Lordship Salvation Wrongly Calls
the Grace Position “No-Lordship”
Lordship Salvation is the view that in order to be born again one must do more than simply believe the facts of the gospel. John MacArthur writes, “The gospel call to faith presupposes that sinners must repent of their sin and yield to Christ’s authority. That, in a sentence, is what ‘lordship salvation’ teaches” (Faith Works, p. 23).
Lordship Salvation proponents do not believe that that the One who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead guarantees eternal life to all who simply believe in Him. They would say that believing that proposition is just believing facts. We must believe in a Person, and that entails His entire Person, including commitment to His Lordship.
MacArthur says this directly: “Those who want to eliminate Christ’s lordship from the gospel see faith as simple trust in a set of truths about Christ. Faith, as they describe it, is merely a personal appropriation of the promise of eternal life…[However], real faith, saving faith, is all of me (mind, emotions, and will) embracing all of Him (Savior, Advocate, Provider, Sustainer, Counselor, and Lord God)” (Faith Works, p. 30). Later he adds, “Saving faith, then, is the whole of my being embracing all of Christ. Faith cannot be divorced from commitment” (p. 45).
It has become common for Lordship Salvation proponents to describe the Free Grace position as “no-lordship.” For example, in his book Faith Works MacArthur uses the term “no-lordship” hundreds of times, often three or more times on the same page. He speaks of “no-lordship theology” (pp. 50, 56, 61, 70, 91, 95, 96, 106, 107, 124, 173, 188, 200), “no-lordship teaching” (pp. 35, 37, 38, 39, 46, 56, 60, 106, 107, 108, 163, 191), “no-lordship doctrine” (pp. 28, 35, 38, 39, 50, 94, 97, 123, 173, 198, 202, 222, 232, 256), “no-lordship apologists” (pp. 46, 140), “no-lordship advocates” (pp. 32, 94, 96), “no-lordship proponents” (p. 97), “no-lordship teacher” (p. 124), “a no-lordship newsletter”—talking about Grace in Focus (p. 201), “No-lordship” (pp. 214-217, 233), “radical no-lordship” (pp. 45, 76, 91, 214-217), “the no-lordship gospel” (pp. 25, 222), “no-lordship salvation” (pp. 26, 39, 232), “the no-lordship view” (pp. 25, 34, 76, 96, 123, 124), “no-lordship terminology” (p. 26), “the no-lordship error” (p. 37), “the no-lordship definition of faith” (pp. 38, 76), “the no-lordship partisan” (p. 39), “no-lordship thought” (p. 50), “no-lordship appeals” (p. 50), “the no-lordship movement” (p. 56), “no-lordship grace” (p. 61), “no-lordship books” (pp. 70, 78), “no-lordship definition of repentance” (p. 77), “no-lordship theologians” (p. 81), “the no-lordship tendency” (p. 96), “the no-lordship approach” (p. 107), “no-lordship people” (pp. 140), and “the no-lordship position” (p. 155n).
It is unfair and misleading to call our position “no-lordship,” since we do believe in and preach the Lordship of Jesus.
We Believe and Teach That Jesus Is Lord
The issue is not whether Free Grace advocates believe and teach the Lordship of Christ. We do. It is in all our books, articles, sermons, and messages.
I personally am prepared to die for the Lord Jesus and His gospel. I know many other Free Grace proponents who are as well. We are prepared to do so not because we must be committed to His Lordship to gain kingdom entrance or to prove we are truly born again. We are prepared to do so because we love Jesus and long to please Him (2 Cor 5:14; 1 John 4:19), because we believe He is indeed the One to whom we will one day give an account at the Bema, the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:9-11), because we long to rule with Him in the life to come (2 Tim 2:12), and because we are grateful for the everlasting life which we know is ours forever (2 Cor 5:14).
Because Jesus is sovereign, we evangelize the way He did. Lordship Salvation is a rejection of the evangelistic message that Jesus gave to Nicodemus in John 3:14-18, the woman at the well in John 4:10-14, Jewish audiences in John 5:24, 6:35, 47, and to Martha in John 11:20-27.
The funny thing is that if you wish to be popular today, hold to Lordship Salvation. That is attractive to 95% of the people in Christianity including Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Church of Christ, Nazarenes, Reformed, Arminian, etc. The Free Grace position is an unpopular position. We hold this position because this is what Jesus taught, not because this is the message we would make up if we were in charge of creating the evangelistic message.
The Free Grace View, Unlike Lordship Salvation, Exalts Christ’s Lordship
Lordship Salvation effectively exalts the sinner who willingly submits to Christ and throughout his life consistently yields to Jesus. The person who makes it into the kingdom is one who perseveres in faith and good works. The Lordship person is seeking a blessed afterlife by hoping to persevere to the end in faith and good works.
It might seem that the Lord Jesus is being exalted by Lordship Salvation. Yet on further examination the one who is actually exalted in Lordship Salvation is the overcomer. Anyone who gets into the kingdom is a winner. There are no losers in God’s family. The timid, weak, shy, and retiring types are not good candidates for salvation according to Lordship Salvation. Wimps need not wonder where they will spend eternity. Heaven is reserved for the confident, strong, outgoing, vibrant, successful people.
The Free Grace view doesn’t focus on our works at all in terms of eternal life, other than to say our works are like filthy rags. We do, of course, teach as the Lord and His apostles did that the Lord Jesus will evaluate our works at the Judgment Seat of Christ and that He will give out eternal rewards for the work we have done, whether good or bad (see 2 Cor 5:9-10). Yet even if a believer lives in way that is displeasing to the Lord and dies in such a state, he still has everlasting life and will still be in the kingdom forever (see Luke 8:13; Luke 19:20-26; 1 Thess 5:10). Unlike the Lordship position, we say that our eternal life totally depends on the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus and not at all on our faithfulness.
The Free Grace position exalts the Lord Jesus. Eternal life is a free gift. The Lord Jesus called it “the gift of God” (John 4:10; compare 4:14). The sinner is not worthy of the life he receives by faith. Jesus alone is worthy. He removed the sin barrier by His death on the cross for our sins (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). We gain His life, everlasting life, when we believe in Him for it because the Worthy One guarantees that all who simply believe in Him have everlasting life that can never be lost (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35, 47).
Lordship Salvation Is
Essentially Works Salvation
Despite the disclaimers by some in the Lordship Salvation camp, their position can reasonably be called works salvation. Only those who persevere in faith and good works until death will make it into the kingdom according to Lordship Salvation. While some in Lordship Salvation like to say that the works we do really aren’t our works, but are God’s works, that claim doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why is it necessary to threaten people with hell unless they persevere in good works if God sovereignly does the good works in and through us?
When I was in seminary we had chapel services four days a week. Normally the speakers were visiting pastors, theologians, and missionaries. But at the end of the Fall semester, a week was put aside for the four best fourth-year student preachers to speak to us. This had been a tradition for years.
I heard that before I attended seminary, when Tim Timmons was a student, a friend of his spoke in chapel during Senior Preaching Week. Tim felt he had done a good job preaching that day, so he went up and told him so. His friend replied, “Oh, it wasn’t me, it was the Lord.” Tim got a puzzled look on his face and replied, “Funny, I could have sworn I saw your lips move.”
The Free Grace position recognizes what the Scriptures teach, that everyone is accountable for their works, both believers and unbelievers. People are not accountable for works that God does. People will give an account for their own works. All will be judged according to their works, believers at the Bema and unbelievers at the Great White Throne Judgment. But unlike Lordship Salvation, we teach that these judgments of works are not to determine anyone’s eternal destiny. Believers are judged at the Bema to determine our fullness of life forever in the kingdom. Unbelievers are judged at the Great White Throne Judgment to determine their degree of suffering forever in the lake of fire (see Rev 20:11-14; see also Matt 10:15; 11:21-24). The basis of unbelievers being condemned is not their works, but the fact that their names are not in the book of life (Rev 20:15), which is because they never believed in Jesus for eternal life while they were alive (John 11:26).
Jesus is Lord. If that weren’t the case, then the Free Grace position would be meaningless for we depend on His sovereignty and His trustworthiness both for our eternal destiny and for the prospect of ruling with Him in the life to come.
Admittedly the Free Grace position teaches that failure is possible in the Christian life. That is, however, not only Biblical, it is also essential if Jesus is Lord since He told us in His Word that He sovereignly chose to allow believers to fail, or succeed (e.g., Matt 24:45-51; 25:1-13; 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-26; Revelation 2-3). In His sovereignty He chose to make this life for believers a test to see who would be chosen to rule with Him forever.
Regardless of what people say of us, we are not the “no-lordship” position. We are the “pro-Lordship” position. Jesus is Lord and that is why we proclaim the Free Grace message. We proclaim the message our Lord and Savior gave us to proclaim.