The Issue of Lordship Salvation

by Dr. D. W. Ekstrand

Printable pdf Version of this StudyPrintable pdf Version of this StudyLet’s begin by first defining the issue of “Lordship Salvation.” Proponents of lordship salvation do not believe one can have saving faith without submitting to the lordship of Christ in daily obedience… Opponents of lordship salvation insist that you can be a Christian without necessarily being a disciple; that you can receive Jesus as Savior without necessarily submitting to Him as Lord. The essential issue involved in this debate is the nature of saving faith — how much must one surrender to the Lord at the time of salvation? Lordship salvation advocates say that in order to be saved, one must not only believe and acknowledge that Christ is Lord, but also submit to His lordship; that is, at the moment one trusts in Christ for salvation, there must be a willingness to commit one’s life fully to the Lord, even though the actual practice of a committed life may not follow immediately or completely. Non-lordship proponents argue that some-one may have genuine faith in Christ, but the fact that he continues in sin demonstrates that he has not made Jesus his Lord, only his Savior — that is, just because someone sins or acts in disobedience (even habitually) does not necessarily mean he does not have saving faith. With that said, it is important to note that both sides reject an “easy believism”… both sides agree that salvation is not by “works”… both sides affirm the clear teaching of Scripture that salva- tion is a “gift” freely given by God to man… and both sides agree that true faith will ultimately evidence itself in “good works.” Martin Luther stated it this way, “True faith will no more fail to produce works than the sun can cease to give light.”

When addressing the issue of “LORDSHIP SALVATION,” it is important that one maintain a clear distinction between the act of justification & the process of sanctification. Justification is a divine act whereby a Holy God judicially declares a believing sinner to be righteous and acceptable before Him — this takes place the moment a person receives Jesus as his or her per-sonal Savior, by believing in the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. Justification is on the basis of faith alone, and not by human merit or works (Rom 3:28-30; 4:5; 5:1; Gal 2:16). Sanctification, on the other hand, is a lifelong process whereby the Holy Spirit transforms the believer into the image of Christ; practically speaking, this is the Christian’s progressive growth in holiness. The inward cleansing of the believer’s soul is accomplished by the Holy Spirit — He dwells within every believer as the principle of a new — a divine life — and sanctifies him (Rom 8:14-16; 1 Cor 6:19; 2 Cor 3:18).

For me personally, the “WORK OF GOD IN SALVATION” is what seems to be lacking in the debate regarding “Lordship Salvation.” So let me briefly describe that work before we continue discussing the issue before us. According to Scripture, before we consciously decide to accept Christ into our lives, God is graciously at work in us to draw us to Himself that He might ultimately effectuate the new birth in us (Jn 1:12-13; 6:39, 44, 65; 3:3; Acts 16:14; Rom 8:29-30; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 1:15; Eph 1:5, 11; 2:8-9; 3:11; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Pet 1:23; 2:9)… and the new birth is effectuated in us when we respond to a proclamation of the Word, be it spoken or written (Mt 28:19-20; Jn 8:42-43, 47; 10:3-5, 27; Acts 1:8; Rom 10: 14, 17; 1 Cor 1:21; Heb 4:12a; 1 Pet 1:3, 23; 2:2). God sends forth the seed of His Word, which contains the divine life within it, to pierce the ovum of faith within us — the result is conception. God is the one who gives us eyes to see and hearts to understand, and draws us to Himself when the “truth of Christ” is presented to us; furthermore, it is God who gives us the capacity to turn from our sinfulness and trust Him for salvation (Mt 4:17; Mk 6:12; Lk 13:3; Acts 11:18; 17:30; Rom 2:4). The Holy Spirit impresses the truths of God’s Word upon our hearts and awakens within us a desire in our conscience to repent… at that point we begin a life of faltering and growing yieldedness to Christ — this comes in the form of a gradually growing commitment and daily surrenderings to the will of God. Yielding to the lordship of Christ is not something that a believer only does at a given point in time, but is something that occurs many thousands of times throughout the course of one’s life. Yielding to the lordship of Christ is at stake every time we are tempted to sin… and each of us sin over and over and over again every day, and every good work we do is tainted with the sinful remnants of our corrupt nature.

REPENTANCE is a fundamental and thorough change in the heart whereby we turn from sin toward God, and it is bound together with faith in an inextricable way — without a measure of faith no one can truly repent. Repentance contains a genuine sorrow toward God on account of sin (2 Cor 7:9; Ps 51); an inward repugnance to continue sinning (Mt 3:8; Acts 26:20); and a humble self-surrender to the will of God (Acts 9:6; and verses above). Repentance deepens in character with the recognition of the baseness of sin itself, and a fuller understanding of the grace and compas-sion of God. Again, the Holy Spirit impresses the truths of God’s Word to our hearts and awakens within us a desire in our conscience to repent.

If God is not the “PRIME MOVER” with regard to our salvation, we’ve got a major problem on our hands, because we then need to give satisfactory answers to the following questions:

      ~How much must one know before he can make a decision to accept Christ?
       ~How sorry must one be for his sins?
       ~How strong must one be committed in his decision?
       ~How confident must one be in his faith?
       ~How sure must one be of his salvation?

By going down “that track,” one is faced with a number of uncertainties — when we are the sole determinant of our choice, we cannot help but be left in a world of uncertainty where we are always left to wonder if we have dotted all the “I’s” and crossed all the “T’s.” Furthermore, we are left to ponder exactly what those issues really are. Therefore, if we choose to take this track, our confidence will vacillate depending on how we feel at a particular point in time. If God is not the Prime Initiatorof our salvation… that is, if He is removed from the equation in our thinking, then everything is left up to us as individuals — and salvation ultimately becomes thechoiceof the individual.

The main issue in the “Lordship Salvation” debate seems to focus on “MAN’S PART” in becoming a Christian, and the quality of his faith… as such, he seems to interject more into the matter than is absolutely necessary — which is simply responding to that work GOD is doing in our heart. With that said, on the believer’s part, it is simply a matter of…

       ~Acknowledging our sinfulness to Him
       ~Acknowledging our need of His forgiveness
       ~Acknowledging our need to have Christ in our life
       ~Acknowledging our desire to become His child

Making “SANCTIFICATION ISSUES” a part of the decision to accept Christ, in large part, seems inappropriate and irrelevant up front. The big thing for most of us in deciding to accept Christ and His work on the cross for us, was that of experiencing God’s forgiveness, His promise to come into our lives and take over the mess we had made of it, and His promise of eternal life. As I reflect upon my own experience, I was hurting and despairing of life, and my sinfulness was overwhelming to me – I needed His forgiveness, His peace, and His presence in my life. To say that I was more knowledgeable than that, I really don’t know, other than the fact that I knew I was committing my life to Christ in some way. Down through the years I have seen a number of children “respond to the love of Jesus” by asking Him to come into their lives; many of them responded at the tender age of five, six, or seven, and are dynamic Christians today. Decisions for Christ at such an early age can’t help but make us address the following questions —

       ~How much could they have really known with regard to salvation?
       ~How could they have had much knowledge regarding how sinful they really were?
       ~How could they have understood anything with regard to the cost of discipleship?
       ~How could they have understood the message of the cross and atonement?

Reflect upon your own salvation as a child, a teen, a young adult, or as an older adult — How much did you know? What were the determining factors that prompted you to say “Yes” to God? Obviously, it is not the same for everyone… and generally the older the individual is, the more content and reckoning is involved. Ideally, we might think that it would be best to have “all of the information” presented to us before making a decision to accept Christ… but that’s not the world of reality, and that’s not the way God designed the conversion experience (read 1 Cor 1:18-21, 27). The truth is, most believers are still largely ignorant of major doctrinal truths; in fact, there is not a single Christian who fully understands it all. When we cease to make GOD a prom-inent part of the discussion – i.e., giving Him the primary roll in bringing about conversion – it is easy to skew the debate fully in the direction of MAN, and his responsibilities in the matter. We start wanting to know all the facts and make the human brain thesole determinant in the decision-making process. Though lordship salvation advocates fully believe that God is the author of our salvation, beginning to end, I raise the issue of God’s involvement in salvation simply because this eternal perspective helps us maintain a balanced understanding of this issue.

The sermon Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost saw 3,000 souls saved that day. What was the essence of his sermon? First, he explained the phenomenon of “everyone hearing the works of God in his own language” from the prophet Joel, and the need for everyone to call upon the name of the Lord to be saved (Acts 2:6-12, 16-21); second, he pointed out how God authenticated the deity of Jesus (through signs, wonders and miracles) whom they had put to death on a cross (2:22-23); third, he mentioned how God had raised Jesus up again from the dead (2:24-29); fourth, he demonstrated that Jesus was the fulfillment of a prophecy by David that said God would raise up One of his descendants to sit on his throne forever (2:30-32); fifth, he stated that Jesus had been exalted to the right hand of God, and that He had poured out His Spirit upon those who had believed in Him (2:33)… and sixth, that God had made Jesus (whom they had crucified) both Lord and Christ (2:36). When the Jewish people heard this, they were pierced to the heart and asked Peter and the rest of the apostles “what they should do” (2:37). Peter said,Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins(2:38)… and then he exhorted them to “be saved from this perverse generation!” (2:40). Three thousand people embraced Christ that day (2:41), and the resultant effect was that they kept on devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, and to the breaking of bread and to prayer (2:42). In short, all Peter did in this sermon was demonstrate to them that Jesus (whom they crucified) was alive, that He was both Lord and the Messiah, and that they needed to repent for the forgiveness of sins. It was simply a matter of them “repenting of their sins and believing that the resurrected Jesus was the Messiah – the Holy One of God (2:27, 31, 34, 36). There was no call to follow Him or obey Him (apparently that was a natural outgrowth of their believing in Him)… just a call to believe in Him and repent of their sins — as a result of their believing that Jesus was the Messiah of God, they would continue to grow in Him and learn how to be one of His followers (2:42).

FAITH is not a simple mental assent to facts — it is a heartfelt coming to Christ and resting in Him for what He is and what He offers. It is an act of the heart (prompted by the Holy Spirit) that no longer hates the light, but comes to the light because a new set of spiritual taste buds have been created in the heart (by the Holy Spirit) and Christ now tastes satisfying to the soul. This notion of faith is taken mainly from the Gospel of John where Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (Jn 6:35). This view of faith implies that faith itself will inevitably wean a person away from sin because faith is a resting in what Jesus has to offer, namely, the pathway of life (Jn 3:16; 10:10). Faith is the believer’s soul cleaving to Jesus for the forgiveness and guidance and hope it needs to live a life that is pleasing to God (Jn 10:27; 15:5, 7; Heb 11:6).

It would be interesting to look at EVERY SERMON preached in the New Testament, both by Jesus and by the apostles, and see exactly what each message contained — obviously, we do not have the time to evaluate each sermon at this point, but the results of such a study would demonstrate whether or not a “call to following Christ” was a dominant theme in these sermons. I am sure it was the theme of some sermons, but what that percentage is exactly, I am not prepared to answer. The question is this: Is it absolutely essential that every “call to salvation” include a statement that says you must also be willing to make Jesus the “lord” of your life if you really want to become a Christian, and promise to “follow” Him from this day forward? Or is that adding something to the invitation that is not absolutely necessary? Though I believe “lordship” is a natural outgrowth of genuine salvation, I do not believe that it need be clearly defined in the believer’s mind prior to his being born again. Some in the “lordship” camp insist that salvation is only for those who are willing to forsake everything; that saving faith is a commitment to leave sin and follow Jesus Christ at all costs. I don’t believe it is possible for an individual to fully understand the implications of “following Christ” prior to making a decision to accept Him as Savior — the vast majority of genuine believers are still wrestling through these issues, and to some degree every believer struggles with complete surrender to the lordship of Christ. All Christians are in various stages of growth in their walk; if their conversion is genuine they will exhibit growth, however meager and faltering during their lifetime. All Christians will bear spiritual fruit — somewhere, sometime, somehow — even if it takes many years of chas-tisement and difficulty on the part of the believer to produce even a modicum of fruit in his life. However, if there is a complete absence of fruit in a person’s life, then that person is simply not a believer. Not to be fruitful is to be faithless, and therefore lack salvation. Jesus’ gospel trans-forms those it saves; those who are not in the process of being transformed are simply not saved, no matter what their profession of faith may be. Remember the words of Jesus: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21).

The matter of “LORDSHIP SALVATION” came to the forefront in theological circles in recent years due to the apparentfruitless living of so many professing Christians. If Christ indeed was their “Lord” — as He should be — then why are they living such compromising lives? Truly saved individuals will produce fruit that will attest to the genuineness of their faith. So why do so many professing Christians fail to follow Christ? Lordship salvation advocates place the blame on the shoulders of those pastors, teachers and evangelists who fail to adequately address the matter of thelordship of Christ when presenting an evangelical gospel message. And therein lies the debate. How much information should be presented? Is the gospel message that Paul expands upon in First Corinthians (15:3-4) sufficient? or should the implications of what it means to be a Christian also be presented? Paul writes: “I delivered to you as of first import-ance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures… and that He appeared to more than five hundred believers after that, including the apostles and Paul himself” (1 Cor 15:3-4). Obviously, each presentation of the gospel will differ slightly depending upon the central message that is associated with it — the hope is that the “presenter” will adequately develop his message in such a way that the Holy Spirit will open the heart of the “listener” to respond with genuine faith—“that” is the most significant aspect of the conversion experience. What follows conversion is the discipleship process,” and that (from my perspective) is the biggest problem. The mandate the Lord Jesus gave to the Christian community is to “make disciples” of all nations (Mt 28:19-20) — that is done bybaptizing them(that’s evangelism) andteaching them (that’s edification). That is the two-fold process Jesus outlined in the Great Commission in the book of Matthew. Becoming a disciple of Christ requires “post-conversion” teaching (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7; Eph 4:11-16) — and therein lies the problem: Post-conversion follow-up, discipleship training and teaching in most churches is “very poor.” To insist that “the whole matter of lordship” be an integral part of the “evangelistic invitation,” however, seems too con-straining, catechistic and obligatory to me. From my perspective, the entirety of a particular sermon (i.e., the context) is what should influence how the “invitation” is presented—obviously, there will be times when you will feel the need to fully develop the matter of “lordship,” and times when you will place very little or no emphasis at all upon it. In large part, it is a matter of being sensitive to the leading of the “Holy Spirit” — remember, salvation is God’s work: we simply plant and water… God gives the increase.

The vast majority of believers in the world probably “CAME TO CHRIST” with very little understanding of either the fullness of the gospel, or the life of holiness that was to follow. I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but I would venture to say that the majority of us came to Christ through a parent, friend, or preacher, and that the emphasis of the message they shared with us was that “God loved us, and had gone to the cross and died for our sins that we might be forgiven, and that He wanted to come into our lives and make us a brand new person, and give us everlasting life.” If that indeed is the case, and conversion did occur, then I find it difficult to insist that matter of “lordship” be made a requisite for salvation. Do all Christians exhibit the qualities of a “holy life” — No, of course not. The truth of the matter is, none of us are pure beacons of holiness and light, and we all struggle with fleshly infirmities. Let me name a few:

                                                 Materialism-things                              Possessions-money                              Fame-notoriety
                                                 Accomplishment-esteem                  Position-titles                                         Pleasure-entertainment
                                                 Obsessive-compulsive                        Anxiety disorders                                  Sociopathic issues
                                                 Obesity-gluttony                                  Manic-depressive                                   Schizophrenia
                                                 Marital issues                                        Prone to worry                                         Judging-being critical
                                                 Hostility-animosity                            Trust issues                                               Guilt issues
                                                 Hate-anger issues                                Relational issues                                     Inferiority complex
                                                 Dependency issues                             Moody-irritable                                       Negligent-lazy
                                                 Ego-centric/proud                              Sexual issues                                            Cultural bias
                                                 Narcissistic-selfish                             Phobias-paranoia                                    Racial bias

Obviously, none of us are without significant baggage,” though some individuals seem to be burdened with significantly more baggage than others. The human condition is fallen and corrupt to the core (Jer 17:9), so to think that we walk on water is delusional. The pretense with which so many believers live was the same problem that plagued the Pharisees – such persons are not only self-deluded, but they are “misleading” those who are [supposedly] less mature in their faith. Application: Learn to be far more transparent and honest in how you live life.

The Christian community needs to be more sensitive to the “SPIRITUAL STRUGGLES” that are a part of every believer’s life, and not be so quick to pass judgment on those who are going through spiritually challenging times. The question of “willful sinning” is one that many Christians struggle with. For instance, is it possible to be an alcoholic and be a Christian? be a glutton and be a Christian? be into porn and be a Christian? be a homosexual and be a Christian? be an adulterer and be a Christian? be proud and be a Christian? For most of us, some of the foregoing sins are more acceptable than others, but the Bible calls all of them sin… and interestingly enough, it callspride the most dangerous sin of all. Isn’t it amazing how our hearts (our flesh) keep on deceiving us even as believers? (Jer 17:9). Regarding the matter of sinful behavior, I think it is important to understand it in terms ofstruggling with it orcapitulating to it— by the way, there is a vast difference between the two. Every believer is continually at war with his flesh; that is, every believer struggles with it. A chief characteristic of a genuine believer is that he puts upsome kind of fightagainst his flesh (under the prompting of the Spirit) — to “not engage” in that fight (that is, to willfully capitulate and go on sinning) is to invite a heightened degree of spiritual despair in your life if you are really a believer (Ps 32:3-4; Heb 12:5-6); without engaging in spiritual warfare against the flesh (that is the exercise of faith) those believers will not experience the “peace” or “assurance” that all of us covet — because those things are by-products of walking with God (which, by the way, includes struggling against the flesh); peace and assurance in the soul result from the exercise of faith (Phil 4:6-9; Heb 11:1). The Holy Spirit will not permit the believer to be complacent and indifferent toward sin — He will force the believer to deal with it. If sin does not bother the individual or eat at away at his soul, then that person is simply not a believer. A genuine believer cannot disregard holiness or be content with sin in his life, and have peace in his heart — the two things are mutually exclusive. Let me close with those well-known words from William Cowper’s beloved hymn, The Way.”  My prayer is that they will be as fitting a conclusion to this subject for you as they are for me —

                                                         “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.”