In 1517 Martin Luther penned the 95 Theses that revolutionized the Christian religion, and in turn, the world. It seems fitting that the first of his 95 these was this: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
American Christianity, particularly in the Bible Belt, is somewhat confusing in their understanding and practice of Luther’s statement. I think that this stems from our definition of the word “Lord.” It seems that we have over-spiritualized this word and have given it more of a euphoric, ethereal meaning that we really can’t grasp. Maybe it stems from our Enlightenment leanings, or maybe most churches just don’t emphasize the Lordship of Christ enough, or both. Whatever the reason, it seems as though when we say “Jesus is Lord” it comes across as “Jesus is ______.” We don’t really know what to do with it. It’s become a vague spiritual term that can mean anything from “a friend we really respect” to “a king we obey.” This is nonsense!
Words have meaning, and we must insist on understanding them before we convey them, and we must convey their meaning as well. As its most generic definition, according to Merriam-Webster, the word “lord” means “one having power and authority over others.” This grinds against us. First, it grinds against us because we’re fallen, broken sinners who don’t like anyone being in charge of us except ourselves. Second, it grinds against us because when we think of that type of lord, we immediately think of the feudal lords of the Medieval Ages. The harshness, the cruelty. The caste systems. The unfairness of leadership and the inability to escape it. Yes, all those things are wrong, but we must realize that those examples are a broken form of what a real king should be.
Deep in our souls, we know this. That’s why epic stories ring so true in our hearts. Whether it be King Arthur and the golden age of Camelot or seeing Aragorn triumphantly return as the much needed good and wise king of Gondor. Seeing and hearing tales of when kings rule well resonates within us, because part of us knows that this is how it was meant to be. Maybe not men ruling over men as lords and kings, but with Christ ruling and reigning over all as King of kings and Lord of lords.
In an era in which Jesus is everything from my homeboy to my boyfriend to some kind of cosmic genie, Luther’s words “…our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…” stand out. Christ is first and foremost our Lord. He may be a Lord with whom we have a close, personal relationship, but He is still Lord. This is important, because He is logically our Lord before we confess Him as such. It is an objective truth. This is absolutely critical, because only in His sovereignty is He able to move hearts like “channels of water wherever He pleases” (Prov. 21:1). It is in His Lordship that He is able to turn the hearts of those that were once enemies of His kingdom (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21) into those that “will and work” for His pleasure (Phil. 2:13). And it is precisely in His Lordship and Sovereignty that He has the authority to command us to repent of sin.
Luther is right in that the whole Christian life is one of daily repentance. There is the initial repentance which leads to salvation, and then there is the daily repentance of idols in our hearts. The repentance of our attempts to hijack God’s glory and be our own king, instead of submitting to the true King.
So, if so much of our salvation depends on Christ being Lord over all creation, why do we live as though He is less than that?