Don’t Make Jesus Your Lord

By Bob Hiller

*The following is from this past Wednesday’s Lenten sermon on the Second Article of the Creed.

A number of years ago, I was having breakfast with some pastor friends of mine. They were discussing a theological controversy that they were dealing with in their church. Now, they weren’t Lutheran, which was obvious because we have no controversies in our church. But they had been arguing over what we mean when we say that Jesus is “Lord.” It was called the “lordship salvation” controversy. Basically, they were contending that there are two categories of Christians: those who were saved but still lived in sin because they hadn’t fully dedicated themselves to Jesus and those who were sold out, who had made Jesus their Lord. They asked the question, “Jesus is the savior of your soul, but have you made Him the Lord of your life?”

Now, as it turned out, I probably would have been on the other side of the fence from my friends in this debate (They still had me for breakfast! How about that…), because, you see, I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the art of living by faith in such a question. First, it makes two categories of Christian people, a move never made in the New Testament. More problematically, it asks if you’ve made Jesus the Lord of your life! And that is precisely our problem when it comes to Jesus—trying to make Him anything! We don’t get to make Jesus our Lord. He is that already! And that is good news.

When we put the responsibility of making Jesus our Lord on ourselves, what we find is that we stumble into idolatry, making Jesus into the sort of Lord we want Him to be. The Jesus we make in our minds tends to be a guy we would be pretty comfortable with. I remember arguing with my black friends in junior high over the color of Jesus’ skin. I said He was white. They said He was black. Of course, we were both wrong. He was an olive-skinned Jewish man. Like my junior high debate, we all want Jesus to be the sort of Lord who looks like us, thinks like us, votes like us, and approves of all our choices. Sure, we’d be fine if He challenged us from time to time. We don’t want Him to be wimpy, after all. But we’d make a lord after our own hearts. And our own hearts are always trying to make a Jesus that we don’t want to crucify.

But again, this is just the problem—our hearts trying to make Jesus into anything. We do not, nor can we, make Jesus our Lord. He is already our Lord because God has made Him so. See, the only One who makes Jesus into anything is the Father. Jesus is fully God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and then He puts on our flesh to offer up His life as a sacrifice for our sins. As St. Paul says it so starkly, God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. God gave Jesus as a sacrifice for you, for your sins. And because Jesus was that willing sacrifice, God made Him Lord. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

But what kind of Lord is He? I ask because this is the other place where the question goes wrong. Ironically, it goes almost in the opposite direction. In asking if you’ve made Jesus your Lord after He has saved your soul, you suddenly turn Jesus into a new task master that you may not want at all. It is as though you are saying, “His sacrificial work was gracious and merciful, but once you are saved, His lordship is difficult and exacting. In saving you, He speaks Gospel. In ruling over you, He speaks Law. Have you shown enough thankfulness? Have you stopped all your old sinful habits? Have you begun to produce pure enough fruit? Sure, you’ll still sin, but when you do, do you truly confess? With your whole heart?” And suddenly, the Christian is back under the condemnation of the Law. Jesus’ saving work may be good news, but his lordship is suffocating!

This is not how we understand the Lordship of Jesus at all. The One who gave His life as a sacrifice for us, Hebrews says, ever lives to make intercession for us. He rules us as the Sacrificed Lord, the Victorious Victim who will always reign as the Crucified One for you.

In the Large Catechism, Luther asks, “What is it to become a lord?” It means that he has redeemed and released me from sin, from the devil, from death, and from all misfortune…the little word “lord” simply means the same as Redeemer, that is, he who has brought us back from the devil to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and keeps us there.” The “keeping us there” is not by you somehow taking the reins and making Jesus into your Lord. Rather, it is His gracious work from the throne of heaven in which He opens His nail-pierced hand to lavish you with his gifts—blood-bought promises of mercy, forgiveness, and life that sustain you forever.

In fact, that’s the purpose of this blog—to have His reign of mercy proclaimed to you again. Paul says in Ephesians,

Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”  ( In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)  And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…

That is, He has given this message on my lips to proclaim His reign to you. Because His reign is one of mercy, I am here to declare you forgiven for Christ’s sake. He who reigns over you was born in a manger for you, lived a perfect life for you, offered that perfect life as a blood-sacrifice for you, conquered the grave for you, and now has ascended as Lord over you so that He might give you the gifts and benefits of the salvation. He baptized you, He feeds you His body and blood, and He declares you forgiven! You are the one He purchased with His blood. You are the One He has made His own, and you now live under Him in His kingdom and serve in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. What do you make of that? Nothing! It’s yours for free! AMEN!