We have gotten a number of questions regarding Lordship Salvation and the historic, reformed position on it. So, today, that is what Jon and Justin talk about. We talk about concerns over the definition of faith, the collapsing of law and gospel, and confusion on the uses of the law. We interact with John MacArthur’s book, “The Gospel According to Jesus,” as well as Michael Horton’s “Christ the Lord.”
Semper Reformanda: The guys talk more on uses of the law–and how confusing the first and third use of the law is particularly damaging. Justin also offers thoughts on how some Puritan theology is unhelpful.
Podcast: Are You a Legalist or an Antinomian
FREE EBOOK: Safe in Christ – A primer on rest
Giveaway: “Christ the Lord” by Michael Horton
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Justin Perdue: Hi, this is Justin. Today on Theocast, we are going to be talking about lordship salvation. Many of you have asked us questions and have even asked us to give the historic Reformed take on lordship salvation—and so that is what we are going to offer in today’s episode. We hope you enjoy the conversation.
Today we’re talking about lordship salvation. The title of this episode is A Critique of Lordship Salvation. That’s what we’re going to be doing from a pastoral perspective. Hopefully with grace and clarity, we’re going to raise some concerns that we have, as Reformed guys, with so-called lordship salvation. For many people at the pop level, at least, in the church, a figure that is most often associated with lordship salvation is John MacArthur. This podcast is not a review of John’s book that’s entitled The Gospel According to Jesus, but we will be interacting some with that content and some of the other things that MacArthur has said and written over the last 30 years or so.
We will also be referencing Christ the Lord, which was edited by Michael Horton. There were a number of guys that contributed to that volume: Robert Godfrey, Rod Rosenbladt, Kim Riddlebarger, and others had chapters in that book. That’s a response from a Reformed and confessional perspective to the lordship salvation debate that was really, really heated back in the late eighties and the nineties. Inevitably, we’re going to interact with some of that material. This podcast is not a review of that material specifically. We’re going to be talking about lordship salvation in a more broad way.
If we were going to define it just very simply for people, lordship salvation is this conversation about the idea that you can make Jesus your Savior but not your Lord—or is it even possible for Jesus to be your Savior, but not your Lord? There’s this distinction that’s introduced between those two things as though he can be one or thought of as one without being the other.
And of course, the argument from the lordship salvation side or John MacArthur’s side, and guys and gals who agree with him, is that you cannot make Jesus Savior without also consciously making him Lord of your life. And so we’re interacting with that idea and that language that’s often used about submission to the lordship of Christ; what we understand that are at best confusing things that are said from that camp.
Maybe we want to start by outlining the debate as it took place historically just to give people a little bit of context. In the eighties and nineties, there was a debate between John MacArthur and Zane Hodges. Zane Hodges was articulating a kind of theology. His book Absolutely Free articulated this theology that a person is justified by a single act of faith. Now, Hodges is coming at this from an Arminian, semi-Pelagian perspective where he understands that human beings can make this decision of faith and this act of faith is something they can do. And so once this act of faith occurs, once this decision to believe in Jesus occurs, at one point in time, a person is justified forever. And it matters not at all what happens in a person’s life thereafter—whether or not they continue believing, whether or not they are sanctified, whether or not they desire to obey God, whether or not there are good works in their life, etc. It doesn’t matter because a person is justified and they’re good with God.
Of course there’s a lot of stuff within that kind of theological schema, where if you are obedient, if you are sanctified, if you become a disciple, and you’re not a carnal Christian, then there will be blessings for you in eternity and the like. But then, MacArthur’s response to that bad doctrine—and we’re going to talk about this more in a minute as to why Hodges’ theology is bad—is that no, that is not biblical Christianity. And in fact, there is a lot demanded of us if we’re going to be legitimately Christian. And so John’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus, is his attempt to articulate what the gospel is, what the message of salvation is, and what is required of us, in one sense, if we’re going to be legitimately in Christ Jesus. That’s the debate as it has historically taken place. We agree that Hodges is wrong but we also have concerns with the way that MacArthur and others have articulated the gospel.
Jon Moffitt: I think that’s a good introduction. I appreciate that. I would agree wholeheartedly with John’s assessment and in a lot of conservative, dispensational, and Reformed men’s assessment of that theology. It is very confusing, and I will also say dangerous, because (1) it does confuse the gospel, (2) it confuses the nature of salvation, and (3) it confuses what I would even say sola fide is. He almost thinks he’s promoting a sola fide position, but he’s not.
Justin Perdue: He’s undermining it.
Jon Moffitt: He is. Because you’re putting your faith in an action, not in Christ’s actions. That’s the danger of this theology in that (1) it’s a confusion on the gospel, and (2) it is a confusion on the nature of the Christian.
Justin Perdue: And union with Christ.
Jon Moffitt: That’s right. Those who have been put in union with Christ will show the evidence of the Spirit in their life. You can’t get away from passages that speak about the obedience of the Christian as being a part of the nature. May it be varying at times at different degrees, you will see the desire and the nature of a Christian to obey. So all of those critiques of this movement are accurate. We would agree and stand wholeheartedly and say that is not an accurate representation of Scripture. Not only is it not accurate, it’s actually quite disturbing at times.
Justin Perdue: The theology of Zane Hodges can rightly be called antinomianism. It is legitimate antinomianism.
Jon Moffitt: Anti as in against obedience or anti-law.
Justin Perdue: Right. Like the law has no place in the life of the Christian, and it just doesn’t even matter what we do. That’s legitimate antinomian theology. It’s actually quite rare but it was being articulated by Zane Hodges. So we agree with John MacArthur and his critique of it.
Just really quickly, because we are going to be talking about MacArthur inevitably today, we want to go and say from the outset that we are grateful to God for John MacArthur and he has done a lot of good, and has been a man who has demonstrated himself to be in ministry for decades, aiming to preach the word of God faithfully. We want to commend that. And even in his book, The Gospel According to Jesus, just to be very clear, there’ve been three editions of it—there was the original, and then a significantly revised second edition, and then now a 25th anniversary edition that’s been released in recent years. The book Christ the Lord was interacting with the first publication of The Gospel According to Jesus and raised some significant critiques. It’s clear that MacArthur and his camp heard some of those critiques based upon how the second edition was revised.
We say all of this too, to be clear, that as it stands today in the way that MacArthur articulates lordship salvation, in the way that he even writes The Gospel According to Jesus, he is not rejecting any historical Protestant Reformed doctrines outright. He’s not a heretic. He even has a chapter that was added thankfully on justification, he’s clear on faith alone—at least means to be clear—he’ll make assertions about faith alone. We would argue that he confuses it in ways, and we’re going to come to that. He’s clear on God’s grace versus our effort or our merit. He’s even clear on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. He’ll even say good things about the law, about how it was given to show us how sinful and how disobedient we are.
Sadly, in other ways he’s going to collapse some categories, and we’re going to get to that. But we just want to be clear from the outset that this is not a roasting of John MacArthur wholesale, and we are not understanding him to be a false teacher or preaching another gospel.
Jon Moffitt: I want to say, to that point, that we are interacting with the most recent material. It’s unfair to go back and just criticize the old book. Both of us have the newest book—that’s the book we interacted with.
I want everyone else to also hear that we aren’t foreign to John’s ministry. I actually was trained and taught by him in the classroom, trained underneath his ministry while at the Master’s Seminary. Justin’s also very familiar with this ministry as he engaged with John on a personal level as well. We aren’t foreign. A lot of times people say, “You don’t understand his teaching,” or, “You haven’t engaged enough with his theology or his sermons.” We have on a very deep level. We do not ever want to misrepresent people if we can help it. I hate strawmen. I don’t want to be involved in that.
Justin Perdue: It’s unhelpful to our listeners, too.
When I first encountered Calvinism, I was helped by John MacArthur as a young man and was grateful for him. He was always very personally kind to me as I interacted with him just through various ways over the years.
Jon Moffitt: We are not a discernment ministry. The one thing that we want to do is clarify things. We want to clarify the gospel from a historical, biblical, Reformed perspective using documents and categories like law-gospel distinction, three uses of the law, confessionalism, Reformed definitions of faith. What we’re really doing is taking John’s writing and holding it up against what would say is historical theology and making our assessments that way.
Just know that our conclusions aren’t new to us. Nothing we say today is anything Justin and I have come up on our own. We are just trying to articulate it for our listeners because it has been asked.
Justin, let’s go ahead and jump right into some of the heart issues of this. I do want to say one thing, Justin: I really did appreciate a lot of what was written in the book. I found myself agreeing with the majority of the book when it was describing certain things about the nature of Christianity. I had to slow down and make sure that I fully understood. I didn’t want to misrepresent something or take it out of context; you can always take a paragraph way out of context. In the years that I’ve been a part of these conversations about lordship salvation and Reformed theology, the number one thing is that people say, “You misunderstood John.” That being said, Justin and I had tried to be very clear in listening and representing what he has said consistently recently about lordship salvation.
Justin Perdue: I think we could begin with this because this one is going to be less significant in the more updated versions than it was in the original version of The Gospel According to Jesus. I don’t think we’ll have to spend as much time here. The way that MacArthur seeks to define faith is one thing that we would raise some issues with. Again, in the original version of The Gospel According to Jesus, this language was much more troubling and much more concerning, but the language has been revised in the second and the third edition, which we give thanks for, frankly, because it’s better.
The thing that, it seems to me, is that John MacArthur is desiring at least to weave categories of repentance, obedience, and a desire to obey into the way that we would define saving faith. Even the subtitle of the book, “What is Authentic Faith?”, I think conveys that message. Originally in the first version, there were stuff that were said that were just full-blown Roman Catholic theology. That no longer exists in the more updated versions—praise God. But there is still language at points about obedience, for example, being inseparable from faith.
Let me just quote from The Gospel According to Jesus. MacArthur writes this, “Clearly the biblical concept of faith is inseparable from obedience. Belief is treated as if it were synonymous with obey in John 3:36,” and then he cites the verse. “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life.” So even here in the most updated version, you do see this desire to effectively say that you can’t separate obedience from faith. That’s something that is concerning to us as historically Reformed guys because we understand that saving faith is comprised of the facts about Jesus’ ascent, affirming that they’re true, and then trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s how the Reformed have always defined faith. And then even in our own confession, there’s language of trusting, hoping, and resting in Christ for justification, sanctification, and glorification on account of the covenant of grace. That’s how we would define saving faith. In terms of how the Reformed have defined faith, there never has been any language of obedience, or repentance, or a desire to obey as being a part of saving faith. Those things need to be kept distinct because they are.
Now, we would be the first to say, as the Reformed have always said, that when saving faith is present, good works, repentance, and those other things will be present.
Jon Moffitt: And we’ve heard this: “You guys are being petty,” or, “You’re splitting hairs,” or, “You’re misrepresenting.” We’re really trying not to. I say this with as much humility. John has obviously been preaching and studying God’s word for a very long time. These are not our conclusions against John; these are just things that we have learned ourselves. But you can see where John will quote and admit to sola fide, he will say you are not saved by works alone. So he’s very orthodox in his understanding of the nature of salvation. The nature of salvation is—he literally says—a sovereign work of God that cannot be boast upon about works.
Justin Perdue: And it’s based on faith and our works don’t contribute. He’s going to say that.
Jon Moffitt: I appreciate the clarity on that. Where the confusion is that he is trying to show the significance of one’s life who is in Christ. And this is where he will state his orthodox position, which we herald amen to, then confuses it a little bit—well, I would say a lot—with collapsing the law onto the gospel. I think the longest section in his book is probably the rich young ruler; the one that comes and asks Jesus, “Lord, what must I do to be saved?”
Justin Perdue: I think what you end up seeing is that MacArthur is trying to bake submission, obedience, and a desire to obey into the nature of what it is to trust and believe in Jesus. He’s not saying that fruit and obedience and all these kinds of things are the basis of being saved—that’s not at all what he’s saying. But it does seem good works, fruit, and all these kinds of things are the basis by which we can be assured that we are saved—and that’s where we would want to raise some issue. It’s as though we are building our justification upon our sanctification. Like we’re deriving our justification from the sanctifying work of God in our lives—and that just flat out can’t be done because as soon as we do that, we’ve sort of given the whole thing away.
Calvin writes this: “For if they begin,” they being Christians, “to judge their salvation by good works, 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.” So now he’s talking about what salvation is; he said, “It is confined solely to God’s mercy, solely to communion with Christ, and therefore, solely to faith.” And so I think that’s our concern is that there’s a confusion of exactly what faith is at times, but then there’s certainly a collapsing of justification and sanctification in a way that robs the believer of peace with God and assurance.
Jon Moffitt: And historically speaking, the confessions and Reformed theology have acknowledged that good works are necessary and obviously bolster, encourage, or build upon the assurance of the believer. Wholeheartedly, it says that you should do good works, and these works of course arise only out of the Holy Spirit. The evidence of these good works bolster our salvation, but those who attain the greatest heights of obedience possible in this life are far from being able to merit reward by being beyond duty. You never, at a moment, can look to your good works as the ground of justification.
Justin Perdue: Or as the basis of your assurance.
Jon Moffitt: Right. And again, I do not want to misrepresent him. So we’re going to use a couple of sections of his passage. When we’re dealing with the rich young ruler, he rightly exegetes the passage.
Justin Perdue: Now we’re moving into the law-gospel stuff now.
Jon Moffitt: Right. A lot of things: law-gospel, uses of the law… So he rightly exegetes the passage and says that Jesus doesn’t give him the gospel. Amen to that. John’s right—Jesus doesn’t.
Justin Perdue: He is so right for so long about the rich young ruler, and how it ends poorly.
Jon Moffitt: I know. It’s funny as I was reading it—I know I’ve read this a long time ago, but this is a lot of really great stuff. I was very encouraged by a lot of what I was reading. I was like, “I agree, agree, agree. That’s historic. That’s Reformed.” Where the confusion comes in is his assessment of what he’s trying to prevent from happening, which is you can say a prayer, live however you want, walk an aisle, sign a card, get baptized…
Justin Perdue: Or believes certain things, but not really surrender your life to Christ.
Jon Moffitt: Right. Which we would all agree. And the Reformed would say if one professes Christ and is unwilling to live for Christ, they obviously don’t understand the gospel because the gospel transforms you from life to death. If you’re in Christ, then the evidences of Christ will come through. We agree with all of that. But he says things in such ways that, I think, causes some confusion.
I have a couple of quotes here that I wanted to read. It comes from this section about the rich young ruler. Let me back up: this is the one that we did a whole podcast on, which is Matthew 7. You remember that episode that we did? “Lest anyone says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’.” In the end, he says that, “Clearly no past experience—not even prophesying, casting out demons, or doing signs and wonders—can be viewed as evidence of salvation apart from a life of obedience.” And I understand what he’s getting at, but in the context of Matthew 7, you’re dealing with people who are rejecting Jesus as Messiah; they aren’t rejecting obedience. So there’s a confusion there.
Justin Perdue: If anything, I think they’re placing confidence in their works, not confidence in Christ. That’s the irony.
Jon Moffitt: So he says, “viewed as evidence of salvation apart from a life of obedience”, which they were pointing to their obedience as the evidence itself of salvation, and Jesus rejected them because he says it’s not your obedience that saves you…
Justin Perdue: “It’s not the works that you’ve done in My Name—it’s Me.”
Jon Moffitt: That’s right. That was one I was tracking with until that last statement. There’s a confusion on the application here. Jesus actually is pointing to their obedience and saying that’s not what justifies you.
Justin Perdue: Just to be very clear for those who are listening in: the stuff that we pointed out already are some concerns about how faith is even defined or described, and now we’re pointing out concerns about how MacArthur and the lordship camp tends to collapse the law and the gospel, and also how they collapse the categories of the uses of the law. That’s really where we’re launching into now by talking about the rich young ruler. A number of these things are just going to come out and we’ll talk about them as they do.
So his exposition, like you said, Jon, of the rich young ruler is pretty good for a while. And then sadly, it just ends really, really bad in terms of the takeaway.
Here’s perhaps the most significant quote from that section. This is MacArthur’s conclusion: “Our Lord gave this young man a test: he had to choose between his possessions and Jesus Christ. He failed the test. No matter what points of doctrine he might affirm, because he was unwilling to turn from what else he loved most, he could not be a disciple of Christ. Salvation is only for those who are willing to give Christ first place in their lives.” That’s guiding MacArthur’s exposition of the text; that’s his takeaway from the passage.
Jon Moffitt: Just so people understand, when we talk about the categories of the law and the gospel, if you’ve not heard our episode understanding the difference between the two, I would encourage you to go do so. Gospel is always what has been done by Christ for sinners. It’s a declaration of the good news of the freedom from the punishment of sin and the gaining of righteousness done by the works of God, through Christ, for our benefit. That is good news of declaration. The law is the demand for perfect obedience and righteousness to everything that is in the nature of God and in His Word, and the two are never, ever collapsed in on each other. So you have the good news of what is done, and then you have the declaration of what you must do.
He admits in this section that Jesus never gets to the gospel, and yet says that basically he could never get to the gospel because the young man was not willing to basically come to receive the gospel.
Justin Perdue: What’s crazy is that MacArthur even gets right that Jesus effectively is aiming to get this young man to prove his love for God and neighbor. He even almost says that language verbatim, which was shocking to me because we agree that’s what Jesus is doing when he tells the young man to sell everything he has given to the poor and then come follow him. That is him saying to the young man. “Okay, you think you’ve kept the commandments, now prove your love to God and neighbor.” And that is still a message completely of law. This is where MacArthur kind of collapses these categories because his takeaway, like so many people from that section, is there is this element in which we must surrender all if we’re going to be saved or we at least have to be willing to do so.
So this collapsing of law and gospel forces MacArthur to do this whole kind of backpedaling thing where he’s going to say—I’ll just read this quote right now: “Do we literally have to give away everything we own to become Christians? No. But we do have to give Christ first place. That means we must be willing to forsake all for him.” So now he has to backpedal on the requirements of the law and he has to dumb them down and relativize them and say, “We don’t all literally need to sell everything we have in order to follow Jesus, but we need to be willing to do that.”
My question is, where is willing and the idea of willing in the passage? It’s not there. Because Jesus is giving this man straight up law: “Prove your love to God and neighbor, and you will be perfect.” And the man can’t do it. That’s the whole point of it. And the one who could provide him righteousness and atone for his sins is standing right there in front of him.
Jon Moffitt: Right. Another quote later on down, it says, “He left not because he heard the wrong message, not even because he didn’t believe, but because he was unwilling to forsake what he loved most in the world and commit himself to Christ as Lord. Instead of taking him from where he was at getting him to make a “decision,” Jesus had laid out the terms that were unacceptable to him. In a sense, Jesus drove him away.” To which we would say the rich young ruler came in and asked, “What must I do?” And Jesus told him what he had to do. The confusion on that is that that’s somehow then connected to what it’s required to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus never gave him what was required in order to be a follower, or let’s put it this way: saved from his sins. That wasn’t the conclusion. So if you collapse that down in there and say Jesus is setting up the requirements of what it looks like to be a follower of him in forgiveness, that’s a confusion of the law and the gospel.
Justin Perdue: Which is where you get this language of the “demands of the gospel”.
The lordship camp loves to use that kind of language, that the gospel demands everything from us and requires everything from us, and it will cost us our very lives and all those kinds of things. There are ways in which we agree that it will cost us our lives in that we are forsaking anything about ourselves that could ever be meritorious before the Lord, we are following a crucified Savior, and all of those things; we absolutely and heartily affirm. But the language of the demands of the gospel is Exhibit A when it comes to the collapsing of the law and the gospel, in turning the gospel effectively into a kind of covenant of works, where there are all these things required of us if we’re going to be worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is just another observation. MacArthur, like us, would affirm that Roman 7, for example, is about a Christian where Paul writes this language of wanting to obey but finding himself not obeying: the good things he wants to do he doesn’t do, the bad things he doesn’t want to do, he does. Whatever he wants to do right, evil lies close at hand, etc. “I delight in the law of God in my inner man, but there’s another law waging war against me,” and that’s sin in his members and all these things.
And so MacArthur agrees with us and agrees with the Reformed through history that that’s about a Christian’s state—the internal war we fight as believers. He does not maintain that Christians can be perfect. Because he collapses law and gospel, and because he also maintains Christian imperfection, he then is forced to talk about this willingness to obey, and then he is also forced, as we’ve already talked about, to relativize and tone down the requirements of the law. It’s interesting the positions that force us into that.
Jon Moffitt: I want to read one more quote. It says here, “The ultimate test was whether this man would obey the Lord. Jesus was not teaching salvation by philanthropy. He was not saying it is possible to buy eternal life with charity. In effect, He was saying, ‘Here is the test of true faith: Are you willing to do what I want you to do? Whom do you want to run your life, you or Me?’ The Lord was putting his finger on the very nerve of this man’s existence. Knowing where his heart was, He said, ‘Unless I become the highest authority in your life, there is no salvation for you.’ By placing himself alongside the man’s wealth and demanding that he makes the choice, our Lord revealed the true state of the man’s heart.”
Look, I don’t disagree, but did you see where it was slipped in in that quote? Jesus never offered him what he was saying. Jesus told him he never offered him eternal life; he only offered him earning it. Like you can earn it. It’s not a gift. We know that that salvation faith is a gift—this is Ephesians 2. Faith is gifted to us; it’s not earned. The phrase here where he says the test of truth is are you willing to do whatever you want to do? No. No one is ever willing to do that. You are dead in your trespasses and sins. You cannot make yourself alive. This is where John is a Calvinist, but then uses non-Calvinistic language.
Justin Perdue: In another sense, like some of the Reformed through history have done, he puts all of these qualifiers on faith. And there’s all these things that have to be, if not done, at least qualifications that need to be met in order to come to Christ. We don’t have time to get into it, but that is what the whole Marrow Controversy was about in the Church of Scotland. Do we need to do anything in order to be eligible effectively to come to Jesus? And the conclusion there from the Marrow brethren, which we agree with, is no, we don’t need to do anything in order to come to Christ.
We come to Christ in faith and through union with him.
Jon Moffitt: In essence, you can make the conclusion from John that this man needed to do something before he truly be a follower of Christ and that’s the mistake.
Justin Perdue: Or he had to be willing to give everything away for Christ. I don’t know that anybody is on the front end, apart from a sovereign work of God, that would give us eyes to see as we hear the law and then the message of Christ and the gospel.
Jon Moffitt: Even in John 3:16, when Jesus tells Nicodemus those who believe are the ones granted eternal life. He’s talking about this regeneration of new birth. What’s hard is that Jesus isn’t talking to a believer, telling him, “Hey, if you’re claiming faith in me, this is what life should look like.” So to confuse that conversation, Jesus is talking to an unbeliever who isn’t seeking Jesus for salvation but is seeking the law for salvation. We always have to keep the context of the passage at hand. There are times where Paul flat out says, “Hey, if you’re up saying you’re a believer and you’re not acting like it, that’s a problem.” But that’s not the context of the rich young ruler.
Justin Perdue: As we continue with this law-gospel track, and even the law itself and how it should rightly be used, let’s talk briefly on MacArthur’s treatment of the Sermon on the Mount. So we understand along with the Reformed through history that the Sermon on the Mount is the greatest sermon on the law that’s ever been preached. We’re not saying exclusively, but largely, the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is an exposition of the law and an application of the law to man that will condemn and crush us in our own attempts to be righteous, and would thereby drive us to the one preaching the sermon who came to fulfill the law in our place. But MacArthur’s take on the Sermon on the Mount—and I think some of this has to be derived from his dispensational convictions and how he thinks about the law existing in a different era of redemptive history, and now with the coming of Christ, we’re in a different redemptive dispensation. He says, for example, citing Matthew 7:13-14, which is the broad road and the narrow way and all that, his conclusion from those verses is this: “This passage crushes the claim of those who say the Sermon on the Mount is not gospel, but law. In fact, these closing verses are pure gospel with as pointed an invitation as has ever been issued.” He goes on to say, “You will not find a plainer statement of the gospel according to Jesus anywhere in Scripture.” He’s saying that about the narrow way and the broad road in particular.
My initial take on that is no, the Sermon on the Mount is not gospel—it’s law. There’s a confusion of law-gospel all over the place going on there. Then when he says you can’t find a plainer statement of the gospel according to Jesus, I think you can. For example, Jesus’ words to the woman of the city in Luke 7. The prostitute who comes and washes his feet, etc. He says to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” I think that’s a better word of gospel. ” You’re forgiven and your faith in me has saved you. Go in peace.”
Jon Moffitt: Jesus uses a lot of illustrations in his ministry, like the eye of a needle and the camel. He’s talking about the impossibility of one finding salvation on their own or one earning salvation by their own merits. So the whole the road is narrow, the idea of it is you don’t find it, you don’t logically discover it, you don’t earn your way into it. Taking that verse and using it in that way, you should hear that and respond as the disciples do and say, “Then who could be saved?” Jesus says, “Well, no one can. With man, it’s impossible. With God, everything is possible.”
Everything Jesus says when it relates to the law and earning salvation, you should hear impossibility. Nicodemus did. He said, “How am I going to reenter the mother’s womb?” Well, now you’ve got it. You got the impossibility.
Justin Perdue: Now you understand that this is a work of God.
Jon Moffitt: Later on, he even says that this is the work of the Spirit. You can’t even manipulate the Spirit. It’s like the wind and we don’t know where it’s going. There’s nothing you can do to manipulate salvation—not before and not after. It is an entire work of God. And that’s where there’s the confusion of the law and the gospel. You add the law into the gospel, you are then saying there is something that you are involved in prior to regeneration. We’re saying, no, it’s all after regeneration, which I agree happens simultaneously, but you cannot put anything before the gift of salvation through faith.
Justin Perdue: And the free offer of Christ.
Jon Moffitt: I need to clarify something. John MacArthur is not Roman Catholic and he is not noting works in front of salvation. I don’t want to misrepresent him. It’s just the confusion of his language at times where you wonder, “Is that what he’s saying? Because it sounds like that’s what he’s saying.”
Justin Perdue: And all we are asking for in this whole thing is clarity of language, clarity on the gospel, clarity on justification, clarity on the sufficiency of Christ, and all of these things.
One of the things too that we want to hit on in this regular portion of the podcast is how there is also not just a collapsing of law and gospel, but there’s a confusion and a collapsing of the uses of the law—in particular, the first use and the third use. Very quick definitions: the first use of the law is to show us our sin and drive us to the Savior. It’s the pedagogical, the teaching use, and the mirror use. Then there is also the third use, which is the guide that the law is for the Christian’s life. Once we’re united to Christ, the law guides our living in him, and we seek to be conformed to it by God’s grace through the Spirit. It seems that in much of the teaching from the lordship camp and from John MacArthur, there’s a confusion and collapsing of these categories.
Jon Moffitt: I think Sermon on the Mount is a good example of this. There are a lot of people who don’t agree with the uses of the law. They say that it’s not biblical. I think it’s very helpful. Obviously, if you believe in church discipline, you have to believe in the uses of the law. I don’t know how you don’t.
A good example of using the first use of the law, which is designed for sinners, as a third use of the law for believers, which is guiding the Christian’s life, is Paul Washer’s famous youth sermon that he preached. If you go in there and you’ll listen to it, he rightly preaches law, but he’s using it in such a way to condemn Christians and get them to believe that they’re not Christians, and call into question their faith. He’s doing it in such a way where people who hear that sermon… I remember the first time I heard it, there was this sense of “Am I truly a believer?” Because he’s using the first use of the law to garner holiness.
I know this is so nuanced and we’re going to have to get into this later. We can’t do this now, which is kind of the purpose of the Semper Reformanda podcast, to go into things a little bit deeper. But you can never use the first use of the law to encourage holiness in Christians because it will only condemn them, crush them, and push them away from Christ.
Justin Perdue: I know in my own church, I preach the first use of the law to the saints pretty much every week, but I do it in this way: I am reminding us of our utter inability to keep the law and to do everything that God requires so that we might anew be reminded and be driven to Christ and cast ourselves completely upon him. Even in preaching the first use of the law, lest we get it confused, we can not do this. Trust Christ. That is a first use of the law since, but it’s still not done with this condemnatory edge to it that is often taking place. For example, you mentioned that sermon from Paul Washer.
The other thing is whenever we talk about the third use of the law, the law for the Christian cannot condemn. And so our tone ought not be condemnatory as we are talking to people about how they ought to live. And we’ve made this observation before that a lot of times, the third use of the law to guide the Christian is preached like it’s the first use, which is to condemn and crush those outside of Jesus who are trusting in themselves. It really is harmful because what you end up doing effectively is just unsettling every saint who is thoughtful, and who has a tender conscience thinking, “I’ve not really done what God requires.”
Jon Moffitt: Two examples of the third uses of law that we use all the time: one would be Ephesians 4 where Paul says for those of you that have been chosen, walk in a manner worthy of the calling to what you’ve been called, with meekness, gentleness and longsuffering. Those are commands and they are in relation to the nature of Christ, and that you should obey them, but they’re not condemnatory. Peter says in 2 Peter 1:9, he lists all of these things that are godly, and he says if you’re not doing these things, you have forgotten that you’ve been cleansed from your former sins. He’s not condemning the believer because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but he is saying you’re not a very effective Christian.
To condemn a Christian by using the law is…
Justin Perdue: Is not to use the law lawfully. Let’s just put it that way.
Jon Moffitt: It’s an inappropriate use of the law and it’s a confusion of law-gospel. So when you confuse the law and the gospel, you will immediately confuse the three uses of the law and the demands of the law. I think this happens a lot when we collapse these.
If I’m going to boil it all down and say the one thing that I would love to dialogue more with the guys in this camp—and really, there’s a whole generation of people that are my age that are wrestling with these truths—it’s a place of emphasis. This is the very thing that we talk about. The Reformed faith and the confessions emphasize the finished work of Christ, the sufficiency of Christ on our behalf, and then obedience. We find ourselves safe in Christ; now obey. And that emphasis has been reversed. Your sufficiency and security and safety in Christ is called into question based upon your level of dedication. We aren’t drawn into obedience because we’re safe in Christ; we’re pushed into obedience out of fear and anxiety of possibly losing what we have in Christ or proving we never were in Christ.
Justin Perdue: Exactly. Like we’ve got to prove ourselves to be legitimate, therefore we obey. You and I are on the same wavelength because that’s exactly where I wanted to go. As I stated at the outset, and you did too, while MacArthur and the lordship camp, generally speaking, has not directly denied any historical Reformed or Protestant doctrine, at least what has occurred is that the accent has been moved from Christ to the Christian in this kind of theology. People who are familiar with Theocast are gonna hear that and they’re gonna say, “Yeah, we’ve heard you guys talk about that before.” In so many ways, when we talk about pietism. That’s what we’re saying. It’s not that Christ isn’t preached. It’s not that we’re not even clear on justification or whatever it may be. It’s that the emphasis and the accent has been shifted, and rather than Jesus being in the foreground in the Christian life and the Christian being in the background, that’s inverted. And really the focus becomes the Christian. The same thing has happened in this conversation when it pertains to lordship salvation.
I think we’re going to make our way over to the Semper Reformanda podcast in just a minute.
And a couple of things before we actually make our way over there. First thing is if you want to dive a little bit more into some of these things that we’ve been discussing today, a great thing for you to do would be to go and download the free ebook version of our primer on rest. That’s called Faith vs. Faithfulness: A Primer on Rest. We’re going to be talking about things from a Reformed confessional perspective when it comes to the sufficiency of Christ and clarity on the gospel and all that good stuff. There’s a free ebook available, or you could always go on Amazon and buy the hard copy if you’re a guy like me who likes to have a book in your hands.
The second thing is that a big piece of Semper Reformanda is the app that’s been created that connects all of the SR members together. And that’s a forum in which this conversation, and conversations like it, can continue to be had in a safe place and in a place where we can talk about these things with charity and grace. We would encourage you to consider signing up and being a part of Semper Reformanda so that you can join the community of people who are thinking and wrestling with the same things that you are, and also to help us spread this message of the sufficiency of Christ as wide as we can, as far as we can.
Over in the SR podcast, which is where Jon and I are headed, we’re going to talk about a few things. I think we’re going to keep talking some about the collapsing of the first and third use of the law. Jon may make some more comments on that.
And then I want to talk about Puritans a little bit, because I think in the book that MacArthur wrote the gospel, according to Jesus, he cites a number of Puritan writers. And he seems to do that generally in a way that I think is a little bit indiscriminate. I don’t want to impugn him in this way, but not all Puritans are the same. I think that some of the lordship salvation stuff that I read seems like a reworking of some of the less good Puritan theology from the 17th, 18th century and the like. We’re going to talk a little bit more about that over in SR. So if you want to be a part of that conversation, sign up and become a member. And part of that means that you’ll listen in on this extra podcast we do every week.
We hope this conversation has been enjoyable and easy to track with. Hopefully this has brought some clarity for you as you think about lordship salvation and some of the things that you hear and see maybe in the Twittersphere and wherever else you may see comments about these matters.
Jon Moffitt: One last parting shot. Wherever you talk about this, you need to do it in obedience to Paul with meekness and patience, seeking to maintain the bond of peace.
Justin Perdue: And I would argue that Twitter is not the place to have significant debates. We’ll leave that with the listener.
Jon Moffitt: Come join us in the SR.
Justin Perdue: We’ll speak with you again next week.