On ‘Lordship Salvation,’ Part Two

There are those who claim that a Christian is one who merely accepts Christ as Saviour, but not as Lord. In Part One of this article I examined the historical backdrop to this claim, and began a critical assessment of it. Here I continue that evaluation, and do so by looking at a major biblical theme which we must be aware of and properly understand.

Justification and sanctification

Almost all of those in the Reformed, Puritan and evangelical world have recognised the compound nature of salvation as expressed in Scripture. They understand that salvation properly understood entails three elements: justification, sanctification, and glorification. Biblical salvation always incorporates all three items.

Justification is what God does for us as a once-off declaration and imputation of righteousness. It is his work of declaring us righteous because of what Christ has done for us at Calvary. Sanctification is the ongoing, life-long process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Glorification is when we are one day united with Christ for all eternity.

These three elements are distinct, but cannot be separated. If there is no sanctification then there has been no justification. To seek to argue that a person’s sins can be forgiven without any concern about repentance and obedience is just a pipe dream. Again, almost all of the great Christian voices have declared these truths. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it,

“Do we realize that if we truly understand the doctrine of justification by faith we have already grasped the essence and nerve of the New Testament teaching about holiness and sanctification? Have we realized that to be justified by faith guarantees our sanctification, and that therefore we must never think of sanctification as a separate and subsequent experience? The Apostle’s entire argument has been this, that if we truly realize what is meant by justification, we realize that it inevitably means that we are ‘in Christ’ also, and that that guarantees our deliverance from sin and our final glorification.”

Or as James Montgomery Boice put it, “It is not merely a question of our being delivered from the law’s condemnation. Christ has delivered us from the law’s power, too. He died to start the process of sanctification and not merely to provide propitiation from wrath. . . . Justification and sanctification always go together, so that you cannot have one without the other. . . . According to Romans 8:3-4, sanctification is the very end for which God saved us.”

Just as faith and justification always go together, so too do faith and obedience. There is no saving faith if there is no obedience. Faith is always made manifest by obedience. A life of disobedience and focus on self is an indication that there is no saving faith. To obey is simply to show that real saving faith has taken place. It has always been this way.

This was the case for Israel in the Old Testament as well. Israel was not saved by works or its own righteousness. It was saved by God’s grace alone when he miraculously rescued it from Egyptian captivity. Yahweh first saved the Israelites, then later he gave the law and the Ten Commandments to show them what the proper response of this salvation looked like.

Obeying God was the fruit of the salvation they already had by God’s grace. So the Israelites were not saved by works, as many dispensationalists suggest. They were saved by grace through faith, just as we are. They then showed that salvation by joyful obedience and progressive sanctification.

Coming to Christ is about not just forgiveness, but new life in Christ. The penalty of sin is not just dealt with, but the reality, presence and practice of sin as well. A life that is not being weaned away from sin and unrighteousness to Christ and holiness is a life untouched by the gospel.

The great saints throughout church history have always known and proclaimed these truths. Let me conclude with just a few of many such pronouncements:

“Thousands are deceived into supposing that they have ‘accepted Christ’ as their ‘personal Saviour,’ who have not first received Him as their Lord. The Son of God did not come here to save His people in their sin, but ‘from their sins’ (Matt. 1:21). To be saved from sins, is to be saved from ignoring and despising the authority of God, it is to abandon the course of self-will and self-pleasing, it is to ‘forsake our way’ (Isa. 55:7). It is to surrender to God’s authority, to yield to His dominion, to give ourselves over to be ruled by Him.” A.W. Pink

“I cannot conceive it possible for anyone truly to receive Christ as Savior and yet not to receive him as Lord. A man who is really saved by grace does not need to be told that he is under solemn obligations to serve Christ. The new life within him tells him that. Instead of regarding it as a burden, he gladly surrenders himself – body, soul, and spirit- to the Lord who has redeemed him, reckoning this to be his reasonable service.” C.H. Spurgeon

“Salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the sacred Scriptures… Apart from obedience there can be no salvation, for salvation without obedience is a self-contradictory impossibility.” A.W. Tozer

“I present to you a discredited doctrine that divides Christ. It goes like this: ‘Christ is indeed both Savior and Lord; yet a sinner may be saved by accepting him as Savior without yielding to him as Lord.’ The practical outworking of this doctrine is that the evangelist presents, and the seeker accepts, a divided Christ. Now, it seems odd that none of these teachers ever noticed that the only true object of saving faith is none other than Christ himself—not the saviorhood of Christ nor the lordship of Christ, but Christ himself (1 Tim. 2:5). God does not offer salvation to the one who will believe on one of the offices of Christ, nor is an office of Christ ever presented as an object of faith . . . Paul did not tell people to believe on the Savior with the thought that they could later take up the matter of his lordship and settle it at their own convenience. To Paul there could be no division of offices. Christ must be—and is—Lord, or he will not be the Savior.” A. W. Tozer

“Our relation to Christ is based on His death and resurrection and this means His Lordship. Indeed the Lordship of Christ over the lives of His people was the very purpose for which He died and rose again. We have to acknowledge Christ as our Lord. Sin is rebellion, and it is only as we surrender to Him as Lord that we receive our pardon from Him as our Savior. We have to admit Him to reign on the throne of the heart, and it is only when He is glorified in our hearts as King that the Holy Spirit enters and abides.” W. H. Griffith Thomas

“If I am going to know who Jesus is, I must obey Him. The majority of us don’t know Jesus because we have not the remotest intention of obeying Him.” Oswald Chambers

“Christ 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.” John MacArthur

“When we come to Jesus for salvation, we come to the One who is Lord over all. Any message that omits this truth cannot be called the gospel. It is a defective message that presents a savior who is not Lord, a redeemer who does not demonstrate authority over sin, a weakened, sickly messiah who cannot command those he rescues. The gospel according to Jesus is nothing like that. It represents Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and demands that those who would receive him take him for who he is.” John MacArthur

The idea that we can come to Christ and take him only as Saviour but not as Lord is simply a perversion of the biblical witness. Yes, salvation is all of grace, and we cannot earn it by our own works or merit. But to become a follower of Christ is to become his disciple. And a disciple is one who has abandoned his old allegiances and lords (sin, self, etc) and has taken on the one new, true Lord: Jesus Christ.

Without bowing to the Lordship of Christ, and turning from our own sinful and selfish life, there can be no salvation.

Part One of this article is found here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/02/09/on-lordship-salvation-part-one/

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9 Replies to “On ‘Lordship Salvation,’ Part Two”

  1. I don’t think that’s right actually. One of the best critiques of Lordship Salvation and its leading exponent, John MacArthur, comes from a non-dispensational source, the Trinity Review: The Gospel According to John MacArthur, by John W. Robbins.

    Jonathan Sarfati, US

  2. Thanks Jonathan

    But how am I wrong? I clearly said that most – but not all – no-lordship proponents are dispensationalists. So of course one can find some non-dispensationalists pushing this. But what I said about the main push coming from places like DTS is of course 100% true. And for Robbins to foolishly claim that concern about holiness and the Lordship of Christ makes one a Romanist – as other no-lordship advocates also claim – is quite absurd, and I will be happy to wear such a label if need be. I would rather side with the entire message of the Bible here. One might as well argue that the Israelites could merrily serve both Yahweh and Baal, because Lordship is not an issue for God – the main thing is to be “forgiven” – however loosely defined that may be. After all, it’s all of grace, isn’t it? Sorry, but no man can serve two masters. Either Jesus is Lord or someone or something else is. The Bible never considers such matters to be mere optional extras, but the very heart of what it means to be God’s people. I will never label a person who seeks more of Christ, more holiness, and more death to sin and self as a “legalist” or someone bound by “works righteousness” – as too many no-lordship folks recklessly do. But perhaps we will have to agree to disagree on this one. Keep up your good work.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. “[Jesus Christ] designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom. 1:4,5)
    The Greek word for obedience is “hearing from below” = listening like a slave to his/her master’s voice.
    In the light of texts like this, how can there be any argument?
    Joost Gemeren

  4. If only people would read the book of James and Jesus’ words alongside Paul’s letters they would come to see clearly that only real, saving faith can and must produce works acceptable to God.

    Lindsay Smail

  5. The overall paradigm for salvation (‘Lordship Salvation’ is not a helpful term as it does not tell the full story) must surely be the the plan of God to restore the cosmos to Himself, which thread can be found from Genesis 3 & 12 onwards to Revelation, and which is encapsulated in Ephesians 1:7-10 (see also Matthew 6:9-10). The reconciliation of the cosmos to its rightful King means – for us God-imaged humans – acknowledging our unrighteous creature-ship and God’s righteous creator-ship; grasping gratefully the mercy of God in the death of Christ for our sins; living under His kingly regime empowered by His Spirit to do His will. Am I missing anything here?
    Geoffrey Bullock

  6. Thanks be to God for you, Mr. Muehlenburg. Thank you for speaking the truth and always pointing to Christ, and for doing it so eloquently.

    Have a blessed day.

    David Brown

  7. As James perfectly put it, “Faith without works is dead”. How can one say they have faith if their lack of works shows otherwise?

    If I claim to believe that a meteorite is about to crush my house, I would prove my faith through the act of not staying seated on my lounge. If I just sit there, I prove that my claim to that belief is untrue.

    Mario Del Giudice

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