#10 For Christians, Jesus Must be Lord as Well as Savior

IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER, I emphasized that Christians need to be careful when they call Jesus “Lord,” but this chapter emphasizes what seems to be just the opposite: Christians must be careful to call Jesus “Lord” and to mean it. In other words, if people are to be true Christians, Jesus must be their Lord as well as their Savior.

Perhaps most Christians became Christians primarily because they realized their need for salvation. That is how it was in my case: when I became a Christian as an elementary school boy, it was after a week of worry about what would happen to me if I died. I came to realize that I would not go to Heaven if I did not trust Jesus to be my Savior. So I made a public profession of faith in Jesus, and as a result I felt great joy and relief.

While there was not anything particularly wrong with my motivation for trusting in Jesus, or any fatal flaw in the way I entered the Christian faith, still in a decisive way my initial commitment to Christ was inadequate. Not necessarily inadequate for being saved from the penalty of sin, but inadequate for living the Christian life. I do not remember my pastor or anyone else at that time saying that to trust Jesus as Savior also means to follow him as Lord. But it does mean that, or at least it should.

What Is Salvation?

Salvation is, of course, a tremendously important concept with different levels of meaning. Many contemporary religious writers rightly point out that originally salvation meant being delivered from any danger or distress or from enemies. That was especially true in the Old Testament, but the same idea is often found in the New Testament as well.

Primarily, however, beginning in New Testament times and continuing to the present salvation in Christianity has regularly been interpreted to mean the redemption of human beings from the punishment of sin (eternal death, Hell) and the gift/promise of everlasting life (in Heaven).

From the fifth century on, “orthodox” Christian theology, mainly the theology developed by Augustine of Hippo, understood every human being to be the recipient of original (or inherited) sin and thus bound for eternal separation from God unless saved from that fate. According to Augustine, though, everyone, including newly born infants, could be saved through baptism.

The Council of Carthage in 418, condemned Pelagius, Augustine’s theological opponent, and declared that “even babies, who are yet unable to commit any sin personally, are truly baptized for the forgiveness of sins, for the purpose of cleansing by rebirth what they have received by birth.” Such baptism is clearly for salvation from eternal death, Hell, and for eternal life, Heaven.

Although the Baptist tradition, in which I grew up, emphasized personal confession of faith as the means of receiving God’s forgiveness, the concept of salvation was largely the same. It was salvation from eternal torment which awaited all the “unsaved” at the time of death. That was my original view of salvation, and it was only later that I came to realize that that view was insufficient and that Jesus must be Lord as well as Savior. That is, salvation is meant to be more than “fire insurance” (which will shortly be considered a little more fully). Salvation is supposed to be a whole new way of living in this present world.

Why is Salvation Not Enough?

When I first became a Christian, I didn’t have the foggiest idea about the meaning of the Kingdom of God, especially as interpreted as something present in this world now, such as I wrote about in a previous chapter. I did learn in Sunday School and in “church,” which is what we usually called the worship services then, that Christians were not supposed to do some things and were supposed to do other things. We were to refrain from sin mainly in order to be able to be able to witness effectively to people who had not yet been saved.

So, there was some ethical content in my early Christian education, but there was little, at least little that took hold, about the Lordship of Jesus and nothing about the Kingdom of God being God’s desire for the world now. And, being a completely non-liturgical church, I seldom heard or prayed the Lord’s Prayer, with the words “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Although it was much later before I began to grasp the significance of the concept of the Kingdom of God, during my first two years in college I came to understand more and more about the lordship of Jesus for Christians and about the importance of Jesus being Lord as well as Savior.

Even though I probably didn’t think of it exactly in this way then, I came to realize that to become a Christian is primarily to become a follower of Jesus. And to be a follower of Jesus entails making faith an integral part of every aspect of one’s life, not just one segment or compartment of life. That important assertion means moving from a compartmentalized view of religion, as depicted in the first table below, to the concept of a foundational faith that informs all areas of life, as depicted in the second table.

Personal Family Work Recreation Religion

Compartmentalized Religion

Rather than the above compartmentalization, faith should be seen as foundational, like this:

Personal Family Work Recreation

Foundational Faith

The tragic thing about the traditional view of salvation depicted in the first table is that it is relegated to a religion compartment that is often relatively unrelated to the rest of life. Since salvation was seen primarily as the means to Heaven after one dies, it didn’t have a great deal to do with how one lived here on earth.

This is not to say, of course, that there was no emphasis on “being a good Christian” at home, at school, at work, etc. But the reason given for that was primarily for the purpose of being a good witness so as to help influence others to come to church where they could hear the Gospel and be saved from eternal damnation also.

This type of mentality, which was pretty much a “pie in the sky by and by” type of thinking, was common among Christians who wanted to justify or to maintain the status quo, such as the slaveholders in the U.S. a century and a half ago. Many Southern Christians were seriously concerned about slaves being saved—for Heaven. But among most, there was little concern for them to be saved from the scourge of slavery. In fact, many fought fiercely in the Civil War to keep them from being saved from that sinful system in the here and now.

Perhaps it would be hard to find an example of compartmentalization better than that of the religion of the Southern slaveholders. A great many of them were religious to be sure. But most did not see how their religious faith should change what they did in the area of economics or social custom. Perhaps their religion made them a little kinder and more compassionate to individual slaves, but for the most part it did little to help them see the sinfulness of the system. This is just one example of the problem when people confess Jesus as Savior but do not profess him as Lord of life.

Salvation is More than “Fire Insurance”

In much traditional evangelical Christianity, which was the religion of my home church, salvation was largely presented as a type of “fire insurance.” It was a very good policy to have so you would not “fry when you die.” Many of the revival preachers I heard were related, religiously, to the legendary “fire and brimstone” evangelists who did so much to expand the membership of the evangelical churches in England and especially in the United States—but who also fostered a limited view of what salvation really when fully understood.

The Puritan preacher Thomas Vincent authored a book called Fire and Brimstone in Hell: To Burn the Wicked.[1] In that book he quotes Psalm 11:6 “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest, this shall be the portion of their cup” (KJV).

Evangelists such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield were referred to as “fire and brimstone preachers” during the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s. Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” remains among the best-known sermons of all time.[2] There are reports telling how when Edwards or Whitefield preached, many of the audience would burst out weeping and others would cry out in anguish or even faint.

The Great Awakening in the eighteenth century was followed by a Second Great Awakening in the nineteenth, led by the very effective mass evangelist Charles Gandison Finney.[3] “The father of modern revivalism,” as Finney is sometimes called, began his successful urban evangelistic meetings in 1830, and began a type of mass evangelism that was carried on by Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham.[4]

Those revivalists, and many others, preached about the reality of Hell and the certainty of escaping Hell and going to Heaven through faith in Jesus Christ. These preachers depicted salvation almost exclusively as individualistic; that is, it was about the salvation of individuals from damnation upon death. And while certainly not completely devoid of ethical content—Finney, for example, was an abolitionist—salvation was seen primarily as a personal matter, so little emphasis was placed upon societal or systemic problems and the responsibility of Christians to address such issues.

In response to criticism about not speaking out on social issues, Billy Graham declared that he was called to be a New Testament evangelist, not an Old Testament prophet. By that statement it is to be assumed that he saw his calling to be helping people find salvation in the traditional sense but not in helping them to learn more, or to be challenged, about ethical issues in this present world.

Certainly, this has been at the heart of the old debate about “evangelism and social justice.” As “liberal” Christian groups, such as the World Council of Churches, and missionaries began to put more and more stress on social justice issues, conservative Christian groups, such as the many who became a part of the World Evangelical Alliance, continued to emphasize that mission work should continue to be for the primary purpose of evangelism in the traditional sense, that is, saving people for eternal life in Heaven.[5]

In recent years, to be sure, traditional, conservative, and evangelical groups here and abroad have been more involved in social justice issues than they were throughout much of the twentieth century, especially from the 1910s to the ’40s or ’50s. But there is still considerable tension between the two, especially now that much of the WCC efforts are criticized as being only concerned with social justice type issues and many within the liberal churches have almost completely renounced any evangelistic activity, including evangelistic mission work in the traditional sense.

Emphasizing Ephesians 2:10 Also

When I was in high school and in junior college, Ephesians 2:8-9 was often emphasized in sermons and elsewhere in the Baptist circles with which I regularly associated. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast” (RSV, the translation I used mostly back then).

In contrast to Catholics and some Protestant denominations that tended to hold a view of “salvation by works,” at least to some extent, we Baptists emphasized salvation by grace through faith alone. And I think we got that part of it right: salvation is completely a free gift from God received by repentant sinners, not something that we humans can gain or earn by our own efforts, no matter how earnest we are.

But here again, salvation was seen almost exclusively as escape from the punishment of sin in Hell and as eternal life in Heaven after death. I don’t know how long it was before I ever read and took Ephesians 2:10 seriously. Perhaps some of my boyhood pastors or preachers I heard in college emphasized that verse, but if they did it took a long time for it to make much of an impression on me.

Note well what that important verse says: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This verse clearly links salvation with life in this world in the present time, not just life in Heaven after we die.

Of course, it is quite likely that if this verse was referred to in sermons I heard in the 1950s, “good works” were primarily defined as “soul-winning” activities and other witnessing work designed to save others for Heaven in the same way we Christians had been saved. And, I want to make clear, that was not a wrong emphasis. It was just insufficient and reductionistic. That is, it reduced the multifaceted Gospel of Jesus Christ to just one dimension; it emphasized the world to come (after death) to the neglect of the world at hand (here and now).

Truly, Christians need to know that Jesus must be their Lord as well as their Savior.

[1] Vincent (1634-78) was a prominent English minister and the author of several books. Fire and Brimstone was first published in 1670.

[2] Some call Edwards (1703-58) “America’s greatest theologian.” His famous sermon was first preached in Enfield, Connecticut, in 1741. Whitefield (1714-70) was born in England and preached extensively both in his home country and in the British North American colonies. Few would doubt that he was the best-known preacher in England and America in the eighteenth century.

[3] Finney (1792-1875) was also a staunch abolitionist and a college teacher and president. In 1835 he accepted appointment to the faculty at Oberlin College (Ohio) on the condition that black students would be admitted and allowed to study in the same classroom as white students. Thus, Oberlin became the first college in the U.S. to do that. Finney was the president of that college from 1851 to 1866.

[4] Some claim that Moody (1837-1899) was the greatest evangelist of the nineteenth century. Some of his most effective revivalist efforts were conducted in Great Britain. Sunday (1862-1935) was clearly the best-known revivalist in the first third of the twentieth century, and the revivals (“crusades”) of Graham (1918-2018) are legendary; he is said to have preached in person to more people around the world than any Christian in history.

[5] The World Council of Churches (WCC) was established in 1948, and their homepage states that the “The WCC brings together churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 500 million Christians” The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) was established in 1951 as the World Evangelical Fellowship, the current name being adopted in 2001. Their homepage gives this description: “WEA is a dynamic global structure for unity and action that embraces 600 million evangelicals in 129 countries.”