Any conversation on what is often called “Lordship salvation” hinges on definitions. Some people use the term “lordship salvation” to imply that a person has to do good works to merit salvation; it is almost as if they use the term to mean that you have to straighten out your life in order to be a Christian. I reject that understanding of salvation. The gospel is for the sick, not the healthy, and Christians are those who realize their lives are not good enough to merit favor from God, nor will they ever be.
Others use the concept of “lordship salvation” in opposition to “free grace” theology. In some expressions of free grace theology, there is the concept that saving faith can be equated to mental assent to the facts of the gospel. In other words, a person is saved when they recognize that the facts of the gospel are true. I reject this understanding of salvation as well. Saving faith is supernatural (1 Peter 1:3), and it transforms the sinner’s life (2 Cor 3:18). I believe that people are born as slaves to sin (Rom 6:17). Sin is naturally the lord of every person outside of Christ. But at the moment of regeneration, the sinner is born again (1 Pet 1:23). His heart turns from sin, and embraces the truth of the gospel, and this marks a profound change in his life (1 Cor 5:17). No longer is he a slave to sin, but now his new lord is Jesus. If this is what is meant by lordship salvation, then I am in agreement with it.
Finally, there are some (mostly inside Presbyterian churches) that would dispute the concept of lordship salvation because they believe it contains a wrong understanding of the law/gospel tension in scripture. They understand the term to imply an emphasis on imperatives (law) for sanctification, and as a result they get the impression that lordship salvation does not see the power of sanctification coming from indicatives (gospel). These concerns are most clearly expressed by Michael Horton. I do not share those concerns. I think that they overstate the difference between law and gospel, and show a wrong understanding of the biblical use of law to begin with.
Perhaps the best way to clarify my understanding of Lordship salvation is by a list of affirmations and denials:
- I affirm that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. I affirm that salvation is a gift given to sinners, by God, through faith in Jesus Christ.
- I deny that any works are necessary to achieve salvation. I deny that a sinner can ever be deserving of salvation apart from the righteousness of Christ, given as a gift.
- I affirm that salvation is super natural.
- I deny that salvation is a mere mental assent to the truths of the gospel.
- I affirm that every Christian is simultaneously both a saint and a sinner, and I also affirm that the pattern of conduct in a believer’s life will be one that is demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit.
- I deny that people can earn favor with God through Law keeping.
- I affirm what Paul writes in Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved,” and I affirm that the concept of Lord demands a balance of fear and obedience.
Out of curiosity, do any readers here still have conversations about Lordship salvation? Or is that pretty much a debate that has already run its course? What’s your experience with this topic? Do you find people still wanting to talk about it?