Fellow writer, Jason Chesnut, posted recently on his BLOG, Faith Interrupted: Top Seven Things People Think Are In the Bible (That Totally Aren’t).
When I read his list I gave him a hearty Bravo! for clarity, brevity, and bravery. It is a list sure to stir up controversy among believers. In particular, I was impressed with the way he tackled Item #3 on his list:
“#3 – We must accept Jesus into our hearts as our personal Lord and Savior.
Nowhere does Jesus ask for this particular act to be done (much less say that it’s necessary for salvation) – he says a lot about inviting people to follow him, but doesn’t seem concerned about the act of “accepting” him into one’s heart.
Plus, the idea of a “personal” Lord and Savior (as opposed to the Savior of the world, and a bringer of the community of God) is a relatively recent emphasis that coincides (in part) with the modern focus on the individual – what the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, called “the great Western heresy.”
Or, as the story goes, when someone asked a Catholic monk if Jesus was his personal Lord and Savior, he responded, “Nope. I prefer to share him.”
In an age when many people get their theology from televangelists and motivational speakers who may or may not be qualified to interpret the bible by any kind of formal education, I think this particular understanding is one that does a great disservice to Christianity. It’s called Decision Theology. It refers to the belief that our relationship with Jesus is a function of what we do, namely, accept him as our Lord and Savior. This is one reason that some churches do not baptize children until they are old enough to choose to be baptized.
In the ELCA, the Lutheran church in which I am privileged to serve, we baptize anyone, including babies and those who cannot articulate what they want. We do this because Jesus told his disciples to Go and Baptize (Matthew 28) and he did not specify any kind of criteria we ought to use before baptizing to determine if someone is worthy. As opposed to Decision Theology, we subscribe to the Theology of the Cross, which includes the belief that we are saved by Grace alone and that it is a result not of our action but of the action of God in Jesus Christ. In John 15:16, Jesus says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit…”
One way we bear fruit is by telling others the Good News. In order to tell the Good News, we need to be clear about what the Good News is and is NOT. And well-meaning Christians lose sight of this all the time. As I first heard from Pastor Dave Jahn, “we’re going to heaven and you’re not is NOT the good news.” Decision Theology is another way of saying that same thing. To say Jesus is MY personal Lord and Savior suggests a certain one-upness: I’ve got my salvation covered…you might want to do the same.
It might seem like a small thing — to quibble over who does the choosing. Except that the way we understand this tends to influence our attitudes, how we treat other people, and the decisions we make. If I believe that I chose Jesus as my Savior, then at some level I believe that he accepted being chosen. From there, I can start to think that Jesus is glad I chose him because he really needs me. It’s a small walk from there to thinking that the more I serve well, the more likely I am to get playing time and favor. And that attitude — believing that I’m on God’s A-team — makes it easy to justify doing almost anything, in the name of God.
Jason’s blog post was a gentle reminder of something I already believe, but sometimes forget: Jesus chose me. Jesus chose us. And He came down to a really rough part of town to do it. In fact, at the time, had we been there, watching from the cheap seats, we might have thought he was on the losing team, his play was so unexpected and unique … and effective.
So no, Jesus isn’t my personal savior. He’s a whole lot bigger than that.
I was baptized in January of 1961, but that’s not when I was saved. I was saved the same time that you were: about 2000 years ago. It didn’t happen because I prayed myself into a personal relationship with Jesus. It happened when Jesus prayed for me with words so unbelievable generations have been quoting them ever since:
“Father, forgive them…they don’t know what they are doing,”
“Today you will be with me in paradise.”
“It is finished.” Meaning. It is complete.
And it became Good News three days later when he rose from the dead and greeted his first disciples saying, “Peace be with you.”
Fortunately for us, that Good News doesn’t depend on what we do, or even in how we understand who does the choosing.
And the crowd went wild.