When followers of Christ share stories of how they became Christians, they often say something along the lines of, “I decided to make Jesus my personal Lord and Savior.” Initially and ultimately, of course, it’s wonderful to hear brothers and sisters recount the moment when their hearts were opened to the incomprehensibly passionate love of God—a love that now captivates them in an intimately personal relationship with Jesus. At the same time, when I reflect on that particular statement—“I decided to make Jesus my personal Lord and Savior”—I can’t help but wonder how much this idea represents some subtly yet significantly dangerous trends in contemporary Christianity.
On one level, this statement minimizes the inherent authority of Jesus. Surely none of us can decide to make him Lord. Jesus is Lord regardless of what you or I decide. The Bible is clear that one day “every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10). The question is not whether we will make Jesus Lord. The real question is whether you or I will submit to his lordship, and this is the essence of conversion.
Yet on an even deeper level, I’m afraid that we use this phrase all too often to foster a customized Christianity that revolves around a personal Christ that we create for ourselves. Almost unknowingly, we all have a tendency to redefine Christianity according to our own tastes, preferences, church traditions, and cultural norms. Slowly, subtly, we take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into someone with whom we are a little more comfortable. We dilute what he says about the cost of following him, we disregard what he says about those who choose not to follow him, we practically ignore what he says about materialism, and we functionally miss what he says about mission. We pick and choose what we like and don’t like from Jesus’ teachings. In the end, we create a nice, non-offensive, politically correct, middle-class, American Jesus who looks just like us and thinks just like us.
But Jesus is not customizable. He has not left himself open to interpretation, adaptation, innovation, or alteration. He has spoken clearly through his Word, and we have no right to personalize him. Instead, he revolutionizes us. He transforms our minds through his truth. As we follow Jesus, we believe Jesus, even when his Word confronts (and often contradicts) the deeply held assumptions, beliefs, and convictions of our lives, our families, our friends, our culture, and sometimes even our churches. And as we take Jesus at his Word, we proclaim Jesus to the world, for we realize that he is not merely a personal Lord and Savior who is worthy of our individual approval. Ultimately, Jesus is the cosmic Lord and Savior who is worthy of everyone’s eternal praise.