Although the Lordship Salvation doctrine (hereafter LS) has many distinguishing characteristics, the one I want to address is its view of the gospel and the unbeliever’s response to it.
What is the “Lordship Salvation” doctrine?
In brief, LS regularly teaches that unbelievers must submit to Jesus the Lord. They call sinners to yield to Christ’s authority. “Surrender” is a key to unlocking the essence of LS. They often include the call to discipleship “the gospel”.
One popular LS Internet site states,
The gospel that 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 … Scripture teaches that Jesus is Lord of all, and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender … Surrender to Jesus’ lordship is not an addendum to the biblical terms of salvation; the summons to submission is at the heart of the gospel invitation throughout Scripture. (emphasis added)
Certainly, most proponents of LS have admirable desires and motives. They properly see the problem of a temporary faith and assess it rightly. They notice and call out the morass of carnal, corrupt false professors of nominal Christianity. Cultural “Christians” are legion, and they perceive the need for deceived “Christians” to truly believe Jesus. They, with John Bunyan, in The Pilgrim’s Progress, warn, “Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction!”
LS teachers accurately caution people from a 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 deception. I appreciate the LS desire for false converts to truly believe and to awaken sinners to their peril. I applaud their concern over a false, spurious faith that does not save (a demonic faith—James 2:19). I agree with their call for Christians to live holy and faithful lives. I also commend LS teachers because they do teach sola gratia, repentance as a gift of divine grace, the person and work of Jesus, the need for holy living and much more.
What is Law/Gospel?
The Law/Gospel paradigm, which John Calvin and Martin Luther called, “the Two Words”, has been described as the “sum and substance” of the Bible. Herman Bavinck described the Law and the Gospel as “two component parts of the Word of God”, and Theodore Beza declared that all the Bible can be “divided into two principal parts: the one is called the Law, the other the Gospel. For all the rest can be gathered under the one or the other of these two headings.”
The Law, reflecting God’s holy and righteous nature, shows us what God requires and wills. The Law reveals sin. The Law shouts, “Do!” The Gospel declares the Triune God’s favour and free salvation in Christ Jesus. The Gospel comforts, saying, “It is done!” When the Law and Gospel are confused or mingled, the Gospel, which means “good news”, turns Jesus into a new Moses, albeit a seemingly less formidable one. The strict Gospel is not an exhortation, it is a promise. It is a declaration, not a “to do” list, yet it is very easy for the difference of Law and Gospel to be eclipsed. Beza rightly alerts Bible students, writing, “Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity.” I believe LS often blends Law and Gospel.
In Galatians 3:10–14, the inspired Paul pens both Law (do) and Gospel (done). See if you can find them and the difference between the two:
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (ESV)
- The Law: do (“cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the LAW”).
- The Gospel: done (“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us”).