One of my very favorite websites is Babylon Bee.
I don’t know who is behind it, but they write the absolute funniest satire pieces about Evangelical Christianity in America.
A while back, I came across this post about adoption. I thought it was funny, but there was also enough truth in it to make me angry.
Then, a few weeks later, I was in a service recently where they gave an altar call for salvation, and they quoted the verse that is often used in that context, Romans 10:9.
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
“All you have to do is believe,” the speaker said.
And I got angry all over again.
The more I started thinking about why these two things upset me, the more I saw the same issue manifesting itself over and over again. It popped up in things I was reading, and in conversations I was having. And even as it was stirring in my heart, Jason was led to preach about it at the church we’ve been attending.
I couldn’t run away from this problem.
Church, I’m angry. And I’m heartbroken. Why? Because we have really not surrendered to the lordship of Jesus.
You see, that verse the speaker quoted? She left part of its instructions out during her altar call. Romans 10:9 says that we have to both believe what the gospel says about Jesus and declare him as Lord over our lives. If we only believe in God, we are no better than demons, according the James. But there is teaching out there, lots of it, that subtly or overtly contradicts the idea that Jesus has absolute authority over our lives.
That Babylon Bee article has a ring of truth to it, because we are content, as a church, to let other people do hard things for Jesus and think that we don’t have to.
Some friends of ours who are missionaries in the Czech Republic were at our church last summer, and shared the story of how God called them out of their very normal lives and asked them to give up all of it and go to Europe to reach the lost. They told how when God called, they had no choice but to respond in obedience. But after the service, one of the ladies in the congregation told them she couldn’t believe they said yes to missions; that she would never be able to do the same if God asked her.
This is why I’m concerned.
We live in a world where even the church is surprised by obedience to God. Let me be very clear: if you truly follow Jesus, the issue of obedience should already be settled in your heart. Yet for many who call themselves Christians, it is not.
It terrifies me that there is a whole generation of people who think they claim the name of Christ while telling Him all the things they will categorically not do.
And the things we refuse to do for Christ can take on many different faces: fasting, going to Africa, homeschooling, adopting a child, walking away from that unhealthy relationship, giving generously or sacrificially in the offering at church, serving in the nursery, praying for someone in public… I could just keep going and going.
Some of these things are probably no big deal to you. Others may hit closer to home. But I have heard people, Christian people, say that they could not, would not, do each of these things, even though in many cases, that was exactly the thing that God was asking them to do.
The reason we think it’s okay to say “no thanks” to God because we have not understood the magnitude of what it means to call Jesus our Lord.
“Jesus is Lord” is not just a cute thing we say. Lord is much more than just a church word that is a synonym for God. Think back to what you learned in school about the feudal system. Lord referred to the master or owner of a certain parcel of property. The lord had subjects, and whatever the lord said was the law.
This is hard to understand because we have nothing like a lordship relationship today in America. God is not our employer. We cannot negotiate for better benefits, or angle for a promotion. We cannot move on to a different job when the demands are too high.
The only appropriate response to a lord is to obey everything he tells you to do.
“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
The relationship Jesus has invited us into is one where we die, and he is resurrected in us. Everything about our old life – our hopes, dreams, desires, wealth, ambition, habits, hobbies, diet, family, friends, possessions, home, physical safety, even our lives themselves—are surrendered to him. We leave nothing off the table. He is allowed to add, remove, and change as he sees fit.
C. S. Lewis describes it this way:
“What we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be good. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way–centered on money or pleasure or ambition–and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly, And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do….He never talked vague, idealistic gas. When he said, ‘Be perfect,’ He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are hankering after is harder–in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being an ordinary decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” (Mere Christianity, pp. 198-199)
Lewis penned these words more than sixty years ago, church, but not much has changed.
And nothing much will, unless we get on our faces before the Lord and repent our love affair with the world and with our own comfort, and ask him to come and crucify our flesh. We must commit anew to following him with our entire lives–whatever that means for us, whatever we have to lay on the altar. If we want to call Jesus our Lord, it’s all-or-nothing.
This is what is missing from our lives.
This is what is missing from our churches.
And this is what is missing from our witness.
When we do not understand that Christ has asked us to surrender everything, we cannot effectively ask others to do the same. We have no authority to assure them that surrendering all to Jesus is worth it. If we have not also given everything to follow Jesus, how can we ask someone else to walk away from that lifestyle that they’ve claimed as their identity? To go through with that pregnancy? To abandon their false gods, and in the process, lose their families and their familiar culture?
When we are not completely surrendered to Christ, we fall into error in our gospel witness. We either sit in hypocritical judgment of people who are enslaved to sin, pointing fingers and acting like it is easy to surrender everything because we haven’t actually surrendered anything. Or, we try to soften the demands of the gospel, saying they can love Jesus and keep their sin, which is dangerous, because as Rosaria Butterfield puts it, “We are acting as though we think ourselves more merciful than God is.”
If we want to be a bold and effective witness to the world around us, we need to be able to look our unbelieving friends in the eye and truthfully say to them, “You are going to have to give up everything to find life in Jesus. You will have to give up everything, just like I have. But it will be worth it.”
So what will it be church? Will we surrender everything to Jesus and embrace the call to make him Lord? Will we be hatched? Or will we go bad?