Does One Have to Forsake all Known Sins Before they Are Saved?

I was watching a Gospel presentation on the web the other day. You know, one of those dynamic slide presentations that have a nice piano playing in the background, warm colors, and leaves you wishy-washy at the end. Well, this site walked people through the Gospel telling what Christ did and how it is we can have eternal life. At the end of the presentation people were called upon to say this prayer:

“Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner and don’t deserve eternal life. But I believe you died and rose from the grave to purchase a place for me in heaven. Lord Jesus, come into my life; take control; forgive my sins and save me. I repent of my sins and now trust in you to save me. I accept the free gift of eternal life.”

So far so good, right? Well, yes . . . but . . . I am not going to pick the prayer apart with a theological fine tooth comb, but I do want to show you what the next slide in the presentation said.

Here it is:

  • If you have truly repented (turned away; forsaken) from your sins
  • Placed your trust in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death
  • And received the gift of eternal life
  • You are now a child of God forever

I don’t know about you, but that first bullet point has me concerned. Now I am not sure I am a child of God. Has anyone forsaken their sins? I have and continue to try, but no luck yet.

Yes, this is the infamous (and often nauseating) Lordship salvation debate. How much does one have to do, believe, and change to be saved? No, I am not a proponent of Lordship salvation. Neither am I a proponent of its opposite extreme labeled “easy-believism” or “cheap grace.” I hold to a more mediating position called “Free Grace.”

Let me give you some brief definitions:

Lordship Salvation: The belief that salvation involves both a belief and repentance of one’s sins. Repentance is the “turning away” from all known sin, giving complete (not partial) “Lordship” of our lives to Christ. Without this full commitment, one is only a nominal Christian and has yet to experience true conversion.

Free Grace: The belief that salvation involves a complete trust in Christ for salvation. Repentance is the changing of one’s mind about who Christ is and their attitude toward sin (i.e. that I am a sinner and sin is bad). This change of the mind will necessary bring forth the fruit of a changed life, but one cannot determine what aspects must change or when the Holy Spirit will bring certain changes about. Christ is ultimately our “Lord” in the sense that he is our God, not in the sense that we have abandoned all known sins. The abandoning of all sins requires a life long process called sanctification.

Cheap Grace: The belief that salvation involves a complete trust in Christ for salvation. Repentance is the changing of one’s mind about who Christ is. This change may or may not bring change in the life of the believer. Christ is “Lord” in the sense that he is their God, not in the sense that they have abandoned all known sins. The abandoning of all sins requires a life long process called sanctification.

Back to the prayer . . .

Bullet point one: “If you have truly repented (turned away; forsaken) from your sin [you are a child of God]”

Biblical Rejection of Lordship Salvation

This is where I part ways with the Lordship salvation camp. I do this both practically and biblically. Biblically I depart because I cannot square it with the realization that there are so many of God’s people who don’t live godly and have not forsaken all sin. One important passage comes from 1 Peter 3:15 where Christians are admonished to make Christ the Lord of the hearts.

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy” (ESV).

Here are some other translations:

“But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (NAB).

“But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts” (NET).

“Simply proclaim the Lord Christ holy in your hearts” (NJB).

The word being used here for “set apart” is hagiazo, which means to “make holy, set apart, or sanctify.” It is used in the aorist imperative which may imply a decisive action, but could just as well be gnomic (timeless). Either way, this imperative is for Christians. The result of this “setting apart” is that we will be ready to tell people why we still have hope in suffering. The command comes to more light when we see that in the Greek syntax kurion (“Lord”) and christon (Christ) is in the emphatic position. An acceptable rendering of this verse might be: “Set apart Christ as Lord of your hearts” or, a more stilted version, “Christ as Lord set apart in your hearts.” The point is that it is Christ, not anything else, that we are to make Lord. The implication is that it is possible for us, as Christians, to have other things as Lord of our hearts.

There is also one more interesting point to be made about this verse before we move on. There is a textual variant which replaces christon (Christ) with theon (God). The King James (wrongly in my opinion) follows the Byzantine text here: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” However, the earliest and best manuscripts have christon which is why all modern translations have it as such. The reason why the variant was introduced is speculative, but may have to do with the seriousness of what is being commanded here. To set apart Christ as Lord is to set him apart as master, sovereign, and God. It could be that one of these scribes had issues with such a lofty designation for Christ. As well, Peter is alluding to Isaiah 8:13, where in the LXX Yahweh is Lord. The point is that this command is serious. We are to set Christ apart as Lord, master, and God. There is to be no other gods in our life. I believe that this is a theological reflection on the first commandment (Ex. 20:2). Christ/God alone is to be set apart. We are to put nothing before him. And this is a command for Christians who, according to the Lordship camp, have already done this or they are not truly Christian.

Not only do we find these type of assumptions from Peter, but from Paul as well. Paul calls on Christians to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). This command is moot if the Lordship camp is right and this has already been done as a criteria for salvation. Paul also tells Christians “not to not carry out the deeds of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16) and to “set aside worldly desires” (Titus 2:12). If the Lordship camp is correct then I don’t know how to understand the admonishment here. Either I say that these people were not really Christians in the mind of the Paul or that unbelievers at the point of their salvation are the most sanctified that they will ever be.

As well, it is hard to see the Lordship position in light of the Apostle Peter’s own life and failures. Among the many examples I find his visitation to Cornelius’ house in Acts 10 compelling. We all know that prejudice is a sin in the Bible. Yet we find the Apostle Peter living for ten years with this unrepented sin in his heart. From the time of Pentecost to the time of the events in Acts 10 there transpired about ten years. If you remember, Peter was called by God to go to the Gentile Cornelius’ house to proclaim the Gospel. Peter, reminiscent of Jonah, admits his reluctance to go do to his own sin of pride and prejudice against Gentiles:

“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (Act 10:28).

It is amazing that the Lord took so long to deal with this sin of Peter. It was not “unlawful” for a Jew to associate with a Gentile. In fact, the law said just the opposite. They were to be a “kingdom of priests” to the other nations! (Ex. 19:6). This is a fact that Peter most assuredly dwelt on after this event (1 Pet. 2:9). However, this was one of those terrible sins that took Peter ten years after being indwelt by the Holy Spirit to change. This hardly fits into a Lordship view of salvation.

Time would fail if I were to turn to other Petrine examples, Romans 7, or the curious case of the Corinthian carnality.


Finally, I turn to the practical. First, without getting into too much detail (which I do in other posts), there are many sins in my life that I have yet to surrender over to the Lord. Most of these come in the form of attitudes and dispositions, but some are more tangible and habitual. Some are sins of “commission” some are sins of “omission.” In short, I don’t feel as if I have completed my journey of making Christ the Lord of my life by any means. The desire is present, but the will is so often lacking. When I came to Christ, I did not come with any guarantees of giving up this or giving up that, I came to him with all I had to offer: nothing. I simply said with a great deal of sincerity, “Have mercy on me the sinner.” I made not promises, deals, and offered no guarantees. Today, I still have no offers or guarantees, only the hope of mercy.

Second, I have never met anyone who is completely surrendered to Christ as Lord in the sense that they have given up all known sin. I have met a lot of beggars for mercy, but none who have made it. Again, this brings up the curious situation that if we require an unbeliever to give up all known sin before they are Christian, then we are setting the bar higher than that of life-long Christians.

I have gone on long enough. I know that there are different nuances that people bring to this issue. I know that there are extremes and strawmen. But this fact does not change what I am ultimately getting at: The Gospel is free. We don’t require people to give up all known sin, we require them to call on God for mercy. We are saved by the grace (unmerited favor) of God and the imputed righteousness of Christ. As frustrated as I may become by nominal Christianity, I dare not taint the Gospel do to these frustrations. I will leave the work of sanctification to the Holy Spirit and realize that this is a life long process.

140 Responses to “Does One Have to Forsake all Known Sins Before they Are Saved?”

  1. Michael,

    I do think it is interesting how our views of this are interwoven into how we view everything else. Our views of Church Discipline, Homosexuality, etc. all flow from this. I’m not sure how in a free grace system one does Church discipline if in fact no one can identify what needs to change or when it will change.

    I also would take issue with the use of 1 Pet. Peter seems to be saying that Christians under secular or violent authorities ought to set Christ apart as Lord in their hearts (i.e., minds) in contrast to loudly proclaiming Him and shoving down their authority figures’ throats. Instead, they need to keep Him as Lord in their hearts and then, if someone inquires of them about Christ because of their good conduct, to give a gentle and respectful (lit. fearful) answer. So the contrast is not between Christ and other lords of their hearts. The contrast is between loudly proclaiming His lordship and quietly waiting to proclaim it to violent authorities.

  2. Very true. When we focus on repenting over and above Jesus’ sacrifice and what he accomplished on the cross, we begin to drift into works righteousness.

  3. Secondly,

    I think you’re misunderstanding the lordship position. It does not teach that “forsaking” sin means you immediately and never again struggle with sin. That would be absurd. It teaches instead that our allegiance before Christ is to sin and therefore, in coming to Christ, that allegiance needs to be turned over to Him. It is first and foremost an attitude, but one that will inevitably lead to actions, especially when one is rebuked/corrected for sin. So there is no contradiction with Paul’s commands, since (1) they point out sin that may not be known to the Gentiles, and (2) they encourage people to always be turning away from sin as a practice rather than to it by confirming the struggle as the normal Christian life.

    We disagree about Peter, as we’ve discussed before. I don’t think your view of that issue takes into account how sin and the law work. Where there is no law, there is no sin. He’s doing what his community taught him to do in order to honor God. He’s not participating in something he knows to be sin. This is clear from the progression we see in Acts, where the apostles slowly learn that salvation is not closed to the Gentiles.

    Finally, I would want to point out that Christ seems to contrast the practice of lawlessness with knowing Him in Matt 7:22-27; and this is consistent with what we see throughout the OT and the NT in terms of those who practice sin being excluded from the community and under the judgment of God.

    I held your view for many years before I realized that the bulk of passages I was running into seemed to completely negate the idea; but I would suggest that there is a middle between your middle and lordship that is more accurately named lordship.

  4. Hodge, I do understand the misunderstandings that come into this issue. They are many. I also understand that there are middle grounds about the various issues (what does “Lord” “repentance” and “turning from” all mean).

    However, speaking strictly to the implications of this statement spoken of above: “If you have truly repented (turned away; forsaken) from your sins” I believe that the Gospel gets lost. As I have said, I have yet to turn away from or forsake my sins. I am working on that. Without many qualifications, the average person is simply going to think that this means we give up or “stop” all our sins.

    Putting such a burden on someone who is not even saved is, in my opinion, a great distortion of the Gospel.

    If a Lordship person says, “But I don’t mean ‘stop'” that is fine and good, but the language of “forsaking” would imply “stopping” in any other context.

    The Gospel is simple. You come to a realization of your sinfulness by means of the Holy Spirit and you call on God for mercy. He will then begin to progressively change you, your beliefs, and your actions. But I am not the judge of God as to the timing or the prioritization of God’s sanctification. He may allow you to live in “unstopped” and unrealized sin for ten years as he did with Peter.

    As far as hearing God word and changing being a characteristic of a Christian, I would have to qualify that a great deal. There are things in my Christian life that I have heard over and over again that did not convict me. I may have heard something 30 times before the Holy Spirit taps me on the shoulder and says, hey that is you. I am sure that Peter read the “Kingdom of priests” purpose of Israel dozens of times before he finally came to the realization, “Hey, that is me!”

    God’s timing for such things is his timing.

    MacArthur says that there must be a “commitment to change” with your repentance. I simply say that there is a begging for mercy from one who does not have the power to change.

  5. But I think that there’s little difference between MacArthur’s “commitment to change” and your “begging for mercy” when the rest of biblical theology is brought into the mix. The question is what we’re begging for. Our pre-Christ situation is that we do not have God as lord over our lives. When we are begging God for mercy through Christ, we are saying, “We wish to be restored to that relationship again where You are lord of our lives.” Forgiveness is a restoration of relationship, and when we seek it, we are seeking to have a right relationship with God restored. I just can’t fathom how the free grace system works out with numerous passages.
    Let’s take the timing issue and apply it to passages like 1 Cor 6:9-11 or 1 John 3:9. It seems here that the need to turn, and I would say the need to have an attitude that will lead to turning, isn’t gradual. The struggle is gradual. The decision to turn and commitment to Christ as Lord so as to lead to struggling is not. How exactly does one do Church discipline if the individual can just say, “But the gospel doesn’t require me to stop doing X, and hence, you shouldn’t either. You’re not God, and God will change me in due time. For now, I’m going to continue on my present course”?
    I’m more concerned with what we have today in terms of a false gospel that tells people to continue as they are but just accept Christ as Lord. That to me is lip service with no substance. You do what your lord says. If you do not at least seek to do what He says, then He is not your Lord (I would think that obvious). Hence, Christ seems to be amazed that people call Him Lord but don’t actually feel the need to obey Him (Luke 6:44-49).

    I do have this question as well though: Does your view require a true believer to turn away from known sin sometime within his or her lifetime? I only ask this because it seems that those who practice sin will not inherit the kingdom of God, and what a person sows is what they actually reap…

  6. (Gal 6:7-9).

    Eternal life is free to those who are in a relationship with God, not to anyone outside that relationship. I think that is an important distinction. We are not talking about what it costs us for justification, but what is the means through which the free gift is given and what does that free gift always produce in our lives. I would say it produces good we would not have done before, a turning away from evil we would not have done before, and the struggle that is both.

  7. “Does your view require a true believer to turn away from known sin sometime within his or her lifetime?”

    My view does not require anything of the believer but trust. The change is brought about by the power of God and is simply evidence of God’s work. How much? I don’t know. Never perfect. Never complete. Progressive.

    Do I believe that a person can live with sin their entire lives without change. Yes, otherwise there is no such thing as a believer. I have yet to meet a believer, even on their deathbed, that could honestly say that they have given up all known sins.

  8. In the end, I would be content if the Lordship people would say that repenting does not mean a definite “stopping.” It is a change of attitude that will eventually work itself out in our actions as the power of the Spirit reaps in us in his timing and his way.

    Okay, this will probably be the last of my ability to engage here. I just thought it was important for me to say these things as I do believe that this post and this issue are very important.

  9. I think many times people get the cause and effect of Salvation mixed up. Salvation is not “caused by” the successful forsaking of all of your sins. Salvation is “caused by” grace. But the forsaking of your sins is an admirable “effect,” no?

  10. Looking at the last few comments, I believe God gives a lot of credit for “intent.” Successful or not, God admires the intent and the attempts to make him Lord.

    From a practical standpoint, you either mean well or you don’t (I’m talking post-salvation here). if you don’t even try to make Christ lord, that’s a bad thing. if you mean well, that’s a good thing.

    Let’s say your child has trouble in school. If they try for the “A” and get a “C” or “D”, don’t you give them credit for their intent to please you, even though they fall short? But if they don’t even try … even if they get the same “C” or “D,” now we’re talking a whole other problem – an attitude problem.

    Where forsaking your sins is concerned, we should strive to do “A” work, even though we fall grossly short.

  11. Michael, repenting is exactly what the bible defines it as. You appear to be making the argument against Lordship by the modern Christians use of the term, instead of building your beliefs upon the Biblical teaching. μετανοέω occurs 35 times in the NT, and means “to change one’s mind” or “feel remorse, repent, be converted” (BDAG). Now how can one NOT change their mind on all known sins and trust in Jesus? Which one’s are acceptable to keep one’s mind unchanged on?

    You seem to blur the meaning of repentance by using the word forsaken. Only certain Wesleyans would say a Christian could be 100% sin free. That is not what Lordship proponents claim.

    Also, you may be misunderstanding when repentance occurs. You say “My view does not require anything of the believer but trust”, yet trust involves repentance. One must turn away from their sinful life and trust (follow) Christ. These happen at the same time and therefore repentance is not a requirement, a work, for salvation. It is the other side of the same ‘coin of faith’, as in Mark 1:5 “repent and believe in the gospel”.

    Notice how close repentance is tied to faith, often times this connection is so assumed that all the Apostles mention is repentance. Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    In Acts 26, Paul said he “kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”

  12. This I know: I am a wretched sinner. I have no hope of redemption apart from the atoning work of Christ. I want to be holy, but I find myself doing things I do not want to do. I have no one to turn to for mercy but Christ. He knows my weakness, my frailty. He loves me anyway. I do not know why. He covers my sin and cloths me with His righteousness. I really wonder how he could love me, but I know, in the deep places, that He does. The reality is grounded in history, in time and space. Lordship, yes. Free, yes. My salvation is not based on my ability to repent…I want to, but cannot on my own. My only hope is me being covered by Christ and His goodness, His obedience. I want to be like Him. He sculpts me slowly and sometimes painfully.

  13. Nick Charalambous January 11, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    A breath of fresh air

  14. I do want to say that I agree with you, Michael, that people need to explain what repentance means when they use the word; but I would never want to exclude it from the gospel. We are already reaping the “benefits” of the generation that heard that half-gospel and tied it to their religious relativism, so that now every man does what is right in his own eyes . . . and still claims that Christ is his Lord.

  15. Truth Unites... and Divides January 11, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    I like this post. And I greatly enjoy the exchange between CMP and Hodge.

    With regards to the “Lordship Salvation” I think CMP basically affirms it except for the “Hyper Lordship Salvation” position which he seemingly describes as the definite and forever stopping of known sin by a believer.

    With regards to doctrine and practical issues, let me introduce the mild topics of homosexual behavior and tobacco smoking as it relates to this blog post.

    If I understand CMP correctly, what he’s saying is that if an actively gay person repents of his gay sin and submits and actively trusts Christ as his or her Lord and Savior, but on an infrequent basis (say once every 5 years with growing periods between each incident) “lapses” and does same-sex sin, then that person is a Christian, especially when they are remorseful of their “lapse” into sin.

    Or take tobacco smoking or the drinking of alcohol. If a smoker or alcoholic lapses after having quit (they get a smoke or a drink), and then they get back on the wagon so to speak after their regrettable lapse, then they are still abiding by Lordship Salvation.

  16. Michael,

    You must have misread. I never said repentance was not involved nor change of heart and of mind. That is what trust is. What I am saying is that stopping all known sin is not a requiement of salvation nor repentance.

    The change of heart and mind is one from self-reliance to reliance on God through Jesus. Then u will have the power to begin the process of sanctification.

  17. Does One Have to Forsake all Known Sins Before they Are Saved?

    Being-saved-from-sin is a process. We gradually forsake to a greater and greater extent more and more sins in the process of salvation-from-sin-and-death.

  18. If the gospel were dependent upon any of us ‘relapsing’ from certain sins, or not, we would ALL be doomed.

    I’m not saying I now approve of any kind of sin that the Lord says is wrong in His eyes, but I am saying most of us were accepted by Him BEFORE we actually dispense entirely with our sins. Isn’t that why we come to Him, to be cleansed? If we don’t think we need saving, why bother with a Savior?

    Some things are just harder and take longer to change from than others.

  19. Michael, I may have misunderstood your view of conversion. But the way you label Lordship salvation is clear when you say, “What I am saying is that stopping all known sin is not a requiement of salvation nor repentance.”

    Who claims this view? The Bible dos not. I’m not aware of any evangelical teacher defining it this way. (It’s possible some Arminians may.) MacArthur, who has lead much of the attack against easy believism has not defined it this way. Grudem defines repentance as, “a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ” (713). Notice the “commitment to forsake”.

    Also we must not confuse the difference between initial repentance and faith, and ongoing repentance and faith, as Grudem states, “it is important to realize that faith and repentance are not confined to the beginning of the Christian life.”

    Is there a respected speaker or systematic theology that teaches “stopping all known sin is a requirement of salvation”? It would be better to speak against those teachers who have wrongly defined salvation, than to build a straw man against Lordship Salvation. At it’s heart, Lordship salvation is the Biblical teaching that Jesus is “Lord and Savior” of those who believe, and there cannot be one aspect without the other.

  20. I agree with Dr. Michael here:

    “Also we must not confuse the difference between initial repentance and faith, and ongoing repentance and faith, as Grudem states, “it is important to realize that faith and repentance are not confined to the beginning of the Christian life.”

    Is there a respected speaker or systematic theology that teaches “stopping all known sin is a requirement of salvation”?

    If so, none of us would have an ongoing need for the Lord.

    If there are those here who think they have already been perfected this side of heaven let them say so, and repent of the sin of pride.

  21. The “Lordship Salvation” definition that was given is simply and utterly wrong. Hodge and Dr. Michael are correct. There has been so much confusion on this issue and this post doesn’t help. I would really like to know which pastors or what systematic theology teaches this view of “Lordship Salvation”. John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Boice, J.I. Packer, Wayne Grudem, etc, do not believe Lordship Salvation in this way. Chuck Swindoll himself agrees in Lordship Salvation (this according from my pastor who spoke personally with Mr. Swindoll about it) that is if it is accurately represented/defined. This is one of the problems I had with “The Theology Program” notebook on soteriology. Don’t get me wrong, I love the “The Theology Program” and it is a great resource and accurate on almost everything in it. I have them and use them a lot and I am very thankful of such a resource. Some of the best, if not the best, i have seen. Not bashing or anything. I love the hard work you put into the works you put out. But it left me more confused, when I read the soteriology notebook and saw it portrayed the “Lordship Salvation” position different from how I was reading Sproul, Piper, Packer, and Grudem (seeing as how Grudem’s Systematic Theology described Lordship Salvation and was one of the books that was requested to go with the “Theology Program”). I am sorry to continue to go on but this is something that must be corrected so people will know what it is they choose to be biblical and what they choose NOT to be biblical, according to Holy Scripture. Again, I am sorry to go on, but this was one of the issues that I was really confused and disturbed with for a long time.


    p.s. The best resource is that deals with both sides is:

    Michael Horton
    Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation

  22. When we realize the extent of the new birth, and the fact that God grants repentance and faith to dead sinners, one is reminded of the proverbial ripple effect made by the pebble into the pond. Being raised out of dead depravity is a miracle of grace, pure and simple. We are different in our deepest affections as they relate to the Lord Jesus. The amazing thing is that we are even able to have this conversation!

  23. I think one of the major issues involved here is that the resolutions of an unregenerate man are meaningless (John 15:5). And while I believe genuine faith results in a changed life (Titus 2:11-14) this change has to be something God produces in us (1 Corinthians 3:18). It cannot be a condition of salvation because no one prior to salvation can produce it.

  24. I’m with you, Michael. In addition to the Scriptures you used, I think of Lot. Peter calls him “that righteous man,” but the last time we see him in the OT he is passed out drunk in a cave, having just had sex with both of his daughters! Some righteousness! Had he forsaken all his sin? Yet he was saved and had the imputed righteousness of Christ. I believe those who understand the Love of God and the Good News that it spawned will want to leave sin behind, but given Lot, the Corinthians, and myself at times, I can’t trust my skill at “fruit inspection” to make a judgment on anybody’s salvation. Only Jesus is Lord!

  25. “It cannot be a condition of salvation because no one prior to salvation can produce it.”

    But so is faith, which cannot be produced by the unregenerate. That’s why God must grant it, as He grants repentance. It is clear, however, in terms of what we are commanded to do to have a relationship with God is to repent and believe, so it is logically prior (not chronologically prior). Mercy precedes, again logically (and perhaps chronologically) all of our commitments, as God gives it first and then decides to grant us the others; but this does not negate the fact that forgiveness/restoration comes through the means of a repentant faith.
    Note Christ’s condemnations of the cities of Judea as those that will descend to Hades, not because they did not believe, but because they did not repent (which means they didn’t believe either).

  26. For those of you who have disagreed with me on this issue, I only have one thing to say: Burnin he…

    Ahem ;)

    Seriously, I have no problem nuancing or changing my views here of Lordship salvation. However, it is very difficult for me to do so. I have read quit a bit on this and have spent some of the day today rereading it so that I could reorient myself to the issue.

    First, I have a very hard time with the language being used as so do those who disagree with me. I have supplied the phrase “stop sinning” as this is how I interpret the Lordship position. However, I am more than willing to admit that I have not found a place that says this in any of the writings. But this idea of “forsaking sin” or “making a commitment to change” sounds no different to me. And I don’t think there would be much debate if Lordship proponents were to say “I am not saying that one has to stop sinning before they are saved.” We would all breath a sigh of relief and the charge of “Romanism” that is often brought to the table would go away.

    However, what does it mean to say “No, they don’t have to stop sinning, but they do have to make a commitment to stop sinning.” Ouch. Not sure of the difference. Both sides realize that the sinning will not stop, right? So why require a commitment or a forsaking?

    As many of you know I am a Dallas Seminary grad. While this issue has calmed down quit a bit over the last decade, while I was there, I was right in the middle of it. I spent all night debating with Lordship proponents from Criswell College one night. It was not fun!

    I know people change and positions soften over time, but J-Mac has just reissued his stance on this without any sense of letting down. It is influential and confusing. And I think it is very important for the sake of clarity.

    I believe that the Gospel is free and has no disclaimer or fine print. I believe that we are continually scandalized by the radical nature of grace and, therefore, create our own fine print for the sake of protecting the church from sin and nominal Christianity. Grace is risky and can be turned into license, I know that. I have done that.

    Some of you have said that I misrepresented the Lordship position. I am willing to change. But I ask you to give me a quick definition of the Lordship position yourself so that I can see where you are coming from and we are not discussing this with different assumptions. Please, make it short and distinguish it from what you see to be the opposition. Then we can be productive here.

  27. BTW: I created a poll for this.

  28. CMP,

    Thanks for the post. I believe this is the biblical interpretation on the issue at hand. Throughout history, humans have always been able to twist and manipulate the most glorious things given to us by God, and I believe they will until His return. God’s Grace is a free offer, and if anyone wishes to believe that that will lead to easy conversions, in name only with no content, then I trust God to deal with that and we should preach against it. But we should not alter the doctrine in Scripture, which you laid out, for fear of how it might be misconstrued.

    Again, good stuff.

  29. “Lordandsaviour” is not a single word, it is two. In fact, we would probably all be in agreement if we change the Christianese phrase “Lord and Saviour” to “Saviour, then Lord.”

    Cause and effect.

    We allow Jesus to be our saviour (cause/his work), and then we then make him our Lord (effect/our work) – at least that is the *desired* effect. And “becomes Lord” does not imply perfection, it implies my desire to obey. I put myself under his authority. Because I have made him my Lord, I agree to do everything in my power to stay in alignment with him.

    Yes, when we “get saved,” we do forsake all our sin — in that moment. We agree to cut it out, whatever that means. And then we fail. But because he is Lord (and because he is merciful and gracious!), we get up and try again. And we fail again. And on and on it goes. We work out our salvation, not to gain it, but to retain it.

    “Jesus is my Savior” gets me my salvation. “Jesus is my Lord” is what my salvation should produce. Cause and effect.

    “Lordship Salvation” in it’s purest [whatever]-wing definition, does not make sense because it implies perfection. “Lordship Salvation” in a more reasonable sense, makes more sense to me. “In that moment” he saves me and “in that moment” I do make him Lord. But “in that moment,” could I, a sinner, even comprehend what he wanted? Except to become his?

  30. How does all this fit with Calvinism? If God regenerates men before they believe then couldn’t they commit to turning from their sins before they are saved? After all since Calvinism changes the order of salvation, seems like anything is possible. Also, if salvation can only take place when I commit to chagne my life then can’t I take credit for part of my salvation? I change my behavior and He saves? That person is not saved because he would not fully commit to Lordship, but I am saved because I fully committed -with God’s help of course. MCP, how would Lordship fit with your boat analogy? I know you don’t accept Lordship, but maybe others could respond.

  31. Truth Unites... and Divides January 12, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Hi CMP,

    If you’d haven’t already seen this, go ahead and read this 2 page .pdf by MacArthur titled Lordship Salvation.

    Then tell us where you respectfully disagree with it.


  32. Truths Unites and divides – so smoking is a sin like drunkenness and homosexuality? I guess someone should have told Spurgeon:)

    God regenerates – gives faith by grace – justifies by grace – sanctifies by grace. And we are called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling – yet it is God who is the one working in us.
    What about Rom 7:15ff- I would think that Paul accepted Christ as Lord, yet he continued to struggle with sin. I would submit that Lordship simply indicates that one is in submission to Christ, yet is still struggling with the old man minute by minute. There will be times of victory and there will be droughts of sin and laxity.
    Just my 2 cents

  33. Michael, I was wondering how your position of what seems to be the non-necessity of the Lordship of Christ (as God and Ruler/Master over one’s life) for salvation harmonizes with passages of Scripture like the following:

    Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 6:46; Romans 8:12-14; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-24; Ephesians 5:5-8; Hebrews 12:14; 1 John 3:4-10

    Michael, these passages are just an example of texts that could be cited, and I do not think I am proof-texting them out of context. Though I have the greatest respect and admiration for you, I must respectfully strongly differ with you here. As others have expressed It does seem to me that you are not only distorting what the historic understanding is regarding the necessity of the Lordship of Christ in salvation, your view seems to run into a wall of Scripture that seems to be incompatible with it.

    It also seems clear to me that your view does not agree with classic Reformational theology on this point. For example John Murray has written:

    ” It is an old and time-worn objection that this doctrine ministers to license and looseness. Only those who know not the power of the gospel will plead such misconception. Justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. Justification is not all that is embraced in the gospel of redeeming grace. Christ is a complete Savior and it is not justification alone that the believing sinner possesses in him. And faith is not the only response in the heart of him who has entrusted himself to Christ for salvation. Faith alone justifies but a justified person with faith alone would be a monstrosity which never exists in the kingdom of grace. Faith works itself out through love (c.f. Gal. 5:6). And faith without works is dead (c.f. James 2:17-20). It is living faith that justifies and living faith unites to Christ both in the virtue of his death and in the power of his resurrection. No one has entrusted himself to Christ for deliverance from the guilt of sin…

  34. For some reason my post will not come through complete. Here’s the rest of it———

    “…….who has not also entrusted himself to him for deliverance from the power of sin. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”

    So, it is not the mere profession of faith that saves, but rather the possession of genuine faith–a faith that works–and this faith itself is the gift of God, the out-flowing of new spiritual life given by the sovereign and gracious work of God in the new birth. Yes, faith alone justifies, but as Professor Murray so powerfully states–“a justified person with faith alone would be a monstrosity which never exists in the kingdom of grace.”

    I would cite as well the Westminster Confession of Faith where it says:

    “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.”

    This statement by Westminster is essentially all that is meant by the best advocates of those who insist that Christ must be embraced as Lord as well as Savior. This I think is the teaching of Sacred Scripture and the historic understanding of Christianity. Perhaps I have misunderstood you.

  35. The purity of the message that is preached is very important, no doubt, But.. teach in words like “bow your head and ask Jesus into your heart” and or “repent and believe” to an unsaved man and both messages will fall on deaf ears unless God regenerates and claims the life of the hearer. In so believing that it is the Lord who regenerates and grabs hold of the blind and the deaf then Lordship salvation seems a redundant term. “No man can say Jesus is Lord but by the power of the Holy Spirit” ??

  36. C Michael Patton January 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    The Free Grace Alliance just responded to my post. You can see it here:

  37. C Michael Patton January 12, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Again, for those of you who say that I have misrepresented the Lordship position, please give a definition that you believe is more accurate.

  38. Mike O,

    “In fact, we would probably all be in agreement if we change the Christianese phrase “Lord and Saviour” to “Saviour, then Lord.”

    Actually, this is where we’re disagreeing. Christ is only our Savior because He is our Lord. According to the pattern in the Scripture, one saves what one owns. Christ saves us because we are “in Him,” i.e., we are owned by Him, He is our Lord/Owner/Master. Because He is saved, we are saved. So it logically must precede rather than just be a product. Notice that it is “repent and believe,” not “believe and repent,” i.e., moving away from our own lordship and placing our trust and allegiance in Him. Now, we do continue to die daily to ourselves and submit ourselves to Him as our Lord, but the decision to come under His authority and give ourselves to Him is made at the get go.

  39. Michael,

    I think your being at DTS has tainted your view of things. You may have read all of that, but it’s through the guidance of profs with certain views. I know because I was at Moody at the same time; and of course, Moody is DTS Part I. The truth is your take on it is an interpretation by profs who stand in the fundamentalist tradition that was largely reacting against liberalism’s emphasis on the social gospel and good works as the Christian’s means of salvation and eschatological fulfillment. In my opinion, they clearly swung too far the other way, and now think that a bare bones faith is a tenet of Christianity to strictly guarded, as it is the only true gospel in their minds. This is what leads to the easy believism position held by men like Hodges and a prof I had at Moody who believed that one could deny Christ the rest of his life as long as he once believed. Of course, like many good evangelicals, you want the middle position, i.e., the third way, because we think that’s the sensible view; and yet, the lordship position is reinterpreted here as a foil, as it is with the more extreme easy believism advocates, as it provides an extreme position that no one holds in order to make another position seem more sensible. Hence, repentance in the lordship view must be caste in the light of works salvation. Remember, however, that the phrase “repent and believe” is Christ’s gospel, not that of the lordship position. A commitment to turn away from sin and to Christ as lord is exactly what someone is doing by picking up his cross and following Jesus (note that He says that he who does not do so is not worthy of Him). The very rebuke of the Pharisees by John is that if they are indeed God’s people, then let them do works that accord with the fact that they have repented (Matt 3:7-10). So the first thing that one needs to address is that repentance in the gospel is not a works salvation. I think you agree with this.

    The second thing has to do with…

  40. The second thing has to do with repentance being a change of direction/mind/allegiance.
    As for a definition, I’m not sure what else you’re looking for than what we’ve already given. Lordship does not teach that someone has to immediately and forever cease to sin; but it does teach that one must reject their known sin, mainly that of placing self in the position of God, and begin to follow after Him. Again, John says that he who is born of God does not practice sin, and I take that to mean that he who is born of God does not continue willfully in sin. That is repentance. To assign one’s life to Christ in terms of his thoughts and actions. I’m not sure how much more clear to get than that. Does this lead to actions that work against sin? Yes. Does repentance entail ceasing from sin? Yes, it does. Is the ceasing forever? No, it’s a continual struggle, but it starts at the point one comes to Christ.

    So I think where we do not agree is the idea that a Christian can live with a known sin in a willful manner and that this is yet consistent for people who have come to Christ. Sin is defiance toward Christ. Hence, one must turn over himself to Christ. Notice in Isaiah, when God is telling the Israelites to repent, that He places it first, before He will forgive them and make them white as snow (Isa 1:15-20). If His people will not be accepted without repentance, when they are already supposedly His people, then how much less will those who are not His people be required to wash their hands as an act of coming to Him? Note also Zacheus, who is only told that salvation has come to his house after he makes the commitment to give back what he took plus interest, or the statement that God will only forgive you when you forgive others from your heart.

  41. I am not sure of the motives of this debate’s resurgence. It seems to me to be an attempt of some at exclusivity in that it is hard for some Christian Academics to deal with the fact that so many Christians seem to have taken an unmerited favor, a free salvation, a gift, grace, and ran with it back into their previous life of sin. It is hard for some pastors/teachers to explain or accept the fact that so many who should have changed lives just dont. I mean really, how do you tell someone without hope, of the wonderful new life which follows conversion when your “brother” shows no sign of a new life at all? How can the world see the reflection of Christ in a mirror stained by constant sin? How can the great majority of professing believers be changed when they havent decided to change their profession? Well, I am not sure of the answers to these questions other than its not our job to convince, convict, or change hearts. It is our responsibility to spread the Gospel. I guess the question is, what gospel are you spreading? Is it the gospel that fits your criteria? Does it make Christians more “Christian”? A man once told me, while trying to explain his view of Soveriegnty, sin, “repentance”, and justification; “God dont want to make it hard to be saved. He’s not looking for a legal loophole to keep people out of heaven. He loves people and is looking for any excuse to save them”. I believe His “excuse” is what have we done with Christ crucified. Christianity is not an exclusive club of righteous people. Its not even a group of changed people. We are Gods chosen, His elect. We are the children of God whether we choose to call Him Daddy at birth, adolesence, or adulthood. I guess what you (Lordship/Repent Gospel Disciples) are deciding is whether to call your fallen siblings brother/sister, or just to deny your relationship to them so that the Gospel might “work better”.

  42. JohnB,

    “If God regenerates men before they believe then couldn’t they commit to turning from their sins before they are saved?”

    Regeneration is logically, not chronologically, prior. We believe this happens all at once, immediately, but that God must initiate the act. Hence, even faith is a gift from God for which no one can boast. The same goes for repentance, as the Scripture says that He does or does not grant it.

  43. C Michael Patton January 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Hodge, this was never taught at DTS either one way or the other. When I got there the profs could care less. However, there was some discussion among the students.

  44. C Michael Patton January 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Also, I don’t agree with Charles Hodge, as least how he is portrayed. His portrayal is as radical in one direction as J-Mac is in the other.

  45. So many big words! I’m new here, but I recall reading a post about the forest vs the trees. I think we’re stuck on the trees.

    However we *think* salvation works, salvation actually works the way God designed it. If HE designed it as Lordship Salvation and we don’t *think* he did, he still did (does that make sense?). And if HE designed it as simply a crying out for mercy, and WE added the conditions of Lordship Salvation, does that change the fact that all HE required was that we cry out for mercy? He doesn’t save us the way WE define it, he saves us the way HE defined it.

    Let’s say the Lordship position is wrong – so what? As Kim said,

    “The purity of the message that is preached is very important, no doubt, But.. teach in words like “bow your head and ask Jesus into your heart” and or “repent and believe” to an unsaved man and both messages will fall on deaf ears unless God regenerates and claims the life of the hearer.”

    I actually would make it a little more real-life and less theoretical and say, when a person comes to the point of salvation they don’t care what the words are. All they know is they need to get right with God. Do the words really matter that much? Let’s assume Lordship salvation is what some person at the point of salvation hears. Would they really stop at the brink and say, “Nah, never mind. I’m not perfect so I’m not qualified?” Is that really what the proponents of Lordship Salvation intended to say? No, that is not reasonable. They would respond to the invitation BECAUSE they are not perfect, regardless of what the words are.

    I get the point of this discussion – I really do. But it’s not like we’re damning people to an eternal hell because we worded it wrong on a slide.

  46. Really? That’s surprising. The profs at Moody and the students were in major conflict over it. It was a continual discussion on campus. Of course, MacArthur came there quite a bit, and there was a clash between the more Reformed and fundamentalist elements there, so maybe its presence was felt more there.
    BTW, I think you mean Zane Hodges. I wasn’t saying that your position is his. You take the middle between him and the lordship crew. My point is that he portrays the lordship position in the same way to make it look like its a works salvation. Hence, what can one do but accept his position, since to not do so is to reject the free gift of the gospel?

  47. Mike O.

    “All they know is they need to get right with God.”

    But that’s the point of discussion. If your gospel is “Accept Jesus as your Savior” with no mention of repentance in order to do so, then we, in fact, may be damning people (as a secondary, not primary cause). So we can be the instruments of their destruction by preaching a false gospel (and most heresy and false teaching includes half of the truth, but not all of it).

  48. Truth Unites... and Divides January 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    “Again, for those of you who say that I have misrepresented the Lordship position, please give a definition that you believe is more accurate.”

    I did. Here it is again:

    Lordship Salvation.

    As I wrote before: “Then tell us where you respectfully disagree with it.”

    FYI, nowhere in that document do I see any statement saying what you (in effect) are saying is the position of Lordship Salvation: “One Has to Forsake all Known Sins Before they Are Saved”

    Your mistaken belief of Lordship Salvation then lead you to the title of your post:

    “Does One Have to Forsake all Known Sins Before they Are Saved?”

    With the result that folks are saying that you have misrepresented and/or caricatured the Lordship Salvation position.

    Does this make sense to you?


  49. C Michael Patton January 12, 2011 at 1:11 pm


    No, just one paragraph like I did above. Not a paper! Short. What is Lordship Salvation in one paragraph.

  50. Truth Unites... and Divides January 12, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    (If I may be informal)

    For folks insisting on broad strokes, JMac writes:

    “To put it simply, the gospel call to faith presupposes
    that sinners must repent of their sin and yield to
    Christ’s authority. This, in a nutshell, is what is
    commonly referred to as lordship salvation.”

    How one goes from what JMac writes to the representation (in the form of a question) of

    “Does One Have to Forsake all Known Sins Before they Are Saved?”

    is an untenable stretch.

    P.S. Thanks CMP for the opportunity to further explore the disconnect.


  1. Weekly Reading Roundup: Lots of Stuff Happening! « Push of Pikes - January 14, 2011

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