Only Jesus: What It Really Means To Be Saved
By John MacArthur
Thomas Nelson, 2020, 173 pp.
In this small book, Pastor John MacArthur presents the genuine Good News! Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. As part of his presentation, MacArthur includes the teaching that genuine conversion includes repentance; turning from sinful rebellion against God to trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior AND also as Lord.
A little history. In the course of his ministry, MacArthur observed that MANY people had made a profession of Christ, but subsequently bore no spiritual fruit. These people lived their lives the same exact way that they did before they allegedly trusted in Christ. MacArthur believed many of these false believers were the product of “decisionism,” the evangelism tool used at some crusades and some churches whereby people are led to pray a “sinner’s prayer” followed by raising a hand or coming forward as a confirmation of their conversion. JMac stirred up a lot of controversy with his book, “The Gospel According to Jesus” (1988), in which he insisted that those who genuinely trust in Christ as Savior will also submit to Him as Lord and follow Him in obedience, albeit imperfectly while in this world.
Some evangelicals were horrified. They thought JMac was attempting to add works to the Gospel of grace and branded his message as “Lordship salvation.”* Actually, MacArthur’s point was quite Biblical (James 2:14-26). Those who genuinely trust in Jesus Christ as Savior will also desire to follow Him as Lord (albeit imperfectly) and will necessarily bear spiritual fruit. Throughout this new book, JMac once again emphasizes that obedience (always imperfect) will follow genuine salvation.
- Master and Slaves
- What is the Gospel Message?
- You Must Be Born Again?
- In Spirit and in Truth
- Good News for Sinners
- To Seek and Save the Lost
- The Cost of Discipleship
- The Cross
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Some Christians are critical of John MacArthur for more than this “Lordship salvation” issue (which is actually a non-issue if viewed Biblically). JMac offends some for his strong stands on the following:
- Ecumenism with Rome – He’s against it and regularly warns against Catholicism and its false works-righteousness gospel.
- Apostolic gifts of the Holy Spirit – He teaches the apostolic gifts ceased with the deaths of the apostles.
- Genesis – He teaches a literal interpretation, i.e., Young Earth Creationism.
- The role of women in the church – he teaches Complementarianism rather than Egalitarianism.
- Prosperity gospel – MacArthur teaches the prosperity gospel/Word of Faith movement is bogus, pseudo-Christianity.
I agree with JMac on all of the above. I “disagree” with him (only somewhat) on the following:
- Calvinism – JMac is an unapologetic Calvinist and teaches the Reformed view of election and predestination.
Hang on my beloved Reformed brothers and sisters! Please hear me out. Although I’m somewhere in the middle of the Calvinism-Arminianism debate, I definitely lean closer to MacArthur’s Calvinism than to Wesleyan Arminianism. I suspend any final decision on the issue because I can. However, JMac’s approach is actually quite tolerant. He acknowledges that God somehow integrates man’s freewill into His divine, sovereign plan. I can agree with that. Watch JMac’s excellent sermon on the topic, “Sovereignty and Freedom,” here. Thanks for the video, Crissy!
- Evangelistic invitations – As I mentioned above, MacArthur is against the “sinner’s prayer” and other types of evangelistic “promptings,” e.g., walking the aisle, raising the hand, signing a card, etc. In this book, he also criticizes using such terminology as “accepting Christ as Savior,” evidently feeling it’s too Arminian.
After trusting in Christ, I was discipled at a Baptist church where an invitation was given at EVERY church service or function. Not to do so would have been considered a serious dereliction. I was initially surprised when I learned that Reformed believers objected to invitations. I now understand. Invitations can certainly lead to false, disingenuous professions. But the prohibition against invitations also has shortcomings. See my 2018 post on “Decisionism” here. Also, “accepting Jesus Christ as Savior,” a term regularly used by many Baptists, is quite Biblical as I noted in this post.
Bottom line: I don’t agree with Pastor John MacArthur on everything. There’s probably not a pastor anywhere that I would agree with 100% on every single secondary and tertiary doctrine. However, I agree with Pastor MacArthur on MOST things, especially the most important things, and I’m regularly blessed by his sermon podcasts and books.
*See the interesting Wikipedia article on the “Lordship Salvation Controversy” here. Regrettably, I still come across people here and there who falsely accuse JMac of adding works to the Gospel of grace and who also usually have a warped understanding of “repentance” as being some type of work when the New Testament clearly and repeatedly teaches “repentance to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10). Repentance (Greek, metanoia) means “change of mind”; turning from rebellion against God to Jesus Christ. See my post on Biblical repentance here.
The article below nicely clarifies the “Lordship Salvation” issue:
What is lordship salvation?