Christianity does not have mere outward conformity as its goal, but rather the believer’s inward renewal, which is then followed by the outward working of grace. In Christianity, saving faith represents an inward change, a regeneration so transforming it is called a “new birth.” This inward change is more than an analogy; it is substantive because it includes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit leads the “new creature” in Christ to a sanctified life of faithfulness. The Spirit’s work is efficacious; it has its desired effect. The believer is not left to wonder; he can live in terms of the certainty to which his salvation by grace testifies. Coercion is not part of the gospel message, but certainty is.
When many people look at the Christian message of certain truths and certain moral law, they think in modern statist terms, assume Christians think like statists, and see their moral certainties as a political agenda. What statists believe, they impose by law, and they assume that we will do the same.
Coercion is not the goal of Christianity, is not a method by which godliness can be furthered, and is not the strategy of Christian Reconstruction. That, however, must not change our message of the certain truth of every word of God.
Arguably the most persistent heresy in Christianity is Neoplatonism, which is the ancient dualistic perspective of Greek thought. Greek thought saw man’s problem not as a moral one, but as a metaphysical one. Man’s problem was that he was a physical being in a physical world, unable to achieve the higher plane of the spiritual. Neoplatonism sees true religion as a separation into the realm of the spiritual (or the related realm of ideas) and that the material concerns of life are counterproductive of legitimate religious activity.
One disastrous effect of Neoplatonism is that it limits the realm of what is spiritual and hence the scope of religion. To the extent that Christianity has ever embraced Neoplatonic categories, it has limited the message to what it has defined as legitimate spiritual concerns.
In Scripture “spiritual” does not refer to the ethereal realm of Greek thought but to the power of God’s Spirit. Man’s problem is not that he is a physical being in a physical world; his problem is that he is a sinner. Man’s problem is not metaphysical, but moral. Man was created to be a physical being, and even heaven will be a physical place (John 14:2–3), and our resurrection bodies will be real, physical entities (1 Cor. 15:35ff).
In Neoplatonism (and false Christian theology, which assumes such a dualism) salvation addresses a metaphysical problem and is man’s escape from the physical to the spiritual. (In Greek thought men could even become gods by transcending their mortality.) In Biblical Christianity spirituality is the power of the Holy Spirit in the very down-to-earth lives of very creaturely men because their real problem, their moral rebellion, was addressed by the second person of the Trinity incarnate in human flesh (which, if Greek dualism is accepted, was a very “unspiritual” thing for God to do). In Christianity, salvation is God’s resolution of man’s moral problem, so that regenerate man, in the power of the Holy Spirit, can have a certainty about his responsibility in his life in a fallen world.
Our Spiritual Life
Our life and growth in terms of our redemption is our sanctification, whereby the Holy Spirit causes us, more and more (but never completely), to reject sinfulness and live unto righteousness. Sanctification is not our escape into false, dualistic spirituality but our growth, in this world of matter and earthly responsibilities, in terms of the reality of the new life that is within us.
True spirituality causes us to address this world in the power of God’s Spirit and the authority of His Word, not escape from it. Our sanctification enables us to “get back to work,” to repudiate our rebellious ways and serve God. Man was created to work; Adam had work before he was tempted. Our salvation is thus our restoration, our recall to life and work in terms of God’s will.
The “will of God” can be a vague and meaningless term, however, if we do not self-consciously equate the will of God with the revealed Word of God, including His law. Our redemption is thus a recall to law-keeping. This is why James could say that faith without works was dead (James 2:20). Good works are not the means of justification but the certain result. The true believer will show the reality of God’s Spirit within him by his submission to the certain Word of God.
The Christian must be a law-keeper to be faithful to God. The great crisis of modern theology today is its exclusion of obedience, its Neoplatonic assumption that a vague self-defined spirituality is the essence of Christian duty. The term “godliness” is today rarely used because it implies a standard defined by God when we prefer the ambiguity of “spirituality.” The theological exclusion of God’s law from Christian practice is called “antinomianism” (anti-nomos, or anti-law). Antinomianism is moral anarchism in principle if not always in practice. Antinomianism is not anti-law per se because all but the anarchist believe in some law; it is only anti-God’s-law because when God’s law is rejected, some form of man’s law will prevail. The question is not law or no law, then, but “whose law?”
The Lordship of Christ
The New Testament writers were very careful to show us who Jesus Christ is because His lordship is an essential part of the Christian gospel. Still, many Christians deny this, some explicitly and even more implicitly.
Some Jews insisted that “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). Those same Jews believed they were completely orthodox; in the name of what they saw as true religious faith, they opposed God Himself. The modern church is not much different. There is much rebellion in the name of true faith, much disbelief accompanied by passionate claims to genuine faith.
Another incident saw some Jews wanting to force Jesus to be their king, their political Messiah (John 6:15). They did not begin with His lordship but with their will and the benefits that would follow having a miracle worker as their leader. In that scenario the people were the kingmakers, the real sovereigns who drafted Jesus to be at the head of their program.
It is a false confession to say Jesus is Lord by man’s choice. This is the error of Arminianism. It makes God subject to man, and Jesus Christ man’s resource, a fire and life insurance policy, a service provider, a spare tire for man.
The True Confession
It is not sufficient to tell people they must make Jesus their Lord. The true confession is that Jesus is Lord by right. One of the messianic names of Jesus is “Shiloh,” which means “He whose right it is.” We do not make Jesus Lord; we acknowledge His eternal lordship and repent that our sin ever blinded us from that confession.
The power of the gospel comes from Whose gospel it is. Jesus is Lord by right. This is why coercion is absurd; if we try to coerce people, we claim God’s right of calling.
Jesus Is Lord
Jesus is Lord because He is God, the eternal second person of the triune God. Jesus is Lord because His role as Messiah made Him the unique link between God and man. Jesus is Lord because He taught us “[a]ll power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). We often miss the obvious, as the most common name for Jesus in Scripture is “Lord.”
John shows us Christ in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21–22), the Kingdom of God in its eternal perfection. There, Jesus is the temple, the light to whom all bring their honor, the keeper of the book of life, the source of the water of life that feeds the tree of life, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the ending, the first and the last, both the root and offspring of David, the bright and morning star. John concluded Revelation with a curse on anyone who would take away these words. The apostle was not just talking of altering letters on paper, but about denying what this prophecy said about Jesus Christ.
By a false confession, we must not detract from who Jesus is. “Lord” means master, sovereign, one with proprietary ownership. He is not our fire insurance, He is not a service provider, He is not a resource we choose to access. Our confession must be that Jesus is Lord, that He is Shiloh, He whose right it is.
The lordship of Jesus Christ means that Jesus Christ, as God, is sovereign, so that all is subject to Him. In every area of life and thought, everything and everyone is called to submission to God and His Christ. The unredeemed are called to repent and believe. The redeemed are called to respond to the Spirit in faithfulness.
Every sphere of life is called to obedience: family, church, state, school, arts, business. Every profession and discipline is so called. Sometimes a question is a cynical method of dismissing something. If we are ever tempted to ask, “What does God have to do with art, or education, or business, or any other sphere of human behavior?” let us rather ask ourselves to defend the position that a negative answer would suggest. Try explaining to yourself why God has nothing to say to some sphere. Consider how you would pray to God and tell Him why your faith must preclude His interest in any part of His creation.
Of course, to do so would be blasphemous. To deny the claims of God over the fullness of the creation and the scope of human endeavor is to join His enemies who still say, “We will not have this man to rule over us.”
My father once wrote an essay called “Maximal Christianity.” He used the term in contrast to the minimal Christianity of so much of the modern church. If Jesus is Lord, then we are servants, and that means total submission and total obedience must be our response.
Some belief in God is not enough. James tells us that even the devils believe in God (2:19), but they tremble because they only know Him as their Judge. We are called to a confidence in the comprehensive sovereignty of the triune God. It is important that we not stop at the sovereignty of God the Father. We must specifically hold to the lordship of the incarnate second person of the Trinity. We must not see Jesus Christ as merely the Son who did a deed for His Father, as a role player, nor may we see Him as a benefit provider. In all that Jesus Christ does, He is also our God, our Lord, and our Master. This is the only Jesus Scripture offers us. Any other Jesus is a false god, one made in the image of men.