In-Sight: Three Transforming Words

Hardly a week goes by without a speech or writing about how to move past various empasses in the Church–to say nothing of the society and larger world.  We are admittedly a very conflicted, confused, and contentious generation. 

Some proposals have gone to lengths to describe what a new day might look like.  The suggestions run the gamut from outright separation to the preservation of unity.  Each plan varies in detail, but each advocacy group views theirs as better than the others–and in some cases, even as the will of God.

I have had my share of involvement in some of this, partly because I believe God works through the presentation of ideas and the advocacy of options.  The Divine Weaver can take our threads and make a larger tapestry out of them.  It has happened before (Isaiah 43:19 and Jeremiah 32:27).  I keep praying that it will happen again.

But recently, I have had a distinct impression that God has already given us the words we need in order to find our way forward–three words, in fact.  Here they are–“Jesus is Lord.”
What is likely the earliest Christian creed remains the affirmation we most need to make; indeed, the one that can produce what our “many words” cannot.

These three words connect us to the One who is the way, truth, and life–three much-needed qualities if we are to be the Church.  And at the same time, these three words bind us to each other into nothing less than the Body of Christ.  In Christ and in fellowship with one another, all things are possible!

This means whenever I meet another human being who says, “Jesus is Lord,” I have met a brother or sister in Christ–full stop, case closed, no additional qualifier needed.  When I join with any human being who says, “Jesus is Lord,” I have met someone, who like me, is seeking to follow Christ, pledge allegiance to his Kingdom, and live the life of Christian discipleship–full stop, case closed, no additional qualifier needed.

But some immediately say, “What if they are just saying the words without actually living them?  What if they are using faith to advance a hidden agenda?”  I have two responses to these straw-man allegations.

First, so what if they are?  It would not be the first time someone did it, and in my 50+ years of being a Christian, I too have had times when my faith was more words than deeds–times when I used faith to advance my selfish interests (see Romans 3:10 and 3:23).  None of us is free from this charge.  We all must cry, “Lord, have mercy!” when it comes to having used Christianity to feather our nests.

If people are playing us, that is their problem, and the Holy Spirit will deal with them accordingly, as has always happened.  Billy Graham has wisely told us, “It is my job to love, the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, and God’s job to judge.”  Moreover, it is in the fellowship of the Church where such sin is revealed, and where it is disciplined.

But here is the second response–the point I really want to make.  When I meet a person who says, “Jesus is Lord,” I meet someone who is making a profession of faith–declaring a conviction–that I am not licensed to deny, any more than the other person is permitted to doubt me when I say, “Jesus is Lord.”

When I meet someone who says, “Jesus is Lord,” I have met a brother or sister in Christ, and I am bound by New Covenant love to engage the second great commandment (love of others) as an expression of my commitment to the first one (love of God).  It us the meeting of another disciple where the two commandments come together and are tested.

The result is not judgmentalism, but fellowship in the Spirit who makes us one in Christ. When that grace-empowered and grace-filled bonding occurs, there is no longer any need to consider division, no longer any justification for erecting any barriers, but only the need to see how all of us sinners saved by grace can go about being full and responsible members of Christ’s holy Church.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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2 Responses to In-Sight: Three Transforming Words

  1. Excellent post, Steve. Picking up for UM Insight, with your kind permission.

  2. Jeff Blake says:

    I will never forget singing together “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and seeing E. Stanley Jones raise three fingers: Jesus is Lord.

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