We’re in the middle of a series analyzing John MacArthur’s ministry’s article on Lordship Salvation. Starting in Pt. 8, we have been digging into the first of 9 items listed as the theological distinctives of Lordship Salvation. Here is distinctive 1:
First, Scripture teaches that the gospel calls sinners to faith joined in oneness with repentance (Acts 2:38; 17:30; 20:21; 2 Pet. 3:9). Repentance is a turning from sin (Acts 3:19; Luke 24:47) that consists not of a human work but of a divinely bestowed grace (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25). It is a change of heart, but genuine repentance will effect a change of behavior as well (Luke 3:8; Acts 26:18-20). In contrast, easy-believism teaches that repentance is simply a synonym for faith and that no turning from sin is required for salvation.
Let me summarize the verses quoted here in their own context, (except for Luke 3:8). We disbelieved in Jesus, but we should repent of that and turn toward Him in faith. This is the Christian idea of repentance, and it is the context that is ignored in the Lordship Salvation document over and over and over. Luke 3:8 is about John the Baptist (who is the descendant of Levi and the representative of the law – read here), who is giving us an idea of repentance from the perspective of the last hurrah of the old covenant. John the Baptist is the law bowing down to the greater ministry of grace and truth (John 1:17). It is not meant to be a new covenant understanding of repentance, it is giving the Jewish nation one last chance to succeed at the old covenant. If you are unfamiliar with old covenant/new covenant terminology, it comes from this passage:
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)
This is remarkably different than the Lordship Salvation distinctive, isn’t it?
I want to be fair and try to imagine the response to this take on John the Baptist’s notion of repentance: “You mean that, because of some obscure idea about who JtB’s dad came from, you are going to throw out his clear idea of repentance? That seems a little self-serving for your pet doctrine. Jesus wasn’t at war with John the Baptist; in fact John the Baptist was His herald. Jesus never repudiated John the Baptist’s notion of repentance.” Fair enough. However, is it not alarming to my Lordship Salvation friends that their notion of repentance resonates far more with JtB’s understanding than with Jesus’? Jesus’ teaching about repentance drew sinners and tax-gatherers to Him, and caused weeping prostitutes to wipe His feet with their tears and hair! It deeply offended the moralists. When He explained it He used metaphors like lost sheep and lost coins being found – and this is His explanation of REPENTANCE:
8 “Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Luke 15:8-10 (NASB)
Repentance according to Jesus is not a moral behavioral change as much as it is a being found by God. You may say, “yes, but the prodigal son had to return! You are twisting this around so bad!” I say, do you really want to argue with me that the parable of the prodigal son isn’t about grace and mercy? Who is twisting what around here? Can you entertain the idea that maybe your metanoia (Gr for repentance, meaning a change of mind) is more about changing your idea about the nature of God than it is about changing yourself? Repentance in Jesus’ mind, clearly, is about God taking the initiative in showing compassion and mercy and receptiveness to sinners. It really is true — it is biblical.
I think that I have demonstrated that these verses that have been quoted in defense of the Lordship position in distinctive one have been stripped of context and pressed to serve a pet doctrine. In fact, this document could easily serve as a textbook and clownish example of bad exegesis. However, is the larger point of this first distinctive true? Does the scripture call sinners to to faith joined in oneness with repentance, and does repentance mean a turning from sin? Is there something we are missing? Must we “turn from” our sin before we come to saving faith in Christ?
I truly believe that Lordship proponents have not done their homework. How would their understanding of justification jive with verses like these:
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.
Romans 3:21-25 (NASB)
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-7 (NASB)
15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
1 Timothy 1:15 (NASB)
18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (NASB)
You could really choose almost any epistle of Paul at random and fish around for 30 seconds and find something that refutes Lordship salvation. The general overall message of Romans, Ephesians, and Galatians stand as a monumental refutation of Lordship salvation. You can see that Lordship proponents shy away from the Pauline epistles, and exegete them more as problem passages than as beautiful truths. The reason is this: the main point of Christianity is that Jesus died for sinners. That’s the main point. If you try to make this out to be something you do instead of being a simple message that you believe, you ruin it. You either believe Jesus died for your sins or you don’t. If you believe it, it becomes center stage for you. It becomes the center of your universe. It becomes your liberation and your passion. You can’t even think of some form of godliness that doesn’t put Christ and Him crucified as the central beating heart of it. He stands forever on the throne a lamb as if slain (Revelation 5:5). He raised from the dead with His scars still in place. His scars are His power because His death was His greatest work. My wife Betty pointed out this morning that there were messages to very wonderful churches who had endured terrible persecution for Jesus’ name’s sake and by anyone’s standards held Jesus as “Lord”, and not one of them were worthy to open the scroll. Neither were the elders around the throne or the cherubim or any of the holy angels or any other creature in all creation. There is only One who is worthy, Jesus Christ. We are His bride, He is our worthiness. If you don’t think that is enough, if you want to craft your own worthiness, or if it is too impractical and theological for you, maybe you should become a Muslim or a Jew or a Confucianist, because when you say “Lordship” you mean compliance with a form of law the same as these systems. On the other hand normal Christianity says that He is Lord whether you imagine you have “made” Him so or not, because even when you sin He is your advocate.
If you are a Lordship proponent, you think I am watering down the gospel and making way for moral license. On the contrary, you are making “the gospel” out to be little doable moral lessons, instead of about the greatness and majesty of the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ on the cross. You make light of the beautiful and perfect and unbendable wrath and justice of God, and the power of Jesus’ blood. You haven’t even tried to connect the dots between justification and practice. You are quite literally the people who say “Lord Lord didn’t I” (Matthew 7:1-23) but you are worse, because those people healed the sick in Jesus’ name, and you merely selfishly offer that for a portion of your life you didn’t masturbate or look at pictures of naked people. And you know what? You probably did those things anyway, and if not, your pride about your own success is worse. Do you really think that is going to save you? Let your fear and your endless thirst for sin take you to the foot of the cross, and put all of your trust in Christ’s blood. It is His grace which saves you, and His blood is sufficient for all of your sin, past present and future. Stop neglecting so great a salvation. Are you willing to say there is something you can do that is greater than Christ’s blood? There is one thing, the same as the pharisees: unbelief. So, instead, come over to the universe of grace, and believe. The water is so fine! Real grace and forgiveness and eternal life and acceptance with great unassailable assurance is the narrow path to godliness. Don’t even make godliness your goal; it is a minor fruit of a much greater grace. Seek the cross of Christ. If you don’t honestly grasp this crazy emphasis on Christ’s blood, if the cross is more of a necessary doctrinal element than your one great passion, make it your aim and your highest prayer to get this. It is truly liberating!