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I remember a controversy that took place back in the 1980’s–which actually got it’s start back in the 1950’s (source here)–that created a huge brouhaha in the Christian church in America. It was over the concept of “Lordship Salvation.” The dispute spawned several books, conferences, and other media events at that time and has continued over the past thirty or so years in the evangelical community. A quote from Wikipedia.com states:
In 1988, Dr. John F. MacArthur, Jr., published the first edition of “The Gospel According to Jesus.” By defining salvation by what it produces and what salvation will not fail to produce—namely, not only glorification, but good works, repentance, faith, sanctification, yieldedness, and obedience, the book in its sales not only heavily spread the extent of the debate, but the debate expanded in scope, from questions about conversion issues, to questions about what is also necessary, and who it is who does what, throughout the Christian life. Using surrender language in the gospel became not the only issue.
Free Grace theology became an umbrella term for a variety of opposing or contrasting positions, sometimes arguing that Lordship salvation was legalistic, sometimes more opposed to it than that, for example, faulting it about not being specific about what degree, quality, and current visibility there must be to the obedience necessary. The controversy continues to be debated in discussions about not only all the gospels, but in discussions about almost any of the Pauline epistles [the New Testament books written by the apostle Paul], and the rest of the New Testament, as well as much material about salvation in topical studies, and in systematic theology (quote course here).
While the debate is still very much alive and still as heated, often defined in terms nowadays as “legalism versus grace” (although the issues go deeper than just that); at the core of the controversy is the whole idea of who “owns” our lives (especially for those of us who consider ourselves to be Christian). Innumerable books, articles, and other media have been written and created on the topic since the 1980’s. Indeed, entire ministries have sprung up from the debate leaning heavily on one or the other side of the issue, and I have no desire to add to that debate. As I wrote in a previous blog post a few days ago (see “Contemplating God’s Sovereignty”), the whole idea of one person having complete control over us as individuals and as Americans is an alien concept, so the idea of anyone being “Lord” (or King, Queen, dictator, or sovereign ruler) over us can rankle our nerves. After all, we are Americans and we like our freedom to choose. Rugged individualism is at the core of who we are as a people and as a nation–just look at John Wayne.
As Americans, we do, however, like having strong leadership. Not dictatorship (autocratic rule–a government without the people’s consent), but leadership (democratic rule–a government with the people’s consent). Here are some of the key differences between leaders and dictators from NewscastMedia.com:
- A leader has his peoples’ best interests at heart; a dictator has his own interests at heart.
- A leader corrects injustices; a dictator commits and encourages injustices.
- A leader protects the weak and helpless; a dictator oppresses the weak and helpless.
- A leader unites the people; a dictator creates division and polarizes the people.
- Leaders advance and develop their countries; dictators setback and destroy their countries.
- When people are hurting leaders share the peoples’ grief; dictators hurt and grieve their own people.
- Leaders are loved because they don’t instill fear in their people; dictators are hated because they instill fear in their people.
- Leaders comfort the oppressed; dictators oppress the comfortable.
- Leaders are trusted by their people; dictators betray the trust of their people.
- Leaders abide by the Law of the land; dictators are the Law of the land.
- It takes a leader to notice another leader; it takes a dictator to destroy a leader.
- Leaders will always be remembered for the problems they solved; dictators will always be remembered for the problems they created (list source here.)
Most of the time when we think of someone with supreme control over others we think of them in the role of a dictator–someone who does not care about the people or their needs at all, but rules with “an iron fist” as indicated in the list above. Unfortunately, world history proves this out many times; for example, in recent history with Adolf Hitler or Mao Tse-tung. As Americans, we tend to think of anyone in the role of a supreme ruler or king or lord as a dictator–one who does not have the peoples’ interests at heart but the interests of only themselves; and history has proved over and over again the enormous damage caused on the world scene by an autocratic dictator.
However, there is One supreme ruler who is anything but a dictator as described in the list above. That supreme ruler (and leader) is Jesus Christ. In fact, if we read that list above again and look at all of the attributes of a true leader, Jesus Christ fulfills every one of them, and a whole lot more. When Jesus Christ, the only Son of God (see John 3:16-18), came to earth, born of a virgin; He came as a servant announcing the kingdom of God and how to become a part of it (see John 3). And during His public ministry (His last three years), He told us how to live and to turn from sin; He healed the sick and the blind and the lame; He performed miracles; and He admonished the religious elite regarding their hypocrisy and their need to get right with God. And He announced to Pilate, right before His crucifixion and resurrection, “My kingdom is not of this world . . . my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).
In a devotion in “Open Windows,” published by LifeWay titled, “Who is Lord?”, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, Senior Pastor at Cross Church, Springdale, AR, and general editor, LifeWay’s Bible Studies for Life, writes the following (Note: devotional passage reference is Philippians 2:5-11 and he starts by quoting verse 11):
“And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” ~Phil. 2:11 (KJV).
In the game of football, the teams that emerge in championship games generally are the ones who have a quarterback who excels at his ability to play that position. Many qualities make a quarterback great, but the most successful quarterbacks are respected leaders. Their leadership commands attention, which results in the entire team responding to them.
When you repented of your sin and trusted in Jesus Christ and Him alone for your salvation, Jesus became the Savior and Lord of your life. As Lord, that means He calls the shots. He tells you where to line up and how to live when you are under pressure.
The Greek word “kurios” is used in the New Testament to identify Jesus as Lord. The word refers to one who has authority over another person. The disciples used the word when referring to Jesus in Matthew 8:25, 16:22, Luke 9:54, and John 11:12. Jesus is the Lord of lords.
Jesus is not just the quarterback of your life; He is the Lord of your life. No one has ever done what Jesus has done. He is Lord, Leader, King! All to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus, I reaffirm and recommit my life to You today. I confess that You are my Lord. Help me to demonstrate that belief to others.
We often get so caught up in the details of life and what we want and seek after that we lose sight of the kingdom to come–we lose sight of what Jesus had to say about how we should live in this world (which is temporary) and to follow Him and His lead. Because we are so used to having so much freedom in America to pursue whatever we want, we often fail to recognize that Jesus Christ is not only our Savior but our Lord, and He is the one who calls the shots in our life. Often, we want Him as our Savior but we still want to call the shots and have the control on what we do, how we act, and what we want to pursue in this life, centering our lives around ourselves. As the apostle Paul stated in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” and also to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel by standing firm in the Spirit and striving for the faith (Phil. 1:27), and not just living for what we want to get out of life.
So, laying aside all the debates over the issue of “Lordship salvation” or any other terms we use to define it, who really rules our life? If we claim to be Christian, we cannot serve ourselves and Jesus Christ at the same time.
And it’s critical that we answer this question right . . .
Who is Lord?
YouTube Video: “He is Lord” by Hillsong:
When something happens to us or our loved ones that sends our personal world rocking, one of the first questions we ask is “Where is God in the midst of this?” or “Why did God let this happen?” That was my first reaction when I lost my job almost four and a half years ago, and I have asked it again at times during this extended time of unemployment. However, at this point the question has turned into “How much longer?”
God has many attributes. While we tend to focus primarily on four of them–His love, His grace, His faithfulness and His mercy—He has many more. To get an idea of just how many attributes are attributed to God, A.W. Tozer’s book, “Knowledge of the Holy,” has information on over twenty of them (the complete book is available online at this link). A partial listing, to including the four already mentioned, includes His immutability, His omniscience, His omnipresence, His goodness, His justice, His wisdom, His holiness, and His sovereignty. For a print copy of his book, a PDF version (it’s free) is available for download at this link, or the book can be ordered online through Amazon.com.
When our world suddenly turns upside down, we may wonder what happened to God’s love, mercy, grace, and faithfulness; however, they have not suddenly disappeared in the midst of our pain and upheaval. What I have learned in the course of the past four and a half years of unemployment and it’s significant challenges is that there is a much bigger picture going on from God’s view that we can’t often see or even begin to comprehend beyond our own circumstances. The bigger picture is that God’s bottom line is always about the redemption of humankind. Always. That is why He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to us so that we may come to know Him in a very personal, saving way. John 3:16-18 is God’s mission statement to our world in a nutshell:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
When tragedy touches our lives, God is still in control. We may not understand why this has happened to us, but this is where God’s sovereignty comes clearly into view. Our will takes a “back seat” (as it always should) and God’s will is “center stage” (as it always should be and is whether we realize it or not). Let’s take a look at the definition of sovereign to get a better understanding. Dictionary.com defines “sovereign” as follows:
1. a monarch; a king, queen, or other supreme ruler.
2. a person who has supreme power or authority.
3. belonging to or characteristic of a sovereign or sovereign authority; royal.
4. having supreme rank, power, or authority.
5. supreme; preeminent; indisputable; a sovereign right.
As Americans, we revel in the freedoms given to us in the U.S. Constitution. The Preamble to the Constitution starts right off with, “We the People, of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” We, the people, elect those who govern over us and who establish our laws. Therefore, the idea of any elected official as being a “king, queen, or supreme ruler who has supreme power or authority” over us is inconceivable. That is not the case in many countries around our world. We are, indeed, fortunate to possess the freedoms that we have here in America and never take them for granted.
Since the idea of any one person having supreme power or authority over us is a foreign concept (as in a dictator, king, or queen), we don’t often think of God in that way, either; yet, that is exactly what God’s sovereignty is all about. In a devotion in “Open Windows,” published by LifeWay titled, “Contemplate God’s Sovereignty,” Dr. Ronnie Floyd, Senior Pastor at Cross Church, Springdale, AR, and general editor, LifeWay’s Bible Studies for Life, writes the following (Note: devotional passage reference is Romans 11:33-36 and he starts by quoting verse 34):
For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counselor? Romans 11:34 (KJV)
When tragedy strikes the lives of those who love God, how do you respond? Every time a school shooting, suicide, child abuse, or some flagrant injustice occurs, questions about God abound. Matthew 5:45 reminds us that God makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good. Christians are not exempt from illness, loss, pain and suffering.
Today’s Scripture passage addresses the sovereign nature of God. Sovereignty is described as God’s rule and work according to His eternal purpose–even when we may think events contradict or oppose His rule. Paul knew that God rules. Not one human being knows what God knows. Nor can one understand His ways. His mind is incomprehensible and His ways untraceable!
Yet, here is the wonder of our God: the supreme Ruler of all desires to have a love relationship with us through His Son Jesus Christ. He cherishes your fellowship. The next time something happens in life that does not make sense, remember that God knows everything. He sees it all. He knows it all. He promises His constant presence. Take Him at His Word and trust His heart of love, mercy and grace.
Lord, since You are in complete control, I choose to trust You regardless of my circumstances.
“Sovereignty is described as God’s rule and work according to His eternal purpose–even when we may think events contradict or oppose His rule.” And God’s eternal purpose is the redemption of humankind (on an individual basis). At the onset of a tragedy, we have no idea how the pain in our own lives can benefit us in our relationship with God in ways we cannot comprehend by drawing us closer to the very Source of Life (Jesus Christ) and clearing away all the “stuff” (mental, physical, and/or material) in life that has been getting in the way of our relationship with God, whether or not we realize how all that “stuff” is alienating us from Him.
Also, our witness (see Hebrews 11:1-40; 12:1-3) during a time of personal crisis can draw people to Jesus Christ. Now, mind you, that does not mean we have to put on a false image in public to hide the pain we are going through. No, not at all. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief and He did not hide His pain (for example, Jesus wept when he heard that Lazarus had died, even though He knew He was going to bring him back to life–see John 11 for full account). God has given us the gift of emotions not only for our own benefit but also to be able to feel compassion for others going through a hard time.
Dr. Floyd also stated, “The next time something happens in life that does not make sense, remember that God knows everything. He sees it all. He knows it all. He promises His constant presence. Take Him at His Word and trust His heart of love, mercy and grace.” All of us encounter things that happen that don’t make sense, but God is all-knowing, all-seeing, and ever present, and He knows exactly how that circumstance fits not only into our lives but into the lives of others around us. We need to trust Him completely (and that’s not always easy). If you’re like me, your mind is always racing trying to figure out ahead of time what the outcome might be (even in the moment-by-moment events in life). However, as I have continued to pray, “Your will be done, and help me put mine aside,” I have been truly amazed by what God has done that I couldn’t have possibly understood on my own.
Proverbs 3:5-8 states the following:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
How often are we “wise in our own eyes” and think we know how best to handle a particular situation? As much as I hate to admit it, more often then I would like. Yet what I have been learning over these past four and a half years is to let go of what I want or need or think about how a situation should be resolved, and leave it up to Him to decide. And it’s a moment-by-moment decision. And I’ve been absolutely amazed, in the very midst of how I thought I was supposed to handle a particular situation, that when I give it up to Him, He takes it and makes something out of it that I never could have known on my own.
Indeed, as Dr. Floyd states, “. . . here is the wonder of our God: the supreme Ruler of all desires to have a love relationship with us through His Son Jesus Christ. He cherishes your fellowship,” and He does that when we let go of the control and give our lives completely to Him–on a moment-by-moment basis. Every time my mind “jumps ahead” to try to work out a particular situation, when I ask Him to take control, the result is always enlightenment, and the outcome is rarely what I had imagined.
God’s bottom line is about the redemption of humankind, and He uses everything (good and bad) to bring that about. In everything that happens to us (see Romans 8:28) He “is conforming us to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:29).
The apostle Paul gave up everything in his past life when he met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road. Here is what he had to say about following Jesus in Philippians 3:7-14:
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
When bad things happen, we need to remember that God is still there in the very midst of our situation, working out His will, and we need to turn to Him and allow Him to have complete control. And don’t even try to second guess the outcome. His purposes are far greater than we can imagine, and our purpose is to be a vessel for His use in bringing about His ultimate purpose.
And, if His answer seems slow in coming, remember this–“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God does not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance, and everything (good, bad, and ugly) that happens in this world of ours leads to that end.
God’s bottom line is always about redemption . . .
Always . . . .
YouTube Video: “Hail to the King” by Shannon Wexelberg: