Question. Does the Bible teach Lordship salvation?
Scripture. Romans 10:9; Acts 16:31
Definition. Lordship salvation is the view that a person must trust Jesus Christ as his Savior and submit to Him as Lord in order to receive eternal life. According to this view, it is not enough to simply believe in Jesus to receive salvation. Lordship salvation asserts that if an unbeliever does not also make Christ Lord, submitting to His sovereign authority, there is no salvation.
Lordship of Christ. Making Christ Lord implies that the unbeliever has an ability to make Christ Lord. How is this possible when an unbeliever is dead to God (Eph. 2:1-3), incapable of understanding spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:14), and an enemy of God (Rom. 5:10)?
Do verses like Romans 10:9, 13; Acts 16:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:8) teach Lordship salvation. Is making Christ Lord, adding to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone?
Unless the Father draws an unbeliever to God by means of the Holy Spirit (John 6:44, 65; 16:7-11) that person will not come to God because he has no interest in the salvation described in the Bible (John 3:19-20). But having been “drawn by the Holy Spirit” to salvation, Lordship salvation advocates argue that the unbeliever must knowingly and willfully make Christ Lord in order to obtain salvation. But salvation is by faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5-7), apart from human effort.
Lordship salvation implies that there is not total depravity of the unbeliever since he is able to make Christ Lord. Yet the doctrine of total depravity teaches that the unbeliever is a total and complete sinner in relationship to salvation and as such has no ability to make Christ Lord of his life (Rom. 3:23; 5:12; Isa. 64:6). An unbeliever is totally dead to God. What is implied in Lordship salvation is that when an unbeliever is convicted by the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11) he is not totally dead to God but is able to make Christ Lord of his life. But the Apostle Paul said that it was impossible to make Christ Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:1-2). The unbeliever does not possess the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9).
One of the key texts for Lordship salvation is Romans 10:9 “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” But what is the meaning of the Greek word “Lord” (kurion ) in this text? It has a variety of meanings: owner (Luke 19:33), king (Acts 25:26), respect (Matt. 21:30), courtesy (John 12:20), and YAHWEH (John 10:33).
The word “Lord” in Romans 10:9 means to recognize Jesus as master or supreme authority. It means to commit oneself to the Lord as God. It recognizes that Jesus possesses full deity. The context for Romans 9—11 concerns Israel’s need to recognize that Jesus really is God. The word “confess” homologeo means to say the same thing outwardly. It means to agree with God that Jesus is God. It is also important to note that the inward belief and the outward confession are part of the same expression of salvation. These are not two chronological steps for salvation.
In Philippians 2:11, Jesus equated “Lord” with God. All creation that stand before Christ in the last day and confess Him as Lord are not saved. But all creation will confess that He is God. The Bible never teaches that there is a second chance for the unbeliever at this point for salvation. Confessing Christ as Lord is the same as recognizing that Christ is God.
Unbelievers are thus incapable of turning away from all sin and making Christ Lord in order to obtain salvation (Eph 2:1-3). They do not have the capacity to do so.
Repentance. Repentance is a part of the gospel message. But Lordship salvation doctrine reads more into the doctrine of repentance. They teach that it is recognition of sin and that this sin is an affront to God. Each unbeliever should thus sense a personal responsibility for his or her own guilt before the Lord. Emotionally, there should be an overwhelming sense of sorrow for this sin. Volitionally, there should be a change in direction of one’s life, a transformation of the will. In Luke 24:47, repentance is an appropriate term in presenting the gospel. Placing saving faith in Christ is also repenting. But is repentance the same as making Christ Lord?
The Greek word for repentance, metanoieo, is a changing of the mind. It involves a changing of the mind about Christ and salvation. Sorrow alone in repentance is not enough. Faith must accompany repentance.
In Matthew 27:3 Judas felt remorse, returned the thirty pieces of silver, and then hung himself. The Greek word here in metamelomai. Many commentators believe that Judas died as an unbeliever (John 6:70). Judas felt sorrow for his act, but died an unbeliever.
Perseverance of saints. Salvation is never a settled issue in Lordship salvation. Eternal security is not taught. Salvation is continually dependent on producing a life of godliness.
Lordship salvation strongly advocates the perseverance of the saints. Genuine salvation does produce definite results in the life of the new believer. There will be changes as one grows spiritually. But Lordship salvation teaches that if there is a denial of the Lordship of Christ following the “professed” salvation of a person, that person was never saved. John 6:70-71 are used as proof “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Did I myself not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil. Now he meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.” But was Peter’s denial of Christ (Matt 16:13-19) also an indication that he was an unbeliever? In essence, whenever believers sin they are rejecting Christ’s lordship in their lives.
Believers can sin (1 John 1:5-2:2; Rom. 7: 15-25; I Cor 3:2-3). A carnal believer can display a lack of positive Christian values that are no different from those of an unbeliever (Eph. 4:17-32; Gal. 5:1-2, 16-18). To underscore this point, one could say that much of the New Testament epistles were written to teach and correct the false values and doctrines of believers in the early church period. In Galatians 5:16-17, Paul said that believers are to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. The implication is that the works of the flesh (5:18-21) could also be manifest in the lives of believers.
Total discipleship is not a part of the gospel message (John 3:16; Acts 4:12). The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that “we are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:16). Yet some believers’ lives are characterized by ungodliness (1 Cor. 2:2b-3; Heb. 5:11-14; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 4:17-32; 1 John 1:5-2:2). In 1 Corinthians 1: 9 Paul describes the believers in Corinth as “called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.” In 1: 2 they were “sanctified” in Christ Jesus. Yet, Yet the main thrust of 1 Corinthians is Paul addressing the carnality in the Corinthian church. In fact, each time a believer sins, he becomes a carnal or fleshy Christian (1 Cor. 3:3).
Lordship salvation does not address the doctrine of the sin unto death (1 John 5:16; 1 Cor. 11:30-31). This sin unto death is a final discipline of an unrepentant believer who persists in sin. All those who have turned to Christ in “unconditional surrender” for salvation do not continue on toward spiritual maturity.
Although some who claim to be believers are really “professing” Christ and are unsaved. But it is not necessary to preach the gospel to the struggling newborn or immature believer who needs to be taught how to grow in Christ, not how to trust Christ for salvation.
Salvation by faith. The key debate is whether salvation is received by the unbeliever making Christ Lord or by faith alone. There are a number of important verses that clearly state that salvation is by faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5-7, John 1:12; 3:16). In addition, one of Paul’s key arguments in the book of Romans is that justification is only by faith (Romans 5:1-2).
Also Ephesians 2;8-9; Titus 3:5-6; John 1:12 and John 3:16 do not mention the word Lord. Yet Lordship salvation says that unless an unbeliever makes Christ Lord of his life, he does not receive salvation. Advocates of Lordship salvation say that the salvation message to an unbeliever is not “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31) but it is rather “Repent and make Christ Lord.”
Conclusion. Yielding to the lordship of Christ is only possible through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer; it is not something that can be achieved by an unbelieving depraved sinner. There are several reasons for saying this: 1) Unbelievers are dead spiritually and are therefore incapable of making Christ Lord (Eph. 2:1-2); 2) Unbelievers reject the gospel, considering it foolish (1 Cor. 2:14); and 3) Unbelievers are actually “enemies of Christ” (Rom. 5:10). 4) Unbelievers are spiritually blinded to the gospel by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4). Thus it is illogical to say that someone who is spiritually blind, who is spiritually dead, who thinks the gospel of salvation is foolish, and who is an enemy of Christ, will make Christ Lord of their life prior to salvation.