In this second of two episodes on Lordship Salvation, Jon and Justin seek to further clarify concerns about LS theology. These concerns include: (1) confusion about the order of salvation; (2) a redefinition of faith; (3) a collapsing of law and gospel; (4) confusion on the uses of the law; and (5) a confusion of the relationship between justification and sanctification.
Semper Reformanda: The guys talk about a sustainable approach to theology and the Christian life. What is it that will last over the long term? We also consider the posture and tone we desire for the ministry of Theocast.
Giveaway: ESB Bible from Post Tenebras Lux Bible Rebinding
Justin Perdue: Hi, this is Justin. Today on Theocast, we are doing a follow-up episode to one that was released a few weeks ago. This is A Critique of Lordship Salvation part two. We got a lot of feedback from our listeners on the first episode that we did about Lordship salvation. What we are going to try to do today is give, if possible, more clear comments on the concerns that we have with lordship salvation theology. We’re going to try to give you some clear talking points and handles as to what the concerns are from a Reformed and confessional perspective.
We hope the conversation’s encouraging. We hope you enjoy the conversation. And as always, we hope that you are encouraged in the Lord Jesus Christ. Stay tuned.
As the listener will have seen, this is A Critique of Lordship Salvation part two. This is a follow up episode to one that we recorded a few weeks ago. It’s been out for a few weeks now, at least I know that’s true, where we did a critique of lordship salvation. In that particular episode that we did before, we interacted quite a bit with a book by John MacArthur entitled The Gospel According to Jesus and we talked about that book some, we talked about the content of that book obviously, and ended up interacting quite a bit with John MacArthur’s theology. Lordship salvation is a camp that John MacArthur is very much identified with.
What we wanted to do today is follow up on that original episode. We got a lot of feedback from our listeners on the first episode. People were encouraged and helped by that, which we praise God for, and then there were questions that people had. Mainly the questions were around just seeking clarification. “Could you guys say more about this? Could you be perhaps more clear about lordship salvation itself and the concerns that you have with it? Can you give me some handles that I can wrap my hands and my mind around as I’m trying to think about lordship salvation from a Reformed confessional perspective?” What we’re going to try to do today is to give you those handles to be really succinct and give you talking points in terms of our concerns about lordship salvation from a Reformed confessional perspective.
I’ll go and say this: Jon and I have gone back and listened to our first episode and we stand by everything that we said there. We do lament the fact that it became so much about John MacArthur and about his theology in particular. I think that was less than helpful. And I think perhaps, in an attempt to be gracious to John, because we always want to be gracious and kind towards other people and towards other Christians, I think that we were perhaps not as clear as we could have been. What we want to do today is try to clean that up a little bit and be as clear as we possibly can be.
We’re going to get into our talking points here in just a minute, but for those who may be tuning in for the first time and you haven’t listened to the first episode, we thought we would take just a few minutes very quickly at the beginning of the show here and talk about lordship salvation and how it arose historically, and sort of our take on the movement itself as a whole before we get into our points for today.
So, Jon, if I were to ask you to simply define lordship salvation, how would you answer that question?
Jon Moffitt: Just to backtrack before answering that, I think it’s becoming of a Christian to always disagree agreeably, that we always show meekness, patience and gentleness. We did get a lot of emails and comments from people that said, “I need to learn more from you guys on how to disagree agreeably,” or with kindness. I would hardly say amen to that, which is what we’re going to continue to do as we critique anything—particularly doctrines that I think are confusing categories. I would not call them heretical but definitely confusing categories. We need to be gracious and patient with people that we disagree with.
In my definition, I would stand pretty strongly in that in the majority of books and definitions and sermons that I have heard, lordship salvation would be described as one unable to be saved unless they first repent of all their sin and then make Jesus Lord of their life. The greatest example of this that is used, not only in John MacArthur’s book but by a lot of other people who hold to this theology, is the rich young ruler. He was unwilling to repent of his love of money and make Jesus Lord of his life. So he kept his money and he stayed lord of his life—or you could say his finances stayed lord of his life. Therefore that man did not receive eternal life because of those two requirements that he failed to meet. I think that would be the definition that I would present.
Justin Perdue: We interacted with the rich young ruler in the first episode and we may bring the rich young ruler up again today, but we’ll be talking about the confusion of law and gospel later on in the show.
Jon Moffitt: Right. And that being the greatest example, I think the five points we are going to offer are going to be very clear.
Justin Perdue: Just a couple more comments along those lines to set it up before we jump into our points today. Historically, how this arose in the eighties and nineties, there was some theology coming out of Dallas Theological Seminary associated with a man named Zane Hodges most notably. It is sometimes called Free Grace Theology, where it was coming from a more Arminian, semi-Pelagian perspective where the teaching was that man could make this decision, this act of faith, to believe the gospel and to trust in Christ. Based upon that one act of faith that man does, he is then justified, he is good with God forever—”once saved, always saved,” in this mechanical sense that was being propagated in the eighties and nineties in the evangelical church.
Some adherence of that kind of Free Grace Theology would even talk in ways that made it seem as though it didn’t even matter how one lived after that one act of faith. It matters no more what you do. You’re good with God. Once saved, always saved. It doesn’t even matter if you keep believing, if you listen to some of these folks talk, because you did one time perform this act of faith, this, this thing that you did that justified you once and for all, and now you’re good.
And so John MacArthur and others in the lordship salvation camp, as it came to be known, were responding to that bad theology—that free grace, Zane Hodges, DTS stuff. Our take here at Theocast—and we say this humbly but we want to be clear—we think that lordship salvation is yet another example of an overreaction against bad doctrine. And so in seeking to respond to the bad theology of that Free Grace Movement, our fear is that John MacArthur and others in the lordship salvation stream became off-centered themselves and started to confuse categories. It’s not altogether unlike the sanctification debate in the early 2010s that occurred in the Calvinistic evangelical church where—some of the listeners may be aware of this—Protestant people lost their ever loving Protestant minds for a time in saying things about sanctification that were basically Roman Catholic because they were trying to push back against things that they perceive to be antinomian in nature. And we don’t ever want to do that as Christians. We don’t want to become off-centered ourselves in pushing back against something that’s off-centered. We want to maintain a centeredness and balance and all those kinds of words that we would use to describe sound doctrine.
And so our effort today is to do just that: to hold the line in this Reformed confessional way, and speak clearly about lordship salvation and the concerns that we have with it. And again, just so we’re very clear, we’ve got five points to talk through.
Jon Moffitt: All five of these points that we’re going to argue from are systematic and, I would say, theological derivatives from confessions—and I would say Reformed theology in general. If you listen to Zane Hodges and those who espouse the Free Grace Movement, and those who espouse lordship salvation, there are category confusions. Both sides, I would say, do not come from a historically Reformed confessional understanding, a covenantal, law-gospel distinction, third use of the law understanding of Scripture, which is why both sides say things that are confusing.
By the way, we also got criticized for inappropriately describing Zane Hodges’ theology of free grace. There’s a first. One on either side, I guess. But the reason I mentioned this is that we aren’t just throwing lobs out there because we just don’t like this theology—it does go up against historically sound theology that’s been taught. And if you say, “I love Reformed theology. I think it’s biblical,” this is why we’re saying when you compare what’s being taught by both ends—free grace and lordship—they both contradict Reformed historical theology.
Justin Perdue: Yeah. Reformed historical orthodoxy. That’s what we’re talking about—it’s the history of interpretation, the rule of faith, as has been passed down in the confessions.
So here we go. Concern number one with lordship salvation is that it confuses the order of salvation—or in a more theological way, there’s a confusion in the ordo salutis or the order of salvation. What we’re talking about here is how people are actually saved and what this looks like in a human being’s life. In particular, what we’re getting at here is that the historical Reformed understanding is that regeneration precedes faith and repentance and obedience and all those things. In fact, repentance and obedience in particular are fruits of salvation; they are not what saves a person. There is a confusion of all of that in the lordship salvation stream because it comes across, it sounds as though a person, in order to be saved, must repent of sin—like you said, Jon—and at least be willing to obey all of the commands of the Lord, if not be obeying them in order to be right with God.
Our pushback against that is no, we do not have to do anything in order to come to Christ. Christ bids us to come to him, to cast ourselves upon him, to trust him for everything that we need in terms of salvation and our standing before God. This is very similar to the Marrow Controversy that broke out in the Church of Scotland in the 18th century. There was a small rural presbytery, the Auchterarder Presbytery, where it became a very controversial matter in terms of this one question of examination that was effectively getting at this issue: must somebody forsake sin in order to come to Christ? It split the Church of Scotland because there were some known as the Marrow brethren, because of the book The Marrow of Modern Divinity and their association with that book who were adamant. And we would agree with the Marrow brethren that no, we must not do anything in order to come to Jesus. Because if we do need to do anything in order to come to Christ, then we’re all damned. So lordship, we fear, is very confusing on this because it sounds like there’s stuff that you need to do in order to be able to legitimately come to Christ.
Jon Moffitt: I’m going to go to Ezekiel 36:26. This is the promise of the new covenant, and just even understanding the nature of the new covenant. It says in verse 26, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove your heart of stone from your flesh and give you,” notice who’s the acting agent here—God, “a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” The first acting part is God removing death and then giving us life, giving us the Spirit, and then giving us the capacity to obey. Notice the nature of that. That just flows into the New Testament. You start hearing Paul say, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins, but He made you alive,” Ephesians 2. Later on he says that He now causes you to walk in the good works that He had preordained for you, but the order is important: it’s dead, alive, obey. That’s the order as the Reformed describes the ordo salutis. It’s the way in which we understand regeneration in the process of sanctification afterwards. It’s not sanctification before. We’ll get to that in a little bit. But the order is important; one, it’s given to us in Scripture, and two, it also is important because it helps you understand how the nature of salvation works. You’re dead, the gospel is heralded, new heart, now you obey.
Justin Perdue: Exactly. The message of Christ, the word of Christ, is preached, which is the means that the Lord ordinarily uses to save people. So as Christ is heralded and Christ is preached, God gives literally new hearts to people. He acts upon their hearts and gives them a life. And upon being given life, the scales fall off of our eyes, our hearts are set free. We’re actually rational for the first time in our lives. We see Christ, and we don’t know everything at that moment, but we know we need him. That’s how this works. God does this supernatural thing. He performs a miracle and gives us life in the new birth, which then results in faith, and then results in repentance and obedience, etc.
Jon Moffitt: I know that there are objections because there are a lot of people who love Calvinism and then would also love lordship salvation. They would say that those who espouse lordship salvation would agree with their understanding of ordo salutis, that no one can ever be saved. But this is where we say there’s category confusion. This is the inconsistency when you don’t have historical theology and orthodoxy and understand the categories that I think bump up and keep you from making errors in your theology. They will say things like, “No, no. We believe that regeneration must happen before there’s obedience.” And then in the same breath say, “But unless you repent and make Jesus Lord, you cannot be saved.”
Justin Perdue: What you’re doing there is inverting the relationships—you’re changing that order. We’re going to get to this more on our last talking point, actually, when we get to talking about justification and sanctification, but streams only flow one way. They only flow downhill. You cannot reverse the order or invert relationships here. This is where, again, it matters that we say regeneration, faith, repentance, then obedience. One is the fruit of the other. So whenever you speak in a way that makes it sound like repentance and obedience are just part and parcel of being saved, and it gets confusing as to what comes first and how this actually happens, and what produces the other, that’s a problem.
Our first concern with lordship salvation is confusion about the order of salvation. Number two, we are concerned that lordship salvation redefines faith in what it even is. As compared to a historical Reform definition of faith, the lordship stream is very confusing here because they seem to desire to weave things into the definition of saving faith that the Reformed have not historically understood to be a part of faith.
For example, in the lordship camp, there is a desire to say, to teach, to preach even that repentance and obedience, or even a desire to obey, are a part of what faith itself is; that faith is inseparable in terms of its essence, and what it is faith is inseparable from repentance and obedience. We want to be really clear: the Reformed have always said that where there is saving faith, repentance and obedience will be present. That is true. But there always has to be a distinction maintained between faith and repentance, and between faith and obedience. They are not one and the same. Saving faith, for example, as the 1689 London Baptist Confession would define it, consists of trusting, resting, and hoping in the Lord Jesus Christ for justification, sanctification, and glorification on the basis of the covenant of grace. As you hear, even that definition—that’s in 14.2 of our confession—there is nothing there about repentance and there is nothing there about obedience. Our confession says things about repentance and it says things about obedience, but not when it defines what faith is. Our concern with lordship is that those things are collapsed together, and it sounds as though repentance and obedience is a part of faith.
Jon Moffitt: Under “Good Works” of the London Baptist Confession, and this would be the same as Westminster, chapter 16, what we’re trying to help explain here is redefining faith. So it says in point three: “Their ability to do good works does not arise at all from themselves, but entirely from the Spirit of Christ.” So what he’s describing that as is the result of, it’s not the cause of.
Justin Perdue: It’s not even part of.
Jon Moffitt: No. Being able to go back and look at the confessions and look at the Scriptures that they use as far as an explanation in defending the positions by which they have come to these conclusions is helpful. Because when you read certain passages, for instance, that say, “Repent and believe for the kingdom is near,” we get all kinds of categories. They’ll say, “Jon, it literally says that in the text so I literally have to believe it.” One, that’s Biblicism, which we did our whole entire podcast on that—and you can go and listen to it. We’ll put it in the notes. But being able to distinguish and understand and read… basically the whole argument is redefining faith. It’s turning it into something that it seems that the rest of Scripture is in complete disagreement with.
Justin Perdue: Like faith includes obedience or faith includes repentance. Our is that no, it doesn’t. Faith is actually separate and distinguishable from those things. And yes, where there is saving faith, there will be repentance and obedience. Absolutely true. The Reformed have said that for centuries.
Jon Moffitt: There’s never a disconnect there. Then you’re going against what James says.
Justin Perdue: I think the damaging results of this, whenever you start to change the definition of faith and you weave repentance and obedience into that definition, you rob people of any possibility of assurance. Because now, in order to even have legitimate faith in the Lord Jesus, I need to be adequately repenting and I need to be adequately obeying. And nobody, of course, can define that standard in terms of what adequate repentance or adequate obedience looks like. Because God’s Word is pretty clear, when it comes to obedience in particular, that only perfection passes muster. Nothing short of perfection is acceptable. Then we have to talk about sincerity and our motivations and all this kind of stuff, and it gets uber confusing—to the point where I don’t know that any of us are saved if adequate repentance and obedience are a part of what it even means to believe in Christ. It’s very confusing. It’s very harmful.
Do you have any other thoughts about that before we move on to the next?
Jon Moffitt: This is where certain kinds of preaching comes, where they are always trying to snuff out the lazy Christian, the fake Christian, the nominal Christian, those who said the sinner’s prayer but aren’t really believers. This has been coming more and more into the Facebook group. People are just sending me more and more clips by prominent Calvinistic preachers who are making claims that the majority of Christians in churches today have a false sense of assurance. What they’re doing is they’re pointing to this issue that we’re talking about, which is redefining faith.
Justin Perdue: Some of these other categories, I think, will apply to those preacher clips as well. We’ll probably talk about that as we go.
We’re now moving on to talking point number three. So number one is confusion about the order of salvation. Number two, a redefinition of faith. Number three, a collapsing of law and gospel.
We are concerned that lordship salvation collapses law and gospel. Probably if you’ve been listening to the Theocast for much time at all, you’ve heard us talk before about the distinction between law and gospel. That is a Reformed and Lutheran category that’s been around for a long time, where law exists in the Old and New Testament, and gospel exists in the Old and New Testament. And whenever you hear words of things that we are to be doing, you are hearing law. Whenever you hear of what God has done, particularly in the person and work of Jesus, that’s gospel.
Jon Moffitt: Before you give an example, I want to give an introduction to what you’re about to say. Collapsing the law and gospel means you end up changing the very nature of them. For instance, the law becomes achievable and the gospel now has something to achieve.
Justin Perdue: The law is now a means of salvation and the gospel now contains all kinds of things to do.
Jon Moffitt: Yeah. And that’s why it becomes achievable. You lower the standard of the law and it is now, “If I repent enough, I can be saved.” And now the gospel is, “When you repent enough, you can be saved.” there becomes such a mixture between the two that we really don’t know the difference between what is the law that condemns us and what is the gospel that now saves us.
Justin Perdue: Whenever you confuse law and gospel, the way I like to summarize it to people a lot in terms of it’s damaging fallout is that the gospel is turned into a covenant of works that needs to be kept for righteousness. So this is where you get all that language of the demands of the gospel, or even another John MacArthur title, Hard to Believe. The gospel ends up sounding hard when the law and the gospel are confused.
Let me give an example from Luke 10 of how lordship salvation and others confuse law and gospel. It just becomes really concerning for people and people don’t know what to do. This is right before the parable of the good Samaritan, beginning in Luke 10:25: “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?'” So this lawyer comes and asks Jesus this question. Jesus said to him, “‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.'” The lawyer is going to go ahead and ask who his neighbor is, seeking to justify himself and all that. But here’s the point: in the lordship camp, you hear people say both things when they represent Jesus and the message that Jesus brought and taught. They’ll say, “Well, Jesus, on the one hand, says that we need to believe in him for eternal life. But then on the other hand, Jesus says that you need to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself if you’re going to live forever.”
What ends up happening is we pit the two against each other and create all kinds of confusion. That’s what happens in the lordship camp. Whereas for us in a Reformed law-gospel place, we say no, Jesus says, “Believe in me for eternal life,” when he preaches the gospel. But then when he teaches the law, this is a summary of the law: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. That is law and not gospel. So instead of pitting the two against each other, “Believe in me,” and, “Love God with all your heart,” if you’re going to have eternal life, we realize that belief in Christ actually provides righteousness. We have not loved the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. But through faith in Christ, his perfect obedience is counted to us as though we kept the law. That’s how we would say you rightly understand law and gospel. When Jesus talks about loving God and loving neighbor, he’s preaching law. When he talks about coming to him and believing in him and receiving what he has done, he is talking about gospel.
Belief in Christ provides the other righteousness according to the law. The lordship salvation camp confuses these things and then starts to say that—and again, it’s biblicism—”You heard Jesus say it: if you’re going to live forever, you better love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” To which I want to raise my hand to say, “If that’s true, then we’re all damned because none of us have done that even for five minutes.” So there must be something else. Maybe belief in Christ provides us with all the righteousness that we need, because he always loved God perfectly, and he always loved his neighbor perfectly, and he always kept the law perfectly.
Jon Moffitt: Part of the New Testament is the Pharisees and the Sadducees lowering the standards of the law to make it achievable. And Jesus is always coming and saying the famous phrase, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Do not sleep with another man’s wife.’ But I tell you you’re going to be condemned of the law if you lust.” What you have Jesus doing is that these people walk up to prove they are acceptable and righteous in the eyes of God. Jesus says, “You want to be acceptable in the eyes of God.” Then he gives them the requirements to be acceptable in the eyes of God. We hear that and we collapse law and gospel. We hear, “Oh, that’s what it must mean in order to be saved by Jesus. I have to forsake my mother and my father. I have to pick up my cross. I have to do this. I have to do that.” What Jesus is saying is if you want self-righteousness to be acceptable in the eyes of God, this is what it looks like. Because to the sinner who is broken and comes to Jesus, he says, “Come to me.” At that moment, Jesus has already presented himself to be Messiah—perfect One, sent by God, Redeemer, the Final Lamb. “Behold, the Lamb of God.” When Jesus says, “Come to me,” all of those titles are what that means. “When you come to me, I am Priest. I am Prophet. I am King. I am Redeemer. I am Lamb.” You aren’t coming to Jesus to prove to him you mean business.
This is where I scratch my head because depravity is a doctrine that most people who believe in lordship hold to, but yet it seems to go out the window. Because no one can obey God unless the Spirit grants them. That is John 6. That is Ephesians 2. Yet somehow, we get to a place where the law allows us to adjust the ordo salutis. No, the law condemns; the gospel saves. There’s nothing to do in the gospel other than you receive it—and you can’t even do that unless the Spirit grants you faith. That’s Ephesians 2. It is a gift of God, lest any man should boast.
So when you come up against a passage with Jesus putting a requirement on you, and you’re feeling the weight of it, you need to hear that as Jesus is beating down any self-righteousness that, I might want to try and claim so that God would accept me. Then you hear the tender words of Jesus saying, “There’s nothing for you to do to be saved but to believe in me,” now you’re understanding the gospel.
Justin Perdue: Exactly. Two really quick thoughts before we move on. We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. If you read through the gospels with this lens on, I think it’s very helpful.
Notice how Jesus interacts with those who think that they’re righteous, or who think that they can achieve righteousness, and then go through the gospels and observe how he interacts with people who know they’re not righteous and realize they got nothing to stand on and nothing to bring. Look at how he interacts with them. And I would say, with basically no exceptions, for all of those who come to him trusting in their own righteousness or who think they can achieve it, he is at times harsh. He is really crushing them with the law. It’s like he is saying to them, “Okay, you think you’ve done it? You haven’t done it. And here’s what the law requires.” He speaks and you hear it, then you conclude it’s impossible. Exactly.
But then when he interacts with people who know they’ve got no merit, they’ve got no righteousness, and they’ve got nothing to stand on, he looks at them like he does the woman of the city in Luke 7 and says, “You’re forgiven. Though your sins be many, you’re forgiven.”
Jon Moffitt: You have the prostitute and the, and the Pharisee in the same room. And how does he talk to them differently?
Justin Perdue: Correct. We’re not saying that to be a Pharisee is bad and to be a prostitute is good, because some people ridiculously draw that conclusion. No, we’re not saying that. Both are sinners in need of a Savior, just like all of us. The point of it is not what you’ve done; the point of it is do you know you need Christ? Right. And when people know they need him, Jesus is gentle and lowly. It’s Matthew 11. He bids people to come to him. “All of you who are weary and heavy laden.” With what? The demands of the law and the things that the Pharisees had put on them. “Come to me and I’ll give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I’m gentle and lowly in heart.” His yoke was used to describe the yoke of the law. Christ said, “Take my yoke upon you because it’s really light.” How is that? “Because I’ve kept the law for you. Come to me and you’ll find rest for your souls.” And lordship salvation confuses this relationship and the gospel ends up sounding hard.
Jon Moffitt: Even going back to Luke 7. The whole illustration of why Luke records that is when Jesus says, “She loves much because she’s been forgiven much.” And then Jesus goes on to say that this Pharisee never showed any affection towards Jesus at all because he didn’t see the need for Jesus. The law should be that tool that knocks you in the shins and causes you to, in pain, fall to the ground and say, “What a wretch I am.” Jesus often had to keep upping the law and they still didn’t get it.
Justin Perdue: Or it’s that weight that’s placed upon you that literally just pins you to the floor and you can’t get out from under it. That’s what the law is.
Jon Moffitt: He’s not saying only those who are dedicated, only those who are fully going to abandon everything, or it’s only those who really put on the hiking boots…
Justin Perdue: Or all of those whose affections are in the right place all the time.
Jon Moffitt: That’s right. There are multiple passages where, you already said, that Jesus basically says to obey all the Law and the Prophets and you will be saved.
Justin Perdue: They think that is part of the good news. No, that’s the law. It’s a summary of the law.
Jon Moffitt: And It’s not only that—they are so blind by their own sin that they assume they can actually keep the law. That’s what I’m saying about a lowering of the law. If you lower the level of the law and make it achievable, you’re no longer looking at the law. You’ve collapsed it in the gospel.
Justin Perdue: What’s interesting is that the lordship stream will often criticize guys like us because they’ll say that we’re not taking the holiness of God or the law of God seriously enough. That’s not true because what we’re trying to uphold here is the holiness of God and the holy righteous requirements of the law that no one can meet. You’re talking about the law in such a way that it sounds as though we can actually do this. So you’re having to relativize its standards, as you’ve said, which is not a good thing to do.
Let’s keep talking a little bit about the law moving on to talking point number four. Number one is the confusion of the order of salvation, number two is a redefinition of faith, and number three is the collapsing of law and gospel. The fourth concern we have about lordship salvation is a confusion on uses of the law.
Just a summation, at least in our confessional tradition, of how we define the three uses of the law: first use is to show us our sin and drive us to Christ; the second use is the civil use to restrain our corruption and teach us what’s good, what’s bad, what’s right, what’s wrong; third use is to guide our lives in Christ—by the Spirit of Christ that works in us, we will be conformed to the law though the law no longer threatens us because Christ has kept it for us and has taken our punishment as a law. He became a law breaker and took the punishment of the law for us. We’re no longer condemned by it. It’s no longer a fearful thing for us, but it guides our lives. It’s our kind adviser, as John Calvin would say.
Our concern with Lordship salvation is that there is an utter collapsing and confusion of these uses of the law. To me, the only kind of tone that’s ever used when talking about the law in the lordship salvation camp is a threatening, exacting tone. And it’s not because they’re only preaching the first use of the law; they’re actually preaching the law Christians, but it sounds scary. Obey or else. And we would say that the third use of the law ought not be done in an exacting, threatening way. To guide the Christian’s life, it’s not, “Do this or else.” No, you’ve been united to Christ, and here’s now how we live together in the church. Here’s how we live as those who have been united to Christ by faith.
Jon Moffitt: I don’t know how many people who espouse lordship salvation understand the uses of the law. Again, I can remember when I was trained at TMS, I never heard this concept until I started engaging in Reformed confessional theology.
Justin Perdue: And the confessional Lutheran theology, too.
Jon Moffitt: Specifically, the first use and third use are very important because the first use is only always condemn: perfection, condemn. If you want to know what causes you to be alienated from God and under His condemnation, the first use of the law is designed to be that schoolmaster who will absolutely teach you that you’re condemned.
Justin Perdue: Can I interject one thing really quickly? I think the first use of the law can be preached to Christians, but here’s what it sounds like: it’s not, “You are condemned.” It’s more of, “Hey, let’s all remember what God requires. Let’s remember that even now on the backside of conversion and union with Christ, we can’t keep the law adequately.” Today, just like the first day we believed, we are saying, “Were it not for Christ, I stand condemned.” We can talk like that as Christians, but we’re not threatening people with it. We’re reminding one another of the impossibility of keeping the law and why we need Jesus. But that’s not what’s going on in the lordship string.
Jon Moffitt: Right. So then we get to the third use of the law, which is to guide us as Christians. In the third use of the law, you never hear, “Do this and live.” A good example of this would be something like Ephesians 4: walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. 2 Peter, 1:3-9, which talks about adding to your faith godliness. They’re always saying this is the reflection, and the Bible says that if you are a believer, you do these things.
It’s not, “If you want to obey.” This is the new covenant promise. You will walk in these truths. This is why even in the confessions, they say those who have faith obey at varying levels.
Justin Perdue: You’ve got a new identity now. You’re in Christ. You have a new status now. You’re justified. You’ve been adopted into the family of God and here’s how God’s kids live. That’s what the third use is.
Jon Moffitt: Right. We believe in church discipline because it is there to protect the church and the believer.
Justin Perdue: And to restore those who are going astray.
Jon Moffitt: Right. Galatians 6:1 is important. Romans 15. Matthew and the steps of church discipline. But here’s where the danger is: sometimes you hear the first use of the law being given to believers. It’s the “obey or else” kind of attitude in that if you don’t live up to a certain level of Christianity, a certain level of obedience—which I have been questioning how much obedience for years—then you’re truly not a disciple of Jesus Christ. And the danger in that is that you are trying to motivate people by two things: fear and condemnation. But there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. And number two, what does 2 Peter 1:9 say? If these truths are not true about you and increasing—godliness, patience, kindness—what does he say that you forgot?
Justin Perdue: You’ve forgotten the good news.
Jon Moffitt: You’ve forgotten that you’ve been cleansed from your former sins. He doesn’t point back to the first use of the law; he actually points back to the gospel for their motivation of obedience. Lordship salvation often calls into question the faith of the Christians who have been tossed about by every wind of doctrine, Ephesians 4, and who are not strong in their faith. Whereas Paul even to the Corinthians, you don’t see Paul doing this. “I want to come and preach Christ to you.” Or 2 Peter 1:9. “You’ve forgotten you’ve been cleansed.” The motivation for the believer who is weak in obedience is not condemnation under the law—first use—but it is encouragement in the gospel. Act as what you have received. You’ve received mercy and grace, now live in it.
Justin Perdue: There’s a lot I could say, but we’re running short on time and we need to get to our fifth talking point. We trust there’ll be more podcasts to be recorded where we can talk a little bit about the uses of the law. We actually have talked about how we’ve not done a podcast on the uses of the law. We need to do it soon. Maybe that’ll be coming down the pipe. We’ll see.
Fifth talking point. I just recap them all as we go lest there be any confusion. Our concerns with Lordship salvation: number one is the confusion about the order of salvation, number two is a redefinition of faith, number three is the collapsing of law and gospel, and number four is a confusion of the uses of the law. Finally, number five is a confusion of the relationship between justification and sanctification.
Justification is the declaration of God that we are just in His sight on the basis of what Christ alone has done in our place. He has paid the penalty we deserve, and we have been credited with and we have been given the righteousness of Christ. His righteousness has been imputed to us, credited to our account, and it’s as though we did everything that Jesus did, and God looks at us and says, “Just.” That is justification. Sanctification is the process by which we are transformed more and more into the image of Christ, into the likeness of Christ, and we are conformed even to live more and more according to God’s law. And this is going to be over the course of our lives. It will ebb and flow. It will look different in different seasons. It is ultimately a work that God Himself, by His Spirit, does as a result of our union with Christ.
We do agree that all those who are justified will be sanctified. It is not a question. It is certain because God will see to it. At the same time, there must be a proper distinction maintained between justification and sanctification. What lordship salvation does is collapse the two. Instead of talking about it the right way, where our sanctification flows out of our justification—that’s the Reformed understanding—lordship makes it sound as though we are building our justification on our sanctification and we are anchoring our righteous standing before God on our obedience, on our desire to obey, or even on the adequacy of our repentance. Nobody would ever say it like that, but that’s how it comes across. It’s that “prove it” kind of theology. It’s that “prove it” mentality. It’s like you need to obey in order so that you might prove that you’re really justified—and that is not how the Scriptures taught, it’s not how the Reformed have understood it. You’re making some category shifts and you’re confusing some things because it is true that all those who are justified will be sanctified. “If you’re not being sanctified at all, you may very well not be justified.” True. “Therefore, pursue sanctification like crazy to know you’re justified.” Wrong. You can’t do that. And that’s what lordship does: prove you’re justified through your obedience, through your desire to obey, through your repentance, and the like. It doesn’t work that way. The stream does not flow uphill.
Like you said, it’s 2 Peter 1. You’ve got to point people back to the gospel. That’s the source. That’s the fountainhead.
Jon Moffitt: Calvin argued that the essence of the Christian life is assurance; it’s not the pursuit of the Christian life. In lordship salvation, the pursuit of the Christian life is assurance. We are pursuing good works so that we can find a firm footing in assurance and you’re reversing it—you’re looking at your sanctification to clarify your justification. You’re supposed to look to your justification as the root cause of your sanctification.
We’ll just quote Scripture here: Philippians 1. “He who began a good work in you will complete it.” Not you. Sanctification is not synergistic—it’s not you and God working together. But at the same time, he says to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Amen to God. And what he means by fear and trembling is not dread and doubt; he means with reverence and awe. He says to work it out because God is the one working in you. Galatians 3, he asks who tripped them up. It’s not, “You come to faith and now you do the rest.” He says the same way you start is the same way you continue: it’s by faith and the Spirit.
When you start emphasizing your sanctification as a means to clarify your justification, and these might be two big words for someone who’s brand new to this… I feel like these passages are very clear. Yes, we obey. It is a part of the Christian life. Just like human beings breathe, Christians obey. At times we don’t obey like we should, and at times we can go for long periods of time, which we’ve done multiple podcasts on. But if you are grounding your standing before God as an adopted child based upon your obedience, that means it is possible for you to go from being an adopted child to not being an adopted child. That is dangerous.
Justin Perdue: I’m tempted to read the John Calvin quote again that I read in the first one that people liked so much, and that might be a good way to put a bow on this.
John Calvin in The Institutes writes this: “For if they begin to judge their salvation by good works,” which is what we’re talking about right now, “nothing will be more uncertain or more feeble; from this it comes about that the believer’s conscience feels more fear and consternation than assurance. If righteousness is supported by works in God’s sight, it must entirely collapse, and it is confined solely to God’s mercy, solely to communion with Christ, and therefore solely to faith.” So he’s clear there at the end that this is all about mercy, this is all about union with Christ, this is all about faith when it comes to even our good works that we would perform. It’s all done that way and we can not look to validate our standing before the Lord through our good works. Nothing will be more feeble and nothing will be more damaging because we can’t do it. That occurs often in the teaching of the Lordship salvation stream.
We hope this episode has been good in adding maybe some clarifying comments in giving you some handles and takeaways in terms of what the concerns are that we have with lordship salvation. Jonathan, you got one more thing to say before we head over to.
Over in SR, I think we’re going to have a conversation about sustainability and the Christian life. What is it that will really last over the long term? Then we may even talk a little bit more about the posture and the tone that we aim to strike here at Theocast, because that’s a relevant thing to discuss in light of critiquing another stream of theology.
Anyway, we’re grateful for all of you guys for listening. We sincerely hope that this has been clarifying and encouraging for you. We hope that you are encouraged all the more in the Lord Jesus Christ. He really has done enough. We are forgiven and we have been declared righteous on the basis of Christ alone, and we receive what he did by faith alone.
We are now making our way over to the Semper Reformanda podcast. That’s the other podcast we record every week. This is kind of our family time with people that have partnered with Theocast. That’s a fun conversation every week. We kind of pull the filter down a little and talk about things behind the curtain. We just talk very honestly with our listeners about just the Christian life and how we need to do this thing. So if that sounds like something you’d want to listen to, you can find out more information about Semper Reformanda, and in general, how you can partner with us over on our website at theocast.org. We’ve got an app and all kinds of things related to that ministry where we’re trying to connect people all over the place—geographically situated groups and virtual online groups—where we can continue this kind of conversation about rest in Christ. Check out all that out on the website. Avail yourselves of that.
For those of you headed over to SR, we’ll talk with you there. For the rest of you, we will speak with you again next week. That’s all we got. Grace and peace.