Friday, September 20, 2013

Steve Lawson - Almost Saved


In this video blog TETH examines Lawson’s concept of the “almost saved” and finds it to be at great variance with the teaching of salvation by sovereign grace taught in the bible.  A full transcript is found below with teth commentary in blue.


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LAWSON:  To let go.  To let go of anything that you would hang on to, and anything that you would be living for here – let it go.  You would give up dirt for diamonds.  To give it up and to come to Christ.

TETH:  We would certainly agree that Christ is worthy and that nothing in this world can compare to the supreme value of the Lord Jesus Christ himself.  But is this required for one to “Come to Christ” as Lawson is implying?   To ask this question more plainly – if man is DEAD in trespasses and in sins, how can he ever comply with this requirement?   And if he can comply, can he be said to be totally depraved?  This is a major problem for Lawson – given that he claims to believe in the abject inability of man.

LAWSON:  And it’s not enough simply for you to intellectually know the truth.  You must surrender your life to the truth.

TETH:  So according to Lawson, one must surrender their life to the truth in order to obtain eternal salvation.  Surrendering one’s life to Christ is undeniably a work of righteousness that involves the human will that is actually performed by man.  This runs headlong into Paul’s testimony that our eternal salvation is “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Tit 3:5) and “not of him that willeth.” (Rom 9:16)  This is the dilemma of the NeoCalvinist – on the surface they make numerous affirmations that salvation is all of God, but upon closer inspection their insistence upon one’s total surrender betrays this claim by requiring a willful work of righteousness in order to obtain eternal life.  The NeoCalvinists and Lordship Salvationists have been so liberally marinated in this type of nonsense for so long, that the contradiction of such claims seems to have lost all efficacy.  We would invite them to soberly re-examine the matter.

LAWSON:  It’s not enough for you to simply have the facts about Christ.  You must go all the way and have faith in Christ.

TETH:  So one must “go all the way” in order to “have faith in Christ.”  This implies that Lawson’s beloved “saving faith” is dependent upon something man must “go all the way” in order to acquire.  This is nothing less than a mixture of man’s works with the saving grace of God.  It is a denial that regeneration precedes faith and is therefore NOT in keeping with the salvation by sovereign grace taught in the scriptures.  Let’s listen on.

LAWSON:  It’s not enough for your mind to have information about the truth.  Your very soul and your will must be surrendered and given to actively follow Christ every day.  That is the heartbeat of these four verses.

TETH:  So in order to have eternal life one’s will must be surrendered and given to actively follow Christ every day to be eternally saved?  This raises a number key observations: 

  1. How can an unregenerate man surrender?  If he can, then he is not totally depraved. 
  2. If a man is regenerate and thus able to surrender, he is already in possession of eternal life and thus his act of surrender is too late to account for how he obtained eternal life.
  3. If a man is regenerate the Lord has given unto him eternal life and he shall never perish (John 10:28), thus no act of surrender is required to maintain his state of grace.  If such surrender is required to maintain a state of grace then our eternal salvation is in some sense based on our works.  This flatly contradicts Paul who says we’re saved “not according to our works.” (II Tim 1:9)
  4. If remaining sin is evidence of a lack of commitment to Christ, and it undeniably is, then Christians are never totally committed unless they walk in sinless perfection.  The bible is clear that no-Christian walks in sinless perfection (I John 1:8-10, Romans 7).  
Lawson’s statement directly contradicts the notion of salvation by sovereign grace.  The Lordship Salvation camp commandeers a tremendous amount of sovereign grace language and in so doing veils itself in a shallow veneer that gives it the appearance of promoting salvation by grace to the na├»ve and unsuspecting.  But when this sovereign grace language is held alongside the underlying claims of Lordship theology they are found to be flatly contradictory.  I’ll try to state this as plainly as possible – mere affirmations of “grace” or “depravity” or “sovereignty”, etc. are not sufficient to establish that someone is preaching salvation by grace.   It is not the terminology that one uses that determines the preaching of grace, but the reconciliation with those claims with the bible and with each other.   If one claims grace for eternal salvation but then preaches the necessity of works for eternal salvation, then they are NOT preaching eternal salvation by sovereign grace – and the Lordship Salvationist is most certainly guilty of the latter, irrespective of their attempts to explain it away via antinomy, paradox, tension, or mystery.

LAWSON:  It is a calling out to people who are halting between two opinions.  Who are in the valley of decision.

TETH:  Who are these people to whom this call is being made?  Again, if they are unregenerate and depraved, they are utterly incapable of response.  If they are regenerate, they already HAVE eternal life thus whatever this call might require of them, it cannot be requiring it for the purpose of granting them eternal life.  It’s really just that simple. 

LAWSON: And whose loved ones and whose families are calling them back to their old way of life.  And how hard it is to cut the ties and to say no to friends and to say no to peers. And to be willing to step out of the crowd and to singly, individually give your life to Christ.  That’s what God is calling you to do.

TETH:  Is Lawson suggesting that one must “give their life to Christ” in order to have eternal salvation?  How is this any different from the Arminian roots of Dallas Theological Seminary from which his theology sprang?  Is this the teaching of sovereign regeneration in which the sinner is wholly passive and God alone acts?  Clearly not.  If salvation is the result man doing something that God called him to do, then it most certainly is according to our works, but Paul says it is not according to our works.  

Unless a man understands that eternal life comes to men who are yet in their sins and in a state of abject rebellion, he has absolutely no understanding of the saving grace of God taught in the scriptures.   Any good thing a man ever does is the result of regeneration.  Indeed if it is not, then man is NOT totally depraved, and Paul was wrong when he said “there’s none that doeth good, no not one.” (Rom 3:12)  The Lordship Salvationists have absolutely NO GRASP of this point and their assertions are in direct contradiction to it.  

LAWSON:  God is calling you to leave the world behind and to step out of the crowd and be willing to say no to peer pressure and no to friends and no to the applause of this world, and to be willing to follow Jesus Christ because he is the greatest and he is the most supreme and Jesus plus one always makes a majority.

TETH:  It is certainly true that Christ calls for obedience, but to assert that this is a requirement to obtain the free gift of eternal life is sheer nonsense that flatly contradicts the precept of total depravity.

LAWSON:  If you’ve got Christ you’ve got everything, and if you don’t have Christ you don’t have a thing. And so in light of that the writer of Hebrews gives us this saving proclamation and what it is, is, really   it’s a gospel invitation.

TETH:  So there you have it.  Lawson believes this is a saving proclamation – which in his terminology means an ETERNALLY saving proclamation.  Consider this:  if the gospel is an offer of salvation to all of humanity, and the offer is contingent upon someone “leaving the world behind,” “stepping out of the crowd,” etc., all of which are good and righteous things to do, then salvation is contingent upon works, not grace.  This is so far removed from the notion of salvation by sovereign grace that it makes a remarkable commentary regarding the average NeoCal evangelical – namely that they have been so awash in a mixture of law and grace for so long that they can no longer distinguish between the two even when they are set alongside one another in the most explicit way possible.  This is the danger of paradox theology or antinomy-Calvinism.  Once irrationalism is embraced, God’s children become tone-deaf to the notion of reasoning from the scritpures and lose all sense of objectivity where right division is concerned.  I believe it is for this reason that Jesus Christ warned his sheep to “Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” (Mk 4:25-26)  It for this reason that I believe the NeoCalvinist theology of Lordship Salvation is so injurious to God’s people. 

LAWSON:  This is a gospel invitation like when Jesus would say in the Gospel of John “If any man thirst let him come unto me and drink and out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.”

TETH:  Brother Lawson, are all men spiritually thirsty?  If so, they are not totally depraved and thus you’re not teaching sovereign grace theology.   If not, then this invitation is clearly not issued to all of humanity.  So which one is it? 

LAWSON:  This is one of those gospel invitations like when Jesus said, “Come unto me all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

TETH:  Brother Lawson, are all men weary and heavy laden in the way the Lord has in mind in the Sermon on the Mount?   If they have such spiritual sensibilities then they most certainly are NOT totally depraved.   If, on the other hand, all men do not have such sensibilities, and clearly the do not, then this is not a gospel invitation to all of humanity.

LAWSON:  This is one of those gospel invitations like when Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. “

TETH:  Brother Lawson, if a man can enter by the narrow gate, is he totally depraved?  This same issue crops up time and again in Lawson’s theology.  

LAWSON:  So the arms of the writer are extended open to the listener.  And in reality these are the arms of God beckoning, calling sinners to come all the way to faith in Jesus Christ.

TETH:  Again, in each of these instances the appeal is made to a specific audience, namely the thirsty, the laboring and heavy laden, and those able to enter.  It is impossible to assert that any of these groups designs all of humanity without violating the sovereign grace precept of total depravity.  Lordship Salvation desperately wants to use the moniker of salvation by sovereign grace, but once one looks at its underlying claims it bears far more resemblance to the WMO, works-based, decisionism which gave it birth and from which its ministers failed to fully extricate themselves.  

LAWSON:  So he writes, beginning in verse 1, “For this reason, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard.  So that we do not drift away from it.

TETH:  Is Lawson going to suggest that this passage is saying that those saved by sovereign grace can drift away and lose their eternal salvation?

LAWSON:  For if the word spoken through angels proves unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience receives a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?  After it was at the first spoken through the Lord it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to his own will.”

TETH:  So God’s people, born of the spirit, who have eternal salvation, may not escape the damnation of hell if they don’t do something?  I though salvation by grace taught that the Lord Jesus Christ did everything required to perfect his people? (Heb 10:14, Rom 5:19)

LAWSON:  The key word in this section is found in verse 3.  Second line.  It’s the word “neglect.”  How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

TETH:  Actually, the key word in understanding the application of this passage is not "neglect" but "we" - "how shall WE escape?"  Paul is addressing Hebrew believers and thus this passage has NOTHING to do with losing eternal salvation but is an admonition to abide in Christ and to walk in gospel obedience in this life.  

LAWSON:  How sad it is to be “almost saved.”

TETH:  There is nowhere in the bible that teaches that any man has ever been “almost saved.”  The reason this is true is because eternal salvation is a binary proposition.  One is either eternally saved or they are not.   There are absolutely NO GRADATIONS of eternal life.  The confines of eternal salvation are directly tied to election, redemption and regeneration all of which apply equally and fully to God’s children and to none other.  Stated as plainly as language will allow – there is simply no such thing as being almost saved – because Christ’s work was perfect (Deut), it saved his people from their sins (Matt 1:21), and it did not save anyone else.

LAWSON:  Uh, the greatest tragedy in life, one of the greatest tragedies in life is to almost attain to something that you desperately need but to fall short.

TETH:  That is a great tragedy, true enough.  But is our eternal salvation something that “we attain?”  If it is, how is that salvation by sovereign grace.  How can a man fall short of a salvation that he had nothing to do with and which was performed in totality by his substitute?  This is just abject nonsense that betrays Lawson’s misunderstanding of the salvation by grace taught in the scriptures. 

LAWSON:  How said to almost catch a plane, but to be left behind in the terminal.  How sad to almost escape drowning, but to be engulfed in the waters.  How sad to almost pass the final exam, but in the end to fail the course.  These are all great tragedies but the greatest tragedy of all is to be almost saved.  To be almost a Christian and then to be engulfed in a lake of fire.

TETH:  The physically dead do not almost catch planes as a result of their efforts, almost escape drowning as a result of their attempts to swim, or almost pass exams as a result of their studies.  Likewise the spiritually dead are utterly incapacitated to do ANTYHING spiritual.  They don’t get ALMOST saved.  They never move off the starting block toward salvation – because they are spiritually dead.  There is nothing they can do, neither is there something more the can do, to obtain eternal salvation.  It is frankly astonishing that this teaching is passed off as salvation by sovereign grace.  It speaks loudly to how professing Christendom is completely pickled in works-based salvation – even the portions of Christendom who claim to be purveyors of sovereign grace theology.  

LAWSON:  And yet countless multitudes of well-intended people will almost reach heaven.

TETH:  Lawson is dead wrong here.  Heaven is populated on the merits of Christ’s accomplishment on behalf of his people plus absolutely nothing else.  If Christ did not atone for someone’s sin, then they never made the first or faintest effort toward heaven in any respect whatsoever.  To assert that some of the non-elect “almost reached heaven” is a blasphemous statement that denies their depravity.  How many logical denials of depravity will the adherents of Lordship theology endure before they wake up and smell the leaven of works?  Are God’s people so utterly shallow that they cannot recognize this contradiction when it crops up over and over and over again?   Or are they just so enamored of man following that they are unwilling to reject this false teaching?

LAWSON:  They will miss heaven by 16 inches – the space from their head to their heart.  They know the truth of the gospel in their head, but they failed to appropriate it in their heart.  To be almost saved is to be entirely lost.

TETH:  So man must “appropriate” gospel truth “in his heart” in order to obtain eternal life?  How can an unregenerate man do this, brother Lawson?  It’s the same issue over and over again.  If he’s unregenerate and totally depraved, he can’t.  If he’s regenerate, then he’s already got eternal life and thus whatever one may call upon him to do cannot be done for the purpose of having him obtain the eternal life he ALREADY HAS.  Frankly this error is so ridiculous that it’s maddening!

LAWSON:  They are, they almost believe, they almost repent, they’re almost converted, but they are utterly lost.   How sad it is.  And I want you to know that hell is filled with people who were almost saved. The road to hell, it has been said, is paved with good intentions.  They are, it is paved with people with their intentions, they never intended to go to hell, they never wanted to go to hell, they knew the truth of the gospel, they maybe even grew up in a home where the gospel was taught and where the gospel was embraced and they grew so close to the gospel, they were almost saved but they never came all the way to make that firm surrender and commitment of their life to Christ.  And they are entirely lost.

TETH:  Brother Lawson, no man is ALMOST saved, because ALL of the work of salvation is done by Christ and what he starts, he finishes.  The concept of “almost salvation” is a completely unscriptural fantasy that finds its roots in Arminianism, not in the scriptures.  To prove the concept of “almost salvation” you will have to prove that man in his natural state is capable of performing at least one single act of spiritual merit.  To prove that point is to deny depravity and to be outside the realm of salvation by sovereign grace.  To concede that point is to undermine any claim to the validity of “almost salvation.”  Which is it going to be?

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IN CLOSING

Teth has spent considerable time in recent years exposing the theological errors and inconsistencies of NeoCalvinism’s Lordship Salvation.  But I’d like to take this opportunity to state this as plainly as possible so that there can be no misunderstanding on this point:
Lordship Salvation – as taught by MacArthur, Washer, Lawson and a host of other popular NeoCalvinistic evangelicals, is a theology that undeniably mixes law with grace and posits works of righteousness as a requirement for acquiring eternal salvation, in spite of appeals to antinomy, mystery, paradox or tension, which serve to obscure that fact.  
To make matters worse the Lordship debate has been centered around the false dichotomy that one must either be Lordship Salvationist or a Free-Grace Arminian.   But this is not a dichotomy at all, there is a third option.  This option embraces that:

  • Salvation is by sovereign grace and has NOTHING to do with anything done or not done by a man.   Rather it is based SOLELY on the work of the Lord Jesus Christ plus absolutely nothing else.  Period.  End of story
  • The Gospel is NOT a WMO of salvation to all of humanity, indeed it can’t be, because Christ did not die for all of humanity.  It is rather the proclamation of the finished work of Christ on behalf of his people.
  • Any good thing a man does, is done by a regenerate man who ALREADY has eternal life and so did not perform any good thing to either get or maintain his state of grace.  


There is a third option that embraces salvation by grace in its uncut, non-contradictory purity.

We invite you to join the Primitive Baptist Church.


For more on the Primitive Baptist Church check out the Articles of Faith Commentary and What is the Gospel? available here at theearstohear.blogspot.com and theearstohear.com as well as on theearstohear’s YouTube channel.


3 comments:

  1. Good contrast at every point going back to the Ordo Salutis found in scripture. Lawson certainly has energy in rhetoric as if at half time he rallies the team that is almost winning to do all they can to finish as the winner. But, all of his time and enthusiasm is spent telling people what they have to do to be saved, rather than what God, through Jesus Christ, has already done for them.

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    1. I could not agree more, brother. It probably bears repeating that I do not question Brother Lawson's sincerity or profession of faith. I do not doubt that he loves the Lord and that he is endeavoring to serve Him as best he can. That said, I do believe the teachings of Lordship Salvation and NeoCalvinism that he promotes are both illogical and damaging to the Lord's flock. Lordship doctrine undermines assurance by pointing men to the degree and consistency of their personal commitment to God rather than to the absolute efficacy of Christ work as a means of assurance.

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  2. TETH Can you please explain to me your view of how an unregenerate person goes from the state of totally depraved, which I too agree with, to becoming regenerate?
    If someone was to preach the gospel and to exhort and command all everywhere to repent as required in Acts 17:30, would you charge them like you do with Lawson with not believing in total depravity? I wouldn't. The bible clearly doesn't. God grants faith and repentance to the elect through hearing the preaching of the word of Christ Romans 10:17.
    All Lawson is doing is what the bible says, to go out into the highways and hedges and compelling people to come in Luke 14:23.
    Yes he believes in total depravity. And yes, he compels sinners who are depraved to come in, to come to Christ, to repent, to believe, to turn from their sin. God sovereignly does all the work through the spirit and grants repentance and faith to all who were appointed to eternal life. No violence is done to total depravity or to the work of salvation being from God alone.
    I trust you will find this interesting and well worth a listen
    http://www.shepherdsconference.org/media/details/?mediaID=6779

    Kindly,
    Andrew



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