Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Saviour But Not Lord?

Feb 10, 2013

Strangely enough, there are actually Christians today who are debating whether Christ needs to be Lord in the believer’s life. I would have thought that was a no-brainer; any straight-forward reading of the New Testament makes that perfectly clear.

But during the past few decades a small but influential movement within evangelical circles has challenged all that. They claim one can accept Christ as Saviour, but not necessarily as Lord. Lordship seems to be just some optional extra for these folks.

Their intentions are good: they want to preserve the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. Well, so do I. But whenever we elevate one biblical doctrine above others, we are asking for trouble. Passages like Ephesians 2:8-9 provide us with wonderful truths about salvation as God’s gracious free gift.

But taking any one biblical teaching and so elevating it that it minimises or overlooks other key doctrines is always problematic. Indeed, in its extreme form, this is exactly how heresies and cults develop. They take a biblical truth and either push it to an unbiblical extreme, or set it over against other biblical truths.

As always, getting the biblical balance right is vital. We all should exalt in the grace of God and its role in our salvation. But we should take the whole of the biblical revelation, and not set one component of it over against all the rest.

All of Scripture gives us one clear message: God is God and we are not, and we must realign ourselves with him. We must renounce the lordship of self and aver the lordship of the one true Lord. This is unambiguously found in both Testaments.

So pervasive is it, that it is amazing that it can be missed. Consider the hundreds of words given to Israel from Yahweh about this. Israel was saved to be a people set apart, devoted exclusively to the one true God. Putting away all idols and false gods is a constant theme in the OT.

But the no-lordship folks want us to believe that this is not so important. They might as well argue that the Israelites could happily 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?

What about the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me”? The very heart of it is the battle over lordship. Will the true and living God be your God, your lord, and your boss, or will someone or something else be? The very first commandment, forming the basis of all the others, has to do with lordship.

As Joshua told the Israelites, “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (24:14-15).

The very fact that God’s name is translated LORD should be evidence enough. He is Lord, and demands that his Lordship be demonstrated among his people. From Genesis to Revelation this is a great theme of Scripture. Either we renounce all the false gods and lords we cling to – including self – and give the rightful place to the only true Lord, or we continue in our idolatry and face the judgment of God.

There is no middle ground here. There cannot be two lords in our life. Jesus made this perfectly clear when he said, “No man can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). And the Bible never considers such matters to be mere optional extras, but the very heart of what it means to be God’s people.

Real salvation always entails repentance and a turning from sin and self to God. This too had always been a part of biblical thinking, with all the great believers proclaiming this. Calvin for example rightly said that “repentance and faith are so linked together that they can not be separated”. Or as John Murray wrote, “It is impossible to disentangle faith and repentance. Saving faith is permeated with repentance and repentance is permeated with faith.”

In the same way Christ as Saviour cannot be separated from Christ as Lord. Indeed, the Lordship of Christ is proclaimed throughout the New Testament. It is its major theme found from Matthew to Revelation. As John MacArthur notes, “The first creed of the early church was ‘Jesus is Lord’ (cf. Rom. 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 12:3). The lordship of Christ permeated apostolic preaching, and it permeates the New Testament.”

There are so many passages one can look at here. Let me highlight just several. In Acts 16:31 we find this call to conversion: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved”. Notice it is not having nice feelings about the man Jesus, but a firm belief (that is, commitment in, and reliance upon) the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Romans 10:9-10 we find the same truth expressed: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

Romans 14:11, citing Isaiah 45:23, lays out the truth we have been examining all along: “It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God’.” Jesus Christ is Lord.

At the end of the day there are only two sorts of people: those who now willingly bow the knee and confess Christ as Lord, or those who will be forced to bow the knee later at the last judgment. In either case, it is all about Lordship. Is Jesus the Lord of your life or is he not?

Yet folks in the no-lordship camp will still ask, “Where does it explicitly say in the Bible you must make Jesus Lord to be saved?” That is about as helpful as the cultists asking, “Where in the Bible does it explicitly say there is a Trinity?” In both cases these great truths are everywhere assumed and expected.

One might as well ask, “Where explicitly in the Bible does it say I cannot be saved and still be a porn addict or a child molester?” It is everywhere assumed that regular and unrepented of unholy and unrighteous living is a clear indication of not being one of Christ’s. And we have plenty of clear passages which state this very thing.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 we find this: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

These are people whose ungodly, unrepented of lifestyles exclude them from life in God’s Kingdom. There is nothing here about folks who “asked Jesus into their heart” years ago going to heaven, if they are still engaging in such sinful lifestyles.

The idea that people can be saved simply by putting their hand up at a meeting, or giving a fleeting mental assent to some biblical doctrines, is altogether foreign to the biblical data, and the flow of Christian history. Oswald Allis put it this way:

The terms of Christ’s salvation are erroneously stated by the present-day evangelist. With very rare exceptions he tells his hearers that salvation is by grace and is received as a free gift; that Christ has done everything for the sinner, and nothing remains but for him to ‘believe’ – to trust in the infinite merits of His blood. . . . Those preachers who tell sinners they may be saved without forsaking their idols, without repenting, without surrendering to the Lordship of Christ are as erroneous and dangerous as others who insist that salvation is by works and that Heaven must be earned by our own efforts.”

Or as A. W. Tozer wrote, up until recently “no one would ever dare to rise in a meeting and say, ‘I am a Christian’ if he had not surrendered his whole being to God and had taken Jesus Christ as his Lord. It was only then that he could say, ‘I am saved!’ Today, we let them say they are saved no matter how imperfect and incomplete the transaction, with the proviso that the deeper Christian life can be tacked on at some time in the future. Can it be that we really think that we do not owe Jesus Christ our obedience?”

John Stott stated it this way: “it is as unbiblical as it is unrealistic to divorce the Lordship from the Saviorhood of Jesus Christ. He is ‘our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,’ and saving faith is commitment to Him who is both Son of God and Saviour of men.”

J. I. Packer also discusses this teaching. He refers to it as “the error which we might call only-believism” which would leave sinners “supposing that all they have to do is to trust Christ as a sin-bearer, not realising that they must also deny themselves and enthrone Him as their Lord”.

In his important study, The Cross and Salvation, Bruce Demarest puts it this way: “We conclude that for conversion to be authentic and transforming, pre-Christians must make the Lord Jesus Christ the object of their exclusive loyalty. This means that to the best of their knowledge penitents will forsake all known vice and cling to the Saviour as their only hope of salvation. Genuine conversion thus will involve sincere repentance, total commitment to Christ, and submission to the Lord’s sovereign rule.”

This is all just basic Christianity 101. But sadly we often have to state such truths, and state them again.

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6 Responses to Saviour But Not Lord?

  • In Genesis 1 and 2 God is called the Lord God before He is ever referred to as saviour and if you look closely at the text you notice that in the conversation between the serpent and Eve, the title Lord is dropped first by Satan and also by Eve. It was, I believe Eve’s forgetfulness of God as Lord that facilitated her choice to follow Satan rather than the Lord God.
    I believe one of the great mistakes we make in our easy come easy go approach to Christianity is that Satan knows there is a battle going on, though we may either be ignorant of the fact or deliberately ignore it. But I also believe that those who are genuinely born again have had a change of nature which is a lasting work of grace. Our pastor called it the change from being a pig to being a sheep. This change of course has to be nurtured and maintained by our ongoing surrender and desire to maintain our relationship with the Living Lord. But love and patience of our great God is beyond our capacity to understand. You are right to warn us, Bill. I stand convicted and corrected several times a day by the Holy Spirit who points the finger at my wondering heart and says “repent, come back to me” and I am so immensely grateful for His ongoing work.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • Perhaps it would help if, when we quote Ephesians 2:8 & 9, we always include verse 10?
    Alec Witham

  • Yes quite so Ursula and Alec

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks for the article Bill. I’ve been thinking about this issue lately. We are currently working our way through Acts at church and there seems to be a pattern of the gospel being preached in a way that tells the listeners bad news before the good news. The good news includes a call to repentance and the gospel includes a proclamation of Jesus being Lord. The bad news seems to often have the accusing words “you” in it. e.g.

    Acts 2:22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: This Jesus the Nazarene was a man pointed out to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through Him, just as you yourselves know. 23 Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him….

    36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!”

    Acts 2:37 When they heard this, they came under deep conviction and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?” 38 “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    David Roberts

  • Jude 1:4: ‘For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.’

    I’d argue that their motive is to justify their own love of the world and keep their big incomes and big congregations by telling people they can have Jesus and all their idols too. Of course this doctrine is a crowd pleaser! Then someone dares to line their ministry up with the Word – and they are called judgmental, bound, legalistic, proud etc etc etc. Forget that scripture COMMANDS all Christians to contend for the faith that was handed down to us, and expose liars that have ‘crept in’.

    Thanks for the article Bill.

    Linda Trevenen

  • As I understand it, both Arminian Christians and Calvinist Christians agree that SALVATION is a free gift from God, and that lifelong PERSEVERANCE IN THE FAITH and a lifelong STRIVING TO DO GOOD AND AVOID SIN are always a part of the life of a Born Again person.

    The difference is that Arminian Christians think that a person who was once genuinely Born Again can make the free will decision to persistently and permanently abandon and rebel against God and Jesus as Lord, whereas Calvinist Christians think that if someone claiming to be Christian ends up persistently and permanently abandoning and rebelling against God and Jesus as Lord, then that rebellion is after-the-fact proof that that person was never genuinely Born Again in the first place.

    For the Arminian Christian, the Christian who rebels against Jesus as Lord is damned to Hell because he lost the that salvation he once had. For the Calvinist Christian, the Christian who rebels against Jesus as Lord is damned to Hell because he never was a real Christian (Born Again) in the first place.

    That’s how I’ve come to understand all this, anyway.

    Since there are some Bible verses that support the Arminian view and some Bible verses that support the Calvinist view, I hesitate to fully endorse either view. (I’m not saying that the Bible contradicts itself; I just don’t think any mortal has developed a systematic theology that fully harmonizes these Bible verses. And since God did not choose to give us a systematic theology that harmonizes these verses, I think we can live without such.)

    I just stick with the point of doctrine that I think is taught in the Bible and is agreed upon by both Arminian Christians and Calvinist Christians (at least those who believe in traditional Calvinism):

    That a person who claims to be Christian but who does not sincerely strive to follow and obey Christ as his only supreme Lord, King, Head, Boss, CEO, and Commander-in-Chief in all areas of his life, and instead persistently lives a life of serious ongoing sin, is a person who is going to Hell.

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