I had a startling revelation yesterday as I talked with a friend who is trying to figure out what he is to do now that he is retired. He had received advice from some to wait on the Lord, and from others to take small steps of faith. After listening for a while, I shared with him an analogy I have shared with hundreds of students over the years when talking about God’s will for their lives: It is much easier to steer a car when it is moving than when it is standing still.
As soon as I had shared this, it occurred to me that it has been many years since I’ve used that illustration, not because I found a better one, but because students haven’t asked me about seeking God’s will. One of the standard questions for decades that campus pastors like me encountered from students was, how do I find God’s will for my life? There were many talks given on the subject and books written because that was front and center in students’ minds. Not anymore.
I realized this yesterday. It’s just not a question many ask. As I reflected on this, I realized that students still struggle with knowing what they should be doing after college, but the Lord doesn’t figure much into their thinking. It’s their problem and they try to find the solution. They talk with their parents, peers, counselors, and professors. It doesn’t appear they talk much to the Lord about it.
This is a symptom of a much bigger problem among many self-proclaimed Christians in our culture. God is viewed more as a Savior than Lord. We acknowledge him in order to get to heaven; we don’t hand over our lives to him. As was found in the early 2000’s National Study on Youth and Religion (NSYR), the majority of the youth at that time believed in, what the writers called, Moral Therapeutic Deism. Their god was a benevolent being who was there when they needed him, but otherwise didn’t interfere with their lives. As with almost all kids, they didn’t come to believe in this god on their own. They were influenced by their parents who most likely didn’t have God at the center of their lives either.
So, nearly 20 years later, the effects of this deistic view are seeping more and more into the local church, from whence current students come. Jesus the Savior is front and center; Jesus the Lord, not so much. Thus, it makes sense that fewer and fewer students are even asking the question, what is the Lord’s will for my life? It’s their life to live; they just expect him to bless it.
In reading the whole of Scripture, there is no doubt that God is both Savior and Lord. Our sin created a separation from him that we could not close. We needed a Savior to do that work for us. And he did. Jesus lived the perfect life and was the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins. But part of the deal is that in exchange for the price he paid, we give over to him our lives. As the Apostle Paul says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20)
Jesus is not merely Savior; he is BOTH Savior and Lord. When we decide to follow Jesus, our sins are forgiven; we are saved. But our relationship with him doesn’t stop there. We then take up our cross and follow him wherever he leads. (Luke 9:23)
This is at the heart of living the Christian life, to seek after the Lord daily and follow his will. We can make plans and we should, but we must hold onto those loosely because the Lord may desire us to change our plans. This is what Paul means by being “living sacrifices.” It is no sacrifice when we always get our way.
This emphasis on Jesus as Savior to the exclusion of him as Lord is a false gospel. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, this view cheapens God’s grace. In this gospel, there is no cross-bearing or sacrifice. We merely need to get our ticket punched for heaven (i.e., say a prayer) and then we’re set. We can live our lives as we please.
This is not the gospel preached in the New Testament. Rather, it is the gospel of salvation that leads us to surrender our lives fully to the One who saved us and loves us. We no longer need to control our lives because we can trust him, and he knows what is truly best for us. Thus, it is incumbent upon us who follow Jesus to resist this false gospel and to proclaim the true one—that Jesus is both Savior and Lord, and that to be a Christian is to be one fully surrendered to his will, whatever that might be and wherever it might lead us.
© Jim Musser 2020