Is Lordship salvation biblical? What is required to be saved?
The term Lordship Salvation is a deceptive label for this view of salvation because it suggests that this view involves works. But this view says that repentance and submission to Christ accompanies saving faith. The evidence of saving faith is spiritual growth and continuation in the faith.
In sharp contrast easy-believism is the label for another view of salvation that says salvation only requires a person believes some facts about Christ and then the person can live like a non-Christian the rest of his or her life and still go to heaven. Salvation is easy and transformation may never occur.
A person’s eternal destiny is determined by correctly understanding what is required to be saved. What follows is an answer to the questions “Is Lordship salvation biblical? What is required to be saved?”
1) False Faith Does Exist
The Bible teaches that a person becomes a Christian only by faith in Jesus Christ. But what does it mean to have faith in Jesus Christ? 1 Corinthians 15:2 warns us that all faith is not true faith. The verse actually reveals that there is true faith and vain faith.
By which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:2 (NASB)
The Greek word for “vain” in this verse is eike and it means “without any result, to no avail or with no result.” In Romans 13:4 the word vain is translated as “for nothing” in the NASB. That is, the word has the sense of “without effect or success.” This means that someone’s faith in Christ might actually be hollow, empty and accomplish nothing. Vain faith is like “fools gold” and is not real faith that saves. Therefore, how can we identify true faith?
2) Repentance Is A Gift From God
True faith includes repentance. Logically, repentance over sin must accompany faith. Why would someone trust Christ for the forgiveness of their sins if they were comfortable with their sins? In Luke 5:32 Christ says that He calls sinners to repent. That is those who understand that they are sinners are the ones who will want their sins forgiven. This means that repentance accompanies saving faith.
I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Luke 5:32 (NASB)
Later in Luke 13:5 Jesus declares to the Jews that unless they repent they will perish. This is the flip side. Those who do not repent will perish and go to hell.
I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:5 (NASB)
Other New Testament passages reveal that repentance is an essential ingredient in salvation (Acts 2:38; 17:30; 20:21; 2 Peter 3:9).
Easy-believism claims that repentance is synonymous with faith and does not require repentance. But Hebrews 6:1 refers to repentance and then faith. That is, repentance and faith are not the same. We see the same distinction made again in Acts 20:21 where repentance and faith in Christ will accompany salvation.
. . . solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 20:21 (NASB)
Repentance is correctly defined as a “change of mind.” It can also refer to a “change of feelings.” The Greek word for repentance in the New Testament is metanoia and when it refers to sin it means “turning from sin.” Repentance can be accompanied with emotions.
For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10 (NASB)
Easy-believism claims that repentance is a work. Therefore, repentance cannot be required in salvation. But the word “required” is their error. Repentance is not a work that someone performs in order to be saved because repentance is a gift from God. From the divine perspective repentance is the work of God in the hearts of sinners.
Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life. Acts 11:18 (NASB)
. . . with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 2:25 (NASB)
From a human perspective, repentance is the intellectual and emotional response of a sinner who understands his or her sins are sending them to eternal condemnation and punishment causing them to want their sins to be forgiven. That is the message also of Acts 26:18, 20.
. . . to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me. Acts 26:18 (NASB)
. . . but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. Acts 26:20 (NASB)
Repentance is the turning from sin or darkness which seeks forgiveness. It must accompany faith (Luke 13:3). Genuine repentance is part of the effectual call or work of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 21:32; John 16:8-10). It is the Spirit who convicts the unbeliever of sin to draw them to Christ (John 6:44, 65). Philippians 1:6 teaches that God begins the work of salvation. The proof one’s faith is not vain is that “deeds appropriate to repentance” will appear.
3) True Faith Is A Gift From God
Scripture teaches that true faith is a gift from God. This truth is revealed in Philippians 1:6 which reminds us that God begins the work, continues the work of sanctification (Philippians 2:12-13) and safely brings us to heaven to bring us to our God (1 Peter 3:18). It is all His work.
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 (NASB)
Ephesians 2:8-9 states that faith is a gift.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB)
Faith is the gift of God and as a result salvation is a gift. It is the work of God brought about by His grace. Acts 3:16 also reveals that faith is a work of God.
. . . and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all. Acts 3:16b (NASB)
Here we are told that faith comes to us through God. That is, salvation is by grace alone (Acts 15:11), through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-10) in Christ alone (Acts 4:12). Repentance and faith are not the works of man. Both are gifts from God alone by His grace. Yet, that does not mean that we cannot urge people to believe in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, because Christ urged people to believe (John 3:16-18; 8:24; Romans 10:9-13).
Titus 3:5 also states that God saves us. Salvation is not by our human works but is according to His work of regeneration and renewing by the Spirit. Salvation is the result of the work of Christ (1 Peter 3:18).
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit . . . Titus 3:5 (NASB)
In contrast, easy-believism teaches that faith is the product of the human will. But as we have already seen, this teaching ignores the clear teaching of Scripture.
Finally, Jesus Christ is the object of faith. Faith is not a commitment to a creed, a promise, the church, an oath or dependence upon a prayer. Faith believes in Christ. It trusts in Christ for the forgiveness of one’s sins (John 3:16). It is Christ who is our Savior and not a creed, a pastor, a prayer or a church. Acts 4:12 says,
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12 (NASB)
4) Sanctification Is The Work of God
Sanctification is the process whereby God transforms a true believer to become like Christ. In sanctification God sets apart the believer apart from sin and proceeds to make him or her more holy. God tells us that salvation includes a transformed life. At the moment of saving faith, each believer becomes a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), a new creation (Galatians 6:15) or a new self (Ephesians 4:24). 2 Corinthians 5:17 says,
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NASB)
That is not something we accomplish since Ephesians 2:1-2 describes unbelievers as being spiritually dead. Because dead people cannot give birth, unbelievers cannot give themselves spiritual life. Only God can give life to the spiritually dead. Salvation is the work of God and God alone. Yet once saved, we are urged to take part in this transforming work and to fight against sin (Philippians 2:12-13).
God starts the work of salvation at the moment one truly believes in Christ. God has promised to continue His transforming work until we go to heaven (Philippians 1:6). Galatians 2:20 teaches that it is Christ who lives in us to transform us. That is, the Holy Spirit is working in us (Galatians 5:16-23). Unbelievers are slaves of sin but the nature of a true Christian is that now he or she is a slave of righteousness. Romans 8:13-14 teaches that the evidence the Holy Spirit is alive within one who claims to be a believer is that they are increasingly having victory over sin. Notice in 1 John 3:10 the children of God and the children of the devil are compared. The children of the devil are those who do not “practice righteousness.” They do not belong to God. They are not Christians.
By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. 1 John 3:10 (NASB)
False faith does not follow Christ (1 John 3:14), obey Him (John 15:14; 1 John 2:3), do His will (Matthew 12:50), keep God’s Word (John 17:6), do good works (Ephesians 2:10), or continue in the faith (John 8:31-32; Hebrews 3:14; 1 John 2:19). Unbelievers will either leave the faith (1 John 2:19) or continue in a congregation as a tare (Matthew 13:36-43).
But easy-believism teaches that spiritual fruit may not be visible and some believers may not have any fruit. But the parable of the Sower of the Seed (Matthew 13:18-23) teaches that soils that are without fruit are not believers. Additionally, 1 John 2:19 says that those who leave the faith were never believers initially.
4) Submission To Christ Is The Work of God
Scripture teaches that every true believer will submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It begins at the moment of saving faith and increases during the life of the believer until the believer goes to be with the Lord in heaven. Romans 10:9-13 reveals that submission to Christ as Lord in some sense is required at the moment of saving faith.
. . . that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. Romans 10:9-10 (NASB)
Easy-believism claims that submission to Jesus is not included in salvation and how one lives after believing in Christ is not an indicator of saving faith. One individual claims that the word Lord, kurious, does not mean Lord or master but deity. According to easy-believism advocates, Romans 10:9-10 and 1 Corinthians 12:3 does not refer to Christ as master or Lord. But they ignore the obvious that submission to our God makes an even stronger statement. The truth is that Romans 10:9-10 tells us that submission to Christ is part of salvation.
But in what sense does a person submit to Christ at the moment of saving faith? The answer is partially revealed in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. Each of the Beatitudes describe one who has true faith. For example, the poor in spirit go to heaven (Matthew 5:3). The gentle will inherit the earth which is the millennial kingdom (Matthew 5:5). The pure in heart are true believers since we are told they will see God (Matthew 5:8), and Scripture says that no man can see God in this life and live (Exodus 33:20). The peacemaker will be called the sons of God (Matthew 5:9). These descriptions only fit true believers. Therefore, the “poor in spirit” are those who are beggars in spirit since the Greek word for poor is ptochos which means beggar. The same Greek word was used of Lazarus a beggar or a homeless person. Thus the “poor in spirit” is one who seeks and is seen as a beggar asking to be forgiven. At the moment of saving faith, the “poor in spirit” seeks to have his or her sins forgiven. This is an example of the initial submission to Christ as the “poor in spirit” seeks for their sins to be forgiven.
1 Corinthians 12:3 we are told that the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit produces hearts that call Jesus their Lord.
Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:3 (NASB)
Vain faith does not submit to the Lordship of Christ. Vain faith seeks independence from God. Vain faith refuses to submit. Vain faith is illustrated in Satan who rebelled and did not submit.
5) Proof Of Salvation Is A Changed Life
Scripture teaches that those who truly believe in Jesus Christ will love Him.
. . . and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9 (NASB)
Maybe the strongest statement in the New Testament regarding what will be true of a real Christian is 1 Corinthians 16:22.
If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha. 1 Corinthians 16:22 (NASB)
The Greek for “accursed” refers to a curse. That is, one who does not love Christ is cursed. They are not true believers and they are not going to heaven. Couple this important truth with John 14:15, 23.
If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. John 14:15 (NASB)
Jesus answered and said to him, “ If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. John 14:23 (NASB)
A careful reading of these verses teaches us that those who love Christ will obey Him and those who do not obey are not His. 1 John 2:3-4 says that someone who claims to be a Christian and does not obey Him is a liar. It is true that those who have true faith may sin and temporarily regress in their spiritual life just as the Corinthians did (2 Corinthians 13:5) and as the folks to whom the book of Hebrews was written (Hebrews 5:11-14), but they will continue in the faith (1 John 2:19). Those who do continue and do not demonstrate spiritual growth had vain faith (Matthew 13:18-23). They were never real Christians.
In contrast, easy-believism claims that Christians may become carnal and stop going to church. They may even cease to believe in Christ. Such teaching ignores the message of the book of Hebrews that such behavior raises great concern that the person is not a Christian. The Corinthians were so sinful and disobedient that Paul asked them to evaluate themselves at the close of 2 Corinthians to determine if they were true believers.
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test? 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NASB)
Finally, in Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus warned that individuals may think they are Christians but only those who do the Father’s will enter heaven.
The message of Scripture is that repentance and a humble submission to Christ accompanies true faith. The repentance, submission and faith are all gifts from God. The response of the heart in salvation is real as God calls men and women to repent and believe in Christ. That belief is accompanied by humble submission.
The result is the believer becomes a new creation who is transformed by the Holy Spirit and we participate with Him by our obedience. The result is a transformed life by the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer (Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:16-23; Ephesians 5:17-18; 1 John 3:7-8). Those who criticize Lordship Salvation are guilty of failing to understand that acknowledgment and submission to Christ is the response of real faith. It is not a human work but the work of God in the life of the true believer.
The fundamental error in easy-believism is that the advocates fail to make a distinction between vain faith and true faith. They assumes that all faith is true faith. It leaves them with the comfortable and lethargic feeling that they are going to heaven when in fact they may be going to hell.
1. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. United Bible Societies. 1989. vol. 2, p. 784. Section 89.54.
2. Joseph Henry Thayer. The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Christians Copyrights. 1983. p. 174.
3. Ceslas Spicq and James D. Ernest, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament. Hendrickson Publishers. 1994. p. 471-477.
4. Charles C. Ryrie. Balancing the Christian Life. Moody Press. 1969. pp. 173-175.
John MacArthur. The Gospel According To Jesus. Zondervan Publishing. 2008.
John MacArthur. Faith Works – The Gospel According To The Apostles. Word Publishing. 1993.
John MacArthur. The Gospel According To Paul. Nelson Books. 2014.
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