“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved…,” Acts 16:31.
What did Paul and Silas mean when they said this to the Philippian jailer and then probably later to his household? Surprisingly, there’s quite a discussion about this, with widely varying views set forth by otherwise equally “Bible-believing” pastors and teachers. The discussion centers around one particular idea, namely, does one have to “accept” Jesus as Lord as well as Savior, or can one just “get saved” and then later make Jesus his Lord?
This post is a response to an article by Charlie Bing, posted on 1024project.com. It’s titled “Why Lordship Faith Misses the Mark For Salvation.” His opening sentence says, “Lordship salvation has a very confused view of the gospel that results in very confused Christians who hold it.” Then he goes on to make what he considers a detailed case against it.
The first thing he says about his viewpoint is an old joke told by George Burns about never joining a club that would have him. Though he does tie it in later, I found it common among fundamentalists when I was among them that they seemed to think mocking and making fun of those with whom they disagreed somehow bolstered their own position.
In his opening remarks, he objects to his view being called “easy believism.” Further, he thinks it unfair that Lordship advocates have been allowed to frame the question in a way that favors them He uses the example, “Have you quit beating your wife” to characterize Lordship questions.
In attempting to “frame the question” in a way favorable to his view, he asks his own question: “Are their [Lordship] standards for salvation even attainable by people?” Then he refers to an incident written about by Charles Prices in his book “Real Christians” in which a young man who attended an evangelistic meeting and responded to the message. The tale ends with the evangelist giving the young man several reasons why the young man shouldn’t “become a Christian tonight.” These included “the young man’s need to surrender his whole life, his future, his ambitions,” etc., etc., “…to God” These were “the cost of being a Christian” and the young man was advised that only when he was willing to deal with all these things would he be ready to become a Christian.
I don’t know that I particularly agree with the evangelist’s method, but even the Lord Jesus told people to “count the cost” of becoming His disciple, Luke 14:25-33. He used two illustrations: of a man “counting the cost” of building something, and of a king deciding whether or not to fight a superior foe, or to seek conditions of peace. Jesus’ conclusion, v. 33: “So, likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (NKJV). Did Jesus have a “confused view of the gospel”? Or is being “saved” different from being a “disciple”?
Bing writes, “There’s a lot at stake in this whole debate about faith and its meaning. … But let’s not forget the main thing at stake is not theology, but the souls of people who can be misled.” To this, I add a hearty “Amen!” I agree completely.
In the article, Bing gives four objections to the idea of “Lordship Faith.” They are:
1. Lordship Faith Includes Works.
2. Lordship Faith Grounds Assurance in Our Works.
3. Lordship Faith Must Be Qualified.
4. Lordship Faith Is Inaccessible to Most.
We’ll look at them, one at a time.
1. Lordship Faith Includes Works.
Bing quotes Kenneth Gentry, who says, “The Lordship view expressly states the necessity of acknowledging Christ as the Lord and Master of one’s life in the act of receiving Him as Savior. These are not two different, sequential acts (or successive steps), but rather one act of pure trusting faith.” (“The Great Option: A Study of the Lordship Controversy,” Baptist Reformation Review 5 (Spring, 1976): 52.)
Bing objects to this idea because “Lordship Salvation disagrees with the Free Grace understanding of faith as being convinced and persuaded that something is true (emphasis added.) Though we’ll deal with his view of “different” kinds of faith later, does his definition mean that “saving faith” is no different from and, in fact, is the same as, the “faith” which allows one to be “convinced and persuaded” that evolution is true?
Bing objects to the idea that Lordship salvation involves submission to Christ as Lord as well as Savior, and that it “also” involves “obedience.” But doesn’t the idea of submission include obedience? He maintains that Lordship salvation is wrong because it goes beyond trusting in Jesus as Savior, but requires also receiving Him as Lord as a “condition” for salvation. However, faith is not a “condition” to being saved; it is the means of being saved. The idea of a “condition” moves salvation from being gracious to being a matter of justice or “right.” We are saved by faith, never because of.
Bing makes this interesting observation: “We know that the Roman Catholics teach that we are saved by faith plus works. Lordship salvation teaches that we are saved by faith that works. But do not both definitions includes works as a condition for faith to be valid, …to be effectual?” We don’t agree with the Catholic dogma that faith alone is insufficient, that works must be added to it, something not a part of faith, but in addition to it. With regard to the other, has Bing never read Galatians 5:6, For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love? (emphasis added).
You see, the discussion isn’t about the “conditions” of faith, but about its character. What is saving faith? Is “faith” simply believing something is true, whether salvation or evolution or The Great Pumpkin? For that matter, what is “salvation,” a thought to which we’ll return.
Bing continues this section with the idea that “it confuses justification with sanctification.” He defines justification correctly as the legal declaration [by God] that we are righteous before Him and sanctification as “the outworking of that righteousness in everyday practical living.” Though this is a little incomplete, we can go with it. He recognizes that they are related, but insists that we must keep them distinct, “lest we confuse the gospel and undo the Reformation.”
I wonder, does he think we can have one without the other? That is, can we be justified without at the same time being sanctified? I know there are a lot of different ideas about sanctification floating around, but just using his own definitions – is it possible to be “declared righteous” without there being some “outworking” of that in the life? Ephesians 2:10 says, …we are His workmanship…. Is God such a workman that there will be no evidence of it in the life? Or is a mere “profession of faith” enough? Cf.John 2:23-25. In John 8:30, 31, 50, some Jews who “believed in Him” wound up trying to stone Him to death. Were they “saved”?
Bing quotes Romans 4:4-5, Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. That is absolutely true. Our justification rests on no work of our own. We’re “ungodly” when God justifies us – and so are our “works”. The question is, can we remain ungodly after God declares us righteous? I’m not saying we can reach some state of “sinless perfection” in this life, but that becomes our goal and desire for it.
Bing implies that we’re sanctified by works, though not justified by them. However, the Scripture quotes the Lord Jesus as saying that believers are sanctified by faith in Him, Acts 26:18. The faith through which we’re justified is the same faith through which we’re sanctified: “faith working through love.”
Bing further looks to John 6 and the people who were following Jesus simply because He fed them. Bing says “Jesus saw how earnestly they were seeking Him and they said to Him, ‘What shall we do that we may work the works of God?’ (John 6:28)”.
That isn’t exactly how it happened. Crowds were “earnestly” following Jesus, to be sure. However, He Himself recognized why. He said to them, “…you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. [This is a reference to the feeding of the five thousand men, or perhaps 15,000 or more in the crowd including women and children a day or so before, John 6:10. The “signs” were the things He did which proved He was the Messiah. The crowds weren’t following Him because He was the Messiah, but because He fed them. We have a lot of their descendants today, following Jesus only for what they can get out of Him.] Then Jesus continued, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, ….” John 6:26, 27. Then they asked him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”
I don’t know that it had anything in particular to do with “the baggage that they had from the Pharisees made up of the minutia [sic] of laws,…and thousands upon thousands of man-made interpretations” as Bing claims. Perhaps.
Regardless, the Lord uses their own question: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent,” John 6:29. Not works, by which we merit or earn salvation, but “work,” that is, faith, through which we receive salvation: “believe in Him….”. Jesus goes on to explain what He meant, to receive Him by “eating His flesh” and “drinking His blood.” John 6:54-56 summarizes this. We’ll return to these thoughts in a moment.
Then Bing makes one of the most astonishing statements I’ve ever heard or read: “It’s interesting that He would choose that kind of word picture to illustrate what faith is: a passive appropriation of something. Not doing, not working, not an active work, but a passive appropriation of something. That’s the essence of faith” (emphasis added).
I’ve been a Baptist all my life. First, because that’s just how I was raised, then, later, because I believe that Baptist principles are the closest to the New Testament of any group. And, yes, I know there are lots of different kinds of Baptists! And, yes, there are good Christians in other groups. The point is, Baptists like to eat. I’ve been to a lot of fellowship dinners and I have yet to see Baptists sitting at the table, passively waiting for the food to jump into their mouths! Nor, perhaps to be more accurate to Bing’s statement, passively being fed through an IV tube. Other groups, as well. Same thing. I’m sorry, but eating and drinking are things we DO ACTIVELY, not something PASSIVE. How does one “passively ‘appropriate'” anything, anyway? The very idea of “appropriate” involves activity, not passivity. This brings us back to John 6.
Jesus’ audience in John 6 was Jewish. As such, they were very familiar with the sacrificial system and how it worked. Some of the sacrifices were completely burned up; others were partly burnt, but part of them was for food for the priest and his family. It’s how they lived. Some of them, the one bringing the sacrifice ate part of it. Jesus’ audience was familiar with all this, though they were greatly puzzled as to how Jesus applied it to Himself, John 6:52, 60.
Our Lord was very careful to explain what He meant. He was not referring to an actual eating of His flesh and blood. In John 6:35, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” In John 6:47, He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. It’s interesting He didn’t say, “He who believes in me receives everlasting life,” though that’s how it’s usually understood. We receive through faith, “eat” and “drink,” the benefits of His death and resurrection and nourish ourselves spiritually, just as the Old Testament Israelite received physical nourishment through eating the OT sacrifice. Faith is the means of our salvation, not some ritual in which we are said to partake of His actual body, or in which His body is somehow involved. Faith is that by which we actively “appropriate” Himself – who He is and what He did for sinners.
Even when He instituted the Lord’s Supper and told the disciples that the bread was His body and the fruit of the vine His blood, He was careful afterward to refer to the cup as the fruit of the vine, Matthew 26:28,29; Mark 14:24, 25. He meant in all cases that the elements of the Lord’s Supper, as well as what He said in John 6, were representative or symbolic. We receive the benefits of His sacrifice, not through actual partaking of it as the OT saint did, but by faith in the finished work of our Lord. No ritual, no symbol has anything to add to it.
But Bing isn’t done. Quoting Ephesians 2:8, 9, he says that “to make works a necessary condition of faith confuses grace with merit.” Again, we note that what is at stake here is the character of faith, not some condition required of it, or in addition to it. He is absolutely right as to the obedience of Christ, not ours. I can honestly say that I believe in works for salvation – just not mine! (Don’t leave out those last three words!) Christ obeyed the Law in all areas and suffered the consequences of breaking it, though He never did. His obedience forms the righteousness believers are credited with through faith. It’s an insult beyond words to say that something needs to be added to what He did to make it “work.”
2. Lordship Salvation Grounds Assurance in Our Works.
In this section, Bing quotes MacArthur, “The fruit of one’s life reveals whether that person is a believer or not. There is no middle ground.” (The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 178.) I think the rest of MacArthur’s paragraph is worth including in the discussion: “Merely knowing and affirming facts apart from obedience to the truth is not believing in the biblical sense. Those who cling to the memory of a one-time decision of ‘faith’ but lack any evidence that faith has continued to operate in their lives had better heed the clear and solemn warning of Scripture: ‘He who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on Him’ (John 3:36”) [NASB] Sounds like a critique of Bing’s own definition of faith: “Being convinced and persuaded that something is true.”
Bing applies MacArthur’s thought to the idea of our becoming “fruit inspectors” examining other people’s lives to see if they “measure up” to some standard or other. He wants to know who determines the standard, who writes the list, by which such judgments are made.
Though it’s been a long time since I read MacArthur’s book, I think Bing misses the point here. It’s not about judging other people’s lives to see if they’re saved; it’s about judging our own. James makes the same point, which is why Luther had so much trouble with him. Coming out of a system which greatly emphasized “works” and in effect minimized or distorted or even really denied faith, and becoming convinced of the truth that “the just shall live by faith,” Luther was loathe to give “works” any place in salvation. But James wasn’t contradicting Paul; he was simply making the same case that MacArthur makes: that the only “evidence” of faith is “works.”
James asks a pointed question, What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can faith save him?” James 2:14 That whole section of James 2:14-26 emphasizes the truth that faith can only be known by works. Not “faith” and works”, that is, as works separate and distinct from faith, but, as Paul put it, “faith working through love,” that is, works flowing and resulting from faith. James’ conclusion to his discussion? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also,” v. 26.
It’s not about judging others; it’s about judging our own spiritual condition, our own hope of heaven, our own eternal destiny. It’s a matter of surpassing importance. Some people treat it as if it’s no more important that deciding which outfit to wear today. It’s about where I’ll spend eternity. It ought to be considered important. Our Lord thought it important: “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire.” Matthew 7:17-19. While this refers specifically to false prophets, I think it’s applicable in this case.
3. Lordship Faith Must Be Qualified.
In this section, Bing refers to Lordship proponents’ habit of referring to “spurious faith,” “intellectual faith,” “emotional faith” or even “true faith,” “saving faith,” etc., etc. He objects that none of these designations is Scriptural. He’s right, though he admits they can be convenient “to know what we’re talking about.”
He does make the excellent point that such distinctions tend to make us look at something other than the object of our faith, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is absolutely true. Faith isn’t the savior. He is.
At the same time, have you ever heard a preacher, in urging people to “get saved,” “God’s done all He can do and now it’s up to you”? I have, numerous times. The focus is put entirely on the individual, not on the Savior. But, if God has done all He can do and we’re still not saved, either He’s not much of a God, and I tremble even to write that, or there’s no hope for any of us.
Bing says that such unhealthy emphasis on faith leads to an unhealthy introspection and questioning. It de-emphasizes the object of our faith, which is the Lord Jesus. “Genuine faith in a worthless object is useless,” he says, and tells a story of a lady who was given medicine with the belief that it would do her good, and it nearly killed her. The object of faith is what saves us.
Bing denies that there are different kinds of faith. If we believe this, he says, assurance is impossible. He says, “There is only one kind of faith.”
James deals with this problem in James 2:19: You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble. According to James, demons “believe.” Is their faith the same kind of faith as the faith of a believer?
It must be, if
“There’s only one kind of faith.”
4. Lordship Faith Is Inaccessible to Most.
Lordship proponents believe that faith is a gift of God. And Bing admits that some who disagree with Lordship salvation also believe that faith is a gift of God. Bing says he has “a little problem with that interpretation, though, when I understand what faith is.” He says that to do so confuses grace with faith. According to him, grace is “the efficient means of salvation” and faith is “the instrumental means of salvation.” However, grace is the basis of salvation – without it, there wouldn’t be any. Faith is the means through which we are saved. I agree with him there.
He quotes Ephesians 2:8, 9, by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, and says that it refers to “the process” of salvation by grace through faith that Paul was writing about and not just about faith itself. That doesn’t change anything. If “faith” is part of a process that is a “gift of God”, then faith itself, as part of that process, is a gift of God, as well.
However, there’s more to Bing’s argument than that. He disagrees with MacArthur that faith is a “supernatural ability to apprehend spiritual reality.” He also objects to the idea, as we’ve already seen, that faith “includes obedience…. He gives it to us, so we automatically obey” (emphasis added). This is a straw man. Believers are not robots or puppets. If that were so, most of the New Testament is unnecessary, because it is filled with instructions and exhortations about obedience. If we obey “automatically,” why are we told to? We do it already.
Bing says “if faith is a gift of God, it nullifies our human responsibility.” He argues that if God requires us to believe, but has to give us the faith to do so, and then “condemns” us for not believing, “that is unjust and unfair.” But we’re not condemned because we don’t believe; we’re condemned because we’re sinners in rebellion against God. We’re already condemned before we ever hear the Gospel. If we reject it, that just adds to our condemnation; it doesn’t “start” it. We’re not just “neutral” or misguided in this matter of unbelief, just needing a little persuasion, a little nudge, to believe the Gospel is “true”. Unbelievers are not just wayward sons straying away from the love of a doting Father, as seems to be the belief of much of Christendom – “we’re all the children of God” – but criminals, defiantly breaking the Law of God, and rebels against their Creator, committing treason against their King.
That’s true even of those who’ve never seen a Bible or heard a sermon. Paul teaches in Romans 2:12-16 that even those who were never given the Law as a moral code still have a moral code in themselves. Every person has some sense of “right” and “wrong.” It may not agree with what God says is right or wrong, but it’s still there. None of us even live up to our own understanding of right and wrong, let alone what God says about it. We’re mostly not interested in what He thinks about it. Because of that, every single person stands condemned in God’s sight, worthy only of judgment.
Just a word about this idea of injustice and unfairness when it comes to God’s dealing with man. If God were only “just” in dealing with us, we’d all be in Hell instead of reading [or writing] this post. That’s what we “deserve.” Nothing else, nothing more. He’s not being “unfair” in giving something to one person who doesn’t deserve it and not giving it to another person who doesn’t deserve it. Or do we “deserve” to be saved, or at least have that opportunity? If we “deserve” it, for any reason, then salvation isn’t a matter of grace, at all.
That’s all of his four objections against Lordship salvation.
Bing concludes his post by saying that “salvation is not meant to be an exclusive club.” I guess this is where George Burns came in. Of course, it is. Salvation is exclusive to those who believe. No one else is saved. It is available to all, but only those who believe are saved.
Continuing his thought, he says, “…anybody can come to Jesus. Not everybody can keep the seven pillars. Not everybody can do the five steps. Not everybody can keep the law, or all the other systems that the religions of the world offer, but anybody can come to Jesus” (emphasis added).
“Not everybody can keep the law”?? Has anybody, except the Lord, ever kept the law? If he’s referring to the Mosaic Law, then he has a far higher view of human ability than the Scripture does. The Law was given to show man his need of salvation, not how to get it. It’s true that, if one kept it, then that one would be counted righteous, justified, because of his obedience, but Israel’s long and sad history demonstrates that’s it’s not possible. If that were true, then when that person got to heaven, he could go up to the throne and say, “Move over, Jesus, now there’re two of us.” There’ll not ever be a single person in heaven who will be able to say, “I did it!” If it were, Jesus would never have had to live and die.
Actually, Bing does have a far higher view of man’s ability than the Scripture has. He says, “…anybody can come to Jesus. … …even a child can believe. A man on his deathbed can believe. A thief on a cross can believe (emphases added). Our Lord said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day,” John 6:44 (emphasis added). Was Jesus “confused” about the Gospel? Who are we to believe – a man, or Jesus?
I find it ironic, considering the subject of these posts, that Bing mentioned the thief on the cross. While there’s a lot more that could be said about it than space permits, let me just point out that the thief called Jesus, “Lord.”
Earlier in the post, Bing admitted that “God draws us to Himself….” Is this the same thing as Jesus was talking about? Since Bing doesn’t elaborate, we can’t know what he thinks about it. However, most Christians believe that, even if it may be true that God draws us, we can refuse to come. Is that what Jesus was talking about?
Jesus had more to say on the subject. He continued in v. 45, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”
Jesus’ teachings in John 6 about His flesh and blood upset His audience. Their reaction? “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” v. 60.
Jesus’ response? “Does this offend you? … It is the Spirit who give life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to me unless it have been granted [given] to him by My Father,” John 6:61-65.
Apparently our Lord taught that the ability to come to Him, so far from being something “anybody” can do, was only in those to whom the Father gives that ability. Contrary to Bing, we do not have it naturally. And we don’t deserve to have the Father give it to us. That’s why it’s called “grace. Since we come to Christ by faith, it stands to reason that “faith” is a gift of God, not something we have “naturally.” “Saving faith” isn’t the same faith by which we go out in the morning, put the key in the ignition and believe the car will start, even if it’s “true.”
Mark well the words of our Lord. All those whom the Father draws (teaches) will come to Jesus. Without exception.
All this brings up the question, “What is salvation?” Is it just some sort of eternal fire insurance? A fire escape from Hell? Can we just “accept” Jesus and the salvation He “offers,” and then never pay any attention to who He was, or what He says? Can we get by with “half a Christ”?
I think not. Others disagree.
What does the Scripture say?
Paul answered this question himself in Titus 2:11-14, For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (emphasis added.)
We’re not saved by works; we don’t have any apart from the Lord Jesus. But can we be saved, and not have good works? Even varying degrees of them, because we’re all different and still fallible? Scripture seems to indicate otherwise.
You can’t cut the Lord Jesus into two. He is Lord. That’s how He saves people.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”