You’ve probably heard the accusation that faith alone in the cross of Christ alone as the sole grounds of legitimate assurance of salvation is just “easy-believism.” I hear it all the time. Anytime someone says that the proper ground of assurance of salvation is belief of the true gospel, the Lordshippers will swarm and start quoting Martin Luther (“We are saved by faith alone but not by faith that is alone.” which sounds like the biggest oxymoron I can think of) and James 2:17–“So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
I’m not going to deal with this text, or with Luther, because that is not what is at issue in this article. What is at issue is exactly what (the content) Lordshippers are decrying as “easy-believism.”
The “easy-believism” that the Lordshipper is decrying, simply put, is the false Arminian conditional gospel. Ask any Lordshipper what they mean by “easy-believism” and they will tell you that “one can believe that Jesus died for sinners, and yet without works that faith is dead.” This is absolutely correct. One can believe that Jesus died for sinners and still not be saved, but not because works are lacking. Instead, it’s because Jesus dying for sinners is not the gospel. Adding works to an underlying false belief won’t make that belief true, nor will it make that faith in the false belief effective.
Lordshippers are usually attacking the alter-call type scenario-someone has been called on by a false Arminian preacher to “make a decision for Christ.” The person “making the decision” must then, in the estimation of the Lordshipper, bring forth works in order to demonstrate that the faith exercised in “making the decision” was real or “alive” in contrast to the James 2 text.
There are all sorts of problems with this sort of thinking, not the least of which is that true God-given faith will always have the proper object of faith as it’s focal point and center-the death of Christ for His elect. Arminian “faith” if it can even be called that, is a faith in a false gospel, with a false christ, with a false assurance based on something in the sinner. Adding works to this “faith” won’t make it work.
See, the issue with the Lordshipper is not the content of the false gospel that someone claimed to believe-their issue is never that someone has believed in a false Jesus who cannot save and requires assistance. The issue with the Lordshipper is the required showing of works after having professed belief in that false gospel. Lordshippers also believe this false gospel, but because they have added works, they think that they are not guilty of “easy-believism.”
They use the term “easy-believism” as if it signals a substantive difference between their false Arminian gospel mixed with works, as opposed to just the false Arminian gospel. As if somehow they have legitimized their conditional falsehood by adding a lifetime of works. They also use it with disdain, as if the idea that works must be involved somehow makes what they believe “not easy.”
This view can most clearly seen in John MacArthur’s book “The Gospel According to Jesus.” In that book, MacArthur says that the gospel is an “invitation to slavery.” In fact, I will leave a link at the bottom to his website “gty.org.” which contains excerpts from this book, so that no one can accuse me of quoting him out of context. The first line on the page is-“the gospel is an invitation to slavery.”
The issue with this view is that it has replaced the offense of the cross with a call to moralism. For MacArthur and his little army of Lordshippers, the offense of the cross is no longer the completed and finished work of Christ on the cross for His elect alone, it is a list of things one needs to do to show that their “faith” was real. For the Lordshipper, the offense of the cross is not the fact that salvation is conditioned on the work of Christ alone. Instead, they have perverted the offense of the cross into a call for moral slavery.
The irony of this position is that the NT Pharisees of Christ’s day were legalistic moralists cut from the same cloth as the Lordshipper. Where is the stumbling block in Lordshipper’s gospel? It’s not there! They have turned moral slavery into the stumbling block. They think that is the one thing people are not willing to do to be saved-become moral slaves. They think that is what makes the gospel offensive to the natural man. But the Pharisees would have had no problem with the Lordshipper’s gospel, because their Christ is neither a stumbling block to Jews or foolishness to Gentiles. Their Christ is a Christ the flesh can love because that Christ calls on the flesh to respond and work for assurance.
The gospel is not an invitation to slavery. It is not an offer or an invitation of any kind. It is in no way conditioned on something in the sinner. It is a declaration of the finished work of Christ as the substitute and surety of His chosen people alone. That is the offense the cross-that nothing man has ever done can or will, in any way, be considered as a basis for saving him. That God has instead, only considered the work of Christ on behalf of His people as the sole basis for saving them. That man can do nothing to commend himself before God, that there is nothing he can do to make God look his way, that none of his best efforts count for one iota of merit with a Holy God.
There is nothing easy about believing that Christ completely satisfied God by His work alone and that the salvation of the elect alone is settled and guaranteed because of Christ’s merits alone. In fact, that message is impossible to believe without the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Christ said in John 3-“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” One can only believe the true gospel by being born again, and every one who is born again has a functioning faith with the true and proper object of faith-the cross of Christ for His people.
When Lordshippers decry easy-believism in the face of the true gospel, they deny Christ’s words in John 3. They also aren’t talking about the true gospel. They’re talking about their false Arminian gospel. They’re saying it’s easy to just believe in a false Jesus. And they’re right! It is easy, and indeed, within the capacity of the natural man to believe in the false Jesus of Arminianism. They think the way to fix the ease of believing in a false Jesus is to add works. They are dead wrong.