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Lordship and the Nature of Saving Faith

Ernest Reisinger

Just over four hundred years ago, late in October, a young augustinian monk, professor of theology and pastor in Wittenberg, Germany, in the fire of his zeal for Christian truth, nailed ninety-five these to the door of the Castle Church. He had left the study of law and entered the priesthood, seeking to be justified before God. His name was Martin Luther. As a result of studying the Scriptures, he discovered the biblical truths that had long been covered and obscured by the ritual and rubble of Rome. One of the great truths then restored to the church was justification by faith alone.

The Reality of False Faith

The issue before us in the Lordship debate is not a denial of justification by faith alone, but rather a perversion of that doctrine. Nonlordship teaching often excludes the possibility of spurious faith. However, religious deception is the worst kind if deception because of its eternal consequences. We must distinguish properly between justifying faith and spurious or counterfeit faith.

The Bible very clearly warns against spurious faith. I wish, therefore, to direct attention to its warnings and note some differences between spurious and true believers. I intend to cite biblical cases of spurious faith, showing that the Scriptures teach the existence of belief which is not saving faith. I plan also to define true faith and give biblical examples of that faith which savingly joins one to Jesus Christ for all eternity.

Non-lordship teachers ignore and deny this truth. Despite protestations to the contrary, non-lordship salvation has a faith which is little more than mental assent.

With your Bible in hand, study some of the differences which follow.

There is a hope that shall perish ("the hope of the hypocrite shall perish," Job 8:13) and also a hope that "maketh not ashamed" (Rom. 5:5). Likewise, there is a faith which saves and a faith which damns. The need to distinguish between the two is vital for the contemporary Church and is central in the Lordship controversy.

"There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness" (Prov. 30:12). "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov. 14:12). "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me. But you will not come to me..." (John 5:39,40). These searching passages have a very real application to our church membership today. I confess that I pick up my pen with feeling of sorrow and anxiety. The church is filled with many, many members who give no biblical evidence of real conversion. There is rampant an Athenian love of religious novelty and excitement which is coupled with a morbid distaste for anything old and regular; i.e. for the well-beaten paths of our forefathers.

What is the difference between spurious faith and justifying faith; between false believers and true believers? Many differences could be considered, but the following four serve to separate the wheat from the chaff, the genuine from the counterfeit.

The Differences Between False and True Faith

The first difference is that spurious believers want Christ, but not without exception. They want the grace of Christ, but not the government of Christ. They resemble the prodigal son who wanted his father's goods but not his father's government. They desire the benefits of the Cross without bowing to the implications of the Crown. They want to go to heaven, but not by the narrow way that leads there. They desire the free gift of eternal life, but will not receive it with empty hands. Yes, they want Christ, but not without exception. They want Christ and their other lovers also. They want to be saved from the consequences of sin, but not from sin itself. But our Lord came to save from sin. This is clear from the very first chapter of the New Testament. "Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). Not in their sins but from their sins. Jesus is not some mere hell insurance policy. He is a Saviour from sin and its consequences--not just the consequences, but sin itself.

True saving faith wants Christ without exception. This is illustrated by our Lord's parables in Matthew 13. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field" (Matt. 13:44). "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking godly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (Matt. 13:45,46). The treasure and the pearl represent Christ; and saving faith wants Him without exception.

The second difference between spurious believers and true believers is that true faith wants Christ as He is set forth in the Scriptures; that is, as the only Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). As Mediator, Christ has three offices: Prophet, Priest and King of His church.

As Priest, Christ procures pardon and peace by His sacrifice on the cross and maintains peace by His intercession for His sheep. "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them" (John 17:9,10)

As Prophet, Christ is wisdom, teacher, and counselor in all things.

As anointed King, Christ rules and reigns over the true believer in all things and protects him from all his enemies.

Spurious believers want Christ only as a Priest to procure pardon and peace, but not as a Prophet to instruct them or as a King to rule over them. We are not saved however, by one of the offices of Christ, but by Him. "He that hath the Son hath life" (1 John 5:12). If we have Him, we must have Him in all of His offices as He set forth in the Bible.

The Westminster Divines and our Baptist fathers taught these truths to Christians and their children; however, you will never hear it from a non-lordship teacher. It seems that they have little or no respect for what the Holy Spirit taught our fathers. They seem only to be concerned about our Lord's priestly office. If they were straight on the following questions and answers (found in the Larger Catechism) they would never, never teach so as to separate the offices of Christ; that is, His Lordship from His Saviour-hood.

Q. Why was our Mediator called Jesus?
A. Our Mediator was called Jesus, because he saveth his people from their sins.

Q. Why was our Mediator called Christ?
A. Our Mediator was called Christ, because he was anointed with the Holy Ghost above measure; and so set apart, and fully furnished with all authority and ability, to execute the offices of prophet, priest, and king of his church, in the estate both of his humiliation and exaltation.

Q. How does Christ execute the office of a prophet?
A. Christ executes the office of a prophet, in his revealing to the church, in all ages, by his Spirit and word, in divers ways of administration, the whole will of God, in all things concerning intercession for them.

Q. How does Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executes the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws, and censures, by which he visibly governs them; in bestowing saving grace upon his elect, rewarding their obedience, and correcting them for their sins, preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and sufferings, restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.
The third difference is that spurious believers never close with Christ and all the inconveniences that follow (and believe me there are some!). They want Christ but they have never done what Jesus commanded, that is, counted the cost (Luke 14:25-33). Every serious Christian knows that the Christian life is not a gospel hayride. All is not "happy, happy, happy" or "jolly, jolly, jolly" all the time. The language of the Christian life is also "I war", " I fight", "I wrestle", "I strive".

Jesus was honest about this at the outset of the invitation. Any serious study of Luke 9 and 14 will underscore just how honest Jesus was in inviting men to follow Him (cf. Luke 9:23).

Another example of how honest Jesus was with would-be followers is found in Luke 9:57,58. The man in this place said, "Lord, I will follow you wherever you go." Now most modern evangelism would have signed him up immediately and baptized him the same day and he would have been teaching Sunday school two weeks later. But what did Jesus do? He was honest. He said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." This is not a very good way to get decisions but it is honest. "And he said to them all, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me""(Luke 9:23). Jesus was honest at the outset. This invitation is not for some second work of grace or second act of consecration. It is the initial invitation for salvation.

True faith wants Christ even with all the inconveniences that necessarily follow. It costs to be a Christian. I am not talking about the price of redemption--that is infinite. We are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. I am talking about what it costs to live a Christian life. It costs you nothing to become a Christian, but it may cost you everything to be a Christian. The gospel motto is "without money and without price." We are "justified freely by His grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." Yet, for all that, if a man will be a Christian it will cost him something.

Consider a moment: Here is a blind man sitting by the wayside begging. He asks to have his eyes opened. Will it cost him anything? No. The Saviour would not accept all the gold in the world for the cure. He will freely open his eyes. But when they are opened it will cost that blind man something. Once he has obtained his sight he will be called upon to discharge the duties of one who has eyes. He will not be allowed after that to sit there and beg. If he tries to do so, he will lose the sympathy which is bestowed upon blindness. Now that his eyes are opened he must use them and earn his own bread. It will cost him something, for he will now be conscious of the darkness of the night which he knew nothing of before! And there are sad sights which now he must look upon which never grieved him before, for often what the eye does not see the heart does not grieve for.

A man cannot gain a faculty except at some expense. He that increases knowledge or the means of gaining it increases both sorrow and duty.

True religion is a costly thing, but it is also a lasting thing. It lasts for life. False religion comes and goes. True regeneration is never repeated and it is the beginning of a life which will know no end, either in time or eternity.

2 Peter 1:10 says, "Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble."

Dr. John Brown, that great and godly minister and theologian of Edinburgh, Scotland, commenting on this verse said, "If we would prove to the world and to our own hearts that we are the called and elect of God, we must be and do what the called and elect of God are called to be and to do." We could say it another way, that is, if I would prove to the world and to my own heart that I am a Christian I must be and do what Christians are meant to be and do--and that will cost something.

The fourth difference between spurious and true believers is that the spurious believer's and true believers is that the spurious believer's heart is not changed and, therefore, his faith is not operative. Simon Magus believed and was baptized, but his heart was not right in the sight of God. He was in the gall of bitterness and Peter told him he would perish with his money--yet, he believed and was baptized (Acts 8:13,21). True faith is operative, purifying the heart (Acts 15:8,9).

Conclusion

In summary:
  1. Saving faith wants Christ without exception.
  2. Saving faith receives Christ in all of His offices--as Prophet, Priest and King.
  3. Saving faith receives Christ and all the inconveniences that follow.
  4. Saving faith is operative, purifying the heart.
None of these things are true of spurious faith.

We must properly distinguish between justifying faith and spurious faith. The non-lordship teaching fails miserably on this point. The consequences of remaining in deception are too enormous to neglect self-examination. There is a faith which will not save, and men must be warned of its fatal consequences. We are justified by faith alone, but true faith has distinguishing traits. That faith which is alone is not the kind of faith which justifies. Because of the danger of being deceived the great apostle told the Corinthians to examine themselves as to whether they were in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). It would be well if all those on our church rolls would do likewise.

John, in his little epistle, gives some tests of eternal life. They might be called the birthmarks of the second birth. One of these birthmarks is belief or faith. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1). This saving belief is in the whole Christ, the Christ of the Bible--the only Mediator who right now is Prophet, Priest and King of His church.

This saving faith must reach the whole man. It must reach his mind--that is what he thinks with. It must reach his emotions, or affections--that is what he feels with. It must reach his will--that is what he decides with and acts with. Whatever true religion is, it cannot be less than this:

Right thinking in relationship to God
Right feeling in relationship to God
Right acting in relationship to God
The non-lordship teachers seem to miss this salient point. They settle for a change of mind even though it does not necessarily cause a change of conduct and a change of direction. They say nothing about a changed will. Hear the explanation of repentance from one of their manuals: "Any teaching that demands a change of conduct toward either God or man for salvation is to add works or human effort to faith, and this contradicts all scripture and is an accursed message" (Handbook to Personal Evangelism, by Stanford, Seymour, and Streib).

No, no, saving faith is more than intellectual assent to historical facts of the gospel. We can learn religious facts without the Spirit. We can learn biblical facts just the same as we can learn math or history. The non-lordship teaching gives a false hope because it is based on man-centered evangelism and gives a false invitation that does not include evangelical repentance.

First, this saving belief is revealed and applied by the Holy Spirit in regeneration (John 3:3). Second, this belief must be exercised by the sinner in his response to the Saviour. Third, this belief is apparent in its fruit--repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:20,21). Are you a true or spurious believer?

James Petigru Boyce was the principal founder of the first Southern Baptist Seminary where he also taught systematic theology. His chief mentor as a student was Charles Hodge at Princeton Seminary. The following descriptions of spurious faith are taken from pp. 389-92 of Boyce's Abstract of Systematic Theology.

Historical Faith

This is mere intellectual belief of the truths taught in the Scriptures as historical facts. There was such a person as Jesus, who being the Son of God, wrought out salvation and has now commanded all men to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. Such was the faith of Simon Magus, Acts 8:13-24; the case of Judas also in one of bare historical faith. But true Saving Faith is a work of the heart, such as is manifest from the following passages: "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). "Believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead...with the heart man believeth unto righteousness" (Rom. 10:9,10).

Temporary or Delusive Faith

This has many marks of true Saving Faith. It is not only an intellectual reception of the historical facts, but a joyful acceptance of them. "They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away" (Luke 8:13).

The evidence of Temporary Faith will soon appear. It lacks the following characteristics of Saving Faith and may be distinguished from it:

  1. Continuous in trusting Christ, and in devotion to Him and His service.
  2. Desire to be useful in the work of Christ.
  3. Attendance to Christian Duty.
  4. Love of Prayer and the Word of God, and with His people for worship.
  5. Devoted love to the children of God as such.
  6. Progress in knowledge of self and sin and of Christ as a Saviour.
  7. Progress in loving holiness and hating sin, with increased conviction of, and humility concerning sinfulness.
Since Dr. Boyce is biblically correct in stating that temporary faith and delusive faith lack these seven things, the question that should concern every serious person is: Am I in possession of true Saving Faith?

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