The Lordship Debate Is Missing the Point
One of the advantages of aging is that you see cycles. In governments, people, history, organizations, and organisms – the last being a reference to that God-ordained organism, the Church. Cycles are evident in the Church universal – comprised of all Christian believers of all time and all places – and the local church which, in the United States, is a 501.c.3 tax-exempt entity housed in building somewhere in a neighborhood near you.
One of the recurring issues of concern for various factions within the Church is that of Lordship Salvation: the point of contention is whether or not a person must make Jesus the lord of every area of life in order to be saved or whether trusting in Jesus Christ as savior alone is sufficient.
The tide is out at this time for the lordship debate; how long it will be before the tide comes in once again and accusations are hurled and books written and re-written, no one knows. What I would propose is that when the tide does come in again, the Church take a different approach.
We can have our usual tribal skirmishes over the precise details of the gospel to determine “us” and “them,” but in so doing we are overlooking a critical aspect of lordship. Rather than focusing on lordship as a matter of salvation, we might do well to shift the focus to lordship as evidence of salvation and a necessary effect of salvation.
My position has been and remains that a surrender of every area of our lives – lordship – is not necessary for salvation to occur but it is something that must follow if salvation has taken place. This is far more than stating that lordship is what happens subsequent to salvation; it is stating that an absence of lordship means no salvation took place to begin with.
This isn’t just my opinion. It is arguably the opinion of John as reflected in his first epistle. He writes,
By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. – 1 Jn 2.3-6, NASB
John is direct and unequivocal in his statement: if you know God by virtue of trusting Jesus Christ as Savior, then obedience to His commands and walking as Jesus walked must follow. Not should or might or ought, but must. Lordship is a natural and necessary outcome of salvation, not something that some Christians submit to and others forego.
But two questions immediately present themselves: what commands are to be kept and how did Jesus walk? Two questions but essentially one answer.
Stackhouse has summarized the commands as four: two creation or eternal commands and two redemption or temporary commands. The creation commands are (1) to exercise stewardship for the earth and (2) to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. The redemption commands are (1) to love other believers with the same quality of love that Jesus has for us and (2) to make disciples.
In his letter, John is focusing on the commands that compel us to have love for God, one another, and others. To keep the commands is to love and to walk in love – that is, to walk as Jesus walked.
Of course, Jesus broadened the meaning of “neighbor” in his parable of the Good Samaritan. Our neighbor, he said, is anyone with a need that we have the ability to meet. That is love.
With his typical, blunt-force approach, John writes that “The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.” Marshall, in his commentary on John’s epistles, brings the point home forcefully:
We would say that there are persons whom we do not love, but this is not the same thing as hating them . . . But John will have none of this. His concept of love is caring for the needs of others, even to the point of self-sacrifice. If I am unwilling to do that for somebody in need, I love myself more than him; I am not being merely neutral, but am actually hating him. – p. 131
The proof of salvation, according to John, is walking in love, which is to obey God’s commands. To walk in love is to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ; walking in love is the fountain from which all our obedience flows. If there is no walking in love (as a continuing lifestyle), there is no lordship and there is no salvation.
My contention, to state it once again, is that the importance of lordship is not to be found primarily in whether it is necessary for salvation but instead as proof of salvation and submission to Christ as Lord. If a person does not walk in love, then that person does not know God and cannot claim to have fellowship with him or a saving relationship with him through Jesus Christ.
There are no second-tier Christians who are content with one day sitting in the cheap seats in heaven. There is but one type of believer: those who walk as Jesus walked, who are obeying God’s commands, who – consciously or unconsciously – have committed and submitted themselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ as a welcome result of having been redeemed. All others are tragically and eternally mistaken.