He Lives! But How?

Empty TombWe have just finished celebrating the Resurrection! The message is: Jesus has been raised from the dead! He is risen! But the question that lingers in the back of my mind is: How is he risen? Now, I don’t mean to question the particular mechanics of the event, such as the exact manner of how God did it, but rather the question seeks to address his present place in our thinking in light of the resurrection.

Many confess the resurrection, but the question on the table for this discussion is: What does that resurrection look like? Allow me to explain! There are many people who will acknowledge the resurrection, but they think of Jesus as merely a historical figure who was raised from the dead who has no bearing on their present everyday lives. To them, the resurrection is merely a historical fact with no contemporary relevance. Jesus was raised from the dead and he lives, but he only lives in history!

And then, there are those who will acknowledge the resurrection, but the Jesus who lives, lives only within the pages of their Bibles! To them, Jesus is alive, but he lives only as a literary figure; much the same way as Mark Twain and Sherlock Holmes. The question of the actual historicity of Jesus is not central in their thinking. Jesus lives in their minds as merely a literary character in a book!

And then, there are those for whom Jesus lives only as a mythological figure, on the same plan as Zeus, Thor, and Santa Claus! They have doubts about an actual historical Jesus and are satisfied with the idea of the resurrection being a mere religious myth. In the same vein, there are those who acknowledge a historical Jesus, but view the resurrection only as a religious myth. Many of these same people will acknowledge Jesus as a great moral teacher on the same plane as Confucius, Aristotle and Plato.

There is also, what I would call, the nominal Christians. These people celebrate the resurrection, but in reality Jesus is alive only in their hearts! He is an internal source of comfort and inspiration for them, but that is the extent of his present life as far as they are concerned.

But what is the truth of the resurrection? Well, according to the Bible, Jesus is alive and well and even now sits at the right hand of power! He is not a mere influence or memory, but rather he is the Living Lord who is directing and guiding the people of his Kingdom! He was raised early that 3rd-day morning and is alive forever more! And one day, that same Jesus that was raised from the tomb, will come back to this earth again in the consummation of history as we know it!

It short, his “aliveness” is not restricted to the pages of history, mythology, memory, or even the hearts of those who believe in him. His life is independent of all those factors for he has life within himself! Yes! He lives! Independent of our thoughts or opinions! He lives as Lord! Paul put it so eloquently when he wrote: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phi 2:6-11 KJV)

They Knew Him as “Lord!”

If you were to ask the average person today who claims to be a Christian: “Who is Jesus?” Chances are you will hear them refer to Jesus as the “Savior!” Many would even claim him as their “personal Savior.” (I’m still trying to figure that one out because I wonder what is meant by the use of the term: “personal?” What is the difference between Christ being your “personal Savior” as opposed to being your “Savior?” Is there such a thing as an “Impersonal Savior?” Oh well! That’s beside the point, I was just thinking out loud.) But, I did some exegetical research on the references in the New Testament to Jesus, where he is directly and/or indirectly referred to as “Savior” and contrasted those findings with the direct and/or indirect references where he is referred to as “Lord” and I found a surprising result! In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to, directly and/or indirectly as “Savior” less than 20 times! Contrastingly, he is referred to as “Lord” nearly 250 times! The numbers reveal a startling fact! Modern Christianity knows Jesus today, primarily as “Savior,” but the original and 1st century Christians knew him primarily as “Lord!”

Now you might wonder what the point is; what difference does it make whether we know him as Lord or as Savior? It makes all the difference in the world! But before I discuss that, we need to be clear on the meaning of the term: “Lord.” In the Greek text, the word translated as “lord” is the word: “kurios.” There were four primary usages of this word in the New Testament times. First, it was used as a term of respect, much in the same way we use the term: “mister” or “sir.” Secondly, it referred to, “he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he had power of deciding; the possessor and disposer of a thing, the owner; one who has control of the person, the master.” Thirdly, it was a political reference to the chief sovereign of the state; the Roman Emperor. And then lastly, it was a title given to God and the Messiah, an expression of deity.

We must note that every person who called Jesus “Lord” in the Bible was not talking about same concept. For instance, when Jesus met the woman at the well in John 4, when she told Jesus he didn’t have any utensil to draw the water with, she addressed him as “kurios,” which is translated in the English translations as “sir.” It was obvious, at that point in the conversation, she didn’t know who Jesus was. Therefore, she was just being polite in addressing him. However, when his disciples called him “kurios,” they were referring to the fact that he was their master. It is fairly obvious that they also, at that point, prior to the resurrection, had no concept of Jesus being God! They were still trying to figure out his identity. When he calmed the raging sea in Galilee, they exclaimed: “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!” (Mat 8:27 KJV) When the martyrs proclaimed: “Jesus is Lord!” during the height of the Roman persecution, such a statement was considered an act of treason because it was directly contrary to the statement of allegiance to the Roman state: “Caesar is Lord!”

But, what should it mean for us to know him as “Lord” today? And why am I advocating that we should know him as “Lord” more so than knowing him as “Savior?” Well, it’s not really a matter of one term being right while the other one is wrong. It’s a matter of understanding who Jesus really is! According to the Scriptures, he is not the “Savior” who saves: He is the “Lord” who saves! The term “Lord” signifies who he is while the term “Savior” indicates what he did and what he does! He is not just the Savior! He is the Lord who saves! He is the Lord who is the Savior! But what does it mean: He is the Lord? Is it a reference to the fact that he is God? Yes! But that is not the primary emphasis I want to stress! The primary emphasis I want us to see is the fact that he is the master, the owner, the supreme sovereign! Jesus is Lord! Period! I’ve heard people tell new converts: “Now that you are saved, you need to make Jesus Lord of your life!” But how can we make him what he already is? He’s Lord whether we acknowledge him or not! And since when did we get the authority to “make” Jesus Lord? God has already done that! Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Act 2:36 KJV) Jesus is Lord! It is not a matter of us “making him Lord of our lives” it’s a matter of us submitting to his lordship authority!

I know I’m about to get in trouble now! But I believe the Bible teaches that Jesus must be our Lord in order to be our Savior! (I know that there are some who teach that a person can be saved and Jesus may or may not become “Lord of their lives” later on! <optional lordship, but not necessarily necessary> But, I haven’t found any scriptural basis for such teaching! How can you have one without the other? Can you split a coin and have “tails” without the “heads” and still have a legitimate coin? Is Christ divided? How can he be our Savior without being our Lord?) Consider a staple scripture that is often used to lead people to salvation:

Romans 10:9:

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Rom 10:9 KJV)

“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9 ESV)

“That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9 NASB)

Note that the first requirement is confessing (the Greek word is “homolegeo” it means; “to say or speak the same thing as another, to agree”) Jesus as Lord. Who and What are you agreeing with? You are agreeing with God and with what He says about Jesus being Lord. (When we “confess” our sins, it is not just a matter of us acknowledging or admitting that we are wrong, it’s also agreeing with whatever God says about our sins! It is calling our sins what God calls them!) In this text, we confess or acknowledge Jesus, not as Savior; but as Lord! Then we believe in our heart; that is we have faith, we trust in and rely upon the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead! It is then, only after we’ve confessed Jesus as (is) Lord, only after we believed that God raised Jesus from the dead, it is only then, that Paul says we will be saved!

The Bible says out of the mouth of two or three witnesses, let every word be established. So that was Paul, let’s hear Peter! It was Peter who made one-third of the less than twenty direct references to Jesus as Savior. There are five references to “Savior Jesus Christ” in 2nd Peter. But of those five references, four are: “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” In the New Testament, Jesus is rarely referred to as just, “Savior” Most of the time (nearly 250), he is referred to as “Lord!”

Well, we’ve heard from Paul and Peter, let’s hear from Jesus! Jesus said to those who would come after (that is, follow him or be saved) him:  “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 KJV) That’s Lordship talk! He said: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mat 11:28-30 KJV) That’s Lordship talk! How did Jesus understand himself as Lord? He asked, one day: “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? (Luke 6:46 NLT) On another occasion he said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21 ESV) Clearly Jesus understood that his “lordship” warranted obedience from those who would claim him as such. The fact that he is Lord is the basis of his authority in issuing the Great Commission: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mat 28:18-20 ESV) The marching order of the church is based on the authority, not of Jesus the Savior, but of Jesus the Lord!

The evidence is overwhelming! We might want to know him primarily as Savior, but they knew him as Lord!

Comments are welcomed!

5 Reasons Why Christians Should NOT Accept Jesus As Their Personal Savior: A Guest Post by T. E. Hanna

This is an interesting article by T. E. Hanna from Of Dust and Kings that I totally agree with. In addition to the points the author makes, I would add that Jesus NEVER invited anyone to follow him as their “Savior!” He called people to follow him as their Lord and that call was absolute! Or, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic work The Cost of Discipleship“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die!”

5 Reasons Why Christians Should NOT Accept Jesus As Their Personal Savior

In 1989, Depeche Mode released their 23rd single in the UK, a hit song that quickly climbed the charts and would eventually be covered by such notable musicians as Johnny Cash, Jerry Williams, Nina Hagen, and Marilyn Manson. The song was entitled “Personal Jesus” and the steady rhythm of the chorus drummed out the following lines:

Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who’s there
…reach out and touch Faith

While Depeche Mode used the “personal Jesus” idea as a metaphor for codependent human relationships, the concept has nevertheless permeated western Christian culture. Testimonies typically hail back to the moment when one has “finally accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and savior” and the standard evangelism question points to the same idea: “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?”

Yet Scripture knows nothing of a personalized faith.

Bear with me here, and let me clarify what I am NOT saying. I am NOT saying that we should not be impacted on a personal level by the Christian faith – we absolutely should. I am NOT saying that we do not come to Christ on a personal basis – we absolutely must.

However, the idea of a personal savior has taken on a life of its own, replacing the locus of the Christian life with our personal agendas and pushing Jesus to the margins. We customize, privatize, and minimize the Christian story, relegating Jesus to little more than “someone to hear your prayers, someone who cares.” This corrodes the very heart of the Christian faith, eating away at its life transforming power, and ripping Jesus away from His divinity in order to wedge Him into an idol fashioned after a hyper-individualistic culture. This simply won’t do.

Christians need to reject the idea of the personal Jesus, and we need to do it for 5 reasons:

1. Christians Are Called To Follow, Not Accept

The central cry of Jesus was never “accept me.” In fact, it was quite the opposite. Jesus walked a path which called Him to be despised and rejected, betrayed and belittled, criticized and crucified. The call of Jesus to His disciples and to us is to follow. Following requires leaving things behind and forging forward, laying down your life that you might find it, dying to yourself that your might discover the life abundant in the purposes of God. Acceptance is passive. Following is inherently active.

2. Christians Conform To Christ, Not Christ To Christians

At the heart of spiritual formation is the move to become “Christ-like”. Often, this challenges our preconceptions and wars against our desires. Good. It is supposed to. The Jesus Way is a way of transformation, of exposing our darker side to the Light of the World that the shadows may be cast away and we may become luminaries of incandescent glory, reflecting the blinding rays of the Son. We must never customize Jesus, reducing Him to an eternal moral teacher that can give us a hand when things get rough. We must allow ourselves to be confronted by Him, restored through Him, and conformed to Him.

3. Christians Are Called To Community, Not Isolation

John Wesley once wrote that “Scripture knows nothing of solitary religion.” From Genesis to Revelation, we see the story of a God who is creating a people, not just persons. In the instances where we see individuals emphasized, they are emphasized for the purpose of the people. Abraham was called individually to carry the covenant for what would become the people of God. Moses was called individually to free the Israelite people. David was called individually to lead a nation of God’s people. The prophets were called individually to be the mouthpiece of God to His people. The disciples were called individually only to then be sent forth to gather a global people. The popular notion that Christianity is a personal affair, making the community of faith unnecessary, finds no basis in the pages of Scripture. It is only in community that we find accountability, corporate prayer, unified worship, and the edification of the saints. It is only in community that we become the Body of Christ.

4. Christians Are Called To Serve, Not Be Served

So much of Christian rhetoric emphasizes the blessing of God and de-emphasizes the way of the cross. Much of popular Christianity is about seeking these blessings, about conforming God to our will, about how God somehow is charged with serving us. I am not diminishing the reality of the blessedness of God, but blessing is hardly the entire picture. Jesus completely inverts the concept of privilege, calling His followers away from notions of entitlement and into a life of servanthood. The reality of this is that, as we serve one another, we will be served in the process; but the notion that service is somehow owed to us is completely overturned. We, who claim ourselves as children of the greatest King who ever existed, express this most dutifully as servants.

5. Christians Are Saved For More Than Just Themselves

The Christian concept of salvation does more than just look over its shoulder at a sinful past now washed clean. It does more than look at the present as we are engaged in a process of spiritual renewal. It looks to the future, at the outworking of our salvation expressed as a transformed people transforming the world. In other words, Christians are not just saved from sin, they are saved to God. We become active participants in the breaking forth of God’s Kingdom as the redemptive order confronts and exposes the manifestation of sin in society. To limit the concept of salvation to a personal experience (or worse, a personal event) truncates the fullness of what it means to be Christian. We are not just saved from a life of sin; we are saved for a world where sin still manifests.

The popular evangelistic rhetoric calling for people to “accept Jesus as your personal savior” needs to be overturned. It is only in the call to “come and follow” and to “take up your cross” that we begin to regain the deeper things which have historically defined God’s people. It is here, in the deep water, where Christianity comes alive.