The Real Strange Fire: Lordship Salvation Pt. 4

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

The gospel that Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience, not just a plea to make a decision or pray a prayer. Jesus’ message liberated people from the bondage of their sin while it confronted and condemned hypocrisy. It was an offer of eternal life and forgiveness for repentant sinners, but at the same time it was a rebuke to outwardly religious people whose lives were devoid of true righteousness. It put sinners on notice that they must turn from sin and embrace God’s righteousness. Our Lord’s words about eternal life were invariably accompanied by warnings to those who might be tempted to take salvation lightly. He taught that the cost of following Him is high, that the way is narrow and few find it. He said many who call him Lord will be forbidden from entering the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matt. 7:13-23).

The Gospel of High Cost

It looks like when our gty document says “He taught that the cost of following Him is high”, He is referencing this passage:

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Luke 9:23-26 ESV

I have written a number of things about this passage, for example here: Take up your cross daily. At issue is what it means to deny oneself, to take up one’s cross, to lose one’s life for Christ’s sake. The Lordship people would interpret this in a way that is contrary to Paul’s notion, which is that we forfeit our ability to save ourselves through compliance with the law of conscience (Romans 2:14,15) or the Law of Moses (Romans 10:2,5,6). We deny ourselves by giving up on our own ability to comply with the law or save ourselves. We confess that we are sinful, we proclaim that we need Jesus’ blood if we are to be saved. It is this gospel we are not ashamed of (Romans 1:16,17), for if it is a gospel of works which at some level or another by “grace” we must comply with, we will inevitably be ashamed because we know we will not be able to live up to it. We will be doubly ashamed because we do not offer liberation, but a great standard against which to surely fail. What could be more unattainable than the perfect example of Jesus? So, daily, we deny ourselves the right to be our own savior, our own Lord. We say with Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ.” Who but the Lordship salvation proponent is ashamed of the simple words of Jesus in John 3:16? It reeks of easy believism! I am proud to trumpet the gospel of grace and forgiveness and truth to everyone I meet! It is because of grace that I am obsessed with Jesus and His sacrifice for me, it has become all I think about all the time. The gospel is truly liberating to the sinner. If you support Lordship Salvation, do you find my joy in interpreting this passage in a way that harmonizes easily with Paul’s writings irritating? I am rolling around in an ocean of easy-believy twisted scripture. Of course the Lordship guys are the great exegetes.

Just ask yourself this: what exactly does it mean to deny yourself? It can’t mean to be sinless (1 John 1:10, Romans 3:23). What does it mean then? Yes, the cost is high: Jesus’ blood and my self-reliance.

The Narrow Way: Jesus’ explicit refutation of the Lordship Doctrine

We’re going to have to look at the context of the verses referenced here, so we’re going to have to delve into a quick study of the Sermon on the Mount. First let’s review an outline of the whole sermon on the mount to put these verses in perspective:

  1. Kingdom of God: Life as Gift given to:
    1. poor in spirit -> kingdom of heaven
    2. mourner -> comfort
    3. meek -> earth
    4. hunger for (and thus lack) righteousness -> satisfied
    5. merciful (and thus wronged) -> mercy
    6. pure in heart -> see God
    7. persecuted -> kingdom of heaven
    8. Salt and Light
  2. Kingdom of Law: Life Under Law
    1. Jesus came to fulfill the law
    2. You've heard it said, but
      1. murder
      2. adultery
      3. oaths
      4. love your neighbor
      5. be perfect
    3. Practicing Righteousness Unrighteously
      1. giving
      2. prayer
      3. fasting
      4. treasure
  3. Living Under Grace: don't worry about
    1. self - food and clothing
    2. others - judgment
    3. God (seek, and find; not withheld or given strange things)
  4. Consequences of life under law vs. life under grace
    1. narrow path
    2. tree and its fruit
    3. Lord, Lord!
    4. wise and foolish builders

Next, lets quote the scriptures that are being referenced in this sentence:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Now that we’ve got the setup, let’s take a look at the gty document. First, of course there will be a dispute that the beatitudes are about grace. The moralist will find a way to make even the beatitudes a law. I heard a sermon where they said they saw a sign somewhere said “Think being meek is weak? Try being meek for a weak!” Meekness is not something you attain to! Being meek is weak! That’s the point. Should we attain to being poor in spirit? Should we attain to mourning? If you are hungry for righteousness, that means you are unrighteous and can’t attain to it. Why would you attain to that? What can these things mean?

The narrow path is not the way of the pharisees. The narrow path does not lie through compliance with the law, which requires perfection (Matthew 5:48). The narrow path is the path of pure gift, of a kingdom given for nothing more than poverty of spirit. The world is full of the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16), and it not the successful disciplined adherent that ceases from their boasting. The narrow path is the path that believes in and clings to the generosity of the Father, that expects provision and blessing in every situation. The narrow path looks at people knowing that they are sinful and fallen in need of mercy, just like me, and that nevertheless they are worth dying for. The narrow path knows that even though I am imperfect, sinful, and helpless, there is hope and help in God. The narrow path is a real path. The law is the great wall of China (Romans 3:20). The narrow path is a ladder from heaven, not that I climb up, but that God climbs down, to rescue me (Romans 10:6).

It is incredibly ironic, maybe the most ironic thing in the universe, that the Lordship Salvation proponents use the “Lord, Lord” passage to support their position. The people in this little mini-parable have stunning and incredible deeds. They have prophesied, cast out demons, and done many mighty works in Jesus’ name. Jesus doesn’t even dispute their works! He doesn’t say, “I reject you because you’re lying and your works were all fake. If you had done better works I would have accepted you.” He says, “I never knew you.” They hid their real selves like Adam and Eve sewing leaves hiding behind a bush. They thought their deeds would cover their sin. They did not want the kingdom as a gift, they wanted to deserve it because of their deeds. They come to Jesus declaring their own deeds. They thought that they made Him Lord! That was their sin, the sin which excluded them from heaven! They thought they could manipulate His acceptance with their deeds – which would mean, not that He is Lord, but they would be His Lord. Well, it doesn’t work that way. Jesus is Lord. I don’t make Him Lord. No one makes Him Lord. God the Father makes Him Lord. He is Lord of me and the whole thing is His idea. I don’t deserve anything and anything I get is gift pure and simple whether I “make” Him Lord or not. As I grow to believe and trust His kindness, I can confess more and more. It is precious and uncalled for to me that there is even a possibility that He knows me. It certainly isn’t mine to demand from GOD.

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  1. One quick question. I probably will comment more later on but, based upon what you have written, how can Lordship Salvation folks call themselves Calvinist? Seriously, this has nothing to do with Calvinism other than maybe the L and P in TULIP. They are like three or four steps away from the folks at Westboro Baptist. Yikes.

    • Robin,

      I was hoping you might be following this! I think about our correspondence sometimes when I write this stuff, and I hope you are hugely encouraged. You are right on, I have never understood how these guys could call themselves calvinists. I’m not even calvinist, but I’m looking at them and asking how they could be calvinists. It has something to do with inescapable sanctification, like you really are justified by your works, but Jesus has foreordained that you would not sin. At least, not much. It is lunacy. I’m so glad to believe that God’s love and commitment to me will never ever ever end no matter what I do, and that I can expect His love to dig me out of every hole I ever dig for myself.

      Love and favor and grace and rich lavish blessing to you! You are so much the real thing!

  2. The Lordship folks and J. MacArthur are a strange bunch. This is one of the main reasons I run from Calvinism. They eat their own. You realize that John Piper and C.J. Mahaney were thrown under the bus at his strange fire conference right? These two guys are right on par with J. MacArthur with the exception of the cessationist issue and voila they are being criticized as being almost heretics. The word heretic is used fast and loose in the Calvinist world.
    You watch. Tim Keller and Tullian will start to feel it. Heck, I am pretty sure Tullian is already starting to feel some pain. People need to pray for people like Tullian because he is preaching something that will send flames out of the ears of J. macArthur, someone who pulls a lot of weight in the Calvinist world.

    Seriously, people like Tullian need to be in our prayers without ceasing. I think tons and tons of evangelicals might actually be hearing that Jesus died FOR THEM for the first time. Tons of people are actually hearing about the FREEDOM of the gospel for the first time and these people aren’t the unchurched. I will never forget hearing Rod Rosenbladt for the first time and how I was utterly shocked that he was claiming that THIS was the gospel. I listened to it everyday for a week just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Then, when I see that someone like Tullian latched onto this… well, that just sent my heart soaring! Keep up the good work and thanks for doing some serious heavy lifting here! Thanks for wading through all of this junk!

    • “People need to pray for people like Tullian because he is preaching something that will send flames out of the ears of J. macArthur…” Ha ha! True!

      You know, I was thinking about this. It is interesting to reflect on the fact that Tullian is Billy Graham’s grandson, and B.G. glowingly endorsed his last book. I am glad he isn’t shying away from that, because John MacArthur may pull weight in the Calvinist world, but no one carries weight in the evangelical world at large like Billy Stinking Graham. So John MacArthur is going to be put into the uncomfortable position of criticizing Billy Graham and his progeny. This is of course an utterly worldly take on it, and Tullian stands completely on his own two feet, but there is a certain place where Tullian could be seen as carrying the Billy Graham torch like no one else has really been able to, and from that perspective a lot of people would say – “John MacWho? Why is he criticizing the Graham grandson? Because he says Jesus can save us? He must be some wacko. Who cares?”

      And actually, yes — he is some kind of wacko. Christianity is very simple: Jesus saves sinners. I’m not sure I would say he is Westboro Baptist level wacko, but at least some kind of wacko. This Lordship Salvation summary document should stand as a splash of ice water to wake us up as to how far you can stray from the gospel within the protestant evangelical movement.

  3. Pingback: The Real Strange Fire: Lordship Salvation Pt. 6 » Therefore Now

  4. Jim, thank you so much for blogging this series. I have wondered what’s up with Johnny Mac and some other like-minded teachers. I agree Tullian needs our prayers. I have One Way Love now and my highlighter is working on those pages!

  5. Met a bona Fidel Master’s Seminary Lordship Salvatiionist today at Starbucks. He gave me a copy of JC Ryles “Holiness” and said it changed his Christian life forever. He was trying to “convert” me because he found out I was in a C&MA church. Pentecostal lite with Christ as Savior. Strange Fire and Sloppy Agape. Not sure if you know the book, but it is scary! Poor guy was a stoic. You have done a good work with this topic.


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