The Bridegroom is coming back! Are you prepared for it?
Many Christians no longer see the importance of theology. But it is most important to me. Theology informs practice, and in my years of ministry, I have met too many Christians who don’t know what the gospel is. 95% of Christians (my estimate) do not know that the gospel is about the kingdom of God. Though salvation through Christ is a central theme, it is not the END of the gospel. Salvation is THE MEANS to KINGDOM as the END.
A reduced gospel has led to a church who has lost her mission of Kingdom. Churches largely work today AS IF Church is the END. Again, it is not. Church is the MEANS to KINGDOM as the END. Kingdom is the context of our gospel. If we lose the context, we don’t know what our salvation is for. We don’t understand what church is for.
If Church does not know her mission, how can we be prepared for Christ’s return?
To the end of preparing the Bride of Christ, I have been equipping churches with the Biblical Worldview. Last year, I began to feel a tug that I needed to start writing again. There are many who seeks clarity – truth must be made available to them without restriction. Since Voice of Wilderness‘s mission is to proclaim and reveal God’s heart with clarity, I decide we need a “blog” so I can start writing. I hope truth will benefit you as much as it has flourished me and my family – because that’s the inevitable result of knowing and living out truth.
And perhaps the most important point to clarify, is the place where it all supposedly begins – how are we saved?
The Salvation Debate: Lordship Salvation vs Easy-Believism
In 1988, John MacArthur published his position on salvation in The Gospel According to Jesus. It teaches that submitting to Christ as Lord goes hand-in-hand with trusting in Christ as Savior. Laying out the case for lordship salvation, MacArthur summarises his teaching this way:
“The gospel call to faith presupposes that sinners must repent of their sin and yield to Christ’s authority.”
In other words, a sinner who refuses to repent is not saved, for he cannot cling to his sin and the Savior at the same time. And a sinner who rejects Christ’s authority in his life does not have saving faith, for true faith encompasses a surrender to God.
Thus, the gospel requires more than making an intellectual decision or mouthing a prayer; the gospel is a call to discipleship.
Lordship salvation is the opposite of what is sometimes called easy-believism – the view that one needs only to “believe” in Jesus in order to be saved. Another common usage of easy believism is in reference to those who believe they’re saved because they prayed a prayer – with no real conviction of sin and no real faith in Christ. Praying a prayer is easy, thus the term easy believes. From this, they conclude that no corresponding need exists for those who hold on to sola fide (“faith alone”).
(Do not be confused. Being saved by faith alone does not nullify the importance of works. “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” – Jam 2:17. Essentially, while we are NOT saved by works, works IS the evidence of true faith. “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. – James 2:24”)
The Scriptural Case for Lordship Salvation
While I had not read John MacArthur’s book, I agree with the position of “Lordship” salvation. I arrived at my position independently – I shall take the rest of this post and the next to explain how. Though it won’t be as thorough as what I do in my worldview equipping talks, it should be sufficient for those who need a scriptural context for this position.
First of all, Lordship salvation isn’t new. Other than John MacArthur, many other notable teachers like David Pawson, David Platt (see video below), Charles Spurgeon believed and implied it through what they preach, write.
David Platt questioning Christian’s dependence on the “sinner’s prayer” as the sign or assurance that we are saved
However, truth must be founded in Scriptures and not men. Yet even scriptures cannot work its effect in you if you don’t approach it with the right heart. By that, I mean we must subject our paradigm to truth. If God makes a point unambiguously, He does not need to repeat Himself in order to be believed; it is as binding as if He had said it a thousand times. If you don’t think you can approach truth with this attitude, it is pointless to continue. You need to address your attitude towards truth first. If you think you are humble enough to be taught by Scriptures, read on.
What does Christ say about discipleship
In Luke 14:26, Jesus exclaimed:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26
Many of us struggle with this verse because of the word “hate”. But is Christ really asking us to hate our parents and spouse literally? Of course not! The same God has called us to love our spouse, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her – Eph 5:25; and to honour our parents, “Honor your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – Eph 6:2. God’s word does not self-contradict. Even if we think it has, it is because we are lacking in understanding of His Word. So what Christ is really saying here is that we have to place God as our priority, as our first love, such that every other loves are secondary. We cannot (see emphasis in verse 26) be a disciple if we don’t do that.
As if this isn’t clear enough, Jesus went on to give two examples. The first was about a man contemplating if he should build a tower:
“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” – Luke 14:28-30
The second was about a king going to war with another:
“Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.” – Luke 14:31-32
Both examples stress on the need to deliberate on the cost of following something. If Christ costs you everything, would He still be worth you following?
Jesus reiterates this conclusion once more in the next verse:
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:33 (emphasis mine)
Can I say that up till this point, Jesus is unambiguously clear on the cost of discipleship. TO SURRENDER EVERYTHING SO AS TO FOLLOW CHRIST – or LORDSHIP – is the first step to becoming a disciple of Christ. Either we make this decision, or we CANNOT be His disciple (v26; 33).
The way Christ ended Luke 14 is sobering. Right after He talked about cost of following Him, He immediately brought up the example of salt which lost its saltiness.
“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” – Luke 14:34
Reading this in context, we have to conclude that Christ is implying that “Christians” who do not surrender all of themselves to Him are like salt without saltiness. And of what use is salt without saltiness? Jesus explains,
“It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” – Luke 14:35
A Christian who is not surrendered to Christ in everything is of no use for the King at all. We see this in Judas, whom despite following the Lord faithfully for most parts of His journey, fell in the end because he did not surrender his love for mammon to God. Whatever we cannot surrender to Him is an idol of our life. God required Abraham’s to sacrifice his most beloved promised son, Isaac. Christ Himself modelled a fully surrendered life when He prayed, “yet not my will but Yours be done” – Luke 22:42. Biblical characters from Moses to Esther, from the prophets to the apostles, from the judges to the kings, demonstrated obedience and Lordship.
Simply put: if Christ is not the Lord of all, He is not the the Lord at all.
Just “believe” and we will be saved?
However, in Christian culture today, there is a belief that not all Christians are required to be a disciple. Nominal Christianity is the norm. Many believe that they are saved as long as they have said the sinner’s prayer; and are attending Sunday services religiously. Easy-believism has roots in verses that seem to imply – one needs only to mentally “believe” to be saved e.g. John 3:16 – “whosoever believes shall not perish but have eternal life”. Is such an interpretation correct?
In my study of scriptures, I realised that the original Greek for the word “believe” has a much deeper essence to it. This word, “pisteuo” is a verb, and it is derived from its noun – “pistis“. “Pistis” in Greek means “be persuaded; come to trust”. “Pistis” is translated “faith” in English. When you understand the root word where “pisteuo” comes from, you will see that “pisteuo” presupposes an element of persuasion – such that the persuaded (or the one who now “believes”) holds on to this belief with entrustment; confidence; faith.
Hence, “pisteuo” is not merely an intellectual shift of opinion, but consists of elements that convey to us that believing in Christ must be followed by a compulsion to act according to that which is believed.
The English word, “believe,” on the other hand, is not associated with elements of “persuasion” or “entrustment.” Take for example, one can “believe” mentally that exercise is good for health, but does not have any compulsion to act on it. The English translation of “pisteuo” into “believe” shortchanges its essence.
This has caused us to misinterpret John 3:16 and many other verses containing the word “believe”. E.g. Rom 10:9.
Also, John 3:16 does not exist in isolation. In John 3:20-21, it says:
“For everyone who does wicked things hates the light.. But whoever does what is true comes to the light – John 3:20-21.” (emphasis mine)
Clearly, the gospel of John did not support easy-believism. An intellectual shift of opinion wasn’t enough to be saved. The practical outworking of biblical living – to do what is true (John 3:20-21) – is expected of believers.
Moreover, twenty verses from John 3:16, verse 36 (ESV) becomes even more pointed:
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (ESV)” – John 3:36
Can you see how those who “believes in the Son” is contrasted with those who “does not obey”? The essence of “pisteuo” clearly stands out. Believing in Christ means we decide to obey Him. Christ isn’t just Saviour. He’s King.
Does Lordship mean I will never sin again?
The distinction of Lordship salvation is this: Upon believing, our attitudes change from being sin-led, to being King-led.
This does not mean we will never sin again. But now, led by our King, with surety, we move away from sin. Also, provision is made for sin in our weaknesses, as according to Romans 8:1
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” – Romans 8:1
The context of Romans 8:1 is found in Romans 7, where apostle Paul lamented about his sinful flesh, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (verse 19). Paul does not want to be sin-led. He wants to do good. He wants holiness and righteousness. He wants to be King-led! But he recognises he has a corruptible body which falls again and again to sin. It is in this context of Paul’s inability to overcome his sinful nature that he cried, “Wretched man I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (verse 24) Then he declared in the same breath, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”(verse 25)
What an encouragement! God who calls us into an uncompromising life of Lordship, is in full knowledge of our weaknesses, struggles and inabilities. He has already made provision for our sin, so we can be in victory against condemnation! Such grace is for those who repent of our sin-led attitudes, and decide to be King-led. Salvation is always an issue of our heart’s posture, not ability to perform.
Today, when I lead anyone in prayer to confess Christ as Lord, I make sure I explain to them what Lordship means – how from sin-led, they will now choose to be King-led. This heart posture / attitude is everything to what being a Christian is about. (see additional resource: Kehilanews’ article: The Concept of Sin from a Hebrew Perspective). If our heart posture is right, Christ’s provision of grace (Rom 8:1) will be on us as it was on Paul. God’s grace is more than able to help disciples through their enslavement to sin, towards an increasingly free (John 8:32), King-led life. This is the true power of salvation that is missing from a nominal church.