If you are a Christian or were ever part of a church, you must have heard the idea that you are saved by grace BUT you can either lose it (Arminianism) or prove you’ve never really had it in the first place (Calvinism) if you have unrepented sin in your life.
Calvinism & Arminianism Unbiblical Views of Salvation
Lordship Salvation is a doctrinal travesty that distorts the essence of Christianity, warping it from a religion of grace to a legalistic treadmill. In this flawed framework, mere belief in Jesus Christ isn’t sufficient for salvation; instead, you’re compelled to “prove” your faith through an unending regimen of good works and obedience. Far from the liberating message of the gospel, which promises salvation through grace alone, Lordship Salvation chains believers to an ever-raising bar of moral and spiritual performance. In doing so, it fosters an environment of judgment, insecurity, and perpetual self-doubt. It’s not just a theological error; it’s a spiritual hazard.
The doctrine of Lordship Salvation doesn’t just misguide Christians; it actively harms both their ethical sensibilities and emotional well-being. First, let’s tackle the ethical disaster this doctrine orchestrates. By insisting that genuine faith must be accompanied by good works, Calvinistic Lordship Salvation stealthily smuggles legalism back into Christianity. This corrupts the very core of the gospel message, which is grounded in grace and unmerited favor. Moreover, it fosters a judgmental ethos in religious communities. The question no longer remains ‘Do you believe?’ but morphs into ‘Are you behaving?’
As for the emotional wreckage, the doctrine creates a spiritual terrain laden with landmines of anxiety and fear. Under the looming shadow of Lordship Salvation, believers walk on eggshells, endlessly questioning their worthiness and the authenticity of their faith. Gone is the liberating assurance of salvation; in its place, a constant drumbeat of doubt and spiritual anxiety. And what about those who struggle with sin or feel they can’t meet the doctrine’s high bar? They’re likely to be crushed by discouragement, potentially leading them to abandon their faith journey altogether, aka “deconstruction.”
In sum, Lordship Salvation doesn’t just misinterpret the tenets of Christianity; it imperils the spiritual, ethical, and emotional health of those who try to live under its yoke. In this article, I would like to challenge the core of this doctrine.
In Arminian theology, the concept equivalent to Calvinism’s “Lordship Salvation” is often referred to as “Conditional Security” or “Conditional Perseverance.” According to this view, salvation is conditional upon continued obedience and repentance, meaning it is possible to lose one’s salvation through persistent, unrepentant sin. While both Lordship Salvation and Conditional Security share the idea that salvation can be lost or nullified through one’s actions, they arrive at this conclusion from different angles.
The Greek word for repentance, ‘metanoeō,’ much like its Hebrew equivalent, should be understood, according to Strong’s Greek lexicon, in its basic sense as a “to change one’s mind.”
“Metanoeō should be understood as ‘change the mind’.”1Charles C. Bing, Ph.D in Theology
This may include changing your mind about a sinful action, but not at all limited to it. For instance, if I walk into an ice cream shop wanting vanilla but then ‘metanoeō’ and opt for chocolate, I’ve essentially repented. In Biblical terms, it’s about altering one’s perspective on God. For Israel, it meant adopting the ways of Jesus over following the Scribes and Pharisees. For the nations, it involves shifting from idol worship to embracing the teachings of the God of Israel as presented by Jesus. At its core, the message calls for nations to abandon their idols and adopt a lifestyle that reflects the God of Israel through the teachings of Jesus—such as loving your enemy, showing compassion, being generous, maintaining justice, and caring for the poor and needy.
In Calvinism & Arminianism, however, repentance is viewed as a life overhaul, inseparable from faith itself. This makes salvation seem contingent on human effort, casting a shadow over the concept of grace and trapping believers in a cycle of doubt and anxiety, as well as constantly judging others’ faith and salvation. For instance, Paul Washer, a popular Calvinist pastor, preached a sermon that went viral: “Shocking Youth Message Stuns Hearers.” Washer challenges his Christian teen audience to “test themselves” to see if they really are saved. If the boys laugh at the same jokes the world does, or if the girls’ sleeves do not cover all the way down their elbows, this might be because they never really got saved, to begin with.
Sure, repentance is important for many reasons that span religious, ethical, and social dimensions. From an ethical standpoint, repentance embodies personal integrity, as it involves acknowledging one’s own mistakes and actively seeking to rectify them. This sense of accountability extends to the community level, fostering a culture of mutual respect and strengthening communal ties. The act of repentance engages the moral conscience, encouraging self-scrutiny that can lead to a more ethical lifestyle. Emotional relief often accompanies repentance, as the burden of guilt is alleviated through the act of making amends with others. In certain cases, repentance may even mitigate the severity of legal or social consequences, reflecting societal values that appreciate contrition and the willingness to make amends. Ultimately, the humility and strength required for repentance contribute to character building, promoting the development of virtues that enrich individual lives and, by extension, the broader community. In religious contexts, repentance is important for restoring a damaged relationship with God. This act of turning back to God, while having nothing to do with the individual’s status of salvation, not only mends the divine-human relationship (if you continue to live in sin, God may not hear your prayers) but also facilitates spiritual growth and maturation. This is much like a parent-child relationship whereby the child may suffer consequences for their behavior. However, their behavior will never cause their parent to kill or torture them in fire!
As a Jewish-Christian scholar, I often find myself explaining to Christians that the concept of salvation through grace alone isn’t a New Testament innovation, as some argue, but deeply rooted in Old Testament theology! Take Genesis 15:6, where it is said of Abraham, “He believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” Note that it was Abraham’s belief, not his actions, that secured his righteous standing before God. Similarly, Habakkuk 2:4 declares, “The righteous will live by his faith.” The prophet doesn’t say the righteous will live by his deeds, rituals, or law-abiding nature but solely by his faith. Thus, the Old Testament clearly posits that justification has always been a matter of faith, not works. When King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed, he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. David’s actions were deplorable, but David’s salvation was never in question. His repentance was helpful to ease his earthly consequences, not secure his salvation. His fellowship with God was damaged, but he was not threatened with loss of salvation. Nathan’s words confirm that David’s righteous standing was intact despite his grievous sins. This episode underscores the Old Testament principle that salvation is rooted in faith by grace, not works, repentance, or moral perfection.
Repentance in the Old Testament
One of the main problems with English translations of the Bible is that it is very difficult to know if the YOU is plural or singular. In Hebrew and Greek, however, it’s very clear. So, when quoting verses, I will change YOU to Y’ALL in case it’s plural.
Let’s first examine a few examples that Calvinists often cite out of context to argue for a connection between repentance and salvation. In context, these examples actually have nothing to do with the individual’s salvation.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
This is clearly a collective call to the people of Israel for national repentance and healing rather than individual salvation.
“Repent! [plural] Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses y’all have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.” (Ezekiel 18:30-31)
Though it may sound like an individual call, this comes within a larger passage discussing Israel’s accountability and the need for communal transformation.
“They said, ‘Turn now, each of y’all, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and y’all can stay in the land the Lord gave to y’all and your ancestors for ever and ever.'” (Jeremiah 25:5)
The emphasis is on remaining in the land given to the ancestors, a collective physical redemption, rather than individual’s eternal salvation.
“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me [plural] with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” (Joel 2:12-13)
This is part of a larger prophetic call for national repentance to avert physical disaster. The communal aspect is evident.
“Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to y’all,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 1:3)
This is part of Zechariah’s call to the nation of Israel, post-exile, a time of physically rebuilding the nation, and thus, it’s a national call rather than an individual call for salvation from hell.
“Return, Israel, to the Lord your God. Y’all sins have been your downfall! Take words with y’all and return to the Lord.” (Hosea 14:1-2)
Much like other prophets, Hosea’s entire book is a metaphor for Israel’s unfaithfulness and the need for national repentance.
Repentance in the New Testament
The calls for “repentance” (change of mind) in the New Testament, particularly by Jesus, are predominantly aimed at national repentance, specifically for Israel, rather than individual salvation. The primary concern of the gospels isn’t individual salvation but Israel’s collective identity, role, and destiny. A failure to repent—that is, to accept Christ’s message and acknowledge Him as Messiah—would result in national calamity. This was evident in year 70 with the destruction of the Second Temple and again in year 135 with the ruin of Jerusalem. In the epistles and the Book of Revelation, the focus shifts to the Church. Thereby, salvation is by grace alone, while repentance is about maintaining the group or individual role in God’s kingdom.
“Repent [plural], for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2)
In context, John the Baptist is calling Israel for repentance because the “kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Addressed to a Jewish audience, the message resonates with Old Testament prophecies about Israel’s restoration and should be viewed as a call for national repentance. Jesus wasn’t even in the picture at that point, let alone crucified.
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent [plural], for the kingdom of heaven has come near.'” (Matthew 4:17)
Jesus takes up John’s message after John’s imprisonment. Aimed again at the nation of Israel, this too should be considered a call for national repentance of the Jews.
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent [plural] and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
Like the other Synoptic accounts, Jesus addresses the Jewish nation of Israel about the impending kingdom of God. This is a collective call for Israel to turn back to God’s ways, much like the Old Testament’s prophets did.
“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)
In context, Jesus responded to scribes and Pharisees who were grumbling because Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus says they need him to change their minds or attitudes. They need His teachings to live better lives. No one knew back then that Jesus would die, let alone die for sins. Reading salvation into this verse is a classic example of anachronism.2 This repentance is not a condition for receiving eternal life, which is through faith alone. The call to repentance here would then be more about discipleship and living in accordance with God’s will rather than a requirement for eternal salvation.
“I tell you, no! But unless y’all repent, y’all too will all perish.” (Luke 13:3, 5)
This is yet another warning to the nation of Israel to change their ways, or it will perish. Perish should not be understood as “burn in hell” but as the nation of Israel dissolving, which indeed happened in years 75 and 135 with the destruction of the temple, Jerusalem, and the exile of those who were left alive.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.” (Luke 17:3)
This deals with interpersonal relationships.
“There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7, 10)
In context, these are parables (The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, The Prodigal Son) about mending a damaged relationship. The son coming back to his father is a great example of a mended relationship following a conflict. It’s about gaining vs. losing a close relationship and has nothing to do with a threat of burning in hell for eternity.
“And repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47)
The message starts with Jerusalem, urging Israel to lead by example in a national change of mind, followed by all other nations. This is a perfect example of what the true meaning of the word ‘metanoeō’ means. At its core, the message calls for nations to abandon their idols and adopt a lifestyle that reflects the God of Israel through the teachings of Jesus—such as loving your enemy, showing compassion, being generous, maintaining justice, and caring for the poor and needy. For Israel, it’s about doing the same but replacing not the idols but all other sects.
ESV: “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”
NASB: “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed someone, has the power to throw that person into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!”
(Luke 12:5 and Matthew 10:28)
There are several translation issues with this verse. The primary question about the text is who Jesus is referring to when He says, “fear him.” In the New King James Version, the word “him” is capitalized, indicating the translators believe it refers to God. However, most other translations do not capitalize it. Many scholars suggest the pronoun refers to Satan, while many others believe it pertains to another human being.
Additionally, the Greek word translated as “hell” is “GEHENNA,” which traditionally doesn’t refer to a terrible afterlife but to a dreadful experience in this life where all that is valuable to you gets destroyed. In essence, Jesus is saying not to fear those who can only kill you physically, as death is not the end. Instead, fear those who can steal or destroy what is dear to you (your values, morals, convictions, integrity, dreams, hopes, friends, family, job, health, etc.) That is whom you should fear and avoid.
“Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” (Revelation 2:5)
In context, the verse is not a threat to someone of losing their salvation but rather a warning about a church losing effectiveness as a community of believers. The “lampstand” signifies the church’s role as a light in the world; its removal implies a loss of impact rather than a loss of salvation. Thus, repentance is seen as a way to restore that lost fellowship and effectiveness.
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)
Like Ephesus, the Laodicean church’s lukewarm state is a metaphor for a collective wake-up call. In context (verse 17), Jesus criticizes the Laodicean church for its spiritual complacency and self-sufficiency. They think they are rich and have everything they need, but Jesus points out that spiritually, they are actually “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” The verse serves as a warning against discipline because of arrogance, not a threat to individuals within the church of losing their salvation.
“Save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 1:23)
If this was speaking of an individual’s salvation from hell, then it’s on people, not God, to save from hell. That view would obviously contradict the entire message of the Bible!
Here, “saving” means rescuing people from the destructive consequences of following false teachers (verses 4, 11) rather than eternal damnation in hell. “Snatching them out of the fire” is a metaphorical language that suggests rescuing individuals from a damaging or perilous situation—namely, false doctrines that will affect their lives. It implies that the people being “saved” are in a dangerous state that could lead to negative consequences in their earthly lives. A good modern example of that would be the prosperity gospel, whereby people are losing their life’s savings, giving it to charlatans on TV such as… well, I’m sure you can think of some name on your own!
To summarize, the Bible warns believers about “turn or burn,” but this is meant in a temporal, earthly sense, not as a threat of eternal damnation. For example, if I aggressively approach a police officer while yelling and screaming, I might end up getting hit with a baton or even shot in the leg. In this context, it’s a “turn or burn” situation. Similarly, if an American fails to pay taxes, the IRS may issue a warning: “Pay now or go to jail.” Likewise, the Scriptures threaten believers with earthly consequences for failure to repent, not with eternal hellfire.
The New Testament contains numerous calls to repent. Repentance is a change of mind, usually in a collective way, not a turning away of an individual from their sin for the sake of salvation. There is simply no lexical evidence to support this definition.
In the New Testament, the word “metanoia” is used in three distinct ways. First, its primary usage is in the context of calling the nation of Israel to confess their sins and receive national forgiveness. A Second Temple-era Jew would have understood “national forgiveness” as the end of exile and the restoration of the kingdom. They would not have interpreted it as “salvation from eternal torture by God,” as Calvinists do. Clearly, the message was about national repentance and forgiveness, a return from exile, and deliverance from the Roman disaster of AD 70.
Second, in some other passages, the call to repent is aimed at those, usually groups such as churches, who are already saved. In these cases, the call to repent is a plea to “wake up” in order to restore the role and status given by God.
So, bottom line, is repentance necessary for maintaining the believer’s salvation? As we saw, if it’s defined as turning away from sin to perform good deeds, then no. Repentance, although crucial in many ways, is not necessary for salvation.
If you enjoyed this article deconstructing the Calvinistic doctrine of repentance, I guarantee y’all enjoy my book deconstructing Calvinism: ‘The “Gospel” of Divine Abuse: Redeeming the Gospel from Gruesome Popular Preaching of an Abusive and Violent God‘