By Tom Wells
Since we are guilty the Lord Jesus invites us to come to Himself. When we come He pardons our sins; He forgives us. That is the place where you must start if you hope to be a Christian. But you must not stop there; that is only the beginning. Let me remind you again that it is to Jesus the person you must come, and not simply to one of His functions. Is He the one who forgives sin? Yes, He is, and you must never forget it. But the Lord Jesus is much more than that, and you are to take Him as He is. That is why you must hear Him saying, "Come to Me . . . as Lord".
Just now I picked up my dictionary and looked up the word "lord". Here is what I found:
I wanted to consult the dictionary definition in order to see how the word "lord" is most commonly used. And there we have it. A lord is a master or ruler. We might also use more familiar language: a lord is a boss.
Does the Bible mean more than this when it calls Jesus "Lord"? Yes, it does. Quite often it is another way of saying that Jesus is God. Among the Jews there was great reluctance to use God's name. One way in which they avoided using it was by substituting the word "Lord" when they met the name of God in the Scriptures. In that way "Lord", when it was used in a religious sense, came to be a synonym for God. So, when someone confessed that "Jesus is Lord", he acknowledged that Jesus was more than a man. He confessed that Jesus was God.
But this does not mean that we may forget the more common uses of "lord". To say that Jesus is God can only be meaningful if the word God* has some content. And as soon as we think about the meaning of the word "God" we are right back with those ideas of ruler and master. God is, as the dictionary says, "A person having great power and authority".
If you think about it for a minute you will realize that most of God's power has been exercised without any willingness at all on my part or yours. Whom did God consult in making the worlds? Not me, not you; that is unthinkable. We did not exist, nor did any other persons exist apart from God. In addition, God sustains these worlds. He does it moment by moment. Yet He does not ask us to do anything about it. God does it, and that is that.
We may see this freedom of God in our own lives. He chose that we would exist and where we would be born. He chose our parents and our race. God did all of this without conferring with us in any way. He just did it. We would have done things differently, but He did not consult with us.
Not all of God's lordship, however, is carried on in this way. When Jesus invites a man to come to Him and to take on His yoke He is offering to rule that man in a different way. The larger reign of God, in which God keeps the worlds in motion and arranges the circumstances of men, ever continues. Nothing can turn it from its course. But when the Lord Jesus calls you to Himself He goes a step further. He invites you to come under His moral lordship. That means that He will bind Himself to destroy the corruption that I have spoken of as one of the barriers that keep you from God.
Now, of course, some men say "No" to this invitation. They do not want to part with their sins; rather, they want to nourish them and cherish them. But such men cannot be said to trust Jesus Christ, for to trust the Lord Jesus is to believe that it is good for me to have my sins torn from my embrace even if it should cost me my life. To rely on Christ for forgiveness, without relying on Him to deal with the evil within me, is not to believe in the real Christ who offers Himself to me. It is to have faith in a savior who does not exist. The genuine Lord Jesus works cleansing in the men He pardons and pardons the men whom He cleanses.
But I must enter into more detail at this point. To begin with, what I have already said does not mean that Christ cleanses us all at once. No, you must not take me to mean that! It does mean, however, that at the moment we are forgiven the work of being made holy is started. And we are in for the whole course! Our cleansing will take the rest of our lives. For reasons that satisfy God He has not chosen to do the thing in an instant. Our "sanctification" (to use the theologian's word) goes on through thick and thin until He calls us home.
Neither should you suppose that the Lord Jesus puts off our forgiveness to some future day when we are all that we ought to be. Thank God that is not the case! When a man comes to Christ God forgives his sin there and then. And not a part of it either, but all of it! God says, "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more" (Hebrews 10:17). These two things, the forgiveness of my sins and my sanctification, go hand in hand. Neither exists without the other. Both are the work of Christ.
I think I see the reason why God forgives the believer's sins at the outset of the Christian life. Quite frankly, the Christian life is a struggle. It is a warfare. It is not easy; it is tough. You must not let this fact discourage you from turning to Christ, but fact it is. Christianity is not for the weak-kneed, the faint-hearted. But, of course, the spectre of unforgiven sin is one of the things that makes all aspects of life difficult. It is one of the things that weakens our klees and makes our hearts faint.
Earlier I showed you two uses of the word "guilt". One was: liability to punishment. In that sense a man may be guilty and not even know it. And in that way we are all guilty before God, whether we feel anything about it or not. We are liable for punishment because we have not worshiped and served our Creator, our God. Now when God forgives our sins He takes away that liability to be punished. We are free from the guilt of our sins. What a blessed freedom that is!
But that is not all. "Guilt" also refers to our feelings. We are said to have "guilt feelings" when we feel uneasy about the things we have done. We feel "guilt" when we fear that a punishment we justly deserve will fall upon us. That is likely to mean this: as long as we feel guilty we shall not be able to serve God with heart and soul and mind and strength. So then, in forgiving our sins and in telling us about it, God is setting the stage for us to serve Him with enthusiasm. He is aiding us in following Christ as our Lord.
What I want to do now is this. I want to help you to see what it will mean for you to come to Christ as your ruler or master. I hope to show you just how the Scriptures lead us to understand the lordship of Jesus. I have three things in mind here. They are:
1) Jesus Christ as the Lord of your principles.
By "principles" I mean the general rules we live by. I have inserted the word "general" in my definition because I am thinking of those rules that cover many situations. If one of your principles, for instance, is to be honest you will have reason to apply that principle in all kinds of circumstances.
When the Lord Jesus urges you to come to Him as Lord He means that you are to adopt the principles He lays down in His word. That is the first thing. You may not claim to be His follower unless you mean to take up His principles.
I want to illustrate this by a story from Jesus' life. Early in His ministry Jesus called Matthew to follow Him. From the viewpoint of the "best" people Matthew was an undesirable convert. He was a tax collector. Tax collectors in Jesus' day were hated men. It was not simply that they collected taxes. That was bad enough, but that was not all. They were shunned by society chiefly because they were looked on as agents of a foreign ruler. The people of Israel were very much under the heel of Rome, but they despised Roman rule. And they had no stomach for those who worked for Caesar.
After Matthew had heard the Savior's call and followed Him, he invited Jesus to dinner. And Jesus went.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew*s house, many tax collectors and sinners* came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" On hearing this, Jesus said, It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matthew 10:13).
Take another look at the words, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice", words that Jesus quoted from the Old Testament. God had said those words to men who had regularly given offerings to God. And that was good; they were supposed to do so. Yet, in spite of their giving, God was displeased. Was God being unreasonable? Let us see.
In the Bible God makes one point over and over again. It is this. Religious observances - for example, prayers, giving money, and attending the church meetings - have no value of their own. God is only pleased with them when 5omething else goes along with them. That "something else" is mercy or love. It is not that praying and giving and attending meetings are not good things to do. They are, but if they are not accompanied by mercy and love, they may look substantial but they are hollow. They are empty. Worse than that, they offend God.
Now notice how Jesus applied all this to His own critics. He said to them, in effect, "It is a set habit with you to offer sacrifices. You wouldn't miss doing that. You know when it ought to be done, and you do it. But you Pharisees have missed something. You lack love. You look down your noses at tax collectors and others who do not fit your mold." Then Jesus added, "Get out of here! And don't come back until you have learned about mercy and love!"
I tremble to think of the Lord Jesus telling anyone to go away. Yet that is what He did. In doing that He claimed to be Lord over the Pharisees' principles. If they would not adopt His godly principles, Jesus would have nothing to do with them. If they would not repent, He would distance Himself from them - for ever!
And that is the way it is with you also. Jesus Christ will be Lord of your principles. Of course, it will take the rest of your life to learn what all those principles are. I cannot promise you a short course. I am still in this school myself. And I have a long way to go. But still, you and I must be enrolled if we are to think of ourselves as Christians. The trouble with the Pharisees was not only their ignorance. We are all ignorant to an appalling degree. Their problem was that they would not become learners. They sneered at becoming Jesus' pupils. They would not enroll as His disciples. They did not "believe in Him" and had no desire that He should be their teacher.
I can make this point another way by calling the Lord Jesus' school a "vocational school". Some schools are what we might call "academic schools". Boys and girls and men and women may go to those schools without at all aiming to use what they learn. They may go to "fulfill themselves", as we say, or for the sheer love of learning. But a vocational school is different. By and large, people go to a vocational school with one end in view. They want to apply what they learn. Their time in school is not just academic, it is practical. They have the rest of their lives in their minds' eye.
Now the Pharisees were fascinated by Jesus. They watched everything He did. They could have told you a great deal more of what He said than I can. But their aim was wrong. They were not about to apply the teaching of Jesus to their lives. To them, His teaching was purely academic. They had no intention of practicing it.
And that is the danger we all face. You too, perhaps, are fascinated by Jesus. I hope you are. That comes first, but that is not the main thing. The heart of the matter is this:
will Jesus Christ be the Lord of your principles? Is that the way it will be with you from now on? Do not misunderstand me. I am not asking for any guarantees. No, you are far too weak and sinful for that! I am asking about your intention right now. At this moment! Are you ready to start with His principles? With your eye on them, can you say from the heart, "Jesus Christ is my Lord!"?
In a way, I might stop right here and not go on to speak of Jesus Christ as the Lord of your actions. A man who seeks to live by the principles that Christ lays down in His word will see to it that those principles work out in his acts. That is as sure as anything can be. What we do is the litmus test of the principles we hold. There is one important reason, however, for looking at actions separately. I want to take that up next.
In the Old Testament God tested the obedience of the people of Israel in a peculiar way. What He did was this. He laid down a large number of rules for which we can cite no reason, with utter certainty, even today. Take the food laws, for example. Was it really wrong to eat the flesh of bogs? Yes, it was wrong for an Israelite. But it might have been hard for him to tell you why. "God commanded it!" - that may have been all he could have said.
In New Testament times God has chosen another way. Now Christians have few rules that are not explained to us in God's word. We have few rituals - almost none, compared to the ceremonies of the Old Testament. We have an enviable liberty. But I must add one caution. It is this. Jesus Christ remains the Lord of our actions. If you are to be a Christian He must be the Lord of your actions as well. That means that when you come upon His commands in Scripture you will obey them. There may be times when the principle that lies behind His command will elude you, but you will obey. God humbles us by our ignorance; He sends us back to His word.
And that brings me to my last point: Christ as the Lord of your opinions. Life in the world is filled with difficult questions and clever answers. As I write, issues of the day include such matters as abortion, nuclear war, women's rights, and the economic rights of undeveloped nations. These questions and a host of others like them are likely to confront us for years to come. They will not go away. What, then, is a Christian to think? The obvious answer is the right one. A Christian is to seek to think whatever Christ thinks about these various matters.
But here is the catch. When you come to Christ you are probably prepared to change your actions. It is usually taken for granted, I think, that a person who becomes a Christian will have to give up some of his old ways. That seems to be a "given" that is recognized all around. I am not so sure that the same thing can be said of our opinions. I believe very few of us who have come to Christ started with the conviction that we needed a new set of Opinions about the pressing problems of our age and of our lives. At least I did not.
The day you turn to Christ you will not know which of your cherished ideas will have to go. You cannot know that at the outset. It is impossible. But you may be sure of this. Jesus Christ will extend His lordship to all of life. And if you trust Him, you will trust His wisdom. It will not be a matter of gratitude. You will not say to yourself, "Christ has forgiven my sin, and therefore I owe it to Him to think as He does". The human mind will not work that way. No amount of gratitude will make you adopt another person's point of view. But something else will. If you trust in Jesus Christ you will recognize His wisdom for what it is, the wisdom of God. Then it will not seem strange for you to take Him as Lord of your opinions. Rather, it will seem absurd to do anything else.
His wisdom is for all who ever come to Him as Lord. Will you come?