Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.
—Matthew 10:32, NIV
We really do have a problem with that Biblical phrase: “Confess the Lord Jesus” —don’t we? We almost never use it in our churches, in our witnessing or our evangelizing. We tell people to “make Jesus their Lord” or to “take Jesus as their Savior.” We even have Bible quotes to prove that this will do the trick, and yet we are confronted on all sides with evidence that something is amiss.
It begins with the repeat offender. The one who hired Jesus to be his Lord but things didn’t work out and Jesus got fired. “Do you think He’ll take me back?” he asks. Filled with compassion and flattered by the authority he has conferred upon us, we agree to judge his faith. We decide that he is indeed sincerely repentant and our lips pronounce our judgment: “Yes, He will forgive you and take you back! Just ask Him now into your heart!” But he’s done this before, and we briefly entertain the thought (before banning it as sinful) that this “conversion” probably did not take. Later, we find that it didn’t but we decide to think positive thoughts instead.
Then there is the friend who keeps asking Jesus to move into her life, but His furniture never seems to arrive. “I keep asking Him, and I really am sincere, but I can’t feel anything.” We sympathize with her and tell her that God’s promise in the Bible overrides any feelings. This is a religion of objective and not just emotional reality, we reassure her. She looks at us as though we haven’t understood, and that further explanation would be a waste of time. She gradually stops coming to church, and the small spiritual flame we saw within her dims and is extinguished.
Then comes the day when it happens to us! We wake up one morning with a spiritual hangover of guilt, and realize that we have wrested the controls from our God and Savior and evicted Him from our life! We wince in pain as we recall each offense; the names we called Him in our mind, the precious things He loved that we abused. Then comes panic: Am I saved? Am I still His? Can He really forgive me if I keep treating him this way? I took Jesus as my Savior then I threw Him out. I made Jesus my Lord and then I fired Him!
All of these things happen because we have made a small mistake in understanding the Bible. We may talk about “accepting,” “taking,” or “making” Jesus Lord and Savior, but the Bible does not! The Bible speaks of “confessing the Lord Jesus” ; but we do not understand what it means. We think it simply means saying our beliefs out loud; and yet in many of the instances which trouble us, saying an apparently sincere belief out loud actually did not produce the desired results. We scratch our heads and wonder, was the belief really sincere? Our doctrine forces us to conclude that the “faith” was illusory or inadequate, but our heart has a twinge at that.
Maybe we should wonder if it is even possible for us to make Jesus our Lord! After much thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that we cannot. Since we don’t have control of our lives to begin with, we are hardly in the position to hand over that control to Jesus! We cannot add an inch to our height or hair to our heads; we cannot control our comings and goings, our fortunes, famines or the time of our death. Ecclesiastes expounds upon this truth of Jesus’ preaching. You can’t give away more than you’ve got. If I “make” Jesus my Lord, then I can only give Him as much power over my life as I already possess. If all that Jesus offers me is a consultant service to show me how to better manage my life, and has no additional power over it than I do, He is my consultant and not my Lord, and that is not enough.
If I delegate a task to another person, two things are true:
- I can only delegate from the powers, authorities or responsibilities that are already mine.
- I am greater than the one to whom I am delegating the task.
Whoever delegates to another supervises that person and thereby retains the greater power. The very act of giving someone else power always contains within it the right to take that power back! Or we might say that the power to hire includes the power to fire. Thus if we “make” Jesus our Lord, we retain the power to kick Him out; and being human, most of us do it sooner or later. Since Jesus was actually subordinate to us when we made Him our “Lord” with our words, He never really became Lord of our lives anyway.
We cannot make Jesus our Lord for four reasons:
- “Lord” is a superior position, whoever is hired is inferior. Hiring a superior is really a contradiction in terms.
- Human nature being what it is, we eventually get mad and fire Him.
- Since we don’t control our lives, we have no power to give Him when we “make” Him Lord! Consequently, we are unable to back up our verbal contract to give Him Lordship with an actual transfer of power!
- He already is our Lord!
Before the ascension, Jesus told His followers that He had been given all power and authority. “All” is a fairly inclusive term: it includes pretty much everything, including my life and yours from birth until death. Jesus already is Lord of all of my life. The authority is not ours to give Him, He’s the one who has possessed it all along. This is why the Bible does not tell us to “make” Jesus Lord, it proclaims that He already is! We are the oppressed inhabitants of a ruthless dictatorship which was overthrown by a godly power long ago; but living in the hinterlands, we have not heard of the change. Emissaries come to us from our new Ruler to announce the good news! The battle was won long ago! Recognize your new Governor and all will be well! Our new government will possess the same power over us regardless of our actions. We cannot change the power the new government has over us by our attitude. Our instruction is to “confess” it—to acknowledge that He has always been Lord of our lives!
How do we confess? Suppose you are a criminal, captured by the police. If you wanted to confess, how would you go about doing it? Well, you wouldn’t go about shouting frantically, “I confess! I’m a criminal, I confess!” That is not a confession, it is merely strange behavior. Many people try to confess Jesus in this fashion; say the correct words with the correct surge of emotion and some heavenly bureaucratic provision will be satisfied. But a true confession is more than just reciting slogans, however pious. A confession means that you give a detailed accounting for all your relevant behavior in the past: what events, places, items and people were involved. A confession is a lengthy process, it means admitting things that were true all along even though you denied them at the time. A confession looks to the past, reinterprets it and gives it its true meaning. A confession corrects the current course of things, and restores future hopes.
How do you confess that Jesus is Lord? By looking into your past and finding that Jesus was Lord of it all along. By seeing the tragedies, trials and triumphs of your past as His efforts to woo you safely into His fold. It means that you realize how many times you brushed past Him and did not recognize Him; it means that you recognize how much He has loved you and pursued you throughout the days of your life. The sins and lies of your past come like so many dark-suited cross-examiners shining bright lights in your eyes; you break down and sob! Yes! I see it all now, how could I have been so stupid? Jesus is Lord of all in my life! Jesus casts them out, smiles at you radiantly, and gathers you as a sobbing child. “I love you Lord Jesus! You were there all along, and I only hurt and ignored you!” He comforts you as you plead, “Please help me not to run away, please help me to obey!”
Confession is the fruit of the crisis called repentance: a complete “turning around” of heart and mind (Biblical Greek metanoia—change of mind). We mortals have a famous inability to rid ourselves of bad habits and addictions; and in religious circles we are often made to feel guilty because we have not “repented” of various things in our life. Our critics are merely bragging that they were never afflicted as we are or that they have overcome similar afflictions; their pride is nonetheless not commendable. It is a religious version of the “limbo” game to see who can squeeze under the lowering bar of moral standards. This game has nothing to do with repentance, though it bears the same name. It is unfair! We just finished signing a confession that we never were in control and acknowledging Who is; now these religious people miss the whole point and expect us to be in control! Not even God intends to judge man until the end of his days, but our religious friends have apparently decided that God is lax, so they have started early!
We’ve become slaves, our Master decides when and what shall be corrected within us. Whoever criticizes what they fancy to be our bad habits and morals criticizes and insults our Master, who is in complete control of His slaves—though our pharisaic critics may not believe that. Repentance is a turning of heart and mind to the Lord, to a new realization of our life and its meaning, past, present and future. When a criminal confesses, the police know that this fundamental change of heart will have massive repercussions: the whole process of justice has been changed. But not all of these repercussions will occur right away. In the same way, when we confess the Lord Jesus, this repentance, this change of heart and outlook has a drastic effect on our lives; not just upon the position of the present, or even upon the course of the future—even the impact of the past has changed.
The spiritual crisis that begins this process is saving faith, a gift from God and not a human deed. This tiny faith grows to a total reassessment of our life, and a complete change of viewpoint (repentance) results. This earthquake in the interpretation of our past, in the assessment of our present, and in our future course leads us to a realization of Who’s in charge of all that is. We then confess Jesus’ authority over us, that He has always been Lord of all things; including the things we fear, the things that anger us, the things that incur our “righteous” indignation, the things we cannot forgive, the things we cannot understand, and the things that upset us deep inside.
A conversion experience is like dropping a pebble in a pond: the ripples spread in all directions. A true conversion experience spreads not only into our future, but backwards through our past. For our Lord is not limited by time.
Confession is a lengthy process: it means admitting things that were true all along even though you denied them at the time. A confession is a reconciliation with the past, it reinterprets the past and gives it its true meaning. A confession corrects the current course of things, and restores future hopes.
Confess the Lord Jesus, and be saved!