Lordship salvation - What is it?

The first known use of the term "Lordship Salvation" occurred in a 1959 debate in Eternity magazine. The magazine debate between Everett F. Harrison and John Stott focused on whether a person could accept Jesus as Lord but not as Savior. The view that a person must accept Jesus as both Lord and Savior at the point of salvation became known as the Lordship Salvation view.

In the late 1980s, the debate reached its highest point when pastor and author Dr. John MacArthur published The Gospel According to Jesus in which he advocated Lordship Salvation. In response, Dr. Charles Ryrie published So Great Salvation and Dr. Zane Hodges released Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation to emphasize what they called the Free-Grace Gospel. Many of those who continue to debate this topic refer to these works in their research.

The primary issue under consideration is whether a person who claims to be a Christian yet does not show evidence of good works is truly a Christian. Lordship Salvation advocates argue that the Bible teaches faith in Christ will cause a person to live differently. For example, 2 Corinthians 5:17 teaches, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." Other passages suggest a similar view of the changed life of the believer (Galatians 5:22-23; James 2:14-26).

While this is certainly true, the degree and speed of spiritual growth varies from person to person. Further, when a person's "change" is evaluated by other people, there is much room for error or misunderstanding as people can only observe external changes (Matthew 7:1-5); God changes the heart.

Of greatest importance is how the Bible defines salvation. It is clear salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9; John 3:16). The subtle danger of Lordship Salvation is to claim a person must show signs of changes to prove his or her salvation. A person will certainly change after salvation and do good works (Ephesians 2:10), yet these works are evidence of the salvation that has already taken place, not in any way a part of salvation.

One concern with whether it should be said Lordship Salvation is biblical is in how it is defined. The Bible does teach that a person who has been saved will not continue to desire to live in sin (Romans 6:2). However, many who come to faith in Christ know little or nothing about spiritual growth and maturity, and as a result struggle in many ways. This does not deny the person's salvation but shows the need for spiritual development.

Salvation takes place when God's grace leads a person to the point of acknowledging his or her sinfulness and need for Christ and accepts Jesus as the risen Christ by faith. Nothing more is required to begin. We are called to show our faith by our actions (James 4:7), realizing everyone struggles and daily stands in need of God's grace to live according to His ways.

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