A post from the Jesus Collective Theology Circle

Contribution by Leanne Friesen (Ontario, Canada)

Imagine it’s the end of the first century. You’re sitting in a hot, crowded living space with a few of your neighbours who have gathered to eat and worship together in a small seaside town, not far from Rome. It’s been just a few months since you joined this group, but you’re excited. Your closest friend was the first to tell you the story: about a man named Jesus who had risen from the dead! Now you’re learning what it means to see life in a whole new way. It’s a steep learning curve. Only one God? A God who loves you and cares about you? A God who was willing to die? You can hardly take it all in, but you’re buoyed by the good news you hear week after week as you gather with these Christians.” And this week there’s a letter! Paul has sent a letter! You’re glad because you know you have a lot to learn.

You settle in to listen, and you hear these words: If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

You feel a nervous rustle in the room, and a little swell of anxiety rises in your chest. Your friend says the words you are thinking out loud: Say OUT LOUD that JESUS is Lord?” she asks, whispering the last few words. She looks around cautiously. Isn’t that a little risky?” Everyone nods.

You think the same. Can Paul be serious? Doesn’t he know that the Emperor demands such words be said only of him? He is the ruler, in command of a world bigger than you could ever imagine. Caesar has declared that he is as powerful as the gods, and although those gods no longer hold your heart, you know the risk of saying that Jesus is LORD. Your mouth grows dry at the thought of saying these words, even as your heart knows they are true.

Now imagine it’s the end of the seventeenth century in the bustling city of London, England. It’s been a tumultuous few decades. The King has made a grand decision — England will no longer be part of the Catholic church. Instead, the monarch will be the Church’s head. He (or she) will lead the nation in its faithfulness to God.

But this doesn’t sit well with you. You’ve been listening to a group that call themselves Separatists.” They have said that the monarchy can’t control people’s faith. They have even (gasp!) started baptizing adults, protesting that people must choose to follow Jesus as a personal decision and that people’s parents and the country and the King should have nothing to do with it.

The Separatists have explained to you one of their guiding principles: JESUS is Lord. Don’t you see? Not the Pope! Not our King. ONLY Jesus!” And this makes you nervous. Some of the Separatists have already been arrested; some sit in jail as you speak. You feel, deep down, a resonance with what they’re saying. You’ve seen the hypocrisy of religious leaders and the way they have used faith to control people for their own ends. But you aren’t sure you are brave enough to say those same words out loud: Jesus is Lord.” Would someone report you to the magistrate? Would you become an enemy of the Crown? Who are you, to stand against the rule of the King and his church?

Now put yourself in the present day. And you see a blog titled Jesus is Lord.” As you read, you are told that to say Jesus is Lord is to make a radical, profound, life-altering act. Can it really, you wonder, be that big of a deal? You’re not forced to worship an emperor. Your country has freedom of religion. All your friends respect that you have faith, even if religion is just not for them.” Your life will not be in danger when you say Jesus is Lord. In fact, you sing it all the time when you go to church. Do these words still have power?

As a Jesus-centred movement, we would say a confident yes.” To declare Jesus is Lord is as profound today as it was in the first century, and seventeenth century, and every day and year in between and ever since.

The word Lord” could be used in different ways in the time of Jesus. It could be used as a sign of respect, like we might use the word sir” today. Secondly, it could be used for a leader or one in authority, as a slave might refer to a master (or the servants in Downton Abbey!). Thirdly, it was a Greek word used as a substitute for the Hebrew word Yahweh, meaning it was a word for God.

When we say Jesus is Lord,” we mean all three of these things, each of which are significant. We declare Jesus a leader, a master, and our God. When we declare that these roles belong solely to Jesus, we make a statement, not only about who Jesus is but about our own lives. We name that our lives are centred on Jesus as the one who leads, guides, and centres us. We declare Jesus the object of our worship. We declare Jesus greater than other gods.

Again, we might ask ourselves why this would matter in a modern world. We have no emperor or king to whom we contrast Jesus. Jesus is a viable Lord-option in our tolerant society. One of our contributors, Leanne, shared a story that helped her understand this in her life:

In 2006, I went on a trip with a group of pastors to visit ancient church sites in Turkey. I was particularly struck by the massive size of ancient temples and worship sites. One day I commented to my friend how hard it must have been to be a Christian in a world where idolatry literally loomed over people’s heads every day. I commented how different things were for us today. He smiled and invited me to take out a Canadian five dollar bill, which I did. On it, there is a classic Canadian scene of a group of kids playing hockey. He asked me to note the words above the scene, which I had never noticed before. They read: The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places — the school, the church and the skating rink — but our real life was on the skating rink.”

He looked at me: Do you think we do not also live in the shadow of idols, Leanne?”

His point was powerful. We may not live with the pressure to bow to a king or an idol or an emperor, but we still live in a world demanding our time and allegiance in countless ways. This Canadian example pointed out the centrality of their national sport. Others of us might think of other examples. We might consider the emotional fervor at a political convention, a pop concert, or a football game. We might notice the unwavering commitment of many people to a political leader or party. We might consider the disturbing equation of nationalism with Christianity that we see increasing in the United States. We might even look at memes on Instagram or plaques hung lovingly on walls that say Family is everything.”

Do we think we do not also live in the shadow of idols?

We still have things to which we will be tempted to bow that are not Jesus. Because of this, to declare Jesus is Lord remains as radical a declaration in the year 2021 as it was in the first century. It is radical to declare that Jesus — not a country, an ideology, a sport, a politician, or a person — is Lord.

It’s radical because it changes our lives in every way. We give differently because Jesus is Lord. We spend our time differently because Jesus is Lord. We watch, read, listen, learn, teach, and serve differently because Jesus is Lord. 

We orient our lives in a Jesus direction, where anything that may easily become centre — from family, to career, to hobbies, to money — is less powerful in our lives than Jesus.

This means we must also put aside the temptation to make good Christian things the centre of faith. If Jesus is Lord, the Bible is not Lord. Orthodoxy is not Lord. Good apologetical arguments are not Lord. Effective statements of faith are not Lord. Beloved pastors are not Lord. Churches are not Lord.

Jesus is Lord.

In the evangelical church, we have readily embraced Jesus as our Saviour. For too many of us, we can too easily let our faith stop there. We declare that we are saved” even as we insist that Christians should vote a certain way, even as we fly flags from pulpits, even as we hoard resources in our collection plates and in our pockets. Jesus as Saviour is safer for us. We get to be saved but still justify any self-centred way of living that we want. Jesus as Lord is more uncomfortable. Jesus is Lord demands something of us.

For those of us who lead in churches, we have the unenviable task of inviting people to make Jesus their Lord. We do this in a world where people are more comfortable standing in defiance than they are bowing to a master, in a world where we parade better than we kneel, and where we defy better than we defer. For this reason, it’s not easy to invite people to a path of submission. Where would we even begin? One way to do this is to invite people to see life through a Jesus filter.” We can start by looking at all of our life through a Jesus-centred lens.

With a Jesus-centred lens, we see all the situations we face in life through new eyes. Would this decision honour Jesus as my leader? Would supporting this cause align with King Jesus’ desires? How would Lord Jesus respond to the conflict I am facing? Even as we read Scripture, we can ask: Does my understanding of this text align with what I know of Jesus?”

In every moment of our day, we have a filter to help us navigate our steps. With this filter at work, we begin to let Jesus guide every step. This is life under Jesus’ Lordship.

When we read Romans 10:9 now, we are at a different place than many who went before us. Instead of listening to someone read as we sit on an earthen floor in a Roman town, or hearing whispered words from a religious maverick, we read on a computer screen. We open a daily Bible app, or see a quote in our Daily Bread” or find ourselves on the Jesus Collective blog. 

But the words are no less profound: Jesus is Lord. To live them changes everything.

Leanne Author Photo

Leanne Friesen has served as the Lead Pastor of Mount Hamilton Baptist Church for 15 years. She speaks at conferences and special events and writes at lean​nefriesen​.com. She’s particularly passionate about helping and encouraging women preachers to find their preaching voice, and she loves to find creative ways of making sermons come to life in practical ways.

The Theology Circle is a group of Jesus Collective leaders joining together to provide theological direction and resources for our network, mentor theological leaders, and provide a peaceful voice for this growing Jesus-centred movement around the world. You can learn more and meet the Circle here.