Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

by Rayola Kelley

Q: I heard an interesting term the other day. I was wondering if you could explain it to me. What is Lordship Salvation? 

A: To some people, Lordship salvation is a different gospel. According to those who oppose the concept of Lordship salvation, they claim that by stipulating that Jesus must be Lord to ensure salvation advocates salvation by works.

   I have been accused of preaching this gospel. As a result, I was slandered and persecuted. Personally, I was surprised when this vicious attack happened. My position was simple. I believe for a person to be born again, they have to receive Jesus in a complete package. In other words, Jesus must not only be received as the Savior who delivers one from the consequences of sin, but as God who must be worshipped in spirit and truth, and as Lord who must be obeyed and served according to His Word (Matthew 7:21-23; John 14:15).

   Is such a belief contrary to Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”? In my need to understand the debate for my own sake as well as those I influence, I had to study in such a way that there would be proper contrasts and comparisons. For example, I considered grace in light of righteousness, faith that manifests itself in obedience, repentance that produces change, and obedience that will result in good works. After I studied in this manner, I concluded that the conflict is simple, it comes down to how people perceive what constitutes salvation. In some cases, people see salvation as a concept or a doctrine. You simply accept Jesus. Upon accepting Jesus you are now saved, and there is nothing more to it. However, there are those who believe that salvation represents an active life or walk, and is an ongoing work that will be openly expressed through the evidence of godly virtues. Needless to say, Scriptures are used by both camps to back such conclusions, but are they in context and do they maintain the integrity of the whole counsel of God? This must be considered when evaluating this subject. After all, anyone can adjust Scripture and take verses out of context to promote their own causes or agendas.

   There is no argument from both camps that salvation is a free gift. This means that saving us is an act of grace on God’s part. To avoid debate, we need to clearly establish what constitutes salvation. Salvation points to deliverance and protection. The need for deliverance and protection does not stop when one receives Jesus, but is an ongoing work on the part of God. The Word verifies this. For example, we have been saved from the dictates and consequences of sin, we are being saved from the influence of the flesh and the world, and we will be saved from the wrath of God that will come upon all disobedience (Matthew 1:21; 1 Corinthians 15:2; Romans 5:9-10). Salvation is a total work of God; therefore, it serves as a gift. However, gifts often carry responsibilities with them in order to benefit or maintain them. Does salvation carry such responsibilities? If so, are such responsibilities works? Let us consider what the gift of salvation is.

  Man is naturally on a wrong path going the wrong way. Before he can be saved, he must repent or change his mind and direction to face God to receive His gift of life. True repentance continues throughout a Christian’s life whenever he or she takes a detour off of the course God has prepared for him or her. Does such change in direction, attitude or conduct incurred by true repentance constitute works? Not hardly! It is a necessary or natural response of a person who realizes his or her need to face God, be receptive to His conviction and work, and get his or her life back on track.

   This brings me to another important point. There is no place in Scripture where it states that accepting Jesus saves you. The truth is you must receive Jesus. It would do well for people to study these two terms. It is upon receiving the Lord Jesus Christ that a person is born again. Born again means that a new disposition has been given to a person. This new disposition is the disposition of Jesus. Such a disposition has a heart towards God and will be motivated by the right spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27). However, this disposition must be worked in and through our lives by the Holy Spirit, and worked out of our lives by obedience to the Word of God. This brings us to the crux of the debate. Does working out our salvation constitute works, or will it be a natural response of a new disposition?

   As you study Scripture, you realize that we as Christians do have responsibilities in ensuring that this new life is established. As believers, we must come to humility and submission to the ways of God, and separation from anything that is unholy. No doubt these responsibilities are necessary to ensure this life is brought forth through us. For example, Jesus commanded His disciples to deny self, pick up the cross and follow Him. But, do such responsibilities constitute works? The answer is an obvious no. The Christian life is a life that must be disciplined in us. As we walk after the Spirit in obedience to the Word, He will lead us to a greater knowledge of Jesus as to His character, example and work (John 16:13; Romans 8:1, 14). As we grow in the knowledge of Jesus, His life will be naturally expressed in us by godly virtues. His grace will reign through righteousness (Romans 5:20). This means that the realization of grace will be progressive as one lives an upright life before God. Faith will be enlarged to embrace more of God. Genuine faith is not just an intellectual agreement about a matter. Faith believes something is true, and acts accordingly in obedience. Since faith acts on what it believes, it is active. James 2:14-26 verifies that faith is active. In fact, faith without works is dead. That is why active faith is accounted as righteousness; therefore, we are saved by grace through our active faith. Obviously, grace can only operate through a faith that responds to what it knows to be true (Romans 4:3). 

    What people often consider to be works are nothing more than scriptural responsibilities or the natural expression of salvation. The Word is clear that we will know people by their fruits(Matthew 7:20). Fruits can say a variety of things about people. For example, a person may be a new convert, immature, or struggling over some sin he or she has not overcome. Fruits may reveal that a person is lost. Whatever it reveals, it is up to each of us to examine the fruits of others as well as ourselves. 

   Obviously, the debate is over terminology and interpretation of Scriptures. As one struggles over terminology to bring some clarity to the issue of salvation, he or she concludes those who advocate Scriptural responsibilities and godly virtues as a natural expression of true salvation, are advocating earning one’s salvation through works. However, those who believe evidence will follow salvation will oppose any concept of salvation by works, and will maintain that believers are saved unto good works (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:14). Regardless of the debate, Scripture is clear that salvation is accompanied by a distinct life and works (Titus 2:11-12; Hebrews 6:9; 12:14).

   There is no doubt that this debate will continue. Sincere ministers who faithfully challenge people to accept the provocation of the holy Christian life and their high calling in Christ, will continue to be marked and accused of preaching another gospel. The issue will be only silenced at the end of the age. However, I often wonder how much of the debate is not due to the defense of the true Gospel or standing for truth, but rather a matter of personal interpretation and theology.

   In order to answer this question, I think we will have to come out from among our theology and simply consider what the Bible says. The Bible is clear that the Lordship of Jesus in regard to salvation is vital. In fact, the Lordship of Jesus encompasses the Christian life. For example salvation begins with a person personally confessing that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9-10).  According to Strong’s Concordance, this confession is a matter of reasoning or making an mental assent to come into a right frame of reference in regard to who Jesus must be in a person’s life. As the Apostle Paul pointed out in Romans 10:9-10, with the mouth confession of who Jesus is, is made unto salvation.

   Jesus commands His disciples to follow Him. When we consider following Jesus, we think of Him in terms of a Shepherd who is leading us into the places of God’s will and purpose for our lives. However, we must not forget who our Shepherd is. Psalm 23:1 reminds us of our Shepherd’s identity: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

   As believers, we must remember that Jesus will recognize us on the basis of Lord and not Savior. This is clearly brought out in Matthew 7:21-23. Obviously, it is not enough to call Jesus Lord. He must be Lord to ensure that when all is said and done in this present life, He will recognize us when it comes to eternity.

   This truth is brought out even more in Philippians 2:10-11: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God, the Father.”According to Strong’s Concordance, “confess” in this Scripture means to come into full agreement about Jesus Christ. It is clear that all unbelievers will confess what we as believers already know is true in our hearts, have personally experienced in our lives, and will stand in assurance of when we meet our Lord and Savior in His unhindered glory.