The Real Strange Fire: Lordship Salvation Pt. 19

Saving a Drowning Man

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 nine:

Ninth, Scripture teaches that genuine believers may stumble and fall, but they will persevere in the faith (1 Cor. 1:8). Those who later turn completely away from the Lord show that they were never truly born again (1 John 2:19). In contrast, easy-believism teaches that a true believer may utterly forsake Christ and come to the point of not believing.

Badly Drawn Straw Men

A large number of these “easy-believism teaches…” statements are poorly drawn straw men. No source is cited, no quote is given, no evidence is put forward, to show that anyone on earth says these things. In this case it is impossible that their accusation is true, because it is logically impossible. We are asked to think that there are people out there who are convinced that you can remain a true believer in something without believing it. What does that even mean? I can’t even think of an analogy to illustrate this because it is such illogical nonsense.

True Persistent Faith

If by “faith” they meant belief in the power of Jesus’ blood to forgive all sin, and to save us to eternity through a definitive act of sacrificial one-way love towards us, then it would be obvious that genuine believers would stumble and fall but would persevere in the faith. That’s what the whole thing is about: being loved despite our sinfulness:

6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
Romans 5:6-11 (NASB)

It is faith in the power of Jesus’ blood, in His one-way persistent perfect love for us, that defines the community of faith. People who want to emphasize the importance of what we do in relation to our salvation are going to become very uncomfortable with all of this “easy-believing” going on, and will end up wanting to part ways (1 John 2:19). They want to be their own God-maker, they want to be the one who makes Jesus Lord (Matthew 7:21-23). His perfect love is actually our lifesaver, and the belief is that Jesus is our savior is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4). From the very outset the idea is that our faith will persist even though we stumble and fall. This is the thing the Lordship Salvation people are so hopping mad about: we easy-believists think you can sin and still be saved. Here come the Lordship people saying the same thing!

Redefining Faith

They’re not really quite saying the same thing though, are they? They betray their hand with this distinctive: they have redefined faith. When they say, true believers will “persevere in the faith”, they mean they will stop stumbling and falling. Faith means, not stumbling and falling. It has nothing really to do with believing that Jesus died for sinners. This distinctive makes it crystal clear that they believe that no stumbling and falling saves you, because stumbling and falling persistently discounts the blood of Christ.

One of the main objections I have to the doctrine of Lordship Salvation is that they are so vague about what these terms mean. What exactly does it mean to “persevere”? What does it mean to “stumble and fall”? What does it mean to “turn away” from the Lord? It is left so open-ended that one might think that if you habitually leave veggies in the refrigerator too long you might lose your salvation.

Furthermore, they are unclear about the permissible frequency of failure. If I stumble and fall once, I can see that according to their paradigm, I might be OK to think I’m saved, as long as I never do it again. However, if I do it twice, can I claim the same perseverance? At what point do I reach a point of no return? Notice that this notion of faith and perseverance has nothing to do with God’s initiative towards me (1 John 4:10), it is based not on Christ’s work but on what I do. In effect, I save myself.

Suppose I have fallen off a ship and am drowning. Lordship Salvation says that Jesus saves me by giving me a swimming lesson; this is His grace to you. Biblical faith in Christ says that Jesus dove into the water and actually rescued me, and died in the effort. Because He dove and swam for me, I might want to take some swimming lessons, but this does not take away from His definitive act.

The Cross of Christ – God’s Eternal Message to Sinners

In the end, the cross of Christ stands as a towering and unassailable monument of God’s love for sinners. The cross of Christ declares that God is absolutely holy, absolutely just, absolutely perfect. The cross of Christ declares that God loves sinners even as they sin. The cross of Christ declares that God is bigger than His own justice, and loves us with resurrection persistence and perfection. The cross of Christ declares that it is never too late and never too bad for God. The cross of Christ declares that you, my sinning friend, are worth dying for. That’s what God thinks. This is the clarion message of scripture, that you are definitively accepted in the beloved in Christ. Your sole qualification is your own spiritual bankruptcy and faith in God’s kindness and mercy and riches towards you. You don’t need to deserve it (which is great because you don’t deserve it), and you are free to confess that you really do have numerous veins of habitual sin and failure in your life. There is no threat, all threat was carried out on the cross! If you have no throne of grace to take these to, if you have no assurance that the blood of Jesus is enough wrath for these sins, then how will you ever get your huge mess cleaned up? You know why people walk away from the church and revel in sin? Because they haven’t heard this message of real grace, they have only heard that you ought to get clean. People are desperate for acceptance and joy and grace and ironically they find reasonable facsimiles in the community of sinning unbelievers! The intelligent and honest thing to do is walk away; it is completely disingenuous to pretend that you have conquered your sin. If you’re a sinner don’t you belong with sinners? If the love and kindness and forgiveness of God doesn’t extend into your actual habitual scary sinful experience, what use is it? We each need help for the things we actually need help with. The doctor doesn’t send you away because you are sick, and the savior doesn’t send you away because you are a sinner. “Easy-believism” tells you that you can keep coming back, over and over and over, to a God who will never ever stop loving you.

You do have assurance. Your real problem in this life is that you don’t quite believe this; you don’t think that belief is easy enough. He doesn’t demand that you clean up; He longs with great kindness and compassion to help clean you up. Surely the Father deems the blood of His precious Son sufficient! You really are safe. You really have been saved. Count on it! I’ll tell you this — at the final throne of judgment, you’re not going to find me holding posies or apples to offer as my apology. I have nothing except the blood of Jesus to offer. He alone is worthy, I have no other advocate. I can’t imagine teaching anyone anything else except the power of Christ and Him crucified! He loves us, and He came to save us!

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One Comment

  1. Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in Heaven.”

    “At first glance, verse 21 seems to be saying that the decisive difference between those who are excluded and those who are admitted into the Kingdo is the difference between empty professors and actual doers of the Word. It is not those who say, Lord, Lord, but those who actually do the will of the Father, who are admitted. In verse 21, Jesus seems to be making the same distinction that James makes in 2:14: What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?

    The contrast in James is between a person who says something with his lips, but does not give evidence of his faith by his works. But, unlike James, Jesus does not explicitly mention belief in verse 21; he mentions doing and saying, asserting that doing the will of the Father in Heaven is required to get into the Kingdom of Heaven, but saying Lord, Lord is not enough.

    Again, at first glance, verse 21 seems to contradict verses such as Acts 16:31: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved…. and Romans 3:28: Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law; and Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast; and scores more verses that deny salvation comes by doing.

    This apparent contradiction in the New Testament raises a further difficulty: Does the Bible contradict itself? Many scholars say, Yes, it does. Or if they are coy rather than candid, they say the Scriptures contain tensions and antinomies. The scholars apparently never consider the possibility that they have misunderstood the Scriptures. They are quick to attribute logical difficulties to the revealed propositions (and they add that it is pious and humble to do so), but they do not even contemplate the possibility that they might not understand the text. That would be unthinkable! Imagine! Professors and theologians not understanding the text! Impossible! Therefore, the text itself must be paradoxical.

    But as Christians we ought to be humble and say, Of course the Scriptures contain no contradictions, no paradoxes, and no tensions. When we come to what seems to be a contradiction in our theology, we must check our premises, return to the propositions of Scripture, and conform our thoughts to what the non-contradictory Scriptures say.

    The first glance reading of verse 21 raises still another problem: Does Jesus teach legalism? Here I am using the word legalism in its proper sense: the notion that one can obtain, in whole or in part, salvation by doing, rather than by mere belief. Norman Shepherd appeals to this verse because he believes that Jesus does in fact teach salvation by doing here. The central problem in verse 21 is the meaning of Jesus’ phrase– he who does the will of my Father in Heaven. Shepherd believes that that phrase means works. But that interpretation implies that the Bible contradicts itself. That interpretation of the phrase cannot be correct, because of what verse 22 says.

    Verse 22: Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in your name?

    Now if we understand verse 21 as Shepherd understands it, what Jesus says in verse 22 is both unexpected and inexplicable. If Jesus’ point in verse 21 were that faith is not enough, that good works, or covenant faithfulness, or obedience is also necessary in order to be sure we are saved, then Jesus should have said something like this in verse 22: Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, we trusted in you alone, we had faith in you alone, we believed the Bible and your words.’ But of course Jesus says nothing of the sort. Instead, he reports that many people will appear before him at the Judgment and will talk about their works, not their faith or correct doctrine. But these people-the ones who present works-will be excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Let us examine this verse carefully.

    First, Jesus says Many. At first glance, verse 21 suggests that there will be only a few among those who will say, Lord, Lord who will be excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus had said, Not everyone, and, sinners that we are, we jumped to the conclusion that he meant almost everyone. But here in verse 22 he says many. Many will come before Christ Jesus and speak to him, saying, Lord, Lord, and they will be excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Jesus in his mercy tells us what many will say to him in that Day: First, they will acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ, addressing him as Lord. Not only will they say it once, they will repeat it: Lord, Lord. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, they will plead for their lives. This repetition of Lord may also suggest that they think they are on familiar terms with Jesus.

    Next, they will ask Jesus a series of questions, calling the Christ himself as a witness in their defense. Notice that they will not directly assert that they have done good works. They will speak in interrogative, not declarative, sentences. Because of this, their defense will actually be much stronger than their own mere declarations would have been: They will call Christ Jesus himself as their defense witness. They will ask him to testify to the facts of their lives: their prophesying, exorcising, and wonderworking.

    Some commentators have tried to dismiss the claims of these defendants by suggesting that they will lie or exaggerate, that they really will not have done what they will claim to have done. There is nothing in the text that supports such an accusation. That misinterpretation is a desperate device to evade what Jesus is telling us in this passage. The defendants will make no direct assertions. They will ask questions. They will address those questions to Jesus, whom they will acknowledge as Lord. They will ask him to testify to the truth of their claims. They actually will have done these things on Earth: prophesying, casting out demons, and performing wonders.

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