Jesus, Personal Lord and Savior
February 15, 2013 § 3 Comments
I have always been bothered by many of my Reformed and Covenantal peers’ contempt for the term “receiving Jesus as personal Lord and Savior.” I am well aware that many who use this phrase have absolutely no ecclesiology to speak of and have so privatized their faith that, in their minds, there is no such thing as a “capital C” Church. What all too often emerges in this criticism, however, is a reactionary, man-made doctrine of corporate salvation that is, in my reading of Scripture, far more dangerous than the individualism that typifies most of those who are broadly evangelical. It is yet another willingly opened chute that slides back to the very theological darkness upon which the Reformation shone the light of truth.
In the following excerpt from his classic work Evangelism and Sovereignty of God, J.I. Packer emphasizes the importance of proclaiming Christ as opposed to proclaiming “salvation,” specifically with regard to the atonement. Though he did originally address his comments to the trend I reference above, what he says clearly applies to it. Jesus indeed saves, but the Gospel does not present either a clinical deliverance from sin or merely corporate benefit but a personal Savior. We rightly proclaim the Gospel when we proclaim Christ as the person he is: the God-man who is the Savior and Lord of sinners who have personally sinned against the Person of God. Ultimately, eternal life is a relational reality. Jesus himself underlined this truth when he said that eternal life was not commodity to possess but a relationship to receive and enter into: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). We proclaim Christ, not mere salvation; we call all to receive the Son, not merely his benefits.
Evangelistic preachers and personal workers have sometimes been known to make this mistake. In their concern to focus attention on the atoning death of Christ, as the sole sufficient ground on which sinners may be accepted with God, they have expounded the summons to saving faith in these terms: ‘Believe that Christ died for your sins.’ The effect of this exposition is to represent the saving work of Christ in the past, dissociated from His Person in the present, as the whole object of our trust. But it is not biblical to thus isolate the work from the Worker. Nowhere in the New Testament is the call to believe expressed in such terms. What the New Testament calls for is faith in (en) or into (eis) or upon (epi) Christ Himself- the placing of our trust in the living Saviour, who died for sins. The object of saving faith is not, strictly speaking, the atonement, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who made the atonement. We must not in presenting the gospel isolate the cross and its benefits from the Christ whose cross it was. For the persons to whom the benefits of Christ’ death belong are just those who trust His Person, and believe, not upon His saving death simply, but upon Him, the living Saviour. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,’ said Paul. ‘Come unto me… and I will give you rest,’ said our Lord. (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J.I. Packer, IVP, pp. 65, 66)
Simply put, we should never deemphasize, especially as those with a Covenantal passion for proclaiming the beauty and power of the Church as the corporate context of the Gospel’s outworking, the foundational reality that Jesus personally saves individuals. It is neither individualistic nor anti-covenantal to call on individual men, women and children to repent and place their faith in Christ as the Person who alone can save their person. Any “gospel” that underemphasizes the necessity of personal faith in Christ drains away the power of God for salvation and is ultimately no gospel at all.