Here’s the debate. Bob says that the tomato is the most nutritious bread you can eat. Larry says, no, the cucumber is the most nutritious bread you can eat.
The debate rages on, and Bob the Tomato pulls out all kinds of evidence. Magazine articles, books, medical studies, scientific inquiries, and case studies, all designed to indicate that the tomato is the most nutritious bread you can eat.
Not to be outdone, Larry the Cucumber has his own sources, which he claims show the cucumber is the most nutritious bread you can eat.
Okay, enough of this silliness. Do you see something ridiculous in this scenario, aside from a tomato and a cucumber debating? Something even more ridiculous than comparing apples and oranges?
Of course. Bob and Larry are arguing which is the most nutritious bread, while they are neglecting the obvious – that neither tomatoes nor cucumbers are “bread” at all. While arguing the merits of nutrition, they are missing the fact that they are dealing with two different classes of food, vegetables and bread.
You may be saying, “Terry, what in the world does this have to do with discipleship and salvation?”
The Lordship Salvation Debate
Well, you may be aware of an ongoing debate in churches and seminaries and dens and living rooms, for many years. It’s called the Lordship Salvation debate. And the two debaters we will call Lordship Guy and Free-Grace Guy.
And the debate goes something like this:
Free-Grace Guy says, “Salvation is entirely by grace alone through faith alone, that is, faith in Jesus’ work on the cross.
“He paid for our sins, and if you believe that, and therefore believe that Jesus is your Savior, and that He died on the cross for your sins, and rose again from the dead, you are saved.
“And you are saved forever, even if you never exhibit any fruit in your life, or even if you turn back away from Jesus, and deny Him, and live a life of complete sin. You’re still saved forever.”
Lordship Guy says, “Hold on a minute there, brother, if indeed you are a brother at all with that ridiculous theology. It’s not enough to just believe in Jesus as Savior, and believe that He died for your sins and rose again. You must also believe in Him as Lord, and that means that you must do what Jesus said in many places in the Gospels.
“To start with you must ‘deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him’, Matthew 16:24.
“You must be His disciple, like He said when He said to ‘go therefore and make disciples of all the nations’, Matthew 28:19. He didn’t just say ‘go and get decisions for Christ’, He said ‘make disciples’, and we’re not worthy to be His disciples unless we obey and follow Him. We need to ‘give all that we are for all that He is’. We need to be like the merchant who sold everything he had to buy the Pearl of Great Price, which is the Kingdom of God, which is salvation.”
Okay, the debaters are squared off, and frankly the average person in the pew, so to speak, can, I believe, be pretty easily convinced of either argument.
Free-Grace Guy sounds like he’s really honoring the principle of Grace, and doesn’t the Bible say we are saved by grace through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast? Sounds good to me.
But doesn’t Lordship Guy sound right when he says that following Jesus as a disciple is really what it’s about? After all, wouldn’t we be trampling on God’s Grace if we just took it and lived however we wanted? That’s not salvation is it?
The Bob and Larry Problem: Free-Grace Guy
Free-Grace Guy and Lordship guy are arguing about bread, when the correct argument is about tomatoes and cucumbers.
Here’s what I mean.
Free-Grace Guy is missing a key point of Scripture:
He doesn’t really realize the point that Jesus is making when He tells Nicodemus in John Chapter 3, “Unless a man is born again, He cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
Jesus is making the point which is expanded on the Epistles, that man is born dead in his sins and trespasses, and remains dead in his sins and trespasses until he is born again, or regenerated. And when he is dead in his sins and trespasses, he can’t even “see” the Kingdom of God, let alone believe in its King.
In other words, as Rom. 3:11 puts it, there is no one who seeks God. That is, no one who isn’t born again. They can’t seek God. They are utterly corrupted by the sinful nature that they inherited from Adam. There is no good in them. They are enemies of Christ (Rom. 5:10). How could they possibly believe in Jesus Christ, when they are spiritually dead enemies of Him?
And the biblical answer is that they can’t.
And so the wind of the Holy Spirit of God must “blow” where He wills, and give new life to, we say regenerate, a person. Through the preaching of the Word, the Gospel, that person is now born again. He is given a new heart, a new spirit. And the Holy Spirit comes into his spirit to dwell, and he is a new creation, a new creature.
And now he not only believes in Jesus Christ, he can’t NOT believe in Jesus Christ. That’s what we mean by Irresistible Grace. Not that God brings us kicking and screaming to Christ, but that He silently changes our heart, gives us a new spirit, a new nature, and with that new heart we simply believe in Jesus.
As Savior, yes, and as Lord.
Were there any works involved in that? Of course not.
But understand this important point: there will be works, good works, to follow. Because a new heart will always bring new works. God is now indwelling that person with His Spirit, and He is at work in us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure”, as Paul told the Philippians.
And so Free-Grace Guy, while he is correct that our salvation is entirely by Grace, not of works, he is nevertheless incorrect to think that a truly born-again person could continue in a life entirely of sin, with no fruit in his life, and even leave Christ. Impossible. We have not merely been forgiven, we have been changed.
The Bob and Larry Problem: Lordship Guy
Again, Lordship Guy, Like Free-Grace Guy, is arguing about bread, when the correct argument is about tomatoes and cucumbers.
Here’s what I mean:
Lordship Guy means well, sometimes. He speaks, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, against “cheap grace”. He is appalled by people who say they are Christians, but live like the world. He is appalled by the idea that one can “accept Christ” as Savior and then lead a life of debauchery and unbelief, and still call himself a Christian.
And I can sympathize with Lordship Guy. If we love the Lord, we want people to be disciples and deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow Him, don’t we? We want people to walk in obedience to Christ, because He deserves it, and He is glorified by His followers, well, following Him.
And after all, aren’t the Gospels filled with discipleship commands and requirements? Aren’t the parables of Jesus filled with allegories and symbols of our obedience to Him as Lord? I mean, aren’t the Gospels called the Gospels because they contain the Gospel?
Ah, now we get down to a big part of the problem.
Invariably, Lordship Guy attempts to understand the New Covenant of our salvation from the Gospel narratives, which historically record events and sayings that occur before the New Covenant was even ratified and explained.
We need to understand that when Jesus walked the earth, He did so under the Law. That is, He was born and lived as an Israelite under the awful burden of the Mosaic Law. And, of course, He was the only one who ever lived perfectly under that Law. The only one who never sinned, never violated the Law, in spirit or letter. He perfectly fulfilled the Law of Moses, the Law of God.
And while under that Law, He taught us a lot of precious truth. About right and wrong, about the heart of God, about what it means to live under the Lordship of Christ in the Kingdom of God. About how the Kingdom of God is a spiritual Kingdom, and about how a disciple, a learner and follower, of His should think and live. About the beginnings of the Good News, the Gospel, namely the Good News that the King was now here. The Messiah had come.
Okay, the disciples didn’t really “get it”, until later after His death and resurrection. But at least He opened the curtains somewhat and announced that it was indeed Good News that He had arrived.
However, it wasn’t until the end of His life, and His resurrection, that the New Covenant was instituted.
And therefore, it wasn’t until after His death and resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father, that a more complete understanding of the Gospel was to be articulated by the Apostles.
And that’s why it is a mistake to try to expound on the theology of salvation, soteriology we call it, from the four Gospels.
And that’s why Lordship Guy has missed some important truths.
Lordship Guy has missed the same simple truth that Free-Grace Guy has missed. Except that he’s missed it from a different direction. One missed this truth from the East side of the road while he was heading North. The other missed this truth from the West side of the road while he was heading South.
Here’s the truth Lordship Guy missed: The New Birth is a package deal. When God regenerates a person, “borns them again”, to put it crudely, they are a New Creation, a New Creature. Under the preaching of the Word, the Gospel, this new creature now believes in Jesus Christ, both as Savior, and as Lord.
He doesn’t need to “give all that he is for all that Christ is”, he doesn’t need to “deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Christ”, HE DOESN’T NEED TO DO ANYTHING to be saved, declared righteous (justified), sealed forever, forgiven of all his sins, past, present and future, and to receive every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3).
He doesn’t need to do anything. He doesn’t need to embark on a journey of discipleship and Lordship. He doesn’t need to do anything. Not of works, lest any man should boast.
But…and here’s where Free-Grace Guy and Lordship Guy need to bend the knee to the Word of God, but…the new believer, the true believer who is born again, this new creation, will be a disciple.
Saved to the uttermost by Grace alone, through faith alone, totally apart from the slightest of works, he will, because of the new heart given him, and the indwelling Spirit of Christ, follow Christ.
That’s the glory of the New Covenant, in which God promised He would “cause” us to walk in His statutes, which He has written on our hearts and minds (Ezekiel 36:27; 2 Cor. 3:3).
While Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber ramble on and on, debating about bread, they have clouded the real issue of nutrition.
And while Free-Grace Guy and Lordship Guy have rambled on and on, debating about the “Steps to Salvation”, they have clouded the real issue of the New Birth.
An Important Statement
Now I want to close with an important statement. Some who hear this will categorically reject it, but I challenge you to search the Scriptures to see if it’s true. Here’s the statement:
Until you understand the simple biblical fact that regeneration, being born again, comes BEFORE faith, and makes a New Creation that can’t help but believe in Christ, completely by Grace, with no works, no “giving all you have”, no “selling all and buying” required for salvation, you cannot understand these things.
You will either fall into the ditch on the right, called Free-Grace Salvation, or the ditch on the left, called Lordship Salvation. May God reveal to many the sublime beauty of the sovereign work He has done in us, His new creation, causing us to walk in His ways.
As He lives His Life through us, we will be His disciples, denying ourselves and taking up our cross and following Him. Discipleship is a beautiful thing. In our heart of hearts, we desire to follow Him. He is worth following as our Lord and Savior, the Alpha and Omega, the Creator of the Universe He has blessed us with, Immanuel, God with Us, our Redeemer, and our Friend. Being a disciple of His is a beautiful privilege.
But remember that the salvation freely came first by grace alone.
Discipleship isn’t salvation.