The gospel that Jesus proclaimed is different than the one we hear today in many evangelical circles. Present-day evangelicalism, for the most part, has watered down the message, effect, and expectation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel that Jesus and the apostles proclaimed was more than a plea to make a decision or pray a prayer. It was a call to repentance, submissive obedience, and discipleship. The gospel they preached was a rebuke to outwardly religious people whose lives were void of true righteousness. Simply put, it challenged sinners to turn from sin and embrace a new life of righteousness.
The gospel of the Bible liberates people from the helpless bondage of sin. At the same time it holds forth a new expectation of a changed life. The Bible assumes that the faith of those who embrace Jesus Christ will have an operative effect on their character and their will. The message of eternal life Jesus spoke about was always accompanied by warnings to those who might take salvation lightly. Instead of a gospel that is easy to believe, He taught that the cost of following Him is high, that the way is narrow, and that few find it. He said on one occasion that many who call on Him as Lord will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:13-23 NASB, New American Standard Bible).
The prevailing view today of what saving faith is continues to grow more and more fuzzy. Because of a lack of solid and thorough expository preaching anyone who claims to be a Christian can find wide acceptance among evangelicals. The grave danger is the decreasing discernment of what it means to be a Christian. Today, anyone who claims to be a Christian is assumed to possess eternal life–even if his behavior and life pattern show no evidence of a surrender and commitment to Christ. According to 1 John 3:10 NASB, this view of Christianity is biblically unacceptable.
1 John 3:10 NASB “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.“
The startling and alarming fact about the modern church is that it has adopted an inadequate view of the gospel. Instead of calling men and women to surrender their lives to Christ as Lord, the modern evangelism simply asks them to believe in some basic facts about Him. This shallow understanding of salvation and the gospel is known as “easy-believism,” and stands in complete opposition to what the Scriptures teach. The gospel is a call of faith. The Bible presupposes that sinners must repent of their sins and submit their lives in surrender to Christ’s authority. This is called “Lordship salvation.”
What are the “distinctives” of Lordship Salvation?
To avoid any erroneous conclusions, consider the common factors. There is agreement among all true believers on the following fundamental truths: (1) Christ’s death purchased eternal salvation; (2) the saved are justified by grace, through faith in Christ alone, apart from works; (3) sinners cannot earn divine favor through human effort; (4) God requires no preparatory works of pre-salvation reformation; (5) eternal life is a gift of God; (6) believers are saved before their faith ever produces any righteous works; and (7) Christians can and do sin, sometimes horribly; and they can be gripped by life dominating sins.
What do the Scriptures say about Lordship salvation and easy “believism”?
The following are nine (9) distinctives of a biblical understanding of the gospel as it relates to salvation.
First, Scripture teaches that the gospel calls sinners to faith that INCLUDES repentance (Acts 2:38; 17:30; 20:21 NASB).
2 Peter 3:9 NASB “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.“
Biblical repentance is not just an intellectual acknowledgment of sinful behavior–but a turning from it (Acts 3:19; Luke 24:47 NASB). Repentance is not a human work alone–but a work of God’s grace in the heart (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25 NASB) and a God-wrought transformation that effects change. This change is operative not only in one’s attitude but also in one’s will. In other words, true repentance will never fall short of changed behavior (Luke 3:8; Acts 26:18-20 NASB). In contrast, easy believism teaches that repentance is simply a synonym for faith and that no turning from sin is required for salvation.
Second, Scripture teaches that salvation is a work of God.
Those who believe are saved utterly apart from any effort on their own (Titus 3:5 NASB). According to Eph. 2:1-5 NASB, faith is a gift of God not a work of man. Real biblical faith, therefore, is not simply a temporary human choice, but a life-altering disposition that will endure forever (Phil. 1:6; Heb. 11 NASB). In contrast, easy believism tends to strip the gospel of its sustaining power and places all the responsibility on the individual’s shoulders. Even though each believer is responsible to strive for holiness, easy believism claims that faith might not last, and a true Christian might not ever grow spiritually.
Third, Biblical faith involves a personal commitment to the Person of Jesus Christ–not to a creed, a promise, a church, or a denomination (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:15 NASB).
In other words, all true believers will desire to follow Jesus (John 10:27-28 NASB). In contrast, easy believism teaches that saving faith is simply being convinced or acknowledging the truth of the gospel and does not include a personal commitment to the Lordship of Christ.
Fourth, Scripture teaches that real saving faith will produce a changed life (2 Cor. 5:17 NASB).
Salvation first speaks of an inner transformation (Gal. 2:20 NASB) because of the new nature that is distinctly different from the old (Rom. 6:6). The unbroken pattern of sin and indifference toward God will not continue when one is truly born again.
1 John 3:9-10 NASB “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.“
Those with genuine faith follow Christ (John 10:27 NASB), love their brothers (1 John 3:14 NASB), obey God’s commandments (1 John 2:3; John 15:14 NASB), do the will of God (Matt. 12:50 NASB), keep God’s Word (John 17:6 NASB), do good works (Eph. 2:10 NASB), and continue in the faith (Col. 1:21-23; Heb. 3:14 NASB). In contrast, easy “believism” teaches that there does not have to be fruit and there might not be any visible fruit to other Christians. They claim that Christians can even lapse into a state of permanent spiritual barrenness.
Fifth, Scripture teaches that God’s gift of eternal life includes all that pertains to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3; Rom. 8:32 NASB).
This would include both positional and experiential realities of salvation. In easy believism, only judicial aspects of salvation such as justification, adoption, and positional sanctification are guaranteed for believers in this life; practical or experiential sanctification and growth in grace must require a post-conversion act of dedication. In other words, experiencing growth is totally up to the believer and independent of God’s plan.
Sixth, Scripture teaches that Jesus is Lord of all, and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender (Rom. 6:17-18; 10:9-10 NASB).
In other words, Christ does not bestow eternal life on those whose hearts remain set against Him (James 4:6 NASB). Surrender to Jesus’ Lordship is not an addendum to the biblical terms of salvation. The summons to surrender and submission to Christ’s Lordship is the heart of the gospel throughout the Scriptures (Luke 9:23-25; Matt. 7:14 NASB). In contrast, easy believism teaches that submission to Christ’s authority is not necessary to saving faith.
Seventh, Scripture teaches that those who truly believe will love Christ (1 Pet. 1:8-9; Rom. 8:28-30; 1 Cor. 16:22 NASB).
They will, therefore, have an increasing desire to obey Him (John 14:15, 23 NASB). In contrast, easy believism teaches that Christians may fall into a state of life-long carnality.
Eighth, Scripture teaches that behavior is an important test of faith.
Obedience is evidence that one’s faith is real (1 John 2:3 NASB). On the other hand, the person who remains utterly unwilling to obey Christ does not show evidence of true faith (1 John 2:4 NASB). In contrast, easy believism teaches that a true believer may utterly forsake Christ and come to the point of not believing.
Ninth, Scripture teaches that genuine believers may stumble and fall, but they will persevere in the faith (1 Cor. 1:8 NASB).
Those who later run completely away from the Lord were never truly born again (1 John 2:19 NASB). In contrast, easy believism teaches that a true believer may utterly forsake Christ and come to the point of not believing.
These principles may seem new or radical, however, orthodox Christians have held to these basic tenets for centuries. No major orthodox movement in the history of Christianity has ever taught that sinners can spurn the Lordship of Christ yet accurately lay claim to Him as Savior. This issue is not a trivial one. How could any issue be more important?
Our view of the gospel has eternal ramifications. If a true gospel is presented, it can lead those who believe to eternal life. If it is distorted, it can deceive people into a false hope while sentencing them to eternal damnation. This is not for the theologians only to wrestle with, but it is a call to each one of us to ensure the right gospel is proclaimed to a lost and dying world.