“Trust Christ as your Lord and Savior” is a phrase that is commonly used in evangelical churches today to describe the what one must do to be saved. It is a good phrase, since the words, “Lord” and “Savior”, are certainly biblical — “Lord” occurs 6,462 times and “Savior” 55 times in the Bible. The problem, however, is many people who are prompted to trust Jesus as Lord and Savior, as well as many people who claim to do so, do not obtain a adequate understanding of what it really means. With that in mind, the goal of this brief article is to develop an accurate understanding of what this phrase means and to discuss the implications of not understanding.
What is at Stake
While the Bible plainly teaches that the sole requirement to be saved is to trust Christ as Lord and Savior, sometimes the invitation to “trust” or “accept” Him is done in a way that is sufficiently vague. Christians need to take time to thoroughly explain the gospel when evangelizing, but many never do. If the gospel is not explained and understood, false conversions happen more frequently as a result of superficial and misinformed decisions. As a result, churches become filled with misinformed, but comfortable people who will one day stand at the gate of heaven saying, “Lord, Lord, did we not…” (Matthew 7:22) only to hear Him reply, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23). If anything in the Bible is frightening, this is it…people who claim the name of Christ, go to church, and even do ministry, all the while living their lives with a false hope, because they never really knew Jesus.
Many people are told to “make Christ your Lord and Savior”. This wording is unfortunate, because Jesus is already Lord and Savior. The problem is hardly that He is not Lord and Savior; rather, the problem is that unbelievers refuse to submit to Him as such. The passage above from Matthew 7 makes it clear that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior whether we believe it or not…whether we admit it or not…whether we proclaim it or not. It is not true that He is only Lord over those who “make” Him Lord. He has been and always will be Lord over all…”at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11). As Matthew 7 indicates, even the “religious” false converts who are told to depart from the presence of Christ will declare Him to be “Lord, Lord”. Although one day everyone will unmistakably see His Lordship, only those who submit to His Lorship while on earth will be saved. Everyone else will remain in their sins and suffer eternal punishment (John 8:24, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
What “Lord and Savior” Really Means
Next, it is important to establish what it really means to trust Jesus. Matthew 7 illustrates that those who truly trust in Christ as Lord and Savior have a personal relationship with Him (i.e. they know Him and He knows them). The very reason the wicked are told to depart from His presence is because they do not know Christ as a result of trusting Him as Savior and bowing to Him as Lord. The apostle John wrote in His gospel, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” (John 17:3). True submission to Christ leads to an intimate knowledge of who He is and who we are in relation to Him. James made the point vividly when he addressed people who gave lip service by claiming to have faith without bearing any evidence of it in their lives. To their claim that faith and intellectual assent were one in the same, James replied by saying, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.” (James 2:19). In effect, He was saying that the demons know all the facts there is to know about who God is, but they do not know Him personally. There is a big difference between knowing about somebody and knowing somebody!
Although assent to truth is not all that trusting in Christ is composed of, it is one component of saving faith. Throughout the New Testament, God has taught us what it means to trust Christ as Lord and Savior. Since God is a personal being, He looks at the heart of man. David knew that as He wrote the 51st Psalm: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17). God desires that we be humbled to the point of full submission to and dependence on Him. Only when we fall on our faces, beat our breasts, and say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13) will we be in a position to really trust Christ. To trust Christ as Savior means to trust in His person and work…to truly believe that He is God incarnate, fully God and fully man, who came from glory, descended to earth, lived a perfect life, paid the penalty for sin with His blood shed and substitutionary death on the cross, and rose victoriously from the grave. To surrender to Him as Lord is to humbly repent and truly recognize and submit to Him as Sovereign King and Master — to live for His glory in such a way that we joyfully obey Him and comply with His rule as He leads our lives and conforms our ways to His.
Only when one trusts in and submits to Christ as Savior and Lord, he will become connected to the true vine and bear much fruit (John 15).