Monday, November 28, 2011

The Trouble with "Lordship Salvation"

I am convinced that the whole point of Christianity is knowing God the Father through Jesus Christ, and in that knowledge we find salvation, rest, peace and eternal life, because through Christ crucified we learn that God is a God of grace. This grace is righteous, and is seen in the cross where both God's wrath against us and His amazing love for us came to a head. The cross is the place of the revelation of the Father through Christ, and if we have we have seen Christ crucified we have seen the Father, and that is enough.

I am grieved over the so-called Lordship preaching that is so common throughout the Christian church. Many preachers fail to communicate what Christianity is to their hearers. These men have made faith and obedience to the moral law practically indistinguishable, and in so doing they are making Christianity indistinguishable from every other religion. Many would contest my point, but I am convinced that even though our religion may have its own distinctive facts like the virgin birth of Christ, Jesus walking on water, the resurrection, and the second coming of Christ the King, if we lose the message of the gospel of grace we are essentially no different than the other religions of this world, which are all based upon works-based righteousness. What makes the gospel the gospel is that it is the good news of what God has done for us sinners, and we are called to believe that news and experience rest and peace in believing. The gospel is the revelation of righteousness through faith alone (Rom. 1:16-17) which alone reveals to us the love of God for us (Rom. 5:8), in which alone we find salvation.

Before I was born again I believed in the fact that Jesus had died on the cross for my sins, but I didn't understand the meaning of that fact, and I thought that Christ did what He did so that if I obeyed His moral commandments and lived rightly, then I would partake in His merciful salvation. I believed like these many preachers, but I was lost and was full of guilt. I wasn't believing the truth, for the truth sets you free. It was not until I understood the meaning of the death of Christ that I finally experienced peace with God and received the assurance that I had eternal life. It wasn't until I understood that God sent Christ to die for me while I was a disobedient sinner, and that the work of redemption was finished on my behalf, and that God's heart was full of forgiveness for me as a sinner, that my guilt instantly left me. It was not until I understood that God's heart was full of grace for me as a sinner in my sin, that I believed in His goodness and found rest for my soul.

"For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph. 2:8-9) Notice this verse doesn't explicitly mention either Jesus Christ or the cross. That is because the cross of Christ is found inside the word grace. We are saved by grace (that is, by the undeserved favor of God for sinners demonstrated in the redeeming death of Jesus Christ for our sins), through faith. Faith is not what saves us, but it is the means through which the grace of God saves me. Spurgeon likened faith to swallowing: my hunger is not alleviated by swallowing, but through swallowing. It is by food that I am filled, through swallowing. If I don't swallow the food I will never be filled, but I can swallow all day long without food and nothing will happen. Thus it is the object of our faith that makes all the difference, and when I have faith in the right object (the grace of God), then it is that the true object of faith delivers me. The object of our faith - what we are believing as Christians - is that Christ died for our sins and rose again, and that what this reveals is the forgiving heart that God has for sinners. It tells us that God is love, what kind of love He is, and by knowing this we believe and rest in God. Paul explicitly denies that work has anything to do with the means of salvation; and of course it doesn't if what I am saying is true. The moment you require any work to be done in order to receive salvation, you have unwittingly changed everything. It is no longer about us looking to see who God is, but it becomes about God looking to see who we are. But the lesson of the law is that when God looks to see who we are, He sees that no one is good. It is we, the unrighteous ones, that must look to God.

Christ calls us to come unto Him and rest. He calls us to believe in Him, and by so doing to believe in the Father (John 12:44). The trouble with the Lordship salvation doctrine is that it sets people upon looking to themselves and what they need to do in order to be saved, rather than upon believing in the Father and what He has done for them through Jesus Christ. As right as it is to serve God (for this is what the moral law requires), Christ showed us that the gospel is ultimately about God serving us, and not us serving God. It sounds blasphemous, but Christ said it, and He said it to a man who felt that it was blasphemous. "Lord, do you wash my feet? You shall never wash my feet!" Jesus replied, "If I do not wash your feet, you have no part with me." This man then said, "In that case, give me the full treatment!" While the gospel does inspire us to serve God, it itself is about God serving us. God came into the world, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. For those who see God, they cannot help but worship and adore Him. But that worship is only inspired when we see how God loved us and gave Himself for us as unworthy sinners, and not when we think otherwise. "Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood... to Him be glory and honor and dominion and power forever and ever!" It is the sight of the slain Lamb that prompts this praise. Why did the woman serve Christ by washing His feet with her tears? It was because "he that is forgiven much loves much." She was not serving Him in order to be forgiven. She was serving Him, spontaneously and deeply, because she could not stop thinking about how beautiful Christ was for loving and forgiving an unworthy sinner like her.

But what about those verses that speak about taking up your cross in order to be a disciple? This, I am convinced, has absolutely nothing to do with the unbiblical "die to self" language that is so often repeated in Christian circles. The commonly held notion is that Jesus is speaking spiritually, meaning that we need to say "no" to our sinful desires and "yes" to obedience to His moral standards. I believe, however, that this interpretation of Christ's words is false, and is a product of our Western culture where for the most part Christians don't experience much persecution from their families and communities. But Jesus was actually crucified, and He promised that the world would likewise hate His disciples on account of Him: "They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time will come when whoever kills you will think they are doing God a service: and this they will do, because they do not know the Father, nor me." (John 16:2-3) It is real persecution that Christ has in view when He tells us that we must take up our cross if we are going to follow Him. By believing in the grace of God - the message of truth about God - the world will despise you, ridicule you, and even kill you. To believe the gospel means we must be willing to face the animosity of an unbelieving world. How interesting that it was the religious world Christ had in view: those who will hate you are those who do not know the Father, but think that salvation is all ultimately about serving God and obeying the moral law. Challenge that idea, and watch the story of Cain and Abel unfold again. Therefore Christ forewarns: if you believe in me, be prepared to lose family members, friends, and maybe even your own life; but it is worth it. Take up your cross and follow me.

It is the gospel itself, the good news of the grace of God, the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins through faith alone, that gives us peace and provokes the hatred of the world. We must not allow ourselves to miss the point, failing to see what Christianity is all about. If we add anything to being saved besides simple faith in Jesus Christ, we not only will find ourselves with a religion no different than all the other religions in this world, but we will have lost the true knowledge of God. So everything is at stake.