A Study of Theology III – Part 18 (Dr. Thomas Figart)
Continuing from part 17, Dr. Figart explains that perhaps the most important subject in Scripture is the teaching which pertains to salvation from sin. There is a current controversy concerning “lordship salvation” which has led to confusion in definitions and interpretations.
A Study of Theology III – Part 18
Straw Men, Scarecrows, or Salvation? – Part 2
by Dr. Thomas O. Figart
XII. A Response to the so-called “Lordship Salvation” doctrine (con’t)
What is a “scarecrow”? A literal scarecrow is made by attaching articles of clothing to a wooden cross, making it look as real as possible, placing it in a garden, and using it to scare away crows and other pests before they ruin a neatly planted crop. As applied to this discussion “scarecrow” refers to any argument which is presented as a kind of pre-salvation preparation on the part of the sinner, which might scare him away from salvation, making him wonder if he will ever “qualify” to be saved.
We have already mentioned Spurgeon’s sermon, “The Warrant of Faith.” It was enlightening to read that he deals with some of these same arguments still being used today by those who teach “lordship salvation.” It is important to note that Spurgeon is a favorite of these men, yet in his teaching about salvation, he clearly stated that those who put up roadblocks to faith were dead wrong. It meant that Spurgeon had to criticize Joseph Alleine and other Puritan writers whom he truly admired for much of their teaching. We will give three of these arguments as they are presented today, and after each one, Spurgeon will be permitted to comment.
Scarecrow #1: Regeneration must be imparted to the sinner before he is able to believe the gospel
Referring to Christ’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:7, “ye must be born again,” one remarks, “And thus we have the starting point of the gospel according to Jesus: salvation is impossible apart from divinely wrought regeneration” (The Gospel According to Jesus, by John F. MacArthur, Jr., Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan Publishing House, 1988, p.44). Though it is not absolutely clear from this statement that the writer believes regeneration comes before belief, he does say, when commenting on John 9 where Christ healed and saved the blind man, “Spiritual sight is a gift from God that makes one willing and able to believe.” Consider also his comment on John 6:44: “God draws the sinner to Christ and also gives the ability to believe. Without that divinely generated faith, one cannot understand and approach the Savior” (Ibid, p. 173). These statements surely seem to be putting regeneration (the new birth) before the ability to believe. Another author asks, “Does the natural man have the freedom to choose to do good, to choose Jesus Christ, to come to God? The answer is unequivocally, No! (D. James Kennedy, Truths that Transform, p. 26; Old Tappan, New Jersey, Fleming H. Revell Co., 1974). But observe how Spurgeon handled this “requirement” for believing:
“Certain preachers assure us that a man must be regenerated before we may bid him believe in Jesus Christ. It takes away a gospel for sinners and offers us a gospel for saints. It is anything but a ministry of free grace. If I am to preach the faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved, when he is saved already, being regenerated. Brethren, the command to believe in Christ must be the sinner’s warrant.” [The Scripture in point here is 1 John 3:23, “And this is his commandment that we should believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ….” After this he refers to Mark 16:16 “He that believeth not shall be damned.”] “Where is there a word about prerequisites for believing? Surely the man could not be damned for not doing what he would not have been warranted in doing.”
Scarecrow #2: Repentance must be evident before believing is valid
One of today’s writers claims that repentance leads to salvation but that it is “not a pre-salvation attempt to set one’s life in order.” But then almost immediately thereafter he says that repentance is “a command to recognize one’s lawlessness and hate it, to turn one’s back on it and flee to Christ, embracing Him with wholehearted devotion” (MacArthur, p. 163). If this is not setting one’s life in order, then what is it?
“You tell me that I ought to preach Christ only to those who repent of their sins. Very well; but since true repentance of sin is the work of the Holy Spirit, and any man who has repentance is most certainly saved, because evangelical repentance can never exist in an unsaved soul. Where there is repentance there is faith already, for they can never be separated. So then I am only to preach faith to those who have it. Absurd, indeed! Is not this waiting till the man is cured and then bringing him the medicine?”
It would seem that Spurgeon considered repentance as a part of true faith, certainly not as a “requirement” leading up to faith (2 Timothy 2:25).
Scarecrow #3: You must seek the kingdom of God with all your heart and agonize to enter the kingdom
One current statement of this is, “The message of Jesus cannot be made to accommodate any kind of cheap grace or easy-believism. The kingdom is not for people who want Jesus without any change in their living. It is only for those who seek it with all their hearts, those who agonize to enter. Many who approach the gate turn away upon finding out the cost” (Ibid, p. 183).
“If you tell a poor sinner that there is a certain amount of humblings, and tremblings, and convictions, and heart-searchings to be felt, in order that he may be warranted to come to Christ, I demand of all legal-gospellers distinct information as to the manner and exact degree of preparation required. One will say the sinner must have months of law-work; another that he only needs good desires; and some will demand that he possess the graces of the Spirit, such as humility, godly sorrow, and love to holiness. If the sinner’s warrant to come is found in the gospel itself, the matter is clear and plain; but what a roundabout plan is that compound of law and gospel against which I contend!”
Receiving True Salvation
How is true salvation received? To the charges of “cheap grace” and “easy-believism” it must first be said that these are only man-made expressions. After all, what is true grace if it is not completely free?
Paul puts it exactly this way in Romans 3:24, “Being justified freely by his grace.” Either a gift is 100% free or it is no longer a gift; there can be absolutely no requirements to receive a gift, or it is no longer a gift!
Paul makes this clear in Romans 11:6, “And if by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.”
But what about so-called “easy-believism?” Here again, this expression is a theological scarecrow or even a smokescreen, which only serves to confuse the truth concerning faith. Just what does it mean to “believe?” The Greek word pisteu-o means “to trust” (Acts 16:31). If the term “easy-believism” is inappropriate, would you substitute “hard-believism?” If we use this alternative, we are adding something to faith which is not there. Certainly believing has to be easy; it cannot be otherwise, or it becomes works again! Living faith produces works, but works cannot produce faith! Now may we allow Spurgeon to have the final words: “Sinner, whoever thou mayest be, God now commands thee to believe in Jesus Christ. This is his commandment; he does not command thee to feel anything, or be anything, to prepare thyself for this. Now, art thou willing to incur the great guilt of making God a liar? Surely thou wilt shrink from that! Then dare to believe!”