Question: Is it wrong to say “Make Jesus your Lord?” What is Lordship Salvation?
Answer: Lordship Salvation (LS) is a doctrine many people have most likely come across, but perhaps not even realized it. Those advocating LS, such as John Macarthur, focus mainly on the idea of repentance and the role turning from one’s sin plays in salvation. “To put it simply, the gospel call to faith presupposes that sinners must repent of their sin and yield to Christ’s authority. This, in a nutshell, is what is commonly referred to as lordship salvation.” http://www.gty.org/resources/articles/A114/an-introduction-to-lordship-salvation This is from Macarthur’s “Grace to You” website and most definitely sums up the teaching. Although this might sound biblical, the rest of this article will attempt to show why Lordship Salvation has the potential of becoming another gospel.
Often LS is said to be the proper definition of the Gospel, explaining correctly the process of salvation, while those opposed to LS are typically vilified, being assigned to what many call the “easy believism” camp. Many who advocate LS argue that the Christianity’s evangelistic message of the Gospel has grown weak over the years, simply telling people that Jesus loves them and to raise their hands and ask Jesus into their hearts to be saved. They usually say there is little to no pointing to the fact that we are called to repentance. Most of those in favor see LS as the antidote for this aberrant form of evangelism.
While this might sound good from the outside, there are two big problems with their assessment. First, it’s rather foolish to say if one doesn’t believe in Lordship Salvation that he/she doesn’t believe in repentance. The Bible is very clear that we must repent. Acts 3:19 reminds us, “Repent therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord…” The question really should be, “What do we mean by repentance?” This question will be addressed further below. The second issue is that of Lordship Salvation itself. Despite its claims of scriptural soundness, frankly it only serves to add confusion to the pure Gospel declared and demonstrated from Scripture.
What do we mean by repentance? Here lies the big question. According to Blue Letter Bible, the Greek word for repent as used in Acts 3:19 and elsewhere is metanoeō. It is used 34 times in the New Testament and means to change one’s mind, to change one’s mind for better, and to heartily amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins. The LS teacher might say that repentance doesn’t just mean changing one’s mind or attitude, but actually changing one’s outward habits. Arguably the full extent of repentance ought to demonstrate this, however, it’s important to examine and explain the biblical definition a bit further.
The word repentance is used 24 times in the New Testament and is from the same family of words as repent. Its definition is a change of mind, as it appears to one who repents, of a purpose he has formed or of something he has done. In Romans 2:4 it says, “Do you despise the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads You to repentance?” Another example is found in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that you sorrowed to repentance: for you were made sorry after a godly manner, that you might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world works death.”
Clearly repentance is important, however, if repentance means to literally turn from all our outward sinful actions and begin living an upright lifestyle as those advocating LS would have us believe, then the question must be asked, “Who then can be saved?” Also, how many particular sinful actions must I turn from before I am actually saved and Jesus is actually made my Lord?
In reality, repentance goes much deeper than changing the outward action of one’s body. True repentance is a deep, penetrating conviction by our conscience illuminated by the Sword of the Spirit, piercing and dividing even the thoughts and intents of our hearts and minds. Hebrews 4:12. Yes, it is important to outwardly cease from sin, however, we must understand that the change must start in the heart. In Proverbs, we are reminded of what the Lord is really after, “My son, give me your heart…” Proverbs 23:26.
It is this author’s belief that true, godly repentance occurs as people are brought to the true light of Christ, convicted not just of particular sins, but of their wicked, rebellious, and sinful hearts against the only true Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ. Once this kind of conviction occurs, one has only two choices. He will either flee back into the darkness, hardening his heart even further or he will embrace the Light with a broken and humble heart, filled with thanksgiving for the God who died for such a sinful, wicked soul.
This latter response, due to a heart filled with the reality of his rebellion against God and then facing the truth of God’s goodness in response, will inevitably demonstrate true sorrow leading to repentance, turning away not simply from particular sins, but from his very own prideful, sinful flesh. This heart and mind has begun to understand the devilish danger of his very own deceitful heart and self-centered mind. This heart and mind, now facing the true Light of Christ, can begin to see the contrast and will turn (repent) from his rebellious, sinful self and Satan to be instead marvelously and eternally translated into the Kingdom of His dear Son. Colossians 1:13.
Here is the key. Repentance is not simply turning from our outward sinful actions, but instead, an intentional, thoughtful inward turning from the love of self to the love of the only One who bled and died for us, the only One who knew no sin yet became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him! 2 Corinthians 5:21. This kind of repentance, this kind of turning will always lead to true godly sanctification (Holy Spirit enabled power to refine and renew us after His image).
Regarding whether or not literally turning from particular sins is a prerequisite for salvation, consider carefully just how much Jesus did upon the cross. May we never forget that salvation is a work of the LORD upon the cross, not of me turning from particular sinful actions. Jesus took the wrath of the Father, the total punishment we deserve, upon Himself. He became the full and complete offering for sin. Psalm 103:12 reminds us of just how much of our penalty Jesus dealt with. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Jesus paid the penalty for ALL our sin. The whole price has been taken care of. This ought to bring the broken sinner great joy, yet sadly someone teaching Lordship Salvation might say something like this, “You are a sinner and must turn from your sins. Turn from your wicked lifestyle so you can be saved. Jesus died for your sins and rose from the grave. If you believe that and also repent/stop your wickedness, you can be saved.” To me, there is nothing more than confusion here.
If I were an unbeliever ready to accept the Lord’s forgiveness, I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world I could ever stop from all my sinning so I can be saved. I might also wonder how many sins I need to turn from before I actually become fully saved. “Oh no,” says the LS teacher. “We are not teaching works salvation. We are simply saying that the Bible teaches that we must turn from our sins to the Living God. We are simply telling people they must stop sinning to be saved.” But nowhere does the Bible say we must stop sinning to be saved. In fact, if we, even as Christians, say we have no sin we are lying and make God out to be a liar. 1 John 1:8. When the Ethiopian eunuch asked Phillip if he could be baptized, Philip did not say, “If you’ve turned from all your sins. Rather he said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may. And [the eunuch] answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Acts 8:37. The Bible does, however, say that those who have been truly born again will not want to continue a lifestyle of sinning. 1 John 3:6.
In LS, there is a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle), yet detrimental mistake all too often made between salvation (the full and free gift of salvation exclusively procured by Jesus Christ upon the cross and His resurrection and offered to all who by faith would receive this glorious and eternal truth) and sanctification (the purifying and transforming work of the Holy Spirit accomplished through the Living and written Word of God in the lives of born-again believers, all to the glory of God). To say we need to stop sinning is admirable, however, to say we need to turn from sin to be saved is simply unbiblical.
We must understand we are sinners in need of the only Savior of mankind, yes. We must understand that apart from Jesus’ total atonement upon the cross there is no way to be forgiven. We must believe that Jesus, according to the scriptures, died for our sins and rose on the third day. We must believe that His grace is a free gift which we cannot earn but simply must receive by faith. Romans 10 reminds us, “That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised [Jesus] from the dead, you shall be saved.” Romans 10:9.
Unfortunately, the danger of LS goes beyond telling sinners they need to stop sinning to be saved. Making Jesus Lord is the other part of the doctrine that can perhaps unintentionally cast heavy burdens upon weaker brothers and sisters in the Lord. Granted, we all want to grow in letting Jesus be our Lord, however, this quest is not attained by first focusing on getting rid of our sins. We must first and foremost keep our eyes on the only One who can properly sanctify us daily. Speaking of Jesus, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit writes, “But of Him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:30-31.
Although LS strongly emphasizes making Jesus Lord, the Bible often refers to Him synonymously as Lord and Savior, therefore once Jesus becomes our Savior, He has also become our Lord. Jesus is taught as both Lord and Savior so to say some have received Jesus as Savior, but not as Lord is somewhat of a misunderstanding. When the Gospel is presented in the Scriptures, Jesus is fully all He is. He is fully God, fully man, fully Savior, fully Lord. He truly is the All in All and Great I AM! When I put my faith in Jesus’ full, free, and finished work upon the cross for my rebellion against Him, I am fully, freely, and finally saved. Have I understood the extent of Jesus as Lord yet? Not even close. But to be honest, can we even say we’ve fully understood Jesus as Savior? No. In fact, we will spend eternity plumbing the depths of God’s character, none of which changes the fact of Who He already and eternally is.
I would assume most who teach that we must focus on making Jesus Lord is simply trying to encourage believers to stop playing games and to grow in their relationship with Jesus. Unfortunately, teaching people to focus on making Jesus Lord is often translated into focusing on sinlessness, not the sinless Savior. This sometimes has the unintended consequence of causing saints to focus on their works, losing sight of the Lord of the labor, bringing much unrest to their souls. We are not to strive in this manner, but to rest in Christ. Yes, we are to labor, but to labor diligently to enter His rest, letting Jesus work in and through us as we yield to Him. Hebrews 4:11.
How we explain the Gospel to nonbelievers and believers is definitely a serious matter, one not to be taken lightly. We should be very careful not to add to or take away from Who Jesus is, what He did, and what He wants to do in and through people. After all, the Gospel is called the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel of God, the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Gospel of peace, the Gospel of the grace of God, the Gospel of your salvation, the Gospel of His Son, The Glorious Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Everlasting Gospel. We are to believe the Gospel, preach the Gospel, to communicate the Gospel, to fellowship in the Gospel, to stand in the Gospel, and obey the Gospel. Clearly, the Gospel is of utmost importance. To not be willing to examine our own beliefs pertaining to the Gospel in Light of God’s Word is most unwise.
We must be diligent and careful to preach the only Gospel that saves. In hopes of seeing people genuinely converted, may we never preach in such a way as to clean up the flesh by the working of our hand but instead bring true sanctification and cleansing of the conscience exclusively through the precious blood of the only true Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.