If I heard it once I heard it a million times. It went something like this…
“I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was _____,
but it wasn’t until _______ that I made Jesus Lord of my life.”
In my tradition, it was a phrase people uttered when they were making a conscious decision to work harder at living for Christ. For example, decisions from a student camp could be divvied up into two groups: profession of faith (salvation) or re-dedication. Of the latter group, many would confess that camp was where they “made Jesus Lord” of their life. They had believed in Christ but now wanted to do more and try harder for him because their recent track record of obedience was so poor. However, often their new found enthusiasm tethered to “making Jesus Lord” would wane over time and they would find themselves depressed and defeated for being unable to sustain their commitment. Being so overwhelmed by the ineffectiveness of their “do more/try harder” strategy some even stopped following Jesus altogether. While not faulting the spirit behind this approach, one wonders if there is a better way to following Jesus?
17th century pastor Walter Marshall offers a different alternative to “making Jesus Lord of your life”:
When you trust in Christ, you will not move toward godless living, but toward holiness. Faith roots you and grounds you in holiness better than anything else can. Living by faith is far more powerful than simply consenting to make Christ the Lord of your life. When you live by faith, you have far more power to live a holy life than you do when you make resolutions to keep the law better in order to earn eternal life.[ref]The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, (trans. Bruce McRae) 58.[/ref]
Marshall points believers who want to follow Christ to not build their service on the foundation of their ability to serve but upon the solid rock of Christ’s service on the believer’s behalf. This does not mean we should not seek to obey Christ in all things but to first affix our hearts to the truth that, despite our record of obedience, in Christ we are completely loved, accepted, and valued. It is to operate from the gospel-saturated perspective that because of grace our sin doesn’t cause God to love us less nor our obedience cause him to love us more. To trust in the work of grace of the gospel is, in Walter’s words, to “trust in Christ.” This faith-driven life is empowering, encouraging, and emboldening. Grace becomes the better engine for following Jesus than our strength to make resolutions. Thus, the better alternative to growth in following Jesus is to begin, continue, and finish the Christian life rooting ourselves not to our ability to perform in “making Jesus Lord” but in Christ’s accomplished performance as the Lord.