There are lots of books for Dummies today. I’ve chosen to call this article Lordship Salvation for Dummies not because I question your intelligence, but because I want to lighten up the discussion of what could otherwise become a very heavy subject. While Lordship Salvation is complicated, its basic tenets are quite simple. Often when I speak on this I give loads of quotes from Lordship authors to show I’m not making this stuff up. In this article I don’t do that because I can’t keep it simple if I give you 20 or 30 quotes. However, there are plenty of quotes on our website backing up what I write here.
The Basic Definition: COP
There are three key words that define Lordship Salvation. They are captured in the word COP.
1. C = Commitment
All who believe in Lordship Salvation agree that mere belief of certain facts or propositions about Jesus is not enough to save anyone. Lordship Salvation says that one must not only believe in Jesus as the Savior, but one must yield one’s life to Him as Lord of your life. According to Lordship Salvation, a person can believe in Jesus for everlasting life and not be saved because that faith must be joined by a commitment to serve Him one’s entire life. The first word to remember is commitment.
2. O = Obedience
Lordship Salvation is not only concerned with a person’s commitment to Christ at the start of the Christian life. Initial commitment to Christ must be followed by ongoing obedience. According to Lordship Salvation, one’s initial commitment to serve Christ must be followed by a life of obedience. There is no salvation apart from obedience according to Lordship Salvation, because obedience proves that one is truly saved. Often it is said this way, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Commitment is always wedded to obedience. The second word to remember is obedience.
3. P = Perseverance
Lordship Salvation believes that commitment must result in obedience that in turn perseveres to the end of life. A person who commits (C) his life to Christ, and obeys (O) Him for decades, yet who stops serving and obeying Him at the end of life and who dies as an immoral person or an alcoholic or a drug addict or any other type of sinner will not make it into the kingdom. According to Lordship Salvation, no matter how long you have been committed to and have obeyed Christ, you can never assume you are secure, for that is when you are most likely to let down your guard, fall away, and end up in hell. The third word to remember is perseverance. So, putting it all together, you can remember the three key elements of Lordship Salvation with the word COP: Commitment + Obedience + Perseverance = Everlasting Life.
Two Types of Lordship Salvation: RA
You can remember the two types with the letters RA, which stands for the element Radium, or for the disease many have, Rheumatoid Arthritis. But in this case it stands for Reformed and Arminian. The type of Lordship Salvation most people are most familiar with is found in the writings of men like John MacArthur, John Piper, and R. C. Sproul. I call this Reformed Lordship Salvation. It is Reformed because these men believe the five points of Calvinism which grew out of the Reformation. COP for the Reformed person means this: No one is absolutely sure that he has been chosen by God or that Christ died for him. The only way to be sure you are born again is to persevere until death. Therefore, according to Reformed Lordship Salvation, if at the moment of death you are not persevering, you haven’t lost everlasting life, for that is impossible. Rather, you have simply proved what you thought was the new birth was actually a Satanic deception.
The second type of Lordship Salvation is Arminian. Arminius was a follower of Calvin who thought the system needed to be modified to include free will. So for him, if a person failed to persevere in faith and good works, then he would lose eternal life. Since it was a choice of the free will to receive eternal life from God, it could also be a choice of the free will (through rebellion or sin) to give it back. COP for the Arminian Lordship Salvation person says that if at the moment of death you are not persevering in faith and good works, then you will go to hell because you lost everlasting life at some point along the way. While that may sound like a big difference from Reformed Lordship Salvation, it really isn’t. Whether you lose everlasting life or prove you never had it by failing to persevere, you end up in the lake of fire. The end result of both forms is the same. Commitment, obedience, and perseverance (COP) are required in both systems for a person to ultimately receive everlasting life.
“Assurance” According to Lordship Salvation
According to Lordship Salvation “assurance” is a degree of confidence that I am likely to persevere. For both Reformed and Arminian brands of Lordship Salvation, perseverance is the key. Thus the question is, how confident am I that I will hang in there? And since nobody can know for sure what will happen to them in the future, assurance of salvation is never certainty. Several years ago, I had a conversation in Miami with a Reformed Lordship Salvation pastor and seminary professor who admitted he wasn’t sure if he would persevere and that therefore he wasn’t sure he was born again or that he would escape hell. He said, “I might fail to persevere, and if so, I’d end up in hell.”
For one believing in Lordship Salvation “assurance” may fluctuate from 1% to 99%, but it can only be 100% after you have died. Surely when Lordship Salvation people have arguments with their spouse, when they lose their temper, when they find themselves gossiping, or when they find themselves doing something else they shouldn’t do, their assurance goes way down, maybe to 10% or less. For a person who is obsessive-compulsive and perfectionistic, you’d never have over 50% confidence. You’d be mired in despair over the hopelessness of your situation. If anyone reading this holds to Lordship Salvation, I do not wish to offend you. However, I liken this view of assurance, common to both Reformed and Arminian Lordship Salvation, as leading to this type of evangelism: “I don’t know where I’m going when I die and if you have ten minutes I can help you not know where you are going when you die.” My heart breaks for people caught in this sort of thinking.
Does Lordship Salvation Proclaim the True Gospel?
I’ve had conversations and debates with many Lordship Salvation people. In all of these we agree on one thing: One of us is proclaiming the true gospel and the other is not. Therefore, Lordship Salvation people will admit that if the Free Grace view of the gospel is correct, then they are not proclaiming the true gospel. Similarly, if the Lordship gospel is correct, then Free Grace theology is not. According to Galatians 1:6-9, we must be very careful to believe and proclaim the correct gospel, for those who do not are under a curse. This is why gospel-related issues are the most important doctrinal issues in the church today. Every Christian, every pastor, every church must make sure that the gospel they proclaim is the biblical gospel.
As we have seen, both brands of Lordship Salvation teach that works are necessary for a person to escape hell and enter into eternity with God. This is the false gospel that Paul condemns in Galatians. Therefore, the Lordship Salvation gospel is not the true gospel because it doesn’t teach that all who simply believe in Jesus have everlasting life that can never be lost. Their gospel is at odds with the message Jesus proclaimed. No person who holds to Lordship Salvation can say that John 3:16, 5:24, or 6:47 contains enough information for a person to be saved, because these verses do not mention commitment, obedience, or perseverance. The insistence on commitment, obedience, and perseverance as conditions for kingdom entrance makes the Lordship Salvation gospel a works salvation gospel.
Let me clarify by making it clear what I’m not saying. First, I am not saying that Lordship Salvation people are necessarily unsaved. What I’m saying is that they don’t believe the gospel now. If in the past they believed in Jesus Christ alone for everlasting life, apart from works of any kind, they are born again but confused. For example, by his own testimony, leading Lordship Salvation theologian and preacher, Dr. J. I. Packer said in a TableTalk article that he once believed the gospel that Zane Hodges preaches, but he doesn’t anymore. Thus he is born again, although he indicates that he no longer believes the Free Grace gospel. Many in Lordship Salvation, however, have never believed that simply by faith in Jesus they themselves are eternally secure. Second, I’m not saying that someone cannot be saved by hearing a Lordship Salvation gospel. What I am saying is that if a person is saved under Lordship Salvation teaching, it is because they reject most of what the Lordship Salvation person told them. Lordship Salvation garbles the gospel and the more it is garbled, the less likely it is that a person can grasp and believe the true gospel.
Lordship Salvation Is Popular But Wrong
Lordship Salvation is very popular today. I would estimate that 95% of all churches, denominations, seminary and Bible college professors believe in either Reformed or Arminian Lordship Salvation. But popularity must not be confused with correctness. The Lord Himself made it clear that the way is narrow that leads to life. While many assume He was speaking of non-Christian religions, there is no reason to conclude that. Careful examination shows that most “Christians” do not believe that the one who simply believes in Jesus has irrevocable everlasting life. The next time you see a law enforcement officer, think COP: Commitment, Obedience, Perseverance. That is what Lordship Salvation is all about. Lordship Salvation is about eternal salvation by law keeping. When you hear a leading Reformed theologian speak of our “Arminian brethren,” don’t be surprised. Arminians and Calvinists are united in their belief in COP. Only committed and obedient believers who persevere to the end will make it into the kingdom. But that message is not good news. Here’s good news: “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).