Repentance and Lordship Salvation Revisited
In July 1996 we published an article in O Timothy magazine entitled “Repentance and Lordship Salvation,” (http://www.wayoflife.org/database/repentance_lordship_salvation.html) in which we dealt with five errors we have observed among independent fundamental Baptists in regard to the doctrine of repentance:
1. The error that repentance is wrapped up in faith and does not have to be preached.
2. The error that to define repentance as a change of mind which results in a change of life is a “new” thing.
3. The error of confusing repentance with “lordship salvation.”
4. The error of saying salvation can be divorced from accepting Jesus Christ as God and Lord.
5. The error of saying that it is unbelief alone which condemns men and sends them to hell.
This is difficult subject and it is easy for a man to be misunderstood, particularly if a reader has not seen many of our materials and does not understand our overall position and ministry. Also, when we mention the name of an independent Baptist leader who is promoting what we believe to be an error, it is natural for those who respect the man to react negatively toward us. They tend to shoot the messenger! We received a letter from a pastor who cancelled his subscription to O Timothy because of this particular article; and, as it turned out, the problem was that he misunderstood us and thought we were promoting “lordship salvation.” I wrote to this pastor in an attempt to more clearly explain my position, and he called me and apologized for the misunderstanding and for the harshness of his letter. I greatly appreciated the humility and Christian graciousness of this pastor and his willingness to call and discuss this matter.
During our conversation, I realized that it would be helpful for me to further clarify myself in regard to “lordship salvation.” Following are some thoughts in this regard:
I. I BELIEVE SALVATION IS EASY AND IS OBTAINED BY SIMPLE CHILDLIKE FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST.
This pastor had gotten the impression that we believe salvation is a complex matter and that an individual cannot simply trust the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. That is definitely not what we believe. In my article on “Repentance and Lordship Salvation” I stated:
“I don’t like the term ‘easy believism,’ because salvation IS easy and it IS received by believing” (David Cloud, “Repentance and Lordship Salvation,” O Timothy, Volume 13, Issue 7, 1996).
This is the gospel I have been preaching for the entire 36 years of my Christian life.
Consider the following statement from my 1992 booklet Easy Prayerism or Bible Evangelism:
“There is an evangelistic methodology in Christian circles today which is a plague to sound gospel preaching. Some call this ‘easy believism,’ but I don’t like that term. BELIEF IS EXACTLY WHAT GOD REQUIRES FOR SALVATION. ‘For by grace are ye saved THROUGH FAITH; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:8-9). ‘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’ (Jn. 3:16). Salvation is received by believing. FURTHER, GOD HAS MADE IT EASY TO DO. A child can trust Christ and be saved; a weak-minded person can trust Christ and be saved. Salvation is not difficult, except in the sense that the sinner has to humble himself and repent.
“I believe a better term for this problem is ‘easy prayerism.’ It is a methodology which focuses on getting people to say a prayer. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that ‘whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Rom. 10:13). I believe that those who pray to God in repentance and ask to be saved WILL be saved. I am not against prayers for salvation.
“What I am against is making this the focus of our evangelistic activity. Repeating a prayer is not necessarily salvation, and we must not confuse it with such. Just because 50 people pray a prayer, or raise their hands in a gospel meeting, or some other thing like this, is no evidence whatsoever that those people have been saved. It is one thing to show some interest in salvation; it is quite another thing to be saved” (David Cloud, Easy Prayerism or Bible Evangelism, 1992, Way of Life Literature).
If someone thinks we do not believe that salvation is easy or that it is received by simple childlike faith in Jesus Christ, they are wrong and they are misrepresenting us.
II. WE DO NOT BELIEVE THAT A PERSON MUST REPENT OF ALL OF HIS OR HER SINS TO BE SAVED.
That is certainly not something we teach and it is not something we have ever stated in any article. I have plainly stated that I do not believe that, and in fact it would be impossible to “repent of all your sins.” I have been saved for 36 years, and I still have not repented of all my sins! Consider the following statement from my 1996 article:
“I don’t believe in ‘Lordship salvation,’ but I do believe in ‘except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish’ salvation, and I believe repentance is a change of mind which results in a change of life. Call that ‘Lordship salvation’ if you want to. Repentance is a radical change in attitude toward divine authority, and if a person does not have such a change in attitude he has not repented and he is NOT saved and he does not have ‘eternal security.’ ... Repentance is largely a change of mind in relation to God Himself, to the role He has in life and in one’s own life in particular” (David Cloud, “Repentance and Lordship Salvation”).
This is exactly what I believe about repentance, nothing more or less. It is not a change of life; it is a change of mind so radical that it results in a change of life. It means to turn around and go in a different direction. It means to lay down your arms and to surrender to God, to stop being at enmity against Him. I believe this is exactly what the Bible teaches about repentance, and I have shown this in the original article on Repentance, but nowhere have I said that repentance means to repent of all your sin or to turn away from all of your sin. That would be a works salvation, which is a false gospel.
III. WE DO NOT SUPPORT ANY IDEA OF “LORDSHIP SALVATION” WHICH TEACHES THAT AN INDIVIDUAL MUST MAKE JESUS CHRIST ABSOLUTE LORD OF EVERY AREA OF HIS LIFE BEFORE BEING SAVED.
To require that a sinner make Jesus Christ Lord of every area of his life in order to be saved is an impossibility and would be the greatest form of works salvation ever devised. This false doctrine is actually taught by some independent Baptists, but I have opposed it ever since I heard of it back in the early 1980s.
This is a very dangerous doctrine that causes people to look at themselves and to examine their experience rather than to look solely upon the Lord Jesus Christ and to trust solely upon His shed blood.
We believe and are sure that salvation changes a man’s life, and we preach this boldly, because the Bible teaches it as clearly as it teaches anything, but to continually examine oneself as the basis for determining if one is saved, is extremely dangerous. Even the Apostle Paul, who, in our estimation, was the most dedicated Christian who ever lived, said of his own experience, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Romans 7:18). That is the experience of every born again child of God. The old flesh is still there even after salvation.
I know I am saved today because I have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ for my eternal salvation, and “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). My faith is exclusively in Jesus Christ, not in myself or my changed life or my Christian experience. My Christian experience is pretty lousy when I compare myself with what the Bible requires of me. The Bible requires PERFECTION. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 1:15). I don’t live up to this perfect standard. I am perfect only in my position in the blessed Lord Jesus Christ. If I don’t keep my mind and heart focused on my perfection in Christ, I become extremely discouraged. I become tossed about like a bottle upon the waves of the sea. I lose my anchor (Heb. 6:19).
I have known of several independent Baptist preachers that preach a true lordship salvation, and it is very destructive. One of the hallmarks of such churches is that it is typical for people to “get saved” even though they have walked with Christ for years. Practically every person that attends such a church will go through this process. I am not saying that there is never a case when a professing believer is not truly saved. Most churches have had the experience of a church member getting saved after acknowledging that they were not born again and that an earlier profession was empty. That is a wonderful thing. If a person is not saved, he needs to get saved, regardless of a past profession. What I am warning about here are churches that preach that repentance is turning from all sin and making Christ Lord of everything in one’s life and that if that has not happened one is not saved. And if you have doubts, you are probably not saved. Often they teach that there is no such thing as a “carnal Christian.” Such churches tend to witness a massive number of “re-professions.” I knew of a church in Singapore in the 1980s that preached this. One group of several missionaries from South Asia visited there and each one of them “got saved,” even though they had glowing testimonies for Christ before that. A couple of members of this church visited my wife when she was in a hospital in Bangkok in 1983 and tried to get her to get saved, even though she was wonderfully converted as a teenager in a godless home in Alaska and had the most wonderful testimony.
As for doubts about salvation, I have had doubts off and on. Doubts might indicate that you haven’t actually been saved, but this is not necessarily the case. During the first year after I was converted, I prayed to be saved several times because I was struggling with sin and was trying to break old worldly habits. I would doubt whether I was saved and would cry out to the Lord to save me. It was because I had not been grounded in the truth. I didn’t need someone to question my salvation; I needed someone to teach me about justification and sanctification and biblical holiness and blessed security in Christ!
To preach a “lordship salvation” that requires that sinners make Jesus Christ absolute Lord of every area of their lives in order to be saved is to confuse position and practice, justification and sanctification. This is similar to the error made by many Pentecostals and Charismatics who believe the child of God can lose his salvation. An excellent testimony about the danger of this false teaching is in the book “Holiness: The False and the True” by the late Harry A. Ironside (Loizeaux, P.O. Box 277, Neptune, NJ 07754). As a young preacher, Ironside was involved with the Salvation Army. He was taught that he could have an experience, a “second blessing,” whereby he could obtain perfect victory over his old nature. As all genuinely born again people do, he earnestly desired such an experience. He agonized over his sinfulness and spiritual imperfection. He diligently sought the “blessing,” praying, fasting, crying out, striving, believing. Finally he thought he had obtained “it.” He stood in the testimony meetings and joyfully told the people that he had “it,” that his struggles with sin were over. Of course it wasn’t long before he realized that he had been deceived and that the old man was still within him. At that point he became so discouraged and disheartened that he had to be hospitalized in a mental health facility. He determined to leave the Christian life and return to his old loves, since Christian living “didn’t work.” In the hospital, though, he met some saintly Christians who patiently taught him the truth of biblical sanctification, and through this ministry of the truth he became anchored in Christ and went on to have a long, fruitful preaching ministry.
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