Can Jesus be your savior without being your lord?
The so-called “Lordship Salvation” debate has become one of the most divisive issues in the modern church. While both sides raise some valid points, I have concluded that the answer is much more nuanced than it may appear on the surface. In this continuation of our Holy Living Is Wholely Living series, we will look at crucial element that is often overlooked.
Some preachers loudly declare that “Jesus is either Lord of you whole life or He is Lord of none of it!” Others declare that “There is no such thing as a carnal Christian.” Overly simplistic clichés like these fail to the factor in the crucial element of spiritual growth. Just like no one is born a fully grown adult, no one is immediately born again as a fully mature Christian. To imply that a person is not saved until they reach a certain level of spiritual maturity can border dangerously on teaching salvation by works.
Salvation is a gift, not a reward. It is not based on performance.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7 ESV
That being said, it is a gift that will bring radical change to our lives.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ [that is, grafted in, joined to Him by faith in Him as Savior], he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come [because spiritual awakening brings a new life].
2 Corinthians 5:17 AMP
As the saying goes, God loves us, as we are but loves us too much to leave us that way! This comes through a very special work called sanctification.
As we previously discussed, holiness can be described as being “other.” God is completely separate from this fallen, sinful world and calls us to be as well. Sanctification simply means becoming set apart from a sinful purpose to God’s purpose. The word “sanctification” is closely related to the word “sanctuary.” For example, a church sanctuary refers to an area that is set apart for the worship of God. A wildlife sanctuary is an area set apart for the preservation of animal species. Similarly, being sanctified is what sets us apart from the world. Our key passage comes from Romans 8:30:
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. ESV
This passage describes what some theologians call the “Golden Chain” of redemption. It shares the how salvation encompasses past, present and future:
- Past: “… those whom he predestined (Greek proōrisen: foreordained, predetermined, marked out beforehand). he also called (ekalesen: Called, summoned, invited). While Christians have different understandings of how predestination works, the fact that God knew us before the foundations of the world is one of the most comforting doctrines in the Bible.
- Present: “… and those whom he called he also justified” Our justification is a present reality. We are delivered from the penalty of sin because Jesus has paid it for us.
- Future:”… and those whom he justified he also glorified.” In that glorious day when we see Jesus face to face and we will be finally delivered from the presence of sin.
Sanctification is what occurs between step two and step three. It is important here that we look at a key distinction. Justification is monergistic. It is solely the work of God. Sanctification, however, is synergistic. It is a cooperation between God and the believer. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we learn to say “no” to sin and self and “yes” to God’s commandments.
Yes, we must always be aware of the continuing presence of sin in our lives. However, we should never take a defeatist attitude toward it. We are promised that sin shall not have dominion over us (Romans 6:14) and that we are made free from sin to become servants of righteousness (Romans 6:18). In his classic work The Mortification of Sin, Puritan John Owens writes
They choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin. ¹
This struggle can be frustrating and painful. As we previously discussed, however, is that the struggle shows that you have not been defeated.
Sanctification is a multi-faceted thing and failure to recognize this has led to a great deal of unnecessary division in the Body of Christ. Some believe that sanctification happens the moment a person receives salvation. Others teach that in comes later in the form of a “second work of grace.” Still others understand sanctification to be a continuing process throughout the believer’s life. Which position is correct? When understood properly, all of them!
Certainly, there is a sense in which we are sanctified the moment we receive Jesus. In fact, Jesus IS our sanctification:
- And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption…(1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV)
- No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God (1 John 3:9 ESV).
From that moment on, we are not our own. We are set apart for God’s purposes. This is where the more progressive aspects of sanctification come in:
- And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV).
- Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own (Philippians 3:12 ESV).
- … and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Colossians 3:10 ESV).
So all Christians are in the same situation, gradually growing, overcoming our sins and weaknesses while being transformed into the image of Christ daily. So is there a second work of grace? Of course there is! There is also a third work of grace and a fourth and a fifth… and a ten billionth! In other words, as many as it takes to get you there!
In our next article, we will look at what a holy life looks like and how that may be very different than you might expect. In the meantime, always remember that we are all works in progress and we can find great peace in that. God will be faithful to complete the good work He has begun in us (Phillipians 1:6). The great British preacher Charles Spurgeon said it well: “Holiness is not the way to Jesus. Jesus is the Way to holiness.”
Keep It Real,
1. Owens, John. On the Mortification of Sin in Believers (Kindle Edition). Edited by Mark Walter. P 10.
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