Can I accept Jesus as Saviour and then at a later stage submit to him as Lord? I only really became aware that this was an issue after reading John McArthur’s “You call me Lord.” However, on the internet you will discover that this is quite an inflammatory issue. Those who answer yes are accused of offering half a gospel/two stage Christianity/easy believism/cheap grace. Those who answer no are put under the label “Lordship Salvation” and accused of preaching salvation by works.
In a nutshell, the first view is that we must emphasise salvation by grace alone. We need a saviour and so all that is needed to receive eternal life is belief that Jesus has died for your sin. However, in response to that, either over time or because of a particular crisis point, a believer in Jesus will at some point fully recognise that Jesus is their Lord and that they must obey him fully in every area of life. The emphasis will be on Ephesians 2:8 and Romans 6:23.
The second position notes that Romans 10:9 asks us to believe in our hearts that God has raised Jesus from the dead and confess with our lips that he is Lord. This is the basis for salvation. I take the second position. I do not believe that you can accept Jesus as saviour without owning him as Lord. To attempt to do this is to try and separate some important things that belong together.
1. We cannot separate Christ’s ability to save from his position as Lord. It is exactly because Jesus is Lord of Time and Space, Lord of Life and Death and Creator of the Universe that he has the power to save.
2. We cannot separate The Father from the Son. In other words, we must acknowledge their distinction as persons without losing their unity in nature. The idea that we go to Jesus as Saviour first without encountering his Lordship risks falling into the age old trap of seeing God the Father as the strict one who makes the rules and Jesus as the Loving one who shows mercy. Or, in other words, we must not make the mistake of distinguishing the God of the Old Testament as a God of law and wrath from the God of the New Testament as a God of grace and love.
3. We cannot separate our need for a saviour from the reason why we need a saviour, specifically that we have sinned against God (The Father, Son and Holy Spirit). We have rebelled against his Lordship. Salvation means that the relationship between us and God is restored and that relationship includes his Lordship over us.
4. We cannot distinguish believers from disciples. Jesus commissioned his followers to go and make disciples. No—where is there any suggestion that these disciples are anything other than all believers in Jesus. There is no such thing as two stage Christianity. Once we get this firmly into our heads and hearts we are protected from the worst extremes of mystical experientialism and legalism.
I think there are two related areas for consideration. First of all, as I suggested here, Matthew 28:16-20 shows us that the Great Commission is not separated from the Great Command. How we make disciples is by baptising them (an immediate public submission to Christ’s Lordship) and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded.
Secondly, we probably want to talk through how we distinguish faith and obedience. You see, if we think that submitting to Jesus as Lord is asking someone to do something distinct and separate from receiving his grace and allowing him to come and take his rightful place in their life then we are likely to see Lordship in terms of us demonstrating an appropriate level of obedience through keeping certain commands in order to earn salvation. Yet that is simply not the point. The point is that faith means I place myself completely into his hands. Lordship is a trust or a faith matter. Do I trust him with my whole- life.
What this means is that salvation is not a transaction done at arms-length. I don’t come as close as necessary snatch the gift from his hand and then run away. The gift is Himself. I am united with him in new birth. I belong to him. He has redeemed me. This protects us from the fear that salvation can be lost. I am safe in his hands.