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 eight:
Eighth, Scripture teaches that behavior is an important test of faith. Obedience is evidence that one’s faith is real (1 John 2:3). On the other hand, the person who remains utterly unwilling to obey Christ does not evidence true faith (1 John 2:4). In contrast, easy-believism teaches that disobedience and prolonged sin are no reason to doubt the reality of one’s faith.
I love that they are basing this on verses from 1 John! If you’re interested, you can read my extended treatments of these verses, which are are part of my series on the entire book of 1 John — look here. As someone has commented elsewhere, I’m sure my take on these verses will seem controversial to the ears of the Lordship Salvation proponents. However, I believe my take is honestly the most true to the text and the whole message of 1 John and the NT in general.
There is a lot of vague talk in 1 John about His commandments. When he finally nails down what he means by this in 1 John 3:23, we find it is some squishy nonsense about belief and love. We know that this can’t be the final statement on His commandments, so we need to go fishing around in the gospels for something a little more stringent — right?
How about the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7)? Actually, the beatitudes aren’t commandments, they are observations. Weird. Then He launches into an exposition of the law. In context, He is saying, if you feel like the idea of giving the keys to the kingdom to someone simply because they are spiritually bankrupt or excessively sad is too easy, let’s look at what you have to do to earn the kingdom instead of having it given to you. To sum it up, you must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Living under the umbrella of grace and gift, you pray and give and fast and live as one truly favored and loved and blessed by God Himself! The worry is over, because you don’t have to win over God by being perfect! God has already accepted you. You have left the universe of judgment, of being judged by God, and of judging others. You have entered the Kingdom of God, a universe run by grace and kindness where the blood of Jesus has established the perfect balance of justice. If you think you can ignore the beatitudes and go back to earning acceptance by your deeds and by the law, you build your house on the sand.
So, maybe 1 John 3:23 isn’t so useless and squishy and weird after all? Maybe being a Christian really is all about belief. Maybe love flows from belief in Christ, and not from browbeating people with their responsibility to love. Maybe grace really is central to the sermon on the mount, and to Jesus’ and Paul’s one gospel? Maybe Jesus really means business when he gives us His nutty teachings on repentance as being about lost coins being found and lost sons returning home to love-torn fathers?
“Easy Believism” is the Only Real Faith
So, does “easy-believism” teach that disobedience and prolonged sin are no reason to doubt the reality of one’s faith? The key is this: the substance of one’s faith. I think if someone believes that they have been died for by the only Son of God, and believes that all of their sins have been washed away, past present and future, and that they are eternally loved and accepted, there is certainly a change and a joy that comes to them. There is a release. There is a zeal and a freedom and a love that comes over them. A sense of safety and contentment covers them like a warm blanket. There is a preoccupation with Jesus and with the joy of salvation and the release of liberty that comes over them. I do think that sinful habits may thus loosen their grip on the believer a bit, but not completely (Romans 7:19). I think this is a fruit and not a demand, and that fruitfulness is stronger than demand. The demand is the law given, while fruit is grace realized (John 1:17). I think that it is a myth that someone that believes these things would “remain utterly unwilling to obey Christ”, but I do think they could continue to battle besetting sins for their whole earthly life. I think raw unadulterated grace is the only door out of that pit — the assurance of unbreakable eternal perfect love. I think that true belief allows a person to look squarely at how stringent the demands of the law really are, and to despair of that kind of success.
I think if you don’t see some degree of the joy and freedom and peace and power of the Holy Spirit that comes to a believer through radical grace and forgiveness and unassailable assurance, you can probably wonder whether or not they are still steeped in some form of performancism or pharisaism. So whether it is a more hedonistic fleshliness or a more religious fleshliness, I think it is possible to tell when people do not believe that justification is a free gift given to sinners. They still labor one way or another to justify themselves. Lordship salvation only knows of self-justification, and says that religious fleshliness is superior to hedonistic fleshliness. The actual gospel says, it is all fleshliness — human generated significance. The actual gospel says, the blood of Jesus justifies you, to the uttermost. Holy deeds can only come from those washed in His blood, whose actions are no longer threat avoidance but are truly chosen from the heart (Romans 6:17). When our deeds flow from our established significance instead of our deeds being used to establish our significance, we can truly live as free men. Only the gospel of Christ and Him crucified offers this option.
So rejoice, imperfect believing friend! He has given you the kingdom! You are eternally significant, the cross of Christ says so! Your only qualification is to be spiritually bankrupt (Mattheew 5:3).
31 But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.
Luke 12:31-32 (NASB)