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Posts Tagged ‘Lordship Salvation’

Lordship Versus Free Grace: Was King Saul Saved?

August 6, 2012 7 comments

From a recent online discussion that started with a list of the seven suicide accounts in the Bible, the question came up as to whether certain Old Testament individuals, King Saul and Solomon, were saved.  (I briefly considered this very matter a few years ago, concluding that Solomon was saved but not King Saul.)  A few people insisted that — regardless of all the scriptural evidence to the contrary — because of Samuel’s words to Saul, “tomorrow you and your sons will be with me,” that meant Saul was saved and went to heaven.  As I realized during this discussion, even one’s interpretation of the biblical data on a particular person or event comes from that person’s presuppositions about something even more basic:  the understanding of salvation and sanctification, and the type of life (and fruits) manifested in saved and non-saved individuals.

If 1 Samuel 28:19 is the only text in the Bible to show that King Saul was a saved, regenerate man, I first note that Saul did not take any comfort in that message from Samuel.  The rest of that scene makes very clear, how very frightened Saul was: he “fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear” and no strength in him, not even wanting to eat.  This is a far cry from the scene where the thief on the cross was told that he would soon (that day) be with Jesus in paradise. Saul’s behavior is also nothing like David’s declaration in 2 Samuel 12, a peaceful assurance that “I shall go to him,” where his deceased infant son was.  Samson, another suicide case mentioned, met his death very differently from Saul: calling upon the Lord in that moment.  Samson knew he was going to die very shortly, and though his circumstances were quite different at that point, he did not cower in fear in light of his present physical pain and suffering and his certain physical doom, his impending death.  Job too showed that same understanding of death as a place of rest and peace.

The “answer” to Saul’s fearful reaction: that Saul was just upset and troubled by his circumstances, that he was reacting (as any ordinary person would) who wants to win the battle and continue his rule.  Also, that people in the OT didn’t have the same understanding about the afterlife as in the NT (citing the above example of the thief on the cross, while ignoring the OT examples given), and that the thief on the cross didn’t have anything in this life to lose (such as Saul who still had rule over a kingdom).

Really?  Saul’s behavior in that scene shows what had already been demonstrated previously in his life: his desperate attempt to cling to this life and to cling to the throne, even though he knew, as he had acknowledged to David when David spared his life, that David was to have the kingship.  At the point of death, no one who has a right relationship to the Lord is going to act all scared and panicked about the announcement of his death merely because he wants to win the battle, continue his rule and keep his earthly possessions.

The best explanation of Samuel’s message, that “tomorrow you and your sons will be with me” is to recognize that the word used there is Sheol:  it does not refer to paradise, or Abraham’s Bosom, or even to hell (the place of the damned), but to the intermediate place of the dead, a place that has two compartments. Thus, saying that Saul and his sons would be where Samuel was, is not a case for salvation, but to the fact that they would be in that temporary holding place before the resurrection, a holding place that we know has two compartments within it.

Going beyond the incident in 1 Samuel 28, though, the abundance of other scriptural evidence portrays Saul as an unsaved man with sins that are categorically different from the fleshly sins that the great OT saints, such as David and Moses, fell into at times in their lives.  Saul directly disobeyed a direct order from God, to slay the Amelekites, and even presumed to offer the sacrifices himself.  Saul persecuted David (the type of Christ), failing to recognize the Davidic covenant promises; he also slew God’s priests (not a light thing to dismiss).  Then he swore an oath of safety to a medium, the very thing not allowed in the word of God, which plainly says to not allow a medium/sorceress to live; and he sought guidance from that medium.

What came about next in the discussion:  that person’s concept of “Free Grace” salvation, apparently of the extreme Zane Hodges variety, that no matter what kind of life a person may lead he or she is still a regenerate, saved individual.  The above analysis was wrong, they said, because that is just focused on the idea of keeping a list of merits and demerits, a type of laundry list, and by that type of legalistic reasoning no one could be saved.  And after all, Moses and David fell into great sin.  So the “Free Grace” reasoning concluded no difference at all between the lives of Moses, David, and King Saul.

But pointing out the many scriptures regarding King Saul is not building a laundry-list or “merits and demerits” type case of “how many sins” any given person committed. Rather, it is a look at the overall character of that individual. Was that person’s life characterized by certain types of sin, or were those sins the momentary lapses of a life that had an overall tenor of godliness? It can also be related to 1 John, what John describes about those who are saved, that they do not continue sinning, that their life is not characterized by sin.  The real issue, behind the discussion of King Saul’s eternal fate, is what God’s word itself says: that people are known by their fruits, and that believers do produce fruit.

Yes, Moses had momentary lapses, as did David in his sin with Bathsheba; they were weaknesses of the flesh, expressed in emotions such as impatience and physical lust. Those sins did not characterize the lives of those men, but were the exception rather than the rule. King Saul’s sins, beginning with the reasons the kingdom was taken away from him, were especially theological in nature, as noted above.

I close with excerpts from S. Lewis Johnson’s message concerning Saul and the 1 Samuel 28 passage, from his “Lessons from the Life of David” series.

 (reading the text) And Saul answered, “I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams.”  He doesn’t say by priests because, after all, he’s the one that slew the High Priest, so he seems to want to avoid that.  “Therefore I have called you that you may reveal to me what I should do.”

Isn’t that interesting?  We won’t go directly to the Lord God, who has spoken.  But we’ll go to a witch.  And we’ll go to the witch with the idea that we can put over to people that we are really interested in knowing what God is going to do.  So Saul’s distress is the distress of disobedience.  It’s not that he has a poor self-esteem.  It’s simply he’s disobedient.  And because he’s disobedient, that’s what happens when individuals are disobedient to the word of God.  He’s already been given his answer, over and over.  He wants to know his fate, but he wants to know it without repentance.  If only the dead Samuel would favor the one God has frowned upon.  Can you imagine that?  God has spoken and said, the kingdom has been torn from you, Saul.  You’ve lost your kingdom.  So Saul will say, I think that I would like to talk to Samuel in order that he may do me some favor, delivering me from the judgment of God, when God has already spoken that this is what’s going to happen.  Amazing, amazing, truly amazing.

. . .

Divine mercy is free.  But it’s righteous in its flow.  The notion that God must help everyone in trouble is not scientific and is wrong.  Because there are individuals who do not seek the will of God and therefore, when they seek out of disobedience and clinging to their sin, God just as in the case of Saul, is silent.  It’s too late.  Too late often individuals appeal to the Lord God.  In the case of Saul, it was too late.  He had, it seemed, clearly by his actions, brought on the judgment of divine retribution.  And that is ultimately what comes to him.  Those who have the opportunity, hearing the gospel message, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” as the jailer did, and do not respond and persist down through the years in not responding, the time may come when, how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, may be written over their lives.

Lordship Salvation Views: Matthew’s Gospel

April 28, 2011 6 comments

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.

The Lordship Controversy: Specials from the S. Lewis Johnson Miscellaneous Files

March 17, 2011 4 comments

In my recent exercise sessions, I’ve been listening to an assortment of topical messages from S. Lewis Johnson.  Interesting topics have included reviews of John MacArthur’s book Charismatic Chaos, another concerning MacArthur and the Lordship controversy, as well as John Stott, George Muller, and Israel and the PLO Peace Treaty.

The “Lordship Controversy” message was recorded in 1989, soon after the publication of MacArthur’s book, “The Gospel According to Jesus” and as an accompaniment to an article that S. Lewis Johnson had published in Christianity Today magazine (September 1989).  Amongst all the rhetoric over the years on both sides (and I have concurred with the MacArthur view, as best as I understand it), SLJ presented the proper perspective:  that we really need to understand the definitions and terminology that the different people are using.  Zane Hodge didn’t clearly define what he meant.  Ryrie apparently stated some things in an unclear way so that he was misunderstood, but elsewhere Ryrie stated his belief as one that is more accurate.  MacArthur for the most part is right, but in his book he showed some inconsistency — in some places saying that the believer first coming to Christ must give Him total 100% commitment/Lordship, but then backing off in other places and saying, well not 100%.

The matter really involves understanding the difference between justification and sanctification, and MacArthur’s book (as he himself has said) came out of his own frustration at seeing the easy-believism methods and techniques used to bring people to the Lord, but then not proving to be true conversions.  Interestingly, S. Lewis Johnson picked up on this as the likely thing that prompted MacArthur to write the book (the general feelings of pastors, teaching a lot and disappointed with the results), even though at that time he was unfamiliar with the details that MacArthur would mention in later interviews.  I recall, for instance, MacArthur telling about the times he met strangers (such as on airplanes), who asked him basic questions about how to be saved — and he would right then and there give a gospel presentation and guide them into making a confession of faith.  But then when he followed up with those people, the conversions proved to be incomplete and false.

The confusion between justification and sanctification, though, is an age-old one — and again I refer back to J.C. Ryle’s classic work, Holiness, as a good source for understanding the difference between these two doctrines.  See also my previous blog on the introduction to his book for more background concerning that book and the “Holiness” Keswick movement of the late 19th century.