By Ben Swift
‘I am worried about how market forces have penetrated the Church. When we start to hear a prosperity doctrine preached on Sundays, I hear a message that to be poor is sinful and to be saved means we are blessed and rich.’ (Tim Costello)
Tim Costello raises an interesting and important concern here. It is in reflections such as these where it becomes important to ask the question, “Who’s in charge here?” If we as Christians are to confess Jesus as ‘Lord of our lives’, as often occurs in church services all around the world on a weekly basis, we must consider the truth about what this really means.
Generally speaking, the word ‘Lord’ refers to one with power and authority, a master or ruler. Martin Luther in his Large Catechism states that “the little word ‘Lord’ simply means the same as ‘Redeemer’ which means: the one who has brought us from the devil to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and preserves us thereby.”
I wonder when we hear, speak and digest this little word ‘Lord’, do we really comprehend how it is to shape our very being? Or does it roll from our tongue as a simple, hollow word, detached from our hearts and minds, having little effect on the way in which we interpret life and others.
In Ephesians 5:15-16 Paul urges us to take seriously the concept of Jesus being Lord over our lives.
Therefore, pay careful attention to how you conduct your life – live wisely, not unwisely. Use your time well, for these are evil days. So don’t be foolish, but try to understand what the will of the Lord is.
Now we know that the will of the Lord is foolishness to those who don’t know Christ, but to those elect in Christ, how can they resist the desire placed in them by the Holy Spirit to be transformed to do the will of the Lord Jesus Christ. When through the Holy Spirit we encounter the Living Lord Jesus in our lives, nothing can separate us from His truth and the overwhelming assurance that comes from knowing it is He who is in control, not humanity and therefore not us. Rock Musician, ‘Chris Daughtry’, describes this encounter well in the lyrics to his song ‘Crashed’. He writes:
‘Then I crashed into you, and I went up in flames
Could’ve been the death of me, But then you breathed your breath in me
Then I crashed into you, like a runaway train
You will consume me, but I can’t walk away.’
According to Lutheran Pastor David Schmidt, in the years immediately following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the early Christians composed their first creed. This creed is not one of those frequently used in church liturgies today such as the Nicene Creed. This creed consisted of three simple words. “Jesus is Lord.”
This creed, although very simple, is very deep. It brings forth a very challenging teaching. Theologian John Stott, raises the following thoughts in relation to the question of Jesus being the Lord of our lives. ‘Our common way of avoiding radical discipleship is to be selective; choosing the areas in which commitment suits us and staying away from those areas in which it would be costly. But because Jesus is Lord, we have no right to pick and choose the areas we will submit to his authority.” Just contemplating this is enough to create discomfort in a world that promotes the ‘self’ as being ‘Lord’.
Most of us would be familiar with the haunting words of Lord Vader, otherwise known as Darth Vader, to his unknowing son Luke, “Do not underestimate the power of the Dark Side,” and “It is useless to resist my son.” While you may be thinking that these are just lines from a science-fiction movie, they do carry some truth. The power of the metaphorical ‘Dark Side’, in reality, is not always as obvious as bowing in submission to an intimidating, black figure armed with a light sabre. It’s much more subtle than that. It has the ability to creep into our lives in many forms that shape the attitudes, actions and decisions we make on a daily basis.
Take for example Jesus’ warning concerning the master we serve. ‘No one can be a slave to two masters; for he will either hate the first and love the second, or scorn the second and be loyal to the first. You can’t be a slave to both God and money.’ (Matthew 6:24)
It is clear, when it comes to Christ, there can be only one Lord. It is either God or ‘self’. It is for this reason that we must ensure that Jesus is not only Lord over our personal lives, but also Lord over ‘The Church’ as a body. John Stott understood this well when he expressed the following concerns in his book ‘The Radical Disciple’: ‘So the fundamental question before the church is who is Lord? Is the church the lord of Jesus Christ, so that it has liberty to edit and manipulate, accepting what it likes and rejecting what it dislikes? Or is Jesus Christ our Teacher and our Lord, so that we believe and obey his teaching?’
Let us not forget the challenging words of Jesus, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ but do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) This is the question he poses right before his warning about building our lives on shifting sands. Anyone who attended Sunday School would recall how that story ends.
Living according to the will of Jesus, or completely subjecting ourselves to his Lordship over our lives, is not easy in our complex, Western way of living. For those who long to live this Christ-like life, it can be demoralizing to contemplate the array of issues that seem inseparably intertwined throughout our culture. We question what can be done about issues such as climate change, child abuse, slave labour, poverty and consumerism to name a few. When one analyses the complexities involved in each of these issues it can be frustrating to find that making the right choices leads to a whole new set of issues that seem impossible to address.
Thankfully, in the end, we have the assurance that we can do nothing to earn the favour of God. As we are transformed to be more Christ-like, it is important to strive to live according to what Jesus teaches. It is also important to understand that no matter how many times we fall short, we have been made acceptable in what has been achieved by God through Christ, and not through ourselves. So let us embrace Jesus as Lord, both personally and as the Body of Christ, always feeling secure in the knowledge that we are and always will belong to Him.
Don’t you know that if you present yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, then, of the one whom you are obeying, you are slaves – whether of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to being made righteous? By God’s grace, you, who were once slaves to sin, obeyed from your heart the pattern of teaching to which you were exposed; and after you had been set free from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)