Because the position I have outlined in the previous lesson insists that the gospel requires belief in Jesus as Lord, some might accuse me of teaching Lordship Salvation. One opponent of Lordship Salvation has defined it as
the belief that a person must surrender every area of his or her life to Christ's absolute control in order to be saved.
The same writer complains,
Advocates of "Lordship salvation" . . . contend that one cannot receive Christ as Savior from sin without also receiving Him as Lord of one's entire life.
As I will show, neither assertion describes my own position. Whether it describes the position of any prominent writer or teacher today is a question we will not address here.
Among older writers, Spurgeon presented the gospel in terms verging on Lordship Salvation. His writings abound in statements offensive to those modern theologues who are finicky about keeping salvation separate from surrender. For example, in his book The Soul-Winner, Spurgeon says,
Together with undivided faith in Jesus Christ there must also be unfeigned repentance of sin. Repentance is an old-fashioned word, not much used by modern revivalists. "Oh!" said a minister to me one day, "it only means a change of mind." This was thought to be a profound observation. "Only a change of mind"; but what a change (1)!
Another proof of the conquest of a soul for Christ will be found in a real change of life. If the man does not live differently from what he did before, both at home and abroad, his repentance needs to be repented of, and his conversion is a fiction. Not only action and language, but spirit and temper must be changed (2).
True regeneration implants a hatred of all evil; and where one sin is delighted in, the evidence is fatal to a sound hope (3).
There must also be a willingness to obey the Lord in all His commandments (4).
If [presumably, at the time of conversion] the professed convert distinctly and deliberately declares that he knows his Lord's will but does not mean to attend to it, you are not to pamper his presumption, but it is your duty to assure him that he is not saved (5).
I would count myself in agreement with Spurgeon. What he is teaching is not Lordship Salvation, however, but true repentance. A better label for his position and mine (if I may link the names of a gnat and an elephant) would be Life-Changing Salvation.
The difference between this and Lordship Salvation is that the latter defines repentance as the forsaking of sin. Personal reform through the forsaking of sin is a human work. Thus, Lordship Salvation denies the principle that human works are useless for obtaining salvation—that salvation can be obtained only by faith in Christ.
Internal versus external
Life-Changing Salvation is altogether different. Instead of teaching that repentance is the forsaking of sin, it teaches that repentance involves a willingness to forsake sin. There is all the difference in the world between willingness and performance. A willingness of the heart, being wholly internal, is not a work. A work is something external, something a man does or says. A work is any kind of observable conduct.
If we stretched the definition of works to include responses of the inner man, we would have to consider faith itself as a work. We then could purge salvation of works only by excusing the sinner from the necessity of faith. After all, God could, if He so desired, leave our will out of the process entirely. He could just zap us with salvation and then send us a telegram informing us that we had been saved. But He chooses to involve our will, requiring not only that we inwardly by faith embrace Christ, but also that we inwardly turn away from sin.
Like faith, repentance is something internal. It is the attainment within the heart of a new attitude toward sin and righteousness. Throughout Scripture, repentance in this sense is clearly distinguished from external works. John the Baptist said,
Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.
Paul said that he
. . . shewed . . . to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
Both texts clearly view repentance as an inner resolve to seek righteousness. Moreover, they view this resolve as distinct from the works issuing from it.
General versus specific
Although the seeker after salvation must be willing to forsake sin, he need not go through a laborious procedure of remembering and renouncing every specific sin he has ever committed or intends to commit. He may conceive of his own sin in general terms rather than in terms of particular transgressions, or he may be aware of certain transgressions but not others. But however he conceives of his sin, he must be willing to forsake it.
Seldom can a hearer of the gospel reach a decision without considering some question of obedience. It is obvious that many refuse to accept Christ precisely because they are unwilling to obey Him. Consider these examples:
- Many who turn away from the gospel cherish habits that they know they cannot retain as a Christian. The alcoholic understands that if he receives Christ, he will have to give up drink. Unwillingness to live without drink may be the huge obstacle in the way of his conversion.
- Others who turn away are unwilling to give up some bitterness or hatred. They realize that to become a Christian would oblige them to seek reconciliation with their enemy.
- Yet others may stand aloof because they live in a society where Christians are persecuted. To become a Christian could mean reprisals, even death. For these, the hindering sin is fear.
In each case, salvation is not possible until the sinner takes a different view of the sin he cherishes above Christ. Willingness to forsake that sin is therefore a condition of his salvation. What we are talking about, however, is not a renunciation of all past sins taken one at a time, but a willingness to forsake sin in general as well as any specific sins that, under the Spirit's conviction, the sinner knows he cannot retain as a believer in Christ. The Spirit of God will properly define the issue. He will determine which sins are best dealt with at salvation and which are best dealt with later.
Even when carefully distinguished from a truly objectionable form of Lordship Salvation, the position we have called Life-Changing Salvation is unacceptable to many in the church today. They believe that coming to Christ involves no thought or commitment as to manner of life in the future. They raise the following specific objections to Life-Changing Salvation.
- It misconstrues the meaning of repentance. The word merely signifies a change of mind about Christ.
- It compromises the simplicity of the gospel.
Each of these objections is, however, utterly fallacious, as we will show
The meaning of the Greek word for repentance
Two arguments set aside the first objection.
1. The Greek word for "repentance" is metanoia,, which is derived from roots meaning "in company with" (implying "another") and "mind." Many contend, therefore, that metanoia always refers to a change of mind. Yet even if this was the true signification of the word, it does not follow that repentance is coming to a new mind about Christ—a mind which formerly ignored or scorned Him, but which now beholds Him as the Savior from sin. A more likely interpretation of metanoia is that the word describes a change in the convert's outlook on sin. Whereas formerly he cherished it and held on to it doggedly, now he is willing to let it go.
But it is not at all necessary to bring the idea of a mental change into the definition of metanoia. Almost any page of an English dictionary offers many illustrations of the principle that a word's meaning is determined not by its derivation but by its usage. Sinister does not mean "left-handed." Prevent does not mean "to go before." Nice does not mean "ignorant." Ingenuous does not mean "of noble birth." Villain does not mean "man from a farm." In many instances of Biblical usage, including those we listed near the outset of this book, it is clear from the context that metanoia means a sorrowful renunciation of sin. It is admitted even by Zane Hodges, a leading opponent of Life-Changing Salvation as well as Lordship Salvation, that metanoia does not refer particularly to a change of mind about Christ (6).
2. Many have a correct view of Christ long before they are saved. When I was saved at age six, I did not come to a new mind about Jesus. I had never been of a different opinion. I had known for some time that He was God come in the flesh to save sinful man by His death on the cross, that He rose again, that He lives in heaven and hears our prayers, and that we live to serve and please Him. All these truths were deeply impressed on my heart, and I had never doubted them. What I had lacked was a sorrow for my sin and a desire to be saved from it. In other words, what I had lacked was repentance.
When dealing with children, we must be careful not to mistake an intellectual assent to the doctrines of Christianity for genuine conversion.
The simplicity of the true gospel
The true gospel, calling for real repentance, is easily presented to a child. I will give two examples.
1. The adults who dealt with me when I wanted to be saved taught me what I should say to God. When I prayed according to their instruction, I stated that I was sorry for my sin, I sought forgiveness, and I asked Jesus into my heart. By asking Jesus into my heart, I meant that I wanted Him to control my life and give me victory over sin. Thus, I fulfilled the requirements of true repentance. Moreover, by acknowledging that Jesus was the remedy for my sin, I received Him as Savior as well as Lord.
2. The Wordless Book has been an effective tool for presenting the gospel to children. The essentials of the gospel are communicated by showing pages with no writing, but each bearing a different color. Salvation is described as Jesus coming into a black heart and changing it into a white heart. Hence, children understand that accepting Christ is a life-changing experience.
It is possible, then, to state the gospel simply without changing or compromising its essence. Yet many gospel presentations heard today are not only simple; they are defective, as in the following examples:
- Sin is replaced with some other concept, such as low self-esteem or unhappiness. Offering Jesus as a remedy for problems is not the gospel.
- Repentance is treated only as a desire to escape the penalty for sin, not its presence or power.
- The invitation to the lost urges commitment to Christ while overlooking or de-emphasizing His work of redemption.
The Soteriology of Historic Evangelical Churches
In all historic evangelical churches, repentance—invariably defined as a turning from sin, a turning compelled by shame and sorrow for sin already committed—has been considered a condition of salvation.
In this place they [the people of our persuasion] teach Repentance to be that which cometh from the acknowledgment of sin and Gods anger, which through the Law of God first strikes the conscience with sorrow and terrour: for as much as by the Word of God they are inwardly convinced of sin, and the minde becomes affected with an evil conscience, unquiet, exceeding sorrowfull and despairing; the heart anxious, broken, and contrite, so that a man by himself can by no means be raised up, or get comfort, but is altogether afflicted, his spirit being dejected, trembling, shaken and shatter'd with exceeding great horrour through the sight of Gods wrath. . . . But yet notwithstanding they teach, that being thus affrighted, they ought nevertheless not to despair, but rather to return to God with the whole heart, by faith in Christ, which is also a part of Repentance, taking hold of Mercy, and grieving that they have sinned: for although they be void of Righteousness, yet ought they to implore Divine Grace and Mercy, that he would have mercy on them, and that he would pardon their sins for Christ and his merits sake.
From Article V of a Waldensian confession of faith, presented to the king of Bohemia in 1535 (7)
1. Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ.
2. By it a sinner, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God, and upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavouring to walk with him in all the ways of his commandments.
3. Although repentance be not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God's free grace in Christ; yet is it of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it. . . .
5. Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man's duty to endeavour to repent of his particular sins particularly.
From Article XV of The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647, the classic statement of Reformed doctrine (8)
3. This saving Repentance is an Evangelical Grace, whereby a person being by the holy Ghost made sensible of the manifold evils of his sin, doth by Faith in Christ humble himself for it with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrency, praying for pardon and strength of Grace, with a purpose, and endeavor by supplies of the Spirit, to walk before God unto all well-pleasing in all things.
From Chapter XV of The Savoy Declaration, 1658, adopted by the Congregational Churches in England (9)
The Law and the Gospel practically are united, as if in a certain mathematical point. They flow together in producing (1) the repentance of sinners (repentance consists of two parts, contrition and faith, and so it is the apotelesma, or the common effect of converting and regenerating grace. The Law, in converting man, does its part by exciting and producing contrition. The Gospel, in regenerating man, also does its part by enkindling faith in Christ. There results, therefore, repentance, as the effect, from the confluence of the Law and the Gospel.)
From Examen Theologicum Acroamaticum, 1707, the classic statement of Lutheran orthodoxy by the German theologian David Hollaz (10)
Our main doctrines, which include all the rest, are repentance, faith, and holiness. The first of these we account, as it were, the porch of religion; the next the door; the third religion itself.
John Wesley, "Principles of a Methodist further explained," in vol. 5, Works (11)
II. What sinners must do to be saved. . . .
2. You must return and confess your sins to God. . . .
3. You must renounce yourself. . . .
(3.) That you renounce your own will, and be ever ready to say not in word only, but in heart—"Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." You must consent most heartily that God's will shall be your supreme law.
(4.) That you renounce your own way and let God have his own way in everything. . . .
5. You must seek supremely to please Christ, and not yourself.
Charles Finney, Sermons on Gospel Themes (12)
Repentance means a change of mind; and this change of mind is brought about by the Holy Spirit, through the knowledge of the sinner's condition, needs and peril, by which the sinner is convicted "of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:8), and is induced to yield himself wholly, immediately and irrevocably to God.
L. W. Munhall in vol. 3, The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, ed. R. A. Torrey, A. C. Dixon, and others (13)
It is likewise agreed among historic evangelical churches that good works are the necessary result and evidence of true salvation.
To these they add, that those men who are justified onely by the grace of God, and through faith in Christ, do perform those good works which God commandeth. . . .
But they teach, that good works are therefore to be done, that faith may be approved by them: for, good works are sure Testimonies, Seals, and Evidences of a lively faith lying hid within, and fruits of the same, whereby the Tree is known to be good or bad.
From Article VII of the Waldensian confession cited earlier (14)
This is our belief, doctrine, and confession, I. That good works as surely and undoubtedly follow true faith as the fruits of a good tree.
From Epit. IV of the Formula of Concord, 1577, the classic statement of Lutheranism (15)
2. These good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers . . . strengthen their assurance.
From Article XVI of The Westminster Confession of Faith (16)
The testimony now under consideration is given by the Spirit of God to and with our spirit. He is the Person testifying. What he testifies to us is, "that we are the children of God." The immediate result of this testimony is, "the fruits of the Spirit," . . . And without these, the testimony itself cannot continue. For it is inevitably destroyed, not only by the commission of any outward sin, or the omission of known duty, but by giving way to any inward sin.
John Wesley (17)
We are saved through faith alone, but not the faith that is alone, because "Faith without works is dead, being alone."
L. W. Munhall (18)
To these quotations and the earlier quotations of Spurgeon we could append many others. Indeed, contrary views cannot be found anywhere in mainstream Christianity before 1900.
Those opponents of Life-Changing Salvation who are well versed in church history do not deny that they have departed from a historic position of the church. In their own defense, they argue that the soteriology of the Waldensians, Lutherans, Calvinists, Wesleyans, and all other orthodox churches until the early days of fundamentalism was distorted by legalism. They see themselves as the champions of grace. To account for the past dominance of Life-Changing Salvation, they suppose that, as history unfolds, the church is moving toward an ever more perfect understanding of what the Bible means. They believe that the church's understanding of the cardinal doctrines, even of the doctrines pertaining to salvation, is progressive, that the refinements which they propose shake off the remnants of medievalism and recapture truths lost for almost two thousand years.
In reply, we acknowledge that the understanding of the Scriptures has been somewhat progressive on issues of prophecy, creation, and Bible-science correlations. But on questions vital to Christian faith and practice, we should not expect help from doctrinal innovations. God is not so fond of believers today that He should give them better light on such questions than He gave to their spiritual ancestors. Out of an impartial love for His children, the Father has made sure that all of them have received correct teaching on how to be saved and how to live. The full spectrum of basic truth was known not only to the apostles, but also to believers throughout the early centuries of the church and even, in various places, throughout the Dark Ages. This point is established in E. H. Broadbent's fascinating book The Pilgrim Church (19). The opponents of Life-Changing Salvation are especially harsh in their evaluation of the Puritans. But the Puritans were not behindhand in comprehending grace. Owen's work on the Holy Spirit is still unsurpassed. Bunyan's allegory of the Christian life is flawless.