Staying True to the Word

Are you concerned about proper interpretation of the Word of God?

Certainly there are passages of Scripture for which people disagree on the precise interpretation. In fact, there are schools that subscribe to different theologies and as a result disagree on the interpretation of key passages. In our culture today, there are two branches of believers that disagree on what it means to receive eternal life. Both schools would say that salvation is in Christ alone by faith alone. Yet, they mean something very different when they make that statement. I would like to discuss with you today something that happened to me just the other night. To do that, I need to provide a name to the two groups discussed above.

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So let’s call one group the Lordship Salvation group and the other the Free Grace group. Neither name really fits the group, but the names are sufficient to let me tell you why it is important for you and me to discern what people say and understand the two position.

My story

What I want to tell you happened this past Friday evening.  My wife was gone to visit our daughter and grandkids. I went to bed and thought that I could listen to the radio while I fell asleep. Then I heard one of those one minute bullets by a very popular pastor. This pastor is known to be a Lordship Salvation pastor. I don’t really remember the start of his message, but I do remember what he said to close his message. He said, “Even Jesus said that whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.” The passages the speaker was eluding to was Matthew 10:22 (Mark 13:11) and Matthew 24:7. I would like to consider only the Matthew 10:22 passage because the others are similar. The passage is:

And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

Why did the speaker say what he said?

Let’s consider what the speaker said. Notice that he said “whoever perseveres.” This is technical language for Lordship Salvation. The pastor was saying that one sign that a person is saved is life evidence that the saved person is living a certain type of life. This life is defined variously, but it includes the idea that each believer is living a life of faithfulness to God. These works of faithfulness demonstrate the sincerity of the commitment of the believer.

Now this sounds good to many people and they think we should be able to tell the Christian from the non-Christian based on works. According to those holding to Lordship Salvation, “The crucial test of true faith is endurance to the end, abiding in Christ, and continuance in His Word.” They then use Matt 10:22 as the proof-text (which is actually a very dangerous practice).

This pastor and others who follow this teaching believe at least three tenets:

  • Obedience is part of saving faith
  • In order to be saved a person must turn from all known sin and submit himself to the Lordship of Christ.
  • Saving faith is made certain only if the professing believer perseveres in that faith until the end (i.e., the end of life).

So, this speaker was saying that to believe in Christ one must turn from their sin and follow Christ. If a person falls into carnality, that person never trusted in Christ to begin with. To get to this point by using Matt 10:22 as a proof text, the pastor needs to totally ignore the context of the verse and use poor interpretation techniques to arrive at the conclusion.

How should this passage really be interpreted?

The Free Grace group would see this passage quite differently.

First, the word that the pastor used in his quote “perseverance” is not in the Matt 10:22. The word used is translated “endurance” in the New King James, New American Standard, and the English Standard versions. In the New International Version, it is translated “stands firm.” The pastor used perseverance because that is the word used to convey the Lordship Salvation slogan.

Second, Matt 10:22 does not speak of soul salvation at all, but it speaking of enduring persecution. This passage occurs in the context of Jesus sending His disciples out on their first missionary trip. In giving them instructions, Jesus is telling them they will be persecuted. In fact they will be hated by everyone because of Jesus. Rather than receiving glory for their association with Christ, the disciples will undergo suffering, betrayal, and hardship. “Who endures to the end” refers to those who remain faithful to Jesus until the persecution ends. “This one will be saved” means to be “delivered by God.”  This will end with the return of the Lord (v. 23).  Thus, the passage actually has nothing to do with salvation from sin but from persecution (one way or the other).

Second, the passage is specifically talking about the faithful endurance of His ambassadors during the time of persecution in the Tribulation (Matt 24:13; Dan 12:12-13).  Matthew 10:16–22 may have included predictions of future persecution originally part of the Olivet discourse (Matt 24:9, 13; Luke 21:12) in order (1) to place all “mission” sayings together, and (2) to use the mission of the Twelve as a paradigm for the mission of the church. Alternatively, Jesus may have repeated these warnings in His discourse about the end times (Matt 24).

Take-home message

This passage is an exhortation to be faithful in persecution in a threefold way.

  • First, the enduring of persecution. Persecutions can be endured. They are not eternal and they are not intolerable.  Therefore, be loyal.
  • Second, the ending of persecution. “To the end” indicates that the trial will end someday. Trials are not forever. Therefore, be faithful.
  • Third, the escaping from persecution. “Will be saved.” Deliverance comes from faithfulness in endurance. That deliverance may sometimes be the ending of life and escape to heaven. Whatever the case, it will be a rewarding saving from the persecution, if one has been loyal and faithful in experiencing persecution. Therefore, be committed.

We are called to be loyal to Christ, faithful to the Word, and committed to His mission—but we are saved before these aspects are fully implemented in our lives. These are life-long endeavors. Thus, Free Grace sees a distinction between salvation and growth while Lordship Salvation merges them together.

We need to carefully approach the Scripture and we must exercise discernment when listening to the teaching of others. The study of the Bible takes effort. It takes diligent work. Just because a pastor comes from a large church and is very popular does not mean that due diligence is being used in the interpretation and application of Scripture.

Are you willing to give the time and effort required to understand the Word of God?


4 Replies to "Staying True to the Word"

  • Roger Streifel
    February 11, 2013 (12:38 am)
    Reply

    Great article Jon! I agree 100% with all of your points. I just want to add that we have to be careful with labeling people with non-biblical term such as lordship salvation. People that say they believe in lordship salvation do not necessarily define lordship salvation as you have in this article. But I totally agree with how you interpret the scripture you discussed. That is sime very badly misinterpreted scripture by many folks. Keep up the great articles! Enjoy reading them.

    • Dr. Jon Hanson
      February 11, 2013 (12:33 pm)
      Reply

      We are not labeling people when we identify a particular theological position. We use a title for a set of theologically related ideas so that we can communicate ideas without always using the complete detail. Of course their are various thoughts within any particular belief system. Lordship Salvation is a title that includes ideas about salvation that, even within that body of literature, demands that a person receives eternal life when trust is put in the work of Jesus Christ and they determine to eliminate all known sins in their life at the time of conversion by taking on the Lordship of Christ. Thus to those who follow this theological bent (probably 60-70% of Evangelicals) they define “repent” as turning from sin. The Bible does not teach that salvation is earned by the work of turning from sin; rather, it teaches that one receives eternal life by trusting in the finished work of Christ. Free Grace (which also is not a great name for the theological bent) separates the process of justification from sanctification. Under this system, trust in Christ alone is sufficient for salvation and the degree of sanctification one works toward in their life with Christ determines the rewards that will be received or lost at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The arguments are subtle and great discernment is required. There is certainly a different hermeneutic used between these two position–Free Grace seems to be more literal in interpretation (at least that is how I see it).

      • Ron
        February 13, 2013 (7:02 pm)
        Reply

        At the same time, submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is an issue of spiritual growth, not salvation. The Christian life is a process of submitting to God in increasing measure (2 Peter 1:5-8). A person does not have to submit to God in every area of his or her life in order to be saved. A person simply has to recognize that he or she is a sinner, in need of Jesus Christ for salvation, and place trust in Him (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10). Christians absolutely should submit to Him (James 4:7). A changed life and submission to Christ’s lordship are the result of salvation, not a requirement for salvation.

        • Dr. Jon Hanson
          February 14, 2013 (2:55 pm)
          Reply

          You got it… Put another way, there are two processes that are quite different, i.e. justification and sanctification. Unfortunately, in one’s zeal to determine if someone has trusted in Christ or not, these two are often combined. I can understand why Lordship Salvation people think the way they. There is tremendous frustration because we do not see people growing in Christ. But that is no cause to use poor interpretation. Lordship Salvation followers far too often abuse the Scriptures to say that trusting in Christ must lead to perseverence in the faith. God wants us to grow in our relationship to Him. But, that is up to each Christian to respond to God and take the actions that bring us to God. So, to modify your last sentence–When a person trusts in the finished work of Christ, a changed life may result from submitting to Christ. This is God’s will for us, unfortunately not all who have received eternal life will live the way God wants them to. Thanks for the response.


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