Arminian Charlie Bing asks us why “Lordship salvation” is so popular. He explains that it’s because we want to contribute something to our salvation. Bing is right. Bing wants to contribute his faith to salvation, and opposes those who want to contribute both faith and works to salvation.
Bing writes: “Lordship theology is a necessary result of strong determinstic Calvinism, because in this view God elects some to salvation and gives them faith to believe. That divine gift of faith cannot fail, therefore a it guarantees a persevering life of submission to Jesus as Lord if one is truly saved.” I am not going to waste my time talking about what we mean by “determinism” or “Calvinism”. Even though I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God and that Christ died bearing the sins of all the elect to take those sins away and to give all the elect the gift of faith, the first question that always needs to be asked is this—what is the object of faith?
I agree with Bing that most “Calvinists” today have faith in their future perseverance in obeying the Lord. ( I don’t agree with him about this being a necessary inherent result. We who believe in “federal theology” are not Augustinians.) Even though, like Roman Catholics, these “Calvinists” want to give God’s grace the credit for enabling them to persevere in obeying, the faith of these “Calvinists” does not have as its object the death of Christ as making the only difference in “taking away sins”. These “Calvinists” are way more interested in regeneration than they are in the atonement.
My own opinion is that we will never stop finding assurance in our WORKS of faith until we also stop finding assurance in our FAITH. Works of faith are not our righteousness. But neither is faith our righteousness. All who are gospel believers are justified before God, and none are justified who are not gospel believers. None are born again who are not gospel believers, and none are justified who are not born again. But believing the gospel is not our righteousness.
The object of Bing’s faith is his faith. I am not going to try to persuade Bing that this “makes faith a work”. I agree with the Bible that faith is “not works”. I don’t need to say that “faith in faith” turns faith into a work. All I need to say is that faith is not the object of faith. If you think salvation is conditioned on your faith, then you have a false gospel.
Putting regeneration before faith in the order of salvation does not mean putting regeneration before an inevitable life of obedience. No matter how confident you are about how much God has enabled you to obey, your obedience is never going to be perfect enough to satisfy God’s law. And Bing’s one time decision is not enough to satisfy God’s law either, not least because that one time decision to “exercise faith” had the wrong object—he believed in a false gospel. It would not improve the situation to change the condition from a one time decision for faith into many decisions for faith!
The Arminians who oppose “Lordship salvation” are in no better place before God than the “Calvinists” who cannot have assurance because they cannot know if they will continue to keep their “covenant conditions”. Even though some Arminians don’t trust in their “commitment”, they do trust in their decision. They teach that Christ died for all sinners, and that this death makes no difference for most of the sinners for whom Christ died.
But Bing assures us—- Christ’s death DOES make a difference for us who make that decision. It would be more truthful for him to say that his decision made the difference, since his false gospel teaches that Jesus died for all sins (except presumably the sin of not making the decision)
Bing believes that Christ died for the sins of all those who persevere in Lordship salvation. I know that those in the Arminian “free grace” group are divided about the question of the salvation of those who believe in “Lordship salvation”. But since they assume that most of those “into Lordship” now had “already made the decision”, the anti-Lordship Arminians can agree that those “now into Lordship” are already saved and can’t be lost. It’s like a tattoo–become an atheist after that one time decision, and you don’t lose ever-lasting life. Become a “Lordship Calvinist” after that one time decision, and you don’t lose ever-lasting life.
The debate comes in when these Arminians think about those who grew up “in the Lordship gospel” and therefore never made that “one time decision”. But in any case, these Arminians teach that Christ died for the sins of all sinners including the sinners who teach “Lordship salvation”. But some of the anti-Lordship Arminians teach that Christ did not die for the sin of believing in works instead of believing in your own one time decision.
Since they deny that “the one time decision” is a gift of God, they can’t look to God to cause anybody to make the one time decision. And since they say that the one sin Jesus didn’t die for is the sin of believing in works, some of them find it difficult to be very hopeful about some of those who teach “Lordship salvation”.:
The solution is not to teach “discipleship by works” but “salvation without works”. All the blessings of salvation were earned for the elect by Christ in His death. God gives none of us anything apart from Christ’s propitiation. Christ’s death is not the reason God loves the elect but God’s love does not give any blessing to anybody apart from the merits of Christ’s death. The rain and sunshine God gives the non-elect are not blessings for them, nor is the gospel a blessing for the non-elect, even though the gospel promises salvation to anyone who believes it. The non-elect are not going to believe the gospel, and them listening to the gospel is not a blessing for them.
I will not at this time get into the question of how much the non-elect ever understand the gospel. Bing seems to understand the idea that God has an elect and that God gives these elect faith, but since he does not know that Christ’s effective death is the object of faith, he makes his decision the object of his decision Bing understands that Christ’s death makes no difference to some people but what he does not understand is that his notion of Christ’s death makes no difference for anybody, since his notion is that the decision makes the difference.
The solution is not to put our law-keeping on the back end of salvation instead of the front end. As long as our law keeping is imperfect, putting in qualifiers like “pattern of life” does not change the basic idolatry of trusting in what God enables us to do instead of in Christ’s death. And Bing denying that God enables us to believe, and saying that believing is the only thing we need to do, does not change a false gospel into a true gospel. Denying the enabling does not make faith in faith the good news.
Bing is very condescending to the “young restless and Reformed”. He informs us that most of them probably do not “understand the entire package”. Certainly more folks quote Piper and Carson then actually understand their dialectic. But surely Piper and Carson and other “Lordship teachers” do understand “the package”. They understand that they are teaching that God wants to save all sinners and that God also gives “persevering commitment” only to the elect. These teachers understand themselves to be warning that ever-lasting life depends on your forgiving others and keeping the commands (not perfectly but as a pattern of life)
What good would it do for me to explain that folks like Bing “don”t really understand” the implications of what they are teaching? Would that kind of tolerance make me look good? Would that kind of tolerance make God look better in their eyes?
Bing is a bright fellow. Why should I doubt that he understands what he is teaching about Christ having died for all the sins of all sinners, and thus the only sin being left is not making the decision?
Bing thinks that some Christians “make Jesus Lord”. Many Calvinists think that the Lordship of Jesus means that all Christians will not be as sinful as they were and as others still are. But Jesus is Lord of the Doctrine of the gospel, and the Bible does not teach that not sinning increases grace. Nor does the Bible teach that grace increases not sinning. When Romans 6:14 teaches that some are not under law but under grace, that refers not only to not being under the old covenants but also refers to those who have been placed into Christ’s death as having been justified before God.
There is now no condemnation for those not under the law because Christ was under the law for those who are justified before God. We do not need to have a fake view of our sins, of our being still sinners, in order to rejoice in God’s justification of the ungodly. Those who have been justified are no longer ungodly and no longer totally depraved, but they are not justified because of becoming less sinful and more godly. To the contrary, the justified elect are now godly sinners because they are justified. Justified sinners are not imputed with Christ’s death because they are born again. They are born again because they are imputed with Christ’s death.
The solution to the false gospel is not “less worldliness”. The solution to the false gospel is not more involvement in the world or less involvement in the world. The solution to the false gospel is not understanding the pacifism demanded by “taking seriously” the Sermon on the Mount. Nor is the solution to the false gospel denying the difference between the covenants and then “understanding” that the commands of the Sermon on the Mount are about our attitude and not about real life, and so in this way lower the standard so that we can think we are persevering in obedience.
Nor is the solution to say that the function of the law is only to show us our need of grace outside ourselves because God does not see the sins of Christians. The solution is not to deny any need to confess our sins. The gospel solution is to call our sins what they are without excusing our sins and we cannot do this if our gospel hope is about our not sinning so much as we used to and so much as others sinners do.
The solution to the prevailing teaching of salvation by works is not to teach that an one time decision is sufficient. Nothing is enough but Christ’s death as the satisfaction for all the sins of the elect. Our faith is not enough, whether we teach that God gives faith or if we deny that God gives faith. Our works are not enough to help save but trusting in works in addition to Christ’s death is enough.to leave you in the condemnation into which we are all born.
Our decision is not enough to save us but trusting in a decision leaves you still guilty before God. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through my decision, then Christ died for no purpose. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through God enabling me to persevere in the covenant, then Christ died for no purpose.
Bing and the Arminians who oppose “Lordship salvation” do not want us to trust “just any Jesus”. But they do want us to trust in a false Jesus “as one who died for our sins”. Jesus did not die for every sinner’s sins. Trusting in a Jesus who died for one sinner without that death making any difference for that one sinner is not trusting the Jesus revealed in the Bible. It is another gospel, which is not the gospel. Trusting like that is nothing else than idol worship.
It makes no difference if you call this idolatry “easy” or “not easy”. There is no ultimate difference between the Arminians who teach salvation at the cost of one decision and the Arminians who teach salvation at the cost of everything you have and do. Nor is there any final difference between the Arminians who deny that God gives faith and the Calvinists who teach that God causes them to be less sinful and that this being less sinful is part of the commitment of faith and a necessary result of faith.
But wait a minute. isn’t what I am a teaching also a decision? Have I not decided to follow the Jesus who justifies the ungodly by the merits of His death? Is my theology finally and ultimately any different from those who decide that salvation is conditioned on faith alone (which is never alone!)? Isn’t the only difference some stuff about election?
I agree with Bing that most of those who teach anything about election are also teaching that the gift of faith turns out to be the gift of not sinning (as much or too much). So the difference between the true and the false is not just any something about “election” but about the nature of Christ’s death . Instead of relating Christ’s atonement to “justification” in a different way than I do to “sanctification” or “discipleship”. I think the good news is that Christ died to forgive us our sin of not obeying His commands. But I also think that Christ never died to forgive those who live and die without ever knowing and believing the gospel.
Keeping Christ’s commands does not make us Christians. Not keeping Christ’s commands does not prove that we are not Christians. If sin proved that we are not Christians, then none of us are Christians. But does believing a false gospel prove that we are not Christians?
Certainly believing a false gospel is sin. But it’s not a sin we can sin and still be Christians. All Christians sin, but not all sin is believing a false gospel. Believing a false gospel is what we did before we were Christians. The elect have always been elect but the elect have not always been Christians. Some of the elect are still not Christians yet.
In the “early church”, there was a popular notion of waiting to become a Christian. The idea was combined with the idea of becoming a Christian by becoming watered by the church. The idea was to delay becoming a Christian so you could keep sinning before that. The idea was that Christians stop sinning. Therefore folks like Constantine-despite agreeing that their killing was sin-delayed being watered because they thought of water as some kind of medicine that would keep them from sinning. Since Constantine did not want to be kept from sinning yet, he delayed the water.
The teaching of ‘Lordship salvation” is not inherently related to some idea of “baptism as a means of grace”. But “Lordship salvation” is teaching that there will be less sinning after one becomes a Christian. You might want to “wait as long as you can” before you will need to make a ‘commitment” and “stop sinning”, but who knows about accidents and “cutting it close”, so the idea is that we “surrender” and ask God to begin enabling us to persevere in keeping the commands and the conditions of the covenant. Some of this goes with the idea of being able to be in a “new covenant” which continues to be as conditional as the old covenants. Even many “Calvinist” credobaptists like Tom Schreiner also teach “conditionality in the covenant”.
Lordship “Calvinists” tend to quote each other agree with each other. They divide the world into two camps, one in which they include themselves with all the “good Arminians” who teach that salvation is conditioned on “something more than an one time decision” and then put in the only other camp the Arminians who say that salvation results from walking to the front of a meeting one time and making a decision. Anybody else who disagrees with them about “not sinning causes more sanctification” and “sanctification as the evidence of justification” is dismissed as a “hyper Calvinist” who probably teaches eternal justification and who denies that God sees the sins of Christians.
Whatever–why should they be bothered with anybody who is not as “classic” and “mainline” as they are? Especially when we live in a world where so many professing Christians are so worldly and so sinful, and not really interested “in the things of the Lord”. The Pharisees and those who teach “Lordship salvation” are interested in the right things. Even if they still sin some, they do not sin as much as others do. And some of them are sincere because they do not sin as much as they used to sin. They are pretty sure of that. Not for sure sure. But mostly sure….
The specific context of I John 5 says “born of God” and not “justified by God”. But we cannot leave justification and atonement out of our thinking.
I John 3:6 and 9 are not saying that we have a “new nature that never sins”. Those verses are saying that those who believe the gospel have their minds set on the Spirit, and not on the flesh (see Romans 8:5-8) What do we believe? What is the object of our faith? Do we only believe that we have been born again, and NOW WE ARE ABLE? Do we believe our decision makes the difference?
I John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
But read on
Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony of God concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us LASTING life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life
a. We not only believed in the testimony of what the Spirit will do in us, but of “LASTING life” in the SON.
b. Is this “LASTING life” the new birth? No, it is not. Arminians think “eternal life” is the “new birth”. When the Bible says ” believe and you will have LASTING life”, Arminians understand the promise to mean “believe and then you will get the new birth”. (That is the way Billy Graham explains it in his book “How to Be born Again”)
c.The new birth is the cause of faith in the gospel. “LASTING LIFE” has to do with justification, with the life of the age to come, the permanent final legal life which results from being a justified saint.