In regard to soteriology (doctrine of salvation), it’s necessary to consider the role of the Lordship of Christ in saving faith. Many Christians believe that the Bible teaches that we need only accept Christ as Savior, and that it’s not necessary to accept Him as Lord. As if Christ can be divided like that! The fact is, the Lordship of Christ is a key component of saving faith. A faith that does not recognize and surrender to Christ’s authority, is a faith that cannot save.
While the term Lordship salvation is not in the Bible, the teaching of it certainly is. In this study I will make a basic case for Lordship salvation, which will also reveal the substance of true saving faith. I’ve tried to include all the primary passages of Scripture that deal with this subject, each followed by a brief explanation.
By the time we’re done looking at each passage, I think it will be clear that Christ died and rose not only to be our Savior, but also to be our Lord and King. We cannot separate the two. His sacrifice had (has) this two-fold purpose. Our salvation is in Christ the Lord. The work of Christ upon the cross was for the purpose of bringing us into a right relationship with God, which places us under His authority as His children and as disciples of Christ. We become His, bought by the blood that Jesus shed for us. Jesus becomes our Lord and King, as well as our Savior. That’s what the cross accomplished for us.
Therefore, the idea that our salvation is limited to the escape of hell and entrance into Heaven, has absolutely no biblical grounds of support. Jesus Himself gave the true meaning of salvation:
(John 17:3) — 3 And this is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ. (ASV)
Salvation is about knowing God, coming into a right relationship with Him. Yes, salvation gets us into Heaven, but it also places us under the authority of the Ruler of Heaven, which begins in this life, for we enter His spiritual kingdom upon conversion (Col 1:13).
To be clear, we’re not talking about a “works-salvation.” We’re saved by faith apart from works. We’re saved by trusting in the finished work of Christ, who alone provides for our salvation. However, when a sinner comes to faith in Christ, it must be in recognition of who He is as Lord. Therefore, when one places their faith in Christ, it must be accompanied by humility, which surrenders to the authority of Christ. It’s an attitude of the heart that says, “I recognize who You are as Lord and King, and I choose to You to follow you as Lord of my life.” This is not a matter of “works,” it’s merely a decision one makes in their heart to turn from their old life to live as a follower of Christ — who rules over all.
Salvation and the Lordship of Christ (verses)
(Matthew 3:8) — 8 Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of repentance: (ASV)
Repentance is a change of mind toward sin, self and God. The evidence of repentance will be reflected in the way we live our lives.
True salvation produces the fruit of salvation, or the fruit of faith, which is a change in direction of our lives.
(Mark 8:34-38) — 34 Then Jesus called the crowd, along with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it. 36 For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life? 37 What can a person give in exchange for his life? 38 For if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (NET)
Here Jesus makes it clear that salvation is equated to the Lordship of Christ. Having Christ as Savior is the equivalent of being a follower of Christ, a disciple of Christ. A disciple is one who learns and follows the teachings of another. A Christian is a disciple of Christ, one who gives up his or her life to follow Him. They give up the things of the world for His sake and for the gospel message. If a sinner is not willing to do that, then they will die in their sins (Jn 8:24). There are no biblical grounds for separating Christ the Savior from Christ the Lord. That idea would have been completely foreign to the people in the days of Christ and His Apostles.
(Luke 5:32) — 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (ESV)
Repentance is a turning away from sin and self, and to Christ and His will. Jesus calls sinners to turn from their own way to follow Him.
(Luke 8:21) — 21 But he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these that hear the word of God, and do it. (ASV)
Here Jesus is using His family relationship to make the point that those who are truly members of His family – the family of God – are those who hear and do the Word of God.
(Luke 13:3) — 3 No, I tell you! But unless you repent, you will all perish as well! (NET)
If we don’t turn from our sins, from our sinful and self-centered life, we “perish.” Again, turning from something means that we are turning to something. In the matter of salvation, we turn from living a sinful lifestyle, to a life lived unto Christ. We turn from being the master of our own ship to serving a new Master.
(Luke 24:46-47) — 46 and said to them, “Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (NET)
Here we see that the gospel of Jesus Christ includes repentance (turning away from) from our sins. There is no forgiveness apart from repentance.
(Luke 14:33) — 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (ESV)
We must give up our will for the will of Christ. We can no longer claim rights over anything in our lives. We must realize that all that we are and all that we have, now belongs to Him. If one is not willing to transfer ownership of their lives, they cannot be a disciple of Christ. There is no distinction between being saved and being a disciple of Christ. Those who are saved, follow. Those who follow, are saved.
(John 3:36) — 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (ESV)
The obedience spoken of in this verse is not simply the response of faith to the gospel message, but is a response of faith to the person of Christ the Lord, who is the Ruler of all. Whoever does not believe and obey the Son shall not see life. Obedience is a reflection of true faith. An obedient faith is saving faith. It’s a surrender of our will to the will of Christ.
(John 4:22-23) — 22 Ye worship that which ye know not: we worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the Father seek to be his worshippers. (ASV)
Jesus is talking about a life of worship, not simply singing songs in church on Sunday morning. He is referring to the kind of worship that permeates our whole life. The idea that faith in Christ is a passive belief or a passive acceptance, is not what Jesus reveals here in this passage. Nowhere did He teach such an idea. Nowhere in Scripture is such an idea taught. Salvation brings us into the sphere of worship. Worship is a matter of humility, which begins at the point of salvation. We recognize our sinfulness before a holy God, and bow before Him in surrender to His authority.
(John 8:12) — 12 Then Jesus spoke out again, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (NET)
If we are not following Christ, then we are still in “darkness.” But if we are following Him, then we “have the light of life” (eternal life), and walk in His light as those who belong to Him. Jesus is talking about a walk of endurance, one that endures throughout our lives. That’s how we know our faith is genuine. This walk of discipleship begins at the time we place our faith in Him as Savior.
(John 8:51) — 51 I tell you the solemn truth, if anyone obeys my teaching, he will never see death.” (NET)
True faith in Christ is characterized by obedience to His teaching, which we find in the Gospels and in all the other books of the New Testament. This pertains to both Christian doctrine and living the Christian life. If one professes Christ as Savior, but living a non-Christian life, they’re deceiving themselves about their salvation. It’s a false faith and a false salvation.
(John 12:23-26) — 23 Jesus replied to them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. 25 The one who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me. Where I am, there my servant also will be. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (CSB)
Just as there would be no fruit (salvation for the world) apart from the death of Christ, so is there no fruit (our salvation) apart from dying (turning away from) to sin and self-will. Death to ourselves bears the fruit of salvation. To love our life means to hang on to our own way. Those who live with eternity in view, will “hate their life in this world.” That is, they will not put such importance on it that it results in a rejection of Christ and His authority. Those who”hate their life in this world,” will experience “eternal life.” True faith involves “following” and “serving” Christ. Those who do, will be “honored by the Father.” He honors those who serve His Son, who commit their lives to following Him.
(John 17:3) — 3 And this is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ. (ASV)
Here Jesus reveals what eternal life really is. It’s knowing God. This is a personal relationship He is talking about — the kind of relationship that only occurs through a sincere obedient faith that is characterized by seeking to know God more and more.
(Acts 2:36) — 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified. (ASV)
A central component of the gospel message is that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ” (Messiah). His very title demands submission to His authority.
(Acts 3:26) — 26 God raised up his servant and sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each one of you from your iniquities.” (NET)
It doesn’t get any clearer than this. Spiritual blessings from God (salvation) involves the “turning” away from our sins (“iniquities”).
(Acts 10:34-36) — 34 Then Peter started speaking: “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, 35 but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all) – (NET)
Notice who is welcomed by God. It’s those who “fear Him and does what is right.” Also notice that preaching the “good news of peace through Jesus Christ” involves His Lordship. It’s plain to see that saving faith includes a recognition of and a surrender to Jesus, who is “Lord of all.”
(Romans 7:4) — 4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you could be joined to another, to the one who was raised from the dead, to bear fruit to God. (NET)
Notice the reason Christ was raised from the dead. It was in order that we may “bear fruit to God.” The highest purpose of salvation is to glorify God, and we do that by bearing fruit for Him — the fruit of salvation. Furthermore, when we trust Christ as our Savior, it comes with the understanding that we will then be “joined to another,” to Christ the Lord. We can’t come to Christ with the idea that we will still have rights to our own lives, for upon faith we belong to Him. Those who present a gospel that doesn’t make this clear, are presenting an incomplete message. Listeners who are not aware of this, can easily get the idea that salvation is just about getting to Heaven, and that it has no real bearing on how they live their lives. I believe there are a great many who fall into this category.
(Romans 15:12) — 12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, and the one who rises to rule over the Gentiles, in him will the Gentiles hope.” (NET)
The “root of Jesse” is Jesus. He “rises to rule over the Gentiles.” The Gentiles are everyone who is not a Jew. In quoting Isaiah, Paul makes a clear statement that Christ did not come just to be the Savior of the world, but also their Ruler. This is part of the salvation message that we don’t hear very often in many churches today. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone preach or share Christ with someone who used this passage of Scripture to let them know that Christ came to rule their lives. This is a great verse to include in the plan of salvation when sharing our faith with others.
(2 Corinthians 4:5) — 5 For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (ASV)
Here again is a great verse to include in the plan of salvation when we share Christ with someone. Unlike so many today, when Paul preached the gospel, he preached Christ not only as Savior, but “as Lord.” The gospel of Jesus Christ is an incomplete message without discussion about His authority as Lord and King.
(2 Corinthians 5:15) — 15 And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised. (NET)
Christ died and rose for the purpose of bringing us into a right relationship with Him, where we recognize His authority over our lives and submit to living for Him. Paul makes it really clear that discipleship (living for Christ) is an aspect of our salvation. The call to discipleship begins at the point of conversion. It’s not simply about escaping hell and getting through the door of Heaven.
(Ephesians 2:10) — 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them. (NET)
We are created in Christ for the purpose of “good works,” and by these we glorify Him. A faithful walk reflects our purpose in Christ.
(Colossians 1:13) — 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, (ESV)
If we have been “transferred” to the “Kingdom of his beloved Son,” that means we are under His rule as our King. Whenever we share the gospel of Christ with someone, I believe it’s helpful to present it in the context of His Kingdom. When the listener knows that faith places them into the Kingdom of Christ where we live under His rule, then they won’t have any misunderstandings about what what faith involves and requires. They’ll know what kind of decision they’re actually making.
(Colossians 1:18) — 18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. (ASV)
Christ rose from the dead so “that in all things He might have the preeminence.” Preeminence means Supreme, above all. Intrinsic to salvation is serving Christ who rules over all.
(2 Timothy 1:9) — 9 He is the one who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not based on our works but on his own purpose and grace, granted to us in Christ Jesus before time began, (NET)
Our calling in Christ is a “holy calling.” We are called to a life of holiness. While we’re not saved “by our works,” as Paul says here, it’s works (obedience) and a holy life that reflects true faith and true salvation. As a holy calling, it transforms us from the inside out, which results in a changed life, a changed direction. It begins with a decision to follow Christ at the point of faith.
(Titus 1:15-16) — 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (ESV)
Paul reveals that a life that is characterized by “disobedience” to God, is actually a “denial” of Him. A denial of God is an absence of saving faith. Conversely, those who truly believe in Jesus, will live a life of obedience to Him. That’s our calling. This calling to surrender to His Lordship doesn’t begin after our conversion. That idea is not taught in the Word of God. No, submission to the authority of Christ begins at the point of conversion, for we cannot “profess” to receive Christ in a state of rebellion. That would be an oxymoron. A true conversion is accompanied by a sincere allegiance to Christ and His teachings. This begins at conversion and continues throughout our lives. From the very beginning we’re called to be a disciple of Christ.
(Titus 2:11-14) — 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (ESV)
God’s grace that brings salvation, teaches us to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions…etc.” In the context of salvation, God’s grace teaches us to “renounce….” The idea that the gospel of Christ and faith in Him allows us to continue to live in our sins, simply is not taught in Scripture. The idea that the gospel of Christ and faith in Him only requires us to receive Him as Savior, but not as Lord or our lives, is not the true gospel.
Furthermore, true salvation is evidenced by a focus on the return of Christ (“appearing”), rather than on the things of the world. True salvation lives with eternity in view. We are His possession, and as such, our lives are to be characterized by a life of purity and zealous for good works and doing the work of God. Seeing Christ as He is begins when we’re introduced to Him via the gospel message.
(Hebrews 4:6) — 6 Therefore it remains for some to enter it, yet those to whom it was previously proclaimed did not enter because of disobedience. (NET)
Faith is equated to obedience in this same context (He 4:2-3). We fail to enter God’s rest and God’s kingdom because of a life that is characterized by “disobedience.” Disobedience indicates an absence of true saving faith. True faith results in obedience. Therefore, it follows that at the point of salvation, there must be a willingness to obey the one they place their faith in, or it’s a false faith.
(Hebrews 5:7-9) — 7 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, (NKJV)
“Eternal salvation” is for those who “obey Him.” Jesus Himself provided the example for us to follow, having been “heard because of His godly fear.” It’s apparent, then, that when sinners come to Christ, their faith must be coupled with “godly fear.’ This speaks of an awareness of who Christ is, which can only be revealed by the Holy Spirit as He opens the eyes of the spiritually blind. This awareness, a true awareness, will result in a sincere humility before Christ, apart from which one cannot receive salvation. True faith is characterized by humility before God, which recognizes Christ as Lord and King — bringing them to their knees in humble submission, as they see themselves as sinners before a holy God in need of forgiveness. This humble submission begins at the point of conversion and must continue throughout one’s lifetime. This is called enduring faith.
(1 Peter 1:1-2) — 1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: (ESV)
Salvation and obedience go together as a single unit. This is our purpose and place in Christ. “Obedience to Jesus Christ” does not refer to just receiving Him as Savior, but is a response of humble submission to Him and to all that He taught and to all that He passed on to His Apostles and prophets — which is all the teachings of the Christian faith. Obedience to Christ is the surrender of one’s heart and life to Him as Lord, Savior, God and King. This begins at the point of initial faith and continues throughout our lives.
(1 Peter 2:20-25) — 20 For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. 21 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. (NET)
This passage speaks of an obedient faith. We’re “called” to obedience, which can lead to mistreatment and even suffering. Jesus Himself suffered – because of His obedience – leaving us an “example,” that we should “follow in His steps.” Here Peter reveals the purpose of our salvation, “that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness.” Salvation clearly has a life of faithfulness to Christ in view. So to be clear, when one places their faith in Christ, there must be an awareness that they’re being “called” to a life of obedience to the will of God. There must be an awareness that this is the very purpose for which Christ died. Therefore, when one comes to faith in Christ, it must be in humble submission to His Lordship, to His rule over their lives.
(Matthew 28:18-20) — 18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (NET)
We finally come to what’s known as the Great Commission. This is the charge that Jesus has given to His Church. We’re to go into all the world and “make disciples” of Christ. A disciple is subservient to the one they learn from. This reveals that the gospel of Christ is more than the A,B,C’s of salvation. It’s more than just getting people through the door of Heaven. We’re to “teach them to obey everything” that Jesus commanded the Apostles, because Jesus is the “authority” of the universe, “in Heaven and on earth.”
Notice that this charge doesn’t say that we’re to go and show people how to “get saved.” Jesus doesn’t say that we’re to go and show people “how to get to Heaven.” He’s very clear. We’re to go and “make disciples,” teaching them to “obey” Him and all His teachings. That’s what disciples do, they follow the teachings of the one they’re learning from. Therefore, our salvation places us under Christ’s authority as His disciples, to learn His ways, to learn and walk according to the Christian faith. This begins at the time we trust Him as our Savior. Yes, our salvation does get us into Heaven, but it’s in the context of the authority of Christ, which we’re called to surrender to.
Since the gospel of Jesus Christ and salvation in Him includes the purpose of bringing us into a relationship of submission to His Lordship as His disciples, then it follows that our faith in Christ must come with awareness of that fact. Afterall, why should this be kept a secret? Why would we not share this aspect of the gospel message with the listener? Indeed, Jesus Himself indicates that it’s a necessary part of the message when He commanded us to “go and make disciples…..,” for He has been given “all authority in Heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18-19).
When we set out to make disciples of Christ, we don’t hide the truth about it, as if we’re afraid of scaring them off. In order to “make disciples,” people must know that Jesus is calling them to live under His authority and according to His teachings, as His followers. We must be faithful to present the truth while leaving the results to the Holy Spirit as He speaks to hearts. Therefore, the Lord/disciple aspect of the gospel message must be clearly presented to those who hear.
In summary, true faith is accompanied by a decision to follow Christ as Lord and King of our lives, because this is one part of the two-fold purpose of what Christ came to do for us, which is to be both Savior and Lord of our lives. With the promise of a home in Heaven, comes the understanding that we’re called to serve the Lord of Heaven.