Home > Bible Study, John MacArthur, Matthew, S. Lewis Johnson > Lordship Salvation Views: Matthew’s Gospel

Lordship Salvation Views: Matthew’s Gospel


As an online friend once commented, it’s interesting to see how different preachers treat the same scripture passages, revealing their own distinctive views and emphases.  As one recent example, considering Matthew 16:24-27, I’ve noticed that one’s ideas of salvation and discipleship come into play and affect our understanding of Jesus’ words.

In this text Jesus says “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  In S. Lewis Johnson’s teaching on this text, he notes that this can be taken in two different senses:

1.  As referring to salvation and the gospel, “that every true Christian is a person who denies himself and takes up his cross and follows the Lord Jesus.”  — or —
2.  Referring to discipleship:  Jesus here is speaking to disciples, and the phrase “come after Me” differs from the basic gospel message, “come unto Me.”

Though the term “Lordship Salvation” is never mentioned here, the concept was clearly in SLJ’s mind as he noted the two views, pointing out that he did respect those who hold to the first view and that “a truth is expressed by what lies back of that interpretation.”  He then continued to emphasize the discipleship that is conveyed here.

By contrast, a message from John MacArthur‘s Matthew series assumes the first view without really addressing the other interpretation, as in this excerpt:

Now, what does He mean “if any man will come after Me?” Basically just this, if you want to be a Christian, if you want to follow Jesus, if you want to be a disciple, if you want to come to Christ…it’s an evangelistic word here. You say, “Well, then why is He giving it to the disciples?” Well, the evangelistic thrust goes to the multitude. But it also has a tremendous message to the disciples because it’s easy for us having understood that total commitment to the Lordship of Christ and submission to Him when we got in, to eventually begin to try to take back some of our own rights. … this is not only a word for those who need to know how to come to Christ to start with, but this is a word for those who having come may have forgotten what they said they came for in the beginning. So if you come to follow Jesus Christ, you come on His terms.

Later in this same Matthew 16 message SLJ also brought up the story of Lot, one who was a true believer yet had no fruit or influence.  Again, discipleship is better and the desirable state for believers, but is it really scriptural to say that only mature believers are truly saved?  In the previous post I referenced J.C. Ryle as one who clearly did recognize this distinction between types of believers.  As Johnson pointed out, Charles Hodge is another one — and from my googling online I found references to that fact.

Recognizing this distinction between justification and sanctification, and between two types of believers, the carnal immature versus spiritual mature, of course does not mean that Christians should evangelize with Arminian-style “decision cards” or tracts promoting the idea that it’s okay to be a carnal Christian.  Throughout history the gospel has always been proclaimed through preaching and teaching of the Word, proclaiming gospel salvation to lost sinners, and the results are born out in the lives of those who respond to the gospel message and come to faith in Christ.  God’s word convicts a person of his own sinfulness and brings regeneration and faith to that person, who afterwards begins attending at a local church — sanctification beginning in the believer’s life.  Yet scripture and church history clearly show that some believers do not mature to the extent that others do.  God alone understands why this is so, but He is the one who has consigned all of us over to disobedience so as to have mercy — on so many of us.

Finally, the following article, the conclusion from S. Lewis Johnson’s 1989 paper concerning Lordship Salvation (“QT: S. Lewis Johnson on Lordship Salvation”), is quite helpful towards a proper perspective.

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  1. Peter
    April 28, 2011 at 10:49 am

    My understanding of the Lordship view is different correct me if i’m wrong. I thought the Lordship problem was that people could profess Christ and not leave their life of sin at all. Have little to no change and even apostate in extreme situations. People argued that those people are indeed saved because they said a prayer etc.

    Now I think I understand the distinction you are trying to make. But this is a really complicated area. I do agree that to say that only the mature believers just doesn’t seem quite right. I suppose the distinguishing mark is Sin. Do they obey Gods commandments. Do they want to obey God’s commandments. Do they confess sins. Do they not practice sin as a lifestyle? I suppose what you are suggesting is that if you answered yes to the above questions but still wasted a lot of time, brought forth hardly any fruit, hung around with bad company and really didn’t show yourself to be much of a christian at all you could indeed be saved. Well yea I’d probably say that was a baby Christian wasn’t maturing but still did indeed shun sin and want to walk in Holiness.

  2. April 28, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Yes, I agree with what you’re saying. One of the points I’ve tried to make here, is that the two sides are talking about different things — and that in some of the rhetoric I think the “sides” have misrepresented each other. (I don’t know about Zane Hodges, that particular view has gone too far extreme from what I know of it.) The Ryrie / S. Lewis Johnson view does not agree with questionable methods of evangelism and easy-believism, and does not believe that such carnal Christianity is a good idea and something okay and pleasing to God, but rather that such believers are not pleasing to God and will often experience discipline for their waywardness.

    As SLJ noted back in 1989 (when MacArthur had published the first edition of his book), there were places in that book where MacArthur was inconsistent and unclear as to “how much” a Christian’s life should show evidences: some places MacArthur indicated we needed to have 100% commitment, but elsewhere he backed off on the quantity. I haven’t actually read that book, and MacArthur later published a revision, but it still seems that the MacArthur Lordship side is talking about something else, which Ryrie and related are not at all advocating. The link I referenced, stating S. Lewis Johnson’s closing remarks, is something I find quite helpful for keeping the right perspective.

  3. Peter
    April 29, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Issues like these seem pretty difficult to reconcile sometimes. I look at passages like Heb 12:14 and you wonder did Lot pursue sanctification certainly doesn’t seem like it. Did Solomon have ongoing sins of idolatry and polygamy.

  4. Rayn
    April 29, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    Yeah, Lot would appear by most standards to be habbitually practicing sin, but I suppose our standards aren’t God’s. I comment on Lot everytime I come to him that we cannot deny that there definitely WAS fruit, but honestly it even looks like God all but forced him to leave Sodom. But of course Peter points out the main point of the Biblical account of Lot’s biography: “then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgement, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:9-10). It’s significant to note that almost everytime Sodom is mentioned in a sermon it’s usually a passing remark about how their sins were open and we’re headed on the same track, but really what we should get out of it is that God destroyed an entire city to preserve his child. Not only that but Lot can’t Biblically be counted among “those who indulge the flesh” habitually because he wasn’t reserved for judgement.

  5. May 26, 2011 at 9:46 am

    “is it really scriptural to say that only mature believers are truly saved?”

    Nope, not at all. I certainly don’t believe that, and I have not read of any proponents who likewise teach it. I pretty much agree with what Peter said in his first comment.

  6. May 26, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Yes. I think some of the confusion involves the different ways of expressing scriptural truth — but at least some of the rhetoric associated with “Lordship Salvation” comes across (to those just hearing about it) as not distinguishing between those who truly are not saved (due to questionable evangelism methods), and those who are saved but acting very immature like Lot the carnal Christian. Or, the difference between Lot and Lot’s wife.

    The differences also come out though, in how Bible teachers treat certain passages, such as the Matthew text cited above: is that text really saying that all Christians by definition are maturing, discipled Christians? Or is the text talking about what comes after salvation, the sanctification / maturing process? A minor distinction in practical terms, I agree. Either way, all believers certainly should aspire to greater understanding, to “come after me” in discipleship after “coming to” Christ in the first place — and those who don’t will come under divine discipline in their lives.

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