John MacArthur and the Lies of Lordship Salvation – Part 4

Hebrews 10:1-2 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshippers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?

In other words, if there was anything I could do to make myself acceptable to God, then I would need only to do that thing one time, for that one thing, having once succeeded in making me acceptable to God, would have sufficed to have made me acceptable forever.

The very fact Christ has commanded His people to do certain things many times on a continuous basis – believe, pray, love one another, etc, – means that these things can never make His people acceptable. There is only one thing which makes His acceptable, and that one thing was performed one time and shall never be repeated. That one thing was Christ’s death.

The imputation of His righteousness succeeds far more than in just simply making His people acceptable. It makes them perfect, innocent, righteous. Thanks to Christ’s death, God views His justified people the same way He views His Son – blameless, innocent, perfect, and righteous. It is the righteousness of His death, performed one time, imputed one time, that effects this.

Christ died once. He will never die again. And having made atonement for His people’s sins, He sat down at His Father’s right hand, forever satisfied that His death had accomplished what He had set out to accomplish – that is, the salvation of His people. It is this that a person changes his mind about, this intellectually understood fact, and not instead the promise of an experience in moral improvement.
Repentance is a change of mind about who Christ is. It is not a change of mind about my behavior. The Bible does not reject moral improvement, but it does reject the idea repentance and salvation have anything to do with this. Peter did not tell the people in Acts 2 to make Jesus Lord of their life. Rather, he told them God had made Jesus Lord. God! Not them. God!

But someone will say, what about James?

What about James?

Allow me to reiterate, the believer’s assurance of salvation is found only at the cross. It is found nowhere else. To condition my assurance upon fruit would make me the object of my faith. True assurance is found only in the cross of Christ. Behavior is quite besides the point.

With this in mind, let us examine one final claim of the Lordship Salvationist, and that is the claim that James teaches behavior is indeed evidence of genuine faith.

James 2:17-20 So faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one, you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

Did James advocate change of behavior as evidence of genuine faith?

Lordship Salvation separates salvation from justification by teaching people justification is without works, but assurance is not. To make matters worse, they teach people justification is only the first step in salvation. They teach people justification must be followed by works if it is to lead to salvation. But if this is what James is claiming, then his objection makes no sense.

So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.”

Shouldn’t the objector have said, you have works and I have faith? And shouldn’t James have answered, do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that works apart from faith is useless?

Neither the objection nor James’ answer to the objection makes any sense in view of Lordship Salvation. Here, read it again.

So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.”

James’ objector has said, he has works. James answers, I’ll show you your faith without works is useless. But James, your objector has just said he has works! Yes, I see that, but watch me show him now that his faith without works is useless. But . . . but …

What in the world is going on here?

The only way this passage makes sense is if James is talking about the public vindication of a person’s claim to faith, rather than one’s personal assurance. I have no reason to think you a believer if while you are confessing faith you are also murdering.

Now, it may be you really are a believer. I don’t know. But while you are ignoring your brother’s needs, giving preference to wealthy unbelievers while forcing the poverty stricken brothers to sit on the floor, I have no reason to trust your confession. It may very well be you are “merely” reciting a confession you learned but do not believe is true.

Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Nowhere does James argue faith alone does not justify. Nowhere does James argue justification does not save.

James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

James does NOT ask what good is it if someone says he has faith, but continues to sin.

James does not deny the fact true faith is only intellectual assent to the facts about Christ and His cross. In fact, he is careful to separate faith and works into two distinct categories. He does not deny faith by itself! What he asserts, however, is a doer/hearer dichotomy. Actually agree to the facts rather than just listening to them. (1:22)

In other words, what good is it for me to hear you confess to have heard the word of salvation, if at the same time I see you act contrary to what you have confessed to believe? Paul might have asked the Galatians the same question. We might ask MacArthur the same thing. If you tell me you believe God has chosen the poor in this world to be heirs of His kingdom (James 2:5), then why are you treating the poorer brothers among you with such disdain? Do you really agree with what you claim to agree with? Or are you just showing up every week to hear me talk, but not agreeing with anything I’ve said?

This issue with Lordship Salvation comes down to a very simple question. Did the cross of Christ really do what the Bible says it did?

Did the cross really once and for all time atone for all the sins of God’s elect?

Did the cross really once and for all time satisfy (propitiate) God’s wrath that was against God’s elect because of their sins?

Did the cross really once and for all time redeem God’s elect?

Or did the cross merely make these things possible with the Spirit’s help?

The law tells us we are sinners. The law tells us when we have sinned. The law does nothing else, for it can do nothing else. The only thing it can do is condemn.

It is Christ who saves. And this He has done by offering His body to God at the cross one time, never again to be repeated. God is perfect. All His works are perfect. The cross cannot be perfected upon in any way. The salvation He accomplished cannot be perfected upon in any way. By adding his own works to the cross, MacArthur has blasphemed the very thing he claims to preach.

MacArthur claims Lordship Salvation is believed by a majority of people in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches today. He is correct. It is sad, but he is correct. The Heidelberg Catechism, that most rank piece of works-salvation document ever dedicated to the blurring of law and gospel, has helped to make this a fact. What MacArthur has no logical right to claim, however, is this makes Lordship Salvation true. There was once a time when most people believed the Pope was right. This did not make Catholicism true then, and it does not make Catholicism true now. The same holds for Lordship Salvation.
It is my opinion Western Christianity is long overdue for another reformation. What we need today is another 95 thesis nailed to the door of churches belonging to the likes of James White, John MacArthur, John Piper, Paul Washer, R C Sproul, Tim Conway, Richard Bacon, and a whole lot of others who side with Lordship Salvation. After all, these men blur the distinction between law and gospel every bit as badly as Rome does.

Galatians 3:1-3 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

MacArthur gives no room to a propitiation which actually propitiated. Rather than agree with Scripture that Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath, he instead asks if it might not be true God might yet still be angry with those He has justified.

MacArthur gives no room to an accomplished atonement. Rather than agree with Scripture that Christ’s death fully and forever atoned for all His people’s sins, he instead asks whether atonement is really enough.
The Galatian heretics did not deny justification by faith. They did not deny men needed to believe in the cross of Christ. What they did instead was deny the cross was enough. What they asserted instead was the idea that we need Christ’s death plus a commitment to obedience.

Paul was not against circumcision. He circumcised Timothy, and might have even consented to have Titus circumcised had the Galatian heretics not made it a point of salvation. What he was against, what he hated, what he saved his most fullest fury for was the idea that circumcision was needed for salvation in addition to Christ’s shed blood on the cross. If anyone should preach to you another gospel, even an angel from heaven, let him be accursed – cut off and condemned forever to eternal destruction. This is not a light thing to say.

MacArthur is preaching another gospel. Make no mistake about it. His gospel is absent a propitiation which actually propitiated, and an atonement which actually atoned. His gospel is rife with self worship. It has been disheartening to watch church after church collapse to his heresy, but God does warn us He has ordained this. In 2 Thessalonians 2:11, God warns He will send those who refuse to love the truth a strong delusion so they might believe what is false. Lordship Salvation is not anything if not a strong delusion. Verse 12 tells us this condemnation comes against those who do not BELIEVE the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. MacArthur tells us the very opposite, that the condemned are those who do not DO the truth but rather do unrighteousness.

A true brother in Christ enters into the kingdom of the Father’s dear Son through grace by faith in the truth that Christ once and for all time, by His death upon a cross offered to God as a sacrifice for His people’s sin, has fully and effectually satisfied the Law’s holy demand for His people’s death. Such a brother is immediately unshackled from the law’s burden of guilt and fear, and for the first time in his life, he can now rest. It is finished. All that can be done has been done. It is finished.

These true brothers take their first steps into His kingdom trusting not in the impossible hope they will one day, with the Spirit’s help, produce enough moral improvement to give them some small measure of assurance, but rather into the orthodox, objective, propositional truth of the cross.

Christ has fully and effectually satisfied the Law’s holy demand for His people’s death. His people shall not die for their sins, because Christ has already died for them. How ugly it would be then, how vain and hideous were God to ordain these people to a life of fear and timidity, having no certainty He has justified them because they have not done enough. That kind of God will never be the God I worship! Thankfully, that kind of God is not the God who is, was and will be forevermore.

Thanks be to the gracious Savior. Let us strive to live lives pleasing to Him, in the sure and certain confidence of the salvation which He has fully accomplished for us by His death upon a cross. Let us strive to enter the rest found only in His righteousness revealed to us only in the intellectually perceived doctrines of His just and holy gospel. And let us warn those who have succumbed to the teachings of dogs like MacArthur, men who seek to stir up trouble in the churches by insisting people need to prove faith real by looking to their behavior. Let us warn them, their eternal destruction is near.

Amen. May it be so, Lord.

About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church
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4 Responses to John MacArthur and the Lies of Lordship Salvation – Part 4

  1. Curt says:

    Turning from sin is a consequence of receiving a new nature. It is not the basis upon which people are declared righteous before God. It does not make a person have their own righteousness. It is not the means by which a right standing before God is received.

  2. markmcculley says:

    In theory, there is no curse for those in Christ Jesus, but in practical reality, you have to obey the warnings or you won’t be in Christ Jesus. Which would mean you were never in Christ Jesus, because justification was in Christ’s death alone, but sanctification is not in Christ’s death alone but also in your daily dying, and if you don’t die daily, then you won’t stay sanctified, and you won’t stay in the covenant, which means that you were never justified. Justification itself is by Christ’s death alone, but the assurance of it depends on how you obey the warnings so as to not lose your sanctification.
    Since our context is not legalism but antinomianism, we don’t need all that justification stuff, we need sanctification
    The gospel depends on the situation, the gospel depends on those who hear it, and now in our situation, we need the gospel to be the law, and we need the gospel to be what condemns people–because many are born in the church and many are born in the covenant, so what will condemn them is not the law, because what will condemn them is the gracious but conditional promise of the covenant, what will condemn them is “grace”— a grace common between those who believe and those who don’t believe. Grace for everybody, but believing for some.

  3. markmcculley says:

    Schreiner review of Barclay—I am not persuaded that there is no polemic against doing in Galatians. Faith is set against doing, even if the doing is circumscribed by Torah (Gal 3:1–9). The contrast is particularly strong in Gal 3:12 where the law, in contrast to faith, is characterized by performance. The reference to uncircumcision does not negate what is said since people can boast in what they do (get circumcised) or what they do not do (uncircumcision). That is why Paul trumpets the cross as his only boast (Gal 6:12) and the new creation is the rule by which all should live (Gal 6:16). Additionally, Barclay does not reflect enough on the difference between promise and law. Law does not avail since it focuses on what human beings do (or more precisely fail to do), while the promise stresses what God in Christ does for believers…..

    When it comes to Romans, Barclay sees a pronounced emphasis on the superabundance of grace. In Romans, like Galatians, Paul sees God’s grace as incongruous so that it is granted to the unworthy, and fitting, in that it changes those who are its recipients. The incongruous grace of God continues to be given in Jesus Christ. At the final judgment there will be evidence that those who have received God’s grace have changed. Hence, God’s grace is unconditioned (given to the unworthy), but not unconditional (those who have received such grace are transformed).

    On the other hand, he is not convincing when he says that there is no polemic against a Jewish conception of works in Rom 4:4–5. Has not Barclay already shown that some would not agree with Paul’s notion of an incongruous gift? In these verses we see a different conception of grace. Some Jews certainly depended on their works for vindication; otherwise, the boasting of the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector (Luke 18:9–14) does not relate to anyone. Barclay thinks Paul has an exegetical but not a polemical purpose in Rom 4:4–5, but that is a very unlikely splitting of categories. Paul writes about matters present in people’s lives. In the same way, it seems as if Barclay strains to deny any sense of trusting in one’s own righteousness in Rom 9:30–10:8. In Barclay’s reading of Rom 10:3, Paul speaks of confirming or validating one’s righteousness instead of establishing or achieving righteousness. He does not think Paul criticizes an attempt to be righteous by works or human achievement. The issue is that some believed that Torah observance made one a fitting recipient of God’s kindness. Paul does not criticize works-righteousness “but the criteria by which worth is defined” (p. 541 n46). This is a possible reading, but it is a very fine distinction. It seems likely that people would boast about meeting such criteria. Indeed, Paul sets boasting and works over against faith in Rom 3:27–4:5.

  4. markmcculley says:

    Four Views on The Role of Works at the Final Judgment, Zondervan, 2013, Tom Schreiner, p 89–“Often scholars like John Calvin have argued that the word justify in James means “prove to be righteous” in contrast to Paul where the word justify means “declare to be righteous”. There is scant evidence supporting the meaning “prove to be righteous. The verb regularly has a forensic sense (declare to be righteous) and it should be understand to have this meaning in James 2:14 to 21 as well. …Most scholars also agree that James draws significantly on the words of Jesus. IN Matthew 12:37, Jesus declares that human beings will be ‘justified’ or ‘condemned’ by the words they speak. As Jesus refers to a future judgment in accordance with words spoken, James refers to a future justification in accord with deeds performed.”

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