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Lordship Salvation, A Biblical Evaluation and Response

The purpose of this dissertation has been to evaluate, critique, and offer a biblical response to the position known as Lordship Salvation. In order to do this with the greatest efficiency, the Lordship Salvation arguments were systematized. Only those arguments from Scripture were considered. The reader is referred to the Appendix for a survey of the related theological issues.

As background for the study, the history and issues behind the Lordship Salvation position were briefly discussed. 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. This view is contrasted to that called in the study the Free Grace view, which 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.

It has been shown that 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. In each of these areas a consideration of the issue was set forth, as well as an evaluation of the lexical arguments, an evaluation of the biblical arguments, and a proposed biblical understanding.

Faith and Salvation

While both Lordship and Free Grace advocates consider faith the crucial response necessary for salvation, there is disagreement over the volitional nature of saving faith. Whereas the 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, 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 such, it is argued that the Bible allows for a deficient or spurious faith which does not save. 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 can also have the sense of "obey." It was concluded that 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. Such a distinction between the intellect and the will was found to be artificial, not biblical.

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, John 15:1-8; Matt 7:15-20; 21-23; John 6:28-29; Gal 5:6; 1 Thess 1:3; 2 Thess 1:11; and Eph 2:10. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 that 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 in order to secure salvation. The exception of the unbelievers in Revelation 9:20-21 and 16:9 is not an offer of salvation.

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. 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. It was suggested that 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 which 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. 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. Furthermore, 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).

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 that the arguments from Acts 2:36; 10:36; 16:31; and

2 Cor 4:5 do not prove a demand for the 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 that the subjective nature of submission as a 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. It was seen that 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 (Matt 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 that initially a "disciple" can be a curious unsaved person or in general 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.

Final Conclusion

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.

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.