January 27, 2016

The Greatest Man & His Preaching

by Eric Davis


John the Baptizer was not your average guy. His wardrobe consisted of fur de desert rat. His diet, grasshoppers and unfiltered honey. His domicile, the desert. His message, repent. His career, ended sometime in his 30’s with jail and execution.

And yet, God said of him, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!” (Matt. 11:11). For most of us, that’s probably not the first thing that would pop into our mind if we encountered a guy like him.

Among other things, something which Jesus identifies in John’s life was his unwavering commitment to God and his truth. John was no spineless man-pleaser: unlike river reeds, he stood firm in the midst of fallen, cultural winds (“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?”, Matt. 11:7).

We do not have record of everything John every preached, but from that which God has given us in Scripture, we have enough to observe a few characteristics of his preaching. What are some themes you would expect to see in the greatest man’s preaching? And what can we learn from him so that our churches avoid becoming First Church of the Reeds?

Here are a few observations about the preaching of the greatest man born of women:

  1. His preaching was preaching.

In other words, he wasn’t sharing, delivering a sermonette, giving his opinion, having a “what-does-it-mean-to-you” discussion, or storytelling. John came proclaiming and declaring; he preached because he was a preacher (Matt. 3:1-2).

  1. His preaching was biblical.

Being the fulfillment of prophecy himself (cf. Mal. 3:1), John’s preaching contained exposition of Old Testament law and prophecies. John came preaching God’s word.

  1. His preaching focused on sin.

Being a biblical preacher, that is no surprise. Whether the religious (Luke 3:7-11), the outwardly immoral (Luke 3:12-13), or pagan Gentiles (Luke 3:14), he called out sin.

  1. His preaching called people to repent of sin.

Like many of the faithful prophets leading up to John, much of his message consisted of calls for repentance (Matt. 3:1-2, Luke 3:3). Similar to calling out sin, John assumed people from every demographic needed to turn from their sin.

  1. His preaching warned people of the dangers of hell.


He to whom Jesus referred as the greatest man ever believed and preached that hell was a real place, lasted forever, involved fire, would be inhabited by non-fruit bearers, and could be populated by anyone (including outwardly religious people who grew up with Bible teaching). Further, John preached about hell to all sorts (not only to the flagrantly immoral) while making it clear that Jesus would decide who would and would not end up there.

  1. His preaching told people how to be saved from God’s judgment.

Armed with a message of repentance, his preaching always pointed people towards God’s merciful way out of the hell which sinners deserve. John believed these wise words from the late expositor, S. Lewis Johnson: “Fear of the judgment of God is a reasonable enough motivation to repent and turn to Christ.”

  1. His preaching was loving.

Because he preached on sin, hell, God’s judgment on sinners, and the need to repent, his preaching was loving. He loved people enough to make them temporarily uncomfortable through his preaching so that they might repent and be eternally comfortable.

  1. His preaching challenged people to examine whether or not they were going to heaven.

John assumed that anyone—especially the outwardly moral and religious—could be in danger of conversion deception (“Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father…’” Luke 3:8). He knew that we cannot assume upon things like Bible knowledge, growing up in religious homes, attending religious gatherings, and affiliation with God-fearing people as that which makes us right with God and going to heaven. The greatest man ever believed and preached that a godly life was absolutely necessary to evidence true conversion. Without holiness, John understood that no one would go to heaven (“Bear fruits in keeping with repentance…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Luke 3:8-9). John’s preaching called people to do a soul-check-up.

  1. His preaching called people to sincere holiness.

John did not stop at preaching conversion. He understood that living holy lives was the inevitable consequence of salvation (“Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…”, Luke 3:8). So, he called people to personal godliness, even giving specific application for his audience (cf. Luke 3:10-14).

  1. His preaching focused on Christ.

Called to the exalted task of the Messiah’s forerunner, John’s preaching had a huge view of Christ and his glory. John preached Christ as Judge, Messiah, and Savior (cf. Matt. 3:11-12).

  1. His preaching aimed at God’s approval, not man’s.


Those who made the long, hot trip into the Judean desert, did not do so to watch a soft, man-centered preacher (Matt. 11:7). John was not a pulpit-panderer, blown around like a reed. You would not have seen him in the pulpit at First Church of the Reeds.

Consequently, John would’ve never been invited to many so-called Christian conferences in our day, nor received popular book deals. Many, including professing believers, would have labeled John things like “inflexible,” “narrow-minded,” “legalistic,” and “harsh.” Even so, it is instructive that our Lord Jesus calls him the greatest guy ever.

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • Mr. Mike

    Too bad we don’t have more pastors like John the Baptist and Eric Davis. I am greatly encouraged by them both.

    • Jordan Standridge

      Amen to that.

  • kevin2184

    Amen, Eric, amen.

  • KPM

    There are serious problems with point number 8. You imply that the Pharisees were not doing enough good works to prove that they were really saved. However, time and again the Pharisees were rebuked because they thought they had fulfilled the law and could therefore come to God and say, “Give me my due!” They were making a lot of effort to live as the children of Abraham, and if they were in our churches we would probably say, “wow! now there’s a man who is pursuing holiness!”

    The primary fruit of repentance is trust in Jesus Christ. The Pharisees went to synagogue every Saturday, they tithed regularly, they knew their Bible’s well, they were not living in gross external sin. Not only did the Pharisees look to their heritage to assure themselves that they were God’s children, they also looked to their WORKS to assure themselves that they were God’s children. They did a lot of outwardly religious stuff. They had a zeal for God, but it was not according to truth. Their good works would probably put most of us to shame, but they did not have fruit in keeping with repentance. They did not have any true humility. They did not thrust themselves upon the mercies of Christ. They were not trusting God for their salvation, they were looking to their works. They tithed on dill, mint, cumin, but they did not have the more important fruits of repentance – justice, mercy, faithfulness. They failed to understand that loving God is the most important commandment, and that loving our neighbors is the second most important commandment. They concerned themselves with “mere trifles” to quote Luther. They tried to redefine “neighbor” so that they only had to love the people that they felt like calling neighbor.

    The Pharisee came to the temple and listed his works before God. The tax collector despaired of his works and thrust himself upon God’s mercy. The Pharisee had no fruits of repentance, he only had “good works.” The tax collector had no “good works,” he only had the fruits of repentance. The tax collector was justified. The Pharisee was not.

    If you want to encourage people to bear fruit in keeping with repentance, encourage them change, most certainly, but always and forever encourage them to look to Jesus as their righteousness, not their own works.

    Luther treated this subject very well in his Heidelberg Disputation. In point three, Luther says the following:

    Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.

    I would encourage you to read the entire thing here:


    For Luther, even our best works are nothing more than sins in God’s eyes, so we cannot rely upon them for our salvation. Like Isaiah, Luther believe that our good works are filthy menstral rags in the eyes God, rather than the source of our assurance. Luther taught that God must even cleanse us of the sins that we commit while we are doing good works. At best, our works are venial sins, but if we rely upon them for our salvation, they become mortal sins.

    Lordship salvation is incredibly problematic because, while the proponents of this idea are careful to maintain that our works are not salvific, they tell us that we must have them to prove we are saved. If you don’t do enough good works, you’re not really saved. Pastorally, the congregation is no longer looking to Christ for assurance of salvation, but to their works. It’s a fairly tricky way of saying that we are saved by faith plus works. It’s practically no different from Roman Catholicism, which is ironic since it’s proponents tend to be hyper-Romaphobic.

    You can downplay and minimize your sin, deceiving yourself that you are not as sinful as your heart tells you, so that you can rest assured in your own works as the proof of your salvation, much like the Pharisees. Keep looking to your good works as the proof of your salvation and you will continue to fail to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

    Or you can agree with Luther and the Protestant Reformation that:

    He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.

    The life of the Christian is one of daily repentance from sin. So long as we are here in the flesh, we will never completely overcome sin. The old man will continue to cling on, and we will continue to fight an uphill battle. Keep fighting, Christian, the fact that their is a fight demonstrates the fruit of repentance in your life. When you fail, bear fruit in keeping with repentance and trust in Christ as your Savior.


  • KPM

    If you doubt that your doctrine of Lordship Salvation is contrary to the principles of the Reformation, and if you doubt that Lordship Salvation is indeed a new an innovative doctrine, you should read the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, written by the German Evangelical Church (i.e. the Lutheran Church) in 1577 and adopted as part of their official confessional standards.

    The Epitome clearly rejects “Lordship Salvation,” because it REJECTS the following errors:

    “That faith does not justify without good works; so that good works are necessarily required for righteousness, and without their presence man cannot be justified.”

    “That faith has the first place in justification, nevertheless also renewal and love belong to our righteousness before God in such a manner that they [renewal and love] are indeed not the chief cause of our righteousness, but that nevertheless our righteousness before God is not entire or perfect without this love and renewal.”

    In Lordship Salvation/MacArthurite churches, people are told that they cannot be sure they are saved unless they’ve made enough progress in holiness. They cannot be assured they are saved unless they see enough “renewal.” Martin Luther would have condemned such a thing as heresy. Such teachings deny that the entire and perfect righteousness of God is ours simply by faith in Christ.

    In Contradiction to Lordship Salvation, the Epitome AFFIRMS the following:

    “We believe, teach, and confess also that notwithstanding the fact that many weaknesses and defects cling to the true believers and truly regenerate, even to the grave, still they must not on that account doubt either their righteousness which has been imputed to them by faith, or the salvation of their souls, but must regard it as certain that for Christ’s sake, according to the promise and [immovable] Word of the holy Gospel, they have a gracious God.”

    To look at a member of your congregation that is still a sinner and to doubt that he is a Christian is to betray the Reformation. Yes, we are called to repent, and no one is denying that. We are also called to good works. However, Christ alone is our assurance. We must never, on account of the weaknesses and defects which cling to us, doubt the righteousness of God that is imputed to us by faith. Therefore, the true Christian MUST reject Lordship Salvation.

    • Jane Hildebrand

      KPM, I know you comment here often at the CG, but would you mind sharing your testimony of when you were born again? I don’t ask that to be rude, I would just like to know a little more of where you’re coming from personally, not just theologically.

      • KPM

        Sure. I grew up in the suburbs of Seattle. I was involved in the Seattle punk rock scene for a few years. I ran away from home at the age 15. I went to juvenile hall for assault and battery. I was kicked out of three separate schools before I decided to get my GED and join the Army at the age of 17. I was a reasonably talented athlete, track and wrestling in particular, before I started getting in trouble, so I tried out to become an Army Ranger.

        As a Ranger, I earned my Ranger Tab, completed Airborne School, earned my Combat Infantry Badge when we were ambushed in Afghanistan and again in Iraq, Army Accommodation Medal, Israeli Parachutist Wings, Canadian Parachutist Wings. Nights and weekends, I was involved in every manner of sin. Before the Army, that included drugs. In the Army, that included a lot of drinking. That also included a lot of the pre-marital kind of immorality, to avoid being graphic.

        I was arrogant and unteachable. I had a violent temper. There was one squad leader in our platoon that did not mess with his privates and abuse his power for no reason. The same could not be said of any of our other squad leaders. He was a Christian.

        My parents were basically hippies when they were married. My mom and dad ran off to Reno to get married on my mom’s 18th birthday because her parents did not approve. My parents did drugs and drank quite a bit when I was younger. My mom was raised a Mormon, and my dad had an inconsistent Christian up-bringing. His father was an abusive Roman Catholic and his mother was an Assemblies of God Christian.

        At about the age of 9, my dad decided to go back to church. My mom was made to feel unwelcome and judged harshly at the evangelical church my dad first attended, so he started going to an RCNA church and my Mom went back to the Mormon church. At the age of 14, I was, understandably, confused, so I rejected the whole thing and got into the punk scene.

        Despite my efforts to reform my attitude and my life, I could never do better. I joined the Army because I knew I needed to change, but even after joining the Army I never saw any real change in my heart. I noticed that Sgt. Leland was different, so I started hanging around with him and his squad. He took me to church with him, and I started reading my Bible. I went to Iraq after that and got out of the Army shortly after getting home from deployment. I couldn’t go in public places because I would get anxiety around too many people. I stayed in my parent’s apartment and hardly left for about 4 months.

        I started working at Safeway, bagging groceries part-time. I wanted to work construction, but I was injured from the Army, so I decided to start going to college instead. Two of my coworkers at Safeway were Christians. I asked if I could go to church with them and they both invited me to their respective churches. I went to Cecilia’s church, because I got along with her better than the other guy.

        I went to church and heard the gospel preached. I believed it and I began to repent of sin in my life as I saw it. I cleaned up my language. I stopped abusing alcohol. I stopped driving 100 miles per hour, though I can still do better at following the laws of the road. I kept going to church. I kept believing the gospel. I was baptized. I kept confessing my sins and I kept seeking to put them to death. I often failed, but it grieved me when I failed and I continually fought to obey God. This church was very much a MacArthurite church.

        I was there for ten years. Certain sins that I heavily indulged in from a very young age did not just automatically go away. I hate them, make no mistake, but I still find myself tempted by them. I still fail. I go through periods of obedience, and then I sin. I have no excuse and have no desire to make excuses for it.

        At church, I was always told that the reason I wasn’t victorious over sin is that I wasn’t trying enough. I was fasting, I was reading and praying everyday, I was literally punching myself because I was so grieved over my sin, but I was told that I must not truly be repenting. I was made to feel that I might not really be a Christian. I saw other brothers at church who still struggled with sin. Not the same as mine, but in some cases it was. I saw them being treated as second class Christians. People spread rumors that they might not be “really” saved because they didn’t have enough fruit, or the right kind of fruit. I saw people raised in the Christian faith talking trash about their parents who taught them the faith, saying that their parents might not “really” be saved, because they didn’t have the right doctrine, or the right “fruit” of salvation. I did the same thing to my father and my sister who are also Christians. My dad doesn’t go to church “enough.” My sister doesn’t go to the “right” church.

        My years in the MacArthurite church were characterized by bouncing between two extremes. I was either depressed because I wasn’t bearing enough fruit to prove I was saved, or I was self-righteous because I thought I was, but those other “so-called” Christians were only “professing” believers.

        I wanted to leave so badly, but I was practically brain-washed into thinking this was the only “good” church in town. “Other churches” were ridiculed from the pulpit even, and our church broke away from its longstanding denominational affiliation. MacArthurites always split churches and break them away from their denominations.

        The first year there was great, but after that it just got ugly. I got to the point where every Sunday I just couldn’t shake the desire to get up and leave in the middle of the service. I hated going to church. I hardened my heart and would not listen to anything coming from the pulpit.

        I tried talking to the elders time and time again. They refuse to admit when they do things that are blatantly wrong. Other members of the congregation point out similar errors in private conversation, and I encouraged them to talk to the elders, but they seemed too scared. I wish they would say something so that maybe the message would get through. But again, that seems to be common in MacArthurite churches. A pastor must be “above reproach,” otherwise he must at least appear that way even when he is not.

        I started listening to the White Horse Inn podcast while at my MacArthurite church (probably on the recommendation of one of the members, since they make a pretense of being “Reformed”). I heard them talking about salvation being accomplished outside of us, and about our assurance being found in Christ, not in our works. I liked what I heard and knew that it was different than what MacArthur was teaching. I found out the Horton wrote a correction to “The Gospel According to Jesus,” titled “Christ the Lord.” I learned that Calvin held to a Law & Gospel hermenuetic that is antithetical to the idea of Lordship Salvation. I learned that Phil Johnson rebuked Horton for holding to the same Law/Gospel hermenuetic taught by the Reformers, including Luther and Calvin.

        I saw that the contemporary Reformed world is somewhat divided on this idea of Lordship Salvation, and that some stick more closely to Calvin, while others seem more akin to the Puritans. I started reading Lutheran blogs and listening to Lutheran podcasts, and I learned that Lutherans rejected Lordship Salvation a hundred years ago when they rejected Lordship Salvation’s twins, Pietism and Puritanism. I knew that I needed to find either a Lutheran church or a Reformed church that leaned more in the direction of Horton and Kim Riddleberger, than in the direction of the Puritans. I found a Lutheran church that teaches the law and holds Christians to good works, but never tells them that their salvation is dependent upon it. I’m a Lutheran now and I’m much happier. I think people in the MacArthurite camp have sort of had the wool pulled over their eyes. Their leaders pretend to teach “Reformed” Christianity, but they actually teach something quite different.

        I don’t go to church and hear people deny that Romans 7 actually means what it sounds like it means. I don’t go to a church where “neighbor” has been redefined to mean “member of your church.” I don’t go to a church where they teach me that my dad and sister are probably just decieved because they don’t see everything exactly the way that we do, or they don’t have enough “fruit” to prove they are saved. My new church does not say that Rick Warren is an enemy of the gospel, despite some of his errors.

        Instead, I go to a church that actually teaches that the grace of God in Jesus Christ is free and that we cannot add to our salvation or merit our standing with God in any way. They are very clear about that and I’ve found that its freeing. I’m actually progressing more in personal holiness now than I was before, because I’m not burdened and depressed all the time.

        My name is Ken if you prefer to call me that. Its just that my name is fairly common, so I probably couldn’t get an account with just my name, so I use my initials instead.

        • Eric Davis

          Hi KPM – I hear your concern, friend. I would ask, just as you have indicated in your comments, that, as you would like people who differ from you to respond respectfully to you, that you would do the same here. So, please refrain from using derogatory terms here (and anywhere) like, “MacArthurite.” It’s not an accurate or loving term. Thanks for understanding.

        • Jane Hildebrand

          Thanks so much for sharing that, Ken. Sounds like God has placed a few people in your path that have helped lead you to Him which is always so cool to me. He came for punk rockers you know. 🙂

          In reading what you wrote, I did notice however that your testimony didn’t include the moment you were born again. You used words like, “I believed, I repented, I cleaned up my language, I stopped…” and yet you admitted to failing and being very frustrated with yourself. The fact you didn’t mention having a freedom and a joy (that comes with receiving the Holy Spirit) in that you were forgiven and free seems to indicate that you may be struggling to do those things in your own strength. Unlike what you have been told, we don’t have victory over sin because we aren’t trying hard enough, but because God’s Spirit is working within us, restraining us and transforming us. Without that, we have no strength to do anything! Now I’m not saying we don’t stumble, but there is a marked difference the moment God enters our hearts through His Spirit. I say that from experience. I can’t count the times I baptized myself in the bathtub, trying to erase my sin only to keep repeating it. But when I received God’s Spirit, when I was truly born again, I felt an incredible freedom, not only in the fact that I was forgiven and loved, but that I was able to say no to the sin that held me down. All I’m saying is that is sounds like you are trying to fight sin in your own strength and from an intellectual standpoint. Perhaps that’s why you take such offence with MacArthur because he preaches obedience and transformation which IS impossible in our own strength and would then classified as works. But you have to understand that the obedience and transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit is natural for the Christian (according to the Bible). That is not a judgement against those who stumble, but a promise from a loving God to be free from the sin that wants to destroy us.

          • KPM

            Jane, can I encourage you to read some passages of scripture and to rethink whether your understanding of conversion is Biblical?

            Start with John 3 and Jesus conversation with Nicodemus. What does Jesus tell him that he must do? Jesus tells him that he must be born of water and the Spirit. “And” in Greek can be taken in two senses. Either it is listing two separate things, or it is listing two parts of the same action. I would argue that being born of water and the Spirit are two sides of the same coin.

            Why do I believe that? Look at Acts 2:38. Peter tells the Jews in the temple that they must repent and be baptized. He gives them a promise with this. He tells them that they WILL receive the Holy Spirit, not that they MIGHT receive the Holy Spirit. If Peter is an apostle, and if Luke was inspired of the Holy Spirit, which I’m sure we agree are both true, then God is speaking in these verses. That means that this is a promise of God: Repent and be baptized and you will receive the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit. The verse is very clear if you read it.

            Then go to Romans 6:1-4. The question at hand is, should Christians sin since they have been freely forgiven? The answer is NO, because that would be inconsistent with what believers receive in Baptism. Paul tells us that in Baptism we are united to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Paul says that because we were baptized, we WERE (accomplished, done, completed) “buried with him BY baptism into his death.”

            Then Paul gives us a promise in verse 5: “If we have been united with him in a death like his (i.e. baptism), we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” That is a promise from God. I take it seriously. I believe it.

            There is nothing in the Bible that speaks about a conversion experience whereby we receive the Holy Spirit apart from the ordinary means of hearing the Word preached and believing it. Baptism is nothing more than the visible Word of God, because it is not the water of Baptism that saves, but trust in the promises of God that are preached to us in Baptism. We are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. If we are buried with Christ BY baptism into his death, we can trust that we will be resurrected with him.

            Yes, the Bible does give examples of people hearing the gospel and being saved apart from baptism, so baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation. God can work outside of the ordinary means of the sacrament, but in the Great Commission, God has bound us to baptism as His ordinary means of working. We are to make disciples by baptizing them into the Triune God and then teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded.

            Your understanding of Christians needing to have a “conversion experience” apart from hearing the preached word, believing, and repenting is simply not Biblical. It is not taught on a single page of scripture. Likewise, it is an understanding of the Christian faith that is fairly novel. It is not what Christians believed for the first 1600 or 1700 years of church history. The first people to start teaching such things were the German Pietists of the 17th century, followed by the English Puritans, who popularized this brand of Christianity in America during the first and second Great Awakenings. This is an understanding of the Christian faith that is linked to tent revivals and itinerant preachers, not faithful pastors doing hard work and getting invested in real people.

            My problem with Dr. MacArthur’s theology is that it removes any objectivity from our assurance and that it places our assurance upon our works in such a way that we are encouraged to look to our works for “assurance of salvation,” rather than looking to the promises of God in Jesus Christ. Looking to Christ is the substance of faith. Trusting in my works is the substance of unbelief. I am not in any way opposed to the preaching of God’s Holy Law. I am not opposed to pastors telling their people, “you must obey.” My problem is that Lordship Salvation makes this a condition of being saved, though it is done in a sort back door kind of way by making it an issue of “assurance” rather than justification.

            I would also encourage you to read Romans 7. The good that Paul wanted to do, he did not do. He had the will to do good, but not the power. Does that mean that Paul wasn’t really saved? No, it actually means that he had great cause for assurance because he recognized his sin, repented of it, and was fighting against it. Like John says, “if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” It sounds like it was an uphill battle for Paul, so I’m not sure why we expect anything different.

            I would encourage you to stop trusting your experience and your feelings for your justification and that you would start trusting the promises of God given to you in Jesus Christ. That is what justification by faith is all about. If you miss that, you’re confusing the gospel. Just like the proponents of Lordship salvation, you are telling people that trust in Christ is not enough to get them into heaven. It is incredibly dangerous because (a) it is unbiblical, and (b) it makes justification based on a subjective experience. No one can have any real assurance they are saved, because if they sin, then they might not be demonstrating enough fruit. No one can be sure they are saved because the “conversion experience” that they had might not have been genuine. What if your conversion experience was nothing more than the result of some hormonal imbalance because you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, or because you had too many cups of coffee in the morning? You might not really be saved…

            Pastorally speaking (though I’m not a pastor), understanding baptism as a sacrament whereby we receive the promises of God has tremendous benefit. God can save people who have not been baptized, He did so in the Bible, but the pastoral advantage is that the promises of God are connected to baptism in the Bible, so if a person is doubting whether or not God really loves them, we need only point them to what they received in the sacrament of baptism. If they are living in unrepentant sin and refusing to repent, they must be told that those who make a practice of sin (i.e. those who live in it and do not fight it) and resist the grace of God are putting their souls in grave danger. However, those who confess their sins and daily make use of their baptism (as in Romans 6) have no need to fear and no need to doubt. That is where the freedom that you speak of comes from. Freedom in Christ is not a subjective feeling and it is not the ability to instantaneously overcome all sin (otherwise Romans 7 is a lie). Freedom in Christ is freedom from the condemnation of the Law and the fear and slavery that creates in sinful human beings.

            My issue with Lordship Salvation is that it puts Christians back under slavery to the Law, whereby they must live in fear that they are not doing enough to really be saved. Lordship Salvation destroys Christian freedom. Martin Luther, my hero again, wrote an excellent work on the subject, “Concerning Christian Liberty.” What strikes me about MacArthur’s understanding of Christian liberty is that he seems to have never read Luther’s work, which is too bad because it is excellent.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            Ken, you say, “Your understanding of Christians needing to have a “conversion experience” apart from hearing the preached word, believing, and repenting is simply not Biblical.”

            Well, of course not. Where did I imply that anyone can be saved unless they hear the gospel? I was saved by reading the Bible and believing it. As it says in Ephesians 1:13, “Having heard the good news of your salvation, having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” May I add, a deposit that Peter described as “being filled with an indescribable and glorious joy, receiving the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8, 9) Sounds like a conversion experience to me and no mention of water!

            You say, “I am not opposed to pastors telling their people, “you must obey.” My problem is that Lordship Salvation makes this a condition of being saved.”

            I believe you are misrepresenting the sequence here in that salvation is not a condition of being saved, it is an evidence. There is no salvation other than faith in Christ, but faith in Christ WILL produce the evidence of obedience. A simple reading of the NT and a study of the work of the Holy Spirit will confirm that. Jesus Himself said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” That’s not a threat, but a promise, because Jesus also explained in John 14 that if we love Him He would send the Spirit of Truth into our hearts to be with us forever and through whom we would have the ability to obey. John also confirms this in 1 John 2:3 when he says, “We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands.” Salvation and obedience are two sides of the same coin in the currency of the Holy Spirit.

            And consider this, if evidence of our salvation is not necessary, why did Paul tell the Corinthians who were still sinning to examine themselves to see whether or not they were in the faith? He told them to test themselves. And what was the test? It was whether or not the Spirit of Christ was in them which would transform them. (2 Cor. 13:5)

            And lastly you say, “My issue with Lordship Salvation is that it puts Christians back under slavery to the Law, whereby they must live in fear that they are not doing enough to really be saved. Lordship Salvation destroys Christian freedom.”

            I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. The only way a person would live in fear that they are not doing enough to be saved is to never have been saved in the first place. And Christian freedom is the freedom to obey. I believe our differences in lie in the fact that you view the Holy Spirit subjectively, while I view Him objectively. And that we will not likely reconcile.

          • KPM

            Have you obeyed what Jesus commands of you, Jane? If you break the law at one point, you are guilty of the whole law and you deserve condemnation and eternal hell for it. So based on that standard, are you going to hell or heaven?

          • KPM

            “I say that from experience. I can’t count the times I baptized myself in the bathtub, trying to erase my sin only to keep repeating it.”

            Wow, you must not really be repenting, Jane. Are you sure you’re a Christian. Maybe you need to test yourself to see if you’re really in the faith. After all, we only can say that we know him if we obey his commandments, and according to your own testimony, you do not obey his commandments. I am really concerned for your soul. You might not really be a Christian Jane. Please examine your heart and try to find where the source of this sin is. You need to go and kill this sin, whatever it might be.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            Ken, I did the bathtub thing as a kid before I was saved. Once I was saved, God did grant me the ability to repent. Unfortunately, your sarcasm says more to me about the state of your soul than your insincere concern for mine.

          • Ken, I have a quick question for you. Have you read MacArthur’s “The Gospel According to Jesus,” and/or “The Gospel According to the Apostles”?

          • KPM

            The Gospel According to Jesus drove me to some of the deepest depression I’ve experienced in my life. I would say that book, along with the Mortification of Sin, are the two most un-Christian books I’ve read. The Gospel According to Jesus is terrible and Horton was right to correct it.

            MacArthur takes justification by grace through faith, and turns it into “justification by renouncing all known sins and truly making Jesus the Lord of your life.” Have you truly made Jesus the Lord of your life? What about the sin that I’m sure you committed this morning (whatever it might be)? Does that jeopardize your standing with God? How do you know that you have enough fruit to prove that you’re saved? Who is the arbitrator? You? MacArthur? Your checklist?

            The confusion between Law and Gospel in TMS circles is tragic. I think even Horton has not gone far enough in correcting MacArthur’s errors. Confessional Lutherans seem to be the only ones who consistently maintain the distinction between Law and Gospel. It’s amazing how close to Luther’s Medieval Roman Catholic opponents that some people in the Lordship Salvation camp sound.

          • Well, see, that’s the thing. The litany of objections you hurl at MacArthur and the doctrine of lordship salvation seem to have been anticipated and answered quite ably even in just the introduction to The Gospel According to the Apostles (technically chapter two, A Primer on the Lordship Controversy). The very things you accuse him/the teaching of he explicitly denies. And it’s fairly obvious to me from your comments that you haven’t adequately and accurately understood what is meant by lordship salvation.

            Because of that, and because you’ve had ample time on numerous posts to make your opinions on this matter known, often quite stridently, I’m going to ask that you read The Gospel According to the a Apostles before posting any more diatribes on the subject. Even after you read it, I would hope that any further conversation on the issue could be quite a bit more civil and brotherly than you’ve sought to make it so far.

          • KPM

            That’s fair. I’m not going to read it, but I will stop posting here.

            I used to listen to MacArthur’s podcast every day, so I do think I’m fairly familiar with his teaching. I also read his study Bible practically everyday for about 8 years. He often talks out of both sides of his mouth, trying to affirm justification by faith on the one hand, but trying to add personal works on the hand. Its always very subtle and tricky, so that he doesn’t overtly deny the gospel, but it does seem to work out that way in pastoral application and the daily life of churches that affirm his teachings. I’ve seen and experienced it first hand at multiple churches I’ve been involved with.

            Anyways, peace to you all. I shall never be the troll that lives under the bridge at the Cripplegate again.


          • LoL. I’m not calling you a troll, man. You’re very welcome to read and comment on other subjects on the blog.

            I just think that before continuing to post on this subject you ought to consider the response that MacArthur himself has made to your specific objections, over 25 years ago no less. I think it should concern you that your conclusion is that he’s being “subtle and tricky” and “talks out of both sides of his mouth” rather than perhaps you’ve not understood the implications of what he’s teaching (and not teaching) as you ought to have. I think it should also concern you that you’d rather persist in that uncharitable evaluation rather than read what sounds like a personal response to the very issues you raise on this thread, which potentially can bring clarification to your thinking.

      • KPM

        If you are interested in the Reformed understanding of the Lordship of Christ, in contrast to Lordship salvation, check out the Heidelblog. It’s a blog dedicated to teaching and understanding the historic Reformed Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism (not to be confused with Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation).


  • KPM

    I also like the subtle jab, common in practically everything written by a MacArthurite, at “professing” believers. You may as well insert “so-called” in the place of professing. All who disagree with you must not “really” be saved, with their “so-called” Christian conferences.

    How skillfully you step into the role of Christ, separating the wheat from the chaff! How passive aggressive.

  • Still Waters

    “Notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11)
    Christ’s contrast between John the Baptist, the greatest of human born, to the least in the kingdom of heaven reminds me of the end of Hebrews 11. The writer of Hebrews has listed the enormous courage of the people of faith from the Old Testament in the middle of unimaginable suffering, “of whom the world was not worthy”, and then he says:
    “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” (Hebrew 11:39)

  • tovlogos

    Strong post, Eric.
    “Among other things, something which Jesus identifies in John’s life was his unwavering commitment to God and his truth.”
    The “unwavering commitment” is what gets me — right from the womb.

    “…The prayer was no parenthesis interjected, it was something that belonged as much to the habit of his mind as breathing did to the habit of his body.” ( As Clint recently pointed out)
    John was in this privileged category and beyond — the ultimate ambition. God spoke to him all the days of his life — and apparently he had no trouble understanding the message.
    “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks for that insight, brother. Great point.