Not all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved
Fred Eichelman II
The purpose of this paper is to clarify the Scriptural writings on salvation. First is discussed common evangelical, errant teachings on salvation, their practice in evangelism, and the result of these errors. The Scriptural understanding of salvation is then presented. It is hoped that all falsehoods, including those long cherished, will be put away, and that Evangelicals may once again bring others to saving faith in Christ. The tone of the paper is meant to arouse all professing Christians to re-evaluate their beliefs and practices concerning evangelism.
Fallacy 1: "All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved." (1)
Evangelicals have long quoted this verse in justification to a simplistic approach to salvation. Unfortunately the correct understanding of 'call' is not understood or used in witnessing. The typical approach is to use this verse in order to coerce, manipulate, pressure or 'lead' a sinner into repeating a sinner's prayer. This sinner's prayer, in which the sinner is led in calling on the Lord, is commonly believed to be effective in securing forgiveness, salvation from sin, and salvation for the after life. If the sinner does repeat this ritual, and yet doesn't feel changed, born again, or assured of salvation, then the common approach is to give the sinner a monologue about the universality of sin and the universal need for a savior, after which the sinner's prayer is repeated.
Fallacy 2: "Accepting Christ leads to salvation." (2)
When one examines Scripture regarding salvation, it is amazing to see what little emphasis is placed on 'accepting', particularly as compared to its predominant emphasis in evangelical circles today. It was not always so. Evangelicals rely on the Scriptures as their authority, so it should not be surprising that there is Scriptural basis for accepting Jesus along with their other teachings. Questions remain, however. Is their emphasis Biblically balanced? Are the teachings adequate enough so as too avoid common misunderstandings that would lead to spurious, non-effective conversions?
Emphasis on accepting Christ is played out in practice by once again leading sinners through a sinner's prayer, even though such a practice is never illustrated in the Scriptures, and certainly not encouraged as an evangelistic technique. The modern day sinner's prayer is less than 150 years old!
Fallacy 3: "Receiving Christ leads to salvation." (3)
Again, it is surprising how little Scriptures speaks of 'receiving' Christ. Evangelicals encourage sinners to receive Christ, to open their arms to Him, to let him come him. Jesus is described as the wanderer outside the door knocking, won't you let Him come in? Again the questions remain: Are these teachings Biblically balanced, are they overly simplistic to the point that the Gospel message is obscured? Do they save people?
The result of these three-fold errors is what is commonly known as backsliders, or shallow Christians. Only 20% of Christians saved in large crusades persevere in Christ.(4)
The reason so many people revert to their former ways is because they did not experience saving faith. Scripture declares that saving faith perseveres (5). As opposed to becoming backsliders, they actually never entered into the kingdom! They were effectively inoculated against the gospel, and they become greatly resistant in later years to attempts to reform their lives. Their stronghold in later years is their insistence that they obtained salvation at an earlier age, through the described means mentioned above.
We must candidly ask the hard questions: Why do so many backslide? Has the gospel always been so ineffective? Is discipleship the answer? Did Christians throughout the ages spend the enormous amounts of time to continually prop up the new believers?
Discipleship is not the answer but a false hope, for an incorrectly diagnosed problem. You cannot disciple a non-believer! The problem is not hordes of people that mean well but lack a little direction, but people whose primary intent in life is their own happiness -- pure selfishness.
The errors in these fallacies
1. Not all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Scripture must be read and interpreted as a whole. We also read of God's condemnation of Israel, even of those who called out to Him. "They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail upon their beds. They gather together for grain and new wine but turn away from me.... Israel cries out to me, 'O our God, we acknowledge you!' But Israel has rejected what is good; an enemy will pursue him." (6)
Israel was playing the religious game, but God is not mocked. Their acknowledgment of God was ineffective.
Again, in Isaiah 58:4 "Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high." Some who called out to God and fasted so that He would hear and answer their prayers would be sorely disappointed. (7)
On the day of judgment, some will remind Jesus that they cast out demons in His name, but Jesus will say 'away from me you evil doers, I never knew you.'(8) They thought they were saved, but they had apparently ineffectively called on His name. They had not been saved from their evil ways, and nor had they been saved for Heaven.
Scripture affirms that it is not what we say or do that matters, but what we mean or intend is what matters. "For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have."(9) (emphasis added)
God looks at the heart, that is, the purposes of a man. Therefore, for calling on the Lord to be effective, the heart must have the right intention, it must be in the right place.
As further evidence of this truth, consider the thieves on the crosses. One asked to be saved but wasn't. The other asked to be remembered, but was assured salvation.(10)
The correct understanding of this verse is that all who call on the name of the Lord with a right heart will be saved. Teaching of what a right heart is must be accompanied by the use of this verse, or else in our fast-paced superficial world some will be lead astray into thinking that calling on the Lord is a lot like making a phone call.
2 Accepting Christ may not necessarily lead to salvation.
Again, Scripture must be accepted as a whole. Satan himself accepts Jesus. Satan knows him, as it were, on a first name basis. Satan barters with God over the life of Job. He talks with God, he listens to God, he makes agreements with God. He has a relationship with God. He knows more of God, and has experienced more of God and His presence than any human is likely to experience in this life. But is He saved? Does God's favor rest upon him? Of course not, the missing ingredient is accepting Christ as Lord. Accepting Christ as anything less is insufficient. Satan accepts Christ as an enemy, a powerful being, someone to be reckoned with. In fact, accepting Christ as anything less than Lord is an insult and is grounds for divine displeasure and punishment. The key is to accept Christ as the Lord and your Lord in truth.
To do so, in truth, is an important distinction that is too little stressed. Lordship is often glossed over by emphasizing the universality of the reign of Christ while neglecting the specific nature of Lordship over individuals. Lordship means changes in habits, speech, thought, friends, finances, work, time, family, public and private life. Sinners will naturally attest to the goodness of the reign of Christ and thereby deceive themselves into thinking they are saved. Most (that have heard of Jesus) would agree that God ought to be Lord, that He is worthy of our love, that love is good, and that one ought to love their neighbor as oneself. But if specific instances of Lordship are cited where their own personal interests must defer to His reign, then the true nature of the sinner surfaces.
As illustration, Jesus told of a father with two sons, both of which he tells to work in the field. The first says he will, and yet does not. The second son says he will not, and yet later does. Jesus makes the point that it is the second son that pleases the father, and not the first. For God, what matters is what you do with Lordship and not what you say about it.(11)
3 Receiving Christ may not lead to salvation.
Again, the same comments apply to receiving Christ. A friend of mine has received Christ as a good but fallible teacher. It is to his shame. One must receive Christ for what He is, and not for what one wants Him to be. He must be received as Lord of the Universe, thereby necessitating Lordship over the individual. The seven sons of Sceva (12) thought that they had received the power of Jesus yet they had not received Jesus as Lord. They were bloodied and disgraced for their impropriety.
The essence of salvation
Salvation is actually simpler than some vague accepting, receiving, or calling that manifests itself into a repeat-after-me sinner's prayer. The thief on the cross only said 'remember me' and yet was saved. Why do we make it so complex?
Salvation requires the sinner to change the purpose and focus of his life from one of self pleasing to God pleasing, to change from selfishness to loving God with all of one's heart, soul, mind and strength. This is the essence of repentance. It starts with an acknowledgment that one has not done that which is required: unselfish love towards God and one's neighbors. It ends with a determination of putting God's interests first in one's life, and treating other's interests similarly to their own. This determination will be a characteristic of the believer's life. (Not that the individual would not occasionally be overwhelmed by temptations, but that he would always, deep in his heart, hate his own selfishness. Given time, he will repent when shown the selfishness in any area of his life.) This determination will remain in the believer's life, otherwise he will have believed in vain.(13)
The way of salvation
This has significant implications for evangelism. The fullness of the Law (including Lordship) must be preached first so as to awaken the sinner to his own desperate situation. Once awakened, but before grace is offered, the beauty of the Law, of the Law-Giver, and of the just nature of his own damnation must be understood by the sinner so that the sinner agrees with God. Only then should the atoning work of Christ be presented. But preaching the atoning work of Christ should never undo the just requirements of the Law (Lordship). If the atonement is preached either without or before the Law, then the Law appears superfluous, it appears to be set aside by the atonement, rather than fulfilled by it.
Some common objections answered
Objection 1: If Lordship is the criterion for salvation, then how much Lordship is enough, 50%, 90%, higher?
Answer: 100% and nothing less. Jesus is either Lord of all, or Lord not at all.
Objection 2: If 100% Lordship is required for salvation, then that would imply that individuals must acquire a state of sinless perfection before they are saved.
Answer: Actually the criterion is the determination for 100% Lordship. One's mind can be determined towards a noble goal and yet still make mistakes and waiver temporarily from that goal. But one cannot knowingly purpose to give Jesus less than 100%. One cannot rest securely while knowingly reserving any area of one's life, however small, from His control.
Objection 3: God is patient with Christians, and deals tenderly with them to remove their sin, which takes many years and is a life long process. Why then, would God require all sin to be removed before one is saved?
Answer: God requires all known sin, either in the believer's or unbeliever's life, to be repented of. There may certainly be areas of unknown sin in a person's life when they first determine to follow Christ whole-heartedly. Indeed, this must be the case. Full knowledge of one's own heart cannot be expected at the beginning. But this is when the Holy spirit starts to patiently reveal hidden sin, for the believer to repent of immediately upon revelation.
Objection 4: We cannot love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength because we all have hidden sins.
Answer: God only requires us to repent of what we know is wrong, not to repent of what we don't know is wrong. Jesus commands us to be perfect (in love) (14) and whenever we have a command from God, that is the highest evidence possible that such a thing can be done.
Objection 5: Such teachings would require one to know one's heart to know if they were truly saved, but it is impossible or unlikely to know one's own heart.
Answer: It is true that we reap what we sow. If one is living a deceptive life now, then it will be difficult to know if one is self deceived into thinking that oneself is really living for Christ. As one grows free from deception one's confidence may also grow. If one remains deceptive towards their neighbors, then they should be insecure regarding their salvation. Scripture never promises eternal security for the believer while they persist in sin, rather it insists that those who persist in sin are not saved.(15)
Objection 6: We ought to place our confidence in Christ, not in our works.
Answer: "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves."(16) Scriptures does not tell us to examine Christ to see if we are in the faith, but to examine ourselves.
Objection 7: Such teachings emphasize the believer's work in salvation, whereas salvation is by faith alone, not by works lest any man should boast.
Answer: Actually a person is saved BY grace, THROUGH faith (17) , a faith that produces works.(18)
"You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone."(19)
Scripture must be read as a whole, and we cannot let an exaggerated overemphasis of one verse to lead us to disregard another verse.
One cannot truly put God first in one's life (repent) unless one has faith in God.(20) Repentance is necessarily birthed out of faith. Faith without repentance is useless.(21)
Objection 8: God will honor a simple prayer for salvation, even if the heart's attitude is wrong. For example, even if a person prays with selfish motives, such as to escape Hell and enter Heaven, God is still pleased to save him.
Answer: Scriptures define the conditions under which God promises to answer prayer. For prayer to prevail with God, it must both a) be done according to His will, and b) be done with the right motives. James (22) asserts that believers pray but do not receive because they are asking with wrong motives. No where does Scripture assert that this truth is put aside by a special sinner's prayer. If the sinner's prayer is prayed out of coercion or with selfish motives, it will very likely not be answered. It does not fulfill the conditions of prayer that obtains results. The person may later be saved, but not as a result of that selfish prayer. God would not encourage selfishness.
Why is Lordship salvation hard to believe?
The problem is not one of theology or hermeneutic interpretation. The problem is one of personal experience. For many of us to believe that the evidence of salvation is the freedom from the power of sin, is to believe that many of our friends, fathers, and mothers have died without Christ. Charles Spurgeon didn't put stock in conversions that didn't free people from sin, and neither should we today.(23)
Appendix: Lordship is not enough
Some would surmise that the essence of salvation is a grim determination to do what is right, to follow God no matter what. This is far from the truth. Such stoicism leads to cycles of furious Christian activity followed be troughs of inactivity. As a person's hopes of heaven are bolstered by their activity, their motivation recedes and so does their energy. This continues until their fears of Hell prompts them into their next cycle of activity.
This is a mark of self-serving Lordship ideology. The person hopes to repent their way into heaven. It is coupled with legalism and moroseness, dryness in prayers and feelings, powerlessness in changing lives for Christ. It is useless in obtaining salvation, because it violates the very means of salvation. "Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whosoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it." (24)
People who try to repent their way into heaven are only serving Jesus so that they will be saved, not serving Him even if they would not be saved. Would they still serve the Lord even if they foreknew they would be damned? Such a person should ask himself: 'Would I rather be in heaven with my sin or in hell without it?' 'Is pleasing God more important to me than my own personal happiness, peace, health or welfare?'
True Lordship attitude will cast a person to His feet, 'I am not worthy to be your servant. I delight in your will.' Joy in abandonment follows as one's last vestiges of self-centeredness, self-will are thrown to the four corners of the winds.
1. Romans 10:13.
2. John 13:20
3. John 1:12.
4. Comfort, Ray Hell's Best Kept Secret, Whitaker House, ISBN 0-88368-206-0, pg. 9.
5. See 1 Timothy 4:16 "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." Also see 1 Cor 13:7, Hebrews 10:36, and James 1:12.
6. Hosea 7:14-8:3. See also Malachi 2:13.
7. See also Jeremiah 11:14.
8. Matthew 7:21-27. See also Luke 6:46.
9. 2 Corinthians 8:12.
10. Luke 23:39-43.
11. Matthew 21:28-32.
12. Acts 19:13-17.
13. 1 Corinthians 15:2
14. Matthew 5:48
15. 1 John 2:3-4.
16. 2 Cor 13:5.
17. Ephesians 2:8,9.
18. James 2:18.
19. James 2:24.
20. Hebrews 11:6.
21. James 2:20.
22. James 4:3.
23. Moody, William R. The Life of DL Moody by his Son. Sword of the Lord Publishers, ISBN 0-87398-508-7, pg. 241.
24. Mark 8:35.