My Pilgrimage From “Lordship” to Law/Gospel (part 1)

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 surrenderSurrender 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.


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  1. Yes indeed…Lutherans (I was one) are big on LG.

    It’s an easy life, really. And it’s TRUE in the truest sense, but so easily twisted into a casual accepting of one’s sinfulness, as the Law has been defeated by Christ.

    Where LS can be twisted into men doing the work of faith, LG can be twisted into men (of faith, mind you) needing to nothing IN faith. No taking up cross, no submitting…nothing. Well, maybe attending church once a quarter or so.

    Beware both twistings. Our hearts love their sin, and Satan uses either/or to pull us away from God’s marvelous light.

    As an aside, I would think that most LS folk would say that the call to submission, etc., will only be heard by the sheep of Christ’s flock. I feel you’ve maybe framed them a little unfairly in some instances. This is the trouble with these sorts of generalizations, whether from the LS or LG POV.

  2. One of the simplest analyses of the requirements for “initial justification” when LS teaches them, is, after listing them (small list or large, large, large), is however many there are, two (or three) things are done about their relationship to faith:

    1. They are “included in” faith (as part of a definition of it, or of its “essence”).

    2. They (or subsets of them) are chained together in cause-effect chains, so that faith is allowed existence only if the (subset) chain reaction effect s(present-moment/visible/quantifiable) effect(s) are also “produced.”

    3. We are told that it is God that produces this chain.

    One way that this analysis shows something amiss is that invisible things are not mentioned. For example, what if someone came up with “kingdom transfer salvation,” and said (rightly so) that no one is saved whom God has not transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son), and tried to distinguish fakes that way? Well, it is a legitimate and essential thing, to have been transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son; everyone having been saved. But to my knowledge, no one has made a cause of this, because it’s not a visible, anytime-including-the-present, visible, and quantifiable fact! … a sign!

  3. I too have been making this transition as I explore the Reformed confession after having been influenced by MacArthur and others. The distinction between Law and Gospel has opened my eyes to the breadth of the grace of God and the depth of my own sinfulness. Thank you, Pastor Abendroth, for your article. I look forward to parts 2 and 3.

    • Nice to see your comment Jay. Hope you are doing well brother! I’ve been going through the same transition as well. Thankful to have pastor Mike at my church and to see him impacting people from Master’s!

  4. Someone close to me has referred to #1 as “stuffing the pinata.” Taking the “sola” away is not the only way to undermine “sola fide”; redefining faith does it, too, and it’s worse because it’s more deceptive.

  5. Love the content, (although some typos- sorry to point out), I too am in the transition so truly appreciate works like this.

  6. Needs to be said and said and said again. Lots of talk today about things that are “gospel issues” that actually are not. This actually is a gospel issue. Eager to see many freed from the clutches of supposed justification by faith and obedience. Great article!

  7. The reality is that Lordship Salvation finds its roots in Rome and not the Reformation. I’ll always Rest in Jesus Christ over my ability to “Submit”, and I’m always left asking how much ? My phone has a percentage that tells me when it’s fully charged. I have no such gage, which will always leave me void of assurance. I think it’s important to point out that Mikes camp believes in the Lordship of Christ which is brought about by the Holy Spirit automatically (in His time) in the life of a genuine believer. Where in Lordship Salvation it’s something that must be done by the individual……or else.


  8. Hey sir, where would commands like 2 Thess 1:8 fit in here? And other verses where we are told to ‘obey the gospel’? Thanks for your time.

    • Adam,

      Here are some resources on the law/gospel hermeneutic. Take a look at these to get a broader perspective on the question.

      On your specific question, see this essay.

      The law/gospel hermeneutic isn’t a set of answers for every passage but it is a basic Reformation question for every passage: how do law & gospel relate here?

      In this specific case, as in every case, we need to read the passage in context.

      We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed. To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

      Paul is writing to professing Christians to instruct them about certain things (in this case eschatology and the Christian life in light of Christ’s return).

      The Christian church is (often) a suffering church but Christ is returning and will make all things right.

      What does “obey” mean in this context? What does “gospel” mean here? In Paul “gospel” can have a broad and a narrow sense. He speaks this way in Romans 2:16,

      For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus (Rom 2:12–16; NASB95).

      Here “gospel” signals “my message,” which includes both the bad news for those outside of Christ and the good news for those in Christ. That bad news, however, is good news for believers. They will be delivered and vindicated.

      So it is in 2 Thess 1:8. To “obey” the gospel is to respond appropriately to it. What is the appropriate response? It is to recognize one’s sins and to flee to Christ in true faith.

      The use of the verb “obey” doesn’t change the character of the gospel. It’s still only good news for believers. See the linked essay above on imperatives. Some assume that any imperative necessarily turns the gospel into law (thus invalidating the distinction). Not true. Take a look.

      Stay tuned. This is only part 1 of Mike’s essay.

  9. I would just point out that MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus was strongly endorsed in the forwards written by J.I. Packer and James Montgomery Boice.

    • I haven’t looked much into the history of the curious acceptance of McArthur by Sproul, Boice et al, but my assumption would be that this blind spot has it its origins in a kind of Reformedish Big Tent thinking, whereby it was whispered in corners that these folk had big followings that, once brought into the Tent, could be guided, gradually, towards better instruction. It doesn’t seem to have worked; but then it never does.

    • I’d also point out that Packer made some heretical statements about the doctrine of God in his book Knowing God. He taught a form of subordinationism and strongly implied that there is more than one divine being. (These things were actually in the chapter on the incarnation, I believe. He also spoke against the kenotic heresy while advancing a sort of soft version of it in that chapter.)

    • “…He also spoke against the kenotic heresy while advancing a sort of soft version of it in that chapter…”
      I’m finding that this sort of thing to be fairly common among biblical scholars. Some of them deny it when confronted; others boldly defend their POV.

  10. Thank you, Pastor Abendroth for your commitment to the Gospel and writing this article.

  11. I appreciate the desire to guard the law/gospel distinction; but (once again) the attempt to denude saving faith of all affections is misguided, and was decidedly NOT the direction taken by our Reformed forefathers. For example, one of the directions given by Walter Marshall to those who would rightly exercise saving faith is the following:

    “You must also come to [Christ] with an ardent love and affection to Him, and esteem Him better than a thousand worlds, and the only excellent portion, loathing and abhorring yourself as a vile, sinful and miserable creature, and accounting all things dung in comparison of His excellency; that you may be able to say from the bottom of your heart, ‘Whom have I in heaven but You? There is none on earth that I desire besides You’ (Ps. 73:25).” (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification)

  12. I just find it insanely exciting how much these two very important focal points almost dissolve into thin air when the corresponding passages of LS and LG are interpreted in context! At the same time we must be careful not to tear the statements of the LS out of their historical context! At the same time I see the LG as a necessary (usually linguistic) balancing of LS.

    • Waldemar,

      Can you clarify your comment?

      You seem to be saying that there are no real issues here. I doubt that you are saying that so I wonder if you can speak more clearly for those of us from Nebraska.


  13. Thanks Dr Clark for putting up this good & edifying Law & Gospel Distinction
    article, look forward to reading parts 2 & 3.

    The Law/Gospel Distinction is a nuanced doctrine which each & everyone of
    us will spend a lifetime continuing to grow in understanding & discernment.

    There will remain disagreements on such things as whether or not Gospel
    Imperatives are Law or Gospel, and the like, and we will not all agree on every
    texts or passage of Scripture, whilst this should be done in a brotherly manner,
    there should be room to charitably disagree with a brothers interpretation of
    certain passages.

    As such I would like to say that I disagree on the portion which says
    ” LS teachers accurately caution people from a 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 deception.”
    as I think that this verse is purely a Law verse, and a 1st use of the Law at that,
    sure when we are regenerated there is a change, but we are not saved because
    of that, any failure of the Christian in observing the Law does not & will not
    Condemn him, that would be to make Christ & the Cross of none effect,
    God forbid, but because God requires perfect obedience from us, which we
    cannot render, the Law doth not & cannot Condemn us but bids us to go to
    the Cross, where we have an advocate with the Father, to confess our sins
    and receive Forgiveness.LS Teachers would have you believe that because
    they confuse the Law and Gospel, and don’t know the difference between
    the Gospel in the strict & narrow sense and the broad & general sense which
    they conflate.

    That verse if taken woodenly would disqualify us all from Salvation, the Lord
    Jesus excepted,because we have all sinned in one or another like fashion, the
    Law demands Perfect Obedience, at all times, for Believers & Unbelievers alike.

    What the verse is
    saying is “that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” (virtually
    listing all the 10 Commandments), we are Unrighteous by the Law and need a
    Righteousness which is greater than the Law! the Righteousness which is
    greater than the Law is the Righteousness of Faith in Christ, that’s why verse 11
    says ” but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, ” to be Justified is to
    be declared Righteous.

    I know of a believer who…

    was backslidden & Disobedient to God
    Disobedient to His Parents
    Was knowingly Engaged/Married to an Unbeliever & Divorced
    was a Killer & Thief
    committed Arson
    was a Vandal
    a Liar
    an Angry & Vengeful man
    and a Fornicator
    a Jailbird
    & died by committing Mass Murder Suicide

    According to the Lordship Salvation interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10,
    such a man could not have possibly been a saved, but…

    this mans name is Samson,

    and Paul writing in Hebrews 11:32, declares that he is a Saved Hero of the Faith!

  14. This article was excellent and helpful. I’ve enjoyed pastor Abendroth’s series on law/gospel as well as recent podcast episodes.
    My question is, why is this and federal vision and other law/gospel blurring not more widely talked about in reformed baptist circles? I read the whole Christ and the lord graciously opened my eyes to the problem of LS in my own walk, but began talking to those in my confessional 1689 federalist reformed baptist church and received a resounding blank stare or warning against “what I was getting into” from all but the pastor. He was excited for me and from our talks understands the law/gospel distinction, but I have been accused by others of being antinomian for my excitement about the Gospel and feel as though I’m now being ostracized. Why wouldn’t this be commonly understood in the reformed baptist world? How come no one I talk to has any idea what I’m talking about when I talk about the law/gospel distinction? I am a new Christian as of only a few years so bear with me. Am I missing some history here?

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