The Real Strange Fire: Lordship Salvation Pt. 16

Unconditional Surrender: The language of threat, force, and confrontation

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 six:

Sixth, Scripture teaches that Jesus is Lord of all, and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender (Rom. 6:17-18; 10:9-10). In other words, Christ does not bestow eternal life on those whose hearts remain set against Him (James 4:6). Surrender to Jesus’ lordship is not an addendum to the biblical terms of salvation; the summons to submission is at the heart of the gospel invitation throughout Scripture. In contrast, easy-believism teaches that submission to Christ’s supreme authority is not germane to the saving transaction.

Wow. Really Wow. Let’s summarize distinctive six: Jesus demands unconditional surrender as part of the two-way transaction for salvation. Notice that salvation is not a free gift (Romans 3:24,5:15,16,17,6:23); it is a “transaction.” There is a barter or purchase going on: His blood for our “unconditional surrender” and “submission”. If there is not enough “submission”, the deal is off. Since they admit earlier in the document that Christians can and do sin, sometimes horribly, we have to assume there is some mysterious tipping point where there is a sufficient degree of surrender and submission so that Jesus decides there is a sale. However, it can’t be just any old surrender; it must be “unconditional” surrender — on our part!. Notice that God’s part of the transaction is conditional, but the weight of unconditionality is on our shoulders! Apparently God demands of us something He Himself is unwilling to give; in effect God holds a gun to our head and says, do as I say, or die.

Obedience from the Heart: The McNeely take on Romans 6

So, let’s give Romans 6:17-18 a little context and let the scriptures speak for themselves. Romans 3:19 – Romans 5 presents a case so scandalously gracious and forgiving and easy that Paul realizes it raises the Romans 6:1 question: “Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” In Romans 3 he tells us that quite apart from the works of the law (Romans 3:21), we are saved freely as a gift (Romans 3:24) through the redemption which is in Christ’s propitiation (Romans 3:25). In Romans 4 he gives us Abraham as an example of someone who is saved by mere belief in God’s one-way promise, to show that this amazing grace is no new thing. In Romans 5 he nails this down even further in maintaining that even though our sin is as genetically ingrained in us as scarlet dye to a fabric (Isaiah 1:18), Christ died for us and saved us while we were yet sinners! It is a pure and free gift. He hammers home the idea of the gospel as gift throughout these chapters (Romans 6:23).

So in Romans 6 he comes and because he has an honest mind, he intuits the objection this raises. If there is so much grace that we are accepted even if we sin, why don’t we just sin all the more and let grace increase? The Lordship Salvation proponents want to strip the gospel he has put forward in Romans 3-5 of its scandal and its power, so that it doesn’t raise this question. It would seem that their main animus is the avoidance of the Romans 6:1 question; they are scared to be called “antinomians”. “Faith” is redefined to mean compliance with the law, and works are demanded as proof of such faith. The book of James shall rule all others, as long as we keep it all mean and difficult and treat the gospel as a “problem passage”! There is no scandal raised, no question of “shall we sin all the more”, because there is no gospel in their message. There is demand and law and threat of punishment and rejection. There is no acceptance which holds true while we yet sin, and no “wow-really-that much grace?” question raised.

Ironically, when they say that faith involves unconditional surrender, they are right: we surrender our promise and hope of succeeding at any of the things that the Lordship Salvation people say constitute true faith. We admit we are terrible at submission and unconditional surrender. We say, it is hopeless, kill me. We so despair of our own efforts at justification that we essentially die. Dead people do nothing; this is an apt metaphor for our efforts at justifying ourselves. Romans 6:3 does not say we should “work on” dying to sin or promise to die to sin or “repent” of not dying to sin. It says that if we have “easy-believed” in Christ, we have died to sin. We’re already dead, it is finished. The dead make no efforts. The dead don’t struggle to die more. When you are dead your struggles are over; it is beyond easy. There are no degrees of death. You are either dead or you are not. As Robert Capon says,

Let us make an end: as long as you are struggling like the Pharisee to be alive in your own eyes–and to the precise degree that your struggles are for what is holy, just, and good — you will resent the apparent indifference to your pains that God shows in making the effortlessness of death the touchstone of your justification. Only when you are finally able, with the [tax collector], to admit that you are dead will you be able to stop balking at grace. –Robert Capon

I maintain that if we do not raise the Romans 6:1 question and struggle to understand the message of Romans 6 in the context of the scandalous and powerful free gift described in Romans 3-5, we are merely cherry picking verses to prove quite a different point than Paul is making. And what point is he making in Romans 6? That in dying to the need for what Tullian Tchividjian calls our “self-salvation projects”, we suddenly gain the power and unction to choose the righteous way from the heart. When coercion and threat are gone, we can choose the holy because we have been raised to new life.

Christians can and do sin, sometimes horribly

Here is another observation: in Romans 6:12 he tells us not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies to obey its lusts. You know what that means? It means that according to Paul the Apostle, as a believer who has been baptized in Christ’s death and has been raised with Christ in new life, you still have the possibility as a believer to do these terrible things. Paul’s argument is that as believers in the free gift of salvation, it is more beneficial to live true to your new identity from the heart — as one who has received the free gift of eternal life. It is this pure and unadorned gift of grace that kills our old fleshly self and raises us up a new creature.

The Two Goods, or, I was Born This Way

Here is another way to put this, which is a very short summary from chapter 2-3 of my book Romance of Grace. As sons of Adam we live in the experiential universe of the knowledge of good and evil; through some kind of spiritual genetics our notion of the good has been split into the notion of moral good and the aesthetic good. Our hearts are constantly drawn to the immoral because we see aesthetic allure there, and our hearts are driven away from the moral good because we are attracted to the forbidden. Before the serpent spoke to Eve, she had never seen the forbidden as desirable; everything that was “OK” with God was also all that was desirable. Everything that was not “OK” with God was undesirable. There was a point, “when” (Genesis 3:6), that it initially dawned on them that the forbidden was desirable, and the possibility and allure of sin entered humanity. Our notion of the good was split, and only the threat of a worse punishment could appeal to us to keep us from choosing the forbidden. Thus was born the conscience (Genesis 3:7) and ultimately the law.

Living for Benefit, Beyond Threat

The gospel of Jesus Christ has come and has removed that threat. In Christ, “all things are lawful” (1 Corinthians 6:12). We “die” from our efforts to prove by the moral sacrifice of our truest desires that we deserve favor. Jesus’ greater moral sacrifice has earned that favor. We receive favor as a gift, and so choose the right from freedom. The Lordship guys keep quoting Romans 6:17, but in the words of Inigo Montoya, I don’t think that means what they think it means. Here is the germane part: we were slaves of sin, but we became obedient from the heart. They press this obedience from the heart as a moral imperative, and thus grandly and completely miss the big picture point! Our visceral and experiential notion of the good has been reunited in Christ, because the threat of the law has been nailed publicly to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14, Romans 3:25). That is why he shifts in Romans 6:21 to talk about deriving benefit. In Christ we are dead to being motivated by threat, and begin to see benefit to be derived from righteousness. Do you see it? In Christ we have died to the threat of the law, so we have received a new freedom to perceive benefit in the holy. All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. We can now sin under grace and be saved, but he advises that we should not, because grace offers the greater benefit of the holy. In Christ the question for us concerning our behavior and practice is not, what is binding or permissible, but what is beneficial or desirable or profitable. All of the threat of punishment has forever been nailed with great authority to the cross and all sin has been cleansed forever in the perfect blood of the only beloved Son of God. We can add nothing to the sufficiency of His work; it is finished.

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One Comment

  1. Hi Jim,

    Wanted to say thanks for such an in-depth look at Lordship Salvation. It’s something I grew up in and has been hard to shake. The concept of having to “recognize Jesus as Lord/surrender” has caused me trouble – though over the last couple years, I’ve learned through some really good guys (White Horse Inn, Tullian T., Rod Rosenbladt, Radical Grace Radio) that that is a load of junk. Is there anyway you could elaborate on how the “recognize Jesus as Lord/surrender” concept is flawed? Also, any further readings on the simplicity of faith in Christ’s cross?

    Thanks so much!

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