A preacher declares the following words: “To think that you need to accept Christ as Lord in order to be saved is legalistic. You do not need to come to that conclusion to be saved.” Why does this preacher believe it is legalism? He believes in a soteriological point-of-view that declares grace to be free, and not just free, but also more easily available. Instead of stressing Christ being Lord, these preachers tell people that one can be saved just by accepting Christ as Savior, thus omitting the aspect of Lordship.
“You are not supposed to accept Christ as your Savior, but as your Lord,” another evangelical minister cries out, in an attempt to sway people into an alter call. Droves of people came forward to accept Christ as their Lord, and in their prayers, the word Savior was omitted. Someone had convinced them that Christ as a Savior wasn’t significant, and what truly mattered was that Christ was supposed to be Lord. What was the reasoning behind this? The majority of these ministers believed that Christ was everyone’s Savior, and that is why you can’t merely be saved by accepting Christ as Savior.
These contrasting views have been around during the most recent occurrences of Church history. For a long time, American protestants during the 1900s came to the large understanding of “free-grace” theology. Free-grace is heavily connected to dispensationalism, and outside of it… I would say it wouldn’t work. See, free-grace says that anyone, and absolutely anyone, who accepts Jesus as their Savior one time in their life is “saved”. Once they are “saved”, they are unable to lose salvation. This is frightening because it is completely different from the discipleship aspect of Calvinism, and inconsistent with the view of Traditionalism or Arminianism.
During his lifetime, AW Pink, a Reformed Southern Baptist, declared that people must come to the understanding that we must declare Christ to have ultimate “Lordship” over our lives. This began a series of debates over whether it is necessary to accept Christ as Savior or Lord and was followed by a debate on how people were to call people to repentance. Then in 1988, the legendary book entitled The Gospel According to Jesus by Dr. John MacArthur was published. This book made bold statements such as 1/3 of American Christians were not truly saved, that we submit and surrender to Christ in order to be saved, and that free-grace was a false gospel.
Before I state my case, I want to say that I have read The Gospel According to Jesus, and I completely agree with Dr. MacArthur’s observations of the free-grace movement, American Christianity, and Lordship Salvation. If someone were to ask me which camp I am under, I would confidently say that I oppose the teachings of Dr. Charles Stanley, Dr. Charles Ryrie, and Bill Bright. It is clear from Scripture that a call to salvation is more than just a call to acceptance, but discipleship. However, I don’t think that is the end of it.
We can’t ignore the fact that the Bible mentions that we must accept Christ as Lord and our Savior; not one or the other, but both. If we truly believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and truly believe for Him to be the Way, then we must stress the fact that we must not only accept Christ as our Lord or that we must accept Christ as our Savior, but we must confess Christ to be both Lord and Savior in order to make it known that we are His.
The first thing that we must recognize when it comes to salvation is that Christ made it abundantly clear that He was more than someone you would accept. Allow me to explain it like this: imagine that we both had a different favorite type of cuisine. Say I like Italian food, and you like Chinese food (I know this is silly, but roll with it… I have a point). When I say that I accept that it is your favorite, does that mean I have changed my favorite? No. I still favor Italian food over Chinese, it’s just that I now accept the fact you don’t do the same.
When someone mentions that we must accept Christ, they have failed to grasp the bigger picture of what salvation really is: Christ becoming your Lord. He is not just someone you accept, He is someone you surrender to. Look at the language Paul uses in Romans 6:22-23 (ESV): “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Lordship Salvation has nothing to do with legalism. Paul believed that salvation was a free gift from God, but believed that Christ had to be Lord. When Paul was riding to Damascus before conversion, in order to kill Christians, the Heavens were opened and Jesus Christ called out Paul by his name at the time, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Paul responds in Acts 9:5 (ESV) saying, “Who are You, Lord?” The text makes it clear to me, and several other scholars, that Paul believed Christ to be the true salvation at that very moment, when Paul declared Christ to be Lord.
Christ must be recognized as Lord to be saved. There’s no other way! Before Christ, we were slaves to sin, and after Christ, we became slaves to righteousness. If we are slaves to righteousness, then we serve a Lord. If we are truly believers, then we will believe that He is our Lord. That is why Jesus told us that we will know a convert by one’s fruit, for if one is slave to Christ than one will do the things of Christ.
For Jesus to be recognized as our Lord is of vital importance to our salvation, contrary to the view of free-grace. In reality, the free grace of the Bible is that the elect receives the free gift of grace in order to call out to God and to declare Him as Lord. The gospel found in the Scriptures are not shy about this, as the name of God literally means Sovereign Lord. Do we need to declare Christ to be Lord, and to become disciples in order to be saved? Yes. It’s that simple.
This is where things might get somewhat decisive but hopefully not too much. See, declaring Christ to be our Savior for salvation has been downplayed by the fact that those who have taught free-grace have ruined it for us. When listening to the explanations of how to be saved from Bill Bright or Dr. Charles Stanley, I also get a funny feeling in my stomach of how wrong it is. However, don’t let the mistakes and follies of men ruin our theology. Make no mistake, the Bible says we must accept Christ as our Savior.
In response to the people asking how one can be saved during the great Pentecost revival (the actual Pentecost revival by the way), Peter addresses the crowd in Acts 2:38 (ESV) and says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter doesn’t forget to mention that Christ paid the penalty for our sins, and didn’t forget to mention that Christ forgiving us from sin was of importance for salvation. In Acts 4:12 (ESV) it says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Again, Christ being the Savior is stressed.
Some might ask why is it important to believe that Christ is Savior if He is everyone’s Savior? Simple… because He isn’t. Christ didn’t die for everyone. The Bible makes it clear that Christ is the Savior of all who call upon Him. All texts that mention that Christ only died for those who believe in Him, and saves those who believe in Him, presuppose that those who believe were elected to believe by God. Christ isn’t everyone’s Savior, so when one accepts Christ as Savior it is unique. It is a way of declaring that you are an elect of God, and that you are sure of it.
Now, is the declaration that Christ is our Savior the assurance of our salvation? No. It’s through our declaration of His Lordship, but when we declare Him to be Savior, we declare that Christ has exclusively removed our sin on the cross, and thereby allowing our faith to grow. It is a special thing to declare that Christ is my Savior, knowing that not everyone can say the same. There is a unique relationship in that aspect, and it gives me a greater appreciation.
I am not saying personal experience is the reason we must accept Christ to be our Savior, but because it is a biblical truth. In Romans 5:8 (ESV) it says, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Declaring, believing, and surrendering to the fact that Christ is our Savior reminds us that salvation is exclusive, and that it is only by the grace of God that we are allowed to even come to a chance of salvation, not just certainty. That is the beauty of Christ being our Savior and not just our Lord.
When preaching the gospel, we can’t omit one or the other. Both preachers in the beginning were wrong to believe that Christ was to be accepted as Lord or Savior. My Bible says that He is Lord and Savior. He takes on both roles. He is my master and my Sacrifice. He is my King, and He is my Priest. He is my General, and He is also my Armor.
May we always preach the gospel found in the Scriptures, never forgetting to mention Lordship Salvation with a booming cry and Christ’s saving work with a tender whisper.
Soli Deo Gloria.