A friend of mine who graduated with me from Summit Ministries contacted me about my stance on Eternal Salvation and how we should live a Christian life. He was coming from a “Lordship Salvation” point of view, whereas I was coming from a biblical point of view that Salvation is by God’s Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone. This is the response that I sent him in regards to some of the points that he made in our discussion. Instead of putting his claims on here, I simply worded the response in a way that made it obvious what the claim said.
First , one of the main things that I have seen from the teachers of Reformed Theology, Calvinism, and Lordship is that they constantly confuse Justification and Sanctification. It is very difficult to determine to whom they are speaking (saved or unsaved).
Scripture is clear that we are saved (or justified) by God’s grace alone, through our faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone, not by our works. It is a free gift of God which we do not deserve or earn, which is the definition of grace (Eph. 2:8-9). The word justified is a legal term which basically means to “be made right”. We cannot enter into heaven unless we are righteous. Because we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, we are not righteous. That is why Christ died for our sins. When we believe in Christ as our savior, it is accredited to us as righteousness. The innocent blood of Christ covers us and we are sealed in Christ. Nothing can snatch us from His hand nor his Father’s hand (John 10:27-30). This divine double grip guarantees our preservation for all eternity. It is not our holding on to Him, but His holding on to us that keeps us securely saved. Once we believe/put our faith in Christ, we are justified, or made right, in the eyes of God. Nothing can take that from us.
Once we have been justified, we start the process which the scripture calls sanctification, or being made holy, is what we call the Christian life. This deals with our everyday living and how we should live as believers. We are supposed to live our lives in a way that pleases the Lord. We do this by doing good works, spreading the gospel, discipling other believers, bringing people to Christ, etc. This lifestyle would be pretty similar to what Lordship folks say is “living for the Lord” or “Submitting your life to the Lordship of Christ”. As believers, we are supposed to live this way, but sadly in some cases, people become believers, and stay, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians and 1 Peter, “babes in Christ”. They are believers; they have put their faith in Christ as their Savior, but they haven't done anything since that. Scripture tells more mature believers to mentor and disciple these babes in order to help them become more mature in their faith and come to live their lives in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.
Almost all Lordship teachers and followers think that someone must be living a good Christian life in order to be “truly” saved. But that is never mentioned in scripture because if our good works in our Christian life are what make us saved/justified, then the object of salvation is not Christ, but our works, thus making Christ death be in vain (Gal. 2:21). Our works are completely separate from our faith in regards to salvation/justification.
Christ died for our sins because we could never achieve righteousness through the law/works. Therefore when we have put our faith in Christ and are saved/justified, we are no longer obligated to obey the law because Christ fulfilled it and we are seen as righteous as he is. Now, just because we are not obligated to do good works to get to heaven does that mean that we should just live however we want? By no means! Freedom from the law through faith in Christ means that we can freely and by our own accord choose to serve and follow him. Galatians 2:11-21 describes this beautifully.
One other thing that bugs me about the phrases that Lordship folks use is the emphasis on the words “really” and similar words used to describe salvation. Often times Lordship people like to say “Well, some people who think they are saved, really arent.” or “They were never really saved” or “There faith wasn't real”. They seem to indicate that there are different types of faith, but scripture shows us that there is just one type of faith, and that is the saving faith of believing in Christ Jesus as your savior for eternal life. You either have faith or you don't. You either are saved, or you are not. There are no varying degrees of faith.
Matthew 7: 15-23
The purpose of this passage in Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, was not to present the way of salvation, because his disciples were already saved, but it is presenting a way of righteous living for those who are in God's family. He is instructing his disciples on how to work with other people.
In chapter 7, starting in verse 15 and following, he specifically says he is talking about false teachers. He is warning his disciples about false teachers who come across as sheep but are really wolves. He is saying that they may come across as good teachers, but inwardly they are vicious false teachers. He is telling them that they will be able to tell if they are false teachers by what they teach. If it is contrary to the truth, then it is bad fruit. If they are false teachers they will not say the truth (have good fruit). He is talking specifically about false teachers in this context.
Now, continuing in verse 21, he is saying that not everyone who calls out to him will go to heaven, but only those who do the will of his father. Now, what is the will of his father? God’s will for unsaved people is not merely proper theology and impressive works. In the context, Jesus wants people to accept God’s Way (7:13-14) and God’s Word (7:24-27), and obey accordingly. Previously in this Sermon, Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven was entered only by those whose righteousness exceeds that of the self-righteous Jewish leaders (5:20-48). The righteousness required for eternal life is not based on outward conduct (5:21-28), which is why they should seek God’s righteousness (6:33). Jesus is the narrow gate that leads to God’s righteousness and life (7:13-14; John 10:9). Similar words and concepts in 7:21-23 and 21:23-46 show that the issue is belief in Christ and His righteousness (21:25, 32). Other Bible passages help us know how to receive God’s righteousness (Rom. 3:21-24). Works are not acceptable for obtaining God’s righteousness (Rom. 4:4-5). The only thing God wants an unbeliever to do is believe in His Son, Jesus Christ (John 6:27-29). The will of the Father is to believe in Jesus Christ for righteousness (Matthew 12:50; John 6:40).*
He is saying that only those who believe in Christ as their savior will go to heaven. The reason he said that the people who said "Lord Lord" will not enter is because they never believed in him for eternal life.
It is further explained in the following verses. He says that many who have done lots of good works such as having preached and spoken as prophets, performed exorcisms, and done many supernatural signs, are trusting in their works to merit eternal life. Their plea to Christ reveals an attempt to justify their entrance into the kingdom of heaven based on their magnificent performances. Their pride in their deeds reveals an attitude of self-righteousness. In their plea, they do not say, “Have we not believed in You alone?” They are thinking that they can get into heaven by those good works.*
In verse 23 He says to them that he never knew them. Now, if they were believers, then he would have at least known them at one point, but that is not the case here. He says he NEVER knew them, meaning they had never put their faith in Him as their savior, meaning they were never what we call Christians.*
They may have thought that their works and doing those things were what made them Christian, but a what makes someone a Christian/believer is putting your faith alone in Christ alone as your savior from sin.
These people might have submitted to the Lordship of Jesus but Submission to Christ’s lordship is not enough to save a person. Someone can surrender all of his or her life and be a devoted follower and servant of Christ’s ethical commands, but not know Jesus Christ as Savior. After all, the people in this passage do not cry “Savior, Savior.” Good works, no matter how great they are, are not enough to save a person. Neither can one’s deeds prove a relationship to Jesus Christ as Savior. Miraculous performances can come from sources other than God (Acts 19:13; 2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 13:1-12). *
In relation to the much debated passage in James 2 about the “faith vs works”, the whole book was written to those that were already justified before God/saved. This passage is in reference to how we should be towards others that are not saved, and how we should show our faith to them so that they might believe. A common misconception that I’ve seen is that people see this passage, and specifically the “faith without works is dead” part and they think that it means that if the person has no good works, then their faith is not real, or that they have no faith. This idea is not what the passages are saying. As I pointed out, in context, this book is written to those who already believe, its purpose is not to show how to get saved/justified, it is to show how we should live our life once we are saved, in a way that can bring others to Christ. The word “dead” used in verse 26 is, in context, best translated as “useless”. Our faith, without good works, is useless to unbelievers. Yes, we have faith, and that is what has saved/justified us and nothing can take that away from us, but it is useless to others if we don't do good works to help people or to bring people to Christ. A good analogy of this would be: A man who has his medical doctorate is useless if he doesn't practice medicine. Yes, he has his degree and he is a doctor, nothing can take that away from him, but what good is he to people if he does not help them? He isn't, his profession is dead or useless because he doesn't use it in the way it is supposed to be used. Does that mean he doesn't have his medical degree? Of course not! He still has it; he benefits from it, but others do not.
Another thing to keep in mind is in verse 21 the justification of Abraham by his faith alone is mentioned, “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?” Also, verse 23 references Genesis 15:6 which states, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” That is what saved Abraham, believing/putting his faith in God. Some 30 years later Abraham was justified before men by his works when he offered Isaac in Genesis 22. That was to be shown before men that he was saved. Before God justification is by faith alone, before men, in order for them to see, faith must be demonstrated in works.
Assurance of Salvation
My friend said this about assurance of salvation and Paul:
1 Corinthians 9:27 - “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
If anyone would have total assurance of salvation, it would be the Apostle Paul, But he doesn't
In reference to what you said about Paul not having the assurance of salvation:
I think you misread that verse and read it out of context. Throughout that chapter he has talked about rewards for doing good things. This reward is NOT heaven, it is the inheritance/rewards that we will receive in heaven for our works. He is saying that he is disciplining himself so that he will not be disqualified from the rewards. A cross reference about this reward is 1 Corinthians 3:14, which says “If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward”. In context he is talking about any man who, after believing in Christ, does good works that are in the right motive in serving the Lord, then those things will survive the fire and shall receive rewards for that. Salvation is a free gift, but rewards, for those who are saved, are earned. The quality of our service is the criterion. Rewards are often spoke of as crowns (1 Corinth. 9:25; 1 Thess. 2:19, 2 Tim. 4:8, James 1:12, 1 Peter 5:4, Rev. 2:10, 3:11, 4:4, and 10). Also the reward is mentioned in 2 John 8.
When we are discussing this issue of assurance of salvation. we have to deal with the biblical data. There is no doubt that the New Testament authors knew they were saved. Just read the introduction to some of the epistles and see how they referred to themselves. Romans 1:1 Paul says “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God.” No uncertainty there! Paul knew that if he were to die he would immediately pass into the presence of the Lord. “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8). No Uncertainty there either. We get the same certainty from James (James 1:1), Peter (1 Peter 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1), Jude (Jude 1), and John. In 1 John 5:11-13 he says, “ And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” John tells his readers that if they have Jesus Christ, they have eternal life. Since they have believed in Jesus they should know that they have eternal life. It is a simple statement of fact. All people born into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ should know that they have eternal life.
If God wants us to know we are saved, it is presumptuous not to know . If God made us a promise to be believed, then it is foolish not to take God at His word. Who are we to say His promise cannot be true for us? His word is true as stated. God thinks that we should know and that we need to know. *
Can Good Works Prove Salvation? *
Some who would agree that we are saved through faith alone and not by works nevertheless teach that works are necessary to prove that salvation is genuine. Instead of frontloading the gospel with works, they backload it. One popular saying is, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” While this may sound good at first, on closer examination it is a nonsensical and contradictory statement, because it says that faith must be alone but never alone!
There is every reason to think that those who have believed in Jesus Christ as Savior and are consequently born into God’s family will experience a changed life to some degree. Some would say that this changed life is evidenced by good works which proves they are saved. If that is true, then the converse is true: if there are no good works, then there is no salvation. In this view, good works (sometimes called “fruit” or evidence of a changed life) prove or disprove one’s eternal salvation.
Some passages are used to contend that works can prove or disprove one’s eternal salvation. Probably the most common are James 2:14-26, John 15:6, and Matthew 7:15-20. But James is writing to Christians about the usefulness of their faith, not its genuineness. Likewise, in John 15:6 Jesus is talking about fruitless believers and compares them to branches that are burned, in other words, not of much use. Matthew 7:15-20 warns against false prophets (not believers in general) who can be evaluated on the basis of their evil deeds or heretical teaching (not an absence of works in general).
There is no passage of Scripture that claims works can prove salvation. In fact, there are many problems with trying to use works to prove salvation, or the lack of works to disprove salvation.
Good works can characterize non-Christians. Works in and of themselves can not prove that anyone is eternally saved because those who have not believed in Christ will often do good things. In fact, good deeds are essential to many non-Christian religions. Sometimes the outward morality of non-Christians exceeds that of established Christians. In Matthew 7:21-23 we see the possibility of those who do not know Christ doing great works, but their works are useless in demonstrating their salvation; they are not saved.
Good works can be hard to define. Though we might define a good work as something done by a Christian through the Spirit for the Lord, how can we always know when that is true? It is hard to imagine even a single day when a Christian (or non-Christian, for that matter) would not do something good like go to work to provide for a family, hold a door for someone, or brake for a squirrel. How can we know when these things are done through the Spirit and for the Lord, especially if they can be done by non-Christians?
Good works are relative. While a person’s behavior may seem excessive, it may actually demonstrate great progress in that person’s Christian growth. A man slips with a curse word that startles other believers, but those believers do not know that before his conversion, curse words flowed freely. The amount of fruit must be considered in the context of one’s total past life, a difficult thing to do. It may also be relative to the amount of sin in one’s present life. For example, if a Christian were to commit adultery, we might focus our thinking on that sin so that we ignore the other good things he is doing.
Good works can be passive in nature. The fruit of salvation is not always what we do, but often what we do not do. As a Christian, one may no longer get drunk or may refrain from yelling at an inconsiderate motorist. This fruit of the Spirit, self-control, may not be detected by others because of its passive nature.
Good works can be unseen. In Matthew 6:1-6 Jesus told his followers to give and pray in secret rather than publicly. A person who never prays in a group may breathe a prayer while driving and no one will ever know. Another may not attend church, but give regularly to a Christian charity. These are works that go unobserved by others.
Good works can be deceptive. Since we can not know one’s motives, a seeming good work could be done for the wrong reason. A person might give money to a church to impress others. Another might volunteer to work with church children only to wait for an opportunity to sexually abuse them. These are not actually good works at all! Motives are difficult to discern, even for the doer, but God knows each person’s heart (1 Cor. 4:3-5)
Good works can be inconsistent. The Bible allows the possibility of believers who begin well, but fall away from their walk with the Lord or fall into sin (1 Cor. 11:30; 2 Tim. 4:10; James 5:19-20). If a Christian shows the evidence of a changed life, but later falls away, at what point in their life do we examine them to prove or disprove their salvation? If there can be lapses in good works, how long does the lapse continue before one is judged as never saved?
Nowhere does the Bible teach that fruit or good works can prove one’s eternal salvation. Since the fruit of good works is not easily discerned or quantified, it can not be reliable proof of salvation. The subjective nature of measuring one’s fruit creates the impossibility of knowing objectively whether someone is saved. The amount of fruit necessary to please one Christian “fruit inspector” may not please the next “fruit inspector.” As Christians, we are created in Jesus Christ to do good works (Eph. 2:10) and expected to do good works (1 Tim. 6:18; Titus 2:7, 14; Heb. 10:24), but good works are never attached to the condition for salvation, which is faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 4:4-5). While good works can be corroborating evidence for one’s faith in Christ, they are not sufficient to prove or disprove it. Only faith in God’s promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ guarantees and proves our salvation.
Since our salvation is grounded in God's promise and not our performance, since it is a free undeserved gift and not something we must earn, we are secure. God's promise is sure and he cannot lie. Romans 3:4 says, "Let God be true but every man a liar." In 2 Timothy 2:13 he says, "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny himself ." In other words, even if we were to deny our relationship to Jesus Christ (as the disciple Peter did), God is faithful to His promise to give us His salvation.
*The majority of this is written by me, but in some parts I used text from Dr. Charles C. Bing’s book “Simply by Grace” and his website gracelife.org