A Common Challenge to Jesus’ Lordship
Last Sunday we were looking at Matthew 21:35-46 and our attention was brought to the matter of Jesus’ Lordship. In the parable, hired vine-growers were attempting to overthrow the ownership, rights and lordship of the owner [God] and take the vineyard for themselves.
Just what is the extent of Christ’s lordship over someone’s life? If we say it is total, we bump into the issue of incomplete understanding. How could we call anyone to total surrender when they do not know all the specific issues which they will have to surrender over? They don’t know all the sin that still lurks in their heart and therefore they don’t know what Jesus’ lordship will demand of them in the future. How can we call them to this and how can they ever truly say Christ is Lord over their life?
The matter of incomplete understanding is important to think through because it is a real issue, but many churches have severely mishandled it. It happens like this: Churches and Christians are lured into doing unfaithful ministry by listening to one to many church growth gurus. Once they are in that pattern, they then are compelled to dispose or minimize Christ’s Lordship because of the problems their unfaithful ministry caused. What problems, exactly? It all has to do with counting the cost. Jesus was very clear about counting the cost, Luke 14:25-33 being one example. But you don’t fill churches easily when you make people understand what it means to take up your cross. Then, when you have a church full of well-entertained people and the money is flowing, what are you going to do when someone actually reads the Bible and it tells them to do something they don’t want to do? This is the problem that arises when you fill your church with unbelievers. Many churches then dispose or minimize the Lordship of Christ by making the refuge of grace into a brothel of easy-believism. Grace now becomes a way to keep living in sin, instead of the powerplant which supplies energy to destroy sin. The siren call of unfaithful ministry always creates a domino effect that eventually topples over the cross of Christ and the throne of God.
Yet, even when a church is faithfully calling people to trust in Christ and repent of their sin, the reality remains that future issues of sin and suffering will arise that no one could have a foreseen. Is it too much to press the Lordship of Christ upon people who can’t see all the ramifications of it? It is not, for this reason: Lordship is not to be preached apart from grace, and grace is not to be preached apart from Lordship. The cross and the throne stand together. We are calling people to surrender their lives to Christ, with the promise that he will supply the grace they need to deal with all the issues that will arise in the future. If they are truly clinging to Christ, this is a life-giving promise. There will always be sin lurking in the recesses of our hearts that we are unaware of. Life will bring it to light by temptations to pleasure, or threats of loss and pain. During these times in a person’s life, either the reality or the illusion of the Lordship of Christ will become clear. It will either be crystalized and confirmed by their repentance and faith, or it will evaporate in disobedience like the mirage it always was. If a person clings to Christ when new sin is revealed or they are called to suffering, then it becomes clear that God has done a work of grace in his or her life. Grace and Lordship are working hand-in-hand. But if someone leaves Christ or attempts to live in his sin under the banner of easy-believism, then by definition Christ was never his Lord to begin with no matter how many times he said he was. Grace has never done its work in this person.
The Lordship of Christ is necessary because transforming grace is central to the gospel. If you water-down the gospel, the Lordship of Christ will become a burden that is soon discarded, instead of the easy yoke and light burden that Jesus promised.