The Real Strange Fire: Lordship Salvation Pt. 20

Appeals to tradition can't ward off the devil.

We’ve arrived at the end of a series analyzing John MacArthur’s ministry’s article on Lordship Salvation. It has been a lot of fun for me, and it has been encouraging to find how poorly supported biblically and how illogical Lordship Salvation is. This is encouraging, not because I like to shoot people’s theology down, but because it strengthens my belief that Christ and Him crucified plus nothing saves me. I can rest assured that I can have confidence in the day of judgment, and that I have truly been eternally accepted by God. Let’s take a look at their closing comments:

Most Christians recognize that these nine distinctives are not new or radical ideas. The preponderance of Bible-believing Christians over the centuries have held these to be basic tenets of orthodoxy. In fact, no major orthodox movement in the history of Christianity has ever taught that sinners can spurn the lordship of Christ yet lay claim to Him as Savior.

This issue is not a trivial one. In fact, how could any issue be more important? The gospel that is presented to unbelievers has eternal ramifications. If it is the true gospel, it can direct men and women into the everlasting kingdom. If it is a corrupted message, it can give unsaved people false hope while consigning them to eternal damnation. This is not merely a matter for theologians to discuss and debate and speculate about. This is an issue that every single pastor and lay person must understand in order that the gospel may be rightly proclaimed to all the nations.

Appeal to Tradition

If by “most Christians” they mean Roman Catholics and Pelagians, they’re right. And many Christians through history, even protestants, recognize that these are not new or radical ideas — just wrong ones. This issue was what the protestant reformation was all about; would this “appeal to tradition” have flown with Martin Luther? The preponderance of Bible-believing Christians over the centuries believe that Christ and Him crucified for our sins is our salvation. They do not believe that we are constantly wondering whether or not our success in progressive sanctification is the true substance of our salvation, because we stand always in need of mercy and forgiveness. Furthermore, even if the whole world believed otherwise, I maintain for myself that Christ Jesus alone has the power and authority to save me, and no one can snatch me out of His hand. Not even me. Especially not me — I have given up on being my own savior and God. He is Lord because I am such a bad Lord myself, and I am bad at “making” Him Lord. He is Lord because He is the savior.

2 You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice;
Exodus 23:2 (NASB)

Appeal to tradition (also known as argumentum ad antiquitatem, appeal to antiquity, or appeal to common practice) is a common fallacy in which a thesis is deemed correct on the basis that it correlates with some past or present tradition. The appeal takes the form of “this is right because we’ve always done it this way.”[1]

Jesus Himself stood absolutely alone in His righteousness, and even said extremely provocative things on occasion to thin the crowd. He had no care for the traditions of the pharisees, although He did not make the further error of chronological snobbery, since He embraced the message of the law and in fact embodied the OT prophecies in His very life and person.

Not a Trivial Issue

I very much agree that this is not a trivial issue. It is, in fact, the one important issue on earth. It is the only issue which matters. I have devoted 20 blog posts to each portion of this document, because it merits attention. We must not corrupt or nullify the grace of God in Christ. My argument is that the doctrine of Lordship Salvation corrupts the gospel and causes its adherents to despair of their confidence in Christ. It puts the self back at the center of salvation and makes the blood of Christ irrelevant. It attacks the straw man of “easy-believism” while committing heinous and obvious exegetical errors in support of a pet doctrine. It makes Romans 3-5 into problem passages instead of making them the cornerstone of the Bible, and it renders the Romans 6:1 question void. It treats the general message and tone of the entire book of 1 John as if it were confusing nonsense, and cherry picks and twists certain verses out of context. It renders the idea of “repentance” as something frightening and even impossible, bringing many sincere but imperfect believers to the brink of despair. None of these are trivial problems.

Lordship Salvation proponents position themselves as part of the protestant reformed movement, but they refuse to make a distinction between law and gospel. However they may justify it, they press the law as a saving message. Here we see the unfortunate end of what I consider to be the fatal flaw in reformed theology: the third use of the law. I think there are many who incorporate the third use of the law without destroying the supremacy of Christ crucified for sinners, but this little portion of acceptance is the door to the destructiveness of Lordship Salvation when pressed the wrong way.

Sometimes we may see Lordship Salvation proponents teaching or saying things that seem agreeable and full of actual grace, but we know that within a few moments they will use the beauty and power of the true gospel as bait to lure unsuspecting believers into the terrible condemnation of the law. I wonder that they seem to have no fear or conscience about this. It truly is not a trivial thing! As proponents of the gospel of Christ and Him crucified for sinners, come not to condemn but to save, we must have the courage to call foul and stand firm for the freedom and reality of our redemption. We must put away our timid fears and stand for the truth. The protestant reformation was not born of timid men, but of men willing to make a bold break with tradition to stand squarely and truly for the truth of the beautiful and scandalous and powerful grace of the gospel of Christ.

What to do Now?

If you are a Lordship Salvation proponent, and there are people you know of who are just completely failed sinners, carnal Christians who have left the fold, please have the humility to send them to someone like me. What could it possibly hurt? In your paradigm all is lost for them anyway, why not let saving grace have a go with them? In the same way, be honest about your own life, and come over to the universe of real liberating grace, where the Romans 6:1 question (and lots of other scripture) actually makes sense. The water is so very fine!

More than anything, my heart goes out to those whose hearts and lives have been destroyed by this “Lordship Salvation” teaching. In the midst of your sin and failure, in the midst of your unloveliness and your shocking imperfection, God loves you dearly and considers you worth dying for. You can be absolutely confident that despite your failures, despite your shame and guilt, despite your lack of success in sanctification, Jesus still loves you. He really did not come to condemn, but to save. He can see that you have given up on yourself, and that you think it is right that He reject you. But He has loved you with an everlasting and unkillable love. Even if you were to have murdered Him directly, He would still say, “Father, forgive.” You are sick, and He comes not as a judge but as a physician, with compassion to touch and to heal and to help. If your healing takes time, takes years, even takes a lifetime, He will never refuse you. The only unforgivable sin to refuse forgiveness. You are not doing that, instead you are doing the right thing, and giving up on your own self-confidence to save yourself. You really are the exact person that Jesus is looking for. Please come back to Jesus, no one loves you like He does! Don’t believe all of this Lordship Salvation stuff; Jesus has gone outside the city to the place of shame for you, and all of your sin has been judged for good. His throne is a throne of grace, that you may go to with confidence to receive help and mercy all the time. Come back as the crying prodigal to the loving arms of your real Father, who watches for you with longing! He doesn’t even care about your rehearsed promises and plans of repentance, he just wants to run and embrace you and cry tears of joy and throw a big party for you. He really does love you quite a bit! Come back to Him, things are far from over for you.

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  1. I have no words to express my gratitude for your hard work.
    There truly is a “balm in Gilead that makes the wounded whole, there is a balm in Gilead that heals the sin sick soul”. Come sinners one and all, “him that cometh to Me, I will never cast out, reject, or drive away”.

  2. Glad to read a post showing the falseness of lordship salvation. It (lordship) has a real hold here in Ms. I never get a good answer when i tell people that repentance in not found one time in the Gospel of John and that the Gospel of John say it was written to tell people how to have eternal life.
    John 20: 30, 31
    20:30 Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book.
    20:31 But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
    Faith alone in Christ alone

  3. Thanks Jim. The last paragraph was one of the best I have heard in awhile. As one who struggles with God’s acceptance of me, I thrive on hearing about those who are brave enough to risk everything on His unending love.

  4. Dear Jim, I often return to your posts on Lordship Salvation (mostly when I get confused) and wanted to thank you for your hard labor to refute this grace-less teaching! Also, one quote that I stumbled upon a while ago seems to sum up much of what seems to be motivating this doctrinal debate:

    “The teaching of some in the present day seems fitted, that of others intended, to hinder assurance. Assurance, say some, is impossible. Not impossible, say others, but very hard of attainment; not only very hard, but very long of being reached, requiring at least some thirty or forty years of prayer and good works. Very dangerous, say others, introducing presumption, and sure to end in apostasy. I confess I do not see how my being thoroughly persuaded that a holy God loves me with a holy love, and has forgiven me all my sins, has a tendency to evil (even though I may have reached that conclusion quickly.) It seems, of all truths, one of the likeliest to make me holy, to kindle love, to stimulate to good works, and to abase all pride; whereas uncertainty in this matter enfeebles me, darkens me, bewilders me, incapacitates me for service or, at the best, sets me striving to work my way into the favor of God, under the influence of a subordinate and mercenary class of motives, which can do nothing but keep me dreading and doubting all the days of my life, leaving me, perhaps, at the close, in hopeless darkness.”

    (Horatius Bonar, “God’s Way of Holiness” – this is not a direct quote from the book, but was quoted on

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