25 September 2006

A Word of Personal Testimony

How I Got Drawn into the Lordship Debate—part 1

by Phil Johnson



You'll notice from the link in our right-hand sidebar that the current theme on the Pulpit blog is "lordship salvation." We're not going to entertain a debate on that subject here at PyroManiacs. Our friend Antonio and others who want to engage me on that subject can take it over to Pulpit. There's no point in letting it spill over here.

Here's why I have so little patience with hard-core advocates of no-lordship doctrine: I've spent a number of years dealing with this issue, and I am tired of going back to square one with people who haven't really studied the doctrine in earnest. The careful arguments that have been made against Zane Hodges' system have never really been answered by him or his devotees. The current wave of interest in no-lordship doctrine does not, in my opinion, stem from any serious or careful reflection on the issues. All it seems to signify is that there is a new generation of young antinomian zealots who have not yet seriously considered the overwhelming mass of biblical evidence against their position.

Anyway, I'm sure all that ground and more will be thoroughly covered over at Pulpit. Here at PyroManiacs, I want to make a brief series of posts simply describing my own involvement in the lordship debate and recounting how I came to be involved in it. This is part 1:

     was converted to biblical Christianity during my final semester in high school. I had grown up in an extremely liberal United Methodist Church, where I had no exposure whatsoever to evangelicalism. Frankly, I don't remember ever hearing anything about the gospel in all those years in the Methodist church.

I always assumed "salvation" was a Baptist idea, irrelevant to a born-and-bred Methodist like me.

From my junior-high years on, I also got the distinct impression from most of my Sunday-School teachers that all religions are basically valid and that the Bible is not to be taken seriously.

My involvement with Christianity was cultural rather than personal. I had no concept of my need for personal salvation and no true awareness of my own sin. I had occasionally heard Christians talk about being "born again"—but I had always associated that sort of conversion experience with derelicts and religious fanatics. As far as I know, we didn't have a single person in our Methodist church who ever claimed to be "saved" from anything, much less redeemed from sin's condemnation.

So my own conversion came as a great surprise to me.

It occurred one night when I was feeling particularly dastardly about something I had done, so I decided to do something religious to make up for it. Since it was already after 10:00 PM and everyone in the household was in bed, the only religious thing I could think to do was read my Bible.

That was something I never did. I doubt I had ever read more than a verse or two of Scripture at a time. I usually just flopped the Bible open and read a couple of verses at random, figuring whatever my eyes lit on must be the message God had for me at the time. That was the only way I knew to use the Bible—pretty much the way people use the astrology column in the daily newspaper.

I suppose that also explains why the Bible never seemed to make a great deal of sense to me.

Anyway, on that particular night, April 15, 1971, I happened to flip open to the first page of 1 Corinthians. And since I was feeling especially in need of a significant act of penance that night, the thought occurred to me that I might actually try to read the entire epistle.

I had never read a full book of Scripture. So I checked it, and since it was less than 30 pages, I decided I could probably handle that much in one night.

Thus, feeling quite pleased with myself for the magnitude of the religious deed I was about to do, I started to read.

The first thing that happened was that my pride was repeatedly trampled by things I read in the first few chapters. I started encountering statements like this: "It is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent" (1 Corinthians 1:19).

Now why would God say that? I wondered. Why doesn't He condemn the foolishness of the world instead? Then I saw this:
The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence (1 Corinthians 1:25-29).
I remember thinking, I'm in deep trouble.

But 1 Corinthians 3:18-19 completely pulverized me: "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God."

I remember suddenly realizing for the first time that I was utterly condemned before God—not only because of the bad things I had done, but because He hated even the best things about me. I had always thought my own goodness would make me acceptable to God. I considered myself an enlightened person—morally upright (basically); politically conservative (which was unusual indeed for teenagers in my era); and spiritually savvy (after all, I had gone to Sunday School almost every Sunday of my life so far).

So I was shocked and crushed to read in Scripture that God hates worldly wisdom. Even though I was not familiar with Isaiah 64:6, it suddenly became very clear to me that "we are all as an unclean thing, and [even] our righteousnesses are as filthy rags."

I know today that it was the Holy Spirit who illuminated those truths for me. He used the Word of God to grip my heart and wring it until I despaired of all hope. And I still remember vividly the sheer misery I felt that night, realizing the awful truth that I was condemned before God, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to get myself out from under His condemnation.

Now, 1 Corinthians is probably one of the last books you would recommend to an evangelistic prospect, but the Word of God is a powerful discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And as I read on, it was as if God used what little I could understand of that epistle to open my eyes and show me the Christ revealed in Scripture for the first time in my life.

I continued reading until I reached these words in 1 Corinthians 12:3: "No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 12:3).

I didn't understand the full meaning of that text at the time, but I knew that whatever else was wrapped up in it, it meant that Jesus is Lord. And I understood that that meant I needed to acknowledge His right to rule my life and yield to Him as my Lord.

In my heart that very night I turned, left my own plans and ambitions behind, and followed Christ. My life has never been the same, and I have never wished to return to the way things were before Christ saved me.

Stay tuned for more...

Phil's signature

42 comments:

Gareth said...

Awesome. Amen.

Steve said...

Looking forward to the next installment! Thanks for sharing this.

TheBlueRaja said...

More with the autobiographical stuff - love it.

Matthew said...

This is a wonderful testimony and lesson. Moreover, I appreciate your sharing this insight into your own growth - especially in how it seems somewhat parallel to my own progression.

Annette Harrison said...

Phil . . .

It's always a huge encouragement for some reason for me to hear the story of the conversion of a fellow Christian. And when one is in the "spotlight" so to speak, it takes on a special meaning, although I'm not sure exactly why that is because there is, of course, rejoicing in heaven over EVERYONE who comes to Christ. Nevertheless, I, too, am eager to hear the whole story, for it makes me glad - no, ecstatic is a better word! To see how the Holy Spirit is at work drawing us, leading us, keeping us, is always amazing, is it not?

Maybe now I can encourage Adrian (I'm his editor) to finish his own story, which he started what now seems like (and probably is) ages ago. I hope he will understand how much these testimonies of the grace of God buoy us up, bring praises to our lips, and often strengthen us, especially if we are feeling discouraged.

centuri0n said...

Phil -- that was so authentic. I think the hawaiian shurts are starting to get to you.

Phil Johnson said...

I've given up wearing Hawaiian shurts and now wear (almost exclusively) black Pyro-Ts.

SolaMeanie said...

Thanks for the personal testimony, Phil. I'm sure many of us can say a hearty AMEN to the way the Holy Spirit works through His Word.

I look forward to reading more.

As an aside, I have often wondered if the Lordship debate isn't really just an aside to the Calvinist-Arminian debate. As a Calvinist, I cannot imagine anyone who is truly a believer even WANTING to live a carnal life. Obviously, there are individual issues of conscience that can become legalisms if we're not careful, but that is not what I am speaking of here. Arminians on the other hand pluck the daisy as opposed to the Calvinist TULIP. "He loves me, He loves me not..He loves me...He loves me not."

Okay, I'm kidding..but you see my point.

SolaMeanie said...

After thought about my last post, I should clarify.

SOME of my Arminian friends feel you lose your salvation after each stumble. I don't agree with that, obviously, but I also think that we should have assurance as believers. If I am walking and living in sin with no conviction by the Holy Spirit, I have to wonder whether my salvation is genuine.

centuri0n said...

editorial prig.

Daniel said...

Not really off topic, since I am about to talk about the header image to this post:

Nice... very nice.

4given said...

What are "ShUrts" ???

Thank you for sharing this. I, too, grew up in a Methodist church. Learned how to feel better about myself actually. Didn't learn a whole lot about God. As a matter of fact, I learned in my early 30's why God sent a rainbow even though my dad diligently had us go to church every Sunday unless we were close to being on our death bed. My sister rejected God because it says in the Bible that He's jealous. Lordship salvation sounded like a bunch of holier-than-thou hooey to me. For that matter, so did the Doctrines of Grace.

Looking forward to the rest of this.

Carrie said...

Great testimony! Look forward to more.

Kim said...

Cool.

Suziannr said...

My aunt and uncle are very involved in the Methodist church, sit on the board of their particular church and the comment I remember most from my aunt is: Why are you visiting that church? I see those people all the time at the mall and at Luby's....they carry their Bible with them all the time, its ridiculous. I wasnt in a methodist church for a service until a few years ago when i visited with a friend. The pastor spoke on the passage regarding the storm on the sea and the disciples afraid and calling to Jesus. When he finished reading the text he closed his Bible and said: See how they clung to each other, just as we are meant to encourage each other and cling to each other. He never mentioned Jesus again. Thank you for sharing your testimony. Its a reminder that the Holy Spirit touches whom He will in spite of the church we frequent.

runninbill said...

Phil--

You had a great advantage that many of us did not. You were not exposed to the gospel according to 20th century evangelicalism, so you were never confused as to what the gospel really is. Many of us had much unlearning to do, and thank God for Dr. MacArthur's book, The Gospel According to Jesus, for waking us up and questioning a lot of previous assumptions about the gospel.

Bill Isley

takin said...

If man is the center of the universe, then Christ’s Lordship is secondary to God doing all He can do to save every last sinner He possibly can. But if God and His glory are paramount, then we must assume that His purposes are greater than simply delivering sinners from hell. His greater purpose is the conforming of His people to Christ for His glory(Romans 8:28, 29).

Jesus is Lord!

Screaming Pirate said...

If there is one thing I love its to hear testomonies. Especaly ones done right. You know with Scripture and God glorified,not men. That was such an encouragement.

Janet said...

God used Genesis 1 to draw my unto Himself. I was alone and didn't know where to start. So I openned the Bible and began to read.

Thank you for sharing this, Phil. It's always good to hear how God works in others lives.

Janet said...

opened.

Carla said...

Maybe it's just me, but I get a huge blessing out of reading how it was the power of the word, the literal written of word of God, did exactly what it says it will do. Exactly what He says He will do:

Isaiah 55:11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Indeed the word prospered when He sent it that night as you read it and your eyes were opened.

Count me among the rest looking forward to reading the rest of this.

DeathRowBodine said...

I really enjoy hearing other people's testimony (when they give all the glory and credit to God). It confirms for me all the ways that we cannot anticipate how God will work. His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

...so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. - Isaiah 55

Phil, your post reminds me of that chapter. Perhaps one of my favorites.

Oh how different your testimony is from mine, but how similar the method (His Word) that He used to "accomplish what he desired and achieve the purpose for which he sent it."

This really brings into perspective how precious a gift we have been given in the Holy Scriptures.

[Even though I was raised in a "good" Baptist church, the Lord quite literally dragged ol' Deathrow to him kicking, screaming, biting, and spitting. A broken hip and being struck blind might have been easier... but that is another story.]

Asher said...

very good stuff, praises be to God. Jihadists, Communists, LeftSided and RightSided Crankies, beware of Bible Time-Bombs! Be Terrified of the show of Light when it explodes!

Stephen Dunning said...

Thank you for a testimony that honours the Lord!

Steven said...

I was saved in almost the saved way. The Bible brought me to repentance. Praise be to God! I did not though grow up in a Methodist church, so I am sometimes a little clueless. If what you say is true, and whole groups of people go to these churches for pretty much nothing, then wowzer. What else can I say, except, wowzer. Thats both scary and grievable.

ajlin said...

phil johnson:

One of the best things I've heard on this issue was your old Gracelife lesson in which you pointed out how the anti-lordship crowd has an insufficient (pretty much non-existent) view of regeneration.

Anyway, I continue to praise God for what you and your pastor have done to combat these false teachers.

DAD said...

Everytime I read a testimony like this it gives me hope. I have had so very many "fruitless" conversations with people. Given away so many Bibles, books and scripture portions - with no apparant result over the last many years. I long for the day when we sit around our Father's table and I can hear the stories of what He has done with all that. Thanks for a reminder of His faithfulness.

Jon from Reidville, SC said...

Phil:

Thanks for the testimony. I have a huge love for 1 Corinthians. I think it covers so many issues. I can just hear Paul speaking those words of love to the Corinthian Christians and I hear God speaking those words to me!

One of the greatest themes in scripture is the power of God to make idiots, fools and morons into wise men (sorry to the PC crowd). One of the most glorious "buts" of the Bible is in this group: "But we have the mind of Christ!"

Thanks for sharing,
Jon

Bewildered Berean said...

Can't wait for part II.

donsands said...

Very uplifting post, and comments.

1 Cor. 12:3 surely does hit home with Lordship salvation.

Mike Morrell said...

Thank you for sharing your personal side with us, Phil. It is appreciated.

Mike

Lance Roberts said...

Very good post.

I second the fact that "The Gospel According to Jesus" is a great book.

Jay said...

Great testimony!

Matthew 7 is one of the passages that needs most attention these days.

To quote from it:

13 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.
14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.
19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.
21 Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
22 Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?'
23 And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'

striving... said...

I did not grow up in church. My dad was the one who taught me most, unfortunately he only focused on Revelations, and was normally on something when he did. Now I can see the truth in the word, and I will continue to grow stronger in it, and I know this, look at all of you. Everyone here has come to God, through Jesus and truth of the word. Would we be considered "Bible Thumpers?" If so I am proud to be one!!

Tim Brown said...

Phil:

I too started in the Methodist Church. I remember all those sermons from the black robed minister --- most of it from the Old Testament. Lots of Mt. Sinai.

And I hear echos of my father. Years ago when I made my (false) profession of faith, mom informed me that dad viewed being "born again" as a "Baptist" thing. How he got there with Jesus saying it is beyond me.

I had myself deluded for a long time after hearing the easy-believism gospel. No repentance. I remember asking about that and was told it was just for the Old Testament...never mind I found it in Acts.

But the Lord in His mercy let me bottom out until 8 years ago. He knew I had to learn that I was a sinner before a holy God. Previous to that my parents had insultated me and protected me so much I had a very naive view of myself and the world...and I didn't get past that till I was 44!

But praise God that day came, painful as it was.

My dad? Well, he's 89 now. And his health is failing. He SAYS he's a Christian. He has spent most of the last two years in the hospital. His heart is down to 25%, his kidneys are at 30%. He was just out of the hospital now for a day or so over a week and now he's back in. His lungs fill with fluid and so his Oxygen concentration drops and he ends up back in E.R. Just tonight I told mom I fear that if he makes it to Christmas this will be our last one.

I wish I were more certain of dad and his salvation. This past visit, he was asking seeminly everyone if they had "accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord". Well, I'll take that as a good sign.

Sorry to digress, although I would appreciate prayers for my dad. It's a tough time because he wasn't there when I was growing up and now you just feel like you can't do anything anyway. And after all the time in the hospital, what do you do?

Again, Phil, thanks for your testimony, one former Methodist to another. Praise God for His sovereign grace.

Tim Brown said...

Jay:

Boy, do I resonate with you about Matthew 7! I was just discussing that with someone recently.

Someone can (will!) correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding of that verse, literally translated is "you who act as if I never gave you a law".

Kind of touches the bubble of those who cry "Legalist" when you tell them we must OBEY God's Word!

Thanks for the post!

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I am proud to be a 'young Antinomian zealot.'

H K Flynn said...

...and a fine one at that

bob wilkin said...

Phil,

Your suggestion that "The careful arguments that have been made against Zane Hodges' system have never really been answered by him or his devotees" is self serving and disingenuous. I met with you for four hours a few years back and while you had no answer to my questions that satisfied me, I wouldn't say that you never really answered my objections. At that time you didn't tell me to my face that I really had no answers to the Lordship arguments. I recall you saying at the time concerning assurance of salvation that everyone, yourself included, has doubts from time to time. When I said I didn't, you were shocked. Lordship Salvation is what makes you doubt, Phil. Jesus was clear that all who simply believe in Him are eternally secure (John 3:16; 4:13-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 11:25-27). I believe in Him. Hence I am secure. Since your definition of belief renders it impossible to be sure you've done it, you aren't sure. All who believe in Lordship Salvation can look forward to a life of doubts.

Antonio said...

Phil,

I agree with Bob.

Bob, don't hold your breath waiting for Phil to respond to you.

Antonio da Rosa

John D. Chitty said...

So, why can't we lose the modern nickname, "Lordship Salvation" and call it what it is, "Perseverance of the Saints"?

I have a friend who is not a Calvinist and he always felt that MacArthur had the better of the debate, but my friend also thought that Hodges and the "Grace" teachers were the Calvinists.

I think reverting to the more historic theological category would clear things up for a lot of people, don't you?

James Vander Woude said...

"We're not going to entertain a debate on that subject here at PyroManiacs. Our friend Antonio and others who want to engage me on that subject can take it over to Pulpit. There's no point in letting it spill over here."

Bob Wilkin and Antonio: Is there any reason to believe Phil wasn't entirely serious when he typed that at the head of this post? So why call for a response in this blog?