- Dr. Charlie Bing Published: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Spring 1999
Synopsis: Lordship Salvation has a very confused view of the gospel that results in very confused Christians who hold to it. A detailed case is made against the Lordship view of the condition for eternal salvation.
Why Lordship Faith Misses The Mark For Salvation
The late comedian, George Burns, used to joke that a good friend invited him to
join a country club. He said he wasnít interested. This friend said, "What do
you mean youíre not interested? This is an exclusive club." And Burns said, "I
would never join a club that would have me as a member."
We in the Free
Grace movement are accused of lowering the standards for getting into
heaven. We are accused of "easy believism." We are charged with a view
that is "no-lordship." John MacArthur refuses to even acknowledge us as the
"Free Grace" movement. He calls us the "no-lordship movement."
Are we going to let
these terms go unchallenged? You know sometimes if you are allowed to frame the
question you win the debate, right? Itís kind of like if I ask you "Have you
stopped beating your wife yet?" How do you answer that? You lose either way.
Pastors often face this type of dilemma. We answer the phone and someone asks,
"Are you a full gospel church?" When I get this question Iím always
tempted to say, "Well no, weíre a half gospel church. Our budget is kind
of tight this month." Or how about this one: "Are you a Spirit filled
church?" "No, weíre the carnal church in town. Weíre just kind of
struggling along in the flesh right now."
We canít allow
Lordship Salvation to frame the question and swing the debate. So what are their
standards for salvation if we teach "easy believism?" Are their
standards for salvation even attainable by people? Charles Price, in his book Real
Christians recounts an occasion where a fellow went to an evangelistic
meeting and heard and responded to the message. Afterwards he spoke to an
evangelist who said that, "In light of all that we have talked about this
evening, can you think of any reason why you should not become a Christian
tonight?" The young man sat for a few moments thinking and he said, "No I
cannot think of any reason." Then the evangelist said, "Then let me give you
some." And for the next few minutes he began to explain the cost of being a
Christian. He talked about the young manís need to surrender his whole life,
his future, his ambitions, his relationships, his possessions, and everything
that he was, to God. And only if he was prepared to do this, he explained,
could Christ begin to work effectively in his life. And then the evangelist
leaned even closer toward him and said, "Can you still not think of any reason
why you shouldnít become a Christian tonight?" And the man said, "I can think
of some now." So the evangelist said, "In that case, do not become a Christian
until you have dealt with every one of those reasons and are willing to
surrender everything to Christ."
Thereís a lot at
stake in this whole debate about faith and its meaning. What is endangered, of
course, is the clear gospel, our confidence in sharing the message, our
assurance of salvation, our Christian life, growth, joy, and happiness. But
letís not forget the main thing at stake is not theology, but the souls of
people who can be misled.
I. Lordship Faith Includes Works
How does Lordship
Salvation understand faith?
Kenneth Gentry, a leading proponent of Lordship Salvation, has a classic
definition. He says,
The Lordship view
expressly states the necessity of acknowledging Christ as the Lord and Master
of oneís life in the act of receiving Him as Savior. These are not two
different, sequential acts (or successive steps), but rather one act of pure
So according to
this definition, when we come to Christ as Savior, we also come to Him
submitting to Him as Lord. It is not two acts; it is one act; and that is
called faith. Lordship Salvation disagrees with the Free Grace understanding of
faith as being convinced and persuaded that something is true.
Lordship Salvation, saving faith includes submission. Richard Belcher says,
"True saving faith includes in it a submission to the Lordship of Christ."
Another Lordship proponent says, "Saving faith is trust in Christ himself. It
is a commitment of self in submission to all of Christ that is revealed."
John MacArthur says, "Saving faith, then, is the whole of my being embracing
all of Christ. Faith cannot be divorced from commitment;" and, "The call of the
gospel is to trust Him (cf. John 5:39-40). That necessarily
involves some degree of love, allegiance, and surrender to His authority."
Bailey Smith asserts that "Ösaving faith is not mere intellectual assent, but
it involves an act of submission on our part."
Quite a plethora of
authors state essentially the same thing, that faith includes submission;
submission that goes beyond our need for eternal life, to recognizing,
acknowledging, and committing ourselves to Jesus Christ as Master of all of our
But the Lordship
Salvation definition of faith not only involves submission, it involves
obedience. "Disobedience," MacArthur says, "is unbelief. Real faith obeys."
Youíll notice how carefully he couched that. Disobedience is unbelief, but he
doesnít say that faith is obedience. But he also says, "True faith is humble,
submissive obedience;" and, "Öfaith encompasses obedienceÖfaith is not complete
unless it is obedient."
Later on, after facing a lot of criticism, he softened his language somewhat in
the second edition of The Gospel According to Jesus.
opposite of saving faith is disobedience." Saucy
concludes, "Öwe have to acknowledge some aspect of obedience as inherent in
saving faith as well." And then
Mueller says, "Faith is synonymous with obedience." 
Lordship Salvation faith goes beyond trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior.
Lordship faith includes obeying Him as Lord as a condition of eternal
salvation. They have included obedience in their definition and understanding
of faith. Therefore, Lordship faith requires works as a necessary condition of
faith. MacArthur said, "The true test of faith is this, does it produce
obedience? If not, it is not saving faith." And
Mueller says, "The true faith that saves (justifies) is the faith that also
produces appropriate works (sanctifies)."
that the Roman Catholics teach that we are saved by faith plus works. Lordship
Salvation teaches that we are saved by faith that works. But do not both
definitions include works as a condition necessary for faith to be valid, for
faith to be effectual? Either way, works are a necessary condition of eternal
But I have
a problem with that. It confuses justification with sanctification.
Justification as the forensic legal declaration that we are righteous in our
position before God, is confused with sanctification, the outworking of that
righteousness in everyday practical living. Now we know that justification and
sanctification are related. But we also must keep them distinct lest we confuse
the Gospel itself and undo the Reformation. If we make works a necessary
condition of salvation, we contradict the words of Rom 4:4-5, "Now to him who
works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not
work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for
righteousness." The apostle Paul is teaching us that faith does not mix with
works in any way. Just as you cannot mix oil with water, faith is opposed to
works for salvation.
Jesus teach this also in John chapter 6? When the Jews came to Him and followed
Him across the lake after having been fed the fish and the bread, and Jesus saw
how earnestly they were seeking Him and they said to Him, "What shall we do,
that we may work the works of God?" (John 6:28). Here the Jews were exposing
their pharasaical theology and the baggage that they had from the Pharisees
made up of the minutia of laws, and the extrapolations of laws, and thousands
upon thousands of man-made interpretations. And Jesus gives an interesting
reply, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:29). Now notice that Jesus uses the same word they
started with, work, but He puts it in the singular. He says this is the work of
God. "You want to talk about works. Thatís how youíre conditioned." Jesus says
this is the work, with a play on words. What is that work? That work is to
believe. But of course, believing isnít a work at all, is it? In other words,
this is what God requires of you, not works, but one thing, that is to believe.
goes on in John chapter 6 to explain what it means to believe. He uses the
analogy of eating and drinking. Itís interesting that He would choose that kind
of word picture to illustrate what faith is: a passive appropriation of
something. Not doing, not working, not an active work, but a passive
appropriation. Thatís the essence of faith. How can anyone call eating or
drinking hard work? If eating and drinking is hard work, some of us need to
take a break!
works a necessary condition of faith confuses grace with merit. The Scriptures
are clear that we cannot confuse grace with merit lest we boast (Eph 2:8-9). It
confuses Christís work with what we are required to do. We are required to
believe in order to be saved. Who did the obedience for our salvation? It was
Jesus Himself that obeyed. Romans 5:19, "For as by one manís disobedience many
were made sinners, so also by one Manís obedience many will be made righteous"
(italics added). Itís not our obedience that saves us, itís Christís obedience
that saves us. We are the recipients of the blessing of the work that He has
done for us. The only command for an unbeliever to obey is the command to
believe the gospel.
II. Lordship Faith Grounds Assurance in Our Works
So I have a
problem with works as a necessary condition of faith. But Lordship proponents
also require of faith that works must be quantified. For example, MacArthur
says, "The fruit of oneís life reveals whether that person is a believer or an unbeliever.
There is no middle ground." Also in
his book he says that fruit has to be abundant and obvious. You canít go
scrounging around looking for it.
I have a
problem with that too. When we look for fruit as proof of oneís salvation, that
immediately turns us into fruit inspectors who must inspect each personís fruit
with arbitrary standards. I donít feel comfortable in that role, do you?
I have a
question for those who want to inspect fruit to prove salvation: Who has the
list of appropriate works that qualify somebody as a Christian? If they were to
show me a list, I would like to ask them a second question: Who wrote the list?
Where did you get this? I see no list of fruits or works listed in the
Scriptures that prove one is a Christian. I think itís a rather presumptuous
attitude for any believer to think that they can judge by a personís outward
works whether or not that person is saved.
itís a slippery thing; itís a relative thing, fruit is. What may be fruit in
one personís life may be different to another. We have different starting
points when we become believers. Some of us start way down on the scale. Fruit
for us might be just breathing out a short prayer before we go to bed at night.
On the other hand, fruit for someone who has been in church all of his life
might be a more intense prayer life. How can anybody measure what God is doing
in the inner workings of our heart and soul, and how He is prompting us in and
through His Word? How can anyone know what someone is doing in secret as far as
prayer and Bible study or good works is concerned? I think itís quite a
presumptuous attitude to think that we can look at somebody and judge them by
their fruits. I donít think thatís comparing apples with apples, if we can
extend the analogy a little bit.
look to fruits as proof of faith, it necessarily breeds insecurity and doubt.
Am I doing enough? Do I have enough fruit? Is my fruit ripe enough? There are
problems with quantifying our faith.
III. Lordship Faith Must Be Qualified
definition of faith also requires that faith must be qualified. Not only
quantified, but qualified. And so you will read Lordship Salvation teachers
using a lot of terms to qualify faith, sometimes to disqualify faith with
negative terms like "spurious faith," "counterfeit faith," "intellectual
faith," "false faith," "insincere faith," "pseudo faith," "emotional faith,"
and "head faith." Yet none of these expressions is found in the Bible. On the
other hand they will want to qualify faith, in a positive way, with words like
"true faith," "authentic faith," "saving faith," "personal faith," "real
faith," "efficacious faith," and "heart faith." None of those expressions are
found in the Bible either.
is a convenience to using terms like saving faith to know what weíre talking
about. And sometimes the debate forces us to talk about free grace, which is a
redundancy; saving faith, which is a redundancy; and things like that. But they
want to say that there are different kinds of faith, and I have a problem with
that. When we talk about different kinds of faith, we are distracted from the
object of our faith to having faith in our faith. Thatís an unhealthy
introspection. Am I having enough faith? Am I having the right kind of faith?
Is my faith deep enough, strong enough? When we look to our faith instead of to
the object of our faith, we are necessarily distracted from that which actually
saves us. Even Benjamin Warfield, the Presbyterian, who probably would not have
put himself in our camp, said that "the saving power resides exclusively, not
in the act of faith, or the attitude of faith, or the nature of faith, but in
the object of faith."
our eyesight. Eyesight is nothing apart from the object of our sight. We may as
well close our eyes and look inside to see whether we have sight, as to look
inside to see whether we have faith. Faith means nothing without an object, as
sight means nothing without an object. >
Salvation talks about different kinds of faith, forcing unfortunate folks to
examine what kind of faith they have. The truth is technically, weíre not saved
by faith anyway. Weíre saved through faith. Faith is the instrumental means;
grace is the efficient means, of our salvation. Weíre saved by Jesus Christ.
Weíre saved by His grace. Weíre saved through faith. You would know what I
meant if I said to you "I put the fire out with the hose." Now hoses donít put
out fires. But hoses are the channels for water that puts the fire out. The
hose is the instrumental means; the water is the efficient means. Faith is the
instrumental means by which we are able to access our salvation through Jesus
Christ, His grace, His death, His resurrection.
an unhealthy emphasis on faith that causes an unhealthy introspection. When we
emphasize the quality of oneís faith, we automatically de-emphasize the object
of oneís faith. I heard the story of a man who went to an evangelistic meeting.
He responded to the message, and afterwards spoke to a counselor. The counselor
told him that to be saved he must believe in Jesus. The man went to the meeting
the next night, heard another message, responded to the message again, and
talked to a different counselor. This counselor told him that to be saved he
must believe in Jesus. Later the man was giving his testimony on how he had
been saved while talking to that second counselor. And the first counselor came
up to him afterwards and said, "Iím a bit confused. Can you tell me, what did
the second counselor tell you that I didnít tell you?" And the man said, "Well,
you told me to believe in Jesus." He told me to "believe in Jesus."† Thereís a difference, a big difference. It is
the object of our faith that saves us.
faith in a worthless object is useless. You can sincerely believe in an error.
I have a friend who was given a penicillin shot with the sincere belief by the
doctor that it would make her well. It almost killed her. The object of faith
was untrustworthy in that case. We are not to look at the kind of faith we
have. We are to make sure we are looking to the right object. Faith in the
right object will save us.
If we grant
to Lordship Salvation that faith must be qualified, that there are different
kinds of faith, we surrender objectivity to subjectivity. And assurance becomes
impossible. To have faith in oneís faith is to detract from faith in a Savior.
There is only one kind of faith. There are many objects to faith, but what
saves us is Jesus Christ as the object of our faith.
IV.Lordship Faith Is Inaccessible to Most
Now the Lordship
Salvation definition of faith also requires that faith must be a gift of God.
For example, MacArthur says that faith is a "saving energy" that it is
"divinely produced." He
believes it is different from other kinds of faith. He calls it "a supernatural
ability to apprehend spiritual reality invisible to the eye of flesh."
If itís a supernatural ability, if itís divinely produced, if itís a saving
energy, it must be Godís gift. And you see how all this fits together. If faith
includes obedience, then it must be a gift of God. He gives it to us, so we
automatically obey. Itís all kind of a package deal. MacArthur says, "the faith
God begets includes both the volition and the ability to comply with His will
(Philippians 2:13). In other words, faith
Now I know
that there are people who are Free Grace who believe that faith is a gift of
God. I have a little problem with that interpretation, though, when I
understand what faith is. I think it confuses grace with faith, again, the
efficient means of salvation with the instrumental means of salvation. And in
Eph 2:8-9 where it talks about "by grace you are saved through faith, and that
not of yourselves; it is the gift of God," it refers to salvation by grace through
faith, that process, that opportunity, what God has done in allowing us that
salvation. I donít think Paul is talking about just faith.
If faith is
a gift of God, it nullifies our human responsibility. Think about that. God
requires us to believe in order to go to heaven. If we do not believe, we will
be condemned. John 3:18 says, "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he
who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the
name of the only begotten Son of God." God condemns those who do not believe.
But we canít believe unless we have Godís gift of faith. God condemns those to
whom He does not give the gift of faith? That is unjust and unfair. You see, it
just doesnít make sense to me. And we know that God enlightens us to the truth,
that the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment. God draws
us to Himself by illumining us to His Word, His truth. But ultimately it is
faith that responds to Godís revelation of Himself. So I donít believe that
faith is a gift of God, or anything supernatural. Thereís only one kind of
faith. To believe something is to be persuaded that it is true. What differs is
not faith itself, but the object of faith.
As a pastor
and as one with the heart of an evangelist, I am distressed that what Lordship
Salvation has done is taken salvation, which God intended to be accessible, and
made it inaccessible. After all is said and done, what we know is that God
loves people and wants to see them saved. And because He wants to see them
saved, He wants to make it simple. He did the hard work, so that we could bring
a simple message to people, so that they could be saved.
is not meant to be an exclusive club. It is meant to be broad in its appeal and
accessible to everyone. You know Iíve recently changed my perspective on John
14:6, where Jesus says "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to
the Father except through Me." I used to be apologetic about that verse. People
would say "Thatís such an exclusive verse, such a narrow religion, such a
narrow view of heaven." I started thinking about that and I decided that it is
an inclusive verse. You see, anybody can come to Jesus. Not everybody can keep
the seven pillars. Not everybody can do the five steps. Not everybody can keep
the law, or all the other systems that the religions of the world offer, but
anybody can come to Jesus. I will never ever again "apologize" for John 14:6.
It makes the way of salvation accessible to anyone.
If you want
somebody to be rescued, delivered, or saved, you make it simple for them. You
make it as simple as possible so that as many as possible can be saved. Thatís
why we donít make flotation devices out of Teflon. Thatís why in emergencies
people simply dial 911, not 911-10-10-321, or whatever. God wants people to be
saved. And He designed His gospel that way, so that even a child can believe. A
man on his deathbed can believe. A thief on a cross can believe. What did the
thief on the cross promise Jesus when he said, "Lord, remember me when You come
into Your kingdom"? And Jesus replied, "Today you will be with Me in paradise."
Could the thief walk an aisle? No, his feet were fastened to a cross. Could he
raise his hand? No, his hands were tied or nailed to the cross. Could he be
baptized? No, the cross would have floated. Did he promise Jesus anything? No.
Did Jesus demand anything of him? No. Salvation by grace through faith means
there is hope for a dying man, for someone who can do nothing for himself.
I had a
person in my congregation whose father was dying of cancer. I asked him if he
had talked to his father about how to have eternal life. He said that he had
talked with him, but he said that at the end of his life it wouldnít be fair
for God to forgive him of all he had done now that he was dying. I told him to
show his father the story of the thief on the cross. Since when is grace ever
fair? Grace is not fair, it gives us what we donít deserve. By definition,
grace is not fair.
Let me tell
you about another thief I met. On my first visit to Ghana, West Africa, to teach the Bible at a Bible College, I was working on a car in
our compound one day when I heard a commotion that was working itself down a
dirt road. I immediately recognized what it was because I had seen it beforeóthey
had caught a thief. Now in Ghana
when you catch a thief you
take justice into your own hands because you have very little provisions and
the police are corrupt. And so what they usually do to a thief is beat him
severely and let him go. I went out to the gate of the compound and looked
there at fifty or sixty young people with smiles on their faces like they were
having a big old time. They carried sticks, clubs, machetes, axes, and rubber
hoses. And there in the middle was a rather tall fellow, blood streaming down
his face, a large gash in his head, and a tire around his neck. And when I came
to the gate of the compound, they all stopped and looked at me because we were
the only obruni, or white folks in the area. They were wondering what I would
do, if I would stop the proceeding. But you know, when youíre in another
culture you really donít know what to do sometimes. You donít want to interfere
with their system of justice. And so I just turned and went back to my work
figuring that they would give him a severe beating and that he would learn his
When I went
back to work a missionary who was living on the compound that we shared came
over to us. Now this missionary was from a different denomination that really
believes a different gospel. We just happened to make his acquaintance for the
summer. And he said "Hey did you see the thief?" And I said that I had seen
him. He told me they were going to burn him. When I asked what he meant, he
told me that the tire around his neck was filled with kerosene and they were
going to light it and burn him. That friends, is called a "Nigerian necklace"
over there. Thatís when I knew we had to do something. We walked to the other
side of the compound where they had looped around. When we went out that gate,
there he was collapsed in the mud. He still had the tire around his neck and
was thoroughly drenched in kerosene. There was a young teenager standing above
him with a can that had contained the kerosene, and another teenager was
standing above him getting ready to strike a match. We worked our way through
the group and asked if we could talk to the man. We told them we were sofu,
which means preacher. My missionary friend began to ask the crowd if there were
any accusers or witnesses. There were none. And as he did, I knelt down to talk
to this fellow. I said "What is your name." He said "Benjamin." I said
"Benjamin, can you understand English?" He said "yes." I said "Benjamin, I may
not be able to help you and save you, but I can tell you how to have eternal
life. Do you understand?" He said "yes." In the precious few seconds I had with
him I explained to him the Gospel of grace and the way of salvation.
To make a
long story short, we were able to get him up amidst the protests of the crowd
and get him off to a hospital from which he later fled, because if you saw the
hospitals there you would flee too. I donít know if Iím going to see Benjamin
in heaven, but the point of my story is that I had a message for a dying thief
in the mud that no other religion in this world could have brought him. Do you
understand that? Do you understand that the gospel of grace through simple
faith is a message for a young child, for a dying thief on a cross, a dying
thief in the mud, a pagan Philippian jailer? Itís the only message of hope.
Itís the only message of certainty, the only message of security that brings
assurance. I donít apologize for the gospel of faith. God has made salvation
available to anybody, anywhere, anytime. Selah.
Dr. Charlie Bing, GraceLife Ministries
This article is from a message originally delivered March 30, 1999 at the Grace Evangelical
Societyís pastorís conference. It has been edited slightly for publication.
John F. MacArthur, Jr.,Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles (Dallas: Word Publishing,1993), 56.
 Charles Price, Real Christians (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1987), 55-56.
For further information see Charles C. Bing, Lordship Salvation: A Biblical Evaluation and
Response (Ph.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1991), GraceLife
edition (Burleson, TX: GraceLife Ministries, 1997).
Kenneth L. Gentry, "The
Great Option: A Study of the Lordship Controversy," Baptist Reformation Review 5 (Spring 1976): 52.
Richard P. Belcher, A Laymanís Guide to the Lordship Controversy (Southbridge, MA: Crowne Publications, 1990), 2.
Robert Lescelius, Lordship Salvation: Some Crucial Questions and Answers (Asheville, NC: Revival Literature, 1992), 24.
MacArthur, Faith Works, 45, 50.
Bailey E. Smith, The Grace Escape: Jesus as Savior and Lord (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1991), 77.
John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), 47.
Ibid., 140, 173.
For example, "True faith is humble, submissive obedience" in the first edition (p. 140) became
"True faith produces a heart that is humble, submissive, and obedient" in the
revised and expanded edition (p. 148). MacArthur, The Gospel According to
Jesus, revised and expanded edition.
Lescelius, Lordship Salvation, 24.
Robert L. Saucy, "Second
Response to ĎFaith According to the Apostle Jamesí" by John F. MacArthur, Jr., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33 (March 1990): 47.
Marc Mueller, "Lordship Salvation Syllabus" (Panorama City, CA: Grace Community Church, 1981, 1985), 20.
MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, 47.
MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, 178.
Benjamin B. Warfield, "Faith," in Biblical and Theological Studies, 404-44, ed. Samuel Craig (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1952), 425.
MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, 28, 172-73.
John F. MacArthur, Jr.,
"Faith According to the Apostle James," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33 (March 1990): 23.
MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, 173.