Only Jesus and “Lordship Salvation”

Only Jesus: What It Really Means To Be Saved
By John MacArthur
Thomas Nelson, 2020, 173 pp.

5 Stars

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.


  1. Master and Slaves
  2. What is the Gospel Message?
  3. You Must Be Born Again?
  4. In Spirit and in Truth
  5. Good News for Sinners
  6. To Seek and Save the Lost
  7. Repentance
  8. Faith
  9. Justification
  10. The Cost of Discipleship
  11. The Cross

Order from Amazon here.

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?


46 thoughts on “Only Jesus and “Lordship Salvation”

  1. Thanks for this, brother!

    I don’t believe repentance is a work.

    I believe that when I realized the sin I had committed by rejecting Him it literally took me to my knees in tears apologizing full heartedly! For me I believe that’s what repentance is-not a world-but full blown heat wrenching sorry 🙏🏻❤️

    How about you?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Beth! This is a topic near and dear because there is some confusion out there regarding repentance. It’s clear from God’s Word that a person MUST repent, turn from rebellion against God, in order so they can then trust in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone. It’s often said that repentance and faith are inseparable and are two sides of the same coin. I think that the people out there who object to “repentance,” incorrectly think of it as “penance” in the Catholic sense.
      Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m going to think out loud. Genuine repentance unto salvation is going to be different for each individual. Some people are overcome emotionally with sorrow by the reality of their sin. Others are more stoic personality types who finally see their sinful depravity and react very objectively. I think I was somewhere in between when I realized my own depravity. I said all that to say there’s a danger in believing that all individuals must experience great emotional sorrow in order to have genuine repentance. Of course, it’s the Holy Spirit who reveals our sinfulness through the Word in all cases. Thanks, sister, and have a blessed day! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    2. you spoke from your heart. to me, repentance is a complete turning away. it’s like a U turn. You were headed one way, but in repentance you turn the other way and choose what is right in God’s sight and you turn your mind to think right and to think differently, i think that is true repentance

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, Sophia. Yes, repentance is u-turning from sinful rebellion against God to trusting in God’s only way of salvation, Jesus Christ, as Savior by faith alone. Repentance (change of mind, turning from sinful rebellion to faith in Christ) is essential for salvation. Of course, after salvation we follow the Lord in obedience, albeit imperfectly in this life. There are some folks who, in their misinformed zeal, argue that repentance is a work, but a person can’t go down the right path until they do a u-turn (repentance) from the wrong path. It’s silly that we even have to discuss it, but some unwitting folks come across a few fundamentalist haranguer websites and drink the Kool-Aid.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you very much, Tom, for the review of John Mac’s recent book and insights into his teachings. I’m interested in this and looking forward to buying this book in our local Christian bookstore after this Pandemic (malls are closed here). I’ve learned a lot from John Mac, starting with the MacArthur Study Bible ESV, his sermons, his Strength for Today devotional, and web resources such as on election, justification, and sanctification. Like you, I don’t agree with everything. I’m not comfortable with his stand on climate change (a recall in one of his sermons in 2017) and young earth creationism.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Kent! One thing about JMac is you don’t have to guess about his views on various issues. I do appreciate his ministry and my wife and I listen to his daily radio message/sermon via the Grace to You app and also use his single-volume commentary and catch most of his books when they’re published. Another example of something I disagree with: In a recent sermon he came out strongly against individual/family observance of the Lord’s Supper in conjunction with virtual church service during this pandemic. I disagree with him on that but I respectfully let his view on that matter “roll off my back” and focus on his other valuable teachings. I leaned toward old earth creationism but have changed my belief to new earth creationism because of JMac and others.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re right about it, Tom, he does have a say on things based on what he sees in the Bible. We do agree with him on his core teachings, which is vital. Admittedly, we learned from him and are influenced by those teachings; having a change of perspective. When I read the Bible, I kept on checking his comments for each word or verse. On the age of the planet [not of the apes], I will wait what GOD says in heaven. But definitely, I don’t believe in HUMAN evolution; only for animals.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow you have a book review today too! Concerning your last comment on my blog: I was writing the review while still reading the appendix last night and the feedback from Christian leaders who was influenced by Lewis was kind of u fortune to an otherwise over all helpful work. I don’t think the author was trying to promote Lewis per se but you’re right about the climate of Evangelical’s esteem for Oxford academia and desire to have an intellectual celebrity really bends people out of shape.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I don’t mean to overstate the issue in regards to that specific book, but when I hear about evangelicals praising Lewis I’m off the launch pad like a rocket!
      RE: book review
      Yup, I enjoyed this small book quite a bit. It was peppered throughout with references to “Lordship salvation” which gave me a chance to reexamine that whole controversy once again. There’s a WordPress blogger who chastises JMac because of this controversy and who also regularly attacks “repentance” as a work so I had some extra fodder to chew on besides the book itself.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think people often misunderstand Lordship salvation and it doesn’t help that when JMac first began writing about salvation back in the 70s there were times he wasn’t as clear about the relationship of works, grace and repentance, etc. Still I feel over the last twenty years of seeing all the various sides that you have to really work harder in misrepresenting “Lordship salvation” (an unfortunate name) than misrepresent those who oppose it. Going to read your review now!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. My memory is getting hazy after all of these years. I remember listening to JMac occasionally on the radio back in those days, but I know I didn’t read any of his books and wasn’t aware of the Lordship salvation controversy.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Our IFB pastor didn’t call out JMac by name but he used to rag on Calvinism every once in awhile. I remember one sermon he went through the TULIP point by point in a very mocking and condescending manner. Lots of mocking and sarcasm in IFB preaching as we’ve discussed.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. The only thing it was useful for was playing “Trivial Pursuit” back in the 80s. I think I would do poorly with an updated version of T. Pursuit because I lost interest in pop culture after the 80s.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Good review; seems like a neat book from J Mac. I love your bullet points of stances he’s taken for the Gospel. I suspect you read a big percentage of Christian books that’s by Calvinists? I’m sure you know…I’m a calvinist lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, my friend. What??? You’re a Calvinist??? No way!!! LOL. Just kidding. Sure I know. Yup, the great majority of books I read are by Calvinists. One of the things I admired about the conservative Reformed was their strong stand against ecumenism, but that’s now changing with the younger guys.
      The Baptist church I started out at would be categorized as Arminian, but taught eternal security. The independent fundamental Baptists have all but disappeared (were too legalistic for me anyway) and I can’t think of too many SBC Baptists I would want to read. I couldn’t read anything from a Pentecostal or charismatic. Who does that leave? Conservative Reformed! Argh! 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gotcha. I’m more of a Reformed Baptist though the majority of my readings are authors who are conservative Presbyterians but then I’m already a Calvinist reading Calvinists.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The splintering of Baptists into various factions – General, Free Will, Reformed – is quite interesting. My own theory about the dearth of books from Baptists: The Puritans and Presbyterians valued academic training but the Baptists much less so. Academia/intellectualism was often attacked by Baptists (especially fundamentalist Baptists, although the leaders loved to append their honorary doctorate titles to their names). As a result we see relatively little in the way of academic works from Baptists compared to Presbyterians.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It seems teaching all over Asia that your description hold water. It also seems Presbyterians have small churches but their pastors write so much academic works and Baptist’s have more better preachers homilectically…


      4. RE: Baptist’s have more better preachers homilectically

        The Baptist preachers I sat under back in those days, including when we visited other churches or when evangelists or other pastors visited our church, ALL preached in fiery oratory very similar to Roger Copeland.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you Tom. An excellent book to read.
    Debates between Calvinism and Arminianism are, as far as a I am concerned, a waste of time. Only God saves, only He grants repentance and all glory goes to Him.
    The major problem today as I see it, is the false gospel preached today, creating so many false converts. It breaks my heart. I thank God for John Macarthur and others like him, proclaiming the true Jesus and the true gospel.
    And thank you Tom for,your faithfulness is proclaim the truth. May God continue to bless your efforts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Crissy! Yes, this was an excellent little book. I am regularly blessed by JMac’s books and sermons. I listen almost daily to his sermon podcasts when I walk the neighborhood. I absolutely agree with you that the debates over predestination/election and freewill are a waste of time. The Bible supports both so we’re not going to grasp how God does it until we go home. The disagreement I have with the Arminian side is their belief that a genuine Christian can lose their salvation. According to that view, salvation becomes merit-based, much like Roman Catholics believe.
      Thank you, Crissy, and God bless you and your service to our Lord!

      Liked by 1 person

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