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.