Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Not long ago a friend was attacking what I consider to be a caricature of “Lordship salvation” (a term which seems to foster much confusion and consternation). He wrote, somewhat tongue-in-cheek: “if you get GRACE because ya ‘live fer Jesus,’ then...what yer gittin...ISN'T GRACE!!! 

Below is my response. 

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As for "Lordship salvation:" I'm not exactly sure what you envision when you say this. I'm guessing you equate "Lordship" with "legalism." But I want to focus on the word salvation. What does the concept of salvation entail? 

I understand that to be saved is to be regenerated, to be born again, to be a new creation. Such terminology connotes change (as does the term conversion.) 

And so I ask: Changed how? (Notice, I am speaking of God's activity—not man's.) God CHANGES us (when He regenerates us) how? 

The change God brings is not physical or biological. It is spiritual. The Bible is clear: God changes the heart. 

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them (Ezek. 36:25-27). 

We are not speaking of changing ourselves. Rather, the God of promise pledges to make these changes for us—regeneration is what God does to us. 

Thus, salvation isn’t a matter of me changing my behavior. It’s a matter of God changing my heart which inevitably results in a change of behavior—the byproduct of a changed mind. 

Think on it: How can the regenerated, new heart of flesh have no impact or influence on the mind and behavior? How can one logically say, “I feel towards God and I think and I reason and I behave just as I always have. I have been born again!”  

So, the question is this: Can God convert me but not change me? If words mean anything, I don’t see how.

10 comments:

  1. I think it is a difficult topic. Surely a changed heart and attitude towards God will result in a changed behavior. But should the gospel only be presented as good news, that Jesus has paid he penalty for our sins. Or should a gospel presentation also stress the necessity to convert and make Jesus Lord?

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    1. The Gospel is the message of the Person and work of Jesus Christ...the good news that sinners are saved by grace alone through faith alone. (Naturally, for the "good news" to be recognized as "good" one must be made aware of the "bad news.") :)

      But one cannot "convert" oneself. One does not "make" Jesus Lord (or anything else).

      Our duty is to preach the Gospel (the Person and work of God's Son) and trust that God's Spirit, through the preaching of God's word, will bring about genuine conversion in the heart (faith and repentance).

      I typically invite sinners (saved and unsaved!) to believe the Gospel and to come to Christ with the empty hands of faith. We never get to a place where we no longer need to hear and believe the Gospel.

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    2. Thanks for reading and thinking, Thomas.

      Happy and Blessed New Year to you and yours.

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    3. Thanks, and the same to you, Steve.

      Maybe in the next year I will come back with some further comments or questions. Because, I am totally aware, that we cannot convert ourselves, but it is the Spirit that regenerates and at the same time gives faith and conversion.

      But I have really been thinking about the call to sinners and trying to relate it to my own experience. Sometime after listening to and understanding the Gospel three years ago, the question came to my mind, if I was ready to pay the price, whatever that price would be. I did not feel, that I had any alternatives ("no" was not an option), but nevertheless the question came there. And also some preachers did in their messages underline that there was a price to pay. But was that a healthy focus, or was it better just to keep focusing on what Christ had done?

      At that time I did not feel any conflict between those two things, but some people would probably think that cocerns about “paying the price” would be lordship salvation.

      But I guess it is best to save the discussion for next year :-)

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    4. If one preaches, "You can be saved if you are willing to pay the price," one is preaching a false gospel. This makes salvation dependent upon us. (And how could one ever know if one was indeed "willing" to pay any price?)

      There certainly was a price to be paid for our salvation. That price was paid in full by our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Thus, the Christian pays no price to be saved.

      That being said, Christ and His apostles are most clear: There is a price to be paid for being saved. Tribulations will come. To this truth I would add another: God will preserve us and give grace to endure.

      I look forward to reading more from you soon.

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    5. Steve.

      I cannot express my thoughts and questions in clear theological language, so I think I just have to describe my Christian experience and from that try to explain, what is going on in my mind. It can easily be a very long post, but for your sake, for the sake of other readers, and probably also for my own sake, I will try to boil it down as much as I can. :-). I hope it won’t be too long.

      I became a Christian three years ago and based on that experience, I have been thinking about becoming a Christian as a process of discovering the truth. I was an atheist, but one day I “by accident” bumped into the Gospel on the internet. I clicked on a link that someone had posted on Facebook, and it led me to a YouTube video with a Christian apologetic message. I understood that the message likely were true, so I listened to it one more time, then I clicked another video (which happened to be something from a Ligonier conference), and from there I found the Ligonier website, where I began to listen to a lot of teaching in apologetics, philosophy and reformed theology. And this became the start of a journey, where I learned much of the basics of the Christian faith, where the Spirit showed me the sinfulness of my heart, and where my life began to change in a lot of ways.

      I should probably also, tell that I had some previous background from Arminian churches, but I had never understood the Gospel, so years earlier I had left them and had become an atheist. So when I found the Gospel on the internet, it was in many ways like something totally new, that came to me, and that I never had heard about before.

      Although it felt it like a process of discovery, and not a process of me making a decision, there came a certain point, where it was clear to me, that I could not be a Christian and at the same time live my own life according to my own goals. I would so to speak have to give up the “right” to decide for my own life, and this was really a struggle for me to come to terms with. But at the same time, I really had no alternative, and I also realized that my so called “right” to decide for myself after all was of very little value compared to all what Christ had done for me.

      Later I began to listen to other teachers also. One of those was John MacArthur, and he talked a lot (against prosperity preachers and) about the price of following Christ. And it became my firm decision, that no matter what the prize would be, I just wanted to follow Christ.

      A lot of things happened and I did actually (from a human perspective) pay a high price to follow Christ, but I was also very happy because I had been saved, and the hand of the Lord seemed so clear in all the events.

      At a certain time I came across some people on the internet warning against Lordship Salvation, and they (at least some) also warned against John MacArthur. I did not know much about Lordship Salvation, but it seemed to me, that they had misunderstood MacArthur, because as I understood him, the price to follow Jesus was a (possible) consequence of being sawed, and not a price for being sawed. But later I came to see, that even the idea that true Christians should pay a price as a consequence of being saved (no matter how true that might be) could be problematic, at least in my case.

      (To be continued below)

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    6. (Continued)

      I learned from various reformed preachers, that assurance of salvation should be built on evidences in one’s own life. And in the beginning I had no problem with that, for because of my remarkable story, I already felt quite sure, that I was saved. But as time went on, I started to become aware, that I could have a problem with pride. Although I could not be proud of being saved, I realized that I could easily become proud of all the signs of being saved. I thought that my testimony was better than many other testimonies, my determination to follow Christ was remarkable, and the price I had paid was above average, and so on. Even that I knew, I never could have done it in my own strength, I was becoming prideful about what the Lord was doing in me.

      I tried to find an answer for that, and (based on an article by Horatius Bonar) I came to the conclusion, that assurance of salvation (just like salvation itself) should (primarily) come from looking to Christ, and not (so much) from evidences in one’s own life. And in as similar way, I was then thinking, that a Gospel presentation only should tell about the works of Christ, and not (so much) tell people about expected consequences (repent, paying a price, make Jesus Lord).

      But then very recently, an Arminian FB-friend posted something about Billy Graham, because of his 95th birthday. And I replied by stating my view, which lead to some discussion. My Arminian friend quoted verses like Acts 2:38, and although I did not agree with his interpretation, I did see that the bible Peter did a Gospel presentation that went beyond just stating the facts about Jesus. He also (when people asked what to do) give a call to repentance.

      And then I realized that I did not know how a reformed pastor actually would do a Gospel presentation. (Generally we do not have reformed Churches where I live, so I had not heard any). And therefor I started to look to the internet in order try to find reformed pastors and street preachers and see, what they would tell people. And generally I think, that they would tell about Jesus, and then also give a call to repentance.

      But then after thinking about all this, it seems to me, that there are many approaches to presenting the Gospel. On a scale, in one end of it, we have those that insist on only teaching the fasts about Jesus and then so to speak let the Spirit do the rest. Then there are those that teach about Jesus and call the sinners to repent, and finally there are those that that teach people, about Jesus, tell them to repent and to live a consistent life with Jesus as Lord.

      The last two approaches can be done either from a reformed or an Arminian perspective. If the perspective is Arminian, repentance and making Jesus Lord is a choice the sinner has to make (which obviously is false). If the perspective is reformed, repentance and making Jesus Lord is a sign, that the sinner was regenerated when hearing the Gospel.

      The first approach can probably best be done from a reformed perspective that does not look for signs, but just teaches the sinner to continue to look to Jesus. I best like that perspective (looks like what I first experienced when starting to listen to the teachings at the Ligonier website).

      But I cannot say, that the sinner should not repent or not have Jesus as Lord, but it seems to me, that a heavy focus on that could be problematic, because we easily forget about the works of Jesus.

      So I am somewhat confused about the matter, but I hope what I have written does make sense, and it is possible to give some helpful response to it.

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    7. You write: “they (at least some) also warned against John MacArthur . . .”

      My advice when listening to or reading non-inspired authors and/or speakers is to “eat the meat and spit out the bones.” We must be discerning.

      You write: “I learned from various reformed preachers, that assurance of salvation should be built on evidences in one’s own life.”

      While there will most certainly be “evidences” of conversion and sanctification in a believer’s life, and while one is commanded to “examine yourself . . .” (2Cor. 13:5), I do not say one should base or “build” one’s assurance of salvation on such “evidences.” Rather, the assurance of salvation should be “built” on the Person and work of Jesus Christ. (I will be addressing this in a forthcoming blog piece.)

      You write: “Generally I think, that they [Reformed pastors] would tell about Jesus, and then also give a call to repentance.

      This does seem to be the apostolic pattern in the book of “The Acts of the Apostles,” doesn’t it? “Repent and believe in Christ” seems to be their common message.

      In Acts, repentance and belief seem to go hand-in-hand.

      For example, when the Apostle Peter recounts the conversion of Gentiles he says, “If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we BELIEVED on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:17).

      The Bible then says, “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles REPENTANCE to life’” (Acts 11:18).

      The notion that a sinner could come to Christ in faith believing—but never come to repentance—is foreign to scripture. (Repentance, like faith, is God’s gift to man, 2Tim. 2:25).

      You write: “teaches the sinner to continue to look to Jesus. I best like that perspective . . .”

      Yes. We must continue to look to Jesus Christ—His Person and work—for the assurance of salvation. And it seems to me, that when we continue to look, by faith, to Him and His work, we cannot but repent of sins and rejoice in the grace and mercy of God.

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    8. Thanks Steve, for responding to my long and confusing post. But it was helpful for me to write it, and to read your answer.

      I agree with everything you say. But I think my concern has been that it was important to be very precise and explicit about the Gospel, because it was so easy to give too much or too little emphasis to certain aspects. And I think I have had such imbalanced emphasis in my own understanding, but I was not sure, where the right balance then should be.

      I look forward to your blog piece in assurance.

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