Salvation: Why All The Confusion?


Despite God providing for the salvation of man and giving written verification in His testament, there remains great confusion regarding the subject. This is true even among Bible believers. Soteriology1 is so vitally important that it must be clearly understood.

A Basic Understanding of Soteriology

Why does it matter?

Souls are in the balance. It is possible to have a great understanding of many theological issues and memorize entire books of the Bible and still not come to a “saving knowledge” of the gospel of Jesus Christ.2 There is only one Savior and “none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.3

Religion has done its part in sending untold millions to hell. Jesus was very clear to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:33 when He said, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” These were false teachers “whose eternal destiny was hell (lit, ‘Gehenna’), the place of eternal punishment”4 Dr. John R. Rice wrote, “We may be sure that most of the people in hell did not expect to go there.”5 In the final analysis, there are eternal results for both the preacher and the hearer.

Jesus preached and taught about the reality of hell. He knew it well, for He had created it for the devil and his angels.6 Anyone who challenges a hell where the fire is never quenched7 challenges the veracity of the Son of God. Those who make hell the grave are calling Jesus a liar. The reality of hell and the lake of fire cannot be challenged without challenging the word of God and the Lord Jesus Christ himself.8

There is also much more than the negative realities of a soul perishing without Christ. Jesus offers forgiveness, justification, and a home in heaven.9 There is much to be gained by those who would be saved. Becoming a child of God and having eternal life are wonders beyond imagination.10

Jesus said in Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Church membership and good standing in the community are pointless without salvation. No amount of wealth, fame, accomplishment, or power can compare to the value of a man’s soul. The subject of salvation is one of paramount importance.

The issues surrounding eternal life are serious indeed. John F. MacArthur, Jr. writes, “Several who disagree with my view have said in print that the lordship salvation controversy is a matter of eternal consequence. This means that whoever is wrong on this question is proclaiming a message that can send people to hell. On that we agree.”11 There are indeed eternal consequences.

It is a serious issue not only when considering the destiny of the lost sinner, but also in light of the consequences for the presenter of the message. The man who preaches another gospel is accursed. Paul wrote to the church of Galatia:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.12

It matters not who the messenger is that changes or perverts the gospel message. Paul, under Holy Spirit inspiration, writes “let him be accursed.” This means “let him be damned.” For a living illustration of the severity and seriousness of this topic, refer to the confrontation Paul had with Peter in the second chapter of Galatians.13

What is salvation?

“Salvation means to effect successfully the full delivery of someone or something from impending danger.”14 Salvation and the gospel are clearly defined in the word of God. The problem comes when men start to diminish or add to the Scripture. Man has a way of complicating things and more importantly, the evil one is a master of creating confusion. It must be remembered that confusion and faith are opposites. God says what He means and means what He says.

Salvation means to save, to deliver, to rescue from danger, to keep safe and sound. When used in a negative sense, it means to save from danger, as from hell. The positive use of the word means to make whole.15 Salvation is a biblical word that refers not only to the deliverance of the soul but also to the future redemption of our body. Romans 8:23-25 says:

And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” This is when death will be swallowed up in victory.

Before leaving this topic of completed salvation, several things should be noted. When man fell, he died that day spiritually, but clearly not physically.16 The fall did affect man both physically and spiritually. In much the same way, when a person is born again, they are saved spiritually. But the completion of this process does not occur until the return of Christ. It is important to note that the passage that spells out and defines the gospel, also ends with a dissertation on the corruptible putting on incorruption and the mortal putting on immortality. As 1 Corinthians 15:55-58 exclaims so well:

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

Notice the word “Therefore” in verse 58. It does not say one must be stedfast, unmoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord in order to have the victory the Lord Jesus Christ has won. It is all by grace through faith in the finished work of the Savior. When we receive our glorified bodies, we will simply be fully realizing this victory already awarded to the saints.

The terms “saved,” “salvation,” or “born again” are synonymous. While having further implications, the realities of each of these terms stem from having received the free gift of eternal life. Salvation is a present state with future consequences.

The gospel is the key. What is the gospel? Taking a phone book and calling churches in one’s area to ask, “What is the gospel?” is very enlightening. The caller receives all kinds of answers. Many will give a list of assorted things. This is not only sad but alarming. Many faithful church members have no clue what the gospel is because their pastor does not know himself. It is important to define and understand the gospel.

The word gospel means “good news”17 What is this good news? The apostle Paul clearly tells us what is in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

Notice that Paul clearly states that this is “the gospel”. It is not “a” gospel or a variant thereof. Also, the Spirit of God is purposeful in stating “By which also ye are saved”. If one is searching for the soul-saving gospel message, here it is! Paul goes even further to emphasize this point by declaring this is the same good news he personally received himself. Friend, if this is the message that saved old Saul of Tarsus and saved the believers of Corinth, then it is the same message the church needs to embrace today.

This message was given in the Old Testament. This gospel was not something that just happened. It was planned by God before the foundation of the world.18 After His resurrection, Jesus spoke to disciples on the Emmaus Road.

Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.19

Doctor Luke also records how Paul demonstrated the gospel from the Old Testament. In Acts 17:2-3 he writes “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” Paul, referring to the Old Testament scriptures, states in 1 Corinthians 15 that is “according to the scriptures”.

The first part of the gospel is that “Christ died for our sins”. Sin is the problem of all mankind. Romans 3:23 states clearly, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” thus concluding all under sin. How is one brought to the knowledge of sin? The knowledge of sin comes by the law.20 “The Law leaves us condemned, so that the only escape from sin is faith in Christ.”21

From the beginning, it has been clear that the wages of sin is death.22 Christ, the Messiah, the conquering seed of the woman, and the Lamb of God is the Savior. He is sinless and therefore could pay the price for our sins with His own blood.23 That price for sin is death.24 Man is described as the sinner and Christ as the one who paid for man’s trespasses by His death on the old rugged cross. The apostle Peter wrote, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:” in 1 Peter 3:18.

The gospel is not finished with the death of the Son of God on the cross. The gospel plainly says “that he was buried”. Jesus did not simply swoon and then revive later. He plainly died, as witnessed by the blood and the water that flowed from his side when pierced by the Roman spear. The physical body of Jesus lay lifeless in the grave for three days.

The victorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead is a crucial part of the gospel. 1 Corinthians 15:4 says “… he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” Christ “was raised again for our justification.”25

A wonderful passage can be found in 1 Peter 1:3-5 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (emphasis added). Notice the terminology referring to the second birth. Also, the description of the believer’s reservations in heaven made possible by the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is troubling to read gospel tracts that do not mention the resurrection. Since the gospel is declared to be that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:”, how could one fail to mention a critical element of it? One can visit the grave of the great leaders of the lost religious world, but the tomb of Jesus alone is empty! Paul writes to the believers in Rome, Jesus was “…declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (emphasis added).26 If there is no resurrection, then there is no good news. If there is no good news, then there is no reason to label that message as “the gospel.”

In the very chapter declaring the good news God tells us:

Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.27

Now some might say, “we are not denying the resurrection, just omitting it”. Is it not necessary? Was a major part of the preaching and writings of the holy apostles28 just filler? Was Paul just making much ado about nothing? Absolutely not!

Missionary Chuck Sligh, who serves with Baptist International Missions Inc., had knee surgery in Germany. He could not read German and asked someone to help him with the papers. Unfortunately, the person just skimmed over it. They simply stated that the papers declared benign information such as the time and where to sign. What the person failed to read and report is that Brother Sligh was to bring his own pain killer and crutches. He took the train to the surgery. As the doctors began to work, his pain got excruciating. One doctor pulled Brother Sligh’s leg laterally to separate the cartilage so they could do the arthroscopic surgery. He asked if he could please have some anesthetic. An Italian intern patted him on the shoulder and said, “You Americans can’t take pain like we Europeans can, can you?” He shouted, “No! Give me some pain medicine.” They ignored the request and laughed. Screaming in pain all the way through is not the ideal picture of surgery. The doctors finished and promptly left. There he sat alone on the table with rapid swelling and increasing pain. Half an hour later, the doctor came by and noticed him on the table and said, “You stupid American, you can go whenever you like.” Incredulous, Brother Sligh said, “There’s no wheelchair.” Then the doctor replied, “You don’t need a wheelchair; just go.” He looked at the surgeon and asked how he was supposed to get downstairs and to his train. The surgeon stated that it was written on the paper to get crutches ahead of time. He had neither pain killer nor crutches. Oh well, someone just failed to mention that part. That was truly tragic, but even more tragic is a gospel presentation that does not include the resurrection! 29

Carelessness in the presentation is untenable, as an understanding of this gospel message is imperative. As Jesus described in Matthew 13:19, “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side (emphasis added).” A person must understand the gospel in order to be saved. That is one of the dangers of what is referred to as “ten-second soul-winning.”30 How can anyone hearing a clear presentation of the gospel have an understanding in sixty seconds? It is simply not possible. This is seed fallen by the wayside. Believers must present the gospel clearly.

What does God do?

Salvation is the work of God. John 6:28-29 tells of this encounter with Jesus, “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Man does not do God’s part. “The NT is unique among the world religions. Typically religion is mankind seeking God, but Christianity is God seeking fallen mankind!”31 Man’s part is to believe. God does the seeking and saving.

God knows how to state great things in simple easy to understand terms. Starting with creation in Genesis 1:1 scripture simply states, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Then the plain statement in Genesis 1:16 that “…he made the stars also.” Sounds simple enough, but considering the Milky Way Galaxy alone contains more than one billion stars, this is astounding.32 In reference to salvation, it may appear simple on man’s side of the equation, but simply mind-numbing when considering the Lord’s part. God made salvation simple for the sinner, but it was not simple when one considers all that He has done.

God’s work of regeneration at the moment of salvation accomplishes a dizzying array of wonderful things. Most people easily grasp that God takes all the believer’s sins and puts them on Christ.33 Also, most people understand that Christ’s righteousness is reckoned unto them. The believer is justified. Justified means “to be treated as if righteous, to be held acquitted, to be cleared and to be approved.”34 The Christian is also reconciled to God,35 justified,36 given eternal life,37 has a home reserved in heaven,38 redeemed,39 freed from condemnation,40 made partakers of the divine nature,41 adopted into the family of God,42 born of the Spirit,43 indwelt44 and sealed by the Holy Spirit,45 made a new creature,46 made dead to sin and the law, sanctified, r47 made part of the body of Christ,48 forgiven all trespasses,49 delivered from the power of darkness, translated into the kingdom of God’s Son,50 made heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ,51 made to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,52 and much more! The Christian has peace with God and a secure destiny. This list is so great that it is highly improbable that anyone ever knew, much less understood it all at the moment of conversion. A man need not understand all of God’s wonderful works to be saved. He must understand the gospel and put his faith in Jesus and His finished work.

A popular passage also goes a long way to tearing down false ideas about salvation. That passage is Ephesians 2:8-9. It says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Please take note of the phrase “not of yourselves.” That truth, expressed elsewhere in scripture as well, completely destroys all man’s religion and clears up false concepts about repentance and Lordship salvation, which will be dealt with later. It is clearly the “gift of God.” This also illustrates that it is God that justifies the ungodly and not the ungodly who justifies himself.53

Faith is the key. Many fail to truly believe. There are times a soul winner labors to explain the gospel clearly. Then after the sinner prays to receive Christ, the soul winner asks, “Did you just do what God says here in His Word?” “Yes,” they reply. “Did He save you?” Then he replies, “I hope so.” That is not saving faith. That is doubt.

If a man fallen in his yard calls to a passerby on the street and thinks to himself, “Help is not going to come,” that is not faith. If the fallen man calls and does not even need to look up, because he knows help is on the way, then that is faith.

Christians too have trouble with a lack of faith. How many times did Christ challenge His disciples because of their little faith? Proverbs 3:5-6are favorite verses of many believers. Yet many times when they pray and acknowledge the Lord, they hope He will direct their paths. That is not faith. In the same way, the unconverted man must come to a place where he truly believes, “for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”54

When does a believer receive the Holy Spirit?

Answering the question of when one receives the Holy Spirit does more to protect new believers against false teaching than any other doctrine outside the gospel itself. Any individual who comes to understand when the Holy Spirit comes in to dwell and the duration of that indwelling, realizes it brings peace and security. This not only answers those teaching some kind of second blessing theology,55 but also answers heresies dealing with maintaining salvation, progressive salvation, losing salvation, and the like.

First, consider what Paul writes in Romans 8:9. “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his (emphasis added).” If you do not have the Holy Spirit, then you are not saved. The scripture is clear.

When does an individual receive the Holy Spirit of God? Ephesians 1:12-14 emphatically answers this question. These verses should be shared with everyone who is led to Christ. They say:

That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that, ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

Warren W. Wiersbe writes of these verses, “The entire process of salvation is given in this verse, so we had better examine it carefully. It tells how the sinner becomes a saint. First, he hears the Gospel of salvation. This is the good news that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.”56 He then continues, “What is the significance of this sealing of the Holy Spirit? For one thing, it speaks of a finished transaction. Even today, when important legal documents are processed, they are stamped with the official seal to signify the completion of the transaction. This sealing also implies ownership: God has put his seal on us because He has purchased us to be His own (1 Cor. 6:19–20). It also means security and protection.57 So an individual clearly receives the Spirit of God at conversion.

The scripture says we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. If there were any doubts as to the duration of “until the redemption of the purchased possession,” it is settled in Ephesians 4:30: “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” “His seal of a believer remains until the day of redemption, the time that a believer receives his new body.”58 That is when salvation is complete. Once a believer has his glorified body, he will be like Christ59 and never again sin, as sin is condemned in the flesh.60 He is safe and secure with Christ for eternity.

There is a profound impact on an individual who comprehends that they are sealed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 should be taught to every new convert. It says, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Converts have literally reached in their pockets and thrown their cigarettes in the trash can. People have set aside their alcohol, never to touch it again. This is a comforting thought and yet carries tremendous responsibility with it. An individual’s body does not belong to him, but to God. This settles so many debates, from substance abuse to gluttony, to abortion and euthanasia. What a powerful truth that will radically change anyone’s worldview.

Sources of Confusion

Why is there confusion?

Confusion and faith are opposites. Confusion brings doubt. 1 Corinthians 14:33 says, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” If there is confusion, one can be certain that it is not from God!

Regardless of one’s theological positions regarding soteriology, the confusion is easily recognized. Pastor John MacArthur wrote, “The average person in the pew is confused, having heard two conflicting messages from the same conservative, fundamentalist, and evangelical camp.”61On that, he hit the proverbial nail on the head. It is not difficult to find messages in which the same preacher is giving two opposing views of salvation in the same message and yet fails to see the conflict. Others preach one message plainly and then have guest speakers come in that preach something completely different. The flock is left confused and bewildered.

When considering everything involved in salvation from both man and God’s sides, it can be overwhelming to people. Especially when it comes to the deep things of God, such as election, foreknowledge, predestination, and the marvelous work the Lord does for the believer at salvation. However, it should not be overwhelming to the sinner. The gospel can and must be presented clearly.

Paul and Silas had been beaten and thrown in prison as recorded in Acts 16. At midnight, they began to sing and praise God. The prisoners heard them, but more importantly, the Lord did. He sent an earthquake. Chains fell off and doors flew open. Paul and Silas called to the keeper not to harm himself because the prisoners were all still there. As recorded in the book of Acts, chapter 16:

Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.62

Paul gave a simple answer and then clearly preached the gospel, resulting in the jailor and his family being saved and then baptized that very night.

The message should not be made confusing. Paul expressed his method of preaching in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 which says, “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” Many preachers and teachers wax eloquent and leave the listener wondering if they themselves understand what they are saying. This ought not to be the case.

Adding elements into the gospel message brings doubt and confusion for the believer and the lost alike. Do some really think that Jesus and the apostles somehow forgot to mention certain things when dealing with the topic of eternal life? There are a great host of things that are thrown in. Some evangelists in their desire to see decisions preach about the tingle one should have had down their back or the uncontrollable tears. The church member, deacon, or maybe even pastor did not have all these elements in their own salvation experience. Perhaps they failed to quit sinning at conversion. So they are led to believe they need to be saved again. As a result, the preacher or evangelist gets a few more notches in his gospel gun. Something is horribly wrong when evangelists are leading pastors, deacons, and good, soul-winning members to get saved again (and again).

There are other reasons that a mixed message is being preached. It is more than a result of differing interpretations of certain scripture. Common sense would indicate that if a message contradicts the clearly stated gospel, then that message is wrong. People arrive at a mixed message through various routes.

Many well-meaning preachers and Bible teachers go haywire attempting to understand the behavior of professing Christians. Walter Chantry in his book Today’s Gospel: authentic or synthetic writes, “Have you ever wondered about those ‘converts’ who are as carnal as ever? What about those who ‘decided for Christ’ and you cannot tell what they decided.”63 Truly a life without fruit is a cause for concern. But do we need to change Bible theology in order to fix the issue? The gospel is clearly defined. The question is whether it has been presented clearly and whether the hearer understood and responded in true faith.

In the church at Corinth, Paul had to deal with “such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles”. That is really bad. Church discipline was strong, but nowhere does Paul challenge the man’s salvation in 1 Corinthians 5. Many pastors would have said that he was never really saved. After being around many of these same preachers, one must wonder the same about them.

Second Peter 2:7-9 says, “And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished”. What was ever just about Lot’s life? Have you ever read the story in Genesis 11-19?

Some may say, “Well, that is Old Testament,” to which the reply would be, “And your point is?” Some hold that there is one method of salvation in the Old Testament and another in the New Testament. They hold to grace in the church age and works in the Old Testament. If it were by works in the Old Testament, would not that magnify the problem and strengthen the case being made? Lot, an unjust man by anyone’s standards (even his own family), was justified.

There is Samson, of course, who is listed in the heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter 11. He certainly would have been booted off the roll books of most churches and rightfully so. After being captured and blinded for betraying the source of his strength, Samson sounded anything but repentant. His prayer is recorded in Judges 16:28, “And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” What is the main thrust of his prayer? Was it about forgiveness? Forgiveness and a petition for pardon are not even mentioned. He prayed to be avenged of his eyes. It is obvious; Samson was saved by grace through faith.

Are there times to worry about someone’s salvation? Of course, there are. However, there is never a time to change sound doctrine to explain the circumstances. In regards to who is saved, there will be some surprises in heaven both good and bad.

Dr. Bruce Cummons writes, “Reportedly only 8% of professing Christianity believe that they are saved by grace, plus nothing else. The other 92% believe they are saved ‘by grace’(?), but they add the element of works to this.”64 This illustrates perfectly that men can believe something contradictory and not discern it. Many preach a gospel of contradictions. Some preach salvation in a particular way on one occasion and another way at a later occasion. Why? They fail to see the difference. Romans 11:6 says, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” It has to be one or the other.

Before proceeding to some common topics that produce confusion, let us consider cause and effect. This is perhaps one of the greatest sources of confusion. Many people try to classify effects as the cause, in other words, including spiritual growth and discipleship as a part of how one is born again. Let us illustrate with a negative illustration. If someone said, “I broke my leg and shoulder so I could be in that car accident,” anyone would realize something is wrong with that statement. Why? The broken leg and shoulder are a result of the car accident and not the cause of it.

In much the same way there are definite results of the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a child of God. These results are not the cause. Why is this important? Because in the final analysis, it is all about what a person has trusted in for salvation. Is it themselves, in addition to Jesus and the gospel? Who creates the changes in the heart? It is God who makes the believer a new creature.65

Perhaps one of the clearest illustrations of cause and effect is the new birth. Every person that is born of the Spirit is a child of God. For how long are they God’s children? Children are children forever because they have been born into the family. All children must grow. Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:18, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” There is certainly such a thing as spiritual growth. When a believer sins and fails to confess as described in 1 John 1:8-9, what happens? Hebrews chapter twelve explains that God the Father chastens His children. Does a child grow to become conceived? No, growth is the result of being born. Religion has a hard time discerning between being born as a child and how one acts as a child. Children belong to the family because of birth, not because of conduct. In time, should they emulate the example of their Father? Yes, but that is an effect and not the cause.

What is repentance?

The definition of repentance is a source of much contention and confusion. Since repentance plays a part in salvation, it is important the correct definition is used. A wrong definition results in many things being read into a text of scripture that are simply not there. The result is that the effects of being born again are preached as the causes.

John F. MacArthur, Jr., in his book The Gospel According To Jesus writes this about the definition of repentance:

The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, literally means “to think after.” It implies a change of mind, and some who oppose lordship salvation have tried to limit its meaning to that.66 But a definition of repentance cannot be drawn solely from the etymology of the Greek word.67

So repentance is, by definition, a change of mind. This is not sufficient for the theology of some, so they have to read more into it to fit their theology. If one’s entire view of salvation theology centers around one word, it seems it would have been a main emphasis of the book of Romans and the target of Paul’s illustrations in chapter four. If it all depends on that one word, then why does that word not occur even once in the New Testament books of John, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, James, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John and Jude? Many a cult gets its start by focusing on one single thing, word or verse.

One of the most common definitions given for repentance is to turn from sin.68 Sinners are told they must stop sinning in order to be saved. Who is defining what sins they need to turn from? Which of the ten commandments apply? To what extent do they apply? Is it only the “bad sins”? What about overeating? What about not resting? What about debt spending? What about coveting? Some who hold this position will look over their bloated stomachs and tell the sinner to get rid of the cigarettes or they cannot be saved. Since it is actually impossible to quit sinning in order to be saved, a workaround has been developed that will be discussed later.

It is remarkable that the phrases “turn from your sin” and “repent of your sins” occur nowhere in the Scripture. Does this mean that one should continue in sin? God forbid. God makes a new creature out of the believer. The change is not a result of the will of man but the work of redemption in the heart of the convert.69 So the argument is not about whether Christians should live like Christians, rather it is whether they must start acting like one in order to be one. God commands His children to abstain from fleshly lusts.70 There is a growth process in the life of the Christian as they become more and more like Christ.

There is a clear problem with many of these faulty ideas about how one is born again. They put the emphasis on man for salvation and not the Savior. Jesus is the one who does the saving, not the sinner. Salvation is clearly “not of yourselves.”71

Some try to make repentance defined by sorrow. 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 says, “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” The scripture does not say that sorrow is repentance. It does say that “godly sorrow worketh repentance.” Salvation is not the result of some emotional experience. “The great evangelist D. L. Moody insisted that the inquirer was not to seek sorrow but the Saviour.”72

Most fundamental and evangelical pastors claim to hold the word of God as the final authority on all matters of faith and practice. So if a Bible preacher wants to see if his definition fits, why not try to fit it into the text and see if it works. If the Bible is the final authority, that would be the first thing to do. Consider a few examples:

Exodus 13:17, “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt (emphasis added).” So replace the word “repent” with “turn from sin.” “God said, Lest peradventure the people TURN FROM SIN… (emphasis added).” Ridiculous is it not? God does not want his people to get right with Him? The definition does not fit.

1 Samuel 15:10-11, “Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.” Now replace the word “repenteth” with “turn from sin.” “Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying, It TURNS ME FROM SIN that I have set up Saul to be king… (emphasis added).” Something is not right with that.

1 Samuel 15:29, “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent (emphasis added).” Substitute the word “repent” with “turn from sin.” “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor TURN FROM SIN… (emphasis added).” What kind of God are you serving? The Lord God of the Holy Scriptures does not sin.

Psalm 106:45, “And he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies (emphasis added).” Replace the word “repented” with “turned from sin.” “And He remembered for them His covenant, and TURNED FROM SIN according to the multitude of his mercies (emphasis added).” Really?

Jeremiah 15:6, “Thou hast forsaken me, saith the LORD, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary with repenting (emphasis added).” Substitute the word “repent” with “turning from sin.” This would have the LORD saying, “I am weary with TURNING FROM SIN (emphasis added).” Have you ever seen total depravity discussed in relation to God? This is very troubling.

Jonah 3:9, “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not (emphasis added)?” Now replace the word “repent” with “turn from sin.” “Who can tell if God will turn and TURN FROM SIN… (emphasis added).”

Romans 11:29, “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Substitute the word “repentance” with “a turning from sin.” “For the gifts and calling of God are without A TURNING FROM SIN (emphasis added).” It is like trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

If the definition does not consistently fit, then it is the wrong definition. A change of mind fits every time. Turning from sin cannot possibly fit or be correct. Why is this important? Because reading into passages an inaccurate definition leads to the wrong conclusions. It is not what man does, but about what Christ did for sinful man.

Hebrews 7:21 says “(For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will notrepent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec) (emphasis added).” So replace the word “repent” with “turn from sin.” “The Lord sware and will not TURN FROM SIN,… (emphasis added).” Oops, seems like a square peg in a round hole. What sin does God need to turn from anyway?

God Himself repents. That shows there is something horribly wrong with the notion of defining it as turning from sin. Dr. Curtis Hutson makes this excellent point:

Of the forty-six times a form of the word “repentance” appears in the Old Testament, only nine times is man doing the repenting. Thirty-seven times it has reference to God’s repenting or telling us of things about which God did not or will not repent.

Now, if “repent” means to turn from sin, we have a problem. We have God turning from sin, and that is certainly inconsistent with Bible teaching. God is sinless and has no sin to turn from. But if “repentance” means a change of mind, then it is consistent. You have God changing His mind about some things, but you have at least nine things in the Old Testament about which God says He will not change His mind.

Now that makes sense. There are many things about which I would change my mind, but there are some things about which I will not change my mind. For instance, I will not “repent” or change my mind about the fact that the Bible is the Word of God. I will not “repent” or change my mind about the fact that Jesus is the virgin-born Son of God. I will not change my mind about the fact that salvation is by grace through faith. And there are other important matters about which I will not “repent” or change my mind.73

One of the best summaries written explaining repentance as a change of mind is written by Charles C. Ryrie. In A Survey of Bible Doctrine he writes:

To repent is to change your mind. However, this only defines the word, not the concept, for you need to ask, Change your mind about what? Depending on how you answer that question, repentance might be a synonymous concept to believing in Christ or it might become an additional requirement for salvation. If repentance is understood to mean changing your mind about your sin—being sorry for your sin—this will not necessarily save. There are plenty of criminals in and out of jails who are repentant in this sense. They are sorry for making certain mistakes, but this does not mean they give up a life of crime. People can be sorry for their sins without wanting to accept the forgiveness of a Saviour.

But if repentance means changing your mind about the particular sin of rejecting Christ, then that kind of repentance saves, and of course it is the same as faith in Christ. This is what Peter asked the crowd to do on the day of Pentecost. They were to change their minds about Jesus of Nazareth. Formerly they had considered Him to be only a blasphemous human being claiming to be God; now they changed their minds and saw Him as the God-man Saviour whom they would trust for salvation. That kind of repentance saves, and everyone who is saved has repented in that sense.

There is a third use of the concept of repentance and that is in the Christian life. A Christian needs to repent—that is, to change his mind about particular sins committed. If he does repent, then he will confess those sins and experience forgiveness.74

Phil Wheeler is a missionary evangelist to state and county fairs. He has encountered many cults and debated many doctrines relating to salvation. Having discussed the biblical doctrine of repentance in many cities across the United States, a most telling exchange occurs over and over again. After being told that repentance is a turning from and forsaking of sin, Brother Phil asks, “Is that how you got saved?” Many times the answer is a resounding “No.” Obviously something is seriously wrong with this line of thinking.75

No one has ever stopped sinning. John declares in 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” That is as clear as it gets. He then speaks of confessing our sins in a passage that deals with our fellowship with the Father, Jesus and fellow believers. Why would believers need to confess sins if they ceased from sinning? They confess because Christians still sin. Until the redemption of the body, every living believer will have to die daily to sin.

What about Lordship salvation?

Lordship salvation simply put is unconditional surrender of all to Christ as a requirement for salvation.76 So commitment to Jesus as Lord of every area of life and complete abandonment of any and everything to Him are made mandatory for salvation. This view works closely with defining repentance as a turning from sin. This linkage is necessary to force sufficient amounts of scripture to conform to this theology. So Lordship salvation is a total surrender and complete commitment.

A. W. Tozer writes:

I warn you – you will not get help from Him in that way for the Lord will not save those whom He cannot command!

He will not divide His offices. You cannot believe on a half-Christ. We take Him for what He is – the anointed Savior and Lord who is King of kings and Lord of lords! He would not be who He is if He saved us and called us and chose us without the understanding that He can also guide and control our lives.77

Dr. Adrian Rogers gives a wonderful illustration supporting Lordship salvation that goes a long way towards understanding this theological position.

Have you ever thought that salvation was like a cafeteria where you can pick and choose the aspects of Jesus you want? “I’ll have a little Saviorhood, please, but no Lordship.” Not so, friend. If Jesus is not your Lord, Jesus is not your Savior. What’s the difference? Well, suppose I perform a wedding ceremony and say to the young man, “Would you take Mary to be your lawfully wedded wife?” and he responds, “Well, I’ll take Mary as housekeeper.” Then I say to her, “Would you take John to be your lawfully wedded husband?” and she says, “Well, I’ll take him as provider.” Friend, we can’t pick and choose what we want from Jesus. We simply take Jesus as Lord over all!78

That certainly sounds logical. But sinful man is not saved by logic or theological philosophy. He is saved by faith in Christ and His gospel.

Christian N. Temple points out the confusion. “This is to confuse accepting the Spirit of salvation with the Christian call to walk in the Spirit. At the moment of salvation, a person receives a new nature as a regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. The person is saved first, by simple faith, and then the Spirit will lead him to respond to the Lordship call of Christ.”79

In order to make the definition of total commitment and surrender work, one must modify certain scriptures. The Greek word for Lord (kurios) refers to deity in most cases. This presents a problem to the Lordship salvation theologians. The solution is simple. If the Bible does not say what is desired, find a version that does. The forcing of meanings into passages where the context does not clearly give that implication is tragic.

Jesus Christ is Lord by any definition. Time will not be taken to list all the names of Christ and their theological ramifications. How much does the sinner have to understand? Many contend that understanding the gospel is not sufficient and more must be incorporated into the good news.

An absurd statement that floats around is “…free forgiveness in one sense will cost [the forgiven] everything.” This is what is known as false advertising. There is no asterisk in the plan of salvation with small legal type at the bottom of the page. When the Lord told Adam “of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat,”80 did He really mean free? When God says free, He means it is free!

When sinful man is thrown into the salvation equation, things go awry. If the sinner must make Christ Lord of his life, then the Lord is in control of it all. Now which believer in the Bible had Christ as Lord of all his life? David? Abraham? Paul? Peter? If making Christ Lord of all their life was the condition for salvation, no one has ever made it to heaven. Now, remember the call being preached by many is complete surrender.

Can a person willfully reject Christ’s Lordship and be saved? The unbeliever must believe that Jesus is the way (the only way), the truth, and the life. Now consider these two passages.

Acts 20:21 states, “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” They preached that man must change his mind about God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. What was the view towards God?

Acts 17:28-31 says, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” We cannot think of the God like an idol “like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device”. So man must have a correct view of God.

If men believe in a Jesus other than the one presented in the gospel or another gospel for that matter, can they be saved?81 No, sinful man cannot make up his own god after his own image. Does sinful man have to understand all the doctrines relating to the doctrine of God and Christ in order to be saved? Of course not! Does a person have to understand the full ramifications of the term Lord, Christ, and Jesus in order to be saved? No, nor is it even reasonable to assume that any new convert grasps it all. We need not add to the gospel, nor detract from it.

Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” It does not insert whoever obeys the Lord. Lordship salvation crams obedience into the passage when the book of Romans refutes obedience as the means of salvation.

Sadly Lordship salvation serves as a backdoor to get man’s effort into the salvation equation. When Adam and Eve sinned, it was the Lord who killed an animal and provided them a covering for their nakedness. Not one fig leaf did they keep. Salvation is of the Lord. When man tries to climb into the equation, he destroys it.

In light of Lordship salvation, it must seem odd to read Romans 12:1 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Who? Brethren. Do what? Why write this to believers if they have already done this in order to be saved? Lordship salvation makes Romans 12:1 and other passages like it seem utterly absurd.

So can a person who is trusting in themselves by turning from sin, surrendering all, and giving total commitment be saved? There are too many scriptures to the contrary. Can a person commit his life to Christ at salvation while trusting only in Jesus to save him? Yes. The bottom line is “what did that person trust in for salvation?” If the answer is anything besides Jesus and His finished work, then they are lost.82

What about the book of James?

Does the book of James teach that we are saved by works? Many go to great lengths to show that the book of Romans does not contradict the second chapter of James. The reality is most commentators and teachers miss the point. Truth does not contradict the truth. James does not teach salvation by works.

James wrote about justification before men, while Paul wrote about justification before God.83 James asks, “What doth it profit…?”84 He then relates works produced by faith to those around us. “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? (emphasis added)”85 Believers must show forth the faith they claim. God is not asking anyone to do anything. God commands and His commandments are not grievous.86 Justification before God cannot come by works. Justification before men does, however.

Titus 3:5-8 goes a long way to settling this. It says:

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men. (emphasis added)

Salvation is not by the righteousness works of man. It is by God’s mercy through the Lord Jesus Christ. Men are justified by His unmerited favor.

Titus then gives a faithful saying. Those who have “believed in God” need to “maintain good works.” Why? “These things are good and profitable unto men.” Justification before men is vital if we are going to reach them for Christ and have an impact on other believers.

During an experience witnessing to a computer technician, he interrupted and said “I don’t care to hear anything about church or God. I’ve worked with too many churches and seen how they do people.” Dishonest professing Christians turned this man away from the gospel message. Thank God for every believer who backs up what he says by how he lives.

James did not teach that believers can live any way they want. Neither did Paul. Paul wrote in Romans 3:8, “And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.” And again, Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”

Clearly James is writing to challenge believers and also to expose false faith. Roger Ellsworth writes this about James 2:

James’s words have sparked a tremendous debate. Is James really denying salvation by faith? Is he really suggesting that salvation can be secured only by producing good works? Is James out of step with the great apostle Paul, who so loudly trumpeted and heroically championed the doctrine of salvation by faith?

The answer to each of these questions is a resounding ‘No!’ James was not denying salvation by faith. He was not advocating salvation by works. He was not disagreeing with the apostle Paul.

James believed firmly in salvation by faith, but he believed just as firmly that saving faith inevitably shows up in good works. Kent Hughes helpfully explains, ‘Paul’s teaching about faith and works focuses on the time before conversion, and James’s focus is after conversion’ (italics are his).87

We do not have a works faith, but we believe that faith works. We might say that good works cannot produce salvation, but salvation most certainly produces good works.88

What about the gospel according to MacArthur?

John F. MacArthur, Jr., is a renowned scholar, pastor, and teacher. He is a very gifted communicator. Unfortunately, intelligence, charisma, and eloquence do not add up to being correct. There are many brilliant men who believe and teach all kinds of things from evolution to reincarnation. Pastor MacArthur is a strong proponent of Lordship salvation and of works salvation.

Not everything Pastor MacArthur says or teaches is flawed. He makes some very good observations and some valid points. However, through his philosophy, he corrupts the good news into another gospel. This is not about what he has right, but what he has wrong. Salvation is a non-negotiable. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”89

Man has always suffered from the worship and respect of men. Jude wrote of those “having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage.” Paul did not have this problem. Galatians 2 says, “But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me (emphasis added)” and then withstood Peter to the face because he did not walk uprightly according to the truth of the gospel. In the middle of this face-to-face showdown, Paul declared what Peter already knew, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”90

When there is respect of persons, it moves to trump the word of God every time. Having respect of persons gives preference to man’s opinion over the written Holy Scriptures. One saying goes, “if I had a dime for every time that…” and then you fill in the blank. Well “I’d be rich if I had a dime for every time” a believer responded to a theological issue by “well, doctor so and so says thus and so. He’s a good man.” The person might be a good man, but his opinion should not usurp the written word of God. “Let God be true, but every man a liar.”91 Something is terribly wrong with taking man’s word over what one can read plainly in front of them. It violates the scriptures.

This point can be illustrated by a personal story. While serving as a Baptist Bible Fellowship missionary in Argentina, the writer ran into some Jehovah’s witnesses. He was showing them that Jesus Christ is God. They had a book that looked like a nice New Testament, leather-bound with gold gild. It contained the references for various troublesome scriptures for the Jehovah’s Witnesses (and there are a lot of them). The particular verse they were just discussing had a very lengthy section to explain that the verse does not mean what it clearly says. Something is obviously wrong “when you have to go around your elbow to get to your thumb.”

Much the same way, Paul warns the church in Colossians 2:8, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” When a believer is led down a long dark twisted path that leaves him feeling cross-eyed and amazed at the genius of the teacher, warning bells should sound.

Jesus puts it well in Matthew 18:3, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Little children do not understand the advanced philosophy of men. Children have simple faith and can understand John 3:16. Children do not understand the complicated lives of adults nor the complexities of a twisted salvation. They do not worry about what they are going to eat, drink, or if they have clean clothes for tomorrow. Why? They have someone taking care of these things for them. So they can understand their guilt and trust what Jesus did for them. It is grown-ups who have to help God out. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.”92

This is not new. Go back to the Garden of Eden. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”93 The command and the impending results of disobedience were made clear. One easily sees the goodness of God in that they could freely eat of every tree with only one exception. The tempter came. Genesis 3:1 “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” He came in and philosophically confused the issue. There is truly a lot that could be said about this passage and man’s spiritual death that day in Adam,94 but this illustration is for the purpose of our topic of biblical salvation. Consider 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ (emphasis added).” Please let that sink in—“so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”

MacArthur’s view of salvation is a blender approach. He takes all the truths of discipleship, consecration, growth, sanctification, and justification and blends them together into a toxic mixed drink. Anyone who reads his works can see that he is all over the place. “Forsaking oneself for Christ’s sake is not an optional step of discipleship subsequent to conversation; it is the sine quo non of saving faith.”95 Glad he threw the Latin in or no one would have understood. “Sine quo non” means “an indispensable condition, element, or factor; something essential.” He gives his gospel blender a good dose of Luke 14:25-2733, where now you have to hate mother and father and give up all possessions to be saved!96 He performs this process consistently while maintaining he is teaching salvation by grace through faith alone!

“It is impossible to mix grace and works. Either God saves a man by grace, or man saves himself by some form of works.”97 Paul writes in Romans 11:6 “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” The two are like oil and water. They are not the same thing and do not blend together to equal salvation.

This Jim Jones type of Kool-Aid cocktail gets even worse. Who surrendered all they had when they got saved? Who sold all their possessions? The apostle Paul wrote, “In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.”98 Not even Pastor MacArthur can look an omniscient God straight in the eye and say he met the conditions of the gospel according to MacArthur. Consider this part of his gospel written by him on the same page!

Eternal life is indeed a free gift (Rom. 6:23). Salvation cannot be earned with good deeds or purchased with money. It has already been bought by Christ, who paid the ransom with His blood. But that does not mean there is not cost in terms of salvation’s impact on the sinner’s life. This paradox may be difficult but it is nevertheless true: salvation is both free and costly. Eternal life brings immediate death to self. ‘Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin’ (Rom 6:6).99

Thus in a sense, we pay the ultimate price for salvation when our sinful self is nailed to a cross. It is a total abandonment of self-will, like the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies so that it can bear much fruit (cf. John 12:24). It is an exchange of all that we are for all that Christ is. And it denotes implicit obedience, full surrender to the lordship of Christ. Nothing less can qualify as saving faith.100

Who has ever heard of something that is free and costs you everything? Confusing being a child of God with how one behaves as a child of God sure creates a mess. Surely Pastor John MacArthur did not give up all his possessions, stop sinning and jump past years of spiritual growth at the moment of conversion (technically his idea of being born again is that of a process). If he did not do those things, then by his own admission and rules, he is unsaved! This simply is an impossibility, so a workaround must be created.

Since no one can truly reach the lofty gospel according to MacArthur a workaround is needed. What can possibly bridge the gap between reality and this fictitious gospel blend? These words come from his section on the rich young ruler, which will be discussed later (bolding has been added to accent the workaround):

Do we literally have to give away everything we own to become Christians? No, but we do have to be willing to forsake all (Luke 14:33), meaning we cling to nothing that takes precedence over Christ

So Jesus did not mean that literally. You just have to be willing. So the toxic gospel Kool-Aid mix gets a flavor boost from the will of man. So in reality there is no need to take it all to heart. Men do not really cease sinning at the moment of salvation, or give up all their possessions or make Christ Lord of absolutely everything to be saved. He just has to be willing to do so. Wow! What a great escape hatch…now even Pastor MacArthur can squeeze in. “Did you give up everything and quit sinning?” “No, but I was willing.” This is completely ludicrous.

What does God have to say about this? “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”101 Contrary to Pastor MacArthur’s teachings, it is not man’s willingness to live by the Sermon on the Mount or give everything he owns or to change his lifestyle that saves him. It is simply not by the will of man. It is “not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”102

What John MacArthur does with Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in the third chapter of John is jaw-dropping. A lot has to be read into this passage to create a works salvation. Pastor MacArthur the master mixer of a new gospel of another Jesus writes:

Nicodemus’s reply has often been misunderstood: “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (v. 4). Nicodemus was not speaking in literal terms. We must give him credit for a little common sense. Surely he was not so feeble-minded as to think Jesus was really talking about re-entering the womb and literally being born again. A teacher himself, Nicodemus understood the rabbinical method of teaching spiritual truth in symbols, and he was merely picking up Jesus’ symbolism. He was really saying, “I can’t start all over. It’s too late. I’ve gone too far in my religious system to start all over. There’s no hope for me if I must begin from the beginning.”

Jesus was demanding that Nicodemus forsake everything he stood for, and Nicodemus knew it. Far from offering this man an easy conversion, Christ challenged him with the most difficult demand he could make. Nicodemus would gladly have given money, fasted, or performed any ritual Jesus could have prescribed. But, to call him to spiritual rebirth was asking him to acknowledge his own spiritual insufficiency and turn away from everything he was committed to.103

If that is not absurd enough, consider what he does with the phrase “born of water.” Pretend for a second that you were unaware that John 3:5-6 says, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Pretend you could not grasp that the “water” in verse 5 is obviously defined as “born of the flesh” in very next verse. Even with all this ignorance, would the Bible student drag out of it that Jesus was referring to the doctrine of “the Old Testament – of purification”?104 What? Nicodemus would be shocked at Jesus mentioning an Old Testament doctrine that he already knew? This is such a stretch that one would have to go to the theory of man coming from primate to draw an equivalent stretch of imagination. Dr. Seuss made his millions with wild tales, so why should not this dear Pastor, teacher, and author?

When dealing with the rich young ruler Pastor MacArthur again misses the boat.105 “And the issue here was clearly this man’s salvation, not some higher level of discipleship subsequent to conversion. His question was about how to obtain eternal life.” Let us take a look at this story as recorded in Mark 10:17-24.

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!

First notice the conflict revolves around who is really God. Jesus responded, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.” Then goes to list several of the ten commandments that deal with our fellow man and purposefully leaves out the ones dealing with God. Jesus is proving to this man that mammon (money and possessions) were his god and not the Lord God.

Also, note that Jesus said if he sold all he had and took up his cross to follow Jesus that he would “have treasure in heaven.” Jesus clearly did not say this is how to obtain eternal life. It is right there in black and white. Jesus is pinpointing his real problem.

Pastor MacArthur’s greatest failure is in not reading the entire passage. Mark 10:24 explains, “And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! (emphasis added)” Who has a hard time entering into the kingdom of God? “Them that trust in riches.” Anyone who trusts in riches instead of God will certainly miss heaven. Consider the powerful commentary of Psalm 49:6-15:

They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:) That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption. For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah. Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah.

Only faith in Christ and His finished work brings salvation. If one puts his complete trust in the gospel, “how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures,” he is saved. Nothing more and nothing less will do.

MacArthur’s view of Calvinism is mixed into all he writes so that the good works of men are redefined as divine graces. Does this sound bogus and confusing? Well, it ought to be. The free will of man and the sovereignty of God are not at odds. There is no need to reinterpret every clear New Testament passage dealing with eternal salvation to fit some misconceived extrabiblical theology.

Concluding Remarks

The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is spelled out in the word of God. First Corinthians 15:3-4 plainly says, “…Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” The gospel must be presented faithfully and clearly.

The eternal souls of men are in the balance. Man will spend an eternity separated from God in the lake of fire or in all the blessings and joy of the presence of the Lord. The message preached is of paramount importance.

Many things enter in to confuse the issue. God is not the source of this confusion. Philosophy and reasoning of men taint the gospel. Respect of man blinds the mind to the truth of the Scriptures. Instead of confusion, God provides for faith. Romans 10:17 states, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” There is no need for confusion. The Christian has God’s word on it!###

  1. Soteriology: Theology dealing with salvation especially as effected by Jesus Christ.
  2. 2 Timothy 3:71 Corinthians 15:1-8
  3. Acts 4:10-12
  4. John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures(Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983).
  5. John R. Rice, Hell! What the Bible Says About It (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord, 2000), 35.
  6. Matthew 25:41
  7. Mark 9:43
  8. Revelation 20:14-15
  9. 1 Peter 1:3-5
  10. 1 Corinthians 2:9
  11. John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According To Jesus. (Panorama, CA: Word of Grace, 1988), xiv.
  12. Galatians 1:6-9
  13. Galatians 2:11-21
  14. Harold L. Willington, The Doctrine of Salvation. (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty Home Bible Institute, 1977), 13.
  15. Roy Wallace, Studies In Systematic Theology. (Shreveport, LA: LinWell, 2001), 279.
  16. Genesis 2:17
  17. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996).
  18. 1 Peter 1:20
  19. Luke 24:25-27
  20. Romans 3:20
  21. Earl D. Radmacher, Salvation (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 2000), 66.
  22. Genesis 2:16Romans 3:23
  23. Hebrews 7:25-282 Corinthians 5:21
  24. Romans 6:23
  25. Romans 4:25
  26. Romans 1:4
  27. 1 Corinthians 15:12-22
  28. 2 Peter 1:21
  29. Chuck Sligh, interviewed by author, 14 Dec. 2009, via email.
  30. Phil Wheeler, interview by author, 1 October 2009, via telephone.
  31. Robert James Utley, Volume 4, The Beloved Disciple’s Memoirs and Letters: The Gospel of John, I, II, and 3 John, Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 1999), 231.
  32. Paul J. “Star.” Green, World Book Online Reference Center. 2005. World Book, Inc. (accessed 18 November 2009); available from 
  33. 2 Corinthians 5:21.
  34. Roy Wallace, Studies In Romans (Shreveport, LA: LinWel, 2002) 60.
  35. Romans 5:10.
  36. Romans 3:24.
  37. Romans 6:23.
  38. 1 Peter 1:3-5.
  39. Revelation 5:9.
  40. John 3:18.
  41. 2 Peter 1:4.
  42. John 1:12Romans 8:15.
  43. John 3:5-8.
  44. Romans 8:9-11.
  45. Ephesians 1:12-134:30.
  46. 2 Corinthians 5:17Galatians 6:15.
  47. 1 Corinthians 1:306:11.
  48. Ephesians 5:30.
  49. Colossians 2:13.
  50. Colossians 1:13.
  51. Romans 8:16-17.
  52. Ephesians 2:6.
  53. Romans 4:3-4.
  54. Romans 10:13.
  55. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God the Holy Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Crossways Books, 1997), 224.
  56. Wiersbe, Bible Exposition.
  57. Ibid.
  58. Walvoord, Bible Knowledge.
  59. 1 John 3:2.
  60. Romans 8:3.
  61. MacArthur, The Gospel xiv.
  62. Acts 16:29-32.
  63. Walter J. Chantry, Today’s Gospel: authentic or synthetic? (East Peoria, IL: Versa Press, 2008), 15.
  64. Bruce D. Cummons, Salvation Is of the Lord (Massillon, OH: Massillon Baptist Temple, 1981), 1.
  65. 2 Corinthians 5:17.
  66. G. Michael Cocoris, Lordship Salvation – Is it Biblical? (Dallas, TX: Redención Viva, 1983), 11
  67. MacArthur, The Gospel 32.
  68. Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort, The Way Of The Master: Basic Training Course Study Guide (Bartlesville, OK: Genesis Publishing Group, 2006), 105.
  69. Acts 3:26.
  70. 1 Peter 2:11.
  71. Ephesians 2:8.
  72. Curtis Hutson, Repentance: What Does The Bible Teach? (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1986), 9.
  73. Ibid, 14-15.
  74. Charles Caldwell Ryrie, A Survey of Bible Doctrine (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995).
  75. Wheeler interview, 1 October 2009.
  76. John F. MacArthur Jr., Lordship Salvation (accessed 12 December 2009); available from; Internet.
  77. A. W. Tozer, I Call It Heresy! (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1974), 18-19.
  78. Adrian Rogers, LWF Daily Devotional: Jesus As Lord & Savior (Memphis, TN: Love Worth Finding Ministries, 2009), email, 12 March 2009.
  79. Christian N. Temple, Lordship Salvation: Is it Biblical? (accessed 19 December 2009); available from; Internet.
  80. Genesis 2:16.
  81. 2 Corinthians 11:413-15.
  82. John 14:1-6.
  83. Romans 2:2-5.
  84. James 2:14.
  85. James 2:15-16.
  86. 1 John 5:3
  87. R. Kent Hughes, James: Faith That Works (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991) 108.
  88. Roger Ellsworth, Opening Up James (Leominster, UK: Day One Publications, 2009), 91.
  89. Galatians 5:9.
  90. Galatians 2:16.
  91. Romans 3:4.
  92. 1 Peter 3:18.
  93. Genesis 2:16-17.
  94. Oliver B Green, Our Great Salvation (Greenville, SC: The Gospel Hour, Inc., 1965),19.
  95. MacArthur, The Gospel, 135.
  96. MacArthur, The Gospel, 184.
  97. Curtis Hutson, Is Water Baptism Essential To Salvation? (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publisher, 1988), 4.
  98. Romans 2:16.
  99. John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According To Jesus. (Panorama, CA: Word of Grace, 1988), 140.
  100. John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According To Jesus. (Panorama, CA: Word of Grace, 1988), 140.
  101. John 1:12-13.
  102. Ephesians 2:8-9.
  103. MacArthur, The Gospel, 40.
  104. MacArthur, The Gospel, 40.
  105. MacArthur, The Gospel, 77-78.