John MacArthur, C S Lewis, and the Me-Centered Object of Lordship Salvation
February 10, 2012, 4:16 am
Filed under: CS Lewis, John Macarthur, Lordship Salvation

written by David Bishop

C S Lewis placed great value on his performance. So much so, that he was convinced that his performance would in the end serve to save him. In the final addition to his children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis presented his readers with an account of how and why Aslan (Lewis’ analogous version of Jesus) granted a servant of Tash (analogous version of the Devil) entry into Heaven. As Lewis relates the account, Aslan permitted the servant of Tash to enter as a reward for having performed a lifetime of service to Aslan.

“He answered, ‘Child, all the service thou has done to Tash, I account as service to me. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.’” – The Last Battle, pg. 203

Lewis would later argue in The Great Divorce and in Mere Christianity, that Hell was locked from the inside. Each man, he would say, is free to either love God or to hate Him, and that is upon the basis of this free choice that man either locks the gates of Hell behind him, or accepts with gladness the gift of the “bleeding charity” already set before him.

Pastor John MacArthur rightly criticizes such teaching, calling it an attempt to escape one’s depth of sin, and the sinful desire to dismiss God’s standard of righteousness in the law. In reference to the account of the rich, young ruler, he writes:

“Jesus’ answer took the focus off the young man’s felt need and put it back on God. There is only one who is good. Then He slammed him up against the divine standard, not because keeping the law would inherit eternal life, but so that he would see how far he fel short.” – John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, pg. 84

 The New Testament gives a very different idea of performance than that which Lewis related. To put it bluntly, the only service God will ever accept is that which Christ alone performed.

Hebrews 10:4-7

It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’”

One of the most important and most interesting parables Christ told in respect to this truth of His performance is found in Luke 18. It is the parable of the two men who went up to the Temple to pray.

Luke 18:9-14

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee, Christ showed us, was a man who placed great value on his performance. He came to the Temple intending to offer a carefully prepared list of deeds he had performed. His intent was to justify himself before the sight of God by reciting to God each item on the list. I am not like other men – check. I fast twice a week – check. I give tithes of all I get – check. With supreme confidence, the Pharisee went home convinced that he was justified. After all, he believed that he had fulfilled the conditions and stated his case. He was not like other men. He was not an extortioner, an adulterer or an unjust man. Even if it was true that he still failed to measure up in the other areas of his life, he believed that he at least could be sure that the performance he had thus far rendered to God would be enough to convince God to save him in the end.

The tax collector, on the other hand, was convinced that his performance had no value at all. In fact, his performance did not even enter into the equation. He did not come with a carefully prepared list of deeds he had performed. He had no promises to try better. We know only one thing about this man’s status before God – he was a sinner. He confessed as much. He did not confess anything else about himself. His hope was not in some idea that God would provide him with the strength to behave better, because he appealed only to one thing – God’s mercy. He did not appeal to anything else.

Of these two men, the tax collector and the Pharisee, Christ told us that it was the tax collector who went home justified rather than the other. And notice those exact words. Christ said, rather than the other. He did not say, more than the other. It was not that the Pharisee got a few things wrong, but bless his heart, he still went home justified. Rather, it was that he went home just as condemned before God as he had been when he had first arrived. Nothing had changed. And yet he was still so certain that he had been justified! Why?

What is most interesting about this parable is how Luke introduces it. In verse 9, he tells us that Christ told this parable to those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. “ I notice that Luke does not say that they trusted in themselves for righteousness. Rather, he says that they trusted in themselves that they were righteous.

Although the idea of trusting in oneself for righteousness often lies at the base of why a person trusts in themselves that they are righteous, Luke wants us to see the difference. It isn’t so much that the Pharisee trusted that he could save himself by performing, but rather that he trusted his performance as evidence that he was righteous.

C S Lewis placed confidence in his ability to perform his way out of Hell and into Heaven. But this does not get John MacArthur or his fellow Lordship Salvationists off the hook, for although MacArthur rightly condemns Lewis’ gospel, he nevertheless holds to a version of the very same. If C S Lewis is the rich, young ruler, then John MacArthur is the Pharisee who went up to the Temple to pray.

“And we’ve been learning that justification then, or God imputing to us His righteousness, God putting His righteousness to our account, must be seen in two ways. First of all, it is a forensic declaration . . . but there is also a second aspect, and theologians would call this the ontology of justification, or the reality of it. And it is this: that God not only declares us as righteous, based on the satisfying work of Christ, but in Christ He also makes us righteous. That which is declared about us can only be declared because in fact, it is true that we have been recreated in His image.” – Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation, pg. 41

My question for John MacArthur is the same I would ask of the Pharisee. What is the basis for your conviction that God has declared you righteous? MacArthur answers for us, “Because it is true that I have been recreated in His image.” In other words, MacArthur tells us that we should judge the veracity of God’s declaration by measuring the veracity of our performance!

The Pharisee went home convinced that he was justified. We know that he was wrong about his conviction, but he was still convinced of it all the same. Why? The answer is rather obvious. Because he had performance! In his mind, he was not like other men, he fasted twice a week, he tithed a tenth of all his possessions, he did this and he did that, therefore he was justified.

How many times has someone tried to convince me that if I have really been justified, and have really been born again, then I will give evidence of this in my behavior? Faith without works is dead, after all; meaning in their mind that a person cannot really have been justified if they are also really a sinner. Pharisee, Pharisee, Pharisee. Such a person trusts in himself that he is righteous. The object of his faith is his own performance!

“One cannot get through a turnstile with an armload of suitcases. The narrow gate Jesus described is not wide enough for superstars who want to enter with all their valuables. Whoever we are, whatever it is we treasure, when we reach the narrow gate, we can expect to drop everything. The baggage of self-righteousness, selfishness, sin or materialism must be left outside, or we’ll never make it through.” – John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, pg. 50

The object of the Pharisee’s faith was his own performance. He looked to his own performance for the evidence that he had been justified. He trusted in himself that he was righteous, and so treated with contempt all those who fell flat in their performance.

On the other hand, the object of the tax collector’s faith was Christ alone. He did not go home convinced that he was any less a sinner. Rather, he went home convinced that Christ’s performance alone was so perfectly righteous, that by His death alone, Christ had secured once and for all time the salvation of all those He had died for. THE TAX COLLECTOR’S HOPE WAS NOT THAT HIS PERFORMANCE WOULD GET BETTER, BUT RATHER THAT HE WAS ONE WHOM CHRIST HAD DIED FOR! Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Lewis denied predestination and particular atonement. MacArthur affirms both. I applaud him for this. But we can have a gospel that is for the elect alone, and yet still have a wrong gospel because it denies Christ as its object! Any gospel that denies the fact that Christ died only for His elect to save only His elect is a false gospel. So is any gospel that asserts that the elect are the object of faith rather than Christ.

Christ did not die to make His elect worthy of salvation. If I am to be saved, then it will be because Christ, who is Himself alone the only one worthy of salvation, has died for me and has credited His righteousness to my account. The only evidence I have that He has done so is that He has brought me to agree with the fact that His performance alone was so blessedly perfect, that by His obedient act of death, He has once and for all time secured the salvation of all those upon whose behalf He died. In other words, I am justified by faith in Christ.

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1 Comment so far
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Jesus died for all mankind, therefore all mankind will be restored!! Keep digging into election and you will find that Jesus Christ is the elect one that represents everyone. As in Adam all die, so in Christ, ALL will be made alive. Jesus loves even his enemies, “father forgive them, did He?” I say YES he did!!! All will bow the knee and confess Jesus as Lord. Praise God. After all God wants all men to be saved, I believe God gets what he wants somehow someway. Blessings to yo brother.

Comment by Jesse




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