Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Lordship salvation or free grace, which is right?

QUESTION:

Dr. Newman:

What is Free Grace and Lordship Salvation, the difference between the two and which one is the right one?

Helen of WA

ANSWER:

Dear Helen:

As I understand your question, you speak of a heated controversy that strikes at the core of the Christian’s salvation. On the one side there are those who say we are saved by grace through faith alone in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. They say all we have to do to be saved is to receive Christ as our Savior by faith. Some key verses are John 1:12, 13; 3:16; Acts 16:30, 31. An important verse by Paul states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

As a secondary act of the believer (separate from salvation), there is the surrender to the lordship of Christ in our lives (Romans 12:1, 2), which includes the filling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). The conclusion is that some Christians can be saved, yet not surrendered to the Lordship of Christ. Paul speaks of this, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1). Paul addressed this to believers (brethren), and admitted that they were saved, but Christ was not the Lord of their live. 

Now for the other side – the Lordship argument. This line of reasoning says that being saved only by grace through faith produces many false conversions. Some call it easy believism, or free grace. The Lordship side says too many converts just pray a prayer of salvation, and then go on living life as they want. Maybe they live Christian lives for a while, and then fall away. The reason for this, they say, is that they failed to submit to the Lordship of Christ in the beginning when they were saved. Without the lordship, there is no salvation. This side laments the spiritual weakness of Christians in America.

Let’s evaluate the two positions. There has always been the controversy about what it takes to be saved. Is it faith alone? Or, is it faith plus works? That argument started in the New Testament, and Paul addresses it clearly in Galatians – and elsewhere. 

The latest skirmish among evangelicals is between a book written by John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, and a response by Charles Ryrie in his book, So Great A Salvation. Another book is, Absolutely Free: A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation by Zane C. Hodges. The controversy heated up in the late 1990’s. 

Let me offer some conclusions, Helen.

1. Both sides of the argument have men and women who are saved, born again Christians who dearly love the Lord Jesus Christ. 

2. Both sides clearly believe that Christians ought to be submitted to the lordship of Christ in every area of their lives. But lordship is a different issue and experience than salvation.

3. The Lordship side rightly observes the spiritual weakness and timidity of the American church in general. They also accurately point to the fact that sometimes the Gospel is presented in such a way as to suggest that all you need to do is pray a little prayer, and that is all there is to Christianity. You get a free ticket to heaven – now go sin all you want. Such a view is wrong.

4. The downside of the Lordship position is that it gets very close to a works salvation, or a rigid form of legalism. The free grace would say that grace is free to us, but not to God. He sent His Son to pay the penalty of our sin. That is not free!

5. The penalty of our sin was completely paid for in full for all eternity by Christ on the Cross (Hebrews 10:10,-14). It is impossible for us to add anything to our salvation. It was all taken care of on the cross about 2,000 years ago. The fact is we are totally spiritually dead to God who has to make us spiritually alive to be saved (Ephesians 2:1; 4-6). 

6. It is true that many professed Christians sputter out in their lives. That is anticipated in the parable of the sower where people have different responses to the Gospel (Matthew 13:19-23). There will be false conversions, but they would be false even if they said they submitted to the Lordship of Christ. 

7. Another issue is that when a person is born again, a new life has been implanted in their being by the Holy Spirit. That new life will bring forth results in the form of Christian faith and virtue. We would expect professing Christians to have some Christian growth over time. But God deals with us as individuals, and He doesn’t always work in people’s lives like we think He should. He works with us on His time table, not ours (cf. Philippians 2:13).

Consequently, this is one main problem with Lordship salvation: someone makes up a list of rules that they think people should be doing if they are really sold out to Christ. If people don’t abide by those manmade rules, then they are accused of not being either Christians or under the Lordship of Christ.

8. Helen, in my opinion, as I understand the Bible, salvation is by grace through faith plus nothing. It is by grace, which means underserved favor granted unconditionally upon those who actually stand guilty before God and under His judgment. It is received by faith alone in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to pay the full penalty of our sin, and grant to us eternal life. Salvation is what Christ did for us, not what we do for Christ.

His salvation is a pardon, or a gift. Gifts and pardons can only be received, not earned. They are at the discretion of the giver, not by the efforts or demands of the receiver. 

Finally, I would urge you to read my articles on salvation in the free Bible studies on this website. I also am putting up a free Bible study series of 11 lessons on Christian Foundations. You might want to look it over also.

All the best to you in Christ. I hope this discussion helps.


Dr. Willis Newman

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