I have occasionally run into people who have actually said to me, "I received Christ as my Savior when I was young, but did not accept Him as Lord until later in my life."
I think I know what they are trying to communicate. There was a time when they realized that they needed a Savior, and they prayed and asked Jesus to come into their lives. From that time forward they referred to themselves as "saved." They called themselves "Christian." They felt better for a time. But their lives really did not change that much. They kept on living for themselves as they had before. Later, they believe, they came to an understanding that Jesus is Lord. They decided then that they must submit to Him and let Him have control of their lives.
If that paragraph is a true reflection of their lives, then I believe that they are somewhat confused. If we look closely at Scripture, I think we will come to understand that there is no salvation apart from the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When we truly receive Him into our lives, He totally transforms us into new creatures. The old man is dead. All things have become new. Jesus Christ reigns in our lives. He is Lord. Until that happens, we are not really Christian, no matter what experiences, prayers, or emotions may have happened in our past.
Often at funerals we try to encourage a family whose dead loved ones obviously did not live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, but who had once made some sort of "profession of faith." While I believe that it is important that we always leave room for hope for loved ones who have died, whatever their lives may have been like (God can work in unexpected ways and times), sometimes these words may convey to loved ones that it really didn’t matter that much how the deceased lived since, after all, he made a "profession of faith."
Such an attitude waters down salvation to some "magic words" or some "fantastic memory of emotionalism." We must never base our salvation upon incredible experiences or electrical emotions! Our salvation is a supernatural work of God in which He transforms us into new creatures! Our salvation is based on the the faithfulness of God, the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, the truth of His Word, the power of His Spirit. He convicted us of sin. He granted us repentance and faith. He came into our lives. He totally and radically changed us forever!
In truth, to say that "I am saved, but Jesus Christ is not my Lord," is a complete oxymoron.
Consider just a few of the Scriptures on this subject.
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
"What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:1-2)
"Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matthew 7:16-23)
"For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:20)
"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Corinthians 5:21)
"And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." (1John 2:3-6)
"And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." (1 John 3:24)
"Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city." (Revelation 22:14)
"If ye love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15)
"If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:" (1John 1:6)
"Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." (1 John 3:7-8)
Pretty clear, isn’t it? When we receive Christ, He imputes and imparts His righteousness to us. We become new creatures. He is Lord. We begin to live our lives in obedience to Him.
Does that mean we live in sinless perfection? Of course not! We are still at war with the world, the flesh, and the devil. And certainly we sin. The Bible is clear about that too.
"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1 John 1:8-10)
We sin. But our lives are no longer given to sin. Jesus is Lord. And our deepest desire is to live for Him. And He, dwelling in our hearts, enables us to do exactly that.
So what are we to do when people tell us, "Oh, I’m a Christian. I’ve been saved. I’m just not living for Jesus?"
We must courageously and lovingly tell them the truth. We must share the Scriptures with them. We certainly must not say, "Oh, you’ve made a profession of faith? Well, that’s all that matters!" To say that would be the cruelest thing we could do to these poor deluded people!
And herein lies one of the greatest problems of the modern church. We have lost our courage! We are afraid of offending someone! Oh, we will gladly preach strong sermons from the pulpit, to people in general. But we are fearful of personally confronting those who continue in sin, lest we make them angry! So those who call themselves Christian, but who are obviously not Christians because they are clearly rejecting the truth and/or continuing in sin, are allowed to continue as members of the church as if making a "profession of faith" was all that really mattered.
The most unloving thing we can do to a sinner who has deceived himself into thinking he is saved is refuse to tell him the truth, lest he be offended!
But even worse, by so watering down what it means to be a Christian, much of the modern church has become virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the world. We have rejected loving, Biblical church discipline and in so doing we have done untold damage to the testimony of the Church and the reputation of our Lord.
Have you read the posts on church discipline? If not, I would urge you to consider them carefully. (The Church Discipline posts begin here.)
We are in a spiritual war that rages hot. The world has blatantly rejected and scoffed at the truths of Scripture. Now the enemies of truth and righteousness have made deep inroads into the church itself. From a human perspective, the situation looks pretty hopeless.
But our Lord is King of kings and Lord of lords. At the appointed time, He will put all to rights. Meanwhile, our job is simply to be faithful to Him and to His truth!
Stay in the battle!