Lordship Salvation Clarified

The “Lordship Controversy”, as it is termed, has been severely misunderstood by those who criticize or merely disagree with the position. I desire to touch on the points of disagreement here in this post as well as clarify a few things according to what I understand. This is a rather important, yet perhaps forgotten, discussion which Christians ought to be considering often. While not a controversy which has implications on one’s salvation, it is one that could alter, for best or worse, our perception of salvific results. In other words, this controversy has to do with repentance and sanctification most explicitly. What happens after repentance? What happens during our sanctification?

The Two Main Positions

This is a difficult subject to write on because there are two sides waving two banners that, semantically, are not mutually exclusive. On one hand we have the Lordship Salvation camp and on the other we have the Free Grace camp, as they are most popularly called. The dicey part of this situation is the fact that no one within the parameters of Christian, Protestant orthodoxy denies Christ as Lord, nor do they deny the fact that God’s grace is totally free. So, while I think the terms are misnomers (especially free grace), to some extent, I will utilize them for the practicality of this post.

The Free Grace Position (easy-believism)

As I understand them, free grace proponents argue that God’s grace is totally free and that works play absolutely no part in one’s salvation. They would affirm that there are those who may show little to no progress throughout the course of their time on earth, from their calling into Christ to their first death. Some have even went so far as to say that a person may be in a state of salvation while actually denying their belief in Jesus for a season. This is also called antinomianism. Many other free grace proponents do however believe in a concept of fruit resulting from one being born again. Personally, I label this as soft free grace.

The Lordship Salvation Position

Lordship Salvation proponents hold that when one is saved, good works will inevitably follow. They do not hold that salvation is derivative of any sort of will or exertion of man. That would be to put the cart before the horse. Because of this large misunderstanding, some have accused Lordship Salvationists as being works salvationists akin to Roman Catholic dogma. This accusation ranges purely from a fundamental understanding. Lordship Salvation is best described perhaps by our Lord’s half-brother, James, “faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:26) By no means was James advocating for a model of works salvation, he was merely making a case for what we have termed as Lordship Salvation. In this way, works have something to do with our salvation insofar as they are the inevitable result thereof, not the cause.

An article from monergism.com states:

The Christian, while he may commit grievous sin, cannot live in it. Rather, faith is ongoing as is our desire to obey. God both encourages and disciplines those he loves so they will continue in their faith. In 1 Cor 11:31-32 Paul says, “if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.”

Problems With The Free Grace Position

Free grace, at its most avid side of the spectrum, slips comfortably into antinomianism which is obviously deviant from orthodox Christianity. Antinomianism, in short, simply means, “no law”. It is a terrible belief that assumes God’s moral law is no longer judicially binding on His people. While we are not saved by works of the Law, and in Christ no longer condemned by it, (Rom. 8:33) it cannot be denied that the Christian has a moral responsibility to our Lord, which by the way—the regenerate heart rejoices in being obedient toward. If the Christian, in fact, has a moral responsibility to God as His child, the extreme free grace position can no longer be considered as viable. (Eph. 2:10; Phil. 1:6; 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:21)

Another useful bit from monergism.com points out:

Those who hold to the free grace or no-lordship position, which include scholars like Zane Hodges, Charles Ryrie as well as other famous dispensationalists at Dallas Seminary, are also firmly against the concept of monergistic regeneration. And this is intimately related to the topic at hand as you will see. They reject all biblical evidence which suggests that regeneration precedes faith. Instead, they view faith as something they must contribute to the price of their salvation. So while they may appear to be promoting a ‘free grace’ position, the fact is that they do not believe that faith arises as a gift of God.

The Soft Free Grace Position

Those who are aware of the terrible blunders of antinomianism, who esteem the Lord highly and desire to please Him, who are our brothers, but whom may have a misunderstanding of Lordship Salvation proper, often consider themselves falling more in square with the Free Grace position than that of the Lordship Salvationist while not totally denying everything the Lordship proponent affirms to be true. However, I believe this partial denial of Lordship Salvation is simply reactionary and originates from a misunderstanding or misrepresentation. I think when one looks closer at either individual they would come to conclude they both in fact believe the same things, for the most part.

Common Ground:

There is indeed common ground between the Lordship advocate and the soft free grace advocate.

  1. We both believe that salvation is wholly from the Lord. That there is nothing contributed by the natural man that he may be saved. (Rom. 8:8; Eph. 2:8,9)
  2. Furthermore, we both believe—contrary to common misconception—that good works result from a saving faith instead of the other way ‘round. (Rom. 9:16; James 2:26)
  3. Also, we both agree that if good fruit is not present, or rarely consistent, especially if this person denies their belief in Christ for whatever reason, their salvation is perhaps nonexistent and ought to be in question. (As far as I know) (Gal. 5:22,23)

I believe that this common ground shows that those who are reluctant to be a part of the free grace camp whole heartedly, are in fact more upon the foundation of Lordship Salvation and would perhaps consider themselves a proponent if it not be for the misunderstanding.

The Positives of Lordship Salvation

John, a writer for monergism.com clearly and Biblically expounds upon the position:

The essay you sent also charges the Lordship people as believing that …”the promises of God’s Word, while necessary for assurance, are not sufficient. One must also look to his works. No believer can have 100% assurance of salvation merely by looking to the promises in God’s Word to the believer.” Really? On the contrary, the Reformed position is the only position that trusts in the promises of God as sufficient. Those who make such charges forget that sanctification is also a promise of God to the believer. Look in John 15:16 “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.”

He begins by addressing the false claim which generally causes the misunderstanding discussed in this post. He then chiefly points to the fact that God has promised to do a work in the life of the true believer. (Phil. 1:6) This is what the Lordship Salvationist believes. To calrify, the definition on theopedia.com simply reads:

Lordship salvation is the position that receiving Christ involves a turning in the heart from sin and, as a part of faith, a submissive commitment to obey Jesus Christ as Lord.

Grace To You, a servant ministry of Grace Community Church, has rightly described the first distinctive of Lordship Salvation in this way:

First, Scripture teaches that the gospel calls sinners to faith joined in oneness with repentance (Acts 2:38; 17:30; 20:21; 2 Peter 3:9). Repentance is a turning from sin (Acts 3:19; Luke 24:47) that consists not of a human work but of a divinely bestowed grace (Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25). It is a change of heart, but genuine repentance will effect a change of behavior as well (Luke 3:8; Acts 26:18-20). In contrast, easy-believism teaches that repentance is simply a synonym for faith and that no turning from sin is required for salvation. (gty.org)

Conclusion

This is a theological position which many Christians, if afforded the opportunity to properly understand the doctrine, would accept to be true. However, like many other teachings, this one has been put through its fair share of misrepresentation. I truly hope that this article has served you by way of describing the position with additional clarity. We touched on the confusion of terms between free grace and Lordship Salvation. We further touched on each position—free grace proper, soft free grace, and Lordship Salvation. Subsequently we discussed the problems/commonalities with free grace and soft free grace concluding with a positive case and clarification for the Lordship Salvation position. Resource links are below. Thank you for reading, and don’t forget to share!

Co-founder, editor, and contributor of The Reformed Collective. He is a member and pastoral intern at Word of Life Baptist Church, Kansas City, MO. He has co-coordinated the evangelism ministry at Grace Bible Church in San Diego, CA. At present he is pursuing a B.A. in Biblical Studies as well as an M. Div. He currently resides in Overland Park, KS with his wife, Christina.

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