by Dr. Wade Paschal
Romans 10:9 (NIV)
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.
If we are going to talk about “following Christ”—what are we saying? Why would we want to follow Jesus, and what does that mean?
Romans 10:9 was one of the first verses I ever memorized—a great verse for a new Christian to explain what it means to be a Christian.
To follow Christ means that I confess that Jesus is Lord, and I believe God raised him from the dead and so be saved.
But each of these phrases has to be taken apart and understood.
In the context of Jesus’ own day to say, “Jesus is Lord,” took some courage. The Roman Empire expected its citizens and subjects to declare that “Caesar is Lord”—meaning that Caesar owned the ultimate obedience and loyalty of every member of the Roman Empire.
When Christians said, “Jesus is Lord,” they were saying at the same time that Caesar was not. The obedience and loyalty of every Christian went first to Christ and not to any human authority or to any other divine authority.
The title, “Lord,” had a broad range of meanings. The slave called his master, “Lord,” and the student called his teacher, “Lord.” “Lord” was an honorific due to the person to whom you owed respect, duty or obedience in some measure.
While Christians certainly called Jesus, “Lord,” because they gave him respect and obedience, clearly Paul meant more than this. Jesus is Lord because he has been resurrected from the dead—he is the victor over death (and by implication, over sin that caused death in the first place). Jesus is Lord because Jesus is God’s chosen agent to make the world right and to heal the broken places in life.
And yet I think“Jesus is Lord” means even more. The special name of God revealed in Exodus 3 to Moses at the burning bush—the “I AM” of the Old Testament—could not be pronounced aloud. So whenever Hebrew people read the “I AM” name in the Old Testament, they substituted the word, “Lord,” for the name of God.
“Jesus is Lord” means that the redeeming, saving God who came to Moses has come again in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the revelation of the Lord of the nation of Israel now in the flesh.
To say, “Jesus is Lord,” means that we believe that Jesus embodies the God who is saving the world.
We don’t call people, “Lord,” today (outside of Downton Abbey type dramas) and the word may seem strange to us. But it would be hard to imagine a word that better calls for respect and awe at the same time. To say, “Jesus is Lord,” invites us into a different world where we are not the main point. And that is a critical part of what it means to be Christian.
Dr. R. Wade Paschal, Jr. is the Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church. Educated at Princeton University, Asbury Theological Seminary, and Cambridge University, Dr. Paschal has written two books and a number of articles on the Bible and on ministry. He is married to Sandi and they have three children and two grandchildren.