The Real Strange Fire: Lordship Salvation Pt. 5

This is the fifth installment of my analysis of the online document explaining the doctrine of “Lordship Salvation“. I am continuing through the initial matter in the article to lay a good foundation. Let’s look at the next section of the article:

Present-day evangelicalism, by and large, ignores these warnings. The prevailing view of what constitutes saving faith continues to grow broader and more shallow, while the portrayal of Christ in preaching and witnessing becomes fuzzy. Anyone who claims to be a Christian can find evangelicals willing to accept a profession of faith, whether or not the person’s behavior shows any evidence of commitment to Christ. In this way, faith has become merely an intellectual exercise. Instead of calling men and women to surrender to Christ, modern evangelism asks them only to accept some basic facts about Him.

This shallow understanding of salvation and the gospel, known as “easy-believism,” stands in stark contrast to what the Bible teaches. To put it simply, the gospel call to faith presupposes that sinners must repent of their sin and yield to Christ’s authority. This, in a nutshell, is what is commonly referred to as lordship salvation.

Remember, the warnings he is talking about are warnings about taking salvation too lightly. By “too lightly”, it is meant that as part of your salvation, you have to follow Jesus well. Read previous posts to find a detailed discussion of these ideas. Suffice it to say that this basically implies that we save ourselves, and that Jesus’ blood accounts for nothing. The problem with Lordship Salvation is that it regards salvation too lightly. The focus is all on Lordship.

Now our gty document begins to talk about the prevailing view of evangelicalism on these issues. I find their analysis surprising, because I find that most churches are far closer to a lordship salvation position than they are to a strong emphasis on the gospel. I think the GTY folks just want them to be meaner and less patient about it. The churches which really consistently and forcefully emphasize the power of the blood of Jesus to save sinners, and of life under grace, are very few and far between.

Notice how brazenly and fearlessly this document seeks to redefine saving faith as having works and not Jesus at its center! Saving faith must include behavior and surrender and some acceptable level of commitment to Christ. Contrary to scripture, belief is referred to as an empty intellectual exercise. Apparently our minds are not a real part of our lives. Behavior trumps mental assent to basic facts, so as long as you behave it doesn’t really matter if you believe it or are convinced or if your heart is in it. I don’t think the real Mosaic Law actually allows this kind of division:

35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

The gty document implies that saving faith allows you to love the Lord with all of your behavior, and that your mind doesn’t matter. They themselves would probably say they disagree with this position, but their doctrine of works and fruits being far more substantial than mental assent and belief contraindicates this. It is strange that after denigrating the power of knowledge and belief (1 John 4:16), they go on to say that those who celebrate the power of knowledge and belief according to the scriptures have a shallow understanding.

There is a much more important problem with this, though. Lordship salvation tries to make salvation difficult. If it is easy, they call it “easy believism” and label it a heresy. The phrase “easy-believism” occurs in the document 11 times. Easy-believism is, according to the proponents of Lordship Salvation, the main cardinal sin. That means that faith is essentially useless unless it is difficult. This is different than the scriptures:

21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:21,22,23 (ESV)

3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:3,4,5 (ESV)

The commandments of God are not burdensome. They aren’t just a little bit burdensome. It isn’t that they are incredibly burdensome, but less burdensome in the end than sin. His commandment is that we believe in Jesus and love one another (1 John 3:23, John 6:29). This is the way of grace, the commandment which isn’t under law. The preacher of the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners seeks to liberate and heal, to lift burden. The preacher of the law, the Lordship preacher, seeks to nail the burden down, to increase the burden and to make faith difficult. The sermon wasn’t successful unless they dig down to where that convicting burden nails you. You can see this is what they are doing in this article. Simple belief isn’t enough. You have to prove it. You have to do things. If you don’t it isn’t belief. It has to be difficult.

However, it is worse than this. They are very careful here to make it clear that repenting of sin and yielding to Christ’s authority precedes this difficult saving faith. You have to clean yourself up before you can come to Christ. You haven’t come to Christ, and apart from Him or any “sanctifying work of the Spirit”, you have to repent first. This is what this document says – read it again! It appears to have very little to do with Him dying or saving you. Jesus has boundaries. I guess Jesus doesn’t want these negative influences in His life, He is holy and He can’t take it abide sin. Do I need to recount how wrong this is? He came to earth, and DIED for our sin! While we murdered Him, during the very act of murder, He asked the Father to forgive them! It is His love and resurrection power that overcomes OUR boundaries. No one demolished the idea of boundaries like Jesus.

If belief isn’t easy, it isn’t grace and it isn’t salvation. It is works, and it is you engineering your own justification. There is no other “believism” than the easy kind. Otherwise it isn’t believism at all. “Hard-believism” is just another way of saying “legalism”. For those of you in the grace/gospel camp, don’t shy away from the easiness of belief. Own it! The lifting of burden, the simplicity of faith, the scandalous degree to which we are forgiven, is the very hallmark of our Christianity! Hold the “easy-believism” banner high and proud. Why be ashamed, it is truly the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes!

I can hear the objections: “you’re just cherry-picking scriptures to suit your fancy!” No, I have been studying and writing about the whole context of these verses for years now. It is all public record. You want me to quote the entire Bible? You have to account for the whole of scripture, including the verses that I am quoting. It is the Lordship Salvation proponents who transgress the spirit of the reformation, who nullify the gospel, and cherry pick and twist the scriptures to make it impossible for people to be assured that Jesus can save them. It is strange to me that GTY is supposed to be a calvinist organization and yet they do not seem to understand or honor the reformation idea of Law and Gospel.

I think it is obvious that the whole message of scripture is ultimately, one way or another, about Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He is the Word of God incarnate and that is what He came to do: die for sinners. It is a trustworthy statement (1 Timothy 1:15)! You can’t strip the scandal from the gospel. He isn’t exclusively taking people who have cleaned themselves up first. That doesn’t work! Everywhere you read of repentance in the gospels, it is easy to see that repentance is a repentance of belief that Jesus is the Christ. The fruits that come forth are separate, and they don’t come from the moralistic boundary-drawing pharisees. Fruits come from grace, from sinners who believe, and THIS is the gospel according to Jesus. No good comes from neglecting so great a salvation by concentrating on a works-flavored idea of Jesus’ Lordship.

1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

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  1. Nice post, Jim!

    I like the thoughts on “mental assent” being critically important, not to be denigrated; that belief isn’t hard; that the majority of today’s preaching actually aims at pushing a burden on you instead of relieving it.

    But my favorite is your use of 1 John 3:21-22. I’ve seen people use that “because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” as a statement of law… i.e. “if you do what pleases God he’ll answer.” That’s so wrong! Instead trusting in Christ is what pleases God, is what keeps his commandments. The sign we have that we are in Christ is that our hearts don’t condemn us, and the reason they don’t condemn us is that we trust in Christ!

    So… “believism” is all we have, and by believing in Christ we get it all. I think you’re right that this is the only position that magnifies the awesome salvation we have… and the awesome Savior who has provided it!

    p.s. I think that the “whole message of Scripture” should include Jesus Christ, him crucified, and him resurrected! Yippee!

    • By the way, if you are following all of this, this comment is from Dax Swanson, my pastor at Grace Church Bellingham! How would you like to go to that church? I love it! It is extremely gratifying to see a church saying the things Dax is saying that is growing and thriving and really working. You should all come to beautiful Bellingham for a visit and get a huge shot of delicious gospelly grace!

      I’m so blessed. Wow!

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