We’re in the middle of a series analyzing John MacArthur’s ministry’s article on Lordship Salvation. Starting in Part 8, we have been digging into the nine items listed as the theological distinctives of Lordship Salvation. Here is distinctive three:
Third, Scripture teaches that the object of faith is Christ Himself, not a creed or a promise (John 3:16). Faith therefore involves personal commitment to Christ (2 Cor. 5:15). In other words, all true believers follow Jesus (John 10:27-28). In contrast, easy-believism teaches that saving faith is simply being convinced or giving credence to the truth of the gospel and does not include a personal commitment to the person of Christ.
Isn’t this a strange one? Based on John 3:16 of all things , we are told that faith is not just belief in the message of the gospel, but that faith requires us to maintain a “personal commitment” to Christ. Read John 3:16 yourself and see if it really seems to bear out the point that Jesus demands a “personal commitment” to be saved! However, this apparently isn’t a Christ who is a savior who came not to condemn but to save, who dies for us, who goes to great lengths to forgive us and to accept us, but rather a Christ who is a taskmaster and requires a “personal commitment” to His person. I really have to call bull-spit on this one.
The Gospel is a Message
I say, on the contrary, the gospel is a message:
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 (NASB)
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. 1 Corinthians 1:21-24 (NASB)
15 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures … 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (NASB)
14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” Romans 10:14-15 (NASB)
13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13 (NASB)
Even John MacArthur agrees that the gospel is a message, as evidenced by the following quotes:
“The thrust of the series and the new book, just this, that many of today’s churches have abandoned the gospel message that Jesus Himself taught, a hard-to-believe message that included self-denial and some very difficult demands. Instead, they’ve offered up an easy man-centered, non-confrontational gospel that focuses on meeting people’s felt needs in their desire for self-fulfillment.” (from http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/GTY87/Is-the-Gospel-Seeker-Friendly-An-Interview-with-John-MacArthur–Phil-Johnson)
“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.” (from the top of the document we are currently examining!)
Well, apparently even they don’t agree with themselves on this point, even within the same document, so what do we do with that? In fact, if the gospel isn’t a message, why write books and preach sermons? There is precious little evidence for this idea, but there is abundant verbiage in the NT to the effect that the gospel is indeed a message to be proclaimed and believed. Let’s put their own message plainly: if you were really convinced, if you really believed, you would obey more and live a holy life. They think the gospel is a message that requires belief as well, it is just that they have a very different message which does not include Christ crucified for sinners at its heart. It is such pervasive idea in the NT that the gospel is a message, it is difficult to choose specific verses. The gospel is a message to be proclaimed and believed. It is certainly a message about Jesus.
So, why am I going on and on about this seemingly minor point? I maintain that the incredible power of the gospel is that by virtue of belief in a little message, one can be saved to eternity. It is not an adoption of works, it is the simplicity of a message because it is a giving up of works. When you start to try to make belief difficult, you fight against the very power of the message preached. Why else would Paul be determined to know nothing among the Corinthians than Christ and Him crucified? He is very specific that the power of the gospel comes through the foolishness of the message preached.
This particular distinctive they have outlined is kind of a meaner version of the “relationship not religion” message. Both make the mistake of making our salvation out to be a two-way covenant, and you can be certain that we will always break our side of the covenant. The new covenant forged in Christ’s blood, of which Abraham’s one-way (Genesis 15:17-18) covenant was only a shadow, is that God has loved us, despite our lack of love for Him. We don’t have any substantial personal commitment to offer, and if we believe that our paltry commitment earns us favor with God we are no better than a murderer who tries to pay off the victim’s family with a ten dollar bill. The grandeur of the gospel is that it is a genuinely free gift, because otherwise we could never ever afford it.
What is “Personal Commitment”
What exactly is personal commitment anyway? I don’t see that they define it in this document. Perhaps if I have repented perfectly for life from all sin whatsoever? Impossible, right? Maybe it means I devote my life to the service of the poor and needy and dying like mother Theresa. Does John MacArthur do that? If I’m sick and dying, and I haven’t served another sick and dying person in 6 months, does that mean I’m condemned? What if I really slip up, and look at a woman to lust? Or skip a quiet time? How about if we follow Jesus’ example and love and forgive people as they are in the act of murdering us? Should we do that? Would it be enough? Is anyone really going to do that? What exactly does “personal commitment” really mean? I’ll tell you what it means: it means whatever I’m not doing. It is so vague and so undefined that the only fruit it really produces is a general sense that you never measure up and that you can never enjoy the peace of genuine assurance that you are loved by God. It saps all the joy and fun and power right out of the gospel to make something this overarching and vague out to be the main delineator between the saved and the unsaved. Look at this astonishing (and by no means isolated) comment from a gty.org blog post on repentance:
The above is very accurate and correct. I must say, though, I’m at a lost at how to completely repent. It is very abstruse. I pray and confess, but nothing seems changed. I don’t sense spiritual cleaning, lifting of guilt, forgivenss or anything like that, so after nearly 25 years of the same pattern I feel utterly devoid of anything and going to church is loosing its attraction.
I feel as though my name was either written in the Book of Life and now on the edge of having it erased (unless already erased) or it was never there in the first place and doubt God’s going to add my or anybody’s name now. So, this leads to a sad depressing state while I guess I await my eternal hellish fate as I consume resources and I waste my time wandering around on this planet. I read Scripture and agree with its truths and am amazed by it, but remain perplexed as to how possess it into my heart.
If somebody could offer an idea as to change this state, I would be truly appreciative. Perhaps I’m just occupied with an unclean spirit? Who knows. Nearly all seems lost.
Keep up the good work. Blessings to you. Thanks again,
No response or comfort or anything was offered to this person from the gty ministry on the site – how unbelievable is that? It is unknown if any of the ideas offered as comfort or solution by other commenters was supported or sanctioned. For shame that they press this noxious doctrine on the precious people of God as gospel truth! They probably think that a comment like this proves their point — if he would just repent and make a personal commitment to Christ, he would be happy. On the contrary, this comment indicates that someone who is trying to comply with their teachings and is honest ends up in complete despair and hopelessness — that is the right response. This commenter is, against all odds, one of the rare honest people who know that they don’t need repentance — they need salvation.
The love of Christ controls us
Let’s take a look at 2 Corinthians 5:15:
14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
The message of the gospel, again, is that Jesus died for sinners. Even though we murdered Him He still loves us. He is crazy about us! He loves us so much that He rose from the dead. It is His LOVE which controls us – through the heart (Romans 6:17). This document makes this seem like some kind of onerous thing we need to live up to. I think Paul takes it as a joyous response to a very great affection. This is why His sheep hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27-28) – they know and trust His kindness and love! He gives eternal life to them! Who wouldn’t say yes to that? What kind of “Lord” so loves his subjects that he dies for them and gives them the very keys to the kingdom? He is the kind of king who inspires loyalty because of His immense (eternal) loyalty to them. If there were such a “Lord”, what manner of subjects might he have? Would he need minions to threaten and browbeat people to enforce their loyalty?
It is the power and love displayed in the gospel and complete trusting faith in it that inspires our loyalty. In other words, the love of Christ controls us.
10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10 (NASB)