Is It Possible for Jesus to Be Your Savior but Not Your Lord?

In 1988, The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur was published. The basic thesis of the book was that if you wanted to be saved, you needed to accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord. It seemed to me like a very simple and almost obvious message, but while the majority of responses were positive ones, it also attracted many critics, even Christians. The term “lordship salvation” came into vogue within evangelical circles to refer to the position stated in MacArthur’s book. That, of course, implies that another kind of salvation exists: non-lordship salvation, or Jesus as Savior only. “Carnal Christian” is another phrase that came increasingly into vogue; it refers to a Christian who does not live in obedience to Jesus. There are authors and preachers who say that this obedience is optional; in other words, as long as you believe and profess that Jesus is your Savior, then He is, regardless of your behavior.

As with almost any question like this, we have to look at Scripture, and since MacArthur’s book focused on what’s recorded in the Gospels, let’s look at a couple of verses from them. In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” In Luke 9:23, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Those verses, along with many others, make it clear that obedience to the Lord is necessary; notice especially the word “daily” in the second verse.

In 1993, MacArthur wrote The Gospel According to the Apostles, which affirms that the apostles’ message is the same one that Jesus taught. James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” And here’s a verse the apostle Paul wrote, Romans 6:15: “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” There are those who write and preach that we are under grace–but who stop there. A few years ago, I sat through a sermon where grace was the focus, but to the exclusion of obedience to the Lord. Had I been a non-Christian listening to that sermon, I would have concluded that grace is the only thing necessary for salvation–in other words, that a change of behavior is not required.

A common misunderstanding of the Lordship of Christ as something necessary is that we need to somehow be more acceptable to Jesus before we can embrace Him as Savior and Lord. However, that is a misunderstanding of salvation; after we are saved, we have the desire to obey Jesus and therefore do so. In other words, obedience is the result of salvation, as our way of thanking the Lord for His amazing grace.

A common objection to Christ’s Lordship that I have heard over the years goes something like this. “Look at David in the Bible. He was an adulterer and a murderer, but he was saved, right?” Acts 13:22 gives us the answer, where Luke writes, “He [God] testified concerning him [David]: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.'” I Kings 15:5 affirms this but mentions an exception–admittedly a significant one–to David’s doing everything the Lord wanted him to do: “For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life–except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.” So, why is it that the Bible can still refer to David as doing right in the eyes of the Lord? In 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan confronts David with his sin and verse 13 says, “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.'” David wrote an entire Psalm (51) confessing his sin, repenting, and asking the Lord for forgiveness. In other words, the Bible does not “define” David as an adulterer and murderer, but as a man after God’s own heart. (I should also add, however, that if you read the rest of the story, you will discover that David experienced the consequences of his sins.) David’s repentance is what fundamentally distinguishes him and other true believers from so-called “carnal Christians,” who claim to be Christians but defend their sinful behavior and continue in it rather than repenting.

Many years ago, there was a megachurch leader who preached that obedience to Jesus was something to be strived for, but that it was possible to be saved without it. Well, he was discovered to have been engaging in sexual immorality for ten years; he was subsequently removed from his post. Did he repent following this? I don’t know. But regardless of whether his sin was a result of his theology or vice-versa, it points out the danger of such teaching–in this case in the life of the preacher himself.

Over the years, my wife and I have joyfully witnessed baptisms of people that we know and love. Some of them, thankfully, have given evidence of true salvation in a change of lifestyle, but sadly, many have not. Some have even renounced their faith, sometimes very publicly. We have communicated with some of them, praying that the Lord will truly be their Lord and that we will ultimately see them in heaven.

It should be obvious by now what the answer to the question in the title of this post is. If you are a Christian and are close to someone who claims to be one but is clearly living in disobedience to Jesus Christ, I hope that you will confront him or her. You will almost certainly experience backlash, but maybe this person will respond like David–perhaps not immediately, but eventually.

What Does Humility Look Like?

When my son was in high school, he and some of his friends played “The Game.” The way you lost the game was if you thought of it, and you were then required to announce, either in speaking or writing, that you had “lost The Game.”

Around that time, my family (my son, daughter, wife, and I) were discussing humility. One of us (probably my son) compared it to The Game. In other words, if you think about humility in relation to yourself, you have “lost The Game.” For example, if you think–or worse, if you say–“I’m a humble person,” you are not being humble in that moment.

In the last two years, I have heard several sermons related to the topic of humility. However, I think what’s been missing is trying to show what it looks like. Perhaps that’s because humility really is like The Game; once you think you have it, you don’t, so you’ve “lost.” On the other hand, I think that instinctively, we know humility when we see it in another person, even if we can’t describe it. We also know pride when we see it, and I freely confess that this has long been my biggest sin problem.

In the Bible, the book of Proverbs is full of practical advice, and there are two specific verses that have long been very helpful to me in regard to humility. The first one is Proverbs 27:2, which says, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.” When I am tempted to say something praiseworthy about myself, this verse helps keep me in check. A companion verse is the second part of Proverbs 27:21, which says, “Man is tested by the praise he receives.” In other words, how do I react to words of praise from others? Do I pat myself on the back, or do I somehow give glory to the Lord, Who has made me the kind of person I am in the first place? Hopefully, I do the latter much more than the former, but how? The way that I have done it is to thank the Lord, usually in my heart but not out loud. For example, throughout my 32 years of teaching, I received many compliments from my ESL students, sometimes in writing, sometimes in speaking. If I had said, “Thank You, Lord!” they probably wouldn’t have even understood it, and if they had, it probably wouldn’t have sounded genuine; I believe the perceived lack of genuineness applies to anyone else I might say it to, as well. That’s why I simply just thank the person with my words and thank the Lord in my heart. When appropriate, I also give credit to other people.

There are other examples of pride and humility that come to mind. For example, when I was a graduate student (a long time ago!), I had a professor who invited me to his home. While I enjoyed my time talking with him and his family, I didn’t enjoy his showing off and boasting about various things in his home. Or how about a person who boasts about his/her education? I’m sure you can think of other examples as well.

Matthew 25:31-46 is the passage about the sheep (believers) and goats (unbelievers). The Lord Jesus Christ has very affirming things to say to the sheep but condemning things to say to the goats. One thing that used to puzzle me was when the righteous (the sheep) in verses 37-39 respond to the Lord’s affirming words: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” It’s almost as if the Lord’s people don’t even realize how much they had done for people in need. I think that’s the point; when we are living in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, we do good to those around us without even necessarily being aware of it. That’s the kind of man I want to be.

A Christian Response to COVID-19

The title of this post begins with the word “a,” meaning that I think there are many ways for Christians to respond to the coronavirus. What follows is one Christian’s response.

Let’s start with the shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders which have become so pervasive. While I believe there is a place for them, especially to protect those who are most vulnerable, like the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, there needs to be concern for the rest of humanity. In early March, my family and I agreed that there would likely be a rise in suicide as people sheltered in place. Two months later, I read federal agencies and experts were warning that a historic wave of mental-health problems was approaching, including PTSD, substance abuse, depression, and suicide. In the context of COVID-19, some of these issues are brought about by isolation, while others are brought about by economic hardship as well as other factors. We’ve all heard about–and in some cases experienced–small businesses closing, people losing their jobs, and a resultant sharp spike in the unemployment rate.

I don’t think we should ask which is more important: protecting the lives of the most vulnerable among us or reopening the economy. A better question is: how can we balance the needs of everyone? For the sake of comparison: depending on your age, you may have heard of the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69, which killed somewhere between one million and four million worldwide; by comparison, COVID-19 has killed about 300,000 so far. During the Hong Kong flu, there were no shelter-in-place orders in the U.S. (Remember Woodstock?) Why has the reaction been so strong this time? I believe one of the main reasons is the 24/7 news cycle. Back in 1968, the “news” was mostly in newspapers and on the 6:00 TV news. I’m sure there are many other reasons that people can come up with as well, including the blame game that politicians and the rest of us like to play. However, I believe there is also a deeper reason, which is a different attitude toward death.

50+ years ago, families were larger and lifespans were shorter; the prevailing attitude seemed to be that death was something natural that happened to everyone–and everything–sooner or later. In our comparatively sanitized lives now, the average person is less likely to see a dead animal close up, for example. Furthermore, people are less comfortable talking about death than they used to be. Now there are increasing efforts to extend life as long as possible, partly because of so many amazing advances in health care. I believe that all of this explains the fear and panic I observed during a shopping trip to Costco on March 6; you could see the fear on people’s faces, and you could observe the panic with which people were buying mass quantities of various items. This was six days before the CA governor imposed the stay-at-home order, and the panic buying quickly worsened.

In Scripture, there are many verses that tell us not to be fearful or anxious. There are some pastors who have taught that these are “normal” feelings but not necessarily sin. Well, they are normal, but they are also sinful because they reflect a lack of trust in the Lord. It was very refreshing recently to hear a guest pastor of our new church say that fear is selfish. He didn’t explicitly say why, but I believe it’s because fear tends to be paralyzing, which makes it less likely we will serve others.

I have my own fear of bees and other stinging insects, but that does not prevent me from mowing the lawn with bees buzzing around flowers on the edge of it. I can sometimes become anxious about other things as well, but as Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” If you have become fearful and anxious in the age of the coronavirus, take these verses to heart.

A relative that I have a lot of respect for mused in early March about whether COVID-19 could be one of the end-time “pestilences” mentioned, for example, in Luke 21:11. At the time, I didn’t think so, but now I think it may very well be a forerunner of much worse plagues to come.

A final comment: Several weeks ago, I saw a list of movies and shows in which the apocalypse is brought on by nuclear war or plague. Missing from the list was The Stand, a wonderful 1994 miniseries. If you want to watch an ultimate battle between good–with a Christian theme–and evil in the aftermath of most of the human race being wiped out by plague, this is for you. Because of some violent content, don’t watch with young children.

How Many Christians Are There in the United States?

One of my biggest questions from the past 20+ years was this one. I decided to start with this question because of the name of this blog: To the Remnant.

It used to puzzle me in the 1990s when I saw surveys that estimated 90% of Americans believed in God. I soon understood that there are a lot of gods people believe in. Then I saw estimates about the percentage of Christians in the U.S., which was almost invariably between 60% and 70%. Taking it a step further, the percentage of evangelicals was typically estimated to be between 30% and 40%. It seemed to me that I was getting closer to finding out what percentage of Americans were Christians. However, 35% still seemed to me to be inflated for two reasons.

First of all, the American church seemed to be very anemic. If one third of Americans were Christians, why weren’t we having more of an impact on society? Why was American society moving further and further away from virtue? Why did it seem that “tolerance” was becoming more and more “virtuous,” including in the church? Why was it that causing offense to an unbeliever was becoming one of the worst things a Christian can do? To be clear, I’m not in favor of causing offense for an unbiblical reason, but I Peter 2:7-8 says, “But to those who do not believe, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,’ and ‘A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.'”

Second, the Lord Himself said in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Notice the words “many” and “few.” It is certainly possible that in a given society at a given time, the majority of people are on the narrow road to heaven, but it didn’t seem like the U.S. fit that conclusion. Instead, it seemed like “few” was much closer to the truth.

In 2008, the Pew Forum published a research study about the American religious landscape. One very important question that American evangelicals were asked was, “Are there many religions that lead to eternal life?” A very disturbing 57% of the respondents answered, “Yes.” Since by that time, the number of Americans who claimed to be evangelicals was ~25%, that meant about 11% of Americans believed that Jesus was the only way to heaven. I should add that there are American Christians who do not claim to be “evangelical,” including some Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox. I estimated at the time that perhaps 13% of Americans were Christians.

In 2013, John Dickerson wrote The Great Evangelical Recession. He cited four different research studies (one from 1998, the other three from 2008-2011) that sought to determine what percentage of Americans were evangelical Christians. Three of those studies came up with 7%, and one with 8.9%; do the math, and you come up with 7.5%. If you add in Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox who don’t claim to be “evangelical” but who are true Christians, perhaps the number of American Christians is between 9% and 10%.

One caveat about these numbers is that how the word “evangelical” is defined is not always consistent. However, the 2008 Pew Forum study that I mentioned includes both belief and obedience. Regardless of whether the four researchers cited in Dickerson’s book agree precisely on the definition of “evangelical,” the fact that three came up with the same percentage and that the fourth was not drastically different give me confidence that the percentage of American Christians is probably below 10.

I do not take pleasure in the likelihood that the vast majority of Americans are on the road to hell. I also believe that things will get worse before they get better. It wouldn’t surprise me if we “bottom out” at 4% and then start to reverse course. I also believe that the American church, meaning the Lord’s people in the U.S., will emerge much stronger.

About This Blog

The word “remnant” means a small remaining quantity of something. In the Bible, the word “remnant” refers to a small remaining number of people who are faithful to the Lord God. In the Old Testament, those people were predominantly Jews, who were God’s chosen people. In the New Testament, God’s people were, and are, those who put their faith in Jesus Christ.

I grew up in a Christian home and went to a Christian elementary school, high school, and Christian college (my first four years). Although I had a good amount of head knowledge, it didn’t penetrate to my heart until I was 20, when I became a Christian. As a teen, I had my first “big” question, and I have had many more since then. I have gotten answers to virtually all of those questions so far. In this blog, post by post, I plan to focus on answers to those questions and also to give a Biblical perspective on issues. Sometimes the subject of a post will be based on something random that I have heard or read. Another kind of topic for this blog will be certain verses or passages in the Bible that are difficult to interpret. I have no specific plan for how often I will post. However, since I have very recently retired, I have much more time than I used to! I also envision a wide variation in length of posts.

My intended audience for this blog is Christians. However, if you are a non-Christian, you are more than welcome to read as well. I welcome comments from any and all readers. The main thing I ask is that if you disagree, please do so respectfully. Among other things, that means to use appropriate language. I reserve the right to delete any comments that do not meet these guidelines.

If you have a big question or an issue that you would like me to respond to, please let me know, and I will attempt to tackle it as well.