I ran across this two-part article by John MacArthur posted on Grace To You. “Lordship”, as it is frequently called, is the hotly controversial doctrine that teaches that a true Christian will be and should be wholly obedient to Jesus Christ. Accompanying this obedience is the call to repentance and the mortification of sin. In other words, Jesus is to be the Christian’s “Lord”, while sin is to be put to death.
Here Dr. MacArthur sets the record straight on some of the common objections to Lordship theology.
Within days after the initial publication of The Gospel According to Jesus, I began to receive mail from readers. In the first few weeks alone I answered more letters about this book than I had ever received on any other subject. In the years since, my staff and I continue to respond to similar comments and questions. Here are some responses that represent the issues most commonly raised:
Question: Does the lordship view teach salvation by works?
No, absolutely not. God grants repentance (2 Tim. 2:25) when He changes the heart at the moment of regeneration (Titus 3:5-7), and makes the sinner into a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). We are not saved by works (Eph. 2:8-9), but we are saved unto good works (Eph. 2:10). We are freed from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2) and made slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:22). Works (meaning “acts of obedience”) are not a precondition for salvation. But they do characterize the lives of those who have been genuinely saved (Rom. 8:5-9).
Question: If your view of salvation is correct, how can we lead people to Christ and offer them immediate assurance? You seem to be saying that people need to seek assurance in their works.
First of all, I do not believe it is the task of the evangelist to “offer assurance.” That is the Holy Spirit’s work: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16).
Having said that, however, I do believe there is an immediate aspect to assurance, grounded in the promises of the gospel. How did the thief on the cross know he was saved? He had the Lord’s own promise. We find many promises in Scripture that assure believers of their eternal destiny (e.g., John 3:16; 1 John 5:1). Those promises offer objective assurance to genuine believers. Even a brand-new believer can look to such promises and find a measure of assurance.
Other Scripture passages speak of subjective means of assurance. For example, 1 John 2:3 says, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” This aspect of assurance grows and deepens as one walks consistently with the Lord. And Christians who persist in sin for a time forfeit this aspect of assurance for as long as they are grieving the Holy Spirit.
Both the objective and subjective means of assurance are spoken of in Romans 15:4: “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance [subjective] and the encouragement of the Scriptures [objective] we might have hope.”
Also it is important to understand what Scripture is teaching about subjective assurance. It is not that we seek assurance in our works, but that we gain assurance from sensing the Spirit’s work in us. Again, it is the Holy Spirit who bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
We do not gain assurance by convincing our intellect that we are saved. True assurance is not an academic issue. There are no formulas that can bring it about. It is an important part of the lifelong growth process of the Christian life.