#11 For Christians, Jesus Must Be Lord Of All If He Is Lord At All

THE PREVIOUS TWO CHAPTERS have been about the lordship of Jesus, and there is one more important thing that everyone needs to know about the significance of that lordship: For Christians, Jesus must be Lord of all, or he is not Lord at all. That is, to be sure, an assertion that has been around for a long time, but I don’t get the impression many Christians think in those terms much anymore.

It was probably during my freshman year of college that I first heard the assertion that Jesus must be Lord of all if he is Lord at all. And, if I remember correctly, I wrote those words inside the front cover of the pocket New Testament that I regularly carried then. I certainly can’t claim that I have completely, or even mostly, lived by the meaning of those words—but I have been challenged by those words often.

So that there will be no misunderstanding, in light of what I wrote in the ninth chapter, the affirmation I am making here is not about Jesus being Lord over all the world. It is about Jesus being Lord over the totality of an individual believer’s life. These are two completely separate issues.

The previous chapter dealt some with the problem of compartmentalization, making religious faith just one of several different parts of a person’s life rather than the foundation of all the other aspects of his or her existence. The idea of Jesus being Lord of all is a closely related concept.

If Jesus is Lord of all, then for the individual Christian believer every area of their life —their personal life, their family relationships, their financial decisions, their recreational activities, and every other sphere of their existence—must be subject to Jesus, their Lord.

Some people, no doubt, have serious questions regarding the total lordship of Jesus. Let’s consider a couple of those.

Is Confessing Jesus as Lord an Enslaving Act?

Talk about total lordship is met with resistance by some, especially in this country, because of the great emphasis on an individual being freed from all external constraints. “Give me liberty or give me death!” were not just the famous words of Patrick Henry in 1775, that exclamation has been a recurrent theme in U.S. history and culture ever since.

This chapter was initially written just a few months after the release of the movie “Invictus,” the stirring film about Nelson Mandela in South Africa. The title of that movie comes from a poem by the same name, a poem ending with these words: “I am the master of my fate: / I am the captain of my soul.”[1] To a large extent, this now seems to be the prevailing attitude of multitudes of people around the world.

So, what is the reaction of Christians who are expected to acknowledge Jesus as Lord—or of those who are not Christians but who encounter the Christian message? For some of the former, it often means compartmentalization, about which I wrote in the previous chapter. “Jesus is Lord,” some seem to think, is a statement that applies only to one’s religious life, not to every aspect of one’s thoughts and actions. The desire for personal freedom causes some to reject, usually in an unconscious manner, the total lordship of Jesus over every area of life.

For some those who are not Christians, talk about the lordship of Jesus is off-putting. Those who pride themselves on their independence, their self-reliance, and, above all, their freedom as one who is captain of their own soul, why would they possibly want to acknowledge Jesus as Lord? That sort of response may not often be expressed, but, whether recognized or not, it is likely one of the most basic reasons for some people not wanting to become a follower of Jesus.

But can people ever have complete freedom? Jesus once declared: “. . . you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Some of his listeners demurred, stating that they had never been slaves to anyone, and they asked Jesus, “What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free?’” Jesus reply was straightforward: “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:32-34).

So, as many evangelical preachers have often explained, everyone is either a “slave” of Jesus or a slave of someone or something else that is far inferior to Jesus. If the choice is to be either a “slave” of Jesus or a slave to sin, it seems obvious that allowing Jesus to be Lord is the far wiser position.

Although it may seem like a conundrum, real human freedom is possible only for those who allow Jesus to be Lord. True freedom is possible through Jesus, the one who saves us from our sins. I have long linked salvation to liberation, for I am convinced that confessing Jesus as Lord is liberating rather than enslaving. Submission to Christ makes it possible for us to be what God created us to be, to be what some call “fully human.”

But there is another problem which much be addressed.

Is Confessing Jesus as Lord an “Ensmalling” Act?

I get the impression that some Christians now think that we need a much broader view of the world than is possible through Christianity or through Jesus Christ. Talk about the lordship of Jesus is for them, it seems, an outmoded idea that we need to move beyond. But I strongly disagree that commitment to the lordship of Jesus is an “ensmalling” act. Rightly understood, it is an enlarging one.

Without question, Jesus of Nazareth was a Jewish man who grew up in a small town in a small nation around two thousand years ago. Jesus traveled little, wrote nothing (so far as we know), and died a criminal’s death at an early age. That doesn’t sound like much of a résumé for one who would be considered Lord.

The credentials of Jesus, though,

 are based not just on his humanity but also upon his divinity, and we looked at that important matter some in the second chapter. The same New Testament that tells of Jesus’ humble birth and lowly life—with nowhere to lay his head (Luke 9:58)—also says that Jesus was

the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. . . For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1:15-17, 19).

If this is a correct description of the true nature of Jesus as the Christ, and that has been a central affirmation of Christians through the centuries, how could allegiance to Jesus possibly make one’s understanding of the world narrower or more limited? If the fullness of God dwells in Jesus, then the more we grasp the true nature of Jesus, the more we grasp the true nature of God and the world in its totality.

In spite of the tragic misunderstanding of Jesus and his teachings by so many professing Christians through the centuries, even coming close to comprehending the nature of Jesus and his teaching helps one gain a much greater understanding of the world than most people have. Just as I emphasized in the first chapter that God is greater than we think, or even can think, perhaps the same can be said about Jesus Christ.

Thus, far from causing people to have a narrower, more parochial, smaller view of the world, commitment to Jesus as Lord actually expands one’s vision, enlarges their viewpoint, and stretches their capacity to understand the world that Jesus came to redeem.

The Idea of Jesus’ Total Lordship is Not New, Just Neglected

In a previous chapter I wrote how my boyhood faith was mainly due to the desire for salvation after death and had little to do with the idea of Jesus’ lordship or the significance of the Kingdom of God in this present world. But that does not mean I never heard about the need for commitment to Christ. In fact, during my early teen years, I made a rededication of my life to Christ on more than one occasion, usually in response to powerful preaching in what were then called “revival meetings.”

In those formative adolescent years, my home church often sang such Gospel songs as “Take My Life, and Let It Be,” which, unfortunately, the Broadman Hymnal gave as the title that can be read with the nuance of “let it be as it is” or even “let it alone.” But the words of that old hymn are quite good:

Take my life, and let it be / Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my hands and let them move / At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let it be / Swift and beautiful for Thee;
Take my voice, and let me sing, / Always, only, for my King.
Take my silver and my gold, / Not a mite would I withhold;
Take my moments and my days, / Let them flow in endless praise.
Take my will, and make it Thine, / It shall be no longer mine;
Take my heart, it is Thine own, / It shall be Thy royal throne.[2]

There is not room here to introduce in detail other old hymns of the church with a similar theme, but let me just mention two or three others. These are all hymns that I sang regularly in my home church as a boy: “I Surrender All,” which begins, “All to Jesus I surrender; / All to Him I freely give”;[3] “Have Thine Own Way, Lord!” with the words “Hold o’er my being / Absolute sway”; [4] and “Living for Jesus,” which begins with the words, “Living for Jesus a life that is true, / Striving to please Him in all that I do.”[5]

Perhaps I was later able to realize the truth of the statement “Jesus must be Lord of all if he is to be Lord at all” because of singing hymns like those during my boyhood. But, sadly, I am afraid that I often have not lived up to the ideals I sang about, and the same seems true for perhaps the majority of Christians in this country. Confessing Jesus as Lord has implications that are not often recognized, and all who claim to be Christians need to think through what it really means for Jesus to be Lord.

So, What are the Implications?

If Jesus is Lord, then one’s life must be lived with the desire to follow Jesus and his will for their life rather than to follow their own selfish desires. For so many people, their human existence centers on the thought, “I want . . . .” But if Jesus is Lord, one’s life is not primarily about them. That is an important point made by Rick Warren, author of the extremely popular book The Purpose Driven Life.[6] He begins the chapter for the first day of his forty-day plan with these words:

It’s not about you.

The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions.

Warren wasn’t writing about the lordship of Jesus as such, but his words apply to that also. God’s purpose is about a society characterized by shalom, as I emphasized in an earlier chapter. Thus, when Jesus is truly Lord of one’s life, that person’s purpose for living is focused on the kingdom of God, on the whole human society, and even upon the world of nature. Instead of thinking primarily about what one wants, a person living under the lordship of Jesus must think about what the needs of the whole human family are and what is necessary for the natural order to be sustained.

The New Testament quotes Jesus as saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” and the same words are quoted exactly in two later New Testament passages. Similar words are found in three other places.[7] Those who live with Jesus as Lord of all, therefore, means that in every aspect of their lives they must seek to practice neighbor-love. For that reason, their purpose for living can’t be just about themselves and their personal desires.

How people spend their time, how they spend their money, the type of work they do, the type of recreation they engage in, the way they relate to family, the way they relate to others—all of these things must be under the Lordship of Jesus. It is not enough that they give a tenth of their income (a tithe) or a seventh of their time (the “Sabbath”) to God. If Jesus is Lord, 100% of their money rather than 10% and 100% of their time rather than 1/7 comes under his control.

As we saw earlier in this chapter, this kind of thinking seems to some, or perhaps to many, to be highly oppressive. It seems to fly in the face of the kind of freedom and independence that most of us prize.

But this is about the lordship of one who is perfect and who loves everyone perfectly. This is about the one who died to redeem everyone. This is about the Savior who seeks to reconcile everyone to God and to one another. Thus, the lordship of Jesus is not about some earthly potentate who lords it over his subjects for his own selfish enjoyment. No, it is about one whose main characteristic is love, one who seeks to transform this world into a realm of peace and justice for all.

Yes, Christians must seek to allow Jesus be Lord of all if he is to be Lord at all. And looking at this matter from the standpoint of Christian faith, what more fulfilling, what more thrilling, what more meaningful life could one possibly have than that lived under the lordship of Jesus Christ!


[1] William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), a British poet, wrote this poem in 1875 and it was first published in 1888. Mandela, who was a political prisoner for twenty-seven years, is said to have had “Invictus” on a piece of paper in his cell.

[2] This hymn was written by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-79) in 1874. The original poem seems to have been slightly different from the hymn published in The Broadman Hymnal and subsequent hymnbooks.

[3] Judson W. Van DeVenter (1855-1939) wrote this hymn in 1896.

[4] Adelaide Addison Pollard (1862-1937) wrote over a hundred hymns and Gospel songs; her best-known work is “Have Thine Own Way, Lord!” written in 1907.

[5] This hymn was written by Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866-1960) in 1917.

[6] (Zondervan, 2002). By 2007 it had sold over 30,000,000 copies and according to Publisher’s Weekly, it is the bestselling hardback book in American history.

[7] In the New Revised Standard Version, the words “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” are found in Matthew 19:19 and 22:39, Mark 12:31, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8. The passages with the same meaning but different wording are Mark 12:33, Luke 10:27, and Romans 13:9.

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