FRANK B. MINIRTH *
The relationship between faith and works has been an issue of debate for many years. It centers around the nature of saving faith: Does it entail a response of the human will to the lordship of Christ?
Evangelicals maintain that justification is by grace through faith alone and that works are best understood as the fruit of faith. This faith is the one biblical foundation for assurance of salvation. When one becomes a Christian, he consciously believes in Christ. He does not need, nor is he required, to will a commitment to obedience, though he may do so.
Lordship Salvation advocates have extended saving faith to include a commitment to the lordship of Christ which entails obedience. This makes assurance conditional and the best anyone can hope for is to have enough good works to be somewhat confident of salvation. They believe that faith is necessary for assurance of salvation, but not sufficient. They also believe that confession, baptism, restitution, commitment, good works, surrender to Christ’s lordship, or some other requirement is necessary for salvation.
- The Clarity of the Gospel Message
Salvation is God’s free grace-gift to each believer: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Jesus already has paid for it in full. The only requirement for receiving forgiveness and eternal life is to believe in Christ. This is clearly based on Scripture, not on personal experience.
In about 115 NT passages, the salvation of a sinner is declared to depend only upon believing, and in about 35 passages to depend on faith, which is a synonym for believing.
Any addition to believing is anathema to God. The divine message is not “believe and pray,” “believe and confess sin,” “believe and be baptized,” “believe and repent,” or “believe and make restitution.” These added requirements have appropriate meanings in the Scriptures, but if they were essential to salvation they would never be omitted from any passage where the way to be saved is stated. (E.g., see Gal 3:22; John 1:12; 3:15-16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; Acts 16:31; Rom 1:16; 3:22-23; 4:24-25; 6:23).
Salvation is unconditional, meaning it cannot be earned by merit or denied because of demerit. And the moment one believes, this gift includes redemption, reconciliation, forgiveness, regeneration, justification, perfection, and glorification. This work of God is so perfect that it lasts forever (John 5:24; 10:28-29; Rom 8:1).
Christ offered assurance of this when He said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). Later He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).
Where there is a lack of assurance there is usually an impression that so long as one’s daily life is imperfect, it is unreasonable to do any more than hope for God’s mercy. No conviction of assurance can grow where the mind is still wondering whether it has really believed in a saving way.
God saves us in spite of our unworthiness and sins and keeps us saved for all eternity, because of the Cross. His divine provision calls for no payments to be made on the “installment plan.” Believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13; 4:30; 2 Cor 1:22).
III. Grace Versus Works and Law
Under grace, the children of God are delivered from the burden of a covenant of works. They are free to live in the power of the indwelling Spirit, and are accepted in Christ (Eph 1:6). This is in contrast to works (Rom 11:6). Theologically, the word works refers to acts of obedience, take willpower and labor (Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
Gracee is also in contrast to law (Gal 5:4; John 1:17). A law implies a regulation that should be kept. I have heard Christian workers say, “I tell someone about the Christian life before he becomes Christian, so he will know what to expect.” Their aim is to obtain from the person a resolution to live the Christian life. The law formula is, “If You will do good, I will bless you.” Conduct secures favor with God instead of securing favor with God through Christ.
Note the following contrasts:
|—Salvation is a gift (Eph 2:8-9; John 10:28; Rom 6:23)||—Salvation requires a payment by the individual|
|—Demerit cannot result in salvation’s being denied (Rom 5:8)||—Demerit can result in denial of salvation|
|—Personal merit cannot result in salvation (Gal 5:6; 3:22)||—Personal merit can result in salvation|
|—Grace-plus-nothing (Gal 4:9)||—Grace plus merit|
|—Starts with what Christ has done (Heb 7:16)||—Starts with what the individual must do|
|—Only believe (in Gospels over 115 times)||—Believe plus…|
|—Receive, and then do…||—Do to receive|
|—Contrasted to debt (Rom 4:4, (Rom 11:6), law (Gal 5:14)||—Consistent with debt, works, and law|
One of my psychiatric patients had been exposed to the grace-plus system, and combined with her own obsessive-compulsive personality, she succumbed to disabling guilt, frustration, and disillusionment.
She stated, “I’m going to hell. I just know it. I haven’t done enough right.”
I asked her to picture Christ on the Cross, to picture each of her sins driving a spike into His hand, and finally to visualize carrying all of her guilt up to the Cross and giving it to Christ. She had an anguished demeanor.
I shared John 6:37 and Eph 2:8-9, and explained that what we do and don’t do in the Christian life is not based on a “brownie-point” system, but on faith in Christ as our Savior. Soon a serene, peaceful look came over her face. I had introduced her to grace.
- Fallacies of Lordship Theology
The significant fallacies of Lordship Salvation include the following:
- People are being asked to earn God’s love and acceptance by resolutions leading to consistent good works.People cannot accomplish this; nor isit necessary. No believer glorifies God in all that he or she does all of the time (1 Cor 3:11-15).
Salvation is a work of God for man, rather than a work of man for God. Good works grow out of a saved life, but do not precede salvation or form any basis for it!
- People are often asked to make Christ the Lord of their life. This implies that acknowledging Christ’s lordship is a human work. Butit is not man who makes Christ Lord; that’s who He already is.He is our Lord, Creator, Savior, and Friend.
By believing in Him, He already lives in us in the Person of the Holy Spirit, whose purpose it is to glorify Christ (2 Cor 5:17; John 15:5). As children of God, believers can enjoy a day-to-day witness of the Holy Spirit and an experience of inward transformation. Our own human resources and merits are in no way related to this experience of divine grace.
- Requiring a daily commitment to make Christ the Lord of one’s life isasking unregenerate people to make a promise they can in no way keep.This law, as well as those who try to keep it, are doomed to fail because they depend on the very flesh from which deliverance is sought (Rom 6:14)! We cannot live to the glory of God by following certain rules on a consistent basis. The will of God is fulfilled in the believer, not by the believer (Rom 8:4).
No life would ever be good enough to merit anything but condemnation from God if judged on the grounds of moral equity. On the other hand, no sinner has fallen so low, or is so weak, that he cannot find absolute rest and assurance of personal salvation by believing in Christ)
“Leading a Christian life,” therefore, has no saving value; self-improvement is not the purpose for believing in Christ. Even trying to live a perfect life would produce hopeless discouragement.
Realizing our standing in Christ, however, should not lead to laxity in our daily lives; this wonderful position is the strongest possible incentive to pure living that we can know. John 6:28-29 says, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said unto them, “This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he hath sent.”
- All people have something in their life that does not allow them to reach perfection.They wonder, “How much submission to Christ’s lordship will it take to be assured of salvation? How much is enough?” All of us have failed Him many, many times. We sinned before we became Christians and have continued sinning ever since. God tells us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Some people fear that they do not believe enough. A man who came to Jesus once said, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Jesus’ response demonstrates that it is not the amount of faith but the Object of faith that matters. The most feeble belief in Christ saves; and the strongest faith in self leaves one lacking. (It is Christ who saves us—belief is the tool we use to receive salvation.)
Others fear they are not committed enough. No one has ever been totally committed to anything, nor has anyone totally committed every area of his life to Christ. (Titus 3:5 reminds us that salvation is apart from any righteous deeds we do.)
What about repenting enough? God never intended for repentance to be a separate work apart from His simple plan of salvation. It occurs simultaneously with belief as one turns away from self to Christ for salvation. Repentance literally means a change of thought or attitude with respect to sin, self, and Christ. The believer realizes he is a hopeless sinner and that Christ can save him.
Many people may also fear they are not praying enough. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2Tim 1:7; see also Rom 8:26-27). Prayer is only possible through a relationship with God through Christ; this relationship is established by placing faith in Christ. Prayer consists of praise, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication, but it is not a requirement for salvation. The key term in Scripture is to trust Christ, not to pray.
It is the divine purpose that a Christian’s conduct should be inspired by the fact that be or she is already saved and blessed with all the riches of grace in Christ Jesus, rather than by the hope that an attempted imitation of the Christian standard of conduct will result in salvation.
God will reward faithful service, but does not demand it. Our service is an expression of love for Him.
V.A “Double-Bind” Message
Untold psychological damage is done when an individual feels he is accepted on a conditional basis. This may be expressed in a contradictory message, such as “I love you, but you must…” It produces a paradox that makes choice impossible.
It is a “double-bind” message to combine grace with merit. This message asks a person to do two conflicting things. By definition, grace is God’s unmerited favor, a free gift (eternal life—Rom 6:23). This means that one cannot earn grace because this, would contradict the definition. Thus, when a minister or priest asks someone to do something for the grace of God, he has just presented the individual with an impossible choice. If the individual chooses grace, he cannot do anything for it. Yet, the minister has told him that he must do something. The person cannot win!
To see the Apostle Paul’s words about this “double-bind” message read Rom 4:1-25.
- Why People Impose or Choose Lordship
These demands are not only a denial of the doctrine of grace but are unwarranted, because God has provided no enabling power for unregenerate people to lead a perfect life. I have never met a person who has been totally successful in making Christ the Lord of his or her life. If salvation depended on consistent, personal goodness, there could not be a single saved person in the world, and therefore no grounds for assurance. So why would a person impose lordship on himself or someone else?
- Some people (even with sincerity)misinterpret Scripture,taking verses out of context or missing the overall theme of grace. For example, undue emphasis on public acts such as baptism, confession, prayer, a good life, dedication, vows, and submission to Christ’s lordship can make salvation a matter of faith in Christ plus a meritorious public act. These functions can get out of balance or confused in their purpose and value.
For example, Scripture instructs us to be baptized as a testimony to, or outward expression of, an inward reality (Acts 19:5; Rom 6:3-4; 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27; and Col 2:12). However, it is not specified in the more than two hundred passages of Scripture that clearly list faith as the condition for salvation.
Confession, too, is clearly the believer’s privilege. It does not provide a basis for salvation, but rather displays its reality. Unfortunately, it is difficult to encourage confession in connection with conversion without making it seem to be meritorious.
- It is a psychological fact that thehuman mind is aided by some physical actionwhich serves to strengthen an impression. But such acts, if urged at all, should not be presented as a condition of salvation. When there are required actions, there is a natural, corresponding increase in “backsliding.”
- There is pride in thinking one is in control. Man’s proud spirit will not accept the fact that he can do nothing to merit God’s approval (Isa 64~6-7). People apparently often choose lordship thinking for their own glorification and recognition (Gal 6:12-13).
- Another reason for its appeal may be that itfocuses on an external set of rules and practices,thereby making it possible for a person to suppress his internal feelings of weakness, worthlessness, and/or failure. It gives a visible standard by which he can be judged and compared to others to build his own self-worth.
- Because ofbackgrounds and religious training,many Christians become comfortable believing that their performance is a factor in their salvation. This wrong perspective, which involves self-reliance and conditional acceptance, is a precipitating cause for depression. Paul recorded his discouragement in trying to live for God in his own energy in Rom 7:14-24.
VII. The Negative Impact of Lordship Theology
Lordship theology can have a very negative psychological impact on people’s lives. Because of this denial of grace, Christians have been occupied with futile attempts at self-keeping to the neglect of true service for God.
Many of the more anxious and depressed patients I have treated are believers who have not yet learned how to personally appropriate God’s thought patterns and behavioral principles into their lives. Many have developed negative, self-critical, judgmental beliefs that have resulted in guilt and insecurity.
Promises for future conduct can set people up for many failures, and the guilt can be overwhelming. Guilt is produced partly by the conviction of the Holy Spirit and partly by one’s own conscience.
A Christian’s conscience is molded by what parents, teachers, church, and the Bible say is right and wrong, but even those ideas are influenced by individual interpretation. No two consciences are exactly alike.
God does not want us to live with guilt. It is Christ’s desire to forgive us and to free us. As we accept His forgiveness, we are free to enjoy the blessing of John 10:10, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Christ wants us to experience the fruit of the Spirit—”love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal 5:22-23).
There are a number of common mental defenses that can keep Christians from living a joyful, fruitful life through the power of the Holy Spirit. These are: denial, projection, intellectualization, rationalization, repression, compensation, suppression, introjection, passive-aggressive behavior, somatization, idealization, control, substitution, and displacement. These can lead to various consequences.
Depression. Unfortunately, depression often goes unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated. All people, including Christians, at times feel sad or blue; this is a normal human emotion. But it becomes an illness when symptoms persist and the ability to function is impaired. Trying to earn God’s acceptance by being perfectly obedient is a no-win, depressing commitment.
Pride is the downfall of many people. Christians can be proud of the many acts of goodness they perform, but they are never perfect and pure. Also, many confuse the sin of pride with the godly attribute of loving themselves in a healthy way. However, pride and self-worth are really opposites. Some “better than thou” attitudes are cover-ups for feelings of inadequacy.
Anger is also a common effect. It can start with bitterness and turn into depression. The most psychologically damaging aspect is anger turned inward; and anger against God is spiritually damaging.
Personality disorders can also result from “double-bind” messages and conditional love.
Of all personality types the obsessive-compulsives are the most susceptible to lordship theology. Lordship doctrine drives them to seek perfection (which is impossible in this life), driving them down the road to bondage. These individuals are overconscientious, overdutiful, and perfectionistic, always striving for 99%. Lordship teaching drives them to strive for 99.9%, making them even more obsessive and scrupulous regarding their values (far beyond the demands of faith and culture). Because they expect too much out of themselves, they frequently become angry with themselves, which results in depression.
Studies have shown that the majority of religious leaders lean toward compulsive personality traits. They have tendencies to become legalistic and absorbed in disputes over right and wrong. Their conscience is stricter than God’s guidelines in the Bible. They fail to distinguish between true and false guilt. They may struggle with a fear of having committed the unpardonable sin or they may fear that they haven’t really trusted Christ as their Savior. They need to be reminded of the grace and mercy of God
Perfectionistic Christians may feel overwhelmed with anger toward God (for supposedly expecting so much of them) and toward themselves (for not being perfect). They may become depressed because they forget that we are called to rest in Christ rather than to be caught up in a never-ending round of activity.
Paranoid personalities are also susceptible. These individuals are overly suspicious, hypersensitive, and distrustful. Since control is a major issue with them (their insecurities drive them to try to dominate others), they sometimes believe they are subject to all kinds of tests. Psalm 31 can offer them great comfort.
Christians with passive-aggressive personalities are likely to be halfhearted believers who irresponsibly “wait on the Lord” while criticizing others as being “less spiritual.” They may brag about being great “prayer warriors” or depend on others for support.
Those with histrionic traits tend to emphasize emotional experiences rather than God’s Word. They typically have spiritual ups and downs, and may become religiously grandiose and claim special powers and gifts.
In the worst cases, Christians can become neurotic or even psychotic if they feel that receiving or keeping salvation is conditional. Psychiatric diagnoses could include:
Psychoses—schizophrenia, brief reactive psychosis, atypical psychosis, schizoaffective disorder, etc.
Neuroses—anxiety neurosis, phobias, obsessive-compulsive neurosis, somatoform disorder, psychogenic-pain disorder, etc.
Personality disorders—paranoia, obsessive-compulsions, socio— pathology, narcissism, avoidance, cyclothymia, dysthymia, etc.
Substance abuse—alcohol, tobacco, drugs, etc.
Affective disorders—manic-depression, major depression
Adjustment disorders—secondary depression or anxiety related to current-day stresses
Others—conduct disorders, anxiety disorders, identity disorders, eating disorders, moral or religious scrupulosity, etc.
VIII. Far-Reaching Emotional Problems
Understanding why Christians have problems with their feelings, thoughts, and behavior requires dealing with all aspects of man— spiritual, psychological, and physical, and realizing that they all affect one another. A good example of the interrelations between these parts of man and the related emotional stress was described by Paul in Rom 7:18-25 and 8:1-2.
If Christians have a new life and power within them at the time of conversion, why then do they continue to have mental and emotional problems? Some may think they won’t continue to have these problems if they just live their lives as God wants them to and by avoiding doing the things that cause then painful guilt, anxiety, and stress.
But it doesn’t work that way. One reason is that the mind is a part of the soul, not a part of the spirit. The soul does not become new or have any change at the time of conversion; the spirit does.
If Christian counselors are to be effective, they must not only help their clients find balanced psychological health and freedom, but also help them realize that only the Lord Jesus can give and maintain real freedom and peace of mind.
Counselors minister to those who are estranged from God and to those who are hindered in their walk with the Lord as a result of wounds to their spirit, soul, or body. They give individualized spiritual and clinical attention to the specific needs of their clients, using four foundational, biblical emphases: love (1 Cor 13:13; 1 Thess 2:10-11); behavior (Gen 4:7); awareness (Ps 139:23-24); and God’s power within (Zech 4:6b).
Just as Christ dealt with people in different ways, Christian counselors apply many scriptural approaches in their therapy, including:
- Advice (Prov 19:20)Support (Rom 1:11-12)Encouragement (urge, admonish, help) (1 Thess 2:11; 5:14)Comfort (2 Cor 1:4)Education (the NT Epistles)Corrective emotional experience (being a Christian example)Support system (the Body of Christ)Insight (parables of Christ)Confession (Jas 5:16)Positive verbal reinforcement (Rom 1:8)Modeling (Christ with the disciples)Cognitive approach (Gal 4:9)Group work (“one another” passages)Confrontation (1 Thess 5:14; 2 Thess 3:15)Directness (Prov 27:5-6)Indirectness (2 Sam 12:1-7)
- Listening (Eccl 3:1, 7)A matter-of-fact manner (Mark 10:14)Gentleness (Mark 10:16)Patience (Matt 18:29; Jas 5:7; Heb 6:15)
Much counsel is directed at the soul of man. However, the spirit is the innermost part of a person and is the most important part in a Christian’s search for peace. Grace can provide this peace.
- A Foundation of Psychiatry
The unconditional grace of God is the foundation for His relationship with man, and is also the foundation of Christian psychiatry and of my practice.
I believe we must put more emphasis on grace. It’s a concept which easily escapes many people because it is so foreign to society’s framework and our individual lifestyles. Throughout the centuries, because of our psychological makeup, it has been easier for people to gravitate to the concept of law.
Martin Luther, after years of striving in vain to be righteous, and after years of psychological pain, discovered the marvelous meaning of grace, thereby finding a solution for the basic guilt common to man. This was the beginning of the great Protestant Reformation.
How the Church views grace has widespread implications. A misconception in one direction can result in depression, while a misconception in another direction can result in a license to sin. These misconceptions not only have widespread spiritual implications, but can also do great psychological harm.
The trend of challenging the unconditional love of Christ, which is God’s system of grace, is still alive in the grace-plus-merit system. I hear Christian workers encouraging others to give their lives to Christ. But He does not want one to give—simply to receive. God has already condemned the old sin nature, and made atonement on the Cross.
Lordship theology can cause endless frustration. It can keep Christians from enjoying Christ’s deep comfort and His resources for solving problems (John 15:4-7; 1 Pet 5:7).
The power to live the Christian life is given by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit that comes when one believes in Christ. Without this power, all actions are based on willpower (human) which God condemns (John 1:13).
- Conclusion: Psychological Benefits of a Biblical Perspective
The theme of the whole Bible is grace, and I urge all believers to “stand in grace” for their mental and spiritual health. Knowing that we are unconditionally loved and assured in our salvation, we can be delivered from the rat-race so many Christians are running today (Eccl 1:14; 4:4; Ps 39:4-5).
The Lord Jesus said: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). It is wise men and women, indeed, who seek the truth about grace. And it is these believers who can live by grace (Rom 6:14) so that all the glory will go to God. God has done so much for us and desires to do much more through us!
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Rom 16:24).
* Dr. Minirth is a Diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, President of the Minirth-Meier Clinics, Richardson, Texas, Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministries, Dallas Theological Seminary, author or co-author of 37 books, and a co-host on radio and television.
 All biblical quotations in this article are taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version.
 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Major Bible Themes (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1953, by Dallas Theological Seminary), 157.
 Frank Minirth, M.D., et al., The Workaholic and His Family (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 87.
 Chafer, Major Bible Themes, 149.
 Frank Minirth, M.D., Christian Psychiatry (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Company, 1977), 51.
 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Salvation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), 43.
 Ibid., 79.
 Sophisticated Lordship theologians often admit this. But on a popular level, “make Christ Lord of your life” is often what is actually said. Ed
 Those Lordship Salvation teachers who are also “five-point” Calvinists (and there are many of them) often teach that regeneration precedes both faith and any surrender to Christ’s lordship which (in their view) true faith requires. But, again, the author addresses the issue in the way it is usually understood at the popular level. Ed.
 Chafer, Salvation, 79.
 “The NT Greek word is metanoia, literally “afterthought” or “change of mind.”
 Chafer, Salvation, 57.
 lbid., 78.
 Lewis Sperry Chafer, True Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1993 revised edition), 19.
 Minirth, The Workaholic and His Family, 130.
 Chafer, True Evangelism, 22.
 Minirth, Christian Psychiatry, 39.