The Lordship Salvation Controversy*

Lordship Salvation
Lordship Salvation is a teaching in Christian theology which maintains that good works are a necessary consequence of being declared righteous before God. The doctrine of lordship salvation is that Jesus cannot be considered a person's savior (that is, bringer of salvation) without simultaneously being lord of the person's life, which is demonstrated by the gradual purification from sin and the exercising of good works (for instance, caring for widows and orphans, James 1:27). The teaching is advocated in many of the creeds of Protestantism, but is not universally accepted. Advocates and opponents of the doctrine within Protestantism agree that acceptance before God is by faith alone through grace alone, but they differ on the necessary consequences of that justification in the individual's life.

Lordship salvation came to the forefront in the late 20th century when Calvinistic evangelical John F. MacArthur argued against the doctrine of carnal Christianity in his book The Gospel According to Jesus.

Some evangelicals such as Charles Stanley, Norman Geisler, Zane Hodges, and Bill Bright have denied the doctrine, teaching instead a doctrine they call free grace that posits that salvation is a gift of divine grace whereby the recipient is declared righteous before God on account of Jesus' atonement and righteous life. Because this gift is bestowed irrespective of the deeds of the individual (as even advocates of Lordship salvation believe), they believe the receiver of the gift cannot do anything to undo what God has done, even by sinning flagrantly and habitually without repentance. Thus, the gift of salvation in this understanding results in a form of eternal security apart from any change in behavior.

This view is also sometimes called carnal Christianity because those who live carnally (in biblical terms, "indulging the flesh", that is living in gross, habitual sin) and show no "fruit" (that is, no evidence of a converted heart) are nonetheless to be assured they are saved because God has granted them salvation and they have accepted it. It is also called cheap grace by critics. By way of comparison, proponents of Lordship salvation claim that true salvation necessarily produces a desire for sanctification and living a righteous life. For them, it is not a matter of undoing what God has done, but of following the natural desires of the truly regenerated heart, and if those desires are not present, then it is evidence that the person is not truly saved.

At least some Christians who teach free grace also believe that sanctification will be an inevitable part of every Christian's life. Charles Caldwell Ryrie, wrote a book entitled So Great Salvation, which is an apology for the free grace viewpoint. In it he says "Every Christian will bear spiritual fruit. Somewhere, sometime, somehow. Otherwise that person is not a believer. Every born-again individual will be fruitful. Not to be fruitful is to be faithless, without faith, and therefore without salvation."

So it appears that the differences between these two views are more subtle than they might appear at first. Many of the opponents of Lordship Salvation disagree more with the proponents' attitudes and usage of Scripture than they do with the actual conclusions of the proponents.

For instance, Lordship Salvation proponents will often quote Romans 2:14 in support of thier view. This verse says "for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified," and on the surface certainly seems to side with Lordship Salvation. However, proponents of free grace point out that the context of Romans 2 is the setting up of a world in which no man can please God and be justified before Him, and thus Paul then goes on in chapter 3 to point out our need for Christ's atonement. Basically, the Lordship view sees Romans 2 as referring to the sanctification process, whereas the free grace view sees this as referring to the lost state of man.

Biblical passages
Several Bible passages are frequently mentioned in the debate over Lordship salvation (all quotations from the NIV):

John 14:15: "If you love me [Jesus], you will obey what I command."

Hebrews 12:14b: "Without holiness no one will see the Lord."

Ephesians 5:5: "For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person, such a man is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."

1 Corinthians 6:9-10: "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

James 2:14,17: "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

1 Peter 1:15-16: "But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'"

1 John 2:3-6: "We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, 'I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did."

Romans 8:5-8: "For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God."

2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"

Advocates of free grace understand all of these quotations (with the possible exception of 2 Corinthians 5:17) have a context in which the author is admonishing unfaithful but truly saved people to live their lives as an example to others, and advocates of Lordship salvation add that these passages appear to unequivocally demand sanctification, or "holiness", as an essential part of being a follower of Christ.

Arminian objections
"This lordship teaching fails to distinguish salvation from discipleship and makes requirements for discipleship prerequisites for salvation. Our Lord distinguished the two (Luke 14:16-33). This teaching elevates one of the many aspects of the person of Christ (Master over life) in making it a part of the Gospel. Why not require faith in His kingship? Or in the fact that He is Judge of all, or that He was the Creator? Though my view has been dubbed "easy believism," it is not easy to believe, because what we ask the unsaved person to believe in not easy. We ask that he trust a person who lived two thousand years ago, whom he can only know through the Bible, to forgive his sins. We are asking that he stake his eternal destiny on this. Remember the example of Evangelist Jesus. He did not require the Samaritan woman to set her sinful life in order, or even be willing to, so that she could be saved. He did not set out before her what would be expected by way of changes in her life if she believed. He simply said she needed to know who He is and to ask for the gift of eternal life (John 4:10)." Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology

Compared with popular views of salvation

The following chart is from Keith A. Mathison, Dispensationalism, Rightly Dividing the People of God?**:

Radical Non-Lordship Moderate Non-Lordship Lordship
Repentance Repentance has absolutely nothing to do with salvation and should therefore never be included in the gospel message. Repentance is not a part of conversion but simply a change of mind about something. It is not meant to be part of the gospel message. The gospel calls sinners to faith in oneness with repentance. Repentance is turning from sin, not a work but a divine grace. Acts 2:38, 3:19, 11:18, 17:30, 20:21, 26:18-20;2 Pet. 3.9; Luke 3:8, 24:47; 2 Tim 2:25
Faith Faith is simply the belief in the truthfulness of certain facts. It is solely the work of man and not a gift of God. Faith is primarily being convinced of the facts of the gospel, but it also includes an act of the will and an element of trust in the person. Salvation is all God’s work. Those who believe are saved apart from any effort on their own. Even faith is a gift, not a work of man. Titus 3:5; Eph. 2:1-5,8; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 11.
Faith's Object The object of faith is the collection of facts of the gospel message. The object of saving faith is The Lord Jesus Christ. The object of faith is Christ Himself, not only a creed or promise. Faith therefore involves personal commit-ment to Christ. All true believers follow Jesus. John 3:16, 10:27-28; 2 Cor. 5:15
Faith's Effects The only necessary effect of faith is salvation from the eternal penalty of sin. A life of continued growth in grace (progressive sanctification) and salvation from the power of sin are not necessary effects. Some fruit is inevitable in a true Christian life, though it may never be outwardly visible. Real faith inevitably produces a changed life. Salvation includes a transformation of the inner person. The nature of the Christian is different, new. The unbroken pattern of sin will not continue. 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:6, 1 John 3:9-10
Salvation's Extent Salvation means gaining eternal life. The other aspects of Christian life are different kinds of ‘salvation’, which believers must experience after conversion. Salvation guarantees justification and “positional” sanctification but not necessarily “progressive” sanctification. The gift of God, eternal life, includes all that pertains to life and godliness, not just a ticket to heaven. Rom. 6:6, 8:32; 2 Pet. 1:3.
Christ's Lordship There should be absolutely no aspect of submission to the lordship of Christ in the gospel message A person can accept Jesus as savior without acknowledging Him as Lord of one’s life and without being willing to allow Him control over ones life. Jesus is the Lord of all and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender. He does not bestow eternal life on those whose hearts remain set against Him. Rom. 6:17:18, 10:9-10; James 4:6
Holy Desires The scriptural revelation knows nothing of a doctrine in which Christian love is guaranteed by the mere fact that one is a Christian. Ryrie argues that believers my live like unsaved people for extended periods of time, but he does not believe this will be the lifelong state of any Christian. Those who truly believe will love Christ. They will therefore long to obey Him. John 14:15,23; 1 Pet. 1:8-9; Rom 8:28-30; 1 Cor. 16:22
Assurance When a person believes he has assurance of life eternal. A continuous lack of fruit in a believer’s life should never cause him to question his salvation. The bible offers two grounds for assurance. The objective ground is that God’s word says that I am saved through faith…The subjective ground relates to my experiences. Behavior is an important test of faith. Obedience is evidence that one’s faith is real. The person who remains utterly unwilling to obey Christ does not evidence true faith. 1 John 2:3-4
Perseverance It is possible for a person to cease believing and yet remain a Christian. Ryrie agrees with Hodges: faith is a point in time action and may not continue in a Christian. Genuine believers may stumble and fall, but they will persevere in the faith. Those who turn completely away show that they were never really born again. 1 John 2:19; 1 Cor. 1:8



* Compiled from articles on Wikipedia--the free encyclopedia, and Theopedia--encyclopedia of Biblical Christianity.

** Highly recommended!