Lordship Salvation—The Crux of the Issue!
By Sonny Hernandez
True Lordship salvation can only mean that the person of Christ is the Lord of salvation, not because of works or by one’s obedience, but on the grounds of His perfect righteousness (meritum condignum)––His alien preceptive and penal obedience––which God the Father imputes to His elect. Adam disobeyed the law, and thereby incurred upon himself and all his posterity the penalty of death, and his sin was imputed to all men without exception, whereas Christ, the second Adam, perfectly obeyed the law and died in the stead of His sheep to satisfy the demands of divine justice. This whole work of Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the elect, whereby they will exclaim that Christ is, "...THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS" (Jeremiah 23:6).
Historically, the topic of Lordship salvation spawned controversy in the 20th Century, resulting in contentious disputes that are still occurring until this day. This controversy began as a retort to easy-believism, a notion that one can attain salvation through a mere intellectual exercise, without any evidence of obedience or submission to Christ in their life.
Those who lecture on Lordship salvation are not only duplicitous, but also confounding when defining and defending their beloved dogma. Many of the leading Lordship bastions have acknowledged that they have been accosted for teaching salvation by works, which they repeatedly denied. As a result, Lordship salvation advocates have maintained that salvation is by Christ alone, not works, but the underlying thesis of their arguments has contradicted their denial of salvation by works, as Lordship salvation teachers have admonished their readers to acknowledge that salvation requires submission and lifelong obedience to Christ.
At times, reading about disputations between those who affirm Lordship salvation and those who do not is tantamount to observing an antinomian debate a legalist. Both of these views are diametrically opposed to one another, radically unbiblical, and considered by many to be extreme heresies. The Bible does not teach that regenerate Christians have a license to sin or can ignore the costs of following Christ, nor does it maintain that obedience or submission to Christ is a condition of justification or a necessity for assurance of salvation. Therefore, scrupulously examine the crux of the issue below, and do not rely on strawman arguments or debate the way antinomians or legalists do.
What is the crux of the Lordship salvation doctrine that must be examined? An often overlooked doctrine in the Lordship salvation scandal is their belief in synergistic sanctification, as this doctrine is the crux of the issue surrounding this heresy. Yes, it is true that the leading purveyors of Lordship salvation teach that God monergisticly regenerates a sinner (salvation is of the Lord, regardless if one cooperates or is obedient), but subsequently teach that progressive sanctification is synergistic (sinners cooperate with God). Put another way:
Lordship salvation teaches that God regenerates (monergism) sinners, then progressively sanctifies (synergism) them.
Lordship salvation teaches that to know if one is saved or not, one must be saved by Christ alone (monergism), but also exercise submission or obedience to Christ in their progressive sanctification (synergism).
Thus, Lordship salvation teaches that salvation is of the Lord, but to have assurance of salvation, one must believe that salvation is of the Lord, and produce evidence of their cooperation with God (works).
The controversy manifested itself by the fact that Lordship salvation proponents teach that to know if one is justified or to have assurance of salvation, one must exercise obedience to Christ’s Lordship, which they refer to as synergistic sanctification. This is heresy—because the notion of synergism indicates that two or more cooperate with each other. So if one’s assurance of salvation is contingent upon God and man cooperating with each other, then Lordship salvation apologists cannot run from the fact that they are, in fact, teaching justification by grace and works. Interestingly, Lordship salvation advocates will accuse those who reject their dogma of believing that Christians will not repent over their sins, or they will hate God’s law, disregard obedience, ignore the costs of following Christ, or live in a state of permanent spiritual barrenness. In response to these allegations, consider the following arguments for clarification:
Christians will sin and break every one of God’s laws every day (Romans 3:10; James 2:10), and they can and will stumble into grievous sins for a time [ex. murder and adultery; 2 Samuel 12:9]. But God, who is rich in mercy, has granted His elect with the gift of repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18), and He disciplines those whom He loves (Hebrews 12). Therefore, God’s elect will repent, in the same manner that David repented (Psalm 51) after being confronted over his sin by Nathan (2 Samuel 12), and they will confess their sins (Psalm 32:5). Repentance and confession of sins are not conditions of salvation, and they do not merit God's forgiveness, but are gifts that God provides to His elect, after they have been regenerated.
The Bible teaches that regenerate Christians loved God’s law (Psalm 119:97; Romans 7:), hated sin (Psalm 119:104; Romans 7:15), gave their lives for the sake of the gospel (Matthew 14:1-12; Acts 7:54-60, 12:1-2), and are new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). These are fruits of regeneration, not a means of justification. Of course, no believer will perfectly adhere to these practices, but they are, nonetheless, fruits, not a means of justification or assurance of one’s salvation. Blood-bought believers trust that God has accepted them as just on the basis of Christ’s imputed righteousness, and that is their assurance of salvation.
Christians must adjure those who profess to believe in the gospel to examine themselves if they do not trust and believe that Sola Scriptura is the ultimate standard to measure their Christian conduct. Rejoicing in the sufficiency of Scripture is not a means of justification, but is the fruit of salvation (Psalm 119:162). Therefore, those who profess to be Christians, but simultaneously argue that the Bible is not sufficient for them or they do not need to examine themselves with God’s Word, are contradicting themselves, because rejecting the sufficiency of Scripture indicates that one has no standard to measure their Christianity upon.
Affirming these aforementioned points is not Lordship salvation. Remember, the crux of the Lordship heresy stems from the belief that salvation is of the Lord, but obedience and submission (synergistic sanctification) to Christ is required in order to know if one is saved. Lordship adherents are not able to explain how their belief in progressive sanctification is synergistic, if the Bible teaches that the elect are saved unto good works, which “God prepared beforehand” (Ephesian 2:10), and it is “God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Additionally, the Bible says that “God worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11); therefore, the notion of synergistic sanctification is false. Sanctification is monergistic. This means that God, the ultimate cause, actively works in His elect to carry out His eternal purpose, resulting in the efficient or secondary cause (elect) carrying out His specific and meticulous plans.
In closing, true believers know that the whole work of Christ’s imputed righteousness is the grounds for their justification and assurance of salvation, and that obedience or good works cannot be quantified; it is the fruits of regeneration, not the grounds of it. Believers are saved unto good works (Ephesians 2:10), and God works in them to will and to work (Philippians 2:13). Thus, true saints don’t try to quantify their works, but they trust in the sovereignty of God that they will walk as believers who love God’s law (Psalm 119:97), and they will conduct themselves as God has sovereignly determined (Ephesians 2:10). Praise God that the elect are monergisticly sanctified, not because of works or by the law, but on the ground of His free and sovereign grace, in Christ Jesus.