Savior or Lord? - Savior and Lord!
Donald Norbie

“There was a new kingdom, a new loyalty, a new
sovereign to be accepted.”

    PROMINENT BIBLE passages stress the gift aspect of salvation. Romans 6:23 declares:

“The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In Ephesians 2:8-9 we read: “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”

        Is not this reiterated time and again? And does not the closing chapter of the Bible cry out, “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17)?

    In a religious world accustomed to legalism, to rules, and to rituals as the required pathway to the Presence of God, the free nature of salvation needs stressing. Men have sinned. Men are destitute of any claim upon God's favor. The judgment of God is man's just desert. The wrath of God is his deserved lot, despite his works and his rituals.

    The good news is the message that God, acting in grace, sent Christ into the world. The Savior lived a sinless life. By His teaching and miracles He demonstrated His messiahship (Acts 10:38). He willingly went to the cross where He died an agonizing death, a vicarious death for others. He was buried, rose again on the third day and was seen by many (I Corinthians 15:3-8).

    The work of Christ makes possible the free offer of salvation: “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins. And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39). Thus the importance of stressing the gift character of salvation. It is free. There are no strings attached. You cannot work to gain it nor to keep it.

    What, then, of the Lordship of Christ? Does it play any role in salvation? Some think not. In their view, you initially receive salvation gratefully as a free gift with no obligation. They would say that you accept Christ as Savior when you realize your need. Later on, you should also recognize His claims on your life as Lord.

    Some would even say that to speak of Christ's Lordship confuses the issue and may get the inquirer thinking of works for salvation. To keep grace clear in the sinner's mind, they feel we should abstain from speaking of Christ's Lordship until later.

    Whether we agree or disagree with that position, we may find ourselves acting as if it were correct. Consider, for instance, the tendency to make the decision for Christ easier by phrasing it as a simple formula: “Repeat this prayer after me. ‘Dear Jesus . . .’”  The convert is then pointed to a Scripture verse and assured that he is now a child of God. He has received the gift with no strings attached, and perhaps with no further obligation.

    Is this a simplistic approach that makes a parody of the true Gospel message? Does one take the Gift alone, or also receive the Giver? Is salvation an objective identity that can be acquired apart from entering into a new relationship with the Lord who gives it? Is it right to divorce the forgiveness of sins from the Lordship of Christ?

Let us seek to answer these questions by examining the preaching of Jesus, then that of Peter, Paul and John.


    Our Lord began His public preaching after His baptism and temptation. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand,” He said, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

    Mark calls this message “the gospel of the kingdom of God” (v. 14). Since Christ had not yet been crucified and raised, the content of the message was not as full as it would be after Pentecost. Nevertheless, there were essential features that were to mark the message from this time on. Faith was vital. “Believe!” But faith was not divorced from content and other mental activity. There was a new kingdom, a new loyalty, a new sovereign to be accepted. The. cry was for subjection to God's authority and control. “Repent!” “Change your thinking from rebellion to submission.” Faith was essential, but it was coupled to these other concepts which gave it virility and validity.

    Later, as Jesus passed by the Sea of Galilee He saw Simon and Andrew fishing. The cry rang out, “Come ye after me and I will make you become fishers of men” (v. 17). There is a note of authority here, an invitation to further association and submission. The king offers a new direction for the fishermen's lives.

    Matthew records another striking invitation: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

    In this message of Jesus, the sin-weary and guilt-ridden were invited to receive rest - a gift. But the reception of the gift was an entrance into a new relationship described as a yoke. The ox that submits to the yoke gives up its independence and submits its will to another. The result is fruitful service. The disciples' submission is to One who is meek and lowly, gentle. “Do not be afraid,” He pleads. “Submit voluntarily to your Lord and know rest.”

    The love and loyalty Jesus demands dwarf all natural loyalties. “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me is not worthy of me” (10:37-38). This is almost a military type of loyalty. Natural relationships must be put aside, even life itself if necessary, in obedience to the king.

    When Jesus left this earth to return to heaven, what were His final instructions to His disciples? “All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach (make disciples of) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (28:18-20).

    In this commission, the apostles were again reminded of His authority. He is the sovereign of the universe. They were told to make disciples, that is, to make apprentices to Jesus, men and women who would mold their lives after His.

    One writer put it this way: “While the Lordship of Jesus is cosmic in scope, its center is lordship over men. . .”

    The public entrance into this pathway of loyalty and obedience is by baptism, a public proclamation of a new loyalty. This in turn is followed by teaching. Secret discipleship is an anomaly. The disciple is expected to obey.


    As Peter stood to preach on the day of Pentecost, it was with a keen sense of authority. The claims of Christ were presented. Jesus had been approved by miracles. God had vindicated Him through the resurrection. Now Christ is exalted, seated at God's right hand, the place of honor and power (Acts 2:22-24, 32-35). “God hath made (Him) both Lord and Christ” (v. 36).

    It is a strong Christ who is so presented, a regal Christ. The mind is confronted with a choice. Either I accept Him as the risen Lord or I reject Him. The order of His titles should be noted - “Lord and Christ.” His exalted position as Sovereign is stressed.

    What must the convicted crowds do? “Repent” (v. 38). Change your thinking about Christ and about your relationship to Him. This, of course will involve faith in the One you once doubted. This was to be followed by baptism: “Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.” The inward change of attitude toward Christ was to become an outward proclamation of loyalty and submission.

    Following baptism there was instruction (v. 42),  just as the Lord had commanded. New disciples must come to know the precepts of the kingdom they have entered.

    In Acts 4 Peter speaks with power to the rulers. Again the exalted position and authority of Christ is emphasized (vv. 10-12). In Acts 5 Peter states that the Holy Spirit is “given to them that obey” Christ (vv. 30-32). Here obedience is definitely linked with salvation.

    When he stands in Cornelius' house Peter again proclaims Christ's exaltation. This is “he who was ordained of God to be the Judge of living and dead” (Acts 10:42). Previously Peter had said: “He is Lord of all” (v. 36).

    We find the same stress laid on Christ's Lordship in Peter's writings. There is no suggestion of receiving Jesus as Savior first and Lord later. Christians are described as “elect . . . unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:2). Obedience is seen as married to salvation. Christians are seen as those who are marked by obedience to the truth (v. 22). They are called “obedient children” (v. 14).

    In I Peter 2:9 believers are described corporately as God's “holy nation,” a people voluntarily clustered under His authority and rule.

    The king's example of suffering is held up as a model (v. 21). Such a Savior is worthy of being exalted to the highest place of authority in the hearts of His followers (3:15).

    In II Peter 2:1, Peter describes apostates as “denying even the Lord that bought them.” The word “Lord” here is despotes, “master,” a very strong term denoting absolute ownership and control. Redemption (purchase) is linked with ownership and mastery.

    Peter concludes his epistle by calling Jesus “Lord and Savior” (3:2). The order of terms is significant. The Christian life is to be marked by growth in “grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (3:18).

    Thus, from the beginning of his preaching (Acts 2:36) to the end of his writing, Peter proclaims Jesus as Lord, as well as Savior and Christ.


    Immediately after Paul's conversion he began preaching that Jesus “is the son of God” (Acts 9:20). This was in the Damascus synagogues. Later, as Paul began to move among the Gentiles as well as the Jews, God's approval of Jesus became a prominent feature of his message. That approval was demonstrated by resurrection and exaltation (13:30-33).

    Jesus was presented, not only as a dying, vicarious sacrifice, but also as a risen, triumphant Lord, and listeners were called upon to acknowledge His claims. He is the man God has appointed as universal judge (17:31). He is the great king. And so to the end of his days, Paul continued “preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ” (28:31).

    In his epistles, Paul links faith in a compelling way with the recognition of Christ's sovereignty. He invites people to “confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead” (Romans 10:9). The words might better be translated, “Thou shalt confess . . . Jesus as Lord.” The inevitable result of the heart being convinced of His claims is that the lips will open in a pledge of allegiance to the Christ.

    To call Jesus “Lord” is to put yourself under His authority. Jesus complained of the hypocrisy of those who called Him, “Lord, Lord,” but did not do the things He commanded (Luke 6:46). By contrast, Paul describes the Roman Christians as follows: “Ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered unto you” (Romans 6:17). They were given over to Christ's teaching for its molding, forming effect upon their lives. They had become enslaved to righteousness (v. 18) and to God (v. 22).

    These are strong terms that Paul uses to define this new relationship. They are consistent with the goal of his ministry, which was “obedience to the faith” (1:5).

    To Paul, the lost are those who “do not obey the truth” (Romans 2:8). He views unbelievers as disobedient (Ephesians 2:2; 5:6; Titus 3:3).

    In summary, disobedience characterizes unbelief, while obedience marks the believer who confesses Jesus as Lord.


    The apostle John stands squarely with Peter and Paul on these issues. Throughout his account of the life and ministry of Christ, faith and obedience are linked together.

    At the conclusion of the great gospel chapter where Nicodemus talks to Jesus, John makes a few comments about the Lord's greatness and the truthfulness of his witness (John 3:31-35). Then he warns: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth upon him” (v. 36). The Greek word changes from the first phrase to the second, and modern translations follow it by translating the second verb “does not obey."

     Disbelief in John's mind equals disobedience. It is the visible result of unbelief, even as obedience is the visible result of faith.

    In his epistles, John teaches that submission to Christ is a proof of knowing Him. “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (I John 2:3-4).

    John says the man is a liar and hypocrite who professes to believe but resists submission to the Lord. In fact, a necessary result of birth from God is doing righteousness (v. 29). It is one of the brand-marks by which a true disciple can be recognized (3:10).


    Is it possible to receive Jesus as Savior but not as Lord? Is it possible to believe in Jesus but to refuse submission to Him?

    Beginning with Christ, and continuing with Peter, Paul and John, the message is the same. True gospel preaching proclaims the person of Christ as well as His work. The Giver must be received as well as the Gift.

    Salvation is not simply an escape from hell, but an entrance into the life of submission to God.

    We do well to emphasize this in our preaching. We weaken the gospel if we present it only as an escape from hell, and not as a call to discipleship. But more than that! In our modern, rationalistic world, many people who are unmoved by warnings concerning the after-life find themselves definitely challenged by the biblical call to a new loyalty and a new sovereignty.

    Christ is the Savior from the power of sin, as well as from its penalty!


1.  Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, p. 1090.

2. There is a tendency to treat Acts 2:38 as if it applied only to early Jewish evangelism and not to worldwide presentation of the Gospel. While Peter's words are fitted primarily to his immediate audience, it seems inconsistent to disqualify them completely, and then go on to make v. 42 a pattern for the church.

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