Lordship Theology

By James M. Rochford

Picture2Many evangelical pastors and teachers hold to Lordship theology. Among these are John Stott,[1] J.I. Packer,[2] and John MacArthur.[3] To put this perspective concisely, Lordship theologians do not believe that someone can be an authentic believer unless they have made Jesus the “Lord” of their life. That is, when someone comes to Christ, they need to have a complete surrendering to Him as Savior and Lord.

In contrast to this view, other evangelical pastors and theologians hold to free grace theology. Among these are theologians like Louis Sperry Chafer, Miles Stanford, Norman Geisler, Zane Hodges, Charles Bing, and Paul Benware. Free grace theology teaches that we come to Christ without any strings of commitment attached. Under this view, it is only as we understand the grace of God that this changes our heart to desire to be committed to Him. These two positions can be articulated in this way:

 

Lordship versus Free Grace Theology

Lordship Theology

Free Grace Theology

There is no such thing as a ‘second decision.’ The decision to accept Christ and follow Christ completely are actually the same decision. We can’t have one without the other.

There is such a thing as a ‘second decision’ to follow Christ (or perhaps better explained as a daily decision). We follow Christ based on our acceptance by Christ.
If you are a carnal Christian, then this proves that you never received Christ in the first place.

 

If you are a carnal Christian, then there is a good chance that you never received Christ in the first place. However, it is definitely biblically possible to be a carnal Christian.

When we come to Christ, we need to repent of all of our sinful living. Without this complete repentance, we are not a true believer.

When we come to Christ, we need to repent (meaning “to have a change of mind”) about our view of his grace and forgiveness. God will later work on our character, but this is not a prerequisite of coming to find forgiveness.

 

Of course, Lordship theologians would not all necessarily agree with all of these statements above (just as free grace teachers would differ on their specific position). There are certainly matters of degree in our view on this subject. For instance, when we read commentaries by John Stott, we don’t pick up on a strong Lordship view—even though he is a Lordship theologian. However, when we read other theologians like John MacArthur or John Gerstner,[4] their Lordship theology drips from almost every word!

For this reason, it is important to remember that these two positions can be nuanced. This being said, let’s consider some of the main questions raised in this theological debate between Lordship theology and free grace theology.

QUESTION #1: Is there a difference between the “first decision” and the “second decision”?

Free grace theologians argue that we come to Christ in the “first decision.” This is the free gift of salvation, whereby the individual receives the forgiveness and love of Christ (Jn. 1:12-13). However, after coming to Christ, we make the “second decision,” whereby we decide to follow Christ. Of course, when we say the “second decision,” this is really a “daily” decision (Lk. 9:23).

By contrast, Lordship theologians argue that there is no such thing as a “second decision” to follow Christ. We need a desire to follow Christ completely, when we come to saving faith. A “non-committed Christian” is the same as a square-circle in this view. John MacArthur writes,

The gospel according to Jesus explicitly and unequivocally rules out easy-believism. To make all of our Lord’s difficult demands apply only to a higher class of Christians blunts the force of His entire message. It makes room for a cheap and meaningless faith—a faith that may be exercised with absolutely no impact on the fleshly life of sin. That is not saving faith.[5]

The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience, not just a plea to make a decision or pray a prayer. Jesus’ message liberated people from the bondage of their sin while it confronted and condemned hypocrisy. It was an offer of eternal life and forgiveness for repentant sinners, but at the same time it was a rebuke to outwardly religious people whose lives were devoid of true righteousness. It put sinners on notice that they must turn from sin and embrace God’s righteousness. It was in every sense good news, yet it was anything but easy-believism.[6]

However, we would disagree with this view for a number of reasons. For one, John writes, “As many as received (Greek elabon) Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (Jn. 1:12). This passage doesn’t mention submission or obedience at all. The Greek word lambano means “to take, take hold of, grasp, take in hand.”[7] It does not mean to “submit, surrender, commit.” John uses the word “receive” in contrast to those who “did not know” and “did not receive” Christ in 1:10-11.

Moreover, we would point to various passages, where Paul writes of commitment to Christ as separate from coming to Christ. Here, we might ask: If there is no second decision, then why does Paul always call on Christians to follow Christ? If the first and second decision are the same, then why does he separate these decisions in several of his major epistles? Consider several examples:

(Eph. 4:1) Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.

(Col. 2:6) Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.

(Phil. 4:1) Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.

(Rom. 12:1) Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

Why would these calls to commitment exist, if Christians are (by definition) committed?

QUESTION #2: Is there such a thing as a carnal Christian?

Lordship theologians do not believe in carnal Christians (i.e. believers who are living a raw, sinful lifestyle). For instance, John MacArthur writes,

No true believer will continue indefinitely in disobedience, because sin is diametrically opposed to our new and holy nature. Real Christians cannot endure perpetually sinful living.[8]

But never in any of his epistles did [Paul] the apostle address two classes of believers… So according to Paul, all Christians are spiritual.[9]

When we see Christians without any fruit, it is perfectly appropriate to question if they are truly believers in Christ. In fact, Paul refers to the carnal believer in Corinth as a “so-called brother” (1 Cor. 5:11). If you are steeped in raw, commissive sin like this, then it is certainly reasonable to question your salvation (2 Cor. 13:5). But Lordship theologians take this a step further: They claim that carnal Christians are certainly not true believers. However, there are multiple problems with this central tenet of Lordship theology:

First, Paul writes of carnal, sinful believers. Paul writes, “I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh (Greek sarkikos)… you are still fleshly (Greek sarkikos). For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly (Greek sarkikos), and are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:1, 3) Sarkikos is definitely a low term to use of Christian believers. The KJV translates it as “carnal.” If there is no such thing as a carnal Christian, then why does Paul call these carnal people “brethren”? Moreover, earlier in 1 Corinthians, he tells these believers that God “will also confirm (Greek bebaioo) you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8). The word for confirm (bebaioo) has legal connotations. Schönweiss writes,

It acquires the meaning of firm, durable, unshakeable, sure, reliable, certain; and in the legal sphere, valid, legal. bebaioō similarly means make firm, strengthen, confirm; and also, guarantee. bebaiōsis means establishing, confirmation, or (in legal language) guarantee (legally valid confirmation of a legal act).[10]

In addition, Peter refers to Lot as “righteous” (2 Pet. 2:7). Since true believers cannot be carnal in the Lordship view, this forces these theologians to say that Lot was righteous in his living, rather than in his faith. MacArthur writes, “Lot was certainly not ‘carnal’ in the sense that he lacked spiritual desires. Though he lived in a wicked place, he was not wicked himself.”[11] Gerstner writes,

[Lot] made a foolish choice and lived in a bad location, where his righteous soul was constantly vexed. Yet, he was rescued before destruction set in upon his city. None of these facts add up to a ‘totally godless life’ in which the Lordship of God is always rejected. He committed incest to be sure, but his daughters had to trick him into drunkenness to make him unconsciously do it.[12]

Of course, we need to remember that Lot tried to feed his two virgin daughters to a violent rape mob (Gen. 19:8), and he later became so drunk that he impregnated both of them himself. Are these the actions of a “righteous” man? Of course not! Free grace theologians would claim that Lot was righteous in his position (or faith), but not always in his condition.

Second, Paul refers to himself as carnal (Greek sarkikos). He writes, “I am of flesh (Greek sarkikos), sold into bondage to sin” (Rom. 7:14). How does this passage fit with Lordship theology? When we have a true appreciation for our own sinful nature, we can admit (like Paul) that all believers are carnal in our current, sinful condition.[13]

Third, Lordship theology creates major problems for our spiritual growth. Under the Lordship view, if a believer is stuck in sin, then they shouldn’t cling to the promises about their identity and position in Christ. Instead, they should question whether or not they are a true believer! As MacArthur writes,

Should Christians seek assurance through clinging only to the objective promises of Scripture, or through subjective self-examination? If we opt for the objective promises only, those who profess faith in Christ while denying Him by their deeds (cf. Titus 1:16) can claim an assurance they have no entitlement to.[14]

This is why some evangelical churches have believers come forward for the “altar call” ever week for years on end. However, God didn’t design spiritual growth to work this way. Instead, God wants us to know that we have eternal life (1 Jn. 5:13; see also “Eternal Security”).

Fourth, this view has a low view of sin. By implication, this position states that some people do not sin perpetually. But from a biblical perspective, we are all sinning perpetually—especially when we define sin as loving God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength (Mt. 22:37), and our neighbor as our self (Mt. 22:38-39). Can anyone really claim that they are not in sin, when the standard is set this high? (cf. Mt. 5:48; 1 Jn. 1:10)

QUESTION #3: Do we need full submission to Christ in order to have saving faith?

Lordship theology teaches that believers need to be faithful in order to have saving faith. John MacArthur writes,

Saving faith… is an unconditional surrender, a willingness to do anything the Lord demands.[15]

They set up a concept of faith that eliminates submission, yieldedness, or turning from sin, and they categorize all the practical elements of salvation as human works. They stumble over the twin truths that salvation is a gift, yet it costs everything.[16]

By separating faith from faithfulness, it leaves the impression that intellectual assent is as valid as wholehearted obedience to the truth. Thus the good news of Christ has given way to the bad news of an insidious easy-believism that makes no moral demands on the lives of sinners. It is not the same message Jesus proclaimed.[17]

Commenting on Romans 6, theologian John Oswalt writes,

“For sin shall not be your master:” What he is saying is that sin is an either/or proposition. You cannot be a little bit sinful anymore than you can be a little bit pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t. So Paul is saying that if we give our bodies to sin, then sin is our master. Sin will gain control of us, and in its addictive power, will draw us back into its coils so that we are unable to live the life of Christ …You cannot earn eternal life, that is a gift from God. But you can earn eternal death if you continue in sin after supposedly accepting Christ’s offer.[18]

We feel that MacArthur and Oswalt commit a couple of logical fallacies here. For one, MacArthur makes a false dilemma: Either we need intellectual ascent, or we need wholehearted obedience to the truth. We do not believe it is either. Biblical faith is trusting in the work of Christ to pay for our sins. We see this, for example, in the thief on the Cross:

(Lk. 23:39-43) One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Here, this man merely admits his culpability for his sins (“we indeed are suffering justly” v.41), and he admits Christ’s goodness (“this man has done nothing wrong” v.41). Then he asks, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This very simple act of faith was good enough to enter “Paradise” according to Jesus (v.43).

Moreover, when MacArthur writes, “They stumble over the twin truths that salvation is a gift, yet it costs everything,” this is logically incoherent. These are not twin truths; they are logical contradictions. Good hermeneutics requires that the Bible cannot contradict itself. If we allow logical contradictions in our interpretation, then we will allow absolutely anything—no matter how logically incoherent. Elsewhere MacArthur writes,

Eternal life is indeed a free gift (Rom. 6:23). Salvation cannot be earned with good deeds or purchased with money. It has already been bought by Christ, who paid the ransom with His blood. But that does not mean there is no cost in terms of salvation’s impact on the sinner’s life. This paradox may be difficult but it is nevertheless true: salvation is both free and costly Thus in a sense we pay the ultimate price for salvation when our sinful self is nailed to the cross. It is a total abandonment of self-will… Nothing less can qualify as saving faith.[19]

MacArthur’s statement (“salvation is both free and costly”) simply isn’t a paradox. A paradox is an apparent contradiction. But this is an actual contradiction. If something is free for me, then it cannot be costly for me. For instance, imagine if your friend bought you a new car. As he hands you the keys, he says, “This car is an absolutely free gift.” But as you reach for the keys, he says, “One more thing… It’ll just cost you a $50,000.” Which is it? Is the car a free gift, or do I have to pay for it? If Jesus’ gift of salvation is free gift, then it cannot be costly at the same time and in the same way. This would be logically incoherent. Instead, salvation is free to us, but it is costly to Jesus.

QUESTION #4: Does “repentance” refer to moral obedience?

Lordship theologians argue that coming to saving faith means that we need to cast off our sinful lifestyle. MacArthur writes,

The modern definition of faith eliminates repentance, erases the moral elements of believing, obviates the work of God in the sinner’s heart, and makes an ongoing trust in the Lord optional.[20]

Scripture often equates faith with obedience.[21]

However, in response, a number of observations can be made:

Faith is not always equated with moral obedience. Charles Bing writes,

In light of over 150 references to faith and believing for salvation in the New Testament, it is surprising that MacArthur would use the word “often” and support this with only three references. There might be little more than a dozen passages which could be used to equate faith with obedience—still a small percentage of New Testament uses.[22]

Additionally, when Lordship theologians argue that we need to have complete submission to Christ in order to be saved, then we should ask just how much submission is really necessary: 100% submission? 90%? 50%? If we need 100% and perfect submission in order to be justified, then this seems impossible for the carnal unbeliever. If justification is achieved in an instant in time when we come to Christ (as Lordship theologians would agree), then an unbeliever would need to have perfect faith in coming to Christ. That is, an unbeliever would need to be able to show complete surrender to Christ, while they were still in an unregenerate state! Of course, even longtime mature believers are not able to demonstrate this sort of faith; so, how could an unbeliever do this?[23] Also, how does this fit with the “mustard seed” of faith that Jesus expresses elsewhere (Mt. 17:20; cf. Lk. 23:39-43)?

Second, the term repentance (Greek “metanoeo”) means a change of mind. This comes from the two root words meta meaning “after,” and noeo meaning “to perceive, to think.” The Greeks never used this word to suggest an alteration in the total moral attitude. They understood it to be “subsequent knowledge.” But Lordship theologians say that it doesn’t stop there. It means also “to turn,” like the Hebrew work shub (“to turn”). But in the 1,056 uses of the word shub in the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint never once translates shub as metanoeo.[24] While the word repentance can have moral implications, the word itself doesn’t refer to a moral change.

Third, repentance refers to a change of internal attitude—not an external action. Lordship theologians define repentance by what we can see. This equates an internal change with an external action. However, we need to fight to keep these two separate; otherwise, we’ll fall into legalism. Observable fruit will most often spring from the root of repentance. But the two are not the same thing. The root of repentance is turning towards God, but the fruit of repentance is love (Gal. 5:22-23). Put another way, our knowledge of a person’s repentance is different than the action itself. Charles Bing writes, “It seems that repentance of any kind refers to an inner attitude… It is a careless error to make the outward fruit of repentance the same as inner repentance itself. The fruit must be distinguished from the root, the cause from the effect.”[25] Lordship theology incorrectly blends these two categories into one.

Fourth, if repentance is so key to justification, then why is it so rare in Paul’s epistles? Paul only mentions repentance twice in his epistles (Rom. 2:4; 2 Cor. 7:10). This seems odd if repentance is so instrumental in coming to faith in Christ. We would expect to see Paul writing about this more often.[26]

Debated Passages

Lordship and free grace theologians debate various passages in the NT. Here is a cache of our exegesis of these passages below:

(Ps. 1:2) Is dwelling on the law good for our spiritual growth?

(Mt. 5:1ff) How do we interpret the Sermon on the Mount?

(Mt. 6:15) Is forgiveness conditional or unconditional?

(Mt. 7:21-23) Does Jesus teach that those who call out to him in the sinner’s prayer will actually go to hell?

(Mt. 12:32) Blaspheming the Holy Spirit?

(Lk. 14:27-28) How does this passage square with justification by grace apart from works?

(Jn. 3:36) Does this passage require obedience in order to have saving faith?

(Jn. 14:15; c.f. 15:10) Why does Jesus use the term “commandments” here?

(Rom. 1:5) Does this support Lordship salvation?

(Rom. 6:6) Does Paul really believe that we do not have a sinful nature anymore?

(Rom. 7:6) In what sense are Christians “released from the Law”?

(Rom. 7:14-25) Is Paul describing his own personal struggle with sin?

(Rom. 11:22) Does this passage threaten the idea of eternal security?

(1 Cor. 15:2) Does this passage threaten eternal security?

(Gal. 5:4) Does this passage teach that Christians can lose their salvation?

(Gal. 5:21) Will sinners not “inherit the kingdom of God”?

(Phil. 2:12) Does this mean that we earn our salvation?

(Col. 1:21-23) Does this verse threaten eternal security?

(Heb. 3:7-4:11) What is “the rest” mentioned here?

(Heb. 6:1-9) Does this passage threaten eternal security?

(Heb. 10:26-32) Does this passage teach that we can lose our salvation from willful sin?

(Jas. 1:4) Can Christians gain sinless perfection?

(Jas. 1:25) Are Christians under law or not (c.f. 2:8, 12)?

(Jas. 2:14-26) Is salvation by faith or works?

(1 Jn. 3:6-9) Can Christians gain sinless perfection?

(Rev. 22:14-15) Will sinful people not get into heaven?

Our Appraisal of Lordship Theology

We have already considered an extended look at Lordship theology above. Here we will articulate the positives and negatives of this view:

Negatives of Lordship theology

There are several reasons for rejecting Lordship theology:

First, Lordship theology lowers the bar on the Law. This first critique may be a surprise for the reader, but it’s true. Free grace theologians keep the fulfillment of the law where it belongs: Far above what humans are ever actually fulfilling. Remember, Jesus said, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). He said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:20). Jesus said that if you were even angry at your brother, you would go to hell (Mt. 5:22), and if you had lust in your heart, you would go to hell (Mt. 5:28-29). Thus if we want to fall back under law, then this is what confronts us.

However, Lordship theologians seem to minimize just how impossible it is to live a life that is pleasing to God by our own moral effort. Thus when they ask if “carnal” Christians can really be saved, we must ask: Aren’t we all carnal Christians?

Second, Lordship theology utilizes the fear-threat motive to stimulate spiritual growth. Lordship preachers often scare their congregations into following Christ with the threat that their congregants are not really Christians otherwise. But this fear-threat motive is really misguided. While fear does motivate us to some degree, it is insufficient to change us on a really deep level, as Scripture teaches (1 Jn. 4:18). In fact, while the fear-threat motive does work to some degree, this spiritual medicine is really worse than the disease! Instead of growing spiritually, the fear-threat motive usually just teaches us to become better at hiding, minimizing, or lying about our sin.

Third, Lordship theology utilizes rhetoric, rather than consistent reason. When pressed, Lordship theologians admit that true Christians sin constantly. For instance, at the end of his book, John Oswalt writes,

One of the dangers for those of us who seek to live a life that is truly holy is perfectionism. That is, because we take seriously the Bible’s injunction to be perfect and without defect in our relationship with God, we begin to demand of ourselves perfect performance in every area of our lives. We listen to inspiring speakers and we read biographies of holy people, and we become convinced that they never failed or fell short of their goals (unlike us). We assume they never had difficulty discerning God’s will or doing it. When they witnessed to unbelievers, we imagine, the Holy Spirit always came down in mighty conviction, and the hearers were converted. The things they liked best in all the world were to read the Bible and pray. Their homes were sanctuaries of quiet and blessing where there were never any conflicts. On the other hand, we look at our own lives and see rather different conditions. We don’t always see God’s will very clearly and sometimes when we do, it terrifies us and we don’t want to do it. We don’t always want to witness and when we do, it is not always well-received. We don’t always want to read the Bible and pray. Our homes are sometimes places of tension and argument. As a result, we live with a sense of condemnation and failure.

What has happened? First of all, we have created an unreachable standard. Few preachers or biographers have set out to create a false picture… But because we do not see the whole picture, we think the limited picture is the whole picture. In virtually all cases, it is not the whole picture. There are failures and shortcomings, even sins. There are struggles and setbacks… [T]o measure our acceptance by God on the basis of absolutely perfect performance in holiness, is to condemn ourselves to failure. God is the only one whose performance is absolutely holy. The result is that we live with a constant sense of guilt and condemnation.[27]

Regarding Paul’s carnality in Romans 7, John MacArthur writes,

[Paul] says, “I’m fleshy.” I’m fleshy. I’m carnal. You say, “Can a Christian be that way?” Listen to this, 1 Corinthians 3:1. “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.” Verse 3. “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” He says to the Corinthian Christians, “You’re carnal. You’re fleshy. You’re acting in a sinful, fleshly way.” We are not in the flesh—but listen—the flesh is still in us. We’re no longer in the flesh in terms of being captive to it. Now look at verse 18. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing.” He says the flesh is still there. I’m not in it, but it’s still in me… Now any Christian could make the statement in verse 14. People have problems with this. Let me see if I can make it simple. I’m fleshy. Could you say that? I could say that. I mean, it’s true. You say, “Yes. But you’re certainly not talking in technical theological terms.” No, no, no. I’m just saying I’m—could I say as a Christian I’m a sinner saved by grace? I’m still a sinner? God help me if I don’t. If I say, “Well, since I’ve been saved I no longer sin,” my wife will be up here to give testimony. You see, the point is I can say that, I can say I’m fleshy, or fleshly, carnal. There are things in me that represent that. I get angry. I get irritated. I don’t fulfill my duty as I ought to all the time. I don’t maintain the diligence that I should in the pursuit of God that I desire. I see my humanness, my fleshliness getting in the way of the accomplishment of all of the things that I ought to do. I’m insensitive to people when they need my gentleness and I’m not gentle, when they need my kindness and I’m not kind, and so forth. I see myself as human. I see myself as sinful. I don’t always speak godly to everyone who speaks to me in the way that I should. We can all say this. It’s a general statement.[28]

Fourth, Lordship theology doesn’t have a category for the difference between our “position” and our “condition.” A believer’s position is their righteous standing with Christ, because of the fact that they have been declared righteous by God (Rom. 3:24). However, while we are legally declared righteous by God, our spiritual condition can be quite different from our position—being sinful. We see this position-condition distinction throughout the NT. However, Lordship theologians deny that this distinction exists. John MacArthur writes,

Nowhere in Scripture do we find positional righteousness set against righteous behavior, as if the two realities were innately disconnected… What is no-lordship theology but the teaching that those who have died to sin can indeed live in it?[29]

Here we must ask: Does MacArthur think that he is not living in sin? We have to agree with the apostle John, when he writes, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:10).

Positives of Lordship theology

There are a number of aspects of Lordship theology on which we can agree:

First, it desires real and authentic believers in Christ. As dedicated followers of Christ, we desire the same thing. We worry about false conversions to Christ, and pseudo-conversions could result from an approach that says, “Just say these magic words after me and you’ll go to heaven.” Coming to Christ is an authentic expression of the heart, where we trust in his finished work to rescue us from the judgment of our sin.

Second, Jesus is lord, and he should be treated that way. Believers who treat Jesus as Savior and not Lord are in serious sin, and they should be reproved or rebuked for this. On this, we agree with our Lordship brothers. However, we disagree on how we should motivate these believers.

Third, grace is not a license for sin. When we really understand the grace of God, this should motivate us to pursue and live in goodness and love—not licentiousness (Rom. 2:4; Rom. 6:1; 8:4; etc.).

Conclusion: Why was Paul called licentious?

We will just make one last observation as we conclude: The apostle Paul was accused of promoting licentiousness in his ministry on several occasions (Rom. 3:8; Acts 18:13). Of course, we should never promote licentiousness, but the fact that Paul’s enemies could confuse his message with licentiousness indicates that Paul was closer to free grace, than Lordship theology. We close with the words of scholar John Stott:

Incidentally, it is highly significant both that Paul’s critics lodged the charge of antinomianism against him, and that he took time, trouble and space to answer them, without withdrawing or even modifying his message. For this shows conclusively that he did preach the gospel of grace without works. Otherwise, if he did not teach this, the objection would never have been raised. It is the same today. If we are proclaiming Paul’s gospel, with its emphasis on the freeness of grace and the impossibility of self-salvation, we are sure to provoke the charge of antinomianism. If we do not arouse this criticism, the likelihood is that we are not preaching Paul’s gospel.[30]

Surely antinomianism is unbiblical (Rom. 7:7). But if we are not being charged with this accusation from time to time, what does this say about our gospel message? Surely it means that we are not preaching the “scandal” of God’s grace as Paul himself did (1 Cor. 1:23).

Further Reading

Bing, Charles C. Lordship Salvation: a Biblical Evaluation and Response. Burleson, TX: GraceLife Ministries, 1992. Found here.

Bing’s dissertation is a well-researched, scholarly treatment of Lordship theology from a free-grace perspective.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Grace: An Exposition of God’s Marvelous Gift. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995.

Chafer’s book is an excellent survey of the theology of grace throughout Scripture. However, it is a difficult read, and it is hard to get through.

Eaton, Michael A. No Condemnation: A New Theology of Assurance. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997.

Hodges, Zane Clark. Absolutely Free: A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation. Dallas, TX: Redención Viva, 1989.

This is an introductory book to the subject of Lordship theology from a free grace perspective. While this is a good introductory book, we felt that it was too superficial to truly treat the subject in a deep or robust way.

Free Grace Alliance.

ARTICLES: An array of articles from free grace theologians can be found here—free of charge.

AUDIO: An array of free mp3’s from free grace theologians can be found here—free of charge.

Do Good People Go to Heaven?

This is an evangelistic piece intended to explain the basics of justification.

[1] John Stott writes, “We must surrender absolutely and unconditionally to the lordship of Jesus Christ. We cannot make our own terms. What will this involve? In detail I cannot tell you. In principle, it means a determination to forsake evil and follow Christ.” Stott, John. Basic Christianity. London: InterVarsity Press, 1958. 128. See also Stott, John R (Sept 1959), Yes, “Must Christ Be Lord To Be Saviour?”, Eternity 10: 14–8, 36–7, 48.

[2] J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1961).

[3] MacArthur, John F. The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1988. See also MacArthur, John. Faith Works: the Gospel According to the Apostles. Dallas: Word Pub., 1993.

[4] Gerstner writes, “Once again, we have the notion that a converted person may be so incorrigibly wicked that there is nothing that God can do with him except take him to heaven! According to dispensational theology, the quickest way to heaven is by continually engaging in horrible wickedness after having believed in Jesus Christ!” Gerstner, John H. Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism. Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991. 224.

[5] MacArthur, John F. The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1988. 31.

[6] MacArthur, John F. The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1988. 21.

[7] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[8] MacArthur, John. Faith Works: the Gospel According to the Apostles. Dallas: Word Pub., 1993. 121.

[9] MacArthur, John. Faith Works: the Gospel According to the Apostles. Dallas: Word Pub., 1993. 126.

[10] Schönweiss, H. Firm, Foundation, Certainty, Confirm. (L. Coenen, E. Beyreuther, & H. Bietenhard, Eds.) New international dictionary of New Testament theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986.

[11] MacArthur, John. Faith Works: the Gospel According to the Apostles. Dallas: Word Pub., 1993. 128.

[12] Gerstner, John H. Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism. Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991. 221.

[13] Additionally, if believers cannot be worldly, then why does Paul urge believers against worldliness (Rom. 12:2)? Why command this if believers (by definition) cannot be worldly? (cf. Titus 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 7:33-34).

[14] MacArthur, John. Faith Works: the Gospel According to the Apostles. Dallas: Word Pub., 1993. 162.

[15] MacArthur, John F. The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1988. 140; 141.

[16] MacArthur, John F. The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1988. 31.

[17] MacArthur, John F. The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1988. 16.

[18] Oswalt, John. Called to Be Holy. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Pub. House, 1999. 109; 111.

[19] MacArthur, John F. The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1988. 140.

[20] MacArthur, John F. The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1988. 172.

[21] MacArthur, John F. The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan House, 1988. 32-33.

[22] Bing, Charles C. Lordship Salvation: a Biblical Evaluation and Response. Burleson, TX: GraceLife Ministries, 1992. 21.

[23] Of course, Lordship theology is tied closely to a strong Calvinism, where God gives us the ability to have 100%, perfect faith. Charles C. Bing comments, “In fact, the clearest expression of Lordship thought appears in post-reformational theology. Lordship Salvation seems to flow naturally from a strong Calvinism most often found in Reformed theology, and is inherent in some expressions of the Reformed doctrines of assurance and perseverance.” Bing, Charles C. Lordship Salvation: a Biblical Evaluation and Response. Burleson, TX: GraceLife Ministries, 1992. 7. John Macarthur writes, “Please understand, I don’t think that anyone could miss my heart on this, this is not something you do so you can get yourself saved, this is something God’s Spirit produces in you in saving you. That’s why it says, and we’ve been reading it in 2 Timothy, and this is an essential passage for us to grasp, chapter 2 verse 25, that God may grant them repentance. It’s a gift of God. It’s a gift of God.” John Macarthur. From a sermon titled, “The Call to Repentance.” Delivered January 24th, 1988—shortly after publishing The Gospel According to Jesus.

[24] Wilkin, “Repentance: Lexical Considerations,” JOTGES 2:16.

[25] Bing, Charles C. Lordship Salvation: a Biblical Evaluation and Response. Burleson, TX: GraceLife Ministries, 1992. 85.

[26] Throughout the NT, we see that repentance is often just synonymous with believing (Mk. 1:15; Acts 10:43; 11:18; 17:30, 34).

[27] Oswalt, John. Called to Be Holy. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Pub. House, 1999. 186-187.

[28] John MacArthur, “The Believer and Indwelling Sin: Part 1.” Romans 7:14-17. March 6, 1983.

[29] MacArthur, John. Faith Works: the Gospel According to the Apostles. Dallas: Word Pub., 1993. 106.

[30] Stott, John. The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2001. 167.