It is a corruption “from the simplicity that is in Christ,” (2 Cor. 11:3).
Lordship salvation is a doctrine that basically says a person cannot be saved by merely believing on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31). A person must “do” more than that. He must repent of his sins, being truly sorry for them and determined to quit them (2 Cor. 7:10). He must be completely surrendered to Jesus as the Lord of his life (Rom. 13:14; Phil. 3:8-9). He must bear the cost of being a disciple of Christ (Lk. 9:23). And he must produce works that are certain evidence that he is truly saved (Jas. 2:20-24).
The people and preachers that espouse this doctrine admit that works cannot save you (Eph. 2:8-9). But they say that works certainly must be there to prove that you are saved. If they are not, then you know, and they know for sure, that you are still lost (1 Jn. 2:3-6).
The difficulty with this doctrine is the fact that the preachers who teach it use such “convincing” arguments to “prove” their doctrine that they confuse people who are already saved. If you were to just pick up your Bible and ask the Lord to guide you to salvation in Jesus Christ as you read the scripture (Lk. 24:32, 45), you would not conclude that you need to meet all of the requirements of Lordship salvation to be saved.
For instance, the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:27-38 was reading Isaiah 53. He couldn’t tell if the prophet Isaiah was referring to himself or to someone else in the passage. So, Philip “preached unto him Jesus.” The reason is that salvation is in a man (1 Tim. 2:5-6). When the Eunuch desired to be baptized, Philip laid a condition out before him, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest,” (Acts 8:37). And the Eunuch confessed with his mouth (Rom. 10:9-10), “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” (Acts 8:37).
In Acts 10, we find Cornelius, who was a very good man. He was devout, feared God, gave alms, and prayed (v. 2); he was just and had a good report (v. 22); and he fasted (v. 30). However, he was lost and needed to hear some preaching so that he could be saved (Acts 11:14; Rom. 10:14-17). So, Peter preached the gospel to him (Acts 10:37-42; 1 Cor 15:1-4). And then he told Cornelius “what [he] oughtest to do,” (v. 6). He told him to believe, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins,” (Acts 10:43). Cornelius must have believed right them, because the Holy Ghost fell on him in the next verse. And Peter explained that this was when and how Cornelius got saved (Acts 11:14-18) and he compared it to what happened to the Jews back in Acts 2.
When the earth quaked while Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi, the Philippian jailer was prepared to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped on his watch. Paul assured him, “Do thyself no harm: for we are all here,” (Acts 16:28). The jailer was so impressed that they had not left; he fell down before them and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house,” (Acts 16:31).
So, you see salvation is in believing Jesus Christ, which is why the gospel of John uses some form of the word “belief” 101 times. For instance, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God,” (John 3:18). “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” (John 3:36).
So, then why does Lordship salvation have all of these other requirements? They were added mainly because there has been a rash of hasty “soul-winning” in the last few decades. The term used by many preachers to describe this “method” of soul-winning is “easy believism.” In this “plan of salvation” lost sinners have been led quickly to “pray” a “prayer of salvation.” Their faith is in the prayer and not in the Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently, there is not any evidence that the lost soul has been regenerated. So, the preachers devised a “plan” to insure that the people they were “leading to the Lord” were really getting saved.
But the trouble with the preaching of Lordship salvation is that the preachers have raised the standard for what it takes to be saved so high that they are talking saved people out of their salvation and causing some lost people to reject Christ or to depend upon their own works to get saved. Paul warned about this in 2 Cor. 11:3, “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
The truth is that most of the ingredients in Lordship salvation are truly desirable but they are not all a part of the simple work of regeneration performed by the word of God and the Holy Spirit at salvation (Tit. 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:23). Some of the elements of Lordship salvation actually follow the new birth (Jn. 3:7) and may or may not show up to the same degree in all saved souls (Matt. 13:8). Much of what happens after a person is truly saved depends upon the extent to which he yields himself to the Lord (Rom. 6:13, 16, 19).
For instance, a person who desires to quit different sins in his life will repent of those sins after he gets saved and he will turn to God for the strength to keep from committing those sins again (2 Cor. 12:21; 2 Tim. 2:25-26; Rom. 6:11-15). But if he doesn’t do this it doesn’t automatically mean that he is not saved (1 Cor. 5:11). Likewise, as in the parable of the pounds (Lk. 19:11-27), one saved man might serve the Lord fully and produce many good works (10 pounds) while another saved man might simply live a fruitless life (pound laid up in a napkin). They are both saved, nonetheless; it’s the enemies who get slain.
Salvation, then, is not a function of how surrendered he is, or how hard he works to prove he’s saved, or how sorry he is for his sins, or how much it costs him to be a disciple of Christ. Salvation is a matter of repentance toward God and faith toward Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).
Regarding the doctrine of repentance, it is definitely a part of getting saved but not in the sense that it is taught by either those professing Lordship salvation or those preaching easy believism. The Lordship salvation group makes repentance in salvation a very sorrowful experience whose end is a turning away from all sin in your life. And the easy believism group pretty much leaves off dealing with repentance as a part of salvation, all together.
Truthfully, when you look at Acts 11:18; 20:21; 26:20; and 2 Pet. 3:9, for example, you cannot ignore repentance. But what does a person repent of when he’s getting saved? Mainly, he repents of two things. First, he repents of the sin of unbelief. He may not call it that but that’s what it is. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit reproves the world of sin, because “they believe not on me,” (Jn. 16:8-9). Second, he repents of trusting his own righteousness instead of God’s (Rom. 10:3-4; Is. 64:6).
Up to the point of salvation he believes one of two things. He believes he is going to hell and there is nothing that he can do about it, and thus rejects God’s Son (Heb. 2:3; Jn. 12:48). Or he believes he is good enough or righteousness enough to get into heaven without Jesus (Rom. 3:10; Ecc. 7:20; Jn. 14:6), and thus rejects God’s Son. When he repents, he turns from his unbelief and his own righteousness and trusts the shed blood and the righteousness of Jesus Christ as his only hope of salvation (2 Cor. 5:21 Col. 1:14). At that moment he is regenerated and baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ; he’s saved (Eph. 1:12-13; 1 Cor. 12:13).
Men don’t believe on Jesus Christ to the point of turning from their own righteousness and receiving him (Jn. 1:12), unless the Holy Spirit and the word of God have worked on them. Accordingly, it is up to preachers and “witnesses” of Jesus Christ to “preach the gospel” and tell others about Jesus Christ and him crucified (Rom. 16:25-26; 1 Cor. 1:18, 21; Tit. 1:3; Rom. 1:16-17). Working too fast, as in “easy believism,” makes converts of men not of God. Preaching Lordship salvation, on the other hand, commonly results in “retreads,” winning people who are already saved but who have been talked out of their salvation, or Christian Pharisees, men who demonstrate their righteousness by their outward appearance. Neither is right.
We’ll follow this up next week with a look at Abraham. He’s a good example of a man who has imputed righteousness but many of his outward works don’t demonstrate it. In the meantime…
Hope this helps,
Pastor Bevans Welder