The Real Strange Fire: Lordship Salvation Pt. 14

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 four:

Fourth, Scripture teaches that real faith inevitably produces a changed life (2 Cor. 5:17). Salvation includes a transformation of the inner person (Gal. 2:20). The nature of the Christian is new and different (Rom. 6:6). The unbroken pattern of sin and enmity with God will not continue when a person is born again (1 John 3:9-10). Those with genuine faith follow Christ (John 10:27), love their brothers (1 John 3:14), obey God’s commandments (1 John 2:3; John 15:14), do the will of God (Matt. 12:50), abide in God’s Word (John 8:31), keep God’s Word (John 17:6), do good works (Eph. 2:10), and continue in the faith (Col. 1:21-23; Heb. 3:14). In contrast, easy-believism teaches that although some spiritual fruit is inevitable, that fruit might not be visible to others and Christians can even lapse into a state of permanent spiritual barrenness.

If you don’t run in philosophical circles, you may be unfamiliar with the term “tautology”. It is a common logical fallacy in which someone tries to define something by referencing the thing itself. It is also known as circular reasoning. For instance, I might say, “Steve robs houses because he is a burglar.” In fact, the definition of a burglar is that a burglar is someone who robs houses. So, by robbing houses, he makes himself a burglar; his identity as a burglar cannot be causative in his activity of robbing houses, because the activity is what made him a robber. It is a tautology.

We have a tautology in distinctive four: real faith produces a changed life. They have already defined real faith as behavioral repentance, so of course it produces a changed life — it is a changed life. It is rather ridiculous to say that faith produces a changed life if you have already defined faith as behavioral change. It begs the question: if faith actually is behavioral change, what inspires or produces the behavioral change? It has to be something outside of or different than personal transformation or else it is a tautology. Lordship Salvation theology is silent on this point. It demands change, it defines faith as change, it indicates the reality of the Holy Spirit’s presence as change, but it doesn’t at the outset offer something as an antecedent to change.

If some kind of power or help is offered as an agent of change, that thing must be given prior to or in spite of a lack of change. This is the fatal flaw in Lordship Salvation thinking, and the power of the true gospel. None of the verses they quote are wrong, but they press the fruit of Holy-Spirit empowered gospel-driven imperatives as necessary ingredients of justification. On the contrary, while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6-8). We are offered justification and peace with God quite apart from our behavioral repentance.

We find that our Lordship Salvation theologian friends really do look at all these scriptures from this wrongheaded perspective. For example, they quote 1 John 3:9-10 and 1 John 3:14 as an examples that true faith produces a changed life. Let’s have a look:

4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.

13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

Let’s be clear, first, that there are two imperative statements in this passage: let no one deceive you, and don’t be surprised if the world hates you. The rest of these are given as evidences of how to discern the true community of grace; they are not imperatives. He assumes that by merely believing that Jesus’ blood cleanses of all sin, and by confessing its power in our present guilt, we miraculously become behaviorally less and less sinful (1 John 1:9). It is the detractors of mere belief (dare we call them unbelievers?) who by their own confession seem to have no power to change. We can tell the Lordship salvation people by their fruits, in other words: they look at His commands as burdensome and they have such a hard time fulfilling them that they constantly fear that they will eventually walk away, and they hate the brethren.

We gain entrance to this community of grace by belief in the power of Jesus’ blood (1 John 1:7, 3:23). It is because we believe in the power of the propitiation for each other, and that love and forgiveness and not judgment and expectation of excellence rules our relationships, that we have the power to be cleansed and to love other imperfect believers with a persistent perfect love. It is very very telling that John includes the passage about Cain and Abel and that the Lordship Salvation document cherry picks around it. The real reason Cain slew Abel is that Abel was sinful, but Cain didn’t think substitutionary blood was enough; he wanted Abel’s own blood as the satisfaction of justice. The same spirit drives the Lordship Salvation contingent to downplay the power and centrality of the propitiatory power of Jesus’ blood and to demand real change and personal responsibility instead.

So yes, the scriptures do actually teach that real faith produces a changed life. Real faith says that I am powerless to initiate or sustain a changed life, and that all my hope and trust is in Christ and Him crucified. Real faith says, I despair of myself, I cannot promise to change, I can only promise to sin. Real faith says, if there is any righteousness, any progressive sanctification, any love, and any fellowship, it is all of Christ and it is all born of His blood. Real faith says that my security is in the persistent and eternal love of Christ for us. Real faith confesses and despairs of self-repair, just like everyone who despairs of their health lets a surgeon do the cutting. It is because of this faith placed in Another that true healing is able to take place. Real faith holds forth one thing and one thing only: the bloody propitiation. Lordship theology is confused by this, and views it as impractical and as skirting the real issue of personal holiness. We’ll see how that flies at the judgment seat at the end of days. I will come with one offering in my hand: the precious blood of Jesus spilled for me. He alone is my only solace and my only hope and my only holiness and my only sanctification. I place no hope in myself to achieve a sustainable personal transformation. It is not that I am committed to Him; it is that I have believed that He is committed to me. That is a very comforting and sustainable kind of belief. Amen.

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  1. Do you believe that there is a distinction between the consequences of becoming a Christian and the basis upon which God declares a sinner righteous? Distinctive four is discussing the consequences of becoming a Christian. Distinctive four is not teaching that man’s works, man’s obedience, loving others, forsaking sin, and so on are the basis upon which a sinner is justified before God. Distinctive four is not teaching that people deserve to be justified before God.

    A sinner is justified before God on the basis of Christ’s atonement, Christ’s resurrection, and Christ’s righteousness imputed to the believer. Distinctive four does not contradict this. Phil. 3:9 teaches that we do not have any righteousness of our own. Believers have the righteousness of Christ credited to their account and distinctive four does not contract this.

    • I think this question is the kind of theological gobbledy-gook that confuses people and pulls the rug out from under their assurance of salvation. Sorry. If a person believes that Christ died for their sins, they’re saved. A “distinction” between becoming a Christian and the basis upon which God declares a sinner righteous? What does that even mean? Here’s what it seems like you mean: you have to believe that Christ died for your sins, AND you have to live in a way that reflects some level of acceptable obedience. Which means Christ’s death is trumped by our works. Which is works. So, whatever you’re talking about, I don’t buy it.

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