to soteriological repentance and are therefore of little help to this study.
2 Corinthians 12:21
In 2 Cor 12:21 Paul fears the Christian readers 74 “have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and licentiousness which they have practiced.” Their attitude had not changed as evidenced by their continuation in these sins.
This passage does not speak of repentance in reference to salvation.
This verse speaks of Christians 75 who need to progress in their Christian growth “not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.”
Dead works probably refers to those works
by which one tries to earn salvation and result in death, not sins per se.
In order to be saved they had had to change their attitudes about the efficacy of their works and believe the gospel. 76
Now the author wants them to go on
to matters beyond the basics related to their salvation.
Revelation 2 and 3
FG: The letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 are addressed primarily to Christians, though unbelievers may have been present.
Nevertheless, the force of John’s commands to repent are intended for
the Christians who needed to change their thinking about tolerating false teaching and evil deeds in their midst (2:5, 16, 21, 22; 3:3, 19).
He is not instructing them in salvation. 77
Revelation 9:20-21; 16:9, 11
These passages speak of repentance in relation to those who are unsaved and are experiencing the judgments of the Tribulation period.
As in Revelation 2 and 3, the judgments here are the temporal trumpet and bowl judgments of the Tribulation.
The implication of the context is that if these people would repent,
the judgments would cease, though their eternal destruction
seems already sealed by the mark of the beast (14:16-18).
That from which these unbelievers repent in 9:20-21 is “the works of their hands” (referring to idols), and “murders,” “sorceries,” “sexual immorality,” and “thefts.”
Though 16:9 does not mention anything specific about which the people should repent, 16:11 states they “did not repent of their deeds.”
These passages show that repentance can focus on specific acts of sin
as that which discloses the heart and mind.
FG: The accounts emphasize the hardness of these unbelievers’ hearts
in that they never changed their stubborn minds about their sins,
as exhibited by their persistence in evil deeds.
However, the statement about their refusal to repent from evil deeds does not imply an offer of eternal salvation, but serves as an observation that confirms their evil dispositions and proves God’s judgment to be justified.
Repentance in Relation to Its Fruit
Several passages speak of repentance and the fruits of repentance together.
This has led Lordship teachers to equate repentance with the actual work of forsaking sins or changing conduct.
Though some say that repentance only leads to these works,
others actually define repentance in terms of its outward fruits.
Matthew 3:8/Luke 3:8
Stott cites Luke 3:8 to argue that repentance must include a change of behavior. 78
These are John the Baptist’s harsh words for those coming out to his baptism.
Both Matthew and Luke record the words,
“Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.”
The question immediately arises as to how “fruits worthy of repentance”
can be the same thing as repentance.
FG: Lenski observes,
…repentance cannot be meant by “fruits”…”Fruits” indicate an organic connection between themselves and repentance just as the tree brings forth the fruit that is peculiar to its nature…repentance is invisible;
hence we judge its presence by the…fruits, which are visible. 79
As Lenski has offered, the visible fruit should not be confused
with the invisible root, though there is an undeniable connection.
When the people ask “What shall we do?” (3:10, 12, 14a),
they are asking for an expansion of the nearest thought:
John’s exhortation to bear fruits worthy of repentance (3:8). 80
John answers with a three-fold instruction for good deeds (Luke 3:11-14b).
Thus actions are the result and evidence of repentance.
Here, John is evaluating the evidence for inner repentance
in those who have come to be baptized.
The fact that Matthew records John speaking these words “when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism” (v. 7) suggests that John was able to discern the self-righteous hypocrisy of the Jewish leadership who posed as candidates for baptism.
They continued to trust only in their physical descent from Abraham for merit with God (Matt. 3:9/Luke 3:8).
They were presuming to flee the coming judgment for their sins, yet they had not truly changed their minds and hearts about their sinfulness. 81
On the basis of external evidence, John rebuked them.
“Fruits worthy of repentance” can only speak of the results
of the inner attitude of repentance and not define repentance itself.
FG: Likewise, when Paul testified to King Agrippa that he declared to the Jews and Gentiles “that they should repent (metanoein), turn (epistrefein) to God, and do (prassontas) works befitting repentance (metanoias),”
it is clear there is a logical and close relationship
between repentance and its fruits, but not a necessary one.
The accusative plural participle prassontas seems to imply the subject autous for the two infinitives metanoein and epistrefein 82
and indicates contemporaneous action, but not identical action.
The participle shows that works should accompany repentance
and turning to God in a close relationship,
but it cannot equate the doing of works with repentance itself
because they are distinguished as “works befitting (axia) repentance”.
There is a distinction here between the root (repentance)
and the fruit (works). 83
Repentance is the underlying change of disposition about one’s condition which leads to a turning toward God
which should also be accompanied by expected works.
In conclusion, there is no evidence in these passages
that repentance must be defined by its works.
FG: As Berkhof notes,
“According to Scripture repentance is wholly an inward act,
and should not be confounded with the change of life that proceeds from it. Confession of sin and reparation of wrongs are fruits of repentance. 84
Fruits consistent with a repentant attitude are normally expected,
but no text of Scripture has shown that fruits are inherent to
or essentially required in the definition of the word itself.
On the contrary, the passages examined thus far distinguish outward works from inner repentance.
“Just as the gifts brought to mother do not constitute love itself but a demonstration of it, so the good works are the demonstration of repentance” 85
Repentance as a Gift of God
From four passages (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25; sometimes Rom. 2:4)
it is argued that repentance is a gift of God with the implication that its works are God-produced and therefore a necessary evidence for salvation. Citing these passages, Gentry states,
“Repentance, or the enablement to repent, is a gift of God.” 86
Likewise MacArthur argues,
Nor is repentance merely a human work.
It is, like every element of redemption, a sovereignly bestowed gift of God…
If God is the One who grants repentance, it cannot be viewed as a human work. 87
Thus MacArthur can argue that one is saved by works, but not one’s own, for the works one produces are divine works:
“As part of His saving works, God will produce repentance, faith, sanctification, yieldedness, obedience, and ultimately glorification.” 88
Acts 5:31; 11:18
In the first passage, Peter tells the Jewish leaders that God exalted
Jesus Christ “to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
The fact that only a small part of the nation of Israel repented shows that what is probably meant is that God gave Israel an opportunity to repent. 89
The same thought appears in Acts 11:18, except the Gentiles are in view.
After Peter defended his vision and the conversion of Cornelius, the apostles in Jerusalem conclude,
“Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” 90
FG: The granting of repentance seems to refer to the
opportunity to repent as in 5:31. This is certainly arguable from the context of the gospel going to the Gentiles for the first time.
2 Timothy 2:25
These instructions of Paul to Timothy include the advice to correct those who are in opposition,
“if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so they may know the truth.” Though these troublesome people are most likely believers, 91
appears that God must give them repentance. 92
Pentecost suggests how this can be understood:
As the servant of God teaches the Word of God, the truth of the Word of God will be brought home by the Spirit to the mind of the hearer, and the hearer will change his mind because of the truth that has been presented.
This change of mind, in respect to a revealed truth from the Word of God,
is called in II Timothy 2:25 “repentance.” 93
Repentance can thus be viewed as a gift of God
because it is produced by the Spirit of God through the Word of God.
This verse would be an example of metonymy of effect for cause: The
Holy Spirit (cause) promotes repentance (effect) through the Word (means).
If repentance originates as a gift of God or is considered a divine work
that affects change, then it is not wholly a response of man.
FG: This raises problems: 94
Why does God command men to repent if He Himself is responsible for bestowing it?
Would it not be more appropriate to invite people to receive God’s repentance?
Why are people told to “bear fruits worthy of repentance”
(Matt. 3:8; Luke 3:8; Acts 26:20) if God-given repentance guarantees them?
Do not the biblical exhortations to forsake sin and do good works
There are a number of ways in which Scripture may consider repentance a gift.
Most importantly, it must be noted that if repentance is a divine gift
in the passages examined above, nothing is said of forsaking all sins.
As already suggested in Acts 5:31 and 11:18,
it is probable that the opportunity for repentance is in the idea of gift.
In 2 Timothy 2:25, the divine gift that produces change is the Holy Spirit using the Word of God. 95
FG: Another sense in which repentance may be considered a gift is that God works in such an overwhelming way to convince people of His goodness and bring them to the point of changing their minds and hearts,
that this whole action, including the result of repentance,
is simply described as a gift.
This seems to be the idea of Romans 2:4,
” …the goodness of God leads you to repentance.”
Repentance in Salvation Accounts
Sometimes Lordship advocates argue from gospel accounts of salvation that repentance is emphasized in the conversion of the subject involved. FG: There is no argument that many of their examples truly illustrate repentance, but it is highly questionable whether
the stories emphasize repentance in the explicit manner claimed for them, much less as the forsaking of sins.
In fact, militating against such an emphasis is the fact that
the terms “repent” and “repentance” are not found in the accounts.
Still, a few examples will be examined and the argument answered.
Though the account of the rich young ruler could be used as an example here, discussion of it will be reserved for chapter four.
Nicodemus, John 3
In an effort to counter the Free Grace argument that faith, not repentance,
is the emphasis of the New Testament and especially the Gospel of John, MacArthur has interpreted the account of Nicodemus in John 3
to create an emphasis on repentance.
He states that “Jesus was demanding that
Nicodemus forsake everything he stood for, and Nicodemus knew it.” 96
Of Jesus’ use of Numbers 21, MacArthur says,
Jesus was not painting a picture of easy faith.
He was showing Nicodemus the necessity of repentance.”
…In order to look at the bronze snake on the pole, they had to drag themselves to where they could see it.
They were in no position to glance flippantly at the pole and then proceed with lives of rebellion. 97
FG: It is difficult to see how anyone could find this emphasis
without one word from the Lord here about repenting.
An analysis of the account shows an emphasis on faith both by mention of it explicitly, and by illustration of it from Numbers 21. 98
As throughout John, “believe” is the key word for salvation (3:15-16, 18).
Jesus makes no demands of Nicodemus,
and certainly points to nothing specific of which he should repent.
Faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah would, for Nicodemus,
entail a change of mind about his present condition
and a change of disposition toward Christ,
but that is assumed in the invitation to believe.
For Nicodemus, the chief issue is not sin,
but an accurate understanding about the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The woman at the well, John 4
MacArthur takes a similar liberty of emphasizing repentance with the account of the conversion of the Samaritan woman in John 4.
While admitting that “We are told only the barest essentials of the Lord’s conversation with the woman” and warning that
“this passage in and of itself is not an appropriate foundation upon which to base an understanding of what constitutes the gospel,” 99
he nevertheless comes to some significant conclusions
about repentance and sin here.
He says, “To call her to Himself, Jesus had to force her to face her indifference lust self-centeredness, immorality, and religious prejudice.” 100
He continues with statements such as,
“It is inconceivable that Jesus would pour someone a drink of living water without challenging and altering that individual’s sinful lifestyle,” 101
and, “Those who confess and forsake their sin… will find a Savior anxious to receive them, forgive them, and liberate them from their sin.” 102
Similarly, Chantry states,
“Jesus’ Gospel insisted that she turn from her adultery.” 103
FG: All of these arguments, designed to prove an emphasis on repentance as forsaking of sin, are answered by the Lord’s own words to the woman,
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you,
‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him,
and He would have given you living water” (4:10).
Jesus simply made no demands of the woman.
His mention of her husbands (vv. 16-18) was not to demand that she reform her life, but served to point the woman to her spiritual need of living water (when she was incorrectly fixated on her physical needs, v. 15)
and to convince her, and the Samaritans later,
that Jesus was the messianic Prophet (vv. 19, 25, 29, 39). 104
This recognition led them to “believe” (vv. 41-42).There is no mention of repentance or of forsaking sins, so it should not be made an emphasis.
The sinful woman, Luke 7:37-50
In this account of the woman labeled “a sinner” (v. 37)
who washed and anointed Jesus feet with her tears, hair, and fragrant oil, some insist there is an emphasis on repentance.
Truly, repentance is present in the passage,
but does it merit the central focus given by Gentry when he says,
“Her weeping was not necessary for salvation,
but the repentance it exemplified was”? 105
FG: Jesus’ own words emphasize what brought the woman’s salvation.
He tells the objecting Pharisee that
“her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (v. 47). Her love was an expression of her faith, for next Jesus turns to the woman and says, “Your faith has saved you” (v. 50).
Repentance, never mentioned by the Lord, is not the emphasis, but faith.
Her faith which embraced Christ as Savior
included a changed attitude about her condition and resulting sorrow,
and in this way repentance is present, but not emphasized.
The Pharisee and the tax collector, Luke 18:9-14
This story is also used to point out the nature of repentance. 106
Whereas the Pharisee is presented as proud and self-righteous (9- 14),
the tax collector has a humble attitude and a keen awareness of his sinfulness (13).
FG: Though the words metanoia and metanoew are not used,
this is an accurate picture of repentance
for it focuses on the different attitudes of the two men.
Concerning the Pharisee, Schnackenburg comments,
“the attitude of mind that most frequently militates against repentance
is self-righteousness and presumption.” 107
In contrast, the repentant tax collector is justified. 108
Wilkin notes that the preceding and subsequent contexts concern faith
(18:8 and 15-17), and this links the implied repentance in verses 9-14
with the same motif of faith.
He observes, “Saving repentance according to Luke’s understanding of Jesus thus culminates in saving faith.” 109
Though repentance is illustrated, the larger context emphasizes faith.
The conversion of Zacchaeus, Luke 19:1-10
The crucial focus of this story is the declaration by Jesus about Zacchaeus that “Today salvation has come to this house” (v. 9).
There are some who make Zacchaeus’ salvation
contingent upon his repentance which included making restitution.
Using Zacchaeus’ example, Stott argues,
“Sometimes, true repentance will have to include restitution” and
Jones agrees, “there is no repentance unless there is restitution for sin”. 110
The text, however, indicates that Zacchaeus’ reception of Jesus Christ into his home (v6-7) was also a spiritual reception of Jesus and Hismessage111
FG: The joyful response of Zacchaeus to Jesus’ words (v. 7)
indicates an attitude of repentance and faith.
Then his acts of restitution demonstrate repentance with what
John the Baptist called “fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8/Luke 3:8). 112
The fruits are not repentance, but the outward manifestation of it. 113
The passages studied thus far show that repentance is
basically a change of mind, heart, and disposition.
When it is preached in the offer of salvation, change in conduct
is not demanded, but a change in thinking about
one’s need of God’s righteousness and God’s provision in Jesus Christ. Also, though sins are sometimes the focus of repentance,
such a meaning is not demanded by every usage.
The focus of repentance must be determined from the context, if possible.
A Biblical Understanding of Repentance
FG: It is now necessary to declare in brief fashion
an understanding of repentance which reflects the sum of observations
from the biblical evidence considered above.
This section is designed to present a biblical view of repentance and also the arguments which must be answered by the Lordship Salvation view.
Repentance as an Inner Attitude
From the etymology as well as biblical evidence,
it is seems that repentance of any kind refers to an inner attitude.
Most basically, it is a “change of mind,” but as has been seen, “mind” denotes the heart and soul of man along with the intellect and will.
It is a careless error to make the outward fruit of repentance
the same as inner repentance itself.
The fruit must be distinguished from the root, the cause from the effect.
At times repentance will be accompanied by sorrow and great emotion,
but this is not essential to saving repentance.
It has been shown that there can be sorrowful repentance
that comes short of salvation (2 Cor. 7:10).
Another argument not yet mentioned
is that in the Old Testament God repents.
Cocoris explains the implication:
In the King James Version, the word repent occurs forty-six times in the Old Testament. Thirty-seven of these times, God is the one repenting (or not repenting).If repentance meant sorrow for sin, God would be a sinner. 114
Neither should one’s conduct be made a necessary element of repentance.
It is agreed that true repentance should and probably will result
in a visible change of conduct because it is the new inner disposition
of a person and indicates a new desire and bearing.
However, to make outward transformation essential to the meaning of repentance itself is to confuse the two beyond biblical validity.
Chamberlain has stated it well:
The objection to laying the stress on “change of conduct” or “reformation” is that we tend to lead the minds of people away from the fact that metanoew deals primarily with the “springs of action,” rather than with the actions themselves.
Metanoew deals with the source of our motives,
not with conduct, or even with the motives themselves. 115
To make outer conduct essential to the meaning of repentance
also leads logically to the conclusion
that one is indeed saved by works, the works of true repentance. 116
Furthermore, one can easily become quagmired in subjectivity
while trying to determine if his repentance is sufficient for salvation.
Fruit is often subtle and invisible to observers, including the subject.
A clear biblical support that outward change is not the basic idea
of repentance comes from Luke 17:3-4.
Here Jesus teaches one should forgive an offender “if he repents” (v. 3).
Further Jesus says “if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (v. 4).
It would be artificial to demand of the passage
that the offender’s behavior change even seven times in one day. 117
Besides, the Lord conditions forgiveness on the
offender’s verbal confession of repentance, not a scrutiny of his deeds.
Repentance as a Volitional Response
The study so far has also inferred that repentance is a voluntary decision.
Were this not true, or if God imparted repentance
apart from man’s response, the commands to repent would be superfluous.
It is sometimes argued that a person cannot respond to God in repentance (and faith, for that matter) because he is spiritually dead.
Yet it is clear that a person can repent of sin, and change his mind
about other things that do not lead to salvation, without God’s enablement.
Why can one not change his mind about who Christ is and his need of Him for salvation from sin apart from a divine impartation of power?
At issue here is one’s understanding of spiritual death.
Ironside makes an excellent point in his discussion of repentance:
To say that because a sinner, whether Jew or Gentile, is dead toward God, therefore he cannot repent, is to misunderstand the nature of death.
It is a judicial, not an actual, death.
The unsaved man is identified with sinning Adam by nature and practice, and so is viewed by God as dead in trespasses and sins. He is spiritually dead, because sin has separated him from God. But actually he is a living, responsible creature to whom God addresses Himself as to a reasoning personality. 118
Spiritual death is a separation from God and His life,
not cessation or absence of the principle of life.
In His sovereignty, God has given man the ability and thus the responsibility to respond to the command to repent.
Were it not so, commands to repent would be meaningless.
Repentance as Determined by Its Context
The context must determine the exact significance of repentance.
Since the contexts of the passages studied have shown different focuses for repentance, it is careless to insist
that even salvific repentance always has sin as its focus. 119
Sometimes, a sinful attitude is the focus of the change of mind required.
This was seen in the story of the Pharisee who had a self-righteous attitude and the repentant tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).
Not sin, but ineffectual works is the focus of repentance in Hebrews 6:1.
On the other hand, Acts 2:38 shows that the change of mind involves
the proper recognition of Jesus as the Messiah.
In addition, Acts 17:30 involved a change of mind
about trusting in pagan idols as opposed to the true God.
In Acts 20:21, the focus of repentance is God Himself.
Thus repentance does not always mean a change of mind about sin,
much less the forsaking of sins.
It is a general term given exactness only by the context.
Repentance as an Emphasis of the Gospel
That repentance is preached in some gospel presentations
is clear from the passages which have been discussed above.
But to charge that “No one who neglects to call sinners to repentance
is preaching the gospel according to Jesus” 120
FG: Such a blanket accusation attacks the integrity of the biblical authors,
the apostles, and Jesus Himself,
all of whom often presented the gospel without mention of repentance.
It is recognized that repentance can express the condition for salvation to some degree, but it is clearly not the emphasis of the New Test gospel.
It cannot be emphasized enough that God has given the church and the world one book explicitly devoted to showing sinners the way of salvation; that is the Gospel of John.
This is the determinative Scripture for defining the gospel presentation because it alone claims its purpose is to bring people to faith in Christ 20:31
Yet not once is any sinner told to “repent.” 121
Indeed, the words for repent and its cognates are not so much as found in the book. 122
Should John be thus indicted for teaching a false gospel?
Or Jesus, since so much of the book describes His words and witness?
Furthermore, the great theologian of the gospel, Paul, does not make repentance an emphasis of his gospel.
His classic and most succinct gospel presentation
is found in answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?”
He says nothing of repentance, only,
“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31).
Of all the references to Paul explicitly citing conditions for salvation in Acts, it is through faith in Christ five times
(Acts 16:30-31; 17:2-3 cf. v. 12; 18:4-5 cf. v. 8; 22:19; 28:24),
faith and repentance four times (13:24 and 13:38-39; 19:4; 20:21; 26:20), and repentance alone only once (17:30).
In the Epistles, the numerous references to faith alone 123
compare to only one reference to repentance alone (Rom. 2:4).
As to the latter, it is significant that the book of Romans,
recognized as a definitive theological treatise on the gospel,
mentions repentance but once in relation to eternal salvation. 124
It is obvious that in Paul’s argument for the gospel in Romans, the condition emphasized is faith, mentioned over fifty times in reference to salvation.
In his other Epistles,
Paul refers to repentance in relation to salvation only once (2 Cor. 7:10). 125
The scarcity of the mention of repentance by Paul is noticed by Bultmann “in Pauls writing the idea of ‘repentance’ plays only a negligible role.” 126
Schnackenburg reasons Paul, like John, merges repentance with faith. 127
The reason is Paul emphasized faith as the way of obtaining God’s grace.
The greater emphasis of faith in apostolic preaching is no doubt due in some degree to the unique significance of repentance for the Jew.
Dunn also comments on Paul’s sparse mention of repentance in relation to salvation:
Repentance held a very important place within Jewish teaching on salvation.
It was a fundamental tenet for the pious Jew of Paul’s time that God had provided a way of dealing with sin for his covenant people through repentance and atonement… “repentance” as a concept was too much bound up with the accepted understanding of God’s covenant goodness,
so that Paul prefers the more widely embracing concept of “faith”… 128
For the Gentile, faith more clearly signifies the change of mind that
trusts in self-righteousness to that which trusts in Christ-righteousness.
For the Gentile, there are no covenantal conditions of the Mosaic law
(cf. Deut. 28-30) which must be mended by repentance.
Thus as the apostolic gospel is spread in Acts and is articulated in the Epistles, the mention of repentance subsides as faith predominates.
From a theological perspective, the emphasis of the gospel is
that Jesus Christ has reconciled the world (2 Cor. 5:19)
and done away with sin’s penalty (Col. 2:13-14).
The issue in salvation is not what man must do about his sin,
but what Christ has already done about man’s sin.
The sin that eternally condemns is refusal to believe
in God’s provision for sin’s penalty, which is Christ (John 3:18).
Therefore, the emphasis of the gospel is on Christ,
as the One who paid for sin, and faith in Him, not repentance from sins.
Repentance in Relation to Faith
Even when repentance alone is mentioned as the condition of salvation,
this does not exclude faith.
In a number of passages, repentance is obviously used
as a synonym for faith or salvation through faith.
For example, repentance is evidently a synonym for faith
(or salvation through faith) in Luke 5:32 where Jesus declares,
“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
The whole tenor of Jesus’ ministry was to call men to faith in the gospel, thus He says, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Likewise, when the apostles declare in Acts 11:18 that
“God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life,” it is clear
from the context that they refer to the Gentiles’ faith in Christ (10:43; 11:17).
Also, when Paul called all men to “repent” in his sermon in the Areopagus (Acts 17:30), the summary comment is, “some men…believed” (17:34).
The idea of repentance is thus included in faith.
Hebrew 6:6 represents salvation through faith as well. 129
The convergence of repentance and faith
is clearly seen in Peter’s declaration in 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord…
is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
Men will perish unless they come to faith in Christ,
so this must be included in Peter’s use of repentance.
But men will not come to faith in Christ
unless there is a change of attitude about Him and His promises. 130
In relation to faith,
repentance appears to be the more general idea of changing the mind.
When the focus of repentance is specifically one’s unrighteousness before God, the need of salvation, and the sufficiency of Christ to accomplish this salvation, then repentance is more appropriately expressed by the term faith.
Acts 20:21 is an example of the general term giving way to the more specific: “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Repentance is the larger sphere of a right relation to God.
Faith comes within this sphere as that which specifically secures eternal life through Christ.
It is quite possible to recognize God’s purpose, as many do, and not receive Christ as Savior.
In other words, repentance toward God could not itself constitute, in this case,
the equivalent of “faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,”
though it may prepare for that faith.” 131
Chafer’s understanding seems validated by Paul’s phrase
“repentance to salvation” (2 Cor 7:10), salvation being that which
comes only through faith and yet is also a result of repentance.
Faith can thus be seen as a specific kind of repentance in that it is a change of mind and heart which accepts and trusts in God’s provision of salvation.
Whenever a person believes in Christ he repents, that is, he changes his mind about who Christ is and what He did… Saving faith involves repentance,
but repentance does not necessarily involve saving faith. 132
Thus, in overlapping the meaning of repentance, faith is synonymous
with repentance to a certain extent, though when faith is preached,
the more general requirement of repentance need not be emphasized.
Free Grace position holds that repentance is necessary for salvation. 133
In this there is agreement with the Lordship Salvation position.
However, the understanding of what repentance means differs significantly.
The basic Lordship tenet that repentance always involves sin
and that repentance is turning from sins or the resolve to turn from sins
is not supported from the lexical and biblical evidence.
The study has concluded that the lexical arguments of the Lordship position failed to show that metanoia encompassed the meanings of metamelomai and epistrefw .
In fact, distinct meanings and usages were observed.
Neither was it found that metanoew/metanoia
has an essential meaning of turning from sins.
The unfortunate English translation hardly reflects the basic sense
“to change the mind, attitude, disposition.”
The passages studied support this definition of repentance.
In the offer of salvation by John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles, repentance can be distinguished from its resulting change of conduct.
When specific acts of sins are in view,
the command to repent almost always pertains to Christians
(with the exception of Revelation 9:20-21 and 16:9, 11)
and indicates a change of mind that leads to a change in conduct.
The fruits of repentance can and must be distinguished
from repentance as an inward attitude.
The connection of the inner attitude and outer works can not be supported by the idea that repentance is a divine power given by God.
Finally, it was shown why repentance does not deserve
the emphasis demanded by Lordship advocates.
The Free Grace view holds that repentance is a change of mind, attitude, and disposition which implies and normally leads to an outward change
in life and conduct, though the latter is not essential to the term itself.
The focus of repentance must be determined by the context.
Regards to salvation, repentance is implied in the call to believe in Christ.
Thus it does not find the same emphasis as faith in gospel preaching.
On a final note, the Lordship view of repentance can not offer an absolute assurance of salvation (as with their view of faith)
for one can never be absolutely sure all sins have been forsaken.
If it is asserted that repentance means resolving to forsake all known sin, then the absurd scenario emerges in which it would be best to keep people ignorant of their sins when preaching the gospel.
On the contrary, the Free Grace position believes sinners
must be told of their precarious predicament,
urged to change their minds in regards to their ability to save themselves, and to believe in the One who can save them, the Lord Jesus Christ.
CHAPTER 4: CHRIST’S LORDSHIP AND SALVATION.
Both sides of the Lordship debate believe Jesus is the Lord God of all.
The conflict of opinion comes in how this applies to salvation,
or more specifically, what must be the response
of an unsaved person to the fact that Jesus is Lord.
After clarifying the issue surrounding Christ’s lordship, this chapter will consider the Lordship Salvation position first lexically, then biblically.
A response will be offered that evaluates the biblical evidence.
The issue at the core of this controversy is not the deity of Christ, but
the implications of His divine sovereignty in the application of salvation. Does the title and position of Jesus as Lord carry with it the demand for the unsaved person to submit his or her life to that authority in order to obtain salvation?
The Lordship position argues that it does.
There are many examples of explicit Lordship statements to this effect.
The Lord will not save those whom He cannot command. He will not divide His offices. You cannot believe on a half-Christ. We take Him for what He is…the anointed Saviour and Lord who is King of kings and Lord of lords! 1
He is Lord, and those who refuse Him as Lord cannot use Him as Savior.
Everyone who receives Him must surrender to His authority, for to say we receive Christ when in fact we reject His right to reign over us is utter absurdity. 2
But we must also insist that any attempt to divorce Christ as Savior from Christ as Lord also perverts the gospel, for anyone who believes in a Savior who is not the Lord is not believing in the true Christ and is not regenerate. 3
The astonishing idea is current in some circles today that we can enjoy the benefits of Christ’s salvation without accepting the challenge of His sovereign lordship. Such an unbalanced notion is not to be found in the New Testament. 4
Support for these assertions typically begins with a lexical study on the term “Lord.”
It is argued this title implies not only deity, but also authority and rulership. The biblical arguments used by Lordship also attempt to show that the offices of Lord and Savior are so connected that the unsaved person must acknowledge both in a submissive faith.
In this way the issue of Christ’s Lordship is related to the Lordship Salvation understanding of faith and repentance. 5
Furthermore, it is argued that the proclamation of the gospel demands surrender to Christ as Ruler of one’s life and outward confession of Christ as Master.
These arguments will now be presented and evaluated.
An Evaluation of the Lexical Arguments
There is one major thrust to the lexical argument of the Lordship position.
It is argued that the term for Lord, “kurios,” denotes “ruler.”
From this Lordship adherents argue that submission to Christ as Ruler is essential to the gospel.
The argument begins with the recognition that Jesus Christ
is called kurios 747 times in the New Testament (KJV),
thus “there must be some special significance
behind the employment of this particular term.” 6
Lordship advocates believe this does not simply refer to Christ’s deity,
but to His sovereign authority and rulership. 6
They support this conclusion with a study of the term kurios
in pre-New Testament usage and New Testament usage.
Pre-New Testament Usage
LXX translates Yahweh (YHWH) with kurios 6156 times, 8 90% of the time.
Miller asserts, “The special significance of the name YHWH that is crucial for Lordship supporters is the authority bound up in that name.” 9
He relies on Bietenhard’s understanding of kurios as a translation of Yahweh which emphasizes creatorship, lordship, covenant relation to Israel, and legal authority to control the world. 10
Likewise, the LXX translates AADn, which became the title substituted for the sacred name Yahweh, with kurios exclusively.
The idea of rulership and control is argued from this translation as well. 11
Some rare occurrences of kurios in Classical Greek are also claimed to denote ownership, thus authority. 12
FG: Lawrence, however, argues that Yahweh denotes not God’s rulership
so much as His redemptive faithfulness. He writes,
God made a special revelation of His name at the time of the exodus which showed Him to be the Eternal Creator acting in a redemptive manner to deliver Israel from Egypt.This act became basic to God’s revelation of Himself and of His name, Yahweh, with the result that whenever the name was seen or heard, it reminded Israel of God’s redemptive deliverance. 13
Lawrence agrees that the idea of rulership is also present, but in this way:
On the basis of His redemptive grace, God made certain sovereign demands (Exodus 20) and this is typical of the way God has chosen to act.
First, He exercises His grace toward undeserving man, and then, on the basis of this blessing, He requires submission in order that this grace may be fully enjoyed. The New Testament follows this pattern. 14
It seems restrictive to say that kurios before the New Testament was used exclusively to mean rulership.
Its association with Yahweh involved the idea of deity and much of what was implied with that, i.e., creatorship, redemption, ownership, and rulership.
New Testament Usage
In the New Testament, it is agreed by Lordship supporters
that kurios was used in a number of ways that
denoted less than deity or sovereign rulership. 15
It was used to designate “owner” (Matt 12:9; 15:27; Luke 19:33; Acts 16:16, 19) and “master” as owner of slaves (Col 3:22).
Jesus was called kurios 747 times, sometimes merely as a polite title of respect (John 4:11ff.; 5:7; 6:4; 9:36; 16 13:6),
but also as a reference to His deity and rulership (John 20:28).
Certainly, the context must determine the meaning of the term. 17
However, the conclusion of some Lordship proponents is that the overwhelming meaning of kurios is rulership:
The ascription of kurios as a divine appellation is properly understood only on the basis of this supreme rulership. Therefore, when either God the Father or God the Son is called kurios, it must be in recognition of the fact of sovereign rulership. 18
FG: The meaning of kurios in the New Testament cannot be dissociated from the influence of the LXX and its signification of Yahweh, the divine name.
FG: Turner’s conclusion “In Biblical Greek, . . . kurios is a divine title, the LXX rendering of JHWH (God’s holy Name) and of adonai, (my Lord)” 19
is reinforced by Machen who says,
Thus when the Christian missionaries used the word “Lord” of Jesus, their hearers knew at once what they meant.
They knew at once that Jesus occupied a place which is occupied only by God…
…An important fact has been established more and more firmly by modern research…the fact that the Greek word “kyrios” in the first century of our era was, wherever the Greek language extended, distinctively a designation of divinity.
The common use of the word indeed persisted; the word still expressed the relation which a master sustained toward his slaves.
But the word had come to be a characteristically religious term, and it is in a religious sense, especially as fixed by the Septuagint, that it appears in the New Testament. 20
FG: Speaking of the influence of the LXX on the Apostle Paul, Warfield claims, “the title ‘Lord’ becomes in Paul’s hands almost a proper name,
the specific designation for Jesus conceived as a divine person
in distinction from God the Father.” 21 He also writes,
We should never lose from sight the outstanding fact that to men familiar with the LXX and the usage of “Lord” as the personal name of Deity there illustrated, the term “Lord” was charged with associations of deity, so that a habit of speaking of Jesus as the “Lord”…was apt to carry with it implications of deity. 22
FG: Even Boice, an ardent teacher of Lordship Salvation, agrees:
…in the Greek version of the Old Testament, which was well known to the Jewish community in the first century and from which most of the New Testament writers quoted when citing Scripture, the word kyrios (“Lord”) is used to translate the Hebrew word “Jehovah” and “Yahweh.” This is why most of our English Bibles do not have the name Jehovah but use Lord instead. The disciples of Christ knew that this title was repeatedly used for God. But knowing this, they did not hesitate to transfer the title to Jesus, an act tantamount to saying that Jesus is Jehovah. 23
Before and during the New Testament era
kurios denoted deity before anything else.
FG: Of course, deity includes many things, including that God is Ruler,
but also that He is Creator, Redeemer, Judge, etc.
In light of the etymology of kurios it is questionable whether the issue can be settled on its objective meaning alone.
FG: The real issue is not the implications of the title kurios for the position of Jesus, but the implications, if any, in regards to the conditions of salvation.
For this, a number of key Bible passages must be studied.
An Evaluation of Key Bible Passages
The significance for the title kurios in relation to salvation
demands a study of key Bible passages in light of their contexts.
Lordship proponents use a number of passages which link the term kurios to salvation in some way.
First, this study will examine how the title kurios is used in relation to the position of Jesus as Lord.
Second, the use of kurios in evangelistic proclamation will be studied to see if submission to Christ’s rulership was a condition of salvation.
Third, the confession of Jesus as Lord in relation to salvation will be considered.
The Position of Jesus as Lord
As cited above, it is argued by the Lordship Salvation position
that Christ’s rulership cannot be separated from Christ’s saviorhood
in the understanding of the unsaved person who desires salvation.
Several passages which speak of Jesus as Lord and Savior are used to support this. Luke 2:11; Philippians 2:5-11; and 2 Peter 1:11 and 3:18.
Before considering the passages, it must be noted that the Free Grace position recognizes that Jesus is Savior because He is the Lord God.
…no other kind of savior can save except a God-Man. Deity and humanity must be combined in order to provide a satisfactory salvation…He must be God in order that that death be effective for an infinite number of persons. 24
Christ’s deity and sovereign rulership make His work of redemption provisional for all people, because His eternal nature, His sovereign power, and His authority invest it with eternal significance.
However, Lordship proponents press the significance of the deity
and rulership of Christ not only in the work of redemption,
but in the application of redemption.
The coupling of Jesus’ titles in passages such as these to be considered is used to argue that
…there was no disjunction between the Christian’s relationship to Jesus as Lord and his relationship to Jesus as Saviour. 2 Peter 1:11 and 3:18 speak of ‘our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’…Peter apparently regards all Christians as sustaining this dual relationship to Jesus, and expects nothing less than instant recognition of this designation and whole-hearted assent to its content. 25
Likewise, MacArthur says,
…Jesus is both Savior and Lord (Luke 2:11), and no true believer would ever dispute that.”Savior” and “Lord” are separate offices, but we must be careful not to partition them in such a way that we end up with a divided Christ (1 Cor 1:13).
Nevertheless, loud voices from the dispensationalist camp are putting forth the teaching that it is possible to reject Christ as Lord and yet receive Him as Savior. 26
FG: While it is agreed that the objective position of Jesus as Lord, Ruler, and God is essential to His work as Savior, it must be found
whether the verses used by Lordship Salvation advocates
address the personal application of redemption.
Luke records the announcement of the angels to the shepherds
at Christ’s birth with the declaration that “there is born to you this day
in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Rather than Lordship, Luke appears to emphasize that the significance of Jesus’ birth to these shepherds is that a Savior is born.
After that is declared, the relative clause (hos este…) identifies Him as “Christ the Lord,” the unique prophetic identity and position of this Savior as God. 27
MacArthur accuses dispensationalists with an obsession for dividing the Scriptures and feels this is the result.
As a dispensationalist, this writer would contend that “dividing” the Scriptures to get at the truth is not in itself wrong, but biblical (2 Tim. 2:15).
Arndt writes, “In adding ‘the Lord’ to the title ‘Christ,’ ‘the Anointed,’
the angel announces the astounding fact that the Rescuer is God.” 28
FG: Warfield explains the use of kurios here:
But what can the term “Lord” add as a climax to “Christ”? In “Christ” itself, the Anointed King, there is already expressed the height of sovereignty and authority as the delegate of Jehovah.The appearance is very strong that the adjunction of “Lord” is intended to convey the intelligence that the “Christ” now born is a divine Christ. 29
It would seem that the chief interest to men like the shepherds who need salvation is not that Jesus is the divine Ruler, but that He is the divine Savior, the apparent emphasis of the angelic announcement.
In this passage, Jesus the Savior (vv 5-8) is exalted as Lord to Whom all creation will bow in the future (vv 9-11).
FG: Jesus is surely identified here as Lord and Savior,
but only the confession “Jesus is Lord” (v 11)
comes from the mouths of all creation, saved and unsaved. 30
This shows that the involuntary, objective, positional rulership of Christ
can indeed be distinct from the voluntary, subjective, relational rule of Christ in a person’s life.
Calvin declares, “Paul is not speaking here of voluntary obedience.” 31
Chrisope, whose work argues against Ryrie’s understanding of the term “Lord” in relation to salvation, nevertheless admits the objective significance in the Philippians passage:
Since this acclamation will, at least on the part of those beings who are hostile to God, be made dutifully rather than willingly, the verb ‘confess’ (exomologew) should be understood to indicate an acknowledgement of fact rather than necessarily a confession arising from faith.
The confession is, for those hostile beings, the recognition of the undeniable fact of their subjection to Jesus as Lord, and stands in contrast to the humble and adoring submission rendered by believers. 32
Even MacArthur agrees: “Even those who die in unbelief will be forced to confess the lordship of Christ.” 33
Miller cannot be right, therefore, when he says, “In Philippians 2:6-11
the confession of Lordship in view carries with it submission,”
if he means voluntary submission. 34
This passage clearly demonstrates the contrary:
that Christ’s position as Lord over all can be confessed
in an objective sense apart from a willing personal submission.
2 Peter 1:11 and 3:18
2 Peter 1:11 speaks of “the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and 3:18 admonishes the readers to
“grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
FG: The context and content of both passages give no indication
that the subject is eternal salvation.
It should be noted that Peter speaks as a Christian
of Jesus as Lord in a personal and possessive sense (“our”). 35
In 1:11 the issue is not the condition for initial entrance into the kingdom, but the condition for abundant entrance into the kingdom.
By use of the superlative term plousiws epicorhghqhsetai,
“will be supplied to you abundantly,”
the emphasis appears to be the quality of one’s entrance. 36
Furthermore, Peter is merely describing the kingdom as possessed by the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
for tou Kuriou and Swthros Ihsou Cristou are genitives of possession.
In 3:18 Peter shows explicitly that the issue is Christian growth, or sanctification.
Thus these verses are not applicable to the initial salvation experience of the unbeliever.
It appears that Lordship proponents, in their effort to make submission
a condition for salvation, have failed to distinguish between
the involuntary objective position of Christ as Ruler
from the voluntary, subjective, relational submission to Christ as Ruler.
Of course Jesus is Lord, and His lordship is essential
in securing man’s salvation, but voluntary submission to His rulership
is not proved to be the issue in these passages.
The Proclamation of Jesus as Lord
A major argument of the Lordship position is that submission to Jesus Christ was demanded in apostolic preaching.
Appeal is made to the record of Acts where the term “Lord”
is used in evangelistic presentations, and to 2 Corinthians 4:5.
Chrisope argues from the observation “Virtually every evangelistic address found in Acts includes mention of the exaltation and lordship of Jesus.” 37
Gentry concludes, “When used of Christ in the frequent Gospel preaching of Acts and the Epistles, kurios most certainly has to do with the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord to be Savior.” 38
This assertion will now be evaluated in light of the major passages usually cited.
This verse is quoted frequently to argue that submission to Jesus as Master is a condition of salvation. 39
In his pentecostal sermon, Peter concludes His presentation
about the identity of Jesus with the words,
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly
that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
MacArthur argues, “The Christ Peter preached was not merely
a Savior with open arms, but also a Lord who demanded obedience.” 40
FG: It should be noted that there is no demand for obedient conduct
or a promise to obey in the passage or context.
One must infer this from either the title “Lord” in verse 36,
or from the command to repent in verse 38.
That repentance cannot be a demand for practical obedience was discussed in the last chapter. 41
Therefore the question is, does the declaration that God has made
Jesus both Lord and Christ constitute a demand for obedience?
As already noted, the title “Lord” certainly includes sovereign rulership,
but only because it first denotes deity.
This is upheld by the context of Peter’s entire sermon which begins with the promise “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (2:21).
This quote from Joel 2:32 uses the title “LORD” to translate the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh.
Upon quoting this, Peter immediately refers to Jesus as these Israelites had known Him in His humanity.
Verse 22 calls Him “Jesus of Nazareth” and “a Man.”
Peter then exposits the words of David from Psalm 16:8-11 (vv 25-33)
to show that God has raised up and exalted Jesus Who has authority to bestow the benefits of salvation mediated through the Holy Spirit (vv 32-33), and Psalm 110:1 (vv 34-35) to show that Jesus has been installed as Lord
at the right hand of God the Father at the present time.
The cruciality of the argument from Psalm 110 must not be overlooked:
The conclusion to be drawn from this Psalm must have been felt by the Pharisees themselves, that the Messiah, because the Son of David and Lord at the same time, was of human and at the same time superhuman nature; that it was therefore in accordance with Scripture if this Jesus, who represented Himself to be the predicted Christ, should as such profess to be the Son of God and of divine nature. 42
The conclusion of verse 36 springs from the theology of these Psalms
and thus contrasts the previous understanding of Jesus as a mere man
with the truth that He is indeed the Lord God:
It is “this Jesus” (i.e., “Jesus of Nazareth,” “a Man”, v 22) that was crucified, but is now raised and exalted as “Lord and Christ”
(the divine Messiah who rules).
Now the inescapable conclusion: Jesus is both Lord or God, and Christ or Messiah (verse 36). A Jewish audience had the greatest difficulty acknowledging these two claims for Jesus.
To assert that the man Jesus was God and also Israel’s Messiah and to ask the people to believe that was an almost insurmountable obstacle. 43
The conclusion is as Bruce notes,
that the title kurios here “represents the Ineffable Name of God.” 44
The realization that they crucified the God-Man brought great grief to the Jews (v 37).
Finally, it should be noted that Peter calls Him “the Lord our God”
denoting the divine position of Jesus (v 39).
Mueller’s argument that the quotation of Psalm 110:1 in verses 34-35 “denotes sovereign rulership” 45 could be correct
in as much as this is a prerogative of deity.
The Psalm certainly speaks of the authority and rule of the Messiah.
But several observations must be made.
First, it should be noted that God the Father made Jesus Lord over all—believers and unbelievers—regardless of whether the fact is believed or not.
Properly speaking, no human can actually “make Jesus Lord”
in the sense of bestowing upon Him the position.
Second, Psalm 110:1 indicates this rule has a determinative time of realization: “Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
The future fulfillment indicates that the present objective position of Jesus as Lord does not guarantee the subjective submission of His subjects.
Finally, Lawrence’s comment is insightful:
The sovereignty of a Messiah cannot save. According to the Old Testament, Yahweh saves, and, as Jonah averred, salvation belongs to Yahweh (Jonah 2:9). Unless Jesus was Yahweh, it would do no good to depend on His name for salvation. For this reason, Lord in Acts 2:36 must refer to Jesus’ deity. 46
That Jesus is Lord certainly has moral implications.
It is desirable that all people submit to Jesus as Ruler at the point of initial salvation, as well as after salvation.
But it cannot be shown from this passage that
submission to His rulership is a condition of salvation. 47
Lordship argument from this passage is much the same as from 2:36. 48
In preaching to Cornelius, Peter speaks of “The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all.”
It is inferred from this that Peter made submission to Christ’s rulership
a condition of Cornelius’ salvation.
FG: Three observations dispute this claim.
First, the text doesnt show explicitly Peter demands Cornelius’ submission, but only that Peter makes an objective statement about the Lord.
Rather, his explicit invitation is
“whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (10:43). 49
Second, Peter’s interjection “He is Lord of all”
is contextually significant and should not be isolated.
The evangelization of Cornelius marks a pivot point in the book of Acts
as the gospel now goes from Jews to Gentiles.
God’s acceptance of Gentiles is a major motif of the narrative.
The universal nature of God’s salvation is emphasized in the vision (v 15), in Peter’s initial explanation to Cornelius (v 28), in the sermon (vv 34-43).
In the sermon, Peter explains that God shows no partiality (v 34)
but accepts those from every nation (v 35).
Then in verse 36 Peter argues that the initial Jewish destination of the gospel (“which God sent to the children of Israel”) is, through Jesus Christ, intended for all because “He is Lord of all.”
Thus the sermon concludes with a universal promise for
“whoever believes,” whether Jew or Gentile. 50
The third argument that weakens the Lordship interpretation is one that has already been stated.
The acclamation of Jesus as Lord is an acclamation of His sovereign position as God over all and not a demand for individual submission.
The objective truth must be distinguished from the subjective requirement.
The Apostle Paul’s answer to the Philippian jailer’s question
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (16:30) is concise:
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (v 31).
Lordship teachers insist this condition not only demands faith in Christ
as Savior, but also submission to Him as Ruler of one’s life.
MacArthur claims this passage proves that the lordship of Christ
was a part of the gospel to be believed for salvation:
All these passages [Acts 2:21; 2:36; 16:31; Rom 10:9-10] include indisputably the lordship of Christ as part of the gospel to be believed for salvation.
We saw that Jesus’ lordship includes the ideas of dominion, authority, sovereignty, and the right to govern…[I]t is clear that people who come to Christ for salvation must do so in obedience to Him,
that is, with a willingness to surrender to Him as Lord. 51
Likewise, Stott asks, “Why does Paul tell the Philippian jailer that he must believe in ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ to be saved if he must only believe in Him as Savior (16:31, cf. 11:17)?”. 52
FG: However, the Lordship argument from this verse
depends on an unprovable inference.
The title “Lord” may denote Christ’s authority,
but nothing is said of submission as an issue here.
Lordship advocates might respond that submission is inherent to the concept of “believe,” but it has already been argued that this isuntenable. 53
By pointing the jailer to “the Lord Jesus Christ,”
Paul is identifying the person who is the object of faith.
He is called “Lord” because that is the title which most easily denoted deity to a Gentile.
When the message of Jesus was carried into the Gentile world, the designation “Messiah” did not have the same relevance as it had for Jews, and Christ (the Greek equivalent of Messiah) came more and more to be used as a personal name and no longer as a title.
But its synonyms “Son of God” and “Lord” not only retained but enhanced their relevance…The title “Son of God” bore witness to Jesus’ divine being, and so did the title “Lord.” 54
Indeed, verse 34 says that the jailer “rejoiced, having believed in God.”
Deity naturally denotes ability to save.
This is no mere Jewish man whom the Philippian jailer is being asked to believe in for his eternal well-being.Instead, He is the Lord, with all the power and resources which this illustrious title implies. In the realm of salvation, He can deliver what it takes to meet the sinner’s need (emphasis his). 55
Furthermore, He is called “Jesus” because that was His human name that literally meant “Savior” (Matt 1:21; Acts 13:23).
Finally, He is called “Christ” because of His role as the one anointed by God to bring salvation, or possibly, as Bruce suggests,
simply as part of His name. 56
In Lordship reasoning, the jailer would have to comprehend and concede
to the implications of not only Jesus’ lordship, but the humanity of Jesus
as well as Jewish messianic theology in order to be saved.
Of the latter concept in this verse, Ryrie asks,
Incidentally, why is it that those who teach that you cannot receive Jesus without receiving His personal mastery over the years of one’s life do not also insist that we must receive Him as Messiah (the meaning of Christ) with all that the concept of Messiah entails?That would mean, for starters, that in order to be saved one must believe that Jesus is Israel’s promised deliverer, the One who fulfills many Old Testament prophecies, and the One who is the coming King over the earth.
Is the acknowledgement of all that Messiah means part of the necessary content of faith for a genuine salvation experience? 57
Thus what Lordship adherents argue through implication does not encompass all that Christ is in the title “the Lord Jesus Christ.”
It should also be apparent that to ask a pagan Gentile soldier to comprehend, much less submit to, the implications of Jesus Christ’s Lordship could be considered unreasonable and theologically flawed.
Submission of one’s life is expected of believers on the basis of an understanding of God’s grace (Rom 12:1; Titus 2:11-12).
The jailer, as any unbeliever dead in sin,
was incapable of making such a mature decision.
2 Corinthians 4:5
This verse is included because it is a description of the apostolic proclamation.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For we do not preach ourselves,
but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
Gentry says of this, “the apostolic church directly affirmed their preaching was in the vein of Lordship preaching.” 58
FG: Whether translated “Christ Jesus the Lord,” (KJV, NKJ)
or “Christ Jesus as Lord” (NASB, NIV, RSV), the words Criston Ihsoun Krion may simply refer to Jesus Christ by His divine title. 59
Since neither translation determines the gospel’s content or demands,
it appears that Lordship proponents argue by implication
that rulership is in the gospel’s content and demands.
There are other significant nuances to Paul’s preaching of Jesus as Lord.
First, Paul is simply affirming that, in contrast to the false apostles,
he and his cohorts do not advertise themselves, but Jesus Christ.
He had said as much to the Corinthians in his first letter to them.
There, he said, “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:22)
and “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ
and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).
Thus Paul was intent on keeping the redeeming work of the Lord Jesus Christ as the focus of his preaching and refuting the charges of egotistical motives. 60
Paul declares that when they do speak of themselves, it is as servants.
Moreover, to preach “Jesus Christ the Lord” or “Jesus Christ as Lord”
is simply another way of saying the apostles preach the gospel. 61
Second, the emphasis on Christ’s lordship in the context forms a contrast with “the god of this age” who keeps men from salvation (4:4) 62 and
the inadequacy of the apostles themselves to effect salvation (3:5; 4:6-7). The title “Lord” signifies Christ’s deity, and as such, His authority in salvation.
Plummer comments, “To ‘preach Christ as Lord’ is to preach Him as crucified, risen, and glorified, the Lord to whom ‘all authority in heaven and earth has been given’.” 63
Therefore, it is not a demand for personal submission
but a statement of His exalted position and consequent authority to save.
The Lordship argument from Acts and 2 Cor 4:5 does not seem viable.
Only implication can make submission to Christ’s lordship a condition for salvation.
However, such a serious implication cannot be validated exegetically.
Harrison’s conclusion appears accurate:
“A faithful reading of the entire book of Acts fails to reveal a single passage where people are pressed to acknowledge Jesus Christ
as their personal Lord in order to be saved.” 64
The Confession of Jesus as Lord
Several passages associate, or appear to associate,
confession of Jesus as Lord with salvation.
The word translated “confess” (@omologew) means “agree, admit, declare, acknowledge” 65 ; literally “to say the same thing” or “to agree
Lordship teachers also understand “confess” in a religious sense as “to make a solemn statement of faith” or “to confess something in faith.” 67
Thus it is argued that one is saved by religiously confessing or swearing loyalty to Jesus as the Lord of one’s life.
As Irvin writes,
To really confess that Jesus is Lord and to call upon Jesus as Lord is to respond with our hearts and lives to one who is all the name “Lord” signifies that He is.
To confess that Jesus is Lord is to respond to Him as very God to be trusted, as the supreme Master to be obeyed and as the exalted One to be worshiped. 68
The chief passage—indeed a key passage for the entire Lordship Salvation debate—is Rom 10:9-10. 69
To some degree, John 20:28 and 1 Cor 12:3 are also used and will therefore be discussed.
This passage states the condition of salvation:
That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.
Around this passage much controversy has swirled.
Both the Free Grace position and the Lordship Salvation position
find some areas of agreement, as indicated by Stott:
To confess Jesus as Lord, which in Romans 10:9 is so clearly made a condition of salvation, means more than “subscribing to the gospel announcement that a living Lord attests an efficacious death.”
It is that.It is also an acknowledgement of the deity of Jesus (emphasis his). 70
However, Stott also shows that interpretations part company
over the issue of Christ’s lordship in relation to the one believing.
He continues, “But it implies as much that Jesus is ‘my Lord’
as that He is ‘the Lord'” (emphasis his). 71
Enlow states, “To confess Jesus as Lord surely means more than to admit that He is Lord: it means to submit to Him as one’s own Lord.” 72
Stott also equates confession with public baptism. 73
The Free Grace position offers two different interpretations to refute the Lordship view.
Each will be explained in relation to its interpretation of the meaning of salvation, confession, and “Lord.”
Confession for eternal salvation
Those of the Free Grace position who agree that this passage speaks of eternal salvation include Ryrie, Harrison, and Chafer. 74
However, their view differs from Lordship Salvation in that the concept of confession does not include personal or subjective submission.
Its meaning here is closer to acknowledgment or agreement that something is true; 75
“It is simply an admission of fact.” 76
FG: This definition is supported by Wuest who writes,
The word “confess” is omologew, made up of homos, “same” and leg_, “to speak,” thus “to speak the same thing,” thus “to agree with some person with reference to something.”
To confess the Lord Jesus means therefore to be in agreement with all that Scripture says about Him, which includes all that these two names imply. 77
Along with this understanding, some propose that the confession
is silent to God, as opposed to a public display. 78
Confession to God is seen in 14:11 and 15:9.
More importantly, confession is considered identical to faith, not distinct from it. 79
It is inconceivable that after arguing for the exclusive nature of faith alone for salvation (3:21— 4:25) Paul would suggest another condition.
Moreover, faith is prominent in the immediate context (10:4, 6, 11, 14, 17).
The unexpected mention of confession is due to the previously quoted passage from Deuteronomy 30:14
which speaks of the word “in your mouth and in your heart” (10:8).
The initial oti in v 9 shows the quotation in verse 8 is being explained. 80
Verse 10 then shows support (gar) for the reference of mouth and heart
to confession and faith in verse 9. 81
The inverted order (belief—confession) from verse 9 (confession—belief) shows that in Paul’s mind faith and confession were identical. 82
The figures of mouth and heart are used to speak of obtaining salvation in verse 9, yet are melded back into one response of faith in verse 11,
and again in the idea of calling upon the Lord in verses 12-13. 83
Contrary to the sense often given this passage by Lordship Salvation perspective, the response of the heart and mouth are both used
to represent the simplicity of faith as opposed to the strenuous effort required by those who try to establish their own righteousness (cf. v 3). 84
The main argument of this first Free Grace interpretation of Romans 10:9-10, however, is the significance attached to the content of the confession, “Jesus is Lord.” 85
Whereas the Lordship position holds that this indicates one’s personal submission to the rulership of Christ, this Free Grace view argues forcefully that it primarily denotes the deity of Christ.
“Jesus is Lord,” as used by the early church, spoke of Jesus Christ’s position, not His work.
FG: Harrison notes,
[T]he creedal statement before us pertains to the person of Christ rather than his redeeming work. “Jesus is Lord” was the earliest declaration of faith fashioned by the church (Acts 2:36; 1 Cor 12:3). This great truth was recognized first by God in raising his Son from the dead…an act then acknowledged by the church and one day to be acknowledged by all (Phil 2:11). 86
Ryrie cites the agreement of those not usually amenable to the Free Grace position that deity is the focus of the confession< 87
and notes a similar meaning here as in Acts 2:36:
Jesus the Man had been proved by the resurrection and ascension to be Lord, God, and Christ, the Messiah. They had to put their faith in more than a man; it had to be in One who was also God and the promised Messiah of the Old Testament. 88
Agreement also comes from Morris who says the phrase “Jesus is Lord” “points to the deity of Christ,” 89 and Cranfield who notes, “Paul applies to Christ, without—apparently—the least sense of inappropriateness, the kurios of LXX passages in which it is perfectly clear that the kurios referred to is God Himself (e.g. 10.13; I Th 5.2; 2 Th 2.2). 90
Even Stott agrees that “Lord” here denotes Jesus is God. 91
Further support is found in the quotation of Joel 2:32 in verse 13:
“whoever calls upon the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
The translation “LORD” represents the name of God, Yahweh, used by Joel.
A Lordship advocate agrees: “Clearly they called Jesus “Lord” because
they saw Him as God come from heaven to bring realsalvation.” 92
It should be noted that though Rom 10:9-13 has universal application (“whoever,” v 11, 13; “Jew and Greek,” “all,” v 12),
confession of the deity of Christ had special significance to the Jews,
who were the primary subjects in view. 93
Jesus’ deity was particularly offensive to them, not His mastery
(John 5:18; 10:33).
To admit His deity was to acknowledge His identity as Messiah, Savior, and King of the Jews.
It seems only by implication that Lordship Salvation teachers find the condition of submission here. 94
As already acknowledged, rulership is implied in Christ’s deity, but so are many other functions.
FG: Harrison properly notes that the distinction must be maintained between the objective position of Jesus as Lord, and the subjective response to Him as Ruler of one’s life:
Paul’s statement in vv 9, 10 is misunderstood when it is made to support the claim that one cannot be saved unless he makes Jesus the Lord of his life by a personal commitment.Such a commitment is most important; however, in this passage, Paul is speaking of the objective lordship of Christ, which is the very cornerstone of faith, something without which no one could be saved. Intimately connected as it is with the resurrection, which in turn validated the saving death, it proclaimed something that was true no matter whether or not a single soul believed it and built his life on it.< 95
Confession for temporal deliverance
A different view of Rom 10:9-10 is held by some contemporary Free Grace supporters led by Hodges. 96 In it, the concept of salvation is key.
It is argued that “salvation” in vv 9-10 is not justification
(signified by “believes to righteousness” in v 10),
but deliverance from the power of sin and its consequence of God’s temporal wrath.
They apply here the general meaning of swthria/swzwwhich is often used of temporal deliverance in the Bible. 97
Indeed, in 5:9-10 there seems to be a distinction between positional justification and practical deliverance from wrath in the believer’s life.
It is “through Him” that those who have been “justified by His blood” can be saved from wrath (5:9), or literally “the wrath” (ths orghs) which includes the wrath being presently poured out on mankind (1:18).
The life of Jesus provides the power to deliver from sin and its effects (5:10). 98
This seems to anticipate exactly the theme of chapters 6-8.
The power of sin is overcome in the believer’s life by the resurrection life of Jesus Christ (6:5, 8, 11, 23; 7:25; 8:2, 10-11).
This idea of present salvation is then applied to Rom 10:9-10.
While recognizing that faith brings God’s righteousness here, confession brings deliverance, or “salvation” in the sense of God’s help from some problem or danger.Confession and belief are thus two separate activities.
In verses 12 and 13 calling upon the Lord is the same idea as confession.
It is public identification with Him, living by faith in Him,
and calling to Him for help or deliverance. 99
This seems to be supported by the reverse progression of v 14.
One calls on the Lord after believing in Him. 100
FG: In conclusion, both interpretations of Rom 10:9-10 are convincing
in their argumentation and attempt to be responsible
in their handling of the Scriptures.
However this writer prefers the first interpretation. 101
Still, both offer an answer to the Lordship interpretation which argues
from implication that personal submission is demanded of the unbeliever.
If there is any hint of submission, it is seen in Romans 10:3
which states that the Jews “seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.”
Thus the issue of submission is related to the question of
one’s righteousness, not how one’s life is lived. 102
When one believes in Jesus as the Lord Who secured and offers salvation, that person is trading personal righteousness for God’s,
and in this way submits to God’s righteousness.
1 Corinthians 12:3
This warning to Corinthians is also used by the Lordship Salvation position. 103 Paul says, “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed,
and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”
The Lordship argument takes this to mean that only a true Christian
will confess that Jesus is ruler of his life.
Gentry’s argument is two-fold:
First, the anarthrous construction Kurion Ihsoun is “qualitative” in the sense “Jesus is realized qualitatively as Lord or Master only by those indwelt by God’s Spirit.”
Second, the pronouncement that Jesus is “accursed” points to those
who would not have Jesus as their Master and are therefore unsaved. 104
Mueller also argues from the context that “Verses 4-6 demand that the term Lord connote sovereign direction.” 105
FG: It seems doubtful that this warning is given by the Apostle Paul
as a test of salvation.
It appears in the context of spiritual gifts, especially tongues,
and the problem of their misuse in the congregation.
Evidently, the undisciplined and undiscerning fervor of some Christians in the church congregation allowed the influence of other spirits which cursed Jesus in other tongues, a possible carry-over from idol worship (cf v 2). 106
Paul warns that there are two contrary spiritual sources for this supernatural speech.
Only the Holy Spirit can say “Jesus is Lord.”
Thus the issue is not mastery of one’s life as a test of salvation,
but the spiritual authenticity of one’s worship experience.
Furthermore, if the anarthrous construction does indicate a
qualitative meaning, it seems more likely that it would denote
the more fundamental quality associated with kurios, i.e. deity. 107
It could be said that “Jesus is Lord” denotes both humanity and deity 108
and all that is included, such as saviorhood and rulership.
Indeed, “This brief formula expresses the whole Christian faith of the early Church.” 109
Here, it is the recognition that Jesus is God, and Lord, and Savior,
and Ruler, and all that He is, in contrast to the false security of false gods and “dumb idols” (v 2).
Thus certainly vv 4-6 connote rulership in that Jesus as God
is the sovereign ruler who directs His church,
but there is no hint of personal submission demanded in this confession.
After seeing the resurrected Christ and being convinced of His reality, Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!”
MacArthur argues against the view that Thomas is simply ascribing deity to Jesus: “He was not saying, ‘My God and my God’;
he was affirming that Jesus is both God and Master.” 110
Again, it must be observed that the passage is not soteriological,
for the disciples who were present had already been saved
(John 2:11; 13:10; 14:7; 15:3; 16:27; 17:6-16) and had been taught as Christians (John 13-17).
Thomas’ exclamation only proves that he came to a fuller realization
of Jesus’ ministry after the resurrection.
The personalization “my” may indicate the subjective submission of Thomas to the resurrected Christ as Lord, but this meaning comes through
the pronouns “my” not the titles themselves. 111
FG: Warfield recognizes the subjective response of Thomas, but concludes,
“the two terms express as strongly as could be expressed the deity of Jesus.” 112
“Lord,” is a confession of the uniqueness of the resurrected God. 113
Boice, a Lordship advocate, agrees that kurios here denotes Yahweh. 114
Thus “Lord” denotes both deity and the positional rulership
which is included, but in the term itself is no demand for submission.
A Biblical Understanding of Christ’s Lordship
Though much has already been offered in response to the Lordship Salvation understanding of Christ’s lordship in relation to salvation,
more positive arguments can be developed.
The arguments concern the issue in salvation,
the subjective nature of submission to Christ,
distinction between the objective and subjective aspects of Christ’s lordship, examples of saved biblical characters not surrendered to Christ as Lord.
The Issue in Salvation
The greatest need of the sinner is salvation from the penalty of sin:
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15);
“We trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men,
especially of those who believe” (1 Tim 4:10).
The function of Jesus as Savior offers this and effects this
when the sinner trusts Him as such.
This in turn makes possible deliverance from the present power of sin through the function of Jesus as Master as the believer learns to submit to Him. 115
As argued above, Christ’s salvation is effectual
because of His position as divine Lord.
But His function as Ruler does not save anyone in itself.
Hypothetically, Jesus can be Ruler and all men could go to eternal hell.
The crucial recognition for a prospective believer
is not the lordship of Christ, but the deity of Christ.
Lordship is only a subset of deity.
God is always a master, but a master is not always God.
Christ is the only master anyone can have, who is also God. 116
The theology of salvation must not be based upon titles.
Jesus is Lord, but He is also called Messiah or Christ, the Son of God,
the Son of Man, and many other ascriptions.
It would be absurd to ask the sinner to recognize and submit to the implications of each of Jesus’ titles. 117
For example, Ryrie points out that the name “Jesus” focuses on the Savior’s humanity which is important as an example for living, yet not even Lordship preachers focus on His example of life when preaching the gospel.
It would be arbitrary to emphasize the role of Jesus’ humanity in His
saving work but not emphasize His humanity as an example for living. 118
So also, it can be argued about His functions, for not only is He
Savior and Lord, He is Creator, Teacher, Judge, Prophet, King, and more.
Though each may have implications to the work of redemption,
Jesus as Savior is the object of faith that saves.
This could be no clearer than in the commission of Luke 24:46-47:
“Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. . .”
Here the gospel proclamation is summarized in terms of
man’s response (repentance) and God’s provision (remission of sins),
which was accomplished by Christ’s saving work.
The record of Acts bears this out, not only presenting Jesus as Lord,
but as the Christ who saves.
In Acts 8:5, it is said that Philip went to Samaria
and “preached Christ to them.” 119
This title sufficiently denotes Jesus’ saving work as the Messiah.
Furthermore, Philip brought the Ethiopian eunuch to faith
by explaining the soteriological meaning of Isa 53:7-8 (Acts 8:32-35).
Green notes, “Indeed, often enough the gospel is referred to simply as Jesus or Christ: ‘He preached Jesus to him’.” 120
Likewise, Saul “preached the Christ—that He is the Son of God” (9:20).
His concern was to prove to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ
(9:22; 17:3; 18:5, 28), which implies they must accept Him as such,
not surrender to Him as Ruler of their lives.
In what seems quite contrary to Lordship thinking,
Paul also preached the gospel saying, “through this Man
is preached to you the forgiveness of sins” (13:38; cf. 17:31). 121
In Acts, therefore, the many uses of the title “Lord” are expected
because that is who Jesus is and because that was a popular way
of respecting His person and position.
Rulership is not the issue in salvation; it is the issue in sanctification.
Showers states it clearly:
The functions of a “savior” and a “master” are not the same.
A savior saves, but a master rules.
When it comes to the issue of being saved from the penalty of sin and divine wrath, a person needs Christ’s function as Savior, not His function as ruler over all areas of a person’s life. 122
Much is said in the epistles about submission and
surrender to the rulership of Jesus, but this was written for Christians. 123
Christians are told to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (1 Pet 3:15).
The unsaved receive salvation as a result of believing in Jesus as Savior.
The Subjectivity of Submission
When one’s focus is taken off of the person and work of Christ
as the object of salvation and placed on the
degree of one’s own submission, the certainty of attaining salvation
falls victim to the subjectivity of human experience.
Some Lordship advocates speak of only the willingness to submit, 124
but this brings the same fate.
When does one ever know when he has submitted enough, or is willing enough?
Thus Stott teaches,
We must surrender absolutely and unconditionally to the lordship of Jesus Christ. We cannot make our own terms. What will this involve? In detail I cannot tell you.
In principle, it means a determination to forsake evil and follow Christ. 125
If Stott cannot tell what must be surrendered in the life of another,
one wonders how he can in his own,
and how he will know that he has surrendered fully.
Distinction between the Objective and Subjective Natures of Lordship
It has been suggested that the weakness of the Lordship argument
for submission to Christ as Ruler of one’s life
is the failure to distinguish the objective position of Jesus as the divine Ruler of all from the individual’s personal recognition of that position.
One can agree with Stott who says,
[Jesus Christ] can only be our Savior because he is Lord. It is from that position at the Father’s right hand that he justifies the believing sinner and bestows the
Holy Spirit upon us; because he has the authority to do so (emphasis his). 126
But it is saying more than can be biblically validated to claim
that the use of the title “Lord” in salvation accounts or in reference to the gospel proclamation is therefore a demand for personal submission.
When a convert proclaimed with his lips, “Jesus is Lord,” he was subscribing to the gospel announcement that a living Lord attests an efficacious death (Rom 4:25).
This is the objective aspect of Jesus’ lordship. 127
It seems likely that if submission was a requirement of salvation
then the examples of apostolic preaching
would declare it always and in no uncertain terms.
But as has been shown, this is clearly not the case.
That there is nothing inherent in the term “Lord”
that demands personal submission is obvious from its use in Heb 1:10
where God the Father calls the Son “Lord.”
The distinction between Christ’s objective lordship and
the subjective submission of the believer to that lordship
corresponds to the positional relationship of the believer as under a new Master (God) and the more subjective practice of serving God as a slave. This is shown in Rom 6 where verses 1-10 declare the believer’s positional union with Christ and his freedom from sin in principle (6:2, 5-7, 11).
But this is immediately followed by the imperatives
which seek to bring out this truth in experience.
Thus Paul says, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body” (6:12)
and “so now present yourselves as slaves of righteousness” (6:19).
Though no time element is indicated, the logic of the passage
demands that submission should begin at the start of the Christian life.
Yet the fact that it is commanded implies the possibility that it may not.
Therefore Paul must say later to these same Christians,
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God,
that you present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1). 128
While it may be conceded that recognition of Jesus as Savior and/or Christ carries an implicit recognition of his deity and sovereign rulership, this is far from making submission to His rulership an explicit condition of the gospel.
One might go so far as to argue that placing faith in Jesus as Savior
is implicitly a “lordship” decision in that the sinner is recognizing
and submitting to Jesus’ authority in this issue of personal salvation,
an authority that must logically be God’s.
As Bock correctly argues,
…what one confessed was that Jesus was the Lord in that He was the divine Mediator of salvation with the total capacity and authority to forgive sins and judge men.He is the Lord over salvation to whom men come to find salvation because they have turned away from themselves or their own merit to the ascended Lord.He is the divine Dispenser of salvation. 129
Nevertheless, it remains that the explicit focus of faith is salvation
and the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:5-12),
not the subsequent life of the Christian.
Besides, it is difficult to see how a commitment to submit to Jesus
as Master could not be seen as a meritorious work that earns salvation. 130
The Example of Uncommitted Believers
In response to Lordship Salvation, it will not do to simply argue that believers can be guilty of less than full submission.
Lordship adherents agree that they can be.
However, Lordship Salvation advocates would deny that a person can be less than fully or consciously committed at the time of salvation.
Against this view is the example of the Ephesian believers who burned their magic books up to two years after they had believed (Acts 19:10-19). 131
Ryrie observes, It might be possible to imagine that the very earliest converts in Ephesus did not realize that Ephesian magic was incompatible with Christianity. But it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to say that someone who was converted twelve or fifteen months after Paul had been ministering and teaching there would not have known that if he became a Christian he should do away with amulets and books of magic.And yet apparently many did become genuine believers in Christ knowing that it was wrong to continue to depend on and be guided by their books of magic. 132
Other examples have already been considered
in relation to their expressions of faith in Christ.
The believers in John 2:23-24 were not worthy of Jesus’ confidence.
It is also obvious that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea
delayed the public confession of their faith (John 19:38-39).
Furthermore, Simon the Sorcerer appears to have been saved
in spite of his moral flaw of greed and selfish ambition (Acts 8:13ff.). 133
The same seems to be true of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).
There is also little hint that Peter ever fully surrendered his self-will
(cf. Acts 10:14).
Need more be said other than “Jesus saves sinners”?
He saves sinners from the penalty of sin and in spite of sin.
Then as believers they learn to overcome sin and grow in holiness
as they submit to Jesus as Master.
Based on the study in this chapter, it is concluded that
Lordship Salvation arguments about Christ’s lordship
do not prove a sinner must submit,
or intend to submit, to the mastery of Jesus in order to be saved.
Lexically and biblically the evidence appeared lacking.
There is agreement on a number of things between those who hold to Lordship Salvation and those who take a Free Grace view.
Both sides agree that Jesus is God and that because He is God,
He is also able to be Savior.
Both sides agree that the term kurios denotes deity
and that deity denotes rulership.
Furthermore, both sides agree that as Lord, Jesus Christ has the position and authority to bestow salvation, and that one who comes to Christ
for salvation implicitly submits to that authority in the issue of salvation.
The division comes over whether the position and authority of Jesus
as Lord demands submission of the sinner to Christ
as the Master of the rest of his life as a condition of salvation.
In the lexical study, it was concluded that kurios denotes rulership, but only because it first denotes deity.
As deity, kurios also denotes many other functions of Christ.
The Lordship argument that insists on rulership as a condition of salvation to the exclusion of the other functions of Christ as God
is inconsistent with the biblical data which also call Him Judge, Son of Man, Creator, Savior, Christ, etc.
But the main flaw of the Lordship argument is its insistence
that the use of the title “Lord” in salvation passages
demands the unbeliever’s personal submission of every area of life.
The leap from the objective significance of the term to the subjective
is insupportable from the passages studied in this chapter.
Jesus is Lord whether knees bow or not.
It is concluded the passages that speak of Jesus as both Lord and Savior do not justify the subjective demand
of a personal submission to Christ’s lordship.
Jesus must be the Lord positionally (as sovereign God)
if He is also to be the Savior.
Neither does the evangelistic proclamation of Jesus as Lord
constitute a demand for the submission of one’s life.
It may simply refer to His title, or polemically to His deity,
or to His sovereign authority to save.
Likewise, the confession that Jesus is Lord can be a recognition of His deity and authority to save, but without explicit reason
does not demand submission of one’s life for salvation.
When a sinner trusts in Jesus as Savior, it can be affirmed
that he implicitly submits to the authority of Jesus Christ to forgive sin.
Thus it is not denied that the logical and biblical implications
of trusting in the divine Savior for salvation
should lead one also to submit to Him as divine Master.
However, the issue in salvation remains salvation, not mastery.
CHAPTER 5: DISCIPLESHIP AND SALVATION.
The subject of discipleship enters the Lordship Salvation debate
through different interpretations of its meaning in relation to salvation.
It becomes an important concept because of its significance
for both salvation and sanctification.
Though often taken for granted, the meaning of discipleship is considered by some elusive or unclear, which has elicited calls for further study. 1
The purpose of this chapter is to consider the controversy over discipleship in relation to salvation and evaluate the arguments of the Lordship position. After an evaluation of the lexical and biblical arguments the chapter concludes with a proposed biblical understanding of discipleship.
Disagreement between the Lordship Salvation and Free Grace positions focuses on what is meant by the terms “disciple” and “follow”
in reference to one’s relation to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Adherents to Lordship Salvation generally consider discipleship synonymous with salvation in the sense that to be saved
is to be a disciple in every sense of the biblical understanding. 2
As such, the term “disciple” emphasizes the obedience and “costliness”
of salvation in contrast to the “cheap grace” 3
purportedly found in “easy believism.”
Likewise, the term “follow” denotes a commitment to faithfulness
and obedience which identifies all true believers. 4
These claims of Lordship Salvation are stated clearly by their proponents. MacArthur states, “The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience.” 5
Likewise, Merritt asserts,
The fact is, Jesus sought more than a superficial following; he sought disciples. In short, the evangelistic call of Jesus was essentially a call to repentance and radical discipleship. 6
Stott also writes,
Jesus never concealed the fact that in His religion there was a demand as well as an offer. Indeed, the demand was as total as the offer was free. If He offered mankind His salvation, He demanded their submission. Jesus gave no encouragement whatever to thoughtless applicants for discipleship. 7
It follows that faith is therefore submissive obedience:
The response of faith always embraces the call of discipleship, the call to show forth the reality of a new life and freedom by following in obedience to Christ. The call to faith and to discipleship are the same and cannot be separated. 8
A neglect of emphasis on the demands of discipleship is considered a weakness of the Free Grace position and the contemporary church.< 9
The Lordship interest in costly discipleship
is a response to the growing number of people who profess to be Christians but who do not live up to their profession.
Poe states, “The concern for discipleship did not emerge as a theoretical concept in an academic setting, rather it resulted from the phenomenon of people claiming to be Christians who have no interest in the things of Christ.” 10
This problem can be solved by demanding that sinners pay a price
for their salvation, the price of submission and obedience:
In our own presentation of Christ’s gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to respond to the message of free forgiveness.
In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact
that free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything. 11
To support their view, appeal is made to the meaning of two
New Testament terms, “disciple” (maqhths) and “follow” (akolouqew),
and to a number of Bible passages.
Both these areas of argument will now be evaluated.
An Evaluation of the Lexical Arguments
FG: Crucial to the argument of the Lordship position is
what is encompassed by the term “disciple”
and what it means to “follow” Jesus Christ.
As will be seen, the Lordship argument does not appeal to the
etymology of the words themselves as much as to New Testament usage.
The Lordship position will be studied below, along with a brief consideration of the words involved and a study of their biblical usage.
The Meaning of “Disciple”
FG: The word “disciple” translates the noun maqhths,
which is found 264 times in only the Gospels and Acts. 12
The noun has the basic meaning of “a pupil, apprentice, adherent.” 13
The verb form, maqhteuw, means “be or become a pupil or disciple,” 14
and occurs only four times in the Gospels and Acts
(Matt 13:52; 27:57; 28:19; Acts 14:21).
The term “disciple” has nothing in and of itself that would
clearly distinguish between all believers or more committed believers.
The concept of “pupil” is somewhat relative and can denote
those who learn of salvation or learn of something more than salvation.
The Lordship argument cites passages in Acts which seem to equate disciples with Christians (Acts 6:1-2, 7; 14:20, 22, 28; 15:10; 19:10),
especially 11:26, “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” 15
Thus Gentry concludes, “Those who distinguish believers into two groups must arbitrarily decide when maqhthsis used of the average believer
and when it is used of the superbeliever.” 16
The meaning of maqhths, however, is not decided arbitrarily
when the biblical context is consulted.
When this is done, a number of usages emerge.
First, it should be noted that the term is never explained or defined
for the readers in the Gospels and Acts, which indicates the readers understood its basic meaning in relation to rabbinic or Greek practice. Found in both realms is the same basic idea of a learner or pupil. 17
The Gospels speak of disciples as followers or learners of various people. The Pharisees claimed to be disciples of Moses (John 9:28),
evidently because Moses gave the law which they followed (John 1:17).
The Pharisees also had their own disciples (Matt 22:16; Mark 2:18).
In addition, there were disciples of John the Baptist
(e.g., Matt 9:14; 11:2; 14:12; Mark 2:18; Luke 11:1; John 3:25).
These examples show that the relationship of teacher to pupil
is essential to the understanding of discipleship.
In regard to those who follow Christ, “disciple” maintains the basic idea
of a learner, but the commitment of the learners to Christ varies.
In its most general sense, it is used of the multitudes who follow Christ.
In Matt 5:1 (cf. Luke 6:17) “disciples”
seems interchangeable with the “multitudes” (oclous). 18
They are committed enough to come from great distances (4:25)
and to be taught (5:2), but it is unclear here whether they are saved.
John 6 the multitudes are not distinguished from the disciples (John 6:2-3). However, many of these disciples did not actually believe in Christ,
and at the first indication of hardship they deserted Him (6:60-66). This shows that the term in its most general sense can be used of unbelievers who followed Christ, but were not really committed to Him in any way.
From within this large group in John 6, a smaller group of people emerges who clearly express faith in Christ as the Messiah (6:67-68; Matt 16:13-20).
The term “disciples” is used most frequently (in the Gospels) to speak of the smaller group of twelve chosen by Christ (Matt 10:1; Luke 6:13).
However, believers called “disciples” are elsewhere numbered at seventy (in addition to the Twelve; Luke 10:1, 17, 23)
indicating that all true believers were considered disciples
in that they had learned of Christ and continued to do so.
Later in His ministry, Jesus taught conditions which would further define and develop the meaning of disciple
(e.g., Matt 16:24-27/Mark 8:34-38/Luke 9:23-26; Luke 14:26-33).
It will be shown later in a discussion of these conditions that
they were given primarily to those who were already considered disciples
in the various ways described above. 19
The conditions he taught seem to denote a deeper,
more intimate relationship between learner and teacher.
The nature of the conditions show that the one who is to be a disciple of Christ in the fullest sense must be one who is fully identified with Christ, fully committed to Him, and fully submitted to Him. 20
This survey of the Gospels shows that a follower of Christ can
be committed to Him in various degrees and yet be designated a disciple. Calenburg cites two good examples of the flexibility of the term.
First, he cites the example of Joseph of Arimathea, who was called
“a disciple of Jesus, but secretly” (John 19:38) and concludes:
It was possible to manifest faith in the Messiahship of Christ and be considered
a part of a group of “disciples” and yet not meet the stringent demands of discipleship laid down by Christ (Luke 19:37; John 19:38).
Calenburg also cites that group called “disciples” in John 6:60-66,
which definitely included unbelievers. 21
While Gentry makes no mention of this passage, MacArthur in a footnote,
It is apparent that not every disciple is necessarily a true Christian (cf. John 6:66). The term disciple is sometimes used in Scripture in a general sense, to describe those who, like Judas, outwardly followed Christ. 22
However, such an admission is never harmonized with Lordship Salvation’s requirements for costly discipleship-salvation, thus it seems a cautious acknowledgment that the meaning of maqhthsindeed
depends on the context. 23
FG: It can be concluded from a study of the Gospels
that overall biblical usage shows the flexibility of the term “disciple.”
At this point, it can be admitted that in Acts
disciples are assumed Christians and vice versa. 24
It is one of several terms used to refer to Christians
and is thus used more technically than in the Gospels.
But this use of maqhths should be considered in light of the commission
at the end of Christ’s ministry in which He commanded His disciples
to “make disciples (maqhteuw) of all the nations” (Matt 28:19),
for the book of Acts records their obedience to this command.
Before discussing the use of maqhths in Acts,
a discussion of Matt 28:19 is necessary.
Matthew’s commission is used by Lordship Salvation teachers
to equate discipleship with salvation.
Gentry Matt 28:19 is a “fuller account” of the commission in Mark 16:15
(“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature”):
“The preaching of the gospel summarized in Mark is the making of disciples in Matthew.” 25
Gentry’s conclusion has major ramifications for salvation
and must be evaluated.
It does not appear that the aorist imperative maqhteusate translated “make disciples” should be so quickly equated with Mark’s khroxate to euaggelion. As Lenski comments,
The heart of the commission is in the one word maqhte_sate. This imperative, of course, means, “to turn into disciples,” and its aorist form conveys the thought that this is actually to be done. The verb itself does not indicate how disciples are to be made, it designates only an activity that will result in disciples.
It connotes results not methods and ways (emphasis his). 26
The circumstances and means by which disciples are made is indicated
by three participles: poreuqentes, baptizontes, and didaskontes.
Set off from the other participles, the aorist participle of poreuomai
can be understood either as “having gone” or “as you go”
denoting a presupposed or simultaneous activity. 27
It denotes the “going” activity of those who preach the gospel and parallels Mark’s expanded expression poreuqentes … khr?xate to euagelion,
“As you go… preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15),
which is the preliminary step to disciple making. 28
The first step in making disciples is going out to preach the gospel in order to get them saved.
While Mark’s commission stops with gospel proclamation, Matthew
records Christ’s words which have in view more than making converts.
Hendriksen agrees: “‘make disciples’ …is not exactly the same as
‘make converts,’ though the latter is surely implied.” 29
Sheridan explains the emphasis on discipleship in Matthew from the gospel’s purpose:
For Matthew, the comprehensive charge to his followers by Jesus is “to make disciples of all nations.” Teaching others to observe what Jesus had taught them is the way to achieve this. In a sense, Matthew’s gospel is a manual for discipleship, and we may expect to find in the lengthy discourses to the disciples not just instruction for the twelve limited to their historical mission but essentially what they are to pass on in their efforts to make disciples. 30
The two participles translated “baptizing” and “teaching,” though having some imperatival significance, primarily denote “how” of maqhteusate. 31
After evangelization, baptism is the first step of obedient discipleship and demonstrates one’s salvation.
Next, teaching obedience to the commands of Christ
comprises the means by which Christians develop as disciples.
If Matt 28:19 only expresses the same meaning as Mark 16:15,
then it must be concluded that baptism and being taught to obey
are required for salvation.
Since such a conclusion mixes works into the requirement for salvation, Gentry’s understanding of Matt 28:19 cannot be correct (cf. Eph 2:8-9).
In light of the commission in Matt 28:19-20,
it is natural that Christians should be called disciples in Acts.
Acts is a history of the carrying out of Christ’s commission.
Since Christ spoke optimally and not minimally when he spoke of
making disciples, Acts assumes that converts will also be disciples.
Indeed, this is evidenced throughout the book as all believers are baptized and continue in the Apostles’ teaching with but rare exceptions. 32
The general historical description of the early believers was that of a new community following the Christian Way with diligence and in one accord (cf. Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37; 5:12-16; 9:31).
These characteristics are the marks of a true disciple. 33
Calenberg also observes that the stringent conditions of discipleship preached by Christ were not preached by the disciples and thus concludes,
The sermons of Acts seemed to reaffirm the distinction between conversion by faith in Christ and committed discipleship. The general use of the term “disciple” for all believers and the practice of many new converts implied [that] committed discipleship to Christ was the common and expected response to His will as taught by the Apostles. 34
That the first Christians were committed as disciples
is no surprise in light of the hostile Jewish cultural context.
For a Jew to become a Christian was ipso facto to bear the cross of Christ’s suffering through certain persecution or isolation.
This understanding harmonizes with the absence of the word maqhths
in the Epistles.
There mimhths(“imitator”) 35 appears to replace maqhths
as the word that is closest conceptually to disciple. 36
Calenberg’s conclusion relates the significance of this to discipleship:
A study of the Epistles revealed that “following Christ” was communicated in the terms and practice of imitating Christ. This imitation was seen to be developmental in nature and involved conscious reproduction of the behavior and attitudes of a worthy person. The factors involved in such imitation were similar to the conditions of discipleship, namely, observation, attachment, motivation, submission to authority and obedience. The result of such imitation of Christ was observed to be the very goal of discipleship—Christlikeness. 37
Thus, in the New Testament, maqhths appears to begin as a general term
in the Gospels denoting various degrees of commitment to Jesus Christ.
In Acts it becomes more focused on those who were Christians in general because as a whole they followed in the Apostles’ doctrine
and thus followed Christ.
What it means to follow Christ is examined next.
The Meaning of “Follow”
The verb akolouqew is translated “follow” and occurs
over sixty times in the Gospels in reference to following Christ. 38
When used of individuals, it denotes the beginning of discipleship
in the sense of a pupil who subordinates himself to a teacher. 39
A parallel thought is expressed by the phrase “come after”
(opisw elqei) in relation to Christ. 40
Both expressions signify discipleship, and like the word maqhths in and of themselves they do not distinguish between salvation and something more.
It is clear that the Gospels speak of following Christ in a general sense much the same as was true of maqhths.
Large crowds followed Him, 41 but there were also
the individuals called to a more intimate relationship of discipleship. 42
Still, Lordship proponents understand the command or invitation of Christ
to “follow Me” as an invitation to salvation.
In doing so their argument is not so much lexical as it is from usage.
For example, Boice argues from several incidents
where Christ said “follow Me” and concludes,
…the command to follow Jesus was not understood by Him to be only a mere physical following or even an invitation to learn more about Him and then see if one wanted to be a permanent disciple or not. Jesus understood it as turning from sin to salvation. 43
John 10:27-28 will be discussed because it is used by Boice and MacArthur to argue that “follow Me” signifies obedience which secures salvation. 44
Christ “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”
FG: While it is agreed that Christ’s use of “follow Me”
seems to be in a salvation context, some observations must be made.
First, these two uses are used descriptively of what the subjects are doing, not imperatively of what Jesus demands that they do for salvation.
Also, these uses are the first strictly metaphorical uses in the New Test, both occurring within larger metaphors,
which must influence their interpretation.
John uses metaphors frequently, especially in relation to salvation,
as Turner has well noted. 45
John here, as also in 8:12, uses “follow Me” in a metaphorical sense
to picture faith in Christ as Savior.
The picture, however, more accurately focuses on the natural response of faith which is obedience.
Faith itself seems to be indicated by the sheeps’ hearing of Christ’s voice in John 10:27.
But for sheep, the only assurance that they have heard and trust their shepherd’s voice is in their following.
Given the metaphor, it is hard to picture faith in any other way
but in the following of the trusted voice.
The metaphor of a shepherd and his sheep inherently lends itself to the activity of following:
…[the sheep] commit their safety and well-being to the Shepherd who has summoned them to do so. A sheep’s instinctive fear of strange voices lies of course in the background of this metaphor (see 10:4, 5), so that the decision to follow is after all an act of trust. 46
The same could be said for John 8:12 where Jesus declares,
“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
Following the light represents the response of faith in the light. 47
Thus “follow Me” in these metaphorical contexts is ultimately a metaphor
for faith or trust in Christ. 48
Both Boice and MacArthur have gone too far to claim that “follow Me” in John 10:27 pictures only Christian obedience.
This ignores not only the metaphorical use, but also the context.
In v 26 Jesus rebukes the Jews, saying, “You do not believe, because you are not of My sheep.” The contrast of unbelief with belief is obvious. Also, in v 28 Jesus states that the result of following is “eternal life,”
the usual result of faith in John.
The Lordship argument that uses John 10:27-28 as proof that the term “follow” signifies an obedient lifestyle that secures salvation
actually does little more than show how crucial the context is
in understanding the significance of the term.
That the term is not always used as a requirement for salvation is clear from John 21:22 where Jesus tells Peter, “You follow Me.”
Peter was certainly saved at the time, thus the invitation to follow Jesus
was an invitation to a continuous post-salvation commitment.
Lordship Salvation’s lexical argument and appeal to Scriptural usage are not enough to determine the meaning of the terms “disciple” or “follow Me.” This must be determined from a study of its use in other Bible passages.
An Evaluation of Key Bible Passages
The Lordship interpretation of discipleship in relation to salvation summons its strongest argument from a number of passages in the Gospels.
First, it appeals to the passages in which Jesus enumerates the conditions for discipleship.
Second, it argues from some narrative accounts; chiefly the account of
the rich young ruler, but also the accounts of the calling of the first disciples. Jesus’ teaching in the parables of the hidden treasure
and the pearl is also cited by Lordship advocates.
Discipleship as Costly
FG: The teachings of Jesus Christ make it plain that discipleship is costly.
The matter to be determined is whether the passages which enumerate the price of discipleship speak of initial salvation
or a post-salvation commitment to Jesus Christ.
Most conditions of discipleship given by Christ are congregated contextually between His prediction of death and resurrection and His transfiguration (Matt 16:24-27/Mark 8:34-38/Luke 9:23-26).
The focus of this section will be largely upon this pericope.
Another condition occurs in Matt 10:37 and Luke 14:26 in contexts which repeat some of the conditions of the post-prediction pericope.
Matthew 16:24-27/Mark 8:34-38/Luke 9:23-26
Before the conditions themselves are studied,
a consideration of the background will be valuable.
The occasion and audience will help determine
the purposes of Jesus’ hard sayings about discipleship.
The Lordship interpretation of Jesus’ teaching about discipleship assumes an evangelistic occasion. 49
FG: Consideration of the context shows that the occasion of these sayings
is significantly linked to the prediction of Christ’s passion and resurrection and the rebuke of Peter.
Matthew and Mark’s account record Peter’s rebuke of Christ and Christ’s response: “Get thee behind Me Satan! You are an offense to Me,
for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men”
(Matt 16:23/Mark 8:33).
Jesus’ rebuke is understandable after He predicted His suffering and death. He was demonstrating to the disciples He “must” (de_) suffer and be killed as part of God’s will for the Son of Man (Matt 16:21/Mark 8:31/Luke 9:22).
There was, for Christ, a price to be paid in following God’s will to completion and His own glorification.
Peter’s rebuke of Christ essentially denies God’s will requires such a price. Jesus’ subsequent rebuke categorizes this perspective as satanic.
The conditions of discipleship then follow contextually 50 as the price which must be paid to follow the will of God to completion and share in Christ’s glory. 51
In view of the Lord’s imminent death and departure, 52 these conditions enumerate the way by which the will of God can be fully realized.
The explanatory gar (Matt 16:27/Mark 8:38)
introduces the reason for the conditions: Jesus will soon be glorified. 53
The audience is also significant.
Matthew indicates that Jesus addressed his sayings to none other
than the twelve disciples (Matt 16:24).
Mark says that Jesus “called the people (oclon) to Him,
with His disciples also” (Mark 8:34).
The “people” are not specifically identified, but in Mark’s use of oclos,
when there is enough evidence to determine their disposition,
the crowd that follows Jesus is presented as more than curious.
They are enthusiastic followers, are teachable, exhibit faith in their midst, and sometimes totally sympathetic to Christ as if they were believers. 54
Lane comments on Mark 8:34:
By calling the crowd Jesus indicates that the conditions for following him are relevant for all believers, and not for the disciples alone. The common address of these sober words to the crowd and the disciples recognizes that there is no essential difference between them when confronted with the sufferings of Christ; both alike have very human thoughts uninformed by the will of God (8:33),
and it was imperative for them to know what it means to follow Jesus. 55
Luke records that Jesus spoke “to them all” (Luke 9:23),
the nearest antecedent of which is the Twelve (Luke 9:18), 56
but possibly He spoke to the Twelve and the multitudes. 57
In Luke 12:1Jesus is described as teaching His disciples “first” (prwton)
in the presence of an “innumerable multitude” (ton m?riadwn tou oclou).
It therefore seems reasonable to assume that in the Synoptics, when
Jesus spoke to the multitudes (who to various degrees were followers),
He was first teaching His twelve disciples.
If Jesus addressed primarily his twelve disciples, who were definitely saved (except Judas), 58 and the crowds who were at least sympathetic
or at the most contained many followers whose exact commitment to Christ is left undefined, then it is reasonable to assume these sayings
should apply primarily to the issues of a deeper relationship with Him
and not salvation.
It would be pointless for the Synoptic authors (especially Matthew)
to focus on the disciples if these were conditions of salvation. 59
One would expect such conditions to be announced when the disciples first met Jesus.
A brief examination of each of these conditions will demonstrate
whether they apply more appropriately to the Christian life or to salvation.
The conditions can and should be best interpreted
in light of the preceding prediction of Jesus’ suffering and death.
The revelation of His passion provided a meaningful setting and illustration for these sayings about the cost of discipleship.
As will be seen, many times there is agreement with the basic Lordship Salvation interpretation of the condition itself.
The focus of the discussion will be on whether these are conditions
for salvation or a deeper commitment of discipleship.
Also, it should be noted that the requirements are for anyone who desires to “come after” Christ.
As noted earlier, “come after” (opisw elqein) denotes discipleship. 60
It clearly describes a process not an event; a committed life
of following after Jesus rather than coming to Him for salvation. 61
The conditions for those who would “come after” Christ
will be considered individually, then collectively.
“Deny himself”. This is best interpreted by what the disciples have just heard about Christ’s fate.
Jesus will deny Himself His own desires and
submit to the desire of God for Him—suffering and death.
To deny oneself is interpreted contextually as being mindful of the things of God, not the things of man (Matt 16:23/Mark 8:33).
In Stott’s understanding,
“he must repudiate himself and his right to organize his own life.” 62
Gentry explains the significance in relation to salvation:
“A person who truly receives Christ as Savior is in effect denying himself and his wants as nothing and Christ as everything.” 63
While Stott and Gentry understand the essence of the saying, their application of this condition to salvation does not coincide with the real issue in salvation, which is forgiveness of sin and justification of the sinner.
FG: But in harmony with the context, Jesus is not addressing
these issues here. He speaks of denying oneself that which would
obstruct the fulfillment of God’s will in the course of following Him.
Apart from passages that deal explicitly with discipleship,
and in the passages that deal explicitly with salvation,
there is no mention of self-denial, one’s “right to organize his own life,”
or one’s “denying himself his wants” as a requirement for salvation.
These are necessary for an obedient lifestyle,
not the justification which is through faith alone (Rom 4).
“Take up his cross”. Stott argues to take up the cross is to make oneself as a condemned man, in the sense of living for Christ instead of self. 64
Boice sees cross-bearing as “saying yes to something for Jesus’ sake.” Specifically, Boice declares that cross-bearing involves prayer, Bible study, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, receiving strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting prisoners, and witnessing. 65
In light of the context, it appears that Jesus is expecting the disciples
to suffer hardships in order to do God’s will
just as He does by submitting to the cross.
For He and the disciples, it meant they were as men condemned to die who carry their cross-beams to the place of execution in submission to a higher authority: “His followers must be prepared to die.” 66
If this is applied to unbelievers, then the gospel message
is an invitation to be willing to die for Jesus.
FG: Stott’s interpretation and Gentry’s practical considerations
may be correct, but that they refer to a condition of salvation for unbelievers is untenable, for then it would seem that salvation is by suffering,
a willingness to die for Christ, or works.
Boice’s particulars demonstrate the works orientation of such a view.
This confuses and contradicts the Scriptures which speak of Jesus Christ who suffered and died so that sinners could be saved. 67
The sinner’s suffering has no merit toward justification.
The unbeliever has no cross in the sense of self-mortification (contra Stott), for he is already dead in sins (Eph. 2:1-2); nor do unbelievers, by definition, have a cross in the sense of Christian duties (contra Boice).
The chief will of God for unbelievers is obedience to the command to repent and believe in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15; Acts 16:31; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 John 3:23).
Furthermore, Luke adds the qualifier “daily.”
This could not refer to salvation
because it refers to something that is daily renewable.
Stott is right when he declares, “Every day the Christian is to die.
Every day he renounces the sovereignty of his own will.
Every day he renews his unconditional surrender to Jesus Christ.” 68
But Stott speaks here of “the Christian.” 69
If this characterizes saving faith and is made a condition for salvation,
as Lordship proponents insist, one must decide to place faith in Jesus
as Savior and Lord through surrender everyday without fail.
Such an expectation is not found elsewhere in the Bible
and makes both salvation and assurance impossible.
“Follow Me”. As discussed earlier, this phrase speaks of discipleship
and denotes the pupil/master relationship.
Here Jesus invests the term with the significance of following Him
by obeying God’s will, that is, by self denial and taking up the cross,
as Stott agrees. 70
Because following another person is a process, a progression, and requires a lapse of time, 71 this condition cannot speak of entrance into salvation. This would make salvation secured by the imitation of Christ or by adherence to His example, which would be a works salvation. It is best taken as a term that describes a continuously committed lifestyle.
“Loses his life.” An explanatory statement (gar) follows the three conditions. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:24; cf. Matt 16:25/Mark 8:35; and Matt 10:39). To lose one’s life explains in summary form what it means to deny oneself, take up the cross, and follow Jesus Christ after God’s will.
The background of Jesus losing His life physically on the cross
and thus metaphorically to the will of God
has been observed in the previous context (Matt 16:21/Mark 8:31/Luke 9:22).
So must those who are to be disciples also lose their lives to the will of God. This will involve the three conditions just mentioned:
denial of one’s own desires,
suffering in obedience,
and continuous following of Christ in the will of God.
The denial of one’s own desires in order to obey the will of God
is amplified by the following rhetorical question with explanatory force (gar): “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
(Matt 16:26; cf. Mark 8:36/Luke 9:25).
If a man were to not deny himself and not pursue the will of God, but pursue his own selfish and worldly desires, he would lose his soul, or his life.
Here some will point to the phrase “save his life” (thn. . . y?chn autou swsai), the phrase “loses his own soul” (thn . . . y?chn autou zhmiwqh),
and the consequence “destroyed or lost” (apolesas h zhmiwqeis, in Luke)
in order to invest the passage with soteriological significance. 72
However, the verb “save” (swzw) is not automatically soteriological in meaning. It is probably used here in the general sense of “rescue, preserve from danger,” 73 i.e., saved from a life of self-denial and cross-bearing, 74
for this thought explains (gar) the impact of the previous conditions.
Likewise, “life” (y?ch) does not automatically refer to the eternal soul only. The parallel in Luke 9:25replaces Matthew and Mark’s ych with “himself.” The noun y?ch is frequently used in Scripture in the sense of the essential life of man.
FG: Contra to other Lordship proponents, Stott recognizes this meaning. Speaking of the word y?ch, he correctly observes,
The word for “life” here means neither our physical existence, nor our soul, but our self. The y?ch is the ego, the human personality which thinks, feels, plans and chooses… the man who commits himself to Christ, therefore, loses himself, not by the absorption of his personality in Christ’s personality but by the submission of his will to Christ’s will. 75
Unless the context is clearly proved to be soteriological, the verbs apollumi and zhmiow should retain their respective general meanings of “ruin, destroy, lose” 76 “suffer damage or loss, forfeit, sustain injury.” 77
When Jesus says “whoever loses his life for My sake”
the sense is certainly not eternal destruction,
for he says this one will then “find it,” which is something good.
Conversely, it fits well that what one may lose when he tries to save his life (preserve himself from the hardships of self-denial and cross-bearing)
is life in the essential qualitative sense, not the eternal soul.
The paradox Jesus used has great meaning.
What He appears to be saying is essentially this:
“Whoever desires to preserve himself from the hardships of God’s will
of self-denial and cross-bearing
will really only forfeit the essential quality of the life he is trying to preserve. On the other hand, whoever forfeits himself to God’s will of self-denial
will discover a greater essential quality of the life he intended to forfeit.”
This interpretation would therefore not describe initial salvation, but a higher quality of experience with God in this life, with implications for the eschatological life, as the next section will show.
“Whoever is ashamed of Me.” Mark and Luke state a negative condition
that if anyone is ashamed of Christ and His words, Christ will also
be ashamed of that person at His coming (Mark 8:38/Luke 9:26).
Matt 16:27 does not mention shame, but correlated with Matt 10:32-33 78
where the condition is stated in terms of confessing and denying Christ, 79
and is claimed to be a condition of salvation. 80
The idea of being ashamed of Christ or denying Christ
is clarified in some contexts more than others.
In Luke the saying follows a warning about one who positions himself with the world for the sake of gain (Luke 9:25).
The following v 26 is explanatory (gar) of the eschatological consequences which face those who desire the world.
The same could be said of Mark 8:38, with the exception that
Jesus adds the helpful phrase “in this adulterous and sinful generation.” The shame therefore seems to imply a denial of one’s identification with Christ in the face of the pressure to live for and identify with the world.
The gar appears to connect v 38 with v 35
expanding the idea of one’s relation to this world and its consequences.
Perhaps the greatest clarification comes from the
parallel thought of Matt 10:32-33 where the context is developed more fully.
There Jesus is giving the Twelve instructions
before sending them out to preach the gospel (Matt 10:5ff.).
He warns of rejection and persecution (Matt 10:16-25)
and encourages them not to fear (Matt 10:26-31).
Vs 32-33 are also followed by similar warnings about rejection (Mt 10:34-36). In vvs 32-33 Jesus is both encouraging and warning in the face of the fear of persecution.
He wants the disciples to know that
anyone who identifies with Christ will be rewarded, while
anyone who shrinks from this will be denied by Christ before the Father.
Matthew’s context seems a close parallel to that which is signified by Mark’s phrase “in this adulterous and sinful generation” (Mark 8:38).
The consequence facing someone who is ashamed of or denies Christ is more enigmatic.
Do Christ’s reciprocal shame and denial of that person at His coming denote a denial of salvation?
In correlating Matt 10:32-33 with 16:27,
it is clear that the issue is some kind of recompense for one’s works. Matthew takes care to state that at His coming,
Christ “will reward (apodwsei) each according to his works” (16:27).
That Jesus makes works the basis of the recompense
implies salvation is not the issue (Eph. 2:8-9).
Also, the verb apodidwmi carries the idea of “recompense”
with no inherent sense of whether it is good or bad,
so it could speak of positive reward or negative judgment 81
In Mark and Luke a negative recompense is suggested: It is the shame Christ will have for those who were too ashamed to identify with Christ.
The effect of Christ’s shame is not specified, but one could surmise that for a redeemed and now fully enlightened believer, this would produce regret.
In the parallel passage Matt 10:32-33, the idea of recompense
is good (v. 32) or bad (v. 33) accordingly. 82
Christ’s confession (or lack of it) in heaven
would not relate to final judgment, but to an acknowledgment (or lack of it) before the Father of the disciples’ unity or fellowship with Christ 83
which is recompensed in an unspecified but appropriate way.
Collectively, all the conditions studied thus far in this section
are summarized by Lordship advocates
as demands for submission to Christ as Lord for salvation.
Stott summarizes them under the concept of following Christ:
Thus, in order to follow Christ, we have to deny ourselves, to crucify ourselves, to lose ourselves. The full inexorable demand of Jesus Christ is now laid bare. He does not call us to a sloppy half-heartedness, but to a vigorous, absolute commitment. He invites us to make Him our Lord. 84
Likewise, MacArthur concludes,
Faith is not an experiment, but a lifelong commitment. It means taking up the cross daily, giving all for Christ each day with no reservations, no uncertainty, no hesitation. It means nothing is knowingly held back, nothing purposely shielded from His lordship, nothing stubbornly kept from His control. 85
Plainly, the conditions understood by Lordship advocates are absolute,
all or nothing. 86
In essence, there is little disagreement with the interpretations of the demands themselves,
only with the application of them to salvation instead of the Christian life.
Lordship Salvation teachers object to the characterization of their position as works oriented.
Some define the conditions as only attitudinal changes,
as indicated by Gentry:
This is not to say that in order to be a Christian one has to perform certain prerequisite, meritorious works. It simply asserts that to follow Christ for eternal life meant having a real attitude of self-denial in looking in trust and hope from self to Christ as Lord. 87
MacArthur says, “[Christ] wants disciples willing to forsake everything.
This calls for total self-denial to the point of willingly dying for His sake” 88
Thus, they hold that Jesus was teaching that to be saved,
one must only be willing to do these things.
FG: But this does not seem to be a supportable conclusion, nor
does it evade the charge of salvation by merit for the following reasons:
1) Jesus did not say that one must only be willing;
2) It is poor theology to demand from unbelieving sinners a decision that assumes an understanding of the full significance of Christ’s sacrifice, especially at this point in the Gospel narratives before His death
(Would Jesus ask a sinner to be willing to die for Him?);
3) This would practically preclude anyone from being saved unless he understood the meanings of these phrases—meanings which can best be appreciated in light of salvation, not in prospect of it;
4) If one must be willing to do these things for salvation,
then salvation is just as conditional and meritorious as if they were actual works, which negates the concept of grace (Rom 4:4);
5) The subjectivity of willingness makes salvation elusive,
as Zuck notes,
Willingness to do something is not the same thing as actually doing it, and it does not answer the question, “How much commitment is necessary?” If lordship proponents do not mean a person must surrender everything to be saved, then why do they say all must be surrendered? 89
Jesus’ teaching on discipleship took place well into His ministry and was addressed primarily to His disciples as a further revelation
of the kind of commitment He desired of His saved followers.
He explained these conditions against the background of His own commitment that would lead to His death
in order to invest them with the fullest significance.
Matthew 10:37/Luke 14:26
In another setting, Matthew and Luke add another condition to those already considered.
In Matthew’s account, Jesus says the one who “loves” (from filw) family more than Him are “not worthy” of Him.
In Luke, Jesus says no one can be His disciple who does not “hate”
(from misw) his family and his own life. This condition is troublesome for many whether it speaks of salvation or a deeper commitment.
Jesus was probably using a Semitic figure of speech as Beare asserts,
This is the more Semitic manner of speaking—Luke’s words are the literal translation of an Aramaic original; but the verb “hate” does not carry its full sense. It means no more than “love less”, and Matthew has turned this into the positive—not that they must love the immediate family less than Jesus, but they must love Him more. Loyalty to the Master must override even the closest family ties. 90
The meaning is that Jesus must be the object
of one’s supreme love and devotion if one is to be His disciple.
In Matthew, the saying is in the context of a warning about those who would reject the disciples’ message about Christ. 91
Jesus indicates that because of the Gospel message family members
will be divided over Christ (10:34-35)
making a person’s enemies those of his own household (10:36).
In such a situation, a person who is convinced that Jesus is the Messiah will have his ongoing loyalty tested by those in the family who disagree.
This would present a great temptation to choose family ties and harmony over one’s identity with Christ.
Therefore, MacArthur rightly interprets the meaning of the idiom itself,
“We must be unquestionably loyal to Him.” 92
However, this interpretation does not harmonize with salvation,
for one learns love and loyalty on the basis of what Jesus has done
in redemption and forgiveness.
Salvation is brought to men by God apart from their love and loyalty to God (Rom 5:6-8; 1 John 4:10).
Even thus softened (as a Semitic figure of speech),
such a devoted love for God over blood relationships
is an extraordinary demand for sinners
who have had no experience of Christ’s redeeming love.
Just as family love grows stronger with time and sharing,
so also must one’s love for Christ.
Furthermore, it does not seem to speak of salvation
because Matthew records that any loyalty before Christ makes or shows one to be “not worthy” (ouk . . . axios) of Christ (Matt 10:37).
The statement about “unworthiness” seems to imply the converse,
that one can be “worthy” of Christ.
The unsaved are unworthy of Christ and His salvation cause theyre sinners, not because of one particular sin (i.e., loyalty to family before Christ).
Conversely, no amount of loyalty to God or any other form of good deed makes a sinner worthy of Christ’s righteousness. It is hard to see how Lordship advocates can avoid the suggestion of salvation by merit.
Boice does not try to reconcile his interpretation with righteousness by grace through faith alone, but says,
“When [Jesus] said, ‘Anyone who fails to do so-and-so is not worthy of Me,’ He probably meant precisely what He says in Luke 14:26, namely,
‘He cannot be my disciple,’ which means, ‘He cannot be saved.’” 93
FG: Salvation is never a reward for one’s worthiness,
for all men are unworthy of God’s righteousness.
One can only be worthy for rewards.
Like the previous demands, this demand cannot speak of salvation.
It is truth which brings believers into deeper commitment to Jesus as Lord through their loyalty.
Jesus gave this invitation after the nation rejected Him and His message which was preached in the gospel by the twelve apostles
(Matt 10:5ff.; 11:20ff.):
Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
To Lordship Salvation teachers,
this is exclusively an invitation to discipleship-salvation.
Both Stott and MacArthur claim that this is Christ’s summary gospel presentation. 94
Both focus on the metaphor of the “yoke,”
which they claim signifies servitude and submission,
and the imperative “learn” (maqhth) which indicates discipleship. 95
There is disagreement over what the “labor and heavy laden” refers to. Boice sees this as “a sense of sin’s burden and the need of a Savior.” 96
Stott, however, claims it is easily understood as the yoke of the Law of Moses, 97 while MacArthur finds both ideas. 98
It is probably best to agree with Carson and Maher that what is burdensome is submission to the Pharisaical interpretations of the law,
not the law itself or a sense of sin from it. 99
The significance of the yoke Christ offers is important to the Lordship interpretation. MacArthur teaches that the yoke denotes submission, discipleship, and obedience which are necessary for salvation:
The call to surrender to the lordship of Jesus is part and parcel of His invitation to salvation. Those unwilling to take on His yoke cannot enter into the saving rest He offers…It is a yoke that also implies obedience. Thus Jesus’ own invitation to sinners to “take My yoke upon you” argues against the notion that one can take Jesus as Savior but not Lord. He does not bid people come to Him if they are unwilling to receive His yoke and be in submission to Him. True salvation occurs when a sinner in desperation turns from his sin to Christ with a willingness to have Him take control. 100
Likewise, Boice defines the yoke as submission, work, and companionship (with others in Christ’s school) and also makes this necessary for salvation:
If a person has taken Christ’s yoke, which he does when he believes on Christ (there is no separating the two), he will work for Christ. Conversely, if he does not work for Christ, he clearly has not taken on Christ’s yoke and has not believed on Him or come to know Him savingly. 101
It is difficult to see how laboring under a yoke of servitude can evade the concept of works salvation.
MacArthur and Boice appear sensitive to this and in their discussions
affirm that they are not teaching salvation by works. 102
Stott merely dismisses the charge with this unclear statement:
Thus, taking upon us His yoke and His cross are involved in receiving His rest. The former do not of course merit the latter as a reward. God forbid! But the one is impossible without the other (emphasis his). 103
Still, all believe that assumption of the yoke of obedience, work, and submission is a necessary correlative of faith and therefore a necessary condition of salvation: “there is no separating the two.” 104
Jesus’ promise of an “easy” load and a “light” burden does not seem to harmonize with the Lordship teaching of strenuous discipleship-salvation. MacArthur sees the easiness as a comparison to the oppressive demands of the Pharisees and Scribes. 105
Boice contrasts the easy yoke with “living a life of sin.” 106
FG: Either way, Jesus’ words do not reconcile with Lordship demands
for costly grace and its stringent requirements for discipleship-salvation.
The passage must be considered in light of its context.
Jesus speaks these words after recognizing rejection from the various cities of Israel (Matt 11:20-24).
Yet He acknowledges the Father’s design that some in the nation would understand the Father’s revelation in Christ (11:25-27).
The invitation to the nation and individuals in the nation follows (11:28-30).
This precedes the episode of the Sabbath controversy and the blatant rejection of Christ by the nation in chapter 12.
The nation under the Pharisees forms a background for Jesus’ saying.
The Pharisees claimed to be disciples of Moses (John 9:28).
Moses gave the law, so those who submitted themselves to Moses
also submitted themselves to the law.
The Pharisees had their own disciples in a specific sense (Mark 2:18),
but the nation as a whole,
being under the law and the Pharisees’ interpretations of the law,
were also disciples of the Pharisees (and Moses) in a general sense.
Jesus is calling to Himself those under the oppressive legalism of the Pharisees (cf. Matt 23:4).
He is showing them a way to find “rest,”
and offering them a different discipleship which is His own. 107
It seems salvation does appear in Matt 11:28-30,
but it can be distinguished from discipleship.
In v 28, “come” is Jesus’ familiar invitation to salvation, 108
and “rest” refers to the inner peace that accompanies the assurance of salvation unavailable under the Pharisaical system of righteousness. 109
Then the invitation of v 29 is to follow Christ in a deeper master/pupil relationship.
The imperative form of airw used here is also used in the condition for discipleship “take up his cross” (Matt 16:24/Mark 8:34/ Luke 9:23).
Furthermore, “yoke” was a common Jewish metaphor for discipline or obligation< 110 and thus refers to submission to His teaching and authority as opposed to that of the Pharisees. 111
In addition, to “learn” (from manqanw) from Christ is a clear term for discipleship activity 112
explaining here how one submits to Christ’s yoke. 113
But salvation and discipleship can be distinguished:
“Come” is separated from “take . . .
and learn” in the text in a logical progression
(one must come to Christ before one can take something from Him) which shows the sequence of salvation before the submission to discipleship.
The contrast in Matt 11:28-30 is with the laborious yoke of legalism
which the Scribes and Pharisees imposed upon the people.
Their legalistic system neither provided the rest of righteousness
nor the enablement to live an obedient and righteous life.
Christ provides both the righteousness of justification
and the example and enablement to live righteously. 114
Thus this passage is both an invitation to faith in Christ for salvation and to submission to Christ for discipleship as a desired response to salvation. Like the other passages considered in this section, this passage reserves the idea of “cost” for a deeper commitment of discipleship, not salvation.
Discipleship in Gospel Narratives
A couple of narrative accounts in the Gospels are used to support
the Lordship claim that discipleship as submission is required for salvation.
A major passage used by many Lordship proponents is the account of the rich young ruler.
Sometimes the account of the calling of the first disciples is also used.
The narratives about Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are sometimes used to argue that a discipleship commitment is required for salvation,
but these were discussed in chapter three.
The rich young ruler, Matthew 19:16-21/ Mark 10:17-22/ Luke 18:18-23
This story overlaps the previous discussions of faith, repentance, and Lordship, and is so used to support these respective Lordship arguments.
However, the story is most often connected with Christ’s demands for discipleship, thus discussion has been reserved for this chapter.
Many Lordship advocates point to the rich young ruler account to support Lordship Salvation. 115
Usually, the emphasis lies on the price demanded for salvation,
a price the ruler was unwilling to pay.
If we could condense the truth of this entire passage into a single statement,
it would be Luke 14:33:
” no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions”
……since he was unwilling to forsake all, he could not be a disciple of Christ. Salvation is for those who are willing to forsake everything. 116
Lordship writers often emphasize from the story other issues such as submission to Christ’s lordship 117 or repentance from specific sins. 118
The encounter with the rich young ruler occurred near the end of Jesus’ ministry as He entered Judea for the last time.
The ruler addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher” and follows with the question “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matt 19:16). 119
The ruler’s question indicates his belief that eternal life could be obtained or merited by doing some good deed. 120
He was also assuming that he was capable of doing something good enough to merit eternal life, which implies he believed he was intrinsically good enough.
In addition, his question shows that though he attributed significant authority to Jesus as “Good Teacher,”
his conception of Him certainly fell short of the reality of who Christ was.
The Lordship understanding that the focus of the ruler’s question concerned the acquisition of eternal life, or salvation, should not be challenged.
To “inherit eternal life” (zwhn aiwnion klhronomhsw; Mark 10:17; Luke 18:18) was a Jewish idiom denoting the possession of God’s promises,
specifically as fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
This included eternal life and salvation. 121
Thus Matthew’s account phrases the issue as expressed by the ruler,
“that I may have eternal life” (19:16).
Also in Matthew, Jesus restated the ruler’s concern:
“if you want to enter into life” (19:17).
The other synoptists also record that Jesus later explained to the disciples that it is difficult for a rich man to “enter” the kingdom of God (19:23-24).
Finally, the disciples framed the question as “Who then can be saved?” (19:25). Such language most clearly indicates a soteriological purpose to the ruler’s question.
Next, it is important to understand what Jesus makes the central issue by His responses.
First, He responds to the ruler’s characterization of Himself as “good.” Jesus declares that only God deserves the description of “good”
in order to confront the ruler with two truths.
The first truth is that Jesus Himself cannot be good in the absolute sense unless He is God. The ruler had a deficient view of who Jesus was.
The second truth is that God is the standard of what is absolutely good.
The ruler also had a defective view of himself, for he thought that in
his natural state he could “do” something good enough to merit salvation.
Essentially, Jesus is asking two questions:
“Do you know Me?” and “Do you know yourself?” 122
The rich man did not answer, which indicates he did not understand the implications of the way he addressed Christ.
Jesus further amplifies the man’s defective view of himself
by raising the issue of keeping the commandments.
Jesus lists the specific commandments (Matt 19:18-19) to show the ruler that in order to have eternal life in the kingdom
one must be as good as the law demands.
The ruler’s affirmation that he has kept these shows not that he is lying,
but that he lacks both a sense of God’s perfect standard
and the realization that he has failed to reach that standard,
for surely he had at least been untruthful, disobedient to his parents,
or lacking in love in the past.
Jesus does not deny the man’s self-righteous claim to have kept the whole law.
He proceeds without directly answering the man’s question about what he must “do.”
The answer to that question is that one can “do” nothing,
in the sense of a meritorious deed,
to obtain eternal life except believe in what Christ has done. 123
But the ruler was not ready for the message of faith
because he did not see his need.
While in agreement that the ruler needed to be shown his need of salvation, and needed to realize his sinfulness,
interpretations of the passage diverge with Jesus’ next pronouncement.
To the man’s claim that he had kept the commandments, Jesus
demands that he sell everything and donate the proceeds to the poor. Jesus’ intended meaning is the focus of much debate.
The Lordship Salvation interpretation sees this as a test of obedience
and a condition for salvation:
“This is a test of obedience. Jesus was saying, ‘Unless I am the number-one priority in your life, there’s no salvation for you.’” 124
Often, the test is softened to mean that the ruler must only be willing to do this. 125
However, Jesus said nothing of only willingness. 126
If willingness was the issue, the ruler could just as easily have justified this in his favor, as he had the other commandments,
and maintained his self-righteousness.
His response of sorrow also indicates his belief in the literalness and strictness of Jesus’ demand.
It is best to interpret Jesus’ demand as a continuation of the discussion focused on the keeping of the law.
Here Jesus is amplifying by application the fullest meaning of
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 127
Put into such a personal application,
the ruler finally sees his moral failure to measure up to the law.
It is also apparent that his attitude is not conducive to trust in Christ for eternal life.
He evidently is trusting in his elevated position in life and his riches.
In Mark’s account, there is good textual evidence for Jesus’ assertion
that it is hard “for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:24, KJV, NKJV). 128
Thus, the issue clarified by Jesus is the object of one’s trust, 129
which in turn focuses on the attitude behind one’s trust.
To trust in riches is to have pride in self. To trust in Christ is to humbly admit one’s need and receive His provision for that need.
Contextually, this fits smoothly with the preceding account of the children brought to Jesus in all three Synoptics.
To “receive the kingdom of God as a little child”
is to receive it by simple faith (trust) born of humility. 130
This theme is amplified further by Luke, who follows the rich young ruler account with the story of the Pharisee and the tax-collector
which also illustrates the necessity of a humble faith. 131 Thus the “one thing” lacking is the humble attitude expressed by faith in Christ.
Though Lordship advocates use this passage to teach a hard or costly salvation, it is soon apparent this does not adequately interpret the text.
If salvation is said to be “hard” only for those who are rich (Matt 19:23),
most people are excluded.
Indeed, trust can be particularly difficult for the rich, as Lawrence writes,
Why is it so difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God? Simply because it is all but impossible for him to assume an attitude of trust and dependence in anyone but himself and/or his riches. If he has earned the money, his confidence in himself and his ability to take care of himself; it he has inherited it, his confidence is in his money which has always taken care of him. In either case, it is extremely difficult for him to stop trusting his wealth and become dependent on Christ. 132
On the other hand, some hold that Jesus was teaching that salvation
was hard for the rich and therefore more difficult for everyone else. 133
This is based on the Jewish perception that wealth indicated divine blessing not spiritual liability, 134
thus the disciples in astonishment ask, “Who then can be saved?” (19:25).
Either way, Jesus is not teaching a “hard” salvation, but more accurately
an impossible one, at least from the human perspective, for He says,
“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (19:26). Jesus was teaching that salvation is beyond all human endeavor
for all people; only by God’s miraculous grace is salvation possible at all. This grace is realized only through faith,
thus the only possible difficulty for sinners is in the humility of faith
for those with or without riches, not giving up of riches by any man.
Lordship advocates are correct that the invitation Jesus issues in the words “go, sell what you have and give to the poor” and “come, and follow Me” (19:21) is an invitation to discipleship,
but it can be shown that this is not the same as an invitation to salvation. Jesus is raising the demands of discipleship
in order to show the man his need for salvation.
He does this by assuming, for the sake of argument,
that the ruler has indeed kept the commandments as he professed.
He is using the ruler’s sense of need that prompted the question
“What do I still lack?” (19:20) to reveal his real need of salvation.
By inviting the ruler to make the sacrifice necessary for discipleship
and thus receive rewards in heaven, 135
Jesus will force the man to examine his heart.
The refusal of the man to make the sacrifice for discipleship
reveals a heart that had never really loved his neighbor
so as to merit even eternal life, were that possible.
The unique words of
Matt 19:21, “If you want to be perfect (teleios), 136 go, sell…”,
respond to the ruler’s sense of need
and imply that his obedience to the law was actually imperfect. 137
Thus Jesus demolished the man’s false illusion of self-righteousness.
He is not only showing the ruler his unrighteousness,
but He is showing him that there are greater riches available to those
who have first responded in faith to Christ’s provision of righteousness.
By inviting him to the greater commitment of discipleship, Jesus brought
the man to see that his riches kept him not only from discipleship,
but from keeping the law perfectly so that he could “merit” eternal life.
For the first time in the exchange,
the ruler sees his own moral failure and so retreats sorrowfully.
Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question about rewards for leaving all to
follow Jesus (19:27) is also assumed by Boice to teach that eternal life
is conditioned upon giving up everything to follow Jesus. 138
When Jesus answered Peter, He indicated there would be the
reward of judging the twelve tribes in the messianic kingdom (19:28), 139
the reward of a hundred-fold return of family and real estate in this age (19:29), 140
and what seems to be a reward: “inherit eternal life” (19:29). 141
But Peter’s question does not spring from the discussion of eternal life or salvation. 142
It reflects back to Jesus’ promise of “treasure in heaven” for the ruler if
he would sell all he owned and give the proceeds to the poor (19:21). 143
It was argued above that Jesus’ promise referred to
rewards for the sacrifice demanded of discipleship, not salvation.
Here, Jesus promises rewards in the future age and in this age,
yet to all is guaranteed the presupposed benefit of salvation.
This makes Christ’s use of the term “inherit everlasting life”
consistent with the rich young ruler’s usage (Mark 10:17; Luke 18:18).
The possession of eternal life is assumed of all who will accrue rewards
in the present life and in the age to come. 144
It is given to all regardless of the degree of sacrifice. 145
Thus, the account of the rich young ruler does not teach that to be saved the ruler must meet the demands of discipleship,
surrender to Christ’s lordship in the area of covetousness
and love for others, or repent of particular sins.
The issue of riches was raised to show that the ruler had not fulfilled
the righteous requirements of the law
and that he was really trusting in the merit of his wealth and position.
By using the demands of discipleship Jesus exposed
the man’s real heart attitude, which confronted him
with his need of salvation in a pre-evangelistic purpose.
The forsaking of one’s possessions, or the willingness to do so
is never made a condition of salvation
in other evangelistic encounters in the New Testament. 146
One also wonders who in the Lordship position
can truthfully claim the fulfillment of this stringent requirement.
The calling of the first disciples:
Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11
Another occasion used (though sparingly) to argue for discipleship-salvation is that of Christ’s calls to the first disciples.
Boice refers to Mt 4:18-22, he parallels with Mk 1:14-20 and Luke 5:1-11. 147
Merritt focuses only on Luke 5:1-11, but infers a parallelism with the other two accounts. 148
Boice uses these calls to argue that
…discipleship is not a supposed second step in Christianity, as if one first becomes a believer in Jesus and then, if he chooses, a disciple. From the beginning, discipleship is involved in what it means to be a Christian.
He finds that the command to follow Christ
is the most basic explanation of what it means to be a disciple,
and this command is found in the Synoptists’ accounts
of the calling of the early disciples. 149
Merritt begins with the thesis “the evangelistic call of Jesus was essentially a call to repentance and radical discipleship.”
He adds, “the call of Christ to discipleship is a multi-faceted call
which demands a singular commitment of faith and obedience.”
Part of that obedience is shown from Luke 5:1-11 to be the evangelistic task.
His inevitable conclusion from the passage follows his reasoning:
To be a disciple one must follow Jesus. But to follow Jesus, one will become a fisher of men. Therefore, “if you are not fishing, you are not following!”
The call to discipleship is indeed a call to evangelism. 150
There is no dispute that in these passages
Jesus is calling men to a further commitment of discipleship.
The command “Follow Me” and the promise that they will be
“fishers of men” and “catch men” correctly denote the
obedience and submission essential to the fuller meaning of discipleship. However, both Boice and Merritt assume that these passages are parallel accounts of the Lord’s first encounter with Peter, Andrew,
James the son of Zebedee, and John, and therefore apply to salvation.
Theres much evidence this was not Jesus’ first encounter with the disciples. Foremost is the conflicting record of John 1:35-42 where
Jesus first meets Andrew (who later finds Peter) and another disciple. 151
The setting in John is not Galilee (1:43) as with the Synoptic accounts (cf. Matt 4:12, 18, 23; Mark 1:14, 16, 21; Luke 4:44; 5:1),
but beyond the Jordan where John was baptizing (1:28). Neither is there any indication of a seaside setting or mention of fishing for men. Also, Peter is found and brought to Jesus (1:41-42)
rather than already present (Matt 4:29-30; Mark 1:16; Luke 5:3-4).
Also the response of Andrew in John’s account demonstrates faith in Christ: 1) He followed John the Baptist (1:35) and evidently believed John’s witness to Christ (1:36-37);
2) He followed after Christ (1:37, 39-40);
3) He believed Jesus was the Messiah (1:41); and
4) This faith was confirmed at the Cana wedding (John 2:11).
Thus the Synoptic accounts imply the facts of John’s account 152
and indicate that the Synoptic calls were not to salvation.
“John tells us of the conversion of these disciples, whereas Mark (as also Matthew and Luke) deals with their call to service…” (emphasis his). 153
If, as it seems, John’s account precedes chronologically
that of the Synoptists’, and saving faith was evidenced in John,
then the synoptic accounts are indeed calls
to a more intimate relationship with Christ, not salvation.
Furthermore, Luke’s account (Luke 5:1-11) is probably best separated
from Matthew and Mark’s so that Peter’s act of repentance and submission to Christ’s lordship is subsequent not only to his salvation,
but also to his initial call to discipleship.
In comparing Luke to Matthew and Mark, it should be noted obvious similarities such as the seaside setting and the response to Christ’s call.
Lenski, however, notes the greater differences in his comment on Matthew’s account:
This scene is entirely different from the one described in Luke 5:1, 2. No multitude is here pressing upon Jesus, he is alone. He is walking along not standing. The fishermen are in the boat, busy throwing out their casting net, and have not disembarked to wash their nets. Already these differences show that Matthew does not want to record the same incident as Luke. 154
Plummer recognizes similarities,
but also keeps Luke’s account distinct from Matthew’s and Mark’s:
Against these similarities however, we have to set the differences, chief among which is the miraculous draught of fishes which Mt. and Mk. omit. Could Peter have failed to include this in his narrative? And would Mk. have omitted it, if the Petrine tradition had contained it? It is easier to believe that some of the disciples were called more than once, and that their abandonment of their original mode of life was gradual: so that Mk. and Mt. may relate one occasion and Lk. another. Even after the Resurrection Peter speaks quite naturally of “going a fishing” (Jn. xxi. 3), as if it was still at least an occasional pursuit.” 155
This evidence indicates that the discipleship relationship between Christ and those called His disciples grew more intimate in stages. 156
Jesus’ lessons were progressive: “It was one thing to call the four apostles, it was quite another thing to demonstrate to them
the power of the gospel they were to handle as fishers of men.” 157
There is no clear evidence that the calls of Christ
to the first disciples in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, were calls to salvation. The call was, after all, to become fishers of men.
There is no mention of eternal salvation.
Discipleship in the Parables
Though not done extensively, appeal is sometimes made
to two parables of Christ to support and illustrate
the Lordship understanding of discipleship-salvation.
Here two key parables used to support the concept of a costly salvation will be discussed.
The parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl in
Matt 13:44-46 should be considered together since they are used to teach the same truth by the Lordship Salvation position
and are also presented in the closest proximity by the Lord Jesus Christ.
MacArthur combines his discussion of these parables in one chapter and his point is the same for both:
Both parables make the point that a sinner who understands the priceless riches of the kingdom will gladly yield everything else he cherishes in order to obtain it. The corresponding truth is also clear by implication: those who cling to their earthly treasures forfeit the far greater wealth of the kingdom. 158
This augments his belief that salvation is costly to the unbeliever:
Wise investors will not usually put all their money into a single investment. But that is exactly what both of the men in these parables did. The first man sold everything and bought one field, and the second man sold everything and bought one pearl. But they had counted the cost, and they knew that what they bought was worthy of the ultimate investment. Again, that is a perfect picture of saving faith. Someone who truly believes in Christ does not hedge bets. Knowing the cost of discipleship, the true believer signs up and gives everything for Christ. 159
MacArthur’s interpretation assumes that these two parables concern
“the incomparable worth of the kingdom of heaven and the sacrificial commitment required of everyone who would enter.” 160
FG: However, problems with this view begin with a consideration of the argument and context of chapter 13.
This chapter contains the parabolic teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ
after His rejection by the nation of Israel in chapters 11 and 12. 161
The stated purpose for the use of all these parables
is to hide truth from unbelievers and reveal truth to believers (13:11-17). The subject of the parables themselves is
“the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (12:11). 162
The recurring formula “The kingdom of heaven is like” (@omoia estin; vv. 31, 33, 44, 45, 47) indicates the kingdom is being described in its characteristics by the main point of the whole parable. 163
If one interprets the two parables as illustrations of the value of the kingdom and the cost required, then the explanation of Jesus in 13:11-17
is disregarded in two respects.
First, Jesus indicated the parables were intended for those who had believed, not those who remain in unbelief.
According to MacArthur, Jesus would be teaching the requirement for salvation to those who were already saved
instead of the unsaved who needed to hear it.
Second, by calling these parables the “mysteries” of the kingdom,
Jesus indicated He was revealing truth hidden up to that point.
Assuming MacArthur’s interpretation, Jesus had already taught that salvation was costly (as MacArthur claims He had), 164
thus there was nothing “mysterious” about these two parables.
MacArthur suggests Christ is only illustrating His previous teaching, 165
but Jesus clearly indicates this is new revelation.
In spite of MacArthur’s criticism of the view that the treasure in the first parable is Israel and the pearl in the second is the church, there is much to commend it. He opposes comparing the field in v 44 with the field in v 38 (both agros), which is said to be the world.
He appeals to the parable of the soils where he says, “the field…represents a cultivated heart,” but the word for “soil” or “ground” in that parable is ghn not agros. It would be more reasonable to interpret agros in v 44 by the nearest use of agros (v. 38) rather that a different word used elsewhere.
Furthermore, MacArthur never explains why the treasure is hidden again, but this translates well into the view Israel has been set aside for a time in the interregnum by dispersement among the nations of the world Rm 9-11.
Thus, as Toussaint declares, “The mystery revealed in this parable is the putting aside of Israel’s kingdom program for a time.” 166
Assuming MacArthur’s interpretation, it would make no sense to hide the good news of salvation, the gospel, Christ, or the kingdom. In addition, Israel was indeed called God’s “special treasure” in the Old Testament
(Ex. 19:5; Deut. 14:2; Ps. 135:4) before Christ redeemed them with His blood.
In the parable of the pearl, there is evidence that the church is in view.
The church is God’s treasure from among the Gentiles (cf. Acts 15:14),
as Pentecost observes,
…Christ reveals that God will get a treasure not only from among the nation Israel but from the Gentiles as well. This is inferred from the fact that a pearl comes out of the sea. Frequently in Scripture the sea represents Gentile nations. Once again we see that a treasure from among the Gentiles becomes God’s by purchase. 167
Unlike the treasure (Israel), the pearl (the church) was never hidden.
Again, Toussaint relates the parable to the mysteries of the kingdom:
“The mystery of the kingdom is the formation of a new body
which also would inherit the kingdom (Eph 3:3-6).” 168
The imagery of Christ searching or discovering the valuables
in the parables is not at odds with His own pronouncement
that He came to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Both Israel and church were purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. 169
An unsaved person has nothing to sell which could purchase salvation.
MacArthur points to Philippians 3:7-8, but giving up that which pertains to self-righteousness, as Paul did, is quite different from giving up (or being willing to give up) all earthly interests including physical possessions,
which MacArthur includes in the cost of salvation. 170
Furthermore, in the case of the treasure, the world is purchased, and by inclusion, the treasure. This finds no parallel to salvation, for if salvation is the treasure, what is the world?.
Therefore, these two parables cannot teach that salvation is costly,
an interpretation that Pink, a Lordship proponent, calls “positively awful,”
“a travesty,” and “a blasphemy.” 171
The biblical evidence does not support the Lordship Salvation argument that the requirements of discipleship are also the requirements for salvation. A distinction between the two concepts best harmonizes the biblical passages considered above.
A Biblical Understanding of Discipleship
In view of the evidence presented thus far it is now necessary to attempt a biblically balanced understanding of discipleship in relation to salvation.
Discipleship as Distinguished from Salvation
The biblical presentation of salvation and discipleship contains areas of congruence as well as divergence.
In the most general sense of following or learning from another, anyone who came to Jesus and sat under His teaching could be classified a disciple whether or not that person actually believed in Him (John 6:60-64).
Judas was, after all, considered one of the disciples though it was known He was an unbeliever. But this is a minority use in the Scriptures.
Likewise, those who believe in Jesus could also be considered disciples
in the sense that they have come to Him to learn of salvation
and are followers of His “way” of salvation (Acts 9:2).
Thus believers in the book of Acts are called disciples.
This is done in the context of a newly formed community which followed the Christian teaching.
It could also express the assumption that all the believers were committed and growing in their faith.
This use should be understood in light of Jesus’ commission to “make disciples of all nations.”
He spoke in such a way as to express the optimal commitment desired,
not the minimal, for only such a commitment could realize
the fulfillment of His commission at all.
Yet it should be recognized that in the Gospels particularly,
Jesus taught about discipleship as growth into a deeper commitment to Him as Lord of one’s Life.
This includes the preponderance of His teachings about discipleship.
In a passage already discussed (John 8:30-31), 172
Jesus gives those who had “believed in Him” (aorist tense)
a condition of deeper fellowship with Him.
He declared that “If (Ean plus the subjunctive, a third class condition)
you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed (alhqws maqhtai).”
To abide in Christ’s word (meinhte en toi loigoi toi emoi) is a condition
of more intimate union with Christ; it is to be a “disciple indeed.”
Only remaining in the word of Jesus’ leads to true discipleship. This phrase was coined in the Johannine word theology, and means that the believer must move completely into the sphere of influence and action of Christ’s word and let himself be led to that deeper union with Christ which menein denotes
(cf. 14:21, 23-24; 15:4-10). 173
The qualifier alhqws indicates a distinction between those who are saved and considered disciples in a general sense and those who abide with Christ through His Word in a deeper sense.
On alhqws maqhtai mou este Bernard writes, “This is the highest rank among Christians, sc. those who have reached the stage of discipleship.” 174
This harmonizes with the interpretation of John 15:1-8 suggested earlier: Abiding in Christ is a condition of fruitfulness in a believer’s subsequent relation to Christ, not salvation. 175
The relationship between salvation and discipleship is very close in Scripture and includes some apparent overlap of the two concepts, but the distinctives are even more pronounced. It will not do to simply equate the demands of discipleship with the call to salvation.
Bock criticizes MacArthur’s approach with these observations:
…there is a distinction between a disciple and a believer. In fact in Scripture there are false disciples, bad disciples, and good disciples.
The latter two categories include believers…
So discipleship is part of a person’s response in faith to the gospel.
But total discipleship is not part of the call to salvation because serious discipleship is realized in detail and engaged in after the entry into faith.
In other words the discipleship of a believer is a process that is part of the Christian journey. The ongoing nature of discipling is why efforts by MacArthur and others to quantify it at the front end of the journey fail. Realizing what discipleship means can deepen and become clearer as one walks with God.
So it can be viewed and discussed as a separate part of the Christian life, since it follows saving faith and since it is saving faith that really makes it possible through the provision of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation. In sum, discipleship, at least in this more serious sense, is a part of salvation from the start, yet it can be viewed as a journey one engages in throughout his spiritual life.
Thus this issue is more complex than MacArthur suggests,
though some of his remarks about moving away from perfectionism indicate
he is aware of the problem (emphasis his). 176
The differences between simple salvation and committed discipleship
are too compelling to be ignored:
salvation is a free gift, but intimate discipleship is costly;
salvation relates primarily to Christ as Savior,
but discipleship relates primarily to Christ as Lord;
salvation involves the will of God in redemption and reconciliation, discipleship involves the whole will of God;
salvation’s sole condition is “believe,”
but discipleship’s conditions are abide, obey, love, deny oneself, take up the cross, follow, lose one’s life, “hate” one’s family, etc.;
salvation is a new birth, but discipleship is a lifetime of growth;
salvation depends on Christ’s cross for all men,
but discipleship depends on a believer carrying his cross for Christ; salvation is a response to Christ’s death and resurrection,
but discipleship is a response to Christ’s life;
salvation determines eternal destiny,
but discipleship determines eternal and temporal rewards;
salvation is obtained by faith, but discipleship is obtained by works.
There is also evidence that the experience of discipleship varied among believers in the Gospels.
Though obviously saved, some never followed Christ in the fullest sense of leaving their homes and families (e.g., Mary, Martha, Lazarus).
In addition to the secret disciple, Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:38),
the Jewish rulers mentioned in John 12:42 believed in Christ,
but did not confess Him publicly. 177
All these are examples of believers yet to meet the conditions of full discipleship.
Jesus appears to have accepted these various degrees of discipleship.
He rebuked the Twelve’s exclusivistic attitude toward a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but who was not following Christ as they were (Matt 10:42/Mark 9:38-41/Luke 9:49-50).
Though he was not following “with” (met_, Luke 9:49) the disciples,
Jesus implies that the man was a disciple,
who nonetheless, will be rewarded someday (Matt 10:42).
His teaching on this occasion is unsettlingly inclusive:
“For he that is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:38-41).
In addition, Jesus was selective about whom He personally invited to follow Him and challenged or warned volunteers (Luke 9:57-62).
Again, this is quite different from His open invitations to salvation.
It is disturbing to take the conclusions of the Lordship position to their inevitable end.
If the deeper relationship of discipleship is not distinguished from salvation, then many or most professing evangelicals are lost.
Hull speaks of “disciples indeed” when he writes,
If disciples are born not made, while these characteristics would take time to develop, they would develop 100 percent of the time in the truly regenerate. Therefore, every single Christian would be a healthy, reproducing believer. If people did not reflect the disciple’s profile, then they would not be Christians.
If disciples are born and not made, non-Christians dominate the evangelical church. A generous estimate would find no more than 25 percent of evangelicals meeting Christ’s standard for a disciple. As stated earlier, only 7 percent have been trained in evangelism, and only 2 percent have introduced another to Christ. By Christ’s definition, disciples reproduce themselves through evangelism. If one takes the “disciples are born and not made” theology and joins it to the definition of a disciple given by Jesus and then adds the objective facts concerning today’s evangelical church, the results are alarming. At least 75 percent of evangelicals are not Christians, because they just don’t measure up to Christ’s standards of what it means to be a disciple. 178
Lordship Salvation teaching appears to have imposed a standard most professing Christians cannot meet.
Discipleship as Related to the Freeness of the Gospel
Lordship proponents have no reservations about calling salvation costly. They speak of “costly grace” as opposed to “cheap grace.”
If the Bible teaches that a sinner is saved by grace,
then it is a grace that must cost him something.
Yet, Lordship proponents maintain militantly that salvation is not of works, but a free gift.
It is difficult for many of the Free Grace persuasion to understand
how these claims do not teach a works salvation,
or at the least, how they are not theological double talk.
It is common to find Lordship Salvation teachers speaking of the “costly yet free” aspects of their gospel in terms of a paradox.
Eternal life is indeed a free gift (Rom 6:23). Salvation cannot be earned with good deeds or purchased with money. It has already been bought by Christ, who paid the ransom with his blood. But that does not mean there is no cost in terms of salvation’s impact on the sinner’s life. This paradox may be difficult but it is nevertheless true: salvation is both free and costly. 179
FG: It is not perfectly clear what MacArthur means by
“cost in terms of salvation’s impact on the sinner’s life.”
Here he seems to be saying that the effect (“impact”) of salvation
after it is received exacts a price of obedience, surrender, etc.,
from the one who was saved.
If this is the case, then the reception of the gift of salvation should still
be spoken of as free; it is only subsequent sanctification that is costly.
This does not present a paradox at all.
However, the sum of MacArthur’s teaching up to this point makes it clear that the reception of salvation is costly. 180
If salvation could somehow be free but costly, then this might be called a paradox; but would also strain the legitimate use of the term “paradox.”
Butcher comments on MacArthur’s use of the term in relation to a free and costly salvation:
…a paradox, correctly defined, is a statement that may seem unbelievable or absurd but may be actually true in fact. Thus in this situation, to be a true paradox the term “gift” must be able to involve the concept of “necessary cost” to the receiver. This is, however, a logical (as well as theological, cf. Rom 11:6) impossibility. Just as “up” cannot equal “down,” or it is no longer “up,” as soon as a gift necessitates a price from the receiver, the gift is no longer a gift. It has become a possession purchased by the receiver.
Applied to the question at hand, to say that the gift of eternal life involves necessary cost to the unbeliever is not to state a paradox but a logical absurdity. It is a statement that has no possibility of being true if language is to retain meaning and ability to communicate. Truly, Christ calls the believer to a life of costly discipleship after receiving the gift of salvation. But to imply that the price of commitment is demanded as part of receiving the gift is to portray a gospel of nonsense (emphasis his). 181
Thus under the label of “paradox,” the Lordship position attempts
to maintain theological orthodoxy (justification by faith alone)
while demanding a price from the sinner (costly grace).
But Butcher is correct; Rom 11:6 makes works and grace mutually exclusive, as does Rom 4:5: “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt” (cf. Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5-7).
It may cost to be or continue as a Christian, but not to become a Christian. To cite biblical examples where the gospel is presented without cost would be superfluous.
The only sense in which salvation is costly is in the fact that Jesus Christ paid the supreme price, his life, for the sinner’s redemption.
Unfortunately, this is not the focus of Lordship teaching,
which finds cost in the human conditions for salvation.
But to the sinner, salvation is absolutely free.
If it were costly to him in any sense, then it could no longer be of grace and Christianity would take its place alongside the rest of the world’s religions.
Discipleship as a Christian Duty
Discipleship, when used by Jesus to denote the fullest commitment to Him, is the activity of Christians, not sinners.
There are a number of biblical reasons for this.
First, sinners are incapable of making the mature decisions
of complete surrender, willingness to obey, or submission to God’s will
for the totality of their lives and for all the days of their lives.
This is an unreasonable expectation from those dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-3) whose understanding is veiled by Satan (2 Cor. 4:3-4).
Second, the Bible teaches that commitment and obedience come in retrospective response to grace, not in prospective anticipation of it.
Many verses appeal for commitment on the basis of grace already received (e.g., Rom12:1; Eph. 4:1; Col. 2:6).
The teaching of Titus 2:11-12 is especially relevant
for it explicitly relates grace to the believer’s sanctification:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.
The result of the appearance of salvation by grace
is expressed by the participle paide_ousa from paideuw,
“to bring up, instruct, train, educate.” 182
The circumstantial character of this participle indicates that the teaching about godly living was coincidental with the appearance of grace.
Thus the grace received in salvation is the basis of further Christian commitment, not vice versa.
It is also significant that Paul uses a verb to express the idea of training that is different from the idea usually related to discipleship expressed by maqhteuw.
This verb of choice is rooted in Greek idea of training a child (paidion). 183
Grace received, takes an immature person and trains him toward godliness. It is somewhat surprising that Poe, after arguing a Lordship Salvation view of discipleship-salvation, asserts that free grace is the basis for discipleship:
Discipleship will not improve by making the demands of Christianity more vigorous in the presentation of the gospel. Rather, discipleship will grow increasingly more prevalent as we give more attention to the gracious benefits of Christ in the gospel. Christ alone supplies sufficient motive to follow Christ. The love, joy, and peace of the relationship with Christ creates the compulsion to follow. 184
The New Testament admonitions to commit one’s life to godly principles
on the basis of grace received would seem superfluous
if such a commitment was understood and made before salvation.
Thus the commitment of discipleship
(in the sense of a deeper relationship with Christ)
is expected of Christians only.
Discipleship as Related to the Reality of Sin in Believers
No one of the Lordship position seems to deny the reality of sin
in the life of those who believe or those who are disciples.
However, Lordship Salvation adherents do teach that
no “true” believer/disciple will continue in sin. MacArthur writes,
The mark of a true disciple is not that he never sins, but when he does sin he inevitably returns to the Lord to receive forgiveness and cleansing. Unlike a false disciple, the true disciple will never turn away completely. 185
According to their view, to believe (or become a disciple) means to enter the Christian life with a full commitment to submit to Christ and obey Him. However, this seems to leave little room for the biblical teaching Christians can be babes in Christ who are less than submissive and obedient.
Paul’s words to the Corinthian believers indicate such was the case:
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:1-3).
In this passage there is a definite contrast made between those who are “spiritual” and those who are “carnal.”
Paul’s description of these Corinthians as babes appears to hinge on
their chronological age in Christ as well as their fleshly behavior. 186
Verse 3 explains (introduced by an explanatory gar) that they are unable to take solid food because they are still carnal, as evidenced by their “envy, strife, and divisions.”
“Carnal” is sarkinos (UBS, v. 1) and sarkikos (twice in v. 3, once in v. 4). While the former may simply refer to their humanness (consisting of flesh, made of flesh), the latter surely denotes the moral idea of “belonging to the realm of the flesh in so far as it is weak, sinful, and transitory.” 187
These Christians were continuing in sin. 188
In response, Lordship proponents could argue that the Corinthians later repented and returned to a spiritual walk with God (2 Cor. 7:8-11),
thus showing final perseverance.
But this would ignore the fact that some of the Corinthian Christians had already died in their carnal condition.
Paul’s rebukes their neglectful observance of Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34) and mentions that the result of their abuse was
“many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep” (1 Cor. 11:30).
The term “sleep” (koimaw) is a euphemism Paul used to describe death for Christians. 189
These Christians did not return to the Lord as Lordship advocates teach they should have, but apparently they were disciplined by death
because they would not return to the Lord.
If Lordship Salvation is correct, the carnal Corinthian believers of
1 Corinthians 3 had broken their discipleship-salvation commitment.
But neither Lordship Salvation nor the Scriptures posit how soon after one believes/commits he may break the commitment, or to what degree. 190
This makes the Lordship view of salvation subject to arbitrary standards to define conduct necessary for those who would be accepted as truly saved. It does not deal satisfactorily with the reality of sin in the believer’s life and the process of growth and maturity. 191
The meaning of “disciple” is more fluid
than many on both sides of the Lordship controversy may wish to admit. This makes a definitive study difficult and absolute statements suspect.
However, several things can be concluded with some degree of certainty.
The lexical and contextual evidence showed that in relation to Christ,
the word “disciple” could be used to refer to unsaved followers,
believing followers, and fully committed followers.
Synonym “follow” didn’t speak of an invitation to salvation except when used as a metaphor for “believe” in 2 metaphorical contexts (Jn 8:12; 10:27).
Likewise, the biblical evidence failed to support the idea that the call to discipleship was a call to salvation.
The hard conditions set forth by Jesus were for those
who would follow Him in a life of obedience to the Father’s will.
The account of the rich young ruler used to support Lordship Salvation, shows only that Jesus was trying to convince the man of his unrighteousness and need of salvation and was thus pre-evangelistic.
The early calls of the disciples show that discipleship is a progressive experience in which believers are continually challenged
to become more fully disciples of Christ.
Though “disciple” may be used to describe any follower of Jesus Christ, even curious unbelievers, the preponderance of its uses by Christ
refer to those accepting the challenge to follow Him
in a deeper commitment of obedience, self-denial, and submission.
Committed discipleship is always costly and must be properly distinguished from salvation, which is always free.
The concept of discipleship-salvation with its commitment to faithfulness does not adequately face the reality of sin in the lives of believers.
The grace that brings salvation is the motivation that leads the believer
to pay the cost of discipleship and live a godly life.
CHAPTER 6: SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS.
Lordship Salvation was defined and documented as the belief that one is saved by submitting to Jesus Christ as Lord and Master of one’s life.
This involves in one act of faith not only submitting to Christ for the
forgiveness of sin, but also submitting to God’s will in every area of one’s life.
Free Grace view teaches one is saved by personally trusting or relying
upon the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior who forgives sin.
The Free Grace view holds that submission of all of one’s life is desirable,
but an issue distinct from the issue of salvation.
The general definition of Lordship Salvation presented in the introduction to the study is consistent with its particular beliefs in four specific areas of concern:
1) faith in relation to salvation;
2) repentance in relation to salvation;
3) Christ’s lordship in relation to salvation; and
4) discipleship in relation to salvation.
Consideration of the issue, an evaluation of the lexical arguments, an evaluation of the biblical arguments, and a proposed biblical understanding was carried out.
Faith and Salvation
While both Lordship and Free Grace advocates consider faith the crucial response necessary for salvation, there’s disagreement over volitional nature of saving faith. Free Grace position contends that saving faith is a simple personal trust or confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ to keep His promise to give eternal life,
But the Lordship position argues for more.
To them, faith is not only trust, but includes the concept of obedience
which results in visible, measurable works.
It is also a personal submission to Christ’s lordship as a condition of saving faith.
LS argue the Bible allows for a deficient or spurious faith which does not save.
L S say, as a gift of God with an inherent divine dynamic,
faith insures obvious measurable works and perseverance.
Each of these arguments was evaluated lexically and biblically.
Lexically, Lordship proponents argue that pisteuw have the sense of “obey” because of its relation to peiqw, which sometimes means obey.
Both words are derived from the root piq-, which also has the sense of “obey.”
FG: It was concluded defining pisteuw in such a way is the result of faulty linguistic reasoning or theological speculation more than evidence from usage and context. Also, the Lordship position asserts that when used with the prepositions epi, eis, or en, pisteuw denotes the volitional aspect of believing distinct from the merely intellectual denoted by pisteuw plus the dative or pisteuw plus @oti.
Distinction between the intellect and the will was found to be artificial not biblical.
FG: When considering Lordship arguments from specific Bible passages,
it was determined that the Lordship Salvation position has defined faith
with additions which cannot be supported from the Scriptures.
Used to argue that faith is obedience were
Rom 1:5; 16:26; John 3:36; Acts 6:7; 2 Thess 1:7-8; Heb 3:18-19; 4:6; and 5:9.
It was found that these passages do not equate faith with obedience in general. Saving faith is obedience in the specific sense that it is the act of obeying
the biblical command to believe in the gospel.
It is not synonymous with obedience to all of God’s will.
Lordship Salvation also argues that “genuine” saving faith
will result in abundant and measurable good works.
Such works are a necessary qualification of saving faith.
James 2:14-26 is a crucial passage in their argument, and to a lesser degree,
Jn 15:1-8; Mt 7:15-20; 21-23; Jn 6:28-29; Gl 5:6; 1 Thes 1:3; 2 Thes 1:11; Eph 2:10.
FG: It was concluded that these passages do not support the Lordship argument. Properly keeping works in the realm of Christian experience
necessarily divorces them from the act and meaning of saving faith in and of itself in regard to the unbeliever.
Faith as submission to Christ as Master of one’s life was argued by Lordship proponents from John 1:12.
FG: A critique of this argument showed that John 1:12 did not support faith as submission.
The more involved Lordship definition of faith leads to the argument that there are examples of spurious faith in the Scriptures.
Examples considered were John 2:23-25; 8:30-31; and Luke 8:4-8, 11-15.
FG: The conclusion of this study is that these passages do not demand a spurious faith, but demonstrate, or at least allowed for, real saving faith.
Also considered was the Lordship argument from Eph 2:8-9 that faith
is a gift of God which has in and of itself the divine power to produce works.
FG: A critique of the argument concluded that this view depends on a questionable interpretation of Eph 2:8-9 which confuses the power of the Holy Spirit with faith as the means of appropriating the power of the Holy Spirit.
In response to the Lordship view of faith, it was argued that the Bible presents faith as a personal, simple, non-meritorious, volitional response of trusting in God’s Word.
The separation of faith into mental, emotional, and volitional aspects cannot be supported from the Bible. Biblical faith assumes all of these aspects. Lordship Salvation necessarily places an unbiblical emphasis on the quality or kind of faith that saves to the detriment of the object of faith, the Lord Jesus Christ. Saving faith saves because it focuses on the Savior.
Repentance and Salvation
The controversy over repentance concerns the scope of its meaning in soteriological contexts.
The Lordship Salvation position takes repentance to mean a turning from sin and sins which is necessary for salvation.
By association with metamlomai and epistrfw it is argued that the word metanoew denotes both regret for sins and turning from sins.
FG: The study concluded that this argument is not supported from biblical usage. Furthermore, “repent” is not an accurate translation of metanoew,
which has the basic meaning “change the mind.”
Key Bible passages considered did not substantiate the Lordship understanding of repentance.
An evaluation of the passages concern the offer of salvation by John the Baptist (Matt 3:2, 11; Mark 1:4/Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24),
Jesus Christ (Matt 4:17/Mark 1:15; Matt 11:20-21/Luke 10:13; Matt 9:13/Mark 2:17/Luke 5:32; Matt 12:41/Luke 11:32; Luke 13:3, 5; Luke 15; 16:30; 24:47),
and the Apostles (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 14:15 [with 1 Thess 1:9]; 17:30; 20:21) showed that metanoew should be taken in its basic sense of “change the mind.”
In these passages, that about which the mind changed was not always sin or sins, but could also be God or one’s opinion about Jesus Christ.
Turning from sins is more accurately a result of repentance in some of the passages and should not be confused with repentance itself.
When sins are closely associated with repentance in Bible passages
(2 Cor 12:21; Heb 6:1; Rev 2; 3; 9:20-21; 16:9),
it is usually Christians who are in view, not unbelievers.
Turning from specific sins is not required of the unbeliever to secure salvation.
The exception of the unbelievers in Revelation 9:20-21 and 16:9
is not an offer of salvation.
FG: Passages used by Lordship proponents to define repentance in terms of its
fruits or works (Matt 3:8/Luke 3:8; Acts 26:20) did not support that understanding.
It was argued that though there is a logical relationship between repentance and its fruits, the term repentance itself does not require resultant works for its meaning.
The argument that repentance was a divine gift and thus encompasses divine power to produce works was also evaluated.
FG: The three passages which speak of repentance as a gift
(Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25) and Rom 2:4
probably do not mean that repentance is a divine power that effects change.
This would confuse repentance with the Holy Spirit’s power.
FG: It was suggested the idea of “gift” referred to the opportunity for repentance, the effect of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God
(metonymy of effect for cause), or the whole activity of God’s overwhelming work to convince people of His goodness, leads them to change their minds about Him.
Narrative accounts of salvation in the Gospels are used by the Lordship Salvation position to argue for an emphasis on repentance in salvation.
FG: It was noted that some key narratives used by them
(John 3; 4; Luke 7:37-50; 18:9-14; 19:1-10)
do not emphasize repentance or even mention repentance explicitly as a condition of salvation, though the accounts may, to various degrees, illustrate repentance. From this it was concluded that the Lordship emphasis on repentance, and their criticism of those who do not emphasize repentance, is unwarranted.
The conclusion was sustained that repentance is the inward change in thinking, which is distinct from, but normally leads to an outward change in conduct.
The biblical evidence indicates that repentance is an inward change in attitude
or disposition which must be distinguished from its outward results.
It is a volitional response to God’s demands that does not always involve a change of mind about sin, but sometimes a change of mind about God, Christ, or works. From surveying its frequency of usage and comparing it to the predominance of faith as the condition of salvation in the Bible, it was concluded that repentance does not deserve the emphasis that Lordship proponents propose for it.
A reason for this is that faith expresses the more specific change of mind about self in relation to Christ and His offer of salvation.
Repentance is the general change of mind which faith focuses on Jesus Christ for salvation.
Christ’s Lordship and Salvation
Though both the Lordship Salvation position and the Free Grace position agree that Christ’s lordship is essential for salvation, there is disagreement over how an unsaved person must respond to Christ’s lordship in order to be saved.
The Lordship position argues that salvation comes only to those sinners who submit or surrender to Christ as Lord of every area of life, or are willing to do so.
The lexical argument of the Lordship Salvation position which asserts that k?rios conveys the primary idea of sovereign rulership was not considered persuasive. It was shown from usage before and in the New Testament that k?rios denoted first deity as the term for Yahweh, then by implication sovereign Lord or Ruler and other functions (e.g., Creator, Judge, Redeemer).
FG; Bible passages which supposedly related
the position of Jesus as Lord to salvation were considered.
In Luke 2:11 and Phil 2:5-11 it was determined that a recognition of the objective position of Jesus as Lord does not demand a subjective voluntary response of submission to obtain salvation.
Voluntary submission is simply not the issue in these passages.
In 2 Pet 1:11 and 3:18 the personal relationship to Jesus as Lord
is used in non-soteriological contexts.
The argument that submission to Christ’s lordship was a critical element
in the apostolic proclamation was also examined.
It was concluded the arguments from Acts 2:36; 10:36; 16:31; and 2 Cor 4:5 do not prove a demand for personal submission of those to whom the Apostles preached. In every case the lack of explicit demands for submission
resulted in a Lordship Salvation argument based on implication.
The proclamations of Jesus’ exalted position and His objective authority
cannot be made into a demand for a sinner’s submission.
It was also by implication that Rom 10:9-10; 1 Cor 12:3; and John 20:28
were claimed by the Lordship position to be demands for submission.
Confession of Christ’s lordship in Rom 10:9-10 was seen as an acknowledgement through faith of His deity, and thus His authority to save, rule, and other ideas.
The passages in 1 Corinthians and John were not soteriological in context.
In response to the Lordship position, biblical evidence was presented to show that the issue in salvation is salvation, not mastery.
The submission of one’s life to Jesus as Master may occur at or near
the time of salvation, but it is an issue of sanctification and the Christian life. Sinners should not be expected to make such a decision, though some may. Furthermore, it was observed the subjective nature of submission as requirement for salvation would make assurance unobtainable to the scrutinized life.
The major flaw of the Lordship Salvation argument about Christ’s Lordship, however, is its confusion of the objective position of Jesus Christ as Lord
with the subjective response of the individual.
There is no biblical warrant for making passages which speak of Christ’s position
as Lord a demand for personal submission for salvation.
It was also shown how the Bible contains examples of people
who were considered believers
though they were less than fully submitted to Jesus as Ruler of their lives.
Jesus is Lord of all regardless of one’s submission to Him.
Because He is Lord He has the power and position to save sinners.
Sinners who come to Him through faith implicitly or explicitly submit to His authority to save, and may likewise submit to His authority in other areas of life. But since the issue in salvation is salvation, only the recognition of His authority
to save is demanded for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Discipleship and Salvation
The central issue in this discussion is whether discipleship
is the same as salvation or something which follows salvation.
Lordship Salvation understands discipleship as synonymous with salvation.
The gospel call is a call to discipleship and salvation
which is costly in terms of sacrifice and submission.
The lexical argument attempting to equate the meaning of “disciple” (maqhths) and the idea of following (akolouqew) Christ with salvation was considered.
It was seen that these words by themselves do not distinguish between salvation or something more. Therefore, specific contexts were studied. In the Gospels, “disciple” is used of large multitudes that include unbelievers, believers in general, and those who submit to Christ in total obedience.
Acts presents all believers as “disciples” because it was expected and reported that nearly every believer went on to grow
in the Apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, and prayer as part of a new community. “Following” Christ has the same significance as discipleship in that it denotes a life of obedience and submission and does not describe initial salvation
except in two rare metaphorical uses (John 8:12; 10:27).
The first biblical arguments evaluated concerned the sayings of Jesus which presented discipleship as costly (Matt 16:24-27/Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-26).
It was concluded these conditions should be understood in light of
Christ’s prediction of His own crucifixion in fulfillment of the Father’s will.
Since they were directed primarily to the disciples who were already saved,
they were designed to challenge them to fulfill God’s will
with similar self-denial and submission.
It was seen that though Lordship proponents interpret many of the conditions correctly in their specific meaning, they incorrectly apply them to salvation.
This is also true for the other conditions examined
(Matt 10:37/Luke 14:26; Matt 11:28-30).
The account of the rich young ruler (Mt 19:16-21/ Mark 10:17-22/Luke 18:18-23) is the key narrative used to support Lordship doctrine.
It was concluded that the Lordship Salvation interpretation errs
in seeing Jesus’ directions to the ruler as an explanation of how to be saved.
It is better to see Jesus’ directions as a pre-evangelistic attempt
to bring the ruler to a recognition of his need of God’s grace as a sinner.
The other narrative argument from the calling of the first disciples
(Matt 4:18-22/Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11)
does not show that Jesus was calling them to salvation.
On examination the accounts showed that discipleship
was a progression of commitment for the Christian.
The parables of the treasure and the pearl (Matt 13:44-46)
were summoned as evidence for the Lordship idea of a costly salvation.
However, it was demonstrated that neither individual salvation
nor the cost of salvation is the subject of these parables.
In attempting to articulate a biblical understanding of discipleship,
it was first necessary to call attention to the distinct differences
between salvation and discipleship
while recognizing some congruity due to the fluidity of the concept of disciple. While it was shown initially a “disciple” can be a curious unsaved person or any follower of Christ, there is the frequent special use in the Gospels which refers
to those who assume a deeper commitment to follow and obey the Lord.
Discipleship in this deeper sense is always costly.
It was concluded that Lordship teachers who speak of “costly grace” or
“costly salvation” have confused this sense of discipleship with salvation.
Instead of a paradox, they have embraced a theological problem of salvation
that is merited which conflicts with the scriptural presentation
of the freeness of the gospel.
It was also argued that discipleship is a duty of Christians
who have realized the grace of God, not unbelievers.
The biblical appeal is for obedience and submission on the basis of God’s grace received in salvation.
Furthermore, the Lordship position’s discipleship-salvation construct
does not adequately address the reality of sin and carnality in the believer.
It was shown that believers could be living in sin and could even persist in their sin until their death.
A “disciple” in the general sense is a “learner” or “follower.”
In regards to Christ, it is a one who follows and learns from Him.
In the sense in which Christ taught the conditions of discipleship in the Gospels,
a disciple is one who submits to Jesus Christ as Lord over every area of life.
This is experienced in a progressive sense,
so that the disciple is always challenged to become more fully a disciple.
This study has demonstrated many differences between the beliefs of
Lordship Salvation and what has been called the Free Grace position.
These differences go beyond semantics.
They are ultimately shaped in the crucible of biblical theology.
In this study, much emphasis has been placed on differences
between the two positions.
It should be noted that agreement also exists. Both views are attempting to spread a pure gospel that reduces the number of worldly Christians in the church. Both hold to the necessity of faith and repentance for salvation.
Both views also teach that Jesus is Lord over all
and that this is crucial in order for salvation to be accomplished.
Both views believe that discipleship is intricately associated with salvation
and desirable for all people.
FG: However, the differences between the two positions
makes this study a serious necessity.
This writer has found the Lordship Salvation system of belief and argumentation
to be filled with theologically predisposed interpretations
of key soteriological terms and Bible passages.
The result is a doctrine that confuses the issues of salvation with the issues of the Christian life. It does this by misconstruing the gospel and the free grace of God. Of great concern is how this doctrine will hinder conversions,
rob introspective converts of joyful assurance, and impose
on all Christians a subtly legislated standard of acceptable Christian morality, which in the end could encourage externalism.
It is suggested that the problem which Lordship Salvation attempts to resolve,
that of worldly Christians, can best be resolved by magnifying the grace of God. This grace, when understood and appreciated,
is the principle that transforms believers into true godliness. This grace
is communicated from God to man by the gospel of faith alone in Christ alone.
Theological Issues Related to the Lordship Salvation Controversy
Faith, repentance, Christ’s lordship, and discipleship.
The Relationship of Law to Grace
One overarching theological disagreement concerns the relationship between law and grace which shape the doctrine of salvation.
At issue is the role of the law in the New Testament.
The merit of some dispensational views of the Scriptures is disputed.
Mueller understands New Testament law as including
“the Moral Law of the Old Testament, the Word of Christ in the New Test, as well as the commandments of Christ and the Sermon on the Mount”
and considers it “the focal point of the obedience of faith.” 1
He criticizes those who totally dichotomize law and grace
and make grace the chief principle of the Christian life.
Of Chafer he says,
[I believe] that L. S. Chafer built a system of theology on the basic axiom or presupposition of a total dichotomy between LAW and GRACE. The latter are two mutually exclusive poles in Chafer’s thinking and this fundamental conception becomes a veritable criterion of reduction running throughout all of Chafer’s theology. Chafer related the whole of the Christian life to Grace—both Justification and Sanctification (emphasis his). 2
Dispensationalism itself is not considered the enemy of Lordship Salvation, but “extreme” forms are:
“Non-lordship salvation is grounded upon an extremedispensationalism.” 3
While affirming that “Dispensationalism is a fundamentally correct system
of understanding God’s program through the ages,”
MacArthur goes on to state a criticism:
There is a tendency, however, for dispensationalists to get carried away with compartmentalizing truth to the point that they can make unbiblical distinctions.An almost obsessive desire to categorize everything neatly has led various dispensationalist interpreters to draw hard lines not only between the church and Israel, but also between salvation and discipleship, the church and the kingdom, Christ’s preaching and the apostolic message, faith and repentance, and the age of law and grace.
The age of law/grace division in particular has wreaked havoc on dispensationalist theology and contributed to confusion about the doctrine of salvation?
It is no wonder that the evangelistic message growing out of such a system differs sharply from the gospel according to Jesus. If we begin with the presupposition that much of Christ’s message was intended for another age, why should our gospel be the same as the one He preached? 4
Where the influence of dispensational theology is most criticized
is over the issue of repentance.
It is claimed by some in the Lordship position that the Free Grace position has succumbed to the tendency to compartmentalize scriptural truth
by denying that repentance is necessary for salvation today.
Some of the most prominent of those who are pleased to style themselves “teachers of dispensational truth” insist that repentance belongs to a past period, being altogether “Jewish,” and deny in toto that, in this age, God demands repentance from the sinner before he can be saved (emphasis his) 5
Those of the Free Grace position have not responded directly
in the context of the Lordship controversy to the Lordship criticism
that the law is undermined in favor of grace in salvation.
In general, arguments have been presented in the theological works
of defenders of dispensationalism like Chafer and Ryrie.
However, dispensational distinctives between the age of law and the age of grace, or the distinctives between God’s dealings with Israel and the church, are sometimes cited in order to argue that repentance is not demanded
of unbelievers in the church age as an addition to faith.
Chafer writes, “while covenant people are appointed to national or personal adjustment to God by repentance as a separate act,
there is no basis either in reason or revelation for the demand to be made that an unregenerate person in this age must add
a covenant person’s repentance to faith in order to be saved.” 6
Others argue from a similar dispensational stance that some New Test passages were addressed exclusively to Israel in the context of
the Mosaic covenant and do not apply to those not under the covenant. 7
On the other hand, those of the Free Grace persuasion who view repentance as a change of mind do not rely on dispensational truth alone
in their understanding of repentance,
but depend on lexical and contextual evidence.
The relationship of law to grace has been the subject of countless books and studies.
The conclusions of such study, along with careful biblical analysis,
could be applied helpfully to the Lordship Salvation debate.
The Relationship of Justification to Sanctification
The relationship between justification of the believer and the sanctification of the believer is also disputed in the Lordship Salvation debate.
Both sides agree that the two concepts are related.
The major disagreement concerns the degree to which justification determines a believer’s sanctification. 8
Representative arguments will illustrate the debate.
On the Lordship side, MacArthur’s arguments exemplify the position:
?While justification and sanctification are distinct theological concepts,
both are essential elements of salvation.
God will not declare a person righteous without also making him righteous.
Salvation includes all God’s work on our behalf, from His foreknowledge of us before the foundation of the world to our ultimate glorification in eternity future (Romans 8:29-30).
One cannot pick and choose, accepting eternal life while rejecting holiness and obedience.
When God justifies an individual He also sanctifies him (emphasis his). 9
MacArthur is careful to separate sanctification from justification
in that “sanctification is a characteristic of all those who are redeemed,
not a condition for their receiving salvation (emphasis his).” 10
Mueller criticizes the Free Grace position of Chafer and others:
Although recognizing “salvation” as a comprehensive or multi-faceted work,
those who deny Lordship as integral to salvation
also separate justification from any necessary relationship to sanctification.
One can enjoy the judicial position of the former
without necessarily practicing the latter (emphasis his). 11
The concern of Lordship adherents is that this proposed
separation of justification from sanctification leads to antinomianism
or an excuse for carnality.
This touches on the law/grace issue once again.
In his criticism of Chafer, Mueller writes,
Chafer has a very antinomian view of the Christian life whereby
Law is separated from Grace, Justification is separated from Sanctification,
and Christianity is divided up into two classes—
“the great mass of carnal Christians” and the “Spirit-filled Christians.” 12
FG: On the other side, the Free Grace position believes that the distinction between justification and sanctification is confused in Lordship Salvation. Zuck writes,
The Lordship view does not clarify the distinction between sanctification and justification, or between discipleship and sonship.
It mixes the condition with the consequences.
It confuses becoming a Christian with being a Christian (emphasis his). 13
Ryrie argues that such a confusion implies or comes dangerously close
to injecting works into salvation:
Many misconceive justification as making us righteous rather than declaring us righteous.In other words, they think that our inward state of holiness, if enough, will cause God to rule in our favor.Our good works which make us righteous to one degree or another will result in some degree of justification. According to this misconception, justification can grow as we grow more righteous, and justification can be diminished and even lost if we become less righteous.Even though we acknowledge that God enables us to do good works, in the final analysis justification depends on us. 14
In a response to MacArthur’s Lordship view on faith, Radmacher also states his concern over the Lordship view of justification and sanctification:
I fear that some current definitions of faith and repentance are not paving the way back to Wittenburg but, rather, paving the way back to Rome. Justification is becoming “to make righteous” rather than “to declare righteous.” 15
Further study should define justification and sanctification
and the exact relationship between the two doctrines.
It should distinguish between positional and practical ramifications considering what degree of good works, if any,
is guaranteed by God’s act of justification.
Security, Perseverance, and Assurance
Generally, those on both sides of the Lordship debate do not dispute the eternal security of the believer. 16
However, there is disagreement over the validity of the
doctrine of the perseverance of the believer with implications
for the related doctrine of the assurance of the believer.
Boice associates perseverance with his concept of discipleship-salvation,
The final important element in following Christ is perseverance.This is because following is not an isolated act, done once and never to be repeated. It is a lifetime commitment that is not fulfilled here until the final barrier is crossed, the crown received, and it and all other rewards laid gratefully at the feet of Jesus.
?this is to say that discipleship is not simply a door to be entered but a path to be followed and that the disciple proves the validity of his discipleship by following that path to the very end. 17
MacArthur also upholds the perseverance of the believer when he states,
For Paul, perseverance in the faith is essential evidence that faith is real.
For ultimately and finally to fall away from the faith proves that person never really was redeemed to begin with. 18
He relates perseverance to his view of faith as a divine gift:
As a divine gift, faith is neither transient nor impotent.It has an abiding quality that guarantees its endurance to the end?
The faith God begets includes both the volition and the ability to comply with His will (cf. Philippians 2:13).In other words, faith encompasses obedience. 19
Lordship doctrine believes assurance of salvation is dependent upon
one’s perseverance in the faith and accompanying good works.
MacArthur argues, Professing Christians utterly lacking the fruit of true righteousness will find no biblical basis for assurance they are saved?
?Genuine assurance comes from seeing the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in one’s life. 20
He believes, “The only validation of salvation is a life of obedience.It is the only possible proof that a person really knows Jesus Christ.” 21
Thus “Doubts about one’s salvation are not wrong
so long as they are not nursed and allowed to become an obsession.” 22
FG: Disputing the Lordship concept of perseverance,
some of the Free Grace position argue that a true believer
can persist stubbornly in unbelief and disobedience and still be saved. Hodges argues,
The simple fact is that the New Testament never takes for granted that believers will see discipleship through to the end. And it never makes this kind of perseverance either a condition or a proof of final salvation from hell. 23
Ryrie suggests that the security of the believer might better be framed
in terms of God’s preservation rather than the believer’s perseverance. 24
Butcher also argues from the many ethical requirements of the New Testament:
Commands to obey become irrelevant and illogical if obedience is assured.Either the NT honestly exhorts believers to obedient Christian living, understanding the real possibility of failure, or the strong ethical sections of the Apostles’ writings are reduced to logical absurdities. 25
Free Grace advocates insist that attempting to base assurance primarily on one’s works or submission to Christ as Lord make absolute assurance impossible because such an approach demands quantification which experience denies.
As Harrison asserts, The ground of assurance of salvation is endangered if surrender to Christ’s lordship is a part of that ground. Instead of looking to the sufficiency of Christ and His work of redemption, one is compelled to look within to see if he has yielded himself to the Son of God. If he is conscious of times in his life when he has denied the lordship of the Master (and who has not?) then he must logically question his standing before God. 26
Those who oppose Lordship Salvation maintain that assurance is derived primarily from faith in God’s Word. 27
Ryrie states that there are two grounds of assurance, the first is the objective Word of God which declares that a person is saved through faith; the second is the subjective experience of a changed life. 28
The biblical validity of the concept of perseverance and the biblical grounds of assurance must be considered in order to address the differences between Lordship Salvation and Free Grace.
The possibility of apostasy must also be evaluated biblically.
The Reality of Sin in the Believer
Controversy also swirls over the reality of sin in the believer.
This issue is often phrased in terms of the possibility of a “carnal Christian.”
Lordship Salvation denies there are two classes of Christians,
one walking in obedience and one not walking in obedience.
MacArthur, Mueller, Gentry, and ten Pas all criticize either
Chafer or Ryrie for their doctrine of the carnal Christian. 29
While affirming that Christians can fall into sin and act carnally,
Lordship proposes that “carnal Christian” is a “contradiction in terms.” 30
Repentance (in the sense of turning from sins) for salvation, Chantry writes,
In a panic over this phenomenon [of worldly Christians], the evangelicals have invented the idea of “carnal Christians.” These are said to be folks who have taken the gift of eternal life without turning from sin.They have “allowed” Jesus to be their Saviour; but they have not yielded their life to the Lord. 31
Lordship objection of a carnal Christian is theological, and practical.
They believe it encourages sin. Gentry observes,
“It actually seems as if sin among some (not all) of the Non-Lordship men was of little consequence at all.” 32
MacArthur states, The gospel in vogue today holds forth a false hope to sinners. It promises them they can have eternal life yet continue to live in rebellion against God.Indeed, it encourages people to claim Jesus as Savior yet defer until later the commitment to obey Him as Lord (emphasis his). 33
If one submits to Jesus as Lord, it is reasoned,
that person can and will not persist in a sinful lifestyle.
FG: Ryrie challenges such reasoning when he asks,
“As far as sanctification is concerned, if only committed people are saved people, then where is there room for carnal Christians?”
He then proposes biblical examples of “uncommitted believers.” 34
Ryrie thinks of the carnal Christian as a believer in whom are areas of both carnality and spirituality, rather than varying degrees of spirituality. 35
Chafer’s described the carnal Christian as one
who can receive only the milk of the Word,
who yields to envy and strife,
who is dominated by the flesh,
who is a “babe in Christ,” and
who is characterized by conduct in life that is on the same plane
as an unsaved person. 36
FG: Butcher finds theological difficulties with the denial of the existence of
a carnal Christian and Lordship’s view of the nature of sin in the believer. He claims that MacArthur’s view of the regenerated person
misunderstands the power of sin and the depth of human depravity.
He also argues that “to suggest that an unbeliever can and will develop mature Christian attitudes towards sin as a sign of readiness for regeneration?is beyond comprehension.” 37
Another concern of Free Grace advocates is that the Lordship view of sin
in the believer is unrealistic and experientially impractical.
Zuck argues, If one commits everything to Christ to be saved, where is there room for growth and development in the Christian life, as the Bible clearly encourages? And what happens if a believer falls into sin?
The lordship gospel does not make much allowance for carnality.
Not that carnality is condoned or should go unchallenged.
But it is seen in the Bible.
To say that every believer consistently obeys the Lord overlooks examples
of many believers in the Bible who lapsed into sin (emphasis his). 38
Further study should focus on what is the practical and theological difference, if any, between a Christian who sins and a “carnal Christian.”
A view of sanctification must be presented which
allows for the reality of sin yet acknowledges the new life of the believer.
1 Marc Mueller, “Syllabus,” 27.
2 Ibid., 11.
3 Belcher, Layman’s Guide, 101, 103.
4 MacArthur, The Gospel, 25, 27.
5 Pink, Salvation, 46. See also, MacArthur, The Gospel, 160-61; Gentry, “The Great Option,” BRR 5:57, 77; ten Pas, Lordship, 13. ten Pas asserts that not all dispensation-alists are opposed to the Lordship Salvation view of repentance, but “It is the Dallas Seminary variety of Dispensationalism that is antagonistic towards it.”
6 Chafer, Theology, 3:375-76. While Chafer believed that repentance should not be added to faith nor considered equivalent, he believed it was included in faith and sometimes used synonymously with faith (3:377).
7 Pentecost, Sound Doctrine, 65-68; Hodges, Free!, 158-60.
8 Meaning progressive sanctification in the Christian life, not positional or ultimate sanctification.
9 MacArthur, The Gospel, 187.
10 Ibid., 188.
11 Marc Mueller, “Syllabus,” 11.
12 Ibid., 13.
13 Zuck, “Cheap Grace?” KS 13:6.
14 Ryrie, Salvation, 129. See also, Zuck, “Cheap Grace?” KS 13:6.
15 Radmacher, “First Response to John F. MacArthur, Jr.,” JETS 33:40.
16 Two exceptions, for example, are Marshall and Shank who use Lordship Salvation as an argument against the doctrine of perseverance, yet deny the security of the believer. See Marshall, Kept by the Power, 200-11, and Shank, Life in the Son, 217-20.
17 Boice, Discipleship, 21-22.
18 MacArthur, The Gospel, 216.
19 Ibid., 173.
20 Ibid., 23.
21 Ibid., 194.
22 Ibid., 190.
23 Hodges, Free!, 80. See also, Ryrie, Salvation, 141-42.
24 Ryrie, Salvation, 137-42.
25 Butcher, “Critique,” JOTGES 2:43.
26 Harrison, “No,” Eternity 10:16; See also, Butcher, “Critique,” JOTGES 2:37, 41.
27 Hodges, Free!, 49-51.
28 Ryrie, Salvation, 143-44.
29 MacArthur, The Gospel, 23-25; Marc Mueller, “Syllabus,” 11, 13; Gentry, “The Great Option,” BRR 5:76; ten Pas, Lordship, 15-18.
30 The article, “Why the ‘Carnal Christian’ Is a Contradiction,” GYou 2 (Winter 1988): 3, is unsigned, but apparently authored by John MacArthur, Jr.
31 Chantry, Gospel, 54.
32 Gentry, “The Great Option,” BRR 5:76.
33 MacArthur, The Gospel, 15.
34 Ryrie, Balancing, 170-73.
35 Ryrie, Salvation, 64.
36 Chafer, He That Is Spiritual, 19-21.
37 Butcher, “Critique,” JOTGES 2:38-39.
38 Zuck, “Cheap Grace?” KS 13:7.
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1 Salvation, unless defined otherwise, in this study will denote eternal, eschatological salvation from hell which includes the concepts of justification and regeneration.
2 See Brian Bird, “Old Debate Finds New Life,” Christianity Today (CT) 33 (March 17, 1989): 38-40; S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., “How Faith Works,” CT 33 (September 22, 1989): 21-25; Robert Dean, Jr., “Gospel Wars, Part I,” Biblical Perspectives (BP) 3 (January-February 1990): 1-6.
3 For example, one should note these representative works from the Lordship Salvation position that criticize some modern evangelistic presentations and seek to clarify the biblical conditions of salvation: John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988); Walter Chantry, Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1970; reprint, 1985); A. W. Tozer, I Call It Heresy! (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1974).
4 Tozer, Heresy!, 9-20.
5 Charles Cadwell Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 170.
6 J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 73.
7 Charles Price, Real Christians (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1987), 55-56.
8 MacArthur, The Gospel, 190.
9 E.g., from the Lordship view see Richard P. Belcher, A Layman’s Guide to the Lordship Controversy (Southbridge, MS: Crowne Publications, 1990), 92; D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 96-97, 137; John F. MacArthur, Jr., “Faith According to the Apostle James,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) 33 (March 1990): 33; and non-Lordship proponents J. Kevin Butcher, “A Critique of The Gospel According to Jesus,” in Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society (JOTGES) 2 (Spring 1989): 27-43; Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely Free! (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House and Dallas: Redenci?n Viva, 1989), 213-18 (notes 4-5).
10 MacArthur’s book deserves two observations: 1) It is not comprehensive as it deals primarily with the Gospels and not the epistolary literature (except in an eight page appendix); 2) It does not present the strongest argument for Lordship Salvation because it begins with the Gospels to define the gospel instead of the theological interpretations of the Epistles.
11 Charles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989); See bibliography on previous page for Hodges, Absolutely Free!
12 This four-fold schema is the approach used by Kenneth L. Gentry in his key article “The Great Option: A Study of the Lordship Controversy,” Baptist Reformation Review (BRR) 5 (Spring 1976): 49-79 and is also supported by MacArthur (The Gospel, 159).
13 The designation “Lordship Salvation” is reluctantly accepted by both proponents and opponents (See MacArthur, The Gospel, ix-xiv, 28-29; Belcher, Layman’s Guide, 2). It is potentially misleading because non-Lordship advocates believe in the necessity of Christ’s lordship in salvation at least in the objective sense (See Arthur L. Farstad, “Jesus is Lord” JOTGES 2 Spring 1989.: 3-11). As defined by its own advocates, Lordship Salvation could more properly be called “Commitment Salvation,” “Surrender Salvation,” or “Submission Salvation” since in actuality the debate is not over the Lordship of Christ, but the response of a person to the gospel and the conditions which must be met for salvation. Nevertheless, in this study the position will be referred to as “Lordship Salvation” or simply “Lordship.”
14 Gentry, “The Great Option,” BRR 5:52.
15 Belcher, Layman’s Guide, 2.
16 However, a summary of the Lordship position in relation to these areas can be found in Gentry, “The Great Option,” BRR 5:76-77, and Belcher, Layman’s Guide, 53-60.
17 Gentry, “The Great Option,” BRR 5:49-50.
18 Opponents of Lordship Salvation believe Christ’s Lordship has great significance to salvation and do not teach it is “easy” to believe.
19 See chapter two.
20 Louis Berkhof, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1937), 207.
21 This is evidenced by the fact that MacArthur develops most of his historical argument from this period (MacArthur, The Gospel, 221-237).
22 Belcher, Layman’s Guide, 99.
23 See Thomas G. Lewellen, “Has Lordship Salvation Been Taught Throughout Church History?” Bibliotheca Sacra (BibSac) 147 (January-March 1990): 54-68. MacArthur’s survey of the reformers fails to show more than that they explicitly held to a form of perseverance that sees works as a validation of salvation. Noticeably absent from his citations are statements about the terms or conditions of salvation. See MacArthur, The Gospel, 221-26.
24 See R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979); M. Charles Bell, Calvin and Scottish Theology: The Doctrine of Assurance (Edinburgh: Handsel Press, 1985); Anthony N. S. Lane, “Calvin’s Doctrine of Assurance,” Vox Evangelica (VoxE) 11 (1979): 32-54. Kendall argues that English Calvinism departed from Calvin by separating assurance from faith so that a person had to scrutinize his or her faith and degree of godliness to determine faith’s genuineness. Bell built on Kendall’s work to argue that Calvin taught faith was passive, centered in the understanding, assurance was of the essence of faith, and faith was grounded in the person and work of Christ. He claims Scottish theology departed from Calvin in teaching that faith was primarily active, centered in the will, and separate from assurance so that assurance was a fruit of faith obtained from self-examination making the grounds of assurance more subjective. Lane also argues that Calvin taught assurance was the essence of faith and defends Kendall’s thesis that later Calvinism departed from this.
25 The Westminster Confession of Faith 18.2-3. See also Lewellen, “Lordship Salvation,” BibSac 147:58-59.
26 This occurred largely through his founding of and influence upon Dallas Theological Seminary which traditionally has held an interpretation of the gospel consistent with what is here called the Free Grace position.
27 Chafer’s chief works which addressed these issues were He That Is Spiritual (Grand Rapids: Dunham Publishing Company, 1918),
Grace: The Glorious Theme (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1922), and volume 3 of Systematic Theology (8 vols., Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-48).
28 Lewis Sperry Chafer, “The Terms of Salvation,” BibSac 107 (October-December 1950): 389-90. The article argues against these additions to faith: repentance, confession of Christ, baptism, surrender to God, confession of sin or restitution, imploring God to save.
29 See, for example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1963), 45-60, which was first published in 1937 and in English in 1949. His book was prompted by the accommodation of the church in Germany to Hitler. He was concerned about those members of the state church who presumed they were going to heaven but gave little or no place to the lordship of Christ in their daily affairs.
30 John R. W. Stott, “Must Christ Be Lord To Be Savior?–Yes,” Eternity 10 (September 1959): 15-18, 36-37. See also his book, Basic Christianity (London: InterVarsity Press, 1958), 109-18, 127-28.
31 Packer, Evangelism, 39, 71-73.
32 Tozer’s book (Heresy!) and Gentry’s article (“The Great Option,” BRR 5:) have already been cited; Arend J. ten Pas, The Lordship of Christ (n.p.: Ross House Books, 1978).
33 Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1981).
34 Marc Mueller, “Lordship Salvation Syllabus,” Panorama City, CA: Grace Community Church, 1981
35 James Montgomery Boice, Christ’s Call to Discipleship (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986).
36 Ryrie, So Great Salvation; Hodges, Absolutely Free!
37 This purpose statement can be found in each of the society’s newsletters and journals.
38 MacArthur, The Gospel, 16. See also Boice, Discipleship, 27.
Unfortunately, these statistics tend to mislead by exaggeration. The concern is not with all nominal Christians (which would include Catholics), but those who profess an evangelical born-again salvation experience of personal faith in Christ.
When the question is more carefully framed, the number of professing Christians shrinks dramatically. Recent studies using a more carefully worded question show that Gallop’s figures are about three times higher than the actual number of truly born-again Christians.
See Richard D. Dixon, Diane E. Levy, and Roger C. Lowery, “Asking the Born-Again’ Question,” Review of Religious Research (RRR) 30, (September 1988): 33-39.
39 Chantry, Gospel, 13-14. The way Lordship literature is generally introduced may lead one to believe that the pragmatic issue (uncommitted professing Christians) is more the motivation for their position than the theological issue (purity of the true gospel).
40 E.g., ibid., 13-18, 29, 45-46, 55, 64-66. See also J. I. Packer, “The Means of Conversion,” Crux 25 (December 1989): 14-22.
41 Chantry, Gospel, 14.
42 Tozer, Heresy!, 9.
43 So MacArthur, The Gospel, xiv; Belcher, Layman’s Guide, 105. For specific points of difference, see the introductory discussion of “The Issue” in each of the four subsequent chapters and the Appendix.
44 For a good overview and discussion of this issue, see Wagner, Church Growth, especially chapter 7, “The Gospel, Conversion, and Ethical Awareness.”
45 Jim Wallis, “Many to Belief, but Few to Obedience,” Sojourner’s (Soj) (March 1976): 20-21.
1 Louis Berkhof elaborated this definition of faith attributing its origin to the Reformers (Systematic Theology [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939], 496-97, 503-5). Berkhof, Charles Hodge, and John Murray are favorably cited by Ryrie (Salvation, 119-121), which shows some agreement between Reformed theology and the Free grace position on the volitional aspect of faith as the issue in salvation. Cf. Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967), 29; John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), 138.
3 Gentry, “The Great Option,” BRR 5:57.
4 MacArthur, The Gospel, 170, 179. MacArthur says this in spite of the fact that the Free Grace position clearly defines faith as “trust” or “confidence in”. It is an unfortunate straw man that clouds the issue.
In response to MacArthur, Ryrie burns the straw man by defending the necessity of historical and doctrinal facts and the nature of faith in them, which is clearly more than “casual acceptance” (Ryrie, Salvation, 13-16).
5 Marc Mueller, “Syllabus,” 20. Craig L. Miller also asserts that faith and obedience are sometimes used synonymously, yet goes on to say, “faith has within itself a dynamic element that reorients and impels the will toward obedience to its object.” The latter assertion seems different from his first.
It seems to this writer that Miller confusedly makes faith different but the same thing as obedience. See Craig L. Miller, “The Theological Necessity of Christ’s Lordship in Salvation” (Th.M. thesis, Talbot School of Theology, 1987), 74.
6 MacArthur, The Gospel, 178.
7 Ibid., 197; Chantry, Gospel, 60; Gentry, “The Great Option,” BRR 5:54.
8 MacArthur, The Gospel, 173.
9 A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BAGD), 1952 ed. S.v. “peiqw”, 644-45.
10 Gentry, “The Great Option,” BRR 5:54. Though Gentry never says how or why ‘to bind’ equals ‘to obey,’ B.B. Warfield, in a similar argument, claims that whatever a person considers binding upon himself is the object of that person’s faith. See B.B. Warfield, “On Faith in Its Psychological Aspects,” in Biblical and Theological Studies, 375-403, ed. Samuel Craig (Philadelphia, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1952), 375.
11 Marc Mueller, “Syllabus,” 19; Oswald Becker, s.v. “peiqomai,” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNTT) 1 (1975): 588.
12 Becker goes on to say that “Trust can refer to a statement, so that it has the meaning to put faith in, to let oneself be convinced, or to demand, so that it gets the meaning of obey, be persuaded (ibid., 588). But this lexical leap seems to beg the question, for though being persuaded is the basis for obedience, it is not the same thing.
13 Of the forty-some occurrences of peiqw in the New Testament, BAGD lists only four of these as probably translated, “obey, follow” (Gal. 3:1; 5:7; Heb. 13:17; James 3:3) and four more with the possible range of “be persuaded by someone’s advice or obey, follow someone” (Acts 5:36-37, 39; 23:21; 27:11; See BAGD, s.v. “peiqw,” 645).
14 Ibid., 644-45. Also, see Becker, s.v. “peiqomai,” NIDNTT 1:589; and Rudolph Bultmann, s.v. “peiqw,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) 6 (1968): 4-7.
15 James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (Glasgow: Oxford University Press, 1961), 102-3, 109. Colin Brown cites Barr and adds, “Words have histories as well as etymologies. The meaning of any given word in any given context depends at least as much upon the place and use of the word in that context as upon any supposed derivation,” (NIDNTT, 1:10). See also Moiss Silva, Biblical Words and Their Meaning (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), 25-26.
16 For criticisms of a number of standard dictionaries and how they carelessly handle pisteuo, see J. E. Botha, “The meanings of pisteuo in the Greek New Testament: A semantic-lexicographical study,” Neotestamentica (Neot) 21 (1987): 225-40. His chief criticism is that these works often demonstrate the lack of a definite semantic theory of methodology. This sometimes results in confusing the lexical meaning of a word like pisteuo with a theological concept.
17 MacArthur, The Gospel, 173-74. Cf. also ten Pas, Lordship, 14.
18 W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 4 vols. in one (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1966), 2:71. To “receive” in John 1:12 cannot be made to mean “surrender? without some persuasive lexical and biblical justification, which is lacking (See the discussion later in this chapter). Also, it is curious that Vine uses 2 Corinthians 5:7 and its words “For we walk by faith” as proof that faith refers to conduct, since this amounts to a meaningless tautology.
19 E.g., Gentry, “The Great Option,” BRR 5-54-55; MacArthur, The Gospel, 175; Marc Mueller, “Syllabus,” 6-7; Delbert Hooker, “The Echo of Faith,” Discipleship Journal(DJ)40 (1987): 33. The article cited is by Rudolf Bultmann, s.v. “pisteuo,” in TDNT 6 (1969): 174-228.
20 Bultmann, s.v. “pisteuo,” TDNT 6:203.
21 One example will suffice here to demonstrate the liberty Bultmann assumes with the biblical text. He claims that ?to believe? is ?to obey” is emphasized in Hebrews 11 (ibid.,6:205). However, this chapter does not prove that faith is obedience, but only that faith is behind the obedience of the characters named in the chapter. The relationship is cause and effect. The statement “by faith Abraham obeyed” (11:8) cannot make faith equal to obedience lest the statement become a meaningless tautology (“By obedience Abraham obeyed”). Besides, faithful Abraham did not always obey. All that can be concluded is that Abraham’s obedience was prompted by his faith. His faith is distinguished from his obedience, though his faith infers obedience.
22 Ibid., 6:211. Again, Barr speaks lucidly about the dangers of a prejudiced approach to linguistic study. His criticisms of Kittel’s dictionary in general are appropriate for Bultmann’s method in particular: “?the attempt to relate the individual word directly to the theological thought leads to the distortion of the semantic contribution made by words in contexts; the value of the context comes to be seen as something contributed by the word, and then it is read into the word as its contribution where the context is in fact different. Thus the word becomes overloaded with interpretive suggestions; and since a combination of words will be a combination of words each of which has some relation to the general theological structure of the NT, sentences acquire in interpretation that tautological air of which we have seen some examples” (emphasis added). Later he states, “Detailed linguistic uses being described are often related to these terms like heilsgeschichte or Revelation or Eschatology by mere association; that is, for example, if a word is used in a context which has something to say of the historical acts of God or of His purposes, the word is thus deemed to be filled with eschatological content or oriented to the history of salvation,” (Barr, Semantics, 233-34; 257).
23 For this same criticism of Bultmann see Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St. John, 2 vols. (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968), 1:562.
24 Gentry, “The Great Option,” BRR 5:55-56. Others who would concur include George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), 272; C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: The University Press, 1953), 184; Robert L. Palmer, “Repentance, Faith, and Conversion: An Approach to the Lordship Controversy” (Th.M. thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, 1982), 79-80.
25 Pisteuw eis with accusative: 1:12; 2:11, 23; 3:16, 18a, 18c, 36; 4:39, 6:29, 35, 40; 7:5, 31, 38, 39, 48; 8:30; 9:35, 36; 10:42; 11:25, 26a, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 42, 44 (twice), 46; 14:6 (twice), 12; 16:9; 17:20.
Pisteuw with dative: 2:22; 4:21, 50; 5:24, 38, 46 (twice), 47 (twice); 6:30; 8:31, 45, 46; 10:37, 38 (twice); 12:38; 14:11a.
Pisteuw @oti: 4:21; 6:69; 8:24; 11:27, 42; 13:19; 14:10, 11a; 16:27, 30; 17:8, 21; 20:31a.
Pisteuw used absolutely: 1:7, 50; 3:12 (twice), 15, 18b; 4:41, 42, 48, 53; 5:44; 6:36, 47, 64 (twice); 9:38; 10:25, 26; 11:15, 40; 12:39; 14:11b, 29; 16:31; 19:35; 20:8, 25, 29 (twice), 31b.
Pisteuw with neuter accusative: 11:26b
Special construction and non-religious usage: 2:24; 9:18.
26 Schnackenburg, John, 1:561.
27 See also: John 11:42; 13:19; 14:10; 17:8, 21; 1 John 5:1, 5.
28 Unfortunately and unnecessarily the NKJV inserts the word “in.” This non-prepositional construction is also used soteriologically in 1 John 5:10.
29 Cf. John 4:39 with 42; 11:45 with 42; 14:12 with 11; 17:20b with 8 and 21. See Gordon H. Clark, Faith and Saving Faith (Jefferson, MD: Trinity Foundation, 1983), 101; Bultmann, s.v. “Pisteuo,” TDNT6:203; Schnackenburg, John, 1:561; Richard Christianson, “The Soteriologicai Significance of PISTEUO in the Gospel of John” (Th.M. thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, 1987); E. Herbert Nygren, “Faith and Experience,” The Covenant Quarterly (CovQ) 41 (August 1983): 41-42; Elizabeth Jarvis, “The Key Term ‘Believe’ in the Gospel of John,” Notes on Translation (NTr) 2 (1988): 46-51.
30 Christianson, “Significance of PISTEUW,” 86-87.
31 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), 337.
32 Bultmann, s.v. “pisteuw,” TDNT 6:203.
33 Berkhof, Theology, 494.
34 Thus Botha rejects Brown’s definition of faith in John as commitment, dedication of one’s life to Jesus, and obedience (Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, The Anchor Bible [AB”, 2 vols. [Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1966″, 1:512-13). He writes, “Brown considers words such as pisteuw to have special meaning(s) in John, distinguishing it from other usage?s. This of course, is wrong. Brown confused the lexical meaning of pisteuw with the theology of John, which is something different. The lexical meaning of pisteuw in John is the same as in other books of the New Testament, but the theology of John is different. This type of error is very common, especially in theological works” (Botha, “The meanings of pisteuw,” Neot 21:227-29).
35 Specific passages used to argue this will be discussed later in the chapter.
36 Marc Mueller, “Syllabus,” 20.
37 Stott, “Yes,” Eternity 10:17.
38 MacArthur, The Gospel, 32-33. In light of over 150 references to faith and believing for salvation in the New Testament, it is surprising that MacArthur would use the word “often” and support this with only three references. There might be little more than a dozen passages, which could be used to equate faith with obedience–still a small percentage of New Testament uses.
39 Gentry, “The Great Option,” BRR 5:55.
40 Stott, “Yes,” Eternity 10:17.
41 The presentation of the gospel was sometimes presented as an explicit command to believe, though certainly the command is always implicit. Cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 16:31; 1 John 3:23.
42 Cf. the NRSV; Otto Michel, Der Brief an die R?mer, Kritisch-exegetischer Kommentar ?ber das Neue Testament (G?ttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978), 75-76.
43 Cf. NIV; BAGD, s.v. “@?pkoh,” 845: Matthew Black, Romans, 2nd ed., New Century Bible Commentary (NCBC) (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989), 24; James Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (WBC) (Dallas: Word Books, 1988), 24.
44 So C. E. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (ICC), 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T.& T. Clark, 1975), 1:66, Ernst Kasemann, Commentary on Romans, transl. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980) 14-15: John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), 13:G. Segalla, “L”obbedienza di fede’ (Rm 1,5; 16,26) tema della Lettera ai romani?” Revista biblica (RevistB) 36 (March 1988): 329-42.
45 Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988), 50. Others who hold that “obedience of faith” means acceptance of the message of salvation are Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1949), 55; John Ziesler, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, TPI New Testament Commentaries (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1989), 64; D. B. Garlington, “The Obedience of Faith in the Letter to the Romans; Part I: The Meaning of @?pakohn pistews (Rom 1:5; 16:26),” Westminster Theological Journal (WTJ) 52 (1990): 201-24. Garlington, in a lengthy treatment, agrees that grammatically this view is preferable, but then argues theologically that faithful obedience in the Christian life must also be included.
46 For another interpretation of “obedience of faith” in 1:5 that disagrees with Stott’s interpretation, see Gerhard Friedrich, “Muss @?pakohn pistews R?m 1:5 mit ‘Glaubens-gehorsam’ ?bersetzt werden?” Zeitschrift fur die neun-testamentliche Wissenschaft (ZNW) 72 (January-February 1981): 118-23. Friedrich argues that this phrase should be translated “preaching of the faith,” which refers to the preaching of the gospel. However, this seems to stray too far from the normal use of @?pakoh.
47 Morris, Romans, 49.
48 Frederic Louis Godet, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1984), 82.
49 Stott, “Yes,” Eternity 10:17. Also MacArthur, The Gospel, 174.
50 The phrase typon didaches probably refers to the whole Christian teaching. So Bruce, The Letter of Paul to the Romans, TNTC (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989), 134; Morris, Romans, 263; Ziesler, Romans, 168. The passive aorist of paradidomi sees God as the One who committed the believers to this body of truth. So Douglas Moo, Romans 1-8, The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (WEC) (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991) 417; William R. Newell, Lessons on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Toronto: J. I. C. Wilcox, 1925), 105; Nygren, Romans, 256.
51 Newell, Romans, 106.
52 Cranfield, Romans, 1:325. See also, Charles R. Erdman, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966), 81; Moo, Romans 1-8, 417.
53 For example: MacArthur, The Gospel, 32-33, 47, 53, 174: Marc Mueller, “Syllabus,” 20; Gentry, “The Great Option,” BRR 5:55; Chantry, Gospel, 60.
54 MacArthur, The Gospel, 47. MacArthur seems to be saying two different things here: First, that faith is obedience; second, that faith produces obedience. The converse of his statement, “Disobedience is unbelief,” is not “Real faith obeys,” as he suggests. Rather, the converse would be “Obedience is faith.” The difference is significant in theology. It seems that MacArthur sometimes tries to sidestep a strong statement that faith equals obedience, perhaps to avoid the charge of a works gospel (which he ardently disavows. Ibid., xiii). Thus he is quick to equate disobedience with unbelief, but prefers to say that faith produces obedience, or a “longing to obey.” To be consistent, MacArthur must conclude that unbelief equals disobedience, not an unwillingness or lack of longing to obey, and that the converse is belief equals obedience. Still, he elsewhere calls faith and obedience synonyms (See his discussion on page 174).
55 MacArthur, The Gospel, 33, n. 30.
56 See also Luther’s translation (Die Bibel oder die ganze Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments nach der Deutlich Uberletzung D. Martin Luthers). In support, see Gerhard Maier, Johannes-Evangelium, Bibel-Kommentar (Neuhausen-Stuttgart: Hanssler-Veriag, 1984), 143.
57 BAGD, s.v. “apeiqw,” 82.
58 He uses pisteuw soteriologically nearly a hundred times.
59 MacArthur, The Gospel, 174.
60 I. H. Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles. TNTC (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), 128.
61 Simon J. Kistemaker, Acts, New Testament Commentary (NTC) (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 225.
62 R. J. Knowling, “The Acts of the Apostles,” in The Expositor’s Greek Testament (EGT), ed. W. Robertson Nicoll, 2:1-554 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), 172; R. C. H. Lenski The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 248.
63 Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (WPNT), 6 vols. (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), 3:74-75.
64 MacArthur, The Gospel, 32-33, 174.
65 Knowing God evidently refers to the salvation experience (John 17:2-3).
66 Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959), 205. For similar views, see R. C. H. Lensk