Three Words that Change Everything
By David Feddes
Three words were all it took: three words shouted in marketplaces, discussed in debating halls, spoken at riversides, whispered in graveyards, echoed in secret tunnels. If you said these three words, you could lose all your property, you could be imprisoned, you could be whipped and tortured, you could have your head chopped off or be burned or crucified or trampled by bulls or eaten by lions. But in the face of all that, more and more people kept saying these three words, and the world will never be the same again. Three words changed everything.
“Jesus is Lord!” Those three simple words were the basic confession of faith among the first Christians. For those first followers of Jesus under the rule of the Roman Empire, and for many other Christians throughout history, saying those three words was like signing their own death warrant. But people went on saying “Jesus is Lord” anyway, and nothing could stop them. Even if they were killed, they couldn’t be stopped, because there was always someone else—usually many others—who picked up the refrain and kept speaking and spreading it.
Why wouldn’t Christians be quiet when it was apparent that saying “Jesus is Lord” could mean suffering and death? Well, Jesus’ followers didn’t think of those three words as a ticket to destruction but as a passport to life. They were confident, as the Bible puts it, that “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Confident of life, eternal and abundant life, through the risen Lord Jesus, they went on speaking the three words that changed countless individuals, that changed the world, that changed everything.
I want to emphasize three main points. First, JESUS is Lord. Second, Jesus IS Lord. And third, Jesus is LORD. Let’s find out why these three words change everything.
JESUS is Lord
When I say “Jesus is Lord” and emphasize the word Jesus, I’m saying that he alone is Lord. Nobody else is Lord: not any political ruler, not any god or goddess, not any leader from another religion, but Jesus alone. Jesus is Lord.
For the first Christians, this emphasis on Jesus as the one and only supreme ruler was so different, so daring, so dangerous, that countless Christians died for saying it. You might think that the Christians were persecuted because the Roman Empire was intolerant, but in some ways, the Empire was very tolerant. Almost any god or goddess from almost any religion was tolerated. Whenever a new cult came along with a new god or goddess, the governing authorities didn’t usually attack it. They simply tolerated it and added it to the pantheon, Rome’s collection of different deities from around the world. So when some people started worshiping someone called Jesus, the Romans wouldn’t have minded adding Jesus to their “god collection.”
But those first Christians weren’t willing to add Jesus to a pantheon of different deities or to make him just one more item in a god collection. No, they insisted that there are not many gods but one, not many Lords but one. “Jesus is Lord,” they said. They didn’t offer Jesus as one among many paths to eternal life. They insisted, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). They didn’t try to give Jesus a place alongside other religious teachers. They insisted that Jesus held a place like no other. In one of their earliest hymns, Christians sang that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
Now, the Roman Empire may have been tolerant, but this was something it couldn’t tolerate. There was no way the Empire would put up with the notion that Jesus was a name above all others or that every knee should bow to him. That was too much of a challenge to the Empire’s way of doing things. You could worship most anything you pleased, as long as you said that all religions are equally valid, and so long as you were willing to say that the emperor was divine and recognize his supreme lordship over you. However many divine beings there might be in Rome’s pantheon, there was just one divine being who ruled on behalf of the gods over the people of the earth, and that divine being was the emperor. You could believe anything you wanted about gods and goddesses in heaven as long you affirmed that on earth government is god. You could have any religion you liked, as long as you were willing to agree that your god was no better than anyone else’s god, and as long as you would declare, “Caesar is Lord.”
But the Christians wouldn’t do it. Instead of saying “to each his own” in matters of religion, the Christians went around trying to lead everybody to Jesus, insisting on Christ as the only source of salvation. And instead of saying “Caesar is Lord,” they quietly but firmly went on insisting, “Jesus is Lord” and said that even Caesar himself would have to answer to Christ someday. The Christians would pay taxes, pray for government, and not harm anybody, but they wouldn’t equate government with God. The Roman authorities could tolerate almost anything, but they couldn’t tolerate people like that. And so they tortured, crucified, burned, beheaded, and fed Christians to wild beasts, all for saying that Jesus alone is Lord. But through it all, the Christians held fast and changed the world.
What about you? Do you believe in Jesus, and Jesus alone, as the source of salvation and the Lord over all things? You might be tempted to do what people did back in the time of the Roman Empire. They pretended that any god or goddess is just fine, and that all roads lead to glory. But that wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now. Jesus, and Jesus alone, is Lord. Jesus alone can give you the gift of eternal life. Jesus alone can save you from hell. Jesus alone has the right to your supreme loyalty. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Don’t treat Jesus as just one among many religious teachers. Don’t pretend that faith in him is just one among many equally acceptable religious options. Don’t think that government, or any other human institution, may claim absolute authority. When you say, “Jesus is Lord,” you say that nobody else is Lord. Jesus is the only one who is both God and man and the only bridge between God and humanity.
When you say, “Jesus is Lord,” you also say that Christianity is Christ. Real Christianity is not just habits you developed growing up or some decent moral principles or a variety of things people do in church (good as some of these things might be). Christianity is Christ, a living relationship to a living person. And that brings us to the second of the three words that change everything: Jesus IS Lord.
Jesus IS Lord
When I say, “Jesus is Lord,” I emphasize his certainty and his present reality. I don’t say that Jesus might be Lord or that he has a good shot at being Lord; I declare that he is Lord. I don’t say only that he was Lord long ago when he walked this earth and did amazing miracles, and I don’t say only that he will be Lord at some point in the future when he comes back to earth. It’s true that Jesus was Lord in the past and will be Lord in the future, but it’s equally true that Jesus is Lord right now.
The fact that Jesus is Lord now means that you can have a relationship with him now and enter into eternal life now. In the Bible Jesus says,
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (John 5:24-25).
A future resurrection is coming at the end of the world, but there’s also a resurrection going on right now, any time people who are spiritually dead in sin hear the gospel message as Jesus’ voice speaking to them personally, making their spirit alive with the life of the Holy Spirit. Right here, right now, you can cross over from death to life because Jesus is Lord.
This also means that now, not later, is the time to respond to Jesus. You don’t have to wait for something else to happen. You don’t have to find a way to climb to heaven to connect with God; the Lord Jesus has already come down from heaven to connect with you. You don’t have to do something to make up for past sins; Jesus already paid for the sins of the world when he died on the cross. You don’t have to come up with some way to escape death; Jesus has already defeated death by his resurrection. Jesus is Lord and Savior, he’s already done everything necessary to bring you a relationship with God and new life, so don’t wait for anything else to happen.
Don’t wait for every last question in your mind to be answered. Don’t wait for every lingering doubt to be resolved. Don’t wait for your life to be in perfectly good order so you can merit God’s approval. Come to Jesus right here, right now. Confess that he is Lord and that he is your Lord. The Bible says, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Don’t think a relationship with God should wait until you can do something to earn it. Jesus has already done everything necessary. The Bible says,
“‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved… for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 10:8-13).
You can be saved right now because right now Jesus is Lord.
Jesus is LORD
Now for the third of the three words that change everything: “Jesus is Lord.” The word Lord means owner, master, ruler, God. When you say, “Jesus is Lord,” you’re honoring the absolute authority of Jesus. You’re saying that because of who Jesus is, and because of what he accomplished in his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, he’s not just Savior or Helper or Healer or Friend. “Jesus is Lord.” He’s in charge. He has the right to rule the world and the right to run your life.
Maybe you’ve come across the idea that you can accept Jesus as your Savior without accepting him as your Lord. The idea is that you can get forgiveness and eternal life simply by believing that Jesus died to save you, and you can get these benefits without recognizing him as your Lord and without submitting to him as the one who has ownership rights over you. In this view, you can say, “Yes, Jesus, I believe that you died for me, and I’m counting on you to take me to heaven; but no, I don’t want you to take over my life as my Master and Guide. I accept you as my crucified Savior but not as my ascended and reigning Lord.”
It’s not hard to see why some people might like this view. You can get what you want from Jesus without submitting your will to his. You can get your debts paid and yet not yield yourself to the one who paid for you. You can count on him to help you, even if you don’t want to let him take over as your Guide and Master. You can have him as Savior but not as Lord.
But it’s nonsense to think this way. Jesus didn’t just pay the price for your sins. He died to pay for you, to buy you as his own precious possession. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). So how can you claim Jesus saves you, yet he doesn’t own you? If you put your faith in Jesus, you’ve been bought and paid for.
How can you accept Jesus as Savior and reject him as Lord? The Bible doesn’t just say, “Believe in Jesus and you will be saved.” It says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). It says that “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). You can’t separate Jesus’ salvation from his lordship. You can’t expect Jesus to buy you with his blood but not move in and take over any more than you could sell a home and expect the new owner not to move in.
It’s like the problem described by a Korean Christian named Mr. Kim. “A year or two ago,” he explained, “I received a letter from a friend. This friend was a young dentist. He wanted to move to our city and start a dental practice here. Since I’m a businessman who knows the city, he asked me to find him a place that he could use as a home and office combined. Now as we all know, there’s been a great housing shortage. But I did all I could to help him. Finally I found a place and wrote him about it. I told him the house was in bad condition. There was a hole in the wall, and the roof leaked. The house was in a very bad neighborhood. On top of all that, the price was much more than the house was worth. Although I told him all these problems, my friend sent me a telegram telling me to buy the house.
“A day or so later, I got a check from him to cover the down payment, so I signed the papers to buy the house. The owner agreed to vacate the house in three days. But when the time was up, the owner asked for a few more days to find another house. I granted him this period of grace. But after a week he was still there. Two weeks, three weeks, a month, three months, six months have passed. The man who sold the house has bought fancy clothes for himself and his family, and they are eating expensive food. He knows that I am a Christian and that in Korea we Christians never go to court against other Christians, and we try not to go to court against unbelievers. He laughs at me when I come.”
Mr. Kim was saying all this at a gathering of church elders in the Korean city where he lived, and he had been asked to lead their morning devotions. But instead of saying something inspirational about God, he was telling them this odd story and asking their advice. Who ever heard of someone selling his house for a big price and then not letting the new owner move in? “What am I to do?” Kim asked his fellow elders. After a discussion, they all agreed that Kim had the right to go to the authorities and have the man evicted and to take charge of the property.
“Thank you, Fathers and Brethren,” said Kim, “for considering my problem. Before I sit down, I wish to draw one conclusion. Long ago the Lord Jesus Christ came down from heaven to purchase for himself a dwelling place.” Pointing to himself Kim continued, “He bought this old shack. It was in rundown condition. It was in a bad neighborhood. Jesus bought me because he wanted to take possession of me and dwell in my heart. He gave himself for me, and he gave me the Holy Spirit as a down payment, bringing me countless blessings. But I cling to my dwelling and leave him outside. Now if you say that I have the right to seek the help of the authorities to evict the man who is occupying my friend’s house, what shall you and I say of ourselves when we deny the Lord Jesus Christ the full possession of that for which he gave his own life?” (Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans).
Jesus is Lord. He didn’t come only to rescue you. He came to rule you. If you don’t have Jesus as Lord, you don’t have him at all. You can’t cut Jesus in half and take the part you want and reject the part you don’t want. You can’t take a part of Jesus labeled “Savior” and reject a part labeled “Lord.” When you receive Christ, you receive all of him, not just a certain part. And when Christ purchases you, he claims all of you, not just a part of you.
Shortly before his ascension to heaven, Jesus told his followers, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Notice that Jesus didn’t just say, “I have made it possible for people to be forgiven.”He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”Jesus didn’t just tell the apostles, “Go and crusade for people to make decisions.”He said, “Go and make disciples.”He didn’t just say, “Teach them that if they believe in me, they will go to heaven when they die.”He said, “Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.”Everything! That’s comprehensive. The exalted Christ isn’t just a Savior; he is Lord. He is Master and Ruler, with absolute authority over all things.
A wholesome faith is much more than the belief that Jesus died to bring us forgiveness and that he rose again so we could live forever. That’s all true—thank God, it’s true—but it’s not the whole truth. “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3). We don’t have a robust faith, a comprehensive faith, until we embrace the exaltation of Christ, as well as his death and resurrection. The Christ who forgives me has ascended to heaven’s throne, and that means I must get off my little throne. He is Lord of all, and that means that I must submit every part of my life to him and obey him.
The gospel is not just a set of facts to be believed or a gift of forgiveness to be received. The gospel is also a Majesty to be adored and an Authority to be obeyed. The gospel is the risen and enthroned Christ, whose Holy Spirit unites his people with all that Christ is and with all that he has done–with his forgiveness and immortality and also with his glorious rule over all things. The gospel is the announcement that God reigns with the purpose of bringing “all things in heaven and earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).
This means you can’t afford to ignore Jesus, and it also means you can’t squeeze him into a little compartment of your life labeled “religion.” He won’t fit. The Bible says that the Jesus “who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe” (Ephesians 4:10). Jesus came down to earth and then ascended again, not just to fill an hour on Sunday morning, not just to fill a longing for happiness, not just to fill a need for a supernatural boost, but “to fill the whole universe.”The entire universe has been placed at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every last bit of it will find its meaning and significance only in his fullness. Every part of our lives must be shaped by this reality.
Knowing the exalted Lord Jesus will affect your work. You don’t work just to get a paycheck or advance your career. You don’t work just to meet the demands of your supervisor.“Whatever you do,” says the Bible, “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).
Knowing the exalted Lord Jesus will also shape your approach to education. You’re not content for your children to learn about all sorts of subjects without any mention of Jesus. You want them to have an education where the Lord is supreme in every area of study, where every thought is made obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). You want your children to have a Christian education because you believe not only in the crucified Jesus who saves our souls, but also in the ascended, exalted Lord who rules all of life and shapes your worldview.
The exalted Lord Jesus claims everything in the universe, and everything in your life, as his own. He asserts his authority over you and me and everyone else and over every aspect of our lives. There is not one person free of the obligation to recognize Jesus Christ as Lord and Master. There is not one moment you live, not one relationship you value, not one decision you make, not one dollar you spend, not one subject you study, not one job you work at, not one leisure activity you enjoy, that is exempt from the rule of Christ. Jesus is Lord over every capitol building, boardroom, courtroom, and prison cell. Jesus is supreme over every farm, factory, office, laboratory, and warehouse. There is not one aspect of life, not one square inch of creation, of which Christ does not say, “Mine!”
Let me say again: if you don’t have Jesus as Lord, you don’t have him at all. If you don’t love him, you are lost. The Bible says, “If anyone does not love the Lord–a curse be on him” (1 Corinthians 16:22). Does this mean that you are not a member of God’s kingdom unless you love God perfectly and unless every part of your life is perfectly in line with God’s will? No, as long as you are on this side of heaven, you will have sins and failings, and your love for God will not be perfect. But it’s one thing to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and realize he still has a lot of work to do in your life; it’s quite another to say that you refuse to submit to Jesus as Lord, that you’re going to do as you please and expect Jesus to be your Savior even though he’s not your Lord. If you expect to be saved, you must confess that Jesus is Lord and submit to his rule and correction.
The moment the Holy Spirit comes into your life and puts the Lord Jesus on the throne of your heart, you are a changed person. You are assured of God’s forgiveness and you belong to him for eternity. In that sense, putting your faith in Jesus and confessing him as Lord is a once-for-all thing. But in another sense, it is a day-by-day process as well. Once you’ve accepted his claim on your life, there will still be many more times throughout your life where you need to ask forgiveness and reject your own will and submit to the claims of his lordship.
Can you say, “Jesus is Lord” and really mean it? Thank Jesus for all he has done to save you apart from any efforts of your own. Put your faith in the Lord who has all authority in heaven and on earth and who claims you as his own. Rejoice that he bought you for himself. Receive all that he is, and give him all that you are. Serve him in every part of your life, and love him with your whole being, until you see him face to face and your love for him is made perfect.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.