Dr. John MacArthur Teaches Works Salvation!

Dr. John F. MacArthur is the Pastor of the Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California. According to a statement made on the cover of one of his books, ďhis Bible teaching and tape ministries reach millions across the globe.Ē He is the author of many books (most of which are published by Moody Press) including several full length commentaries on certain New Testament books. His local church is large, but his influence goes far beyond his local church because of his published writings and public tapes which are distributed widely. According to the flyleaf of his book, The Gospel According to Jesus, ďHe is heard daily on the national radio program ďGrace to You,Ē and more than 7,000,000 of his audio cassette tapes have been distributed worldwide.Ē He is also the President of The Masterís College and Seminary. He is a member of the IFCA (Independent Fundamental Churches of America).  Dr. MacArthur is nationally known for his position in support of Lordship Salvation.  Our desire is only to "prove all things", by testing all things by the Word of God, to see if they are true (1st Thessalonians 5:21; Acts 17:11).  Dr. MacArthur's teachings have a worldwide impact, and his doctrines should not be embraced without subjecting them to the searchlight of the Scriptures.

Dr. MacArthurís position on Lordship Salvation has been made very clear in his published book, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS. He has also made statements in some of his other published writings and tapes that relate to this subject, some of which are quoted below:

"The Greek word translated 'belief' is not referring merely to intellectual attainment or mental acquiescence but a wholehearted acceptance of everything that is implied in the claims of Christ. You need to believe that Jesus is God and that He died for your sins, committing your whole life to Him in sacrifice and serving Him as Lord." (Assurance of Victory--1 John 5, Moody Press, p.12).

"Submission to the will of God, to Christís lordship, and to the guiding of the Spirit is an essential, not an optional, part of saving faith" (EPHESIANS, p. 249).

"Saving faith is a placing of oneself totally in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 1-8, p. 205).


Dr. MacArthur confuses repentance with the fruits of repentance, and confuses faith with that which faith ought to produce. He confuses saving faith (which takes place in a moment of time--Rom. 13:11; Eph. 1:13) with discipleship (which is a lifelong process). As Miles Stanford has said, "Lordship salvation is not the childlike faith of John 3:16. It rightly insists upon repentance but wrongly includes a change of behavior IN ORDER TO BE SAVED. No one questions that there must be a sincere change of mind, a turning from oneself to the Saviour, but Lordship advocates attempt to make behavior and fruit essential ingredients of, rather than evidence of, saving faith" (Miles Stanford, in his review of The Gospel According to Jesus).

MacArthur defines REPENTANCE as turning from your sins (Faith Works, p. 74). He also teaches that true repentance "inevitably results in a change of behavior" (Faith Works, p. 75). But is not TURNING FROM SINS a CHANGE OF BEHAVIOR? Is MacArthur confusing the RESULTS of repentance with REPENTANCE itself? Is not he confusing the FRUITS with the ROOT? MacArthur is more accurate when he says, "true repentance involves a change of heart and purpose" (Faith Works, p. 75). The inner change will produce an outward change.


What is the Gospel message according to MacArthur? According to him, what must a person do to be saved? Does his answer match Acts 16:31 or does he teach something else? Here is what he says:

"Let me just say simply, that when you present the gospel, all of this Lordship discussion aside, a presentation of the gospel is simply this: you are calling on someone to TURN FROM THEIR SIN and FOLLOW JESUS CHRIST. Thatís it! Turn from your sin and follow Jesus Christ!....That is all we are asking: TURN FROM YOUR SIN AND FOLLOW JESUS CHRIST....What you talk to an adult about is the same thing you tell a child: you need to turn from your sin and follow Jesus Christ" (this is transcribed from a taped question and answer session given on 9/25/90 at the Calvary Baptist Church in Brewer, Maine, Rev. Larry Pawson, Pastor).

Notice that MacArthurís emphasis is upon WHAT MAN DOES (turning from sin, following Christ) rather than upon WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE. His emphasis is upon MANíS COMMITMENT, rather than upon the Person and work of Christ and the response of faith to that Person and to His work. His emphasis is upon DO, but a true gospel message should emphasize DONE (John 19:30). It is not our COMMITMENT that saves us; it is CHRIST who saves us. Following Christ is a result of salvation, not a condition of salvation. Before we FOLLOW CHRIST in discipleship we must COME TO CHRIST for salvation. Before we COME AFTER CHRIST (Luke 9:23) we must COME UNTO CHRIST (Matthew 11:28). The term "BELIEVE" does not mean "turn from sin and follow Christ." It means "trust fully, rely upon, resting oneís whole weight upon the WORTH, WORD and WORK of Jesus Christ." We must not re-define saving faith to make it some kind of a "work-requirement" for salvation. Justification is for the person who "worketh not, but believeth" (Rom. 4:5).


MacArthur has written the following statement which is confusing at best and heretical at worst:  

"Salvation isn't the result of an intellectual exercise. It comes from a life lived in obedience and service to Christ as revealed in the Scripture; it's the fruit of actions, not intentions.  There's no room for passive spectators:  words without actions are empty and futile...The life we live, not the words we speak, determines our eternal destiny" (Hard to Believe, p. 93).  

To say that salvation comes from a life lived in obedience and service to Christ seemingly indicates that salvation comes from something that man does.  The Bible says that salvation is "not of yourselves...not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).

MacArthur's formula, as derived from the above statement, seems to be as follows:

Man's obedience + man's service to Christ = SALVATION

Does not this formula indicate salvation by works?   The Bible consistently teaches that salvation is not based on man's works, but on the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

MacArthur, in the second part of the above quote, makes a statement that is even more problematic:  "The life we live...determines our eternal destiny."   The implications of this statement are startling.  If MacArthur's statement is true, then hell is going to be the eternal destiny of every human being!   According to Romans 6:23 we have all earned for ourselves eternal death.   The life we live does not determine our eternal destiny. 

The Bible makes it clear that it is our relationship to the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, or our lack of such a relationship, that determines our eternal destiny.  In Matthew 7:23 Jesus says to a group of those professing salvation, "I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity."   They never had a saving relationship to Jesus Christ (John 17:3).  God does not grant the sinner salvation based on the kind of life he lives, otherwise none of us would make it.  Living the right kind of life is the fruit of salvation, but never the cause.  MacArthur's wording seems to make it the cause or the condition of salvation, a teaching that would be totally contrary to the gospel of grace. 

William Newell summarizes the essence of God's gracious salvation as follows:

Christ's work, though on behalf of man, was wholly His: glorious and perfect, yet to be received by man in its blessed results of eternal pardon, peace and blessing. To be received, we say, by simple Faith, unmixed with human effort. A humbling process, indeed!  For man must go out of the righteousness-producing business, and rest wholly and forever on the work of Another, even Christ.  (Hebrews, pages 238-239).

I have since found out that the paragraph under discussion (page 93 in Hard to Believe) was not written by MacArthur, but erroneously made its way into the text by way of an editor. Iíve been told that subsequent editions of the book have corrected this. Obviously MacArthur is fully responsible for anything printed in a book that bears his name as author, and he should have carefully read the final proof before allowing it to go to press.


John MacArthurís views on child salvation are of interest because they seem to relate to his understanding of Lordship salvation. On September 25, 1990 at the Calvary Baptist Church in Brewer, Maine (Rev. Larry Pawson, pastor), Dr. MacArthur was involved in a question and answer session which was publicly taped. During that session he said the following about child salvation:

"Now let me say this and I donít want you to panic when I say it. Saving faith is an ADULT ISSUE. Saving faith is an ADULT EXPERIENCE. Salvation is an ADULT EXPERIENCE. Am I saying that a child cannot be saved? Iím saying that salvation is a conscious turning from sin to follow Jesus Christ with an understanding of something of the sinfulness of sin, its consequences and something of who Jesus Christ is, what He has provided and that Iím committing my life to Him. At what point can a child understand that?...I tell parents that salvation is an adult decision....There is no illustration in Scripture of childhood salvation. There is none. People want to throw the Philippian jailer and his household; well thatís talking about his servants so there is no reference there about his children. So there is no such thing as a childhood conversion."

In fairness, MacArthur is not saying that a child cannot be saved. But he does seem to be saying that if a child is to be saved he must understand as an adult, make an adult decision and have an adult experience. [The Lord Jesus taught that to be saved adults must become as little children (Matt. 18:3); MacArthur teaches that to be saved children must become as adults] How does this relate to His teaching on Lordship? If salvation is by simple child-like faith in the Saviour, then child salvation is no problem. On the other hand, if salvation involves obedience to Christís commands, surrendering to Christís Lordship, fulfilling the demands of discipleship, commitment of oneís life to the Saviour, etc., then salvation has become a very involved and complicated thing that would not at all be simple for a child to do. If we complicate the gospel with all kinds of Lordship requirements, then we have indeed made if very, very difficult for children (and for adults)! If we proclaim the gospel message that salvation is simply BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH (based upon the Person and work of Christ, not based upon sinful manís fragile commitment), then this is a message that can be gladly received by people of all ages.

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