I’ve been doing a personal Bible study on salvation. I’ve been studying scripture for the better part of a year in an attempt to understand the ideas of lordship salvation vs. free grace or ‘easy believism’. If you’re not familiar with these terms, it’s okay, neither was I. Terms aren’t important, but they represent two very different understandings of what salvation is and it’s important to know the difference, and what’s at stake.
Some people frame the debate between lordship salvation and easy believism as a debate between works and faith, as if one is works and the other is not. The opponents of lordship salvation claim that by making Jesus your Lord you are “working” and therefore doing something more than faith. An extra step if you will. But I’ve learned that this debate isn’t really about works- but about faith- and what true faith really is. The opponents say you’re working to secure your faith. The Bible says you are secure and your works prove it.
It comes down to this fundamental question: Is there a connection between obedience and faith, and if so, what is that connection? To put it another way, is obedience required for salvation or do we just need to ‘believe’ and that’s all? This is a fairly personal question. For most of my life I was taught that all we needed to do to go to heaven was to accept Jesus into our heart, believe, and we would be saved. It apparently didn’t matter how I lived or what I did. But the crucially important thing, apparently, was that I accepted Jesus into my heart. My assurance of being saved therefore could be traced back to an event I did a long time ago when I was a kid. I said the prayer- I’m in. However, is this really what the Bible teaches? Is this the pattern we see in the scriptures?
Well, no, actually. There’s nothing in the Bible that suggests a one time act is all that’s expected or required of a genuine believer. Rather we see a ton of scripture that talks about bearing fruit, confessing your sins, repenting and turning to Jesus, obeying His commandments, loving one another, walking in the spirit, following our shepherd’s voice, picking up our cross and following Jesus no matter the cost. . . These aren’t one time occurrences but rather patterns (fruits) in the life of a person who is truly saved. Jesus says “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.” – John 15:4 Abide means to remain in. It means walking with Jesus, knowing Him, loving Him, and being like Him. Abiding in Jesus and bearing fruit is a continual thing, and is evidence that we truly know Him.
I’m not trying to downplay the importance of asking Jesus into your heart. Coming to know Jesus as savior and Lord can be a moment in time. In an instant our eyes are opened to the truth of the Gospel. Jesus and the Bible all of a sudden taste really good in our mouth, we believe and are saved. Hallelujah!
However, it can’t stop there. As great as that is, it’s equally important to live out our faith- to continue doing good for God, bearing fruit and growing. James 2 says faith without works is dead. If your faith doesn’t show forth and is not evident in your life what good is it? Faith like that is useless. The parable of the sower teaches us that faith can’t be a shallow thing. Our faith (the seed) has to go deep, take root, and produce fruit. Only then will it stand the test of trials and tribulations, distractions, and the deceptions of the devil. So here again we see that faith has to have substance. It can’t be claimed in a moment, packed away, and brought out only when we need it. Jesus says to be ready, and to those not ready, “I do not know you.” – Matthew 25:12. Faith has to be lived out. It has to produce something. “You will know them by their fruits” Matt 7:16.
So there is a connection between obedience and faith. Obedience doesn’t save you, but the Bible says that without obedience you’re not really saved. You have a dead faith- a fruitless faith that gets gathered up with other dead branches and destroyed in the fire. Obedience produces fruit and this more than anything else is evidence that you are saved.
This is not a debate about works versus faith. Everybody agrees that we are saved by grace through faith. The question hinges on what kind of faith we’re talking about. Is it an easy faith? A faith that doesn’t require or produce any fruit? Is it not accompanied by a repentant heart? Does your faith exclude Jesus as Lord of your life? We can see from a wealth of examples in Scripture that this is not the kind of faith God wants us to have.
“The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar , and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.” 1 John 2:3-4
Faith alone saves you.
But the faith that saves is never alone.