The Real Strange Fire: Lordship Salvation Pt. 15

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 five:

Fifth, Scripture teaches that God’s gift of eternal life includes all that pertains to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3; Rom. 8:32), not just a ticket to heaven. In contrast, according to easy-believism, only the judicial aspects of salvation (e.g., justification, adoption, and positional sanctification) are guaranteed for believers in this life; practical sanctification and growth in grace require a post-conversion act of dedication.

One of the reasons I’m continuing on with this project is that I think this is an important topic, and I want to take a really close look at what the other side is saying in their own terms. I think they should consider it an honor that I think it is worth the attention. I hope this stands as a resource for people who have failed at Lordship Salvation or for people who don’t have the time or wherewithal to specifically answer all of this. It takes some time to carefully read all of this stuff and look up the scriptures sprinkled throughout each paragraph.

I’m not convinced that “easy-believism” in the sense they have concocted it really exists in the world. I have chosen to position myself as an extreme example of someone who has taken on the moniker as a kind of rhetorical device, to try to show the centrality and importance of belief. Almost everyone I otherwise agree with tries to distance themselves from the term, since it is used derisively. However, they would all agree that our faith, the belief that God has loved us in Christ through His propitiatory blood, is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4). In context this means that our love for each other is in this: not that we love God, but that He loved us and sent His son as a propitiation (1 John 4:10). If you think about it, that seems like a pretty easy thing to believe. However, in reality, it is not important to assess whether it is hard to believe or easy to believe, but that belief itself is central.

I think that it is the strong and persistent love which God has for us, His perfect love, which is the basis for our practical Christian life. It is because justice has been satisfied for the sins of my family and friends in Christ that I can bless them and love them with a clear conscience. It is because of grace and belief that there is a possibility at all for any true confession, for personal cleansing and forgiveness towards one another. The judicial aspects of salvation in fact are the practical pieces of progressive sanctification (1 John 3:2-3); it doesn’t make sense to separate them. It is because the beautiful and good wrath of God is satisfied for our evil in Christ that the Holy Spirit can be manifested in our day to day experience. There is no practical sanctification that is not existentially and directly rooted in our justification. This is a false and extremely harmful dichotomy they have set up. Strong grace is the key to our practical sanctification. There is provision in God’s plan for us to fail! (1 John 2:1-2) It isn’t that He wants us to fail, but that we can expect kindness and help and compassion and mercy over and over and over until we succeed, and whether we ultimately succeed or not, we are saved.

Furthermore, they keep using the pejorative term “ticket to heaven” for the precious promise of eternal life. I maintain that through Christ, God’s perfect and persistent love endures beyond our sinful imperfection and saves us – to the end of time and beyond. It is eternal love, eternal life. This is a huge promise, a fantastic and overwhelmingly wonderful promise. Forever, His blood is sufficient. If there remains a fear of judgment or ending, then His love is imperfect, and unable to cast it out. (1 John 4:18). Jesus makes no such joke about the power and value of eternal life (John 3:16). He is as simple and clear and forthright about this as you can get. What I see with people who walk away from churches which have a more “Lordship Salvation” orientation, they are walking away because they don’t have a sense of an enduring assured justification. They have not been told that faith in Christ and Him crucified is enough. When your works are said to be what prove you, when your works are said to be the substance of your faith, and your works are not perfect or measuring up, you tend to walk away. You get discouraged. You feel God to be not only distant, but harshly against you. No one stays with joy in an enemy camp. When given their freedom, they walk away. People who are truly assured of eternal life despite their own failures operate under a very different and much more practical rubric, which leads to a truer and a stronger and more genuine holiness.

I often go to 2 Peter 1:3 as a comfort that in Christ, as a gift, I have been given everything pertaining to life and godliness. It is a gift, it through grace and peace multiplied, it is by His divine power these things are granted. His own glory and excellence are what give us His precious and magnificent promises. The Lordship Salvation document twists this around to mean that being saved, we are still responsible to try harder to keep up our behavioral transformation. I maintain that it is rather our faith that supplies our moral excellence etc. Faith in the mercy and grace and magnificence of God’s power to save and heal and help is the groundswell of whatever we are to become. Change is a gift, not an imperative.

So, “easy-believism”, otherwise known as faith in Christ, is the key to practical Christianity. Faith in the enduring kindness and mercy and love and provision of God in Christ does produce works. I think maybe that God thinks the kindness and mercy and love are the more important things to focus on; the fruit comes in its time. Think about the kind of fruit that will come from abiding in God’s kindness and mercy and enduring love, vs. the kind of fruit that will come from a harsh demand for fruit. Which kind of fruit would God truly be interested in? In the book of Ephesians, Paul goes on for 3 chapters about our identity in Christ. Thumb through those chapters, and you’ll find no imperatives. You’ll find him waxing poetic about the height and depth and breadth of the great love which God has for us. Ephesians 4-6 is predicated on this. My message is that Ephesians 1-3, Romans 1-8, etc. are really really important. It is important that we do not neglect so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:3). It is important to simply believe these wonderful things, to know conclusively and with intelligence and emotion and pith and grit that we are definitively loved by God, and that no failure of ours can break that tremendous strength of affection. Our practice cannot flow from any other root than Christ! (John 15:4-5).

I’m going to conclude with extremely apt words from David Zahl’s article The Dangers of Transformation and the Hope of Mercy in a Suicidal Church (and World):

No one is disputing the possibility of transformation; what we take issue with is the guarantee of transformation. Not because transformation is painful or difficult, but because the guarantee often precludes the possibility. When transformation and salvation/belief are yoked too tightly, in lieu of actual transformation (which is usually unconscious and apparent to others before it is to us), a person will invariably pretend to change, deluding others and sometimes even themselves, all the while getting more and more stuck in that morbid cycle of spiritual pulse-taking with which some of us are all too familiar. A plant cannot grow if it’s being dug up every five minutes to monitor its growth.

I pray for tremendous blessings and joy and assurance and love for everyone who wanders by this post. I appreciate you dearly.

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  1. I remember as a younger believer actually getting impatient with the opening chapters of Ephesians with all their beautiful assurances about our identity in Christ and the blessings associated with that. It was a relief to reach the more practical chapters with their imperatives and directives. What was I supposed to do with all that information about redemption and heavenly blessings and so on? Commandments were the things I could really sink my teeth into. All this came down to a desire for control, which is the root of legalism.

    We worry about believers falling into immorality, and certainly this happens, but the danger of making light of God’s grace is not addressed much, and I believe it is the greater danger. Making light of God’s grace leads to moralizing, which in turn leads to discouragement, rebellion, and failure. The epistles are full of warnings against a return to the bondage of the law. Even Paul’s question in Romans 6:1 (“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”) is put forth as a theoretical objection to what he has been saying about justification by faith. He isn’t suggesting that people would actually use such reasoning as an excuse to go on sinning.

    The abundant grace and kindness of God toward us are dwelt on at great length in the Scripture, and we would do well to meditate on these things. You’re right. We must not neglect so great a salvation.

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