Two thousand years of Christian history, and still people struggle with what it means for Jesus to be Lord.
As prophesied by the Holy Spirit, through nearly all the Bible writers, many ministers will look and sound good, but distort the gospel with subtle shifts of theology. Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and other; there is no human-labeled church that is exempt from this. Most think they got it right, that the problems only apply to others, and so they continue blindly in their denominational tradition, denouncing and demonizing those who shed light on their twists of the truth.
But, the Bible is clear. Jesus is Lord, with all authority given to him. That means that everything and everyone must demonstrate submission under his rule and follow his every directive and will.
Many sincere Christians are fine with the idea that Jesus is Savior. Nobody likes the notion of facing the wrath of God for our sins. The rub comes, however, when confronted with the meaning of Jesus as Lord of all, and in particular, Lord over me.
Along with very similar warnings by Paul, John, and Peter, this is the heart of the issue that Jude confronts.
“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus our only Sovereign and Lord.”
We all like to hear about the happy promise of salvation and the good times ahead, but there is a dark problem in the Church. False ministers, who are well liked and sound so good, have changed the biblical meaning of grace, and many parishioners are swallowing it to their own destruction. This passage says that godless ministers are teaching a form of grace, that has no subsequent expectation on ongoing morality, which as a result denies Jesus as Lord and distorts the Christian faith.
In other words, the issue Scripture is addressing is not about the incredible extent of mercy inherent in grace, but the lack of moral obligation being taught. How a person views the grace of God is foundational to Christian faith. Per the words of God, many are being mislead with a teaching about grace that offers all the attractive benefits with none of the serious consequences. The idea is that if you want to be saved by Jesus, then you have a perfect guarantee of bliss, with no chance of the promise of heaven being taken away for disobeying the Lord’s recorded expectations upon his followers.
Those within whom the Spirit is at work are called upon to contend and wrestle to sustain biblical faith in themselves and with everyone with whom they interact in church. Keep in mind, this is said to be a Church problem, not a worldly issue. The deadly disease here is internal within the claimed Body of Christ, not external.
It is commonly explained that grace is “unmerited pardon”, or undeserved blessing especially toward eternal salvation. Like many ideas, however, it is the slight shifts of meaning that are added to this, that turn grace into no good news at all. The problem is not typically with the general definition, but rather with the details of application, which reveal the real intent of the heart.
As a pastor stated Sunday, “you cannot sin more than the grace of God”. It sounds good. Certainly God’s grace is greater and more powerful than any type or amount of sin. But this was not spoken to unbelieving crowds, who are wondering if God would really accept them because of what they have done in the past. Rather, it was spoke to Christians sitting in church, most of whom are baptized believers. Believers are being taught that there is no sin that they can continue to commit that is more than the grace of God will continue to cover so that they can be saved.
That is a lie! It is to gathered Christians that God declares:
“those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God”; and,
“but among you there must not be even a hint of [sin]…For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.”
Grace that supposedly continues in spite of ongoing sin is not real grace at all. Believers who choose to continue in sin, thinking that God will always cover their rebellion–like the movie gangster who tortures and kills some innocent person, but then does the cross pattern over their chest, or goes to church on Sunday for confession, or repeats the popular phrase once-saved-always-saved—has been given over to believe the lie by those who refuse to love the truth and so be saved.
Those priests who think they can abuse children or others in their congregation, or who protect those who do such things, have a planned date with the Devil, not with God, even though their official theology is that they can never lose out on their promised salvation. Those pastors who abuse their power, gather wealth by their ministry, sexually assault their sheep and commit adultery through repeated marriages while their earlier mate is still alive, are diluted in thinking they have it made because they believe they can’t out-sin grace. Church members who think they can live with one foot in this world, wave their political flag in the face of the opposition, learn the art of killing in the name of national patriotism, indulge in wine-women-and-winning, prove that Jesus is not their Lord in spite of their pious claim.
Such a person, and such a pastoral teacher, has distorted grace into a guaranteed doctrine of assurance, even though they knowingly continue to do immoral things. Such a person demonstrates that they reject Jesus as Lord. To be Lord, among other things, means that he has the right to expect something from everything. So he poses the question to those who say they are Christian:
“Why do you call me Lord, but do not the things that I say?”
Jesus has saved believers out of sin, not so we can live in sin. His command to those granted his grace is to “go and sin no more”. His tagline warning, recorded in Scripture, is “or something worse may happen to you”. While we remain in this flesh, we all still struggle with the temptations of sin, so a wise and humble Christian will avoid the arrogance of claimed perfection and hear Jesus’ words to his Church:
“Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place [where Jesus is].”
Because Jesus has been given all authority, he therefore has the absolute right to expect submission under that authority, even from individuals who enjoy his favor. Jesus is not an open-lid candy store. He expects his people to obey what he says, or hear his eternal rejection against those who called him “Lord, Lord”, but did not actually follow what he said.
Those who deny his lordship over every detail of their lives, think they have found a sneaky way to work around those boundaries of slavery, by claiming that grace means guaranteed-no-matter-what. Many claim that human participation in obeying the gospel is just works, thus obedience is not really required for salvation. Such teachings demonize any kind of works and turn many believers away from obedience in faith by a distorted gospel of guaranteed assurance with ongoing sin.
That is not the Christian gospel, even if you have heard it in church. Obedience can never earn or cause grace, but such works are not irrelevant to salvation. God states that our works don’t earn his grace, but they are expected to be willingly applied, in response to what he initiates, causes, and has done–if we want to remain under his created plan:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Massive and ornate cathedrals of theology have been erected to dazzle onlookers away from the truth. They promote the desired promises, but reject the connected warnings. Their fancy structures of core doctrine are so impressive and have so many overlapping layers, that the raw truth can no longer be recognized by those drunk on their traditional version of beliefs. The confusion is often confuddled at the scriptural crossroads of justification and sanctification, with the assumption that what Jesus accomplished means that we don’t fall under any salvation-impacting expectations.
Christians demonstrate that Jesus is their Lord, by how they submit to following and obeying the entire package of every word given by God through Christ. Grace upholds Jesus as Lord. Grace is unmerited in offering, and cannot be attained outside of faith in Jesus, like by keeping the Mosaic Law, but can only be accepted through submission. This is the pattern revealed by Jesus himself, through his submission to his own Head.
Jesus repeatedly made it clear, that he does nothing other than what he sees his Father doing. He doesn’t add words to what God wants. He doesn’t add his own personal style or agenda to anything that God reveals. He does nothing other than what God the Father speaks. The Lord Jesus submits absolutely, in every detail, without any wandering or personal preference, to his Lord God.
This is what it means by “seek first the Kingdom of God”. Such seeking is meant to be absolute, without exception, with no other competing Lord to divert our devotion. That includes not allowing ourselves, our ideas, our preferences, our desires, our agenda, our traditional doctrines and theologies to alter what the Bible declares. We cannot also be Lord; nor can our particular church or seminary or pastor or statement-of-faith be Lord.
This is also what is meant by the command to live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. This is not a reference to coming to faith, but a command regarding living by faith now that a person has become Christian. Those who try to do both (live for flesh and Spirit), will find themselves excluded from the promise that had been extended to them—like a dog that returns to its vomit—because they distorted the grace that had been given to them. Or as it declares in Revelation, regarding professing Christians who twist the biblical words of God to mean something different than given to the biblical writers, they will have their right to the tree of life “taken away”.
When Peter gave his famous Pentecostal sermon, many were cut to the heart by the truth spoken and asked, “what must we do”. Many false teachers would retort, “nothing”, because their idea of grace is God gives unmerited pardon to sinners without any type of expectation. But the actual words, that the crowds were immediately responding to, were “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” It was the truth that this human that they had seen do such amazing things, and who allowed himself to be crucified to accomplish God’s preordained plan, is not only the promised Christ (“anointed one” prophesied as the coming Messiah), he has also been made LORD.
This truth rocked the early Church, not just the crowds. Only twice, prior to this foundational message, do we find the phrase “Lord Jesus” (though both were actually written later); however, after this point, the writers of Scripture use it 100 times!
If that is the case, “what must we do?” That should be our response, having been confronted with the truth about grace. Don’t let the false teachers distort the biblical truth in your mind. “Repent and be baptized [and]… save yourself from this corrupt generation”.
Yes, do something. Yes, grace requires that you demonstrate that Jesus is not just Lord of all, but that he is completely accepted as your Lord. Jesus expects those whom he identifies as “truly my disciples” to obey all his teachings as recorded in Scripture. Grace does not excuse works of obedience, it demands it.
If you find yourself coming up short, then repent while you still can, and completely get rid of whatever tempts you. If God knows that you reject Jesus as Lord, and that you intend on using redefined biblical words like grace to try and excuse your intent to live for yourself and your own desires, then be assured that God will blind you and not allow you to actually repent the way he expects. Human-defined doctrines are very effective at blinding religious stage-actors into thinking they are safe to keep doing what they want.
Jesus is Lord. He has the right to expect that his subjects follow him and do what he says in every detail, just like the wind and waves obey exactly, and just like the physiology of a diseased body obeys completely, and just like unclean spirits obey immediately. His grace is more powerful than sin, but it does not possess a person like some demon. You must choose to surrender your will completely to his lordship.
If you have been granted the grace of God to know Jesus as Christ, and are consumed with gratitude for your Savior’s complete forgiveness of all sin in you by his work on the Cross, then demonstrate your acceptance of Jesus as Lord of all of you and do everything he says, just the way he says it, as soon as he reveals it, without trying to improve it or alter it for personal gain or traditional preference.
Come Lord Jesus, come.