What is the difference between salvation by faith alone and lordship salvation?
Thanks for your question. The key is in your phrase “by faith alone.” Faith for salvation must be faith alone in Jesus or it is not saving faith.
Obviously, to trust in Jesus, you must yield to the conviction of the Spirit regarding sin being the problem, judgment being the consequence, and Christ alone being the answer (John 16:8; 1 Cor. 15:3), and therefore place your dependence on Christ to save you. In this sense, faith surrenders to the convicting work or “lordship” of the Spirit. But this surrender is to believe in Jesus as Savior. It does not infringe on faith alone in Christ, nor does it add sanctification truth to the moment of salvation.
In their effort to make Jesus “Lord” of all at salvation, proponents of lordship salvation speak much about turning from your sins (or at least being willing to turn from your sins) and especially of your commitment to do right. All of this is done in the name of surrendering to the lordship of Christ. Yet these same expressions subtly shift the focus of faith from Jesus alone, the object of faith, to yourself, the subject of faith. Your turning from your sins would be self-works. Your willingness to turn from your sins is still self-dependence. Your commitment to do right is also depending on you. But your dependence on Jesus to save you is faith alone in Christ. This is surrender properly understood. When surrender is conceived of as something more than faith and plugged into the moment of salvation, then at best, there is a split-trust. But a split-trust reveals a mistrust in Christ alone.
Sin is the problem. However, not sinning is not the solution—Christ is. When you believe in Jesus, He moves in. Now you have the provision of His life in you. Now you can trust Him to enable you to obey by the power of His indwelling life. Once saved, this continued life of faith is faith for sanctification. It is surrender to, which is dependence on, the leadership and power of the Holy Spirit. It is, in a sense, “lordship sanctification” (Rom. 12:1-2). But even still, it is by faith and not your commitment to do right.