I believe we are living in a Personal Lord and Savior culture, and I’m convinced it is not good for our country or for the world.
Per recent polling, Christians (all types and denominations) comprise 70-75 of the USA population. While that number has decreased from previous decades, it still represents an overwhelming number (if those poll numbers are correct, that equates to 224-240,000,000 people who stake a claim to Christianity, in the United States alone). Go here for Gallup results (go here).
In general, for that broad national faith foundation, it would seem Christianity should be experiencing a sort of golden era; however, in my view, we are far removed from a so-called heyday in the faith. I believe there are many reasons for this (and each is worthy of greater consideration), yet it seems to me that the relatively modern mantra of, my Personal Lord and Savior, has much to do with the problem we see in the Christian world – and I believe those problems have spilled over into the culture at large.
There is no question that faith is worthless if we do not internalize and personalize our belief in Jesus. I know of no one who would argue against making our own faith a personal one, for we must attempt to draw closer to the Lord on an individual level. When it comes to faith, I have no argument about the need for making our beliefs personal.
I do, however, take strong issue with the notion of a Personal Lord, or a Personal God. No matter the amount of watering down people want to do, we should never strive to bring God down to our level. There is a significant difference between having a personal faith in which we live our lives based on our beliefs – versus — making God (Jesus) our own Lord that will react and do things per our will, plans, and purposes. No matter your denomination (or lack thereof), the idea of having a personal Lord and Savior has spread wide and far – even many Catholic parishes and circles, which historically eschewed non-Catholic thought, have embraced the notion of a personal Lord. However, the Bible teaches beyond any doubt that, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and there are hundreds of passages in the Bible that speak to a healthy fear of the Lord and the good consequences resulting from maintaining a proper view of God.
Is God a tyrant? Does He want to rule over us with an iron fist, or does He desire the best for each us?
I believe God wants the best for each of us, and that He is not at all a tyrant (we refer to God the Father as Father for we consider ourselves His adopted children). We know God is love, and yet some confuse God’s love with an inability (on God’s part) to also be just. Most major religions, and most certainly all Christian faiths, have teachings about sin. Per Christian theology, Jesus has redeemed the world through His work on the Cross, and that is offered to the entire world, yet it only comes through faith. However, it is wise for us to ask a serious question: if sin no longer matters, why do we need a Savior?
Why is the modern notion of a Personal Lord and Savior harmful?
When people attempt to bring God down to their level, nothing good results. If we confuse a personal faith with having a personal God/Lord, we are in a very real way attempting to create the Lord in our own image and likeness. In this scenario, Jesus is no longer God—instead, He becomes our buddy or best friend, and therein lies the problem.
Think of your best friend. If you were committing regular sins (let’s say you’re fornicating), chances are your best friend/buddy will not comment on your sins, they will look the other way. Since Jesus is now considered, by millions, to be their personal Lord and Savior, those people can commit sins freely and feel confident that their personal buddy and best friend (Jesus) will not care and that He will look the other way.
Let’s say you’re a Catholic. Sunday morning comes, and you know the Church mandates that Catholics attend Mass every week and on Holy Days of obligation (Sunday worship fulfills the moral command of the Old Covenant, taking up its rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people – GO HERE). But, that on that Sunday morning you don’t feel like going because you stayed up late the night before. You choose not to go because you are confident that your best friend/buddy (Jesus) won’t care about your breach of His Commandments and His Church’s mandates—Jesus will look the other way.
Let’s say you don’t feel like getting married. You’re young, and you want to have your freedom, and you want to build a career and experience life but, you also want to be close to the person you love, and you sure do want to enjoy the full spectrum of relations with that person (including sex). So, you and that individual choose to live together outside of marriage. You’re living as a married couple, and you have normal physical relations (fornication). In this scenario, there is no doubt that you love the person you’re living with, and you’re firmly committed to remaining completely faithful to him/her. You figure love is enough and your best friend/buddy (Jesus) will not object to your willful fornication. He will look the other way.
Apply these realities to any other sin (abortion, adultery, etc.). You convince yourself that your personal Lord and Savior—since He is your best friend–will never condemn you for your sins. Those thoughts cause you to avoid turning from your sins in true repentance, for the simple reason that since Jesus is your personal pal, He will not view your actions as sinful. Jesus might look at the sins of “other” people but, He will not consider your acts as sinful because you and the Lord are in a personal, best friend relationship.
Having a Personal Lord and Savior helps us justify all manners of sin with the mere thought that our best friend would never judge us.
However, here’s the real kink in this process. Jesus is God; He is the One and Only Son of God, He is our Savior, and yet He is also our Judge! When we pass this life, we have no choice, we will face judgment, and that will be done by Jesus Christ. In all this we must keep present in our minds that God wants us to strive for holiness—this is not a one-time event, it is a call that must be maintained throughout our lives. Saint Peter had much to say about this, and the following passage helps illuminate it well:
Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance…just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do”
[1 Peter 1:14-15 – italics added]
It is furthermore wise to understand that God desires that all be souls are saved but, never does God state He will save everyone. We are active participants in our lives, and that includes the health of our souls. Life is a journey in which we must take part in our spiritual well-being. It’s amazing how many hours, and how much money, people will spend to maintain their physical health (an excellent thing), but they never want to turn attention to their eternal souls. In many ways, they don’t think they need to worry about eternity because Jesus is their personal Lord and Savior, which means they need to pay no attention to what the Lord wants or expects.
Think of the many times you might hear: My Jesus would not do that, or, My God does not behave the same as your God, or, My Lord is all about love and does not judge us, etc. Those phrases (and hundreds more like them) emanate from millions of Christians today. They reflect the sad reality that people have chosen to re-create God in their own image–they have made the Lord so personal that Jesus (in their minds) would never condemn their sins.
Recall Jesus’ painful trek to His Crucifixion point. He had to carry His Cross, which He dropped three times under its heavy weight. Likewise, Jesus tells us, that if we choose to follow Him, we must pick-up our cross and carry it every day. Our crosses can be any form and are different for every person, and they often come in the guise of a habitual sin. We try to break free from those sins, yet we fall (as did our Lord when He carried His Cross). The idea is, we should not despair; instead, when we fail (and failures do happen), we are to pick-up our cross again and start anew. We must pick up our cross!
Those who reject the notion of carrying their cross every day are rejecting what the Lord has taught. We are not free to commit grave sin without ever stopping and turning from those sins. Repentance must be real for us to ask for forgiveness, and that means we must have the intention of halting a given sin. We learn this with the account of the adulterous woman encountering Jesus:
Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” [John 8:10-11 RSV-CE]
In the passage above, we see that Jesus did not condemn the woman but, He told her to go and sin no more. In this, we learn that Jesus condemned her sin and told her not to do it again but, He did not condemn her. It is critical to note that Jesus did not say she was free to sin as she desired—He made it clear she was not to sin again.
Sin still matters.
People cannot change God’s definition of sin.
The choice to follow Jesus is personal but requires us picking up our cross and repenting of our sins.
Our faith should be personal.
However, Jesus does not belong to one person as a Savior that they can manipulate or control. He is Lord, God, and Savior to the world. He is also God and Judge. Jesus’ rules and prescripts are timeless and not changeable by any generation.
Saint Paul made it crystal clear in many of his writings that we are to endure to the end, that we are to persevere, and that we are to run a good race. If our sinful acts in this life mean nothing to God, then why would we have to persevere, endure or run a good race? Turning from sin in true repentance is not easy and it often requires authentic courage to do so; however, if we strive for holiness and if we endeavor to draw closer to the Lord, we have no choice—we must turn from ours sins, and in all this, we mustn’t despair because we cannot sin greater than God’s ability to forgive.
What can we do?
Develop a healthy and loving fear of the Lord—for He is God and He is our Judge. Love Him, accept Him, embrace Him, respect Him, adore Him, and yes fear Him with reverent awe, knowing that obedience produces fruit and that the Lord looks upon as us His friends if we do as He commands (see John 15:14). Think about that? We have discussed the dangerous mantra of, Personal Lord and Savior, that has flourished in modern Christianity but, in truth, if we desire to be considered God’s friend, we must obey Him. We must not try to create God in our image; instead, we should bend our will to conform more closely to the Will of the Lord. Edit: recall that Jesus showed us the way when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane leading up to His Passion, when He said:
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
[Mathew 26:39 RSV-CE – italics and bolding added]
Do you seek the will of God in your life, and when you encounter an issue for which you stand in opposition to the Lord’s teachings, do you willingly conform your opinions and your life to fit God’s will?
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