by Stan Nussbaum
We must take utmost care about how we invite people into the Kingdom of God.
No privilege is greater and no trust is more sacred than that of inviting people into the Kingdom of God through Jesus the Messiah. One would therefore expect that we would take utmost care about how we do the inviting. Instead we have slipped into use of (and even come to cherish) a phrase and concept that betrays our trust in the unbiblical idea of accepting Jesus as Savior.
That idea has been the thin end of a hellish wedge effectively splitting evangelism from discipleship, though in theory we still insist they are inseparable. We need to clean up the way we phrase our invitation to potential converts, telling them up front that Jesus must be accepted as Lord and not as Savior.
Is this nitpicking? Consider these analogies: If someone in the personnel office of AT&T started signing people up for the AT&T retirement plan, what would the company say? The retirement plan is only open to people who accept AT&T as an employer.
If a Catholic priest encouraged people to accept the Catholic Church as their burial society, what would the Church tell him? He is demeaning the Church and encouraging people to manipulate it by presenting one of its parts as if it were the whole.
If a member of the British Labour Party came to America to encourage Tony Blair fans to "accept him as their personal Prime Minister," would any of them take such nonsense seriously?
If Bill Gates asked a woman to accept him as a husband and she replied, "I will gladly accept you as my inheritance provider," might he not have second thoughts about his proposal?
If a recruiter for the U.S. military urged people to accept the Army as their health care provider, what would the Army say to the people who signed up for medical coverage? "Sorry, that recruiter gave you phony papers. You can’t accept the Army as a health care provider. The Army provides health care to people who accept the Army as the Army."
If it is so ridiculous for anyone to invite people to accept AT&T as a retirement plan, the Roman Catholic Church as a burial society, Tony Blair as a personal prime minister, Bill Gates as an inheritance provider, or the U.S. Army as a health care provider, why is it not equally ridiculous to invite people to accept Jesus as Savior? It is a gross misrepresentation, a glowing offer which will turn out to be null and void.
We may protest that our offer is valid because we combine the two ideas, inviting people to "accept Jesus as Savior and Lord," but does this solve the problem? Would Bill Gates be relieved to hear his fiance accept him as "husband and inheritance provider"?
Why do we emphasize Jesus as Savior so much more than Jesus as Lord when the New Testament has the opposite emphasis? Jesus is referred to as Savior only seventeen times in the New Testament, but he is called Lord hundreds of times. When the ideas of lordship and salvation occur together, lordship consistently comes first. For example, we must confess that Jesus is Lord (not Jesus is Savior) and then we are saved (Romans 10:9). We believe in the "Lord Jesus Christ"(not the "Savior Jesus Christ") and then are saved (Acts 16:31). The only people in the New Testament who tried to "accept Jesus as Savior" were the crowds at the Triumphal Entry shouting, "Hosanna!" (Save us; Matthew 21:9). Like many "converts" today, they never got around to accepting him as Lord.
Perhaps we shy away from lordship language during evangelism because we think it will imply salvation by works. This is a groundless fear. Consider the Army analogy again. Once in the Army I do not "earn" my health care benefits by obedient service or increase my coverage by volunteering for dangerous assignments. I am either in the Army or I’m not. If I am in, I have all the health care there is.
To use a different image, Jesus is the door. On the outside of the door the sign says, "Jesus is Lord." That is the door we knock on. When we accept Jesus as Lord and enter the lord-ship/discipleship door, only then do we see the sign on the inside: "Jesus is Savior." As we call others to come through the door, what business do we have swapping those signs? It corrupts our evangelism and cripples our discipleship efforts.
Let’s set the record straight-no one can "accept Jesus as Savior." He only becomes the Savior of people who "accept him as Lord." His trademark terms were not, "Let me save you," but, "Follow me." We, his representatives, would do well not to alter that trademark.
Stan Nussbaum received his doctoral degree from the University of South Africa where he studied under David Bosch. He now serves as staff missiologist for Global Mapping International, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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