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THE TRUTH ABOUT the lordship of Christ
By John MacArthur
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 John MacArthur
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLord of the Universe
Christians have many reasons for rejoicing. The primary one is based on who God is—He is sovereign. That is the single greatest truth about God. Nothing is outside His control, and He controls everything to work out ultimately for our good (Romans 8:28). He has an infinite understanding of every aspect of our lives—where we are and what we say (Psalm 139:2–4). And He exercises His understanding in perfect wisdom. Knowing God like that should give us inexpressible and glorious joy.
The believer who doesn't live in the confidence of God's sovereignty will lack His peace and be left to the chaos of a troubled heart. But our confident trust in the Lord will allow us to thank Him in the midst of trials because we have God's peace on duty to protect our hearts and minds.
God can do whatever He wants because He is God, and His decrees carry the full weight of divine sovereignty. God spoke, and the worlds were created. "What is seen was not made out of things which are visible" (Hebrews 11:3 NASB). He spoke things that were not, and behold! They were. He can call people, places, and events into existence solely by His divinely sovereign decrees. He can declare believing sinners righteous even though they are not. That is justification.
JUSTIFICATION AND LORDSHIP
But justification never occurs alone in God's plan. It is always accompanied by sanctification. God does not declare sinners righteous legally without making them righteous practically. Justification is not just a legal fiction. When God declares someone righteous, He will inevitably bring it to pass. "Whom He justified, these He also glorified" (Romans 8:30). When justification occurs, the process of sanctification begins. Grace always encompasses both.
I am convinced from Scripture that God is absolutely sovereign in the salvation of sinners. Salvation "does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (Romans 9:16 NASB). We are redeemed not because of anything good in us, but because God chose us unto salvation. He chose certain individuals and passed over others, and He made that choice in eternity past, before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Moreover, He chose without regard to anything He foresaw in the elect; simply "according to the good pleasure of his will [and] to the praise of the glory of his grace" (vv. 5–6 KJV). Election arises from the love of God. Those whom He chose, He "loved ... with an everlasting love [and drew them to Himself] with lovingkindness" (Jeremiah 31:3).
But certainly we can affirm those truths without also concluding that God's attitude toward the non-elect is one of utter hatred.
LOVE AND HATE
I am troubled by the tendency of some—often young people newly infatuated with Reformed doctrine—who insist that God cannot possibly love those who never repent and believe. I encounter this view, it seems, with increasing frequency. The argument inevitably goes like this: Psalm 7:11 tells us "God is angry with the wicked every day." It seems reasonable to assume that if God loved everyone, He would have chosen everyone unto salvation. Therefore, God does not love the non-elect. Those who hold this view often go to great lengths to argue that John 3:16 cannot really mean God loves the whole world.
Perhaps the best-known argument for this view is found in the unabridged edition of an otherwise excellent book, The Sovereignty of God, by A. W. Pink. Pink wrote, "God loves whom He chooses. He does not love everybody." Later in the book, he added this:
Is it true that God loves the one who is despising and rejecting His blessed Son? God is Light as well as Love, and therefore His love must be a holy love. To tell the Christ-rejecter that God loves him is to cauterize his conscience, as well as to afford him a sense of security in his sins. The fact is, that the love of God, is a truth for the saints only, and to present it to the enemies of God is to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs. With the exception of John 3:16, not once in the four gospels do we read of the Lord Jesus—the perfect teacher—telling sinners that God loved them!
In an appendix to the unabridged edition, Pink argued that the word world in John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world ...") "refers to the world of believers (God's elect), in contradistinction from 'the world of the ungodly.'"
Pink was attempting to make the crucial point that God is sovereign in the exercise of His love. The gist of his argument is certainly valid: it is folly to think that God loves all alike, or that He is compelled by some rule of fairness to love everyone equally. Scripture teaches us that God loves because He chooses to love (Deuteronomy 7:6–7), because He is loving—because He is love (1 John 4:8)—not because He is under some obligation to love everyone the same. Nothing but God's own sovereign good pleasure compels Him to love sinners. Nothing but His own sovereign will governs His love. This has to be true, since there is certainly nothing in any sinner worthy of even the smallest degree of divine love.
Unfortunately, Pink took the corollary too far. The fact that some sinners are not elected to salvation is no proof that God's attitude toward them is utterly devoid of sincere love. We know from Scripture that God is compassionate, kind, generous, and good even to the most stubborn sinners. Who can deny that these mercies flow out of God's boundless love? Yet it is evident that they are showered even on unrepentant sinners. According to Paul, for example, the knowledge of divine goodness and forbearance and patience ought to lead sinners to repentance (Romans 2:4). Yet the apostle acknowledged that many who are the recipients of these expressions of divine love spurn them and thereby store up wrath for themselves in the day of wrath (v. 5). The hardness of the sinful human heart is the only reason people persist in their sin, despite God's goodness to them. Is God therefore insincere when He pours forth mercies calling them to repentance? And how can anyone conclude that God's real attitude toward those who reject His mercies is nothing but sheer hatred?
I want to acknowledge, however, that explaining God's love toward the reprobate is not as simple as most modern evangelicals want to make it. Clearly there is a sense in which the psalmist's expression, "I hate the assembly of evildoers" (Psalm 26:5 NASB), is a reflection of the mind of God. "Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies" (Psalm 139:21–22 NASB). Such hatred as the psalmist expressed is a virtue, and we have every reason to conclude that it is a hatred God Himself shares. After all, He did say, "I have hated Esau" (Malachi 1:3 NASB; see Romans 9:13). The context reveals God was speaking of a whole race of wicked people. So there is a true and real sense in which Scripture teaches that God hates the wicked.
Many try to dodge the difficulty this poses by suggesting that God hates the sin, not the sinner. Why, then, does God condemn the sinner and consign the person—not merely the sin—to eternal hell? Clearly we cannot sweep the severity of this truth away by denying God's hatred for the wicked. Nor should we imagine that such hatred is any kind of blemish on the character of God. It is a holy hatred. It is perfectly consistent with His spotless, unapproachable, incomprehensible holiness.
We must remember that God is Lord of the universe, and He can do whatever He wants.
Chapter TwoLord in Our Lives
Although God is Lord over us, we must submit to Him and to His sovereignty in our lives.
To give glory to Christ, we must confess Him as Lord. That's a part of salvation, not a subsequent act. Salvation is a matter of confessing that Christ is God and, therefore, that He is sovereign in your life.
If you have never confessed Jesus Christ as Lord, you have no capacity to live for His glory. You cannot say, "I deny Christ. He is not my Savior or Lord," and then expect to glorify God. If you dishonor the Son, you dishonor the Father (John 5:23). So salvation is the necessary beginning for glorifying God and, therefore, for spiritual growth. You cannot grow until you are born.
RESPONSE TO THE GOSPEL
In Matthew 13, the Lord began with a discussion of a sower and seed. In verses 4–8, the sower cast his seeds with these results:
Some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
This story tells us that in response to the preaching of the gospel, there are at least four different possible results. And only one of them is genuine reception, producing righteousness.
The lesson appears once more, beginning in Matthew 13:47–50:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The church is a net that pulls in every kind of person, good and bad. And one day, angels will separate the true followers from the false. Time and again in the New Testament, the Lord brought up the idea of identifying the true disciples as well as the pretenders. So Matthew 10:38–39 is consistent with the message as it occurs throughout Scripture.
I'm notorious in some circles for being "too inflexible" in defining what does and does not characterize a true follower of Christ. Here's the only truth: the supreme authority of God's revelations in Scripture. Nothing else counts. This deep loyalty to the truth I absorbed to a large extent from Dr. Charles Fineberg, a converted Jew, an immense intellect, and the dean of Talbot Seminary, where I graduated. He was my mentor, had a high view of Scripture, and taught me to have the same.
Even more so, my father taught me the truth of Scripture. He was a great teacher and a Bible expositor, one who allowed the Word of God to frame his understanding of salvation. He got the story straight and preached it right. There was never anything shallow about his ministry. And he taught me there's never any doubt about what makes true salvation and discipleship.
THE MARK OF CHRIST
The apostle Paul made a paradoxical statement in Romans 9:6 when he said, "They are not all Israel who are of Israel." In other words, all who are outwardly Jews are not inwardly Jews. All who are outwardly identified as the people of God are not inwardly the people of God. And we could say, then, that all disciples are not disciples; all apparent followers of Jesus are not actual followers of Jesus. We could even say that all the church, as we see it, is not the church. Matthew 10 describes the hallmarks of a genuine disciple. The message there is a message, first of all, about genuineness, and second, a message about impact: Who is a real disciple? How does he impact the world? How does the world impact him?
The first characteristic of a genuine disciple is that he is like his Lord. He bears the character of Christ. That's why in Acts 11:26 people called the believers Christians: Christiani—"iani" means "belonging to the party of." They were little Christs; they manifested His character and bore the marks of His life in them. A true Christian not only wears the name of Christ, but he demonstrates the virtue of Christ. Matthew 10:242–5 declares a self-evident axiom: "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master." People become like those whose influence dominates them.
Jesus repeated this truism in Luke 6:40, saying, "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher." Beyond the discipling of the Spirit of Christ in us is the reality that He Himself has come to live in us, so that we can say with Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). A true disciple acts like Christ. Of course, there'll be lapses because of our humanness, but nonetheless there will be evidence of Christlikeness in the life of a true believer.
If we're true disciples, we have Jesus' hallmark on us; He is our maker. He is our life. Paul wonderfully affirmed this in 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." That newness must be manifest.
The Character of Christ
The second and consequential characteristic of true disciples is that if we are like Christ, other people will respond to us as they did Christ. Matthew 10:25 continues: "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!" Being a genuine Christian means to exhibit the character of Christ and, thus, to be treated as He was treated. When we move into the world with Christlike character, the world will react to us the way it reacted to Him. That was Jesus' message in John 15:20 when He said, "'A servant [some translations read "slave"] is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept [obeyed] My word, they will keep yours also." If you are genuine in your identification with Christ, you can expect the world that rejects Christ to reject you.
Loyalty to Christ
Still, it is also characteristic of a true disciple of Jesus that he is not afraid of the world. Matthew 10:28 says, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." There's no reason to be afraid, because, as a follower of Jesus, you know you will happily trade whatever perils you face in this world for the riches of your reward in the eternal world to come. Disciples joyfully "speak in the light" and "preach on the housetops" (v. 27), untroubled by any rebuke or threat. Furthermore, there's no reason to fear what happens here, because not even a sparrow falls (actually the word means "hops") to the ground outside of God's will. "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (vv. 30–31).
When the world is hostile and persecuting, when the world moves against him and ostracizes or alienates him, a true disciple is not afraid, because he has utterly and totally given himself over to the lordship of Christ, confident in His care no matter what, even against the hostility of the world. Another characteristic of discipleship is that a true disciple is loyal to his Lord. In verse 32, Jesus told us, "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven." When the heat is on, when the pressure and the persecution are bearing down and the world is attacking, the true believer will openly confess Christ. He won't bail out. He won't deny his faith. He won't recant. He'll stand up and proclaim Christ, no matter what the circumstances. He'll go to prison and even face execution before he will deny his Lord.
Someone will say, "What about Peter? He was a real disciple, but he denied his Lord." It's true. He did. But it was before the Holy Spirit came to live in him. After that, he never again was disloyal. He died for being loyal to Christ: crucified upside down, as he requested, because he said he was not worthy to die like his Lord. Such loyalty marks the ones whom Christ will confess belong to Him.
Excerpted from THE TRUTH ABOUT the lordship of Christ by John MacArthur Copyright © 2012 by John MacArthur. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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