by Matt Slick
Though there are variations on what Lordship salvation really is, it is basically the view that in order to become a true Christian a person must receive Jesus as both Savior and Lord and that he must also cease from sin or be willing to cease from sin in order to be saved (i.e., repent). The controversy deals with whether or not salvation is a one- or two-step process. Is salvation by faith alone, and nothing beyond it is required (one step)? Or, is faith to be accompanied by a submission to the Lordship of Christ and repentance (two steps)--both of which result in salvation? Let's see if we can make sense of it.
Related to this topic is what is called the ordo salutis, the order of salvation. As it relates to this discussion, we have to ask if regeneration precedes faith or does faith proceed regeneration? If regeneration precedes faith, then God is changing the person and enabling him to believe the gospel and repent. Furthermore, this would mean that salvation and turning from sin are the result of God's regenerative work and would be, of course, a natural consequence of His making us new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). If, however, faith proceeds regeneration, then a person's decision to believe in God and the gospel would also require an attempt to turn from one's sinful behavior (Mark 1:15). It is in this second position that the controversy arises.
If lordship salvation is meant to say that a person must believe the gospel and also repent of sin in order to be saved, then it is teaching that salvation is not by faith alone in Christ alone. Instead, it would be by faith and also the act of turning from sin as a person makes Jesus Lord of "all" of his life. In other words, salvation is obtained by faith in God and turning from sin--which amounts to keeping the Law. This would be, of course, false. Now, we are not saying a person need not repent of his sins. Instead, repentance is the result of God's regenerative work in us. Let me explain.
The position of CARM is that regeneration precedes faith the way electricity precedes light in a light bulb. The order is logical--not temporal. Electricity must be present for light to occur in a lightbulb, but it's not true that light must be present in order for electricity to occur. We would say that whenever electricity is present in a lightbulb, the automatic and natural result is light. The electricity is "logically" prior to the light--not temporally prior. In other words, it is logically necessary that electricity precedes the light; and when electricity is present, light is also present.
With this analogy, I think it is easier to understand that it is God who regenerates us (2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Peter 1:3; John 1:13), and that the necessary result of his regenerative work in us is our faith and repentance. God grants that we believe (Philippians 1:29) and grants that we repent (2 Timothy 2:25). Therefore, our position is that repentance is a necessary result of God's work in us (yet it's also something that we do). The issue of Lordship salvation incorrectly addresses the order of salvation by implying that faith leads to regeneration, which leads to repentance. I believe this mistakenly puts the focus on man's ability instead of God's work, and this is where the error of Lordship salvation arises. The truth is that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Repentance from sin is the result of salvation--not a contributing factor to it.
If it is God who grants us repentance (2 Timothy 2:25) and faith (Philippians 1:29), then there is no room for the Lordship salvation controversy. Instead, we understand that the Lordship of Christ and our repentance are both the natural result of the work of God--not the work of our faith and repentance.