Though the Lordship Salvation doctrine (hereafter LS) has many distinguishing characteristics, the one I want to address is its view of the gospel and the unbeliever’s response to it.
What Is The “Lordship Salvation” Doctrine?
In brief, LS regularly teaches that unbelievers must submit to Jesus the Lord. They call sinners to yield to Christ’s authority. “Surrender” is a key to unlocking the essence of LS. They often include the call to discipleship, “the gospel.”
One popular LS Internet site states,
The gospel that Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow him in submissive obedience, not just a plea to make a decision or pray a prayer … Scripture teaches that Jesus is Lord of all, and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender… Surrender to Jesus’ lordship is not an addendum to the biblical terms of salvation; the summons to submission is at the heart of the gospel invitation throughout Scripture. (emphasis added)
Certainly, most proponents of LS have admirable desires and motives. They properly see the problem of a temporary faith and assess it rightly. They notice and call out the morass of carnal, corrupt false professors of nominal Christianity. Cultural “Christians” are legion, and they perceive the need for deceived “Christians” to truly believe Jesus. They, with John Bunyan, in The Pilgrim’s Progress, warn, “Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction!” LS teachers accurately caution people from a 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 deception. I appreciate the LS desire for false converts to truly believe and to awaken sinners to their peril. I applaud their concern over a false, spurious faith that does not save (a demonic faith—James 2:19). I agree with their call for Christians to live holy and faithful lives. I also commend LS teachers because they do teach sola gratia, repentance as a gift of divine grace, the person and work of Jesus, the need for holy living and much more.
What is Law/Gospel?
The Law/Gospel paradigm, which John Calvin and Martin Luther called, “the Two Words,” has been described as the “sum and substance” of the Bible. Herman Bavinck described the Law and the Gospel as “two component parts of the Word of God” and Theodore Beza declared that all the Bible can be “divided into two principal parts: the one is called the Law, the other the Gospel. For all the rest can be gathered under the one or the other of these two headings.”
The Law, reflecting God’s holy and righteous nature, shows us what God requires and wills. The Law reveals sin. The Law shouts, “Do!” The Gospel declares the Triune God’s favor and free salvation in Christ Jesus. The Gospel comforts, saying, “It is done!” When the Law and Gospel are confused or mingled, the Gospel, which means “good news,” turns Jesus into a new Moses, albeit a seemingly less formidable one. The strict Gospel is not an exhortation, it is a promise. It is a declaration, not a “to do” list, yet it is very easy for the difference of Law and Gospel to be eclipsed. Beza rightly alerts Bible students, writing, “Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity.” I believe LS often blends Law and Gospel.
In Galatians 3:10–14, the inspired Paul pens both Law (do) and Gospel (done). See if you can find them and the difference between the two:
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (ESV)
- The Law: do (“cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the LAW”).
- The Gospel: done (“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us”).
Advantages of Law/Gospel
To help the reader understand the differences and nuances allow me lay out four advantages of distinguishing between Law and Gospel over against LS . These advantages will highlight the critical nature of rightly distinguishing between Law and Gospel.
Advantage #1 – Preaching the Gospel to unbelievers
What should unbelievers be told to do, to properly respond to the proclamation of the good news of Jesus’ representative life, substitutionary death, literal burial and bodily resurrection?
- Option 1: Surrender, yield, treasure, desire, submit and/or commit.
- Option 2: Believe, trust, receive, accept and/or rest.
Is there a difference?
Option 1 places the stress and emphasis on the person hearing the Gospel of what Jesus did. The responses focus on what the sinner must do. The problem with Option 1 is the only ground which one can stand before the thrice holy God is the ground of perfection. Just as a tiny, defective “O ring” catapulted the Space Shuttle into oblivion, so too, a single sin is enough to damn any person. Therefore, if “surrender” is the proper response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the “surrender” must be perfect. If “yielding” is the answer, the yielding is to be entire. If “treasuring” is offered to God, it had better be exact. If “desiring” pleases the Lord, the desire better be perpetual. If “submit” correctly describes an unbeliever’s response to the Risen Savior, the submission must be flawless. “Commit” must be with perfect motives and intentions. Every verb in Option 1 ultimately directs its attention to the person hearing the Gospel. What must they do? Should the focus be elsewhere?
Option 2 contains responses which direct all the emphasis toward the Object, Jesus Christ Himself. Believe, trust, receive, accept and rest are all God focused. The stress is upon the object of one’s faith, not even the faith itself (while the unbeliever must believe, his or her faith is not the savior, rather Jesus is the Savior). Unlike Option 1’s man centered emphasis; Option 2 calls the unbeliever to look away from self and trust Christ. Faith directs its attention to the Lord Jesus Christ who perfectly, entirely, exactly, perpetually obeyed and merited righteousness by His wonderful law keeping for us (Jesus had no need to obey the law for Himself because He was, and is, inherently righteous). Jesus then, as both High Priest and sacrifice, redeemed His bride by bearing her sins.
Belief, therefore, can be, and is, less than perfect because it is not the ground of anyone’s salvation. A little faith in the right Person is enough. A sin tainted belief in the Sinless Savior is adequate. A frail trust in the Mighty Jesus saves. The ground of salvation for any believer is the complete righteousness of Jesus Christ, not their trusting or resting.
Some ask, “Is not ‘believe’ a command that a person must do?” Yes, faith is the non-meritorious instrument of salvation but it is not the ground. Thomas Boston is clear saying, “Faith does not qualify you to come to Christ, faith is coming.” Some theologians call “believe” a gospel imperative. The object of the person’s belief is the Lord Jesus. Yes, faith and trust are related to the Gospel and what the Lord has graciously done, but faith and trust are not the saviors. They did not live a perfect live, die on the cross and they were not raised from the dead.
While LS contains many flavors and nuances, at its heart, it is Option 1 oriented. Historically, Option 1 is Arminian. LS calls unbelievers to believe, but they also demand the unbeliever to do more than believe (i.e. surrender, commit, etc.). The Reformers saw faith as fiducial (trusting another), while the Arminians claimed faith was volitional (commitment and surrender to someone). J.I. Packer describes fiducial as looking to what the Lord has done and volitional desiring “to live by the new law which Christ procured.”
Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3.
©Mike Abendroth. All Rights Reserved.
- How To Subscribe To Heidelmedia
- The Heidelblog Resource Page
- Heidelmedia Resources
- The Ecumenical Creeds
- The Reformed Confessions
- The Heidelberg Catechism
- Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008)
- Why I Am A Christian
- Support Heidelmedia: use the donate button
- Resources On Dispensationalism
- Resources on the Law/Gospel Distinction
- With No Compromise Radio On The Lordship Controversy, QIRE, And The Reformation
- Office Hours: The Lordship Controversy Is Back
- The Gospel According To Jesus, Grace, Salvation, And Sanctification