In 1988 John MacArthur Jr. wrote the book, The Gospel According to Jesus. MacArthur was justifiably agitated over the state of Evangelicalism. He had been observing a disturbing trend for decades—namely that a dangerous “easy believism” had been embraced by countless churches. This easy-believismmade the lordship of Christ optional for salvation.
To refute this error, MacArthur set forth the biblical doctrine of the cost of true discipleship. He exposed prevailing errors regarding the Gospel that had been assimilated by mainstream Evangelicalism.
These errors could be summed up as follows: a.) Folks today are preaching that salvation is by faith in Christ alone without a commitment to Christ (pp. 53-55ff.). b.) Folks are preaching that it is possible to initiate your own regeneration (new birth) (pp. 44, 79ff.). c.) Folks are offering salvation with no mention for the need of repentance (pp. 159-161; 171-178). d.) Folks are separating justification from sanctification; as if justification may be found alone without sanctification (pp. 187-188). e.) Folks are offering Christ as Savior without mentioning the necessity of receiving Him as Lord; Creator; King; and Judge. As a consequence, “non-lordship” salvation divides up the Person of Christ (pp. 206-210).
MacArthur’s book is still causing a stir. Many readers of the book have repaired their ways; they no longer teach the errors listed above. As a result of the book; countless pastors and teachers are presenting the truth of the Gospel in a clearer fashion; they are explaining to their listeners that saving faith is inseparable from submission to Christ (pp. 86ff.).
In the following brief article, this author will contend for the fact that submission to Christ is expressed by submission to His Word; the Bible.
When Jesus preached The Parable of the Soils in Matthew 13, He was setting forth the role of the Gospel and the Word of God in true salvation. Without prepared soil; the hearer will have ‘no root in himself’ (13:21). Soil without repentance is shallow soil; without repentance there is no depth of root.
John MacArthur makes the following observation about the ‘soils’ passage, “Some people make an emotional, superficial commitment to salvation in Christ, but it is not real. They remain interested only until there is a sacrificial price to pay, and then abandon Christ” (MacArthur Study Bible, pp. 1416-1418).
The Parable of the Soils is about the necessity of true repentance for salvation. Many who gladly heard the Word make superficial commitments without true repentance says MacArthur. Without true repentance; their love of money and the world has never been broken (ibid.).
Without fruitfulness; there is no warranty or evidence of salvation. There were three soils who heard the Word with some enthusiasm; but only one of these was fruitful. This is remarkable! Only one of the three who responded to the Word positively was saved! The remainder came short of true salvation.
You can imagine why Christ’s words do not constitute a popular message today. Churches want to swell their ranks—as a result, the Gospel has been truncated so as to exclude the need for repentance.
The Gospel is often preached today as if Christ is standing outside the heart’s door and the sinner is completely in charge of the deadbolt. The helplessness and inability of the sinner—so faithfully preached by the Reformers and the Puritans, is missing from most pulpits.
According to the Word of God; the sinner’s spiritual deadness necessitates nothing less than aspiritual resurrection if a person is to be saved (Eph 2:1-7; Col 2:13, 14). No spiritually dead sinner ever willed himself spiritually alive. Spiritual life is a gift of God’s sovereign grace (Jn 1:13; 3:3-8).
Spiritual life is totally a function of divine grace—it is the impartation of a new life by reason of divine initiative. Every truly saved person owes his faith to his election; and not the other way around. Those who are the elect are given the gift of saving faith when they are graciously called by God (Phil 1:29).
Our election is an election unto holiness. It says in Ephesians 1:4 that God’s gracious choice of us (before the foundation of the world) was a divine choice unto holiness and blamelessness before Him in love.
That means that with the bestowal of God’s predestinating grace (that effectually called us to Christ) comes also the divine plan to make us holy; not only in heaven; but in this life. We are predestined by God to become conformed to the likeness of His Son.
Many quote Romans 8:28; but ignore its context. The context is that for the true people of God; the Lord is causing all things (whether losses; crosses; or blessings) to contribute to the ongoing production of practical holiness in the believer. The “good” toward which all things are working in the elect is conformity to Christ in holiness (Rom 8:29).
Practical holiness is not bestowed without the use of means. We don’t wake up and find it under our pillow in the morning. God uses His almighty transforming truth to change His people into the likeness of Christ. The Word of God is the means of our transformation and renewal into Christ’s likeness (Rom 12:1, 2).
When Christ prayed for those for whom He would die; He prayed for their sanctification by means ofthe truth of God’s Word (Jn 17:17). Every saved person has been appointed by God to become conformed to Christ’s moral likeness by means of the truth of God’s Word.
The upshot of this is impossible to miss—if we are elected to holiness; and the means of producing that holiness is the Word of God—then the Word of God will be enthroned in the mind, heart, and conscience. The true believer will be a doer of the Word.
The Scriptures will take up residence in the inner man—God’s truth will permeate the core of his being and hold sway there. The true believer’s ambition is that the Word of Truth will be the final arbiter in every one of his decisions.
This is why it is impossible for a person to have a “casual” relationship with the Bible and also be a saved person. When God predestined the elect unto salvation; He also predestined the very means necessary to produce practical holiness (sanctification) in them.
As a consequence; regenerated persons long for the pure milk of the Word. They live to have theWord implanted in them. They find study of God’s Word to be a delight because they meet the Lord between its pages in sweet communion with Him. They love the truth and pursue holiness. Like the Psalmist; they live the examined life—their lives are constantly placed under the scrutiny of Scripture’s bright light (1 Jn 1:5, 6).
Now back to the parable of the soils—we saw that although three of the soils responded favorably to the Word at first; only one of the soils was truly saved; it is the spiritually fruitful soil. The difference between the soils has been evidenced by the role of God’s Word in the life. Regarding the utter necessity of the role of God’s truth; listen to the words of Pastor Irfon Hughes of Wales:
In the unfruitful soils fruit-bearing was choked out by the cares of the world; they heard the Word but did not regard it as exceptional. The Word of God was treated as just one more thing in a catalog of things; and not as the supernatural words of God Almighty. Therefore the Word did NOT become an over-arching authority and absolute guide for all that is done in life.
Only in the true believer does the Word of God dominate exceptionally—to the eternal interest and welfare of the soul. In the unfruitful life; the only major crop promised is thorns. The thorns choke out the Word; choke out godly rule; choke out godly blessing; choke out godly communion. The Word is not in first place; but in last place. The only thing left is cares; pleasures; and the deceit of riches.
In order to be fruitful (which gives evidence of salvation), God’s Word must control your life; it must dictate your values in the areas of pleasures; possessions; and the cares of this world (false believers have but a ‘casual’ relationship with the Word).
Christ’s sermon on the soils shows just how revolutionary the message of the Kingdom is to a world preoccupied with cares; pleasures; and deceitful riches. Thus, when the revolutionary message of the Kingdom takes root in the heart; it produces a revolution; a literal revolt against the former control the world had upon us.
This internal ‘revolution’ changes everything! All of our presuppositions; our directions are now under the sovereignty of God. New creatures have a new hope; a new perspective; a new bias against sin; a new priority to follow the Lamb.
Like a tender garden plant; the seed of faith requires constant care and nurture in order for the Word to be fruitful. Submission to God’s rule is submission to God’s Word. Dynamic faith in His Word puts us in touch with His faithfulness—it makes God responsible for us. It puts us before His throne every moment.
The old world order is pressing; powerful; and persuasive. It’s attractive, it is magnetic, and hypnotic. But for the grace of God we would still be held by its sway. The old world order woos us—it courts us; it bids us to bring our time, talent, affection; our longings for excellence and security to its broken cisterns. But the true child of God is delivered from the love of the world by the power of God’s Word.
The message of the Word will never be fruitful unless the message is viewed as exceptional and exclusive—it must overtake all other interests in life. You will not bear fruit if the Word is just one important thing among many—it must reign supreme. There is no greater privilege than to have the Gospel; for it is the message of God breaking into the world to make covenants with man; to extend mercy to sinners.
It’s clear from Pastor Hughes’ message on the parable of the soils that in a saved person; the Word never comes along side of one’s life. Instead it invades; upsets the agendas of self; it dethrones every idol; it slays self-indulgence; unites to Christ.
This is the message of true repentance; sin must be repented of—radically displaced; OR any professed allegiance to the Word of Truth is but for show; it is token allegiance only.
In his book, Time for Truth; Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, and Sin, Os Guinness is extremely helpful in explaining the relationship between truth and repentance. Guinness indicates that we could cast this principle as an equation. If you love the truth; you will hate sin. If you love sin; you will hate the truth. Yes, truth has a moral basis. We either keep repenting when sin seeks expression in our lives; OR, if we don’t, sin will negatively affect our grasp of truth.
Our relationship to the truth is always dynamic and revealing. The two choices are mutually exclusive; love the truth so as to be set free by it; practice the truth so as to be conformed to is; OR, neglect and distort the truth in order to keep your sin.
God’s truth comes with immediate moral obligation; we must obey; or we are sinning against the truth. Therefore to love the truth is to be willing to have one’s heart searched by the truth of God (Ps 139).
Have you ever wondered why God’s truth is down right disturbing; why it makes a person uncomfortable? The answer is—truth is an ethical matter; God’s infallible truth shines a light of exposure on a man’s heart (Heb 4:12). It reveals motives and desires. It illuminates moral rebellion and corruption (Rom 3:19, 20).
God’s truth apprehends you; it ‘hunts’ you down; it finds out where you live and where you hidefrom God. Therefore, no one can be neutral regarding God’s truth—we love the truth or hate the truth. Jesus explains why men hate the truth (the light); He says of God’s testimony: sinful men prefer darkness because their deeds are evil (Jn 3:19-21). The natural man has an irrational preference for spiritual darkness.
When Christ speaks of the preference for darkness; He is highlighting the ethical nature of truth. In essence; Jesus is saying that evil deeds kill objectivity. Men feign objectivity; pretending to be truth-seekers; when in reality they hate the light—that is God’s testimony concerning the human condition.
So far we have established that to be in possession of the God’s truth is inseparable from true repentance. Without repentance; God’s truth will not dominate and transform the life.
The modern gospel neglects the fact that Christ rules His people by His Word—the Bible. We are to submit to His lordship by submitting to His Word. If Christ is to be one’s Savior; He must also be one’s Lord.
The assurances Jesus gave of heaven are stipulated upon a willingness to follow Him. In the modern Gospel; we hear little (or nothing) about the requirements for following Christ. Sadly so much of Evangelicalism regards the cost of following Christ to be a description reserved for Christian workers and missionaries rather than the norm for every believer.
In John 12 Jesus gives us the absolutes that must accompany true discipleship. “He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep to life eternal” (12:25).
This is sobering indeed—Jesus is saying that the person who is absorbed by the interests of life will encounter eternal ruin; while those detached from worldly interests will through Christ’s work attain to eternal life. Jesus goes on to say in vs. 26 that it is in the service of Christ and in union with Him that the reality of the above statement is experienced (Geneva Study Bible, p. 1687).
Numerous times Jesus sets the cost of true discipleship in the context of His own anticipated suffering on Calvary’s cross. Christ’s followers are to be so radically identified with Him that His cross has a present reality in their lives—not only for daily cleansing from sin; but also for separation from the world. His own cross is a paradigm or pattern for every believer.
Paul says that his ‘boast’ concerning his deliverance from the world is attributable solely to the cross of Christ applied to his heart: “But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).
This is heartening news! The cross has the present effectual power of delivering believers from the love of the world; and it is successful in doing so in the case of every single true believer. It is tragic that the modern gospel (in denying the cost of discipleship) has created a category of “saved people” who aren’t following Christ.
The cross applied never fails to issue forth in true discipleship. The genuinely saved individual willtake up his cross and deny himself daily (Luke 9:23). Here Jesus is setting forth the paradigm of the cross again—that cross-bearing is normative in the life of the true believer.
Genuine Christians are radically identified with their Savior; His victory over the world is to be their victory over the world as well (see also 2 Cor 5:14).
Many have misapplied this text; suggesting such things as, “My rebellious teen is my cross.” “Or my cancer is my cross.” But that is not the point Jesus is making. Taking up our cross and practicing daily denial of self is manifested in a willingness to obey Christ’s commands; a willingness to serve one another; and a willingness to suffer; perhaps even die for His Name sake (MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1531).
When the saint practices self-denial; he or she no longer sees the world as a source. There is not a thing in the world to feed the soul. That’s why the saint can say, he hates his life in this world (Jn 12:25). Bunyan called the world, “The City of Destruction.”
Jesus goes on to say in Luke 9:26, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
To be ashamed of Christ’s words is to yet be a part of the world’s value system. John tells us that the world can quickly recognize a person who is not ‘one of them’. “They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 Jn 4:5, 6).
Do you see what a divider of men the words of Christ are?
Now let’s review. To have Christ as Savior is to have Christ as Lord. To be saved by the Word of Life is to be subject to the Word of Life. To be ruled by Christ is to be ruled by His Word so that His truthdominates exceptionally in one’s life.
No one is saved; a lover of God’s truth; fruitful; ruled by the truth UNLESS he or she has repented and keeps repenting of sin.
No one is saved unless he or she is following Christ. Only those who hate their life in this world; who deny themselves daily; who take up their cross daily; and who are serving Christ—are truly following Christ (and are therefore saved).
The true believer (like the Apostle Paul) traces personal victory over the world, as well as his willingness to pay the cost of discipleship, to the power of Christ’s cross and resurrection. “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor 5:14,15).
That passage describes the cross-centered life. That is a life of devotion to Christ produced by His cross; a life of true discipleship in which Christ is Lord. Notice that all those who died when Christ died no longer live for themselves—but they live for Christ.
They have been delivered from a self-seeking; self-directed; self-indulged life.
We are living in a time of false conversions. Churches will do anything to stem the exodus of attendees. The temptation to flatter the religious unconverted is overwhelming. But we cannot do that. It is not love. It does not follow the example of Christ who faithfully and constantly warned of the danger of a false profession of faith.
I’m reminded of the words of John O. Anderson, author of Cry of the Innocents (a very excellent book on the crime of abortion). Says John, “In the O.T. there was at times very little difference between a false prophet and a true prophet. But the following contrast was always present; false prophets never warned their listeners.”