Note: This post is a cross-post from the new Ready to Harvest blog. The original post is here
By Joshua Lindsey, July 2015
One of the great controversies in Fundamentalism of the 21st century is the issue of “Easy Believism” vs “Lordship Salvation.” Certainly there is an importance here, as it deals with the most important issue of all – that of salvation. What I have found to be the problem in dealing with this issue is that it is like the issue of Calvinism and Arminianism. If you claim to not hold to either position, then you will doubtless find yourself disowned by both camps, and even by people who put themselves in one camp or the other even when they are not really.
To explain this, I think that there are many people who take the “Balanced position” on this issue, and do not subscribe to Lordship Salvation or Easy Believism, but they have an incorrect understanding of what these terms mean. As a result, many men of God will say they are “Lordship Salvation” or that they are “Easy Believism” when they do not actually fall into that category.
Perhaps this is brought about by the fact that both have admirable names. For example, the name “Easy Believism.” I do think that Salvation is easy, and you do receive it by believing. So it is a good name. However, that does not make me have to hold the teachings of what is peddled under the name “Easy Believism”. I also believe that if someone is truly saved, they will believe that sin is sin, that it is an affront to a holy God. Thus, whether they realize it or not, since they are saying that God makes the rules on what is sin, they are saying He is Lord. (This doesn’t mean they will obey the Lord, or stop sinning necessarily though.) So Lordship salvation is also a good term. However, I am not a believer in Lordship Salvation either.
Now if you claim either of these terms as terms that represent yourself, don’t turn me off yet! We may actually agree, but use different terminology. These factors I mentioned have led to strange results. There are actually some who claim to be “Lordship Salvation”, others who claim to be “Easy Believism” and some who claim neither, who in effect believe the exact same thing! They also go around decrying each other and not realizing they are preaching the same gospel. What I hope to do is clarify the boundaries of what actual Lordship Salvation is, what actual easy believism is, and what the balanced position is.
As part of this I am going to also point out some false definitions of terms. “Willingness”, “Desire”, “Lordship”, all of these need to be clarified to avoid misunderstanding. I also need to clarify what “belief” and “repentance” actually are, and whether they are necessary for salvation.
What is belief?
Let’s start with belief. Belief is something that all orthodox Christians must hold to. It is all over the Bible, and both Lordship Salvation and Easy Believism proponents will accept belief as necessary for salvation. However, people in both camps, often unwittingly, have different opinions on what belief entails.
Here is the correct description of what saving belief involves:
Saving belief involves believing in Christ’s death as a blood sacrifice, burial, and resurrection as being the sufficient payment for my sin. As part of the belief of Him being sufficient, I am rejecting any other means of salvation. I reject good works as being part of my salvation, I reject any trust in false gods, any belief in ritual or sacraments for salvation.
I hope that sounds correct to you. If you think that there is more one must believe, I am afraid that you have added to the plan of salvation. It really is that simple.
What is repentance?
This is where I feel things will get a little choppy. If you disagree with me here, please hear me out by reading the rest of the article. I think that even if you disagree on definitions now you will find that it may be a disagreement on terminology alone and not substance.
This is the balanced description of repentance:
Repentance is a change of mind about sin. It is admitting to God that I am a sinner, my sin is sin and it is an affront to Him. This will lead to a desire to do what is right.
That is the whole, complete definition of repentance. I will note up front that it does not include “willingness to stop sinning”, and it does not involve “stopping sinning”. Repentance in and of itself does not mean that we must quit doing what we are repentant about.
If you disagree with me here, then I think you must be logically inconsistent. If you think that we must repent of sin and then if you claim we must stop doing what we are repentant of, you are claiming all Christians must stop sinning entirely. Willingness is just a slight difference, because if you know something is wrong, and you are actually willing to stop, then you actually will try to stop. We can’t require works like that for salvation or we are heretics. In reality, it either turns into a claim that we can live sinless lives, or that we must do some works to be saved.
This is why repentance and faith work so closely together. In salvation, there are not two sequential elements of repentance and then faith or vice-versa, there is one element of belief that contains both repentance and faith. They are two sides of the same coin. Here’s what really happens at salvation: Someone will admit to God that their sin is sin, that it is wrong, when they repent. Although they don’t necessarily think of it in that moment, they also are believing that Jesus Christ is sovereign, since they are saying He makes the rules on what is wrong and what is right. And so someone who gets saved, when they commit this sin that they have repented of, (i.e. told God that it’s wrong and that it is an affront to him) will come under conviction. They will know they are doing something wrong, and it will eat at them.
The sinner leaps into sin and loves it, but the saint lapses into sin and loathes it.
This is why if someone is constantly sinning with no real remorse after they have claimed salvation, we are justified in asking them if they are really saved. “If you really changed your mind about your sin and told God that your sin is an affront to Him, why are you continuing to do these things with no remorse? Don’t you care about how you are offending your savior?”
The Bible tells us that after salvation, one cannot live in such a way. 1 John 3:9 says
Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
This is not saying that we won’t sin at all, but that we won’t be able to live a life of sin without remorse as before. And if we do try to “prove this verse wrong” and sin defiling our conscience again and again, God may even take our life! For example, those in Corinth who examined themselves before the Lord’s Supper, found sin in their life, but partook anyway in 1 Corinthians 11:28-30: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.”
So although repentance in itself does not require someone to stop sinning, the outworking of repentance is that they will desire to stop sinning.
So what about that definition of repentance that we frequently hear? You know, the one that says “Repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change in action.” I find that this is inherently correct, but also a little bit dangerous to use flippantly. As I’ve mentioned, repentance is going to cause people to desire to leave their sin, and so they will change their actions. However, the change of actions is only an outworking of repentance, not part of repentance itself. If we tell someone they need to change their actions to be saved, we are telling them works salvation. So by very definition, if we tell someone that repentance includes changing your actions, and that repentance is required for salvation, salvation now hinges on works. I find that although the phrase is good to tell to the saved, that it is best to not tell to the unsaved. All we need is for them to change their mind about sin. God, through the additional repentance and conviction that comes after salvation will lead them to the change of actions as they grow in Christ. Some changes may be immediate. Others will take a while.
How do repentance and belief go together?
As I have already mentioned, repentance and belief are two sides of the same coin. Dr. Rick Flanders, in his article “Repentance Facts”, located at http://indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com/2014/09/repentance-facts-by-dr-rick-flanders.html does a better job than I ever could to show how they work together. In fact, for you to have a good understanding of what I am trying to say, you really must read his whole article there. Go ahead and do that before you read on. It is not long, maybe takes ten minutes to read through, and it will give you a vast insight into Biblical Repentance. A few things he says there I must repeat: “Men are saved in one step, and not in two”, and “People who repent are saved, and people who believe are saved. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin when scripture uses them to describe the salvation decision. This is why Luke can tell us to repent and not perish, and John can tell us to believe and have eternal life.”
Q: I believe you must make Christ Lord to be saved. Are you saying I’m wrong? Do you have a problem with the Lordship of Christ?
A: No, but I believe that what you are requiring as a distinct part of salvation is accomplished when someone is saved, whether they are told that or not. If someone repents of sin (i.e. changes their mind about their sin, and believes their sin is wrong and an affront to God), I believe that person is recognizing the Lordship of Christ, that He really has authority over Him. Now if you require that person to obey the Lord to be saved, then you are advocating works salvation. However, after salvation, a true Christian will desire to obey the Lord, because they will see that their sin offends God and they will desire to serve Him as their redeemer.
Q: I believe that repentance from sin is not necessary for salvation. Are you saying I’m wrong?
A: Maybe, and maybe not! The problem I have seen is that because of the misdefininition of what repentance is, many churches have realized that so-called “Repentance” is not necessary for salvation. Here’s what I mean. Many who actually advocate Lordship Salvation are saying that repentance is “turning from sin”, that is, “Stop sinning”, or “obeying the Lord.” Since these churches think repentance means to stop sinning, and that is clearly a work, many have claimed to not believe in repentance for salvation, because they feel that repentance for salvation is works salvation.
However, most such churches still teach true repentance, they just don’t call it repentance. They call it “belief.” Whereas I defined repentance as follows: “Repentance is a change of mind about sin. It is admitting to God that sin is sin and it is an affront to Him. This will lead to a desire to do what is right”, many churches would say this: “Belief on the Lord Jesus Christ includes a belief that sin is sin and it is an affront to Him. This will lead to a desire to do what is right.” Or they may not necessarily put it as part of their salvation plan when written out, but they still teach and preach it. They just don’t call it repentance. So maybe even if you’ve always said repentance is not necessary for salvation, you could be correct in your doctrine but off in your terminology.
However, if you say that someone does not need to even say that sin is sin to be saved; e.g. that they can be saved and still say “I’ll do whatever I want no matter what God says, I think I can determine what is right and wrong, and the Bible doesn’t matter”, then I am afraid we do disagree. I would categorize you as “easy believism.” Fortunately, I don’t think many people actually believe this. IF you don’t hold this position, but feel you are “easy believism” I think you should look and see if you are perhaps just defining terms incorrectly and actually hold a balanced position.
Q: I think that repentance involves more than just changing the mind. Isn’t there a difference between believing something in the head, and believing in the heart?
A: Yes! In fact, if all you believe is that someone has to “mentally assent” to the facts of salvation, you will find yourself on my chart as being the most easy-believist one can be. Salvation is not merely believing something happened. (e.g. I believe that Jesus died on the cross) Salvation is belief in the same way we would tell a little kid “You can do it! I believe in you!” We’re not talking about belief in the existence of something, but trust in the ability of someone. Saving belief is trusting that what Jesus did by shedding his blood on the cross satisfied God’s demand for a perfect blood sacrifice, and that it takes my sin away. That is a heart belief, not just a head knowledge.
However, this only relates to repentance in the sense that repentance and belief are two sides of the same coin. When you “Repent and believe”, you aren’t just “changing your mind” and that’s it, because the rest of belief as I’ve mentioned above is also involved. However, strictly, the repentance aspect is one of a change of mind about sin (now believing that your sin is an affront to God and that He makes the rules.) If we add anything else to repentance and keep it as a condition for salvation, we are making it works salvation. I agree, repentance will lead to a change of action, however that change is after salvation, not part of saving repentance itself.
Q: I think that someone must be at least willing to turn from sin to be saved. Christ said that if you are not willing to give up everything you can’t be his disciple!
A: Willingness is something that will come after salvation, but it cannot be required before. Paul speaks in Romans 7:18-19 of will being present with him to do good, but still doing evil. The will he speaks of is a desire to do what is right. After salvation we still sin because although we may will to do the right thing, we find that our sin nature fights against us and we still disobey God. If we are asking the unregenerate man to have this will to do good that is brought by conviction of the holy spirit, we are asking something impossible! God commands us to repent and admit sin is sin, but only once we are saved can any will on our own part be expected to fix the issues. This is not to say that people can’t desire to do good before salvation, as many do try to “clean themselves up”; however this does not save and is not necessary for salvation.
Also, Christ did not say we need to be willing to give up everything to be his disciple, he said to actually do things. Willingness is not enough. Luke 14:26 says “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” In Luke 14:33 He says “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” So do we need to give up all we have to be saved? No, the distinction is obvious. Christ does not speak in these verses of salvation, He speaks of being a disciple. Discipleship is different entirely from salvation.
Q: Why do you categorize things like turning from good works and turning from idols as part of faith, and not part of repentance?
A: Remember how closely intertwined faith and repentance are. One cannot take place without the other. However, the reason I have done this is because these are not things we need to simply repent of for salvation, but we must actually turn from them.
For example, we must repent of our sin (this means admitting it is wrong and an affront to God), but as a saved person we may still sin again. So we don’t have to turn from sin (I.e. stop sinning) to be saved. However, we do have to turn from Idols and turn from trusting our good works. A truly saved person can no longer trust that their good works or worship to a false God or trusting sacraments can get them to heaven. We cannot slip back and not trust Christ for salvation any more. If you don’t trust Christ now, then you never had true saving faith, because God’s true saving faith will endure. So although we do have to repent from trusting good works and idols, we must do more than simply repent, we must turn. This takes place by default at belief, however. When you truly believe Christ alone is the sufficient sacrifice for your sins by his vicarious blood atonement on the cross , and accept Him for salvation, you will in that moment have turned from all else, every idol and every good deed and forsaken them forever.
What is Lordship Salvation?
Lordship Salvation refers to those who put additional requirements on top of salvation. At its most basic, what I might call “Lordship Salvation Light”, would be those who say we must have a willingness to turn from sin before we can be saved. It is a close distinction, because some unsaved people will have a desire to turn from sin, but some only will get it after salvation. Expecting every unregenerate sinner to desire to stop sinning before they receive Christ leads to us only leading “the good people” to Christ, when God will save all sinners, and His power of salvation can change their minds once His holy spirit has entered their lives. Although requiring a willingness to turn from sin before salvation is Lordship Salvation, remember for true salvation there must be repentance- an admittance that sin is sin and it is an affront to God. Once salvation takes place, this admittance will breed a true desire to live for Christ.
Next up in the ladder are those who do not speak merely of a “willingness to turn from sin”, but also speak of literally “turning from sin” as a requirement to be saved. Often, they will call this repentance, even though repenting of something does not mean you won’t do it again. Some who speak of turning from sin are actually talking about a change of mind only, and in that case, they do not preach Lordship Salvation, but they need to be more careful with biblical terms. In the Bible, turning from something means to stop doing it. So those who preach we must “turn from sin” should only say so if they are trying to preach that we must stop sinning to be saved. If that is not what they believe, they need to get new terminology. If they do believe you must stop doing the sin you repent of as part of salvation, they hold a Lordship Salvation position.
At the highest and most works-oriented category of Lordship Salvation are those who add additional requirements for salvation. These requirements typically are found in the Bible. However, the requirements they put as necessary for salvation are actually in passages that are in the context of things one should do after salvation. These Lordship Salvation advocates “front-load the Gospel” by adding these requirements before salvation. An example of someone in this category is John MacArthur. On Page 30 of His book “The Gospel According to Jesus”, he includes that we must Deny self, take up a cross, forsake all and follow Christ as part of salvation, when the Bible speaks of this being part of being a disciple. If we have to “forsake all” to be saved, then we have to work to be saved. On page 138 He says we must “Give up all for the kingdom,” and on pages 200-201 we are told we must “Love Christ more than your own family members, be unquestionably loyal to Him even above your families.” It is these kinds of requirements that make many people question their salvation. From the John MacArthur worldview, If we want assurance we are saved, we do not need to simply see if we have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, but we also need to look at our works to find out if we’re saved. Have we given up all? Do we love family less than Christ?
Most of what Lordship Salvation teaches is good doctrine, but it is the doctrine of discipleship after salvation, not requirements for salvation in the first place.
What is Easy Believism?
In contrast to Lordship Salvation, which adds to the Gospel, Easy Believism takes away. The main thing Easy Believism proponents drop is repentance. However, in many churches this has happened because repentance is mis-defined as turning from sin, and since these people know you don’t have to stop sinning to be saved, they think repentance is not a requirement for salvation. So many churches that would be considered “easy-believism” actually do preach repentance, but they call it something else. If a church does this, they are not really easy-believism.
A church is easy believism if they say that I do not need to admit that my sin is wrong and an offense to a holy God to be saved. If I can believe that I make the rules and I don’t need to believe what God says about sin, and you think I still can be saved without changing that, then you hold to an easy-believism position. An even more extreme position on the easy believism side is the position that one does not need even to trust Christ for their salvation, but merely mentally assent to the facts of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. However, salvation is not believing a list of facts, it is trusting on Christ and His shed blood.
What I have found is that if you search out the churches that claim to be “easy-believism”, you won’t often find a church that actually teaches this. Often, they simply are misdefining their terms and actually do hold to repentance, whether or not they call it repentance. However, many such churches in practice do end up promoting this view because of what they omit in their plan of salvation. Many do not talk about sin at all when they go “soul winning.” Many only ask for mental assent and require someone to pray a prayer, and then they declare them saved. What I would ask of such churches is that if they truly do hold the correct positions soteriologically, that they then preach what they believe when it comes to door-to-door evangelism. It does the sinner little good if you believe we must admit to God we’re a sinner and recognize that sin is an affront to Him, if you then go and tell someone all they need to do to be saved is “accept Jesus into your heart.”
What must I do to be saved?
The balanced position fits the Bible. Because we recognize repentance and belief are one inseparable thing, the Bible passages all line up with true salvation:
- Romans 10:9 – That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
- Acts 16:31 – And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
- John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
- Mark 1:14-15 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
- Acts 3:19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
To someone holding the balanced position, all these verses are wonderful salvation verses, and they are sufficient, stand-alone verses. When the disciples preached “Repent!” and the passage doesn’t mention belief, and when they preached “believe!” and the passage doesn’t mention repentance, they were not leaving anything out. They recognized that one will cause the other, that the “two parts” so-called are really just one.
In contrast, those holding a Lordship Salvation position are uncomfortable with verses that say to only believe. Those holding a Easy Believism position are uncomfortable with verses that say only to repent. We should not be uncomfortable with any Bible verses – we need to bring ourselves in line with the Bible, not try to twist the Bible to our viewpoint.
Additional Biblical research recommended
I did not put a lot of scripture in this informative article, as I wanted to make it short and easy to read quickly. However, I do recommend that you search the scriptures to examine what I am saying. A few things I suggest you look up are the following concepts:
- “Turn from”
In the Bible, to “turn from” something is to stop doing it. Telling people to “turn from” their sin is not a biblical salvation description, because it requires people to stop sinning. Repent of sin is what the Bible speaks of. Now many times God does say to turn from sin, but this is after salvation, for His blessings, etc. Of course, even after salvation we continue to sin, so we cannot in this life fully turn from our sin. For example, after Christ healed people, He said “Go and sin no more”, this being a call to someone who was saved. The Bible never tells someone to turn from sin to be saved, only to repent of sin.
- In Ezekiel 18:21, we do see God saying to turn from sin to live, but what God is doing in that passage is challenging those who were using the proverb “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” as an excuse for their own sin, saying it was the fault of their fathers. God challenged them. He said, go ahead, turn from all your sin and I will forgive you. He said to them “If you can be sinless, then you will be forgiven, you will earn your own salvation.” However, as we know that cannot be done, and this is God’s point. If the Israelites wanted to merit their way to heaven, they could try, but they would fail. The law could not save them. We know this is what the passage means because if we take it as talking about salvation in general, we find that there is no eternal security a few verses later in Ezekiel 18:26: “When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die.” This isn’t saying that a saved person can lose salvation, it is saying that someone who has taken the challenge to merit their own salvation is disqualified as soon as they commit one sin. It is God saying that He demands perfection. We know that is only found in Christ, because living a life of sinless perfection is impossible.
- In 2 Chronicles 7:14, we read “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” Although this is an inspiring passage, it is often used out of context. It not only does not refer to salvation when it speaks of turning from wicked ways, it doesn’t mean what most think it does. Where the Bible says “heal their land” it does not speak of “healing a nation”, but physically making the soil recover to grow food again. If you are in doubt, simply read the verse before it: “If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
I encourage you to look in the Bible to find any place where repentance is anything more than a change of mind. Remember however, that we can’t see if someone changes their mind. This is why John, before He baptized someone, demanded evidence of regeneration. This is very biblical! Although requiring someone to “bear fruit” or show “works meet for repentance” is not a requirement for salvation, it is a valid demand that we place on someone if we want some way to see if they are saved. We can have the expectation that a truly repentant sinner will have a changed desire after salvation and as a result we will see the good tree bear good fruit.
Seek out passages that tell of repentance and you will see that it speaks of a change of mind. That is what it has always meant, and always will mean.
Chart of beliefs in the area of Easy Believism vs Lordship Salvation
Below you will find my chart of different ways people believe. There are 3 varieties of Lordship Salvation, four of Easy Believism, and four correct or balanced positions. I hold to the “balanced” position, and think that those in the gray area labeled “balanced with terminology off” are also correct, but they use the wrong terms. Unfortunately, many people who hold the balanced position as well would likely condemn me as being either a Lordship Salvation or Easy Believism advocate, simply because they misunderstand the terms. I would hope anyone who finds themselves in the “balanced with terminology off” would be honest enough to realize that I am actually in agreement with them, but we just have a different understanding of terms.
I hope this information has been a help to you in deciphering this complex and controversial issue.