Lordship from the Start: A Meditation on Saving Grace

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Updated: I’ve included a few quotes from Charles Ryrie and Robert Wilkin to demonstrate my concerns with their truncated understanding of faith.

Although it has been some time since John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus launched a biblical salvo into the Free Grace Movement, every now and again I come across people who believe in Non-Lordship Salvation. I have Charles Ryrie’s book So Great Salvation book on my shelf—a book that argues against Lordship Salvation—because a friend who denied Lordship salvation gave it to me as a free gift.

But the trouble with Ryrie’s position is the way in which Scripture itself speaks of faith. In one place he writes, “it seems that many believers do not settle the matter of personal, subjective lordship of Christ over the years of their lives until after they have been born again” (68). Aside from the convoluted grammar of that sentence, he essentially suggests a faithless faith, a belief that may never bear the fruit of faithfulness. As Robert Wilkin, the executive director of the Grace Evangelical Society, puts it, “Christians can fail to endure, fall away, and prove to have been wicked,” and thus “salvation is based on faith in Christnot faithful service for Christ(Four Views of the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, 29, emphasis his).

If this sounds like amazing grace to you, it doesn’t ring true with all Scripture says. Because in the Bible, faith is qualified by terms like obeying the truth, following Christ, feeding on Christ, honoring the Son, and keeping God’s commands. For instance, in both Romans 1:5 and 16:26, Paul speaks of securing the “obedience of faith” in the gospel. What does that mean? In short, it means that saving faith is more being convinced or giving creedal affirmation of the gospel, which is Ryrie’s stated definition of faith (So Great Salvation, 144).

By contrast, a new covenant understanding of the question describes faith as the life and breath of a man or woman made alive by the Spirit. Thus, from the beginning, faith in Jesus Christ has eyes to see who Christ is (2 Corinthians 4:5), a desire to turn from all other idolatrous lords (Acts 3:19; 26:20), and a willingness to submit oneself to him. This is what a full examination of Scripture indicates and what  Luke 7 demonstrates.

What Luke 7 Adds to the Lordship Discussion

In Luke 7, Jesus had just finished speaking to the people about rightly applying the Law (ch. 6), and now upon entrance into Capernaum he encountered a centurion, a Roman soldier well known in that town, a man obviously well-respected, but still a man that was a Gentile. Yet, like the woman of Samaria (John 4) and the Caananite woman (Matthew 15), faith is best seen in those who otherwise wouldn’t be expected to believe. And in this case, we find a clear example of faith—and faith that submitted to the Lordship of Christ from the beginning.

The account tells of how the centurion had a valued servant on the edge of death (v. 2). In response to hearing that Jesus was near, he sent what appears to be some of his friends who happened to be Jewish elders from the local synagogue. Obviously, these men thought highly of the Gentile centurion for they went and pleaded his merits to Jesus: “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue” (v. 6).

As the story goes, it becomes evident Jesus agreed to come to the man, which was not the mans’ intent. Thus, when he learns of Jesus’ coming, he sends another delegation with a far different message than the Jewish elders: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you But say the word, and let my servant be healed” (v. 7). Here, the heart of the man is revealed.

Unlike the elders who lobbied for Jesus’ grace on the merit of this man’s service to Israel, the centurion is far more modest. And his next words reveal the kind of faith he had: “For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come, and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (v. 8). Thus, the man shows the kind of faith he has in Jesus. He both believes that the Christ has power in his words to give commands—power even over sickness. And, by not presuming upon Jesus, the centurion who is himself a powerful, synagogue-building Roman soldier—a man who has power before Gentiles and Jews—submits himself to the authority of Christ.

And what does Christ conclude? He concludes that his man has faith. Luke reports,

When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. (vv. 9–10)

In Jesus’ description we see that the centurion’s confidence in Jesus’ authority and his personal willingness to submit to him and to his word, even from a distance, demonstrates the kind of faith lacking in Israel.

In truth, Israel possessed the kind of presumptuous faith evidence by the Jewish elders: they believed in God that if they did enough good God would bless them. This is what belied the whole system of works that Jesus (Luke 18:9–14) and Paul (Romans 10:4; Philippians 3:3–8) confronted. Indeed, Israel’s faith was not a pure submission to the free grace and sovereign power of God; it was instead a bargained faith. It praised God for his grace, but it also coupled grace with covenant-keeping (=works of the law), thus removing the graciousness of God’s grace.

By contrast, the Roman centurion is spotlighted by Luke and marveled at by Jesus for demonstrating the kind of faith that the new covenant brings. Without seeing Christ, the genuine believer submits to his power and his promises, his Lordship and his law. The born-again Christian does not presume upon the grace of God and flippantly recite a believers prayer. In other words, as Michael Lawrence so powerfully captures it in his new book, saving faith does not make a decision, it demonstrates discipleship (see ch. 3 in Conversion: How God Creates a People).

Indeed, true faith understands who Jesus is, what he has done, and what he is now doing. And truth faith, as a gift from God, submits to the gracious Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Saving Faith: God’s Gracious Gift of Humble Submission to King Jesus

In truth, saving faith is not generated by man. It is the gift that God gives his sheep who hear the voice of his Son. In fact, by hearing his voice, the Son (by the Spirit) gives both the message of salvation to believe and the spiritual power to believe the message of salvation. As John quotes from Isaiah 54:13,

It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. (6:45–46)

In this we see how God grants his followers saving faith (cf. John 6:44, 63), and how all whom the Father elects will be granted humble hearts to submit to King Jesus. Indeed, this is what faith is, and why such saving faith is always conjoined with ongoing repentance. In truth, from Christ’s first call of the kingdom, salvation has always come by faith and repentance (Mark 1:15). Such faith always leads to good works (Ephesians 2:10) and why any faith devoid of love (Galatians 5:6) or good works (James 2:14–26) is only presumption—a kind of unbelief that masquerades as belief.

Tragically, some genuine believers preach a false gospel when they claim that free grace only requires a momentary decision of faith. In truth, such perceived exaltation of grace only diminishes the radical power of life-transforming grace. Because the gospel raises the dead to life, it gives to the sinner what he needs to see, believe, follow, and bow down to the Lord Christ. And like the centurion, this “vision” is not dependent on physical sight; it is the gift Christ promises to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

So, in the end, we must extol the graciousness of grace, but that does not mean altering the nature of faith. As other texts tell us that saving faith endures and bears fruit (cf. Matthew 24:13; John 15:4; Colossians 1:23; etc.), so we see in this centurion’s faith that saving faith submits to the Lordship of Christ from the beginning. Lordship is not something a disciple grows into later. A child doesn’t become human after they finish gestation in the womb. No, Lordship salvation begins the moment a born again believer is conceived by the Holy Spirit, and thus we ought not shy away from saying so.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Lordship from the Start: A Meditation on Saving Grace

  1. Ryrie’s position is not “merely thinly “believing” in the gospel”—that suggestion is a misrepresentation of his position. Among other things, it’s clear the idea of “Lordship Salvation” ignores and or confuses the difference between justification and sanctification. God’s Word is clear and the following is but a few of many passages I could cite,

    “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, BEING JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE THROUGH THE REDEMPTION THAT IS IN CHRIST JESUS WHOM GOD SET FORTH AS A PROPITIATION BY HIS BLOOD, THROUGH FAITH, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, THAT HE MIGHT BE JUST AND THE JUSTIFIER OF THE ONE WHO HAS FAITH IN JESUS.” Romans 3:21-26

    “For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but BELIEVES ON HIM WHO JUSTIFIES THE UNGODLY, his faith is accounted for righteousness…Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” Romans 4:3-5, 23-25

    “THEREFORE, having been JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God…For when we were still without strength, in due time CHRIST DIED FOR THE UNGODLY…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, HAVING NOW BEEN JUSTIFIED BY HIS BLOOD, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if WHEN WE WERE ENEMIES WE WERE RECONCILED TO GOD THROUGH THE DEATH OF HIS SON, MUCH MORE, HAVING BEEN RECONCILED, WE SHALL BE SAVED BY HIS LIFE. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the FREE GIFT is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more THE GRACE OF GOD AND THE GIFT BY THE GRACE OF THE ONE MAN, JESUS CHRIST, ABOUNDED TO MANY. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, BUT THE FREE GIFT WHICH CAME FROM MANY OFFENSES RESULTED IN JUSTIFICATION. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, MUCH MORE THOSE WHO RECEIVE ABUNDANCE OF GRACE AND OF THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS WILL REIGN IN LIFE THROUGH THE ONE, JESUS CHRIST.)” Romans 5:1-2, 6-11, 15-17

    • Hi Beccajrt, thank you for your input. You are right the sentence with ‘thinly believing’ could be written better. I’ve actually updated it and put a few quotations in place from Ryrie and Robert Wilkin.

      As for the whole argument you are making. I agree with every quotation you produce–justification is only by grace through faith and with no works to merit God’s favor at all (Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9). But this point does not exhaust all Scripture says about faith, justification, and works. Just read on into Galatians 5 or Ephesians 2:10. Those who are saved by free grace are given power to walk in that grace; hence faithfulness will follow from saving faith. That’s the point Lordship salvation makes, that I sought to highlight in this post, and have considered elsewhere:

      https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/four_views_on_the_roles_of_works_at_the_final_judgment

      And here:

      https://davidschrock.com/2014/09/22/saving-faith-savors-christ-and-so-much-more/

      And interestingly, this same point was brought out by Kevin DeYoung today:

      https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2015/10/08/are-good-works-necessary-to-salvation/

      I hope this helps and that your passion for the Scriptures will drive you to see all that it says about saving faith.

      ds

      • David – Thank you for your reply, I appreciate it. I apologize for the delay, I didn’t see you had replied to my comment until I realized I hadn’t confirmed to follow comments on this article.

        I’m not “making” an argument David, and it appears you’re assuming I “don’t see” all that Scripture says about “saving faith” however, I have read Galatians 5 and Ephesians 2, and they’re not a “But…” in response to the Scriptures I cited. So, can you please explain what you’re saying with and in that “But…”?

        To add to my initial comment; the very term “Lordship salvation” unnecessarily bifurcates His Person, and causes confusion. The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul did not find it necessary, why do you men think it is? I assumed, and also based on the title of your article, that you mean unbelievers must submit “to the gracious Lordship of Jesus Christ” before they can be saved. Was I mistaken? The “Lordship salvation” advocates I’ve encountered mean that very thing, that’s why I said it’s clear the idea ignores and or confuses the difference between justification and sanctification. By the way, you said, “the genuine believer submits to his power and his promises, his Lordship and his law.” Aside from the fact that you’ve given me your words, what do you mean by his law?

        Obedience springs from faith, and faith is simply accepting for ourselves God’s testimony concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; “the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord…” Romans 1:1-6.

        “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17

        Unfortunately, theologians, pastors, preachers and teachers make it complicated and chiefly due to the fact that you tend to supplement your words with God’s Word rather than the other way around. For example, I recently sat down to listen to a sermon from a well known popular minister that was supposed to be about the work of Christ on the cross, 20 minutes into it, and aside from a verse here and a verse there, I still had not heard God’s Word; he was preaching his “theological system”—I turned it off.

        One would think God’s Word, which is living and active, spirit and life would have precedence over all others, yet in most circles in Christendom of all the words passed on, from their own to their favored pastors and theologians, comparatively few are the words of God; and I’ve seen the names of Calvin, Spurgeon, etc., more than the holy name of Christ Jesus Himself, especially on social media like twitter etc. The last straw was when I saw a meme showing people in Heaven, above their heads was the word, “Calvinists” and the caption read, “They used to be called Christians.” Of course, such elevation of men and their words is no surprise where that awful thing the “celebrity culture” and it’s cliques are prevalent among Christians; but it’s truly repulsive.

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