“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”
All else being equal, we have as much power in our service before the Lord as we have obedience to His commands. We enjoy great music provided by some of the most talented musicians any church could hope to enjoy, wonderful fellowship, and I would like to think that we have sound preaching with careful exposition of the Word of God. However, I observe that we are utterly lacking in one major component of worship, and that is dependence upon the Master for power to win souls and to advance His cause. Our failure of obedience before the Master is our failure to pray together.
I know that the various Bible study groups pray together, and for that, I am grateful. I have no doubt that the members and adherents of this congregation pray. However, as is true of many, perhaps even most, contemporary evangelical churches, we no longer enjoy times of extended congregational prayer. We have convinced ourselves that we are too busy to come together specifically to pray as a congregation.
Our failure to pray as a congregation is rebellion against the will of the Master. Jesus taught that disciples “ought always to pray” [LUKE 18:1]. While speaking of events that will come upon the earth in the last days, He urged His followers to “stay awake at all times, praying” [LUKE 21:36]. His words are echoed by Paul who insisted that Christians are to “be constant in prayer” [ROMANS 12:12], to “continue steadfastly in prayer” [COLOSSIANS 4:2], and to “pray without ceasing” [1 THESSALONIANS 5:17]. The Apostle also taught disciples to be “praying at all times in the Spirit” [EPHESIANS 6:18].
We cannot seriously question that we are taught in the Word to be dependent upon the strength provided by the Lord, and that the means He has established for us to appropriate His strength is prayer. As we have witnessed in messages presented during the previous weeks, the model demonstrated by the apostolic churches was to invest time in corporate prayer as the congregation met specific challenges.
The message today confronts our lack of obedience as a congregation, challenging each of us to review what it means to call Jesus Lord. It is not directed at any one person, but it is rather intended to be an encouragement for each of us to review our relationship to Jesus Christ as Lord over our life. If there is one group confronted by the message, it is we who have received appointment as elders.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO CALL JESUS “LORD?” “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’?” In the text, Jesus asked a penetrating question concerning His relationship to disciples. That question provided opportunity for the Master to warn disciples to take care to build their lives on a solid foundation.
On another occasion, Jesus affirmed that He was indeed Lord over His disciples. You will doubtless remember that before He observed the final Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus tied a towel around His waist and washed the disciples’ feet.
The Word of God informs us that “when He had washed their feet and put on His outer garments and resumed His place, He said to [the disciples], ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am’” [JOHN 13:12, 13]. Jesus Christ is Lord, and all who have been born from above have acknowledged that truth and live in obedience to Him.
In our English tongue, the word “Lord” enjoys a fine English heritage. The word is not borrowed from another tongue, as is true for so many of the words we use. It is derived from the Old English word hlāford, which in turn is derived from two words (hlāf (loaf) and weard (keeper)). So, at the first, a “lord” was the “keeper of the loaf.” He was the one who guarded the stores of a manor. In time, the word “lord” came to speak of one who is ruler, one to whom obedience and service is owed.
In the Greek, the word translated “Lord,” conveys a similar meaning. When applied in a non-religious context, the word kúrios speaks of a ruler—one who owns or controls property, such as slaves. In a religious context, however, the word is applied to God. In using the word in our text, Jesus identifies Himself with the Living God.
You know very well that the Word of God is quite clear in declaring, “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. With the heart, one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation” [ROMANS 10:9, 10]. The Greek construction, together with the quotation from JOEL 2:32 in VERSE 13, suggests that “Lord” [Greek, kúrios] is to be taken as “the Lord,” that is, Yahweh.
Those who regularly share the services of the congregation will know that I often use these verses from the Letter to the Romans, especially as I conclude the message. I do so because they clearly present the will of God for the salvation of all who will receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour. I know that some, hearing the call of the Spirit will respond in faith, believing the message of grace and thus be saved.
However, I sometimes wonder if we who are Christians have heard these verses so frequently that they have lost their pungency and impact for us. Nevertheless, the Word teaches that it is as we submit to Jesus as Master of our life that we receive Him as Saviour. We know that we cannot make Him Saviour at one point and Master at another. Though there are people who ridicule what they derisively refer to as “lordship salvation,” we cannot escape the declaration of the Word of God that Jesus is Lord.
Paul, in the passage cited in Romans, says that it is as we “confess with [our] mouth that Jesus is Lord” that we are saved. The word that is translated “confess” is the Greek word homologéō. The word means, quite literally, “to say the same thing.” In other words, to confess Jesus as Lord is to agree with God that Jesus is indeed very God! To confess Jesus as Lord is to bow before Him as sovereign over our life. To confess Jesus is Lord is to adopt the spirit of the apostolic church when they prayed, calling Him “Sovereign Lord,” Despótes [e.g. ACTS 4:24].
We are assured in Scripture that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” [1 CORINTHIANS 12:3]. Moreover, we are told that an awesome day is pending when “at the Name of Jesus every knee [shall] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” [PHILIPPIANS 2:10, 11].
Jesus Christ is Lord. Why would you wait to confess Him as Lord over your life? Now is the time to submit to Him as Lord—now, as He now offers you eternal life. Today is the day when sin can be forgiven and you can receive the life that He offers. Should you decide to wait, you have no guarantee that you will receive another chance to believe. Unsaved, you will face that awful day when the same confession will be made by all mankind, but the confession at that time will be the grudging admission coerced because all are driven to their knees by the glorious revelation of the Son of God. As the Word of God declares, “Now is the day of salvation” [2 CORINTHIANS 6:2b].
God, speaking through His servant Malachi 400 years before the Advent of His Son, confronted a wicked tendency of His people to treat Him with disdain. “A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honour? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the LORD’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favour? says the LORD of hosts. And now entreat the favour of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favour to any of you? says the LORD of hosts. Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations” [MALACHI 1:6-14].
Indeed, we must ask, “if Jesus is Master, where is His fear?” If Jesus is ruler over my life, I need to ensure that I give Him the respect due His Holy Name. He deserves my best service and my greatest deference as I bring myself into submission to His Word. He is worthy of my deepest devotion and of my full obedience to His will. We are assured that Jesus calls His people to look to Him for life and for strength. However, should we deliberately continue to walk according to our own desires, we dishonour Him. He commands us to come into His house to worship Him. Instead of seeking what we can get from worship, Christ calls us to give of ourselves in worship. He is to be exalted through the way we conduct our lives and through the expression of a submissive spirit. We are called to serve Him, rather than serving our own desires.
HOW IS CHRIST’S LORDSHIP REVEALED THROUGH OUR LIVES? Jesus asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” Christ must be Master of our lives. This leads us to consider how we reveal the reign of Christ through our own lives. The question is vital to our life and conduct as the people of God.
Christ’s reign over our lives is more than mere affirmation, more than a casual statement that we make incidentally. His rule over our lives is revealed in our lifestyle. The human condition is such that we unconsciously slip into doing what makes us comfortable. Though we may never say the words openly, we ask, “What’s in this for me?” We become critical of anyone that we suspect is threatening our comfort. We are prepared to resist anyone we imagine questions our authority. Subtly, involuntarily, we begin to withdraw from serving Christ and begin to serve ourselves.
Preachers are capable of grave sin arising from an exaggerated sense of their own importance, and they may begin to imagine that worship is dependent upon them. An example of such subtle degeneration into exaggerated importance of the preacher is provided by reviewing an incident from the ministry of Moses.
You will recall “there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarrelled with Moses and said, ‘Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.’ Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them, and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.’ And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
“Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, ‘Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’ And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock” [NUMBERS 20:2-11].
Of course, the people were complaining—they had complained about Moses’ leadership from the time they crossed the Red Sea. There is no question but that the people were unfair toward Moses, claiming that he was the source of their discontent. God commanded His servant to speak to the rock in the sight of the people. Moses, in his anger, accused the people of whining, which was absolutely true. Because he was angry, he struck the rock instead of honouring God by speaking to the rock. God did provide water for the people, but Moses and Aaron were denied permission to enter into the Holy Land because they dishonoured the Lord through failure to obey His command.
Of course, preachers can dishonour Christ as Lord. Tragically, dishonouring the Lord is a sin that is increasingly acceptable among Christians; it affects many of the professed saints of God. We come to church, and we begin to confuse worship with entertainment. Following a musical presentation meant to honour God, we applaud, as though it was a performance and not an act of worship. We sanctify our action, calling it a “clap offering.” When did you last hear a congregation applaud for a Scripture reading, or following a prayer? We rate the worship, almost unconsciously thinking that if we do not get what we want from the service, we will “try” another church, hoping that we will find what we are looking for in that congregation. We become connoisseurs of worship, transforming the offering of praise into an act focused on our own desires.
If you are familiar with contemporary worship songs, you have surely sung songs written by Matt Redman. He wrote the “Heart of Worship,” a song that encourages worshippers to remember what worship should be. I have come to appreciate the song even more since I read about the circumstances that led to Matt Redman writing the song.
Paul Martin, director of Soul Survivor-USA, writes, “We are a culture of critics.
“Movies, music, television, restaurants—it seems nothing is safe from our analytical eye. But what happens when that same mentality creeps into our worship of God?
“It’s amazing how similarly we answer these fundamentally different questions:
“‘What did you think of that movie last night?’
“‘How did you like the worship this morning?’
“‘I think it was great.’
“‘Kind of boring.’
“‘I fell asleep.’
“Is this dynamic normal? Is it right or wrong, good or bad? Shouldn’t people, especially the worship team, engage in expressing their views?
“Pastor Mike Pilavachi, from London, tells the following story of a season in which his church wrestled with this very issue:
“Since it began, Soul Survivor has always given plenty of time over to worshiping through music. Over the years, people have poured out their hearts to God through it, and there have been plenty of examples of great things happening as a result. However, there was a season when we realized that something was ’up’ with our worship.
“At first, it was difficult to put our finger on the problem. On the surface, everything was just fine: the musicians were tuning their instruments and the soundmen were getting out of bed on time. Each service contained a block of songs that focused on the cross and gave people the chance to get down to business with God. To make this easier, the music was (nearly) up-to-date, the chairs had disappeared and the lights were low—what better atmosphere for young people to worship God?
“Yet, we seemed to have lost the spark. We seemed to be going through the motions, but I noticed that although we were singing the songs, our hearts, were far from Him. Was it Matt Redman’s fault? I listened. He wasn’t singing any more off notes than usual. Then one day it clicked; we had become connoisseurs of worship instead of participants of it.
“In our hearts, we were giving the worship team grades on a scale from one to ten: ‘Not that song again,’ ‘I can’t hear the bass,’ ‘I like the way she sings better.’ We had made the band the performers of worship and ourselves the audience.
“We had forgotten that we are ALL the performers of worship and that God is the audience. We had forgotten that sacrifice is central to biblical worship. We are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices—this is OUR spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1). We are called to offer our sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15).
“We were challenged to ask ourselves individually, ’When I come through the door of the church, what am I bringing as my contribution to worship?’ The truth came to us: worship is not a spectator sport, it is not a product moulded by the taste of the consumers. It is not about what we can get out of it; it is all about God.
“We needed to take drastic action. For a while, in order to truly learn this lesson, we banned the band. We fired Redman!
“Then we sat around in circles and said that if no one brought a sacrifice of praise, we would spend the meeting in silence. At the beginning we virtually did! It was a very painful process. We were learning again not to rely on the music.
“After a while, we began to have some very sweet times of worship. We all began to bring our prayers, our readings, our prophecies, our thanksgiving, our praises and our songs. Someone would start a song a cappella and we would all join in. Then someone else would take it on to another song. The excitement came back. We were not having Church; we were once again meeting with God. With all the comforts stripped away, we worshiped from the heart.
“When we had learned our lesson, we brought the band back. It was at this point that Matt began to sing the song he had written out of this experience. I wept as we sang it for the first time. The words expressed exactly what was going on.”
When the music fades,
All is stripped away, and I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart
I’ll bring you more than a song
For a song in itself is not what you have required.
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear;
You’re looking into my heart.
I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about you
All about you Jesus.
I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about you,
All about you Jesus.
Martin continues by saying that when he first heard this story, it nearly knocked the wind out of him. He writes, “As a musician who had been very involved in worship training and recording for years, I regretfully realized that church had become more like a night out at the movies, an opportunity for me express my expertise, and to rank ‘how good it was.’”
I relate that account, not because I oppose music in worship. I tell you that story because this London congregation, and the people involved in leading the assembly, learned a valuable lesson—Jesus is Lord. Worship is given to Him as Lord. Service is for His sake, and not for our sake. Christ is honoured when we serve Him and when we obey Him. The songs we sing are means to lead us to worship, but if we fail to do what He commands—rejoice in His presence, obeying Him—we dishonour Him.
A QUESTION THAT CANNOT BE ANSWERED — “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” So, Jesus asked the question of those who were even then dishonouring Him. Get the context in which the text is found. Jesus had spent the night in prayer [LUKE 6:12], following which, He chose those He designated to be Apostles [LUKE 6:13-16]. Coming down from the mountain where He had been with the disciples, He healed many people of diseases and cast out demons from people who were oppressed [LUKE 6:17, 18]. After this, He preached a message that both instructed and challenged those who listened [LUKE 6:20-49].
The message Jesus preached was similar to “the Sermon on the Mount” [MATTHEW 5:1-7:29], though this message is abbreviated. In His sermon, the Master pronounced blessings on His disciples [LUKE 6:20-23], contrasting their blessedness with the woes that attend those who seek approval from the world instead of practising obedience to God [LUKE 6:24-26]. Then, Jesus quit preaching and began to meddle. He spoke of the love that must necessarily mark the life of His follower [LUKE 6:27-36] and warned against harbouring a judgemental attitude [LUKE 6:37-42]. He cautioned those who would follow Him that their lives must match their profession [LUKE 6:43-45].
Jesus asked the question that serves as our text, knowing that it is unanswerable. There is no excuse for disobedience. Jesus anticipates that disciples will do what He says. The thought is conveyed in Matthew’s Gospel where it is presented as a statement. In MATTHEW 7:21, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.” Without the foundation of a changed life resulting from faith in Jesus as Master, your life will not survive the judgement that is assuredly coming upon the wicked.
Well, what does a disciple of Christ look like? In His sermon, Jesus taught that disciples love their enemies, do good to those who hate them, and bless when they are cursed. They do not retaliate when persecuted and are generous toward all. They avoid a judgemental attitude, refusing to question the motives of those who disagree with them. They readily forgive, knowing that their lives reflect the character of the heavenly Father. The follower of Christ knows that a changed life results in fruit that demonstrates the presence of Christ. Jesus taught that one does not do all these things in order to be a disciple; but because one is a disciple, one will do these things.
Of course, Jesus was emphasising the need for disciples to obey Him in all things. Those who will follow Him will obey Him, keeping His commandments [JOHN 14:15]. Assuredly, this means that they will openly identify with Him and seek to walk according to His teaching. I am not suggesting that we must be perfect; we may have our faults and failures, but as disciples, the steady witness of our lives will point to Him and honour Him. At issue is not perfection, but faithfulness.
This is the message that is too frequently forgotten in modern theology. Paul stated the truth well when he wrote the encyclical that we have received as the Letter to the Ephesians. In that missive, Paul attested, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” [EPHESIANS 2:8-10]. New life is necessarily expressed through the manner of life of the disciple of Christ. Though a disciple will long to live a godly life, living a godly life does not make one a disciple.
Christ exposed an evil that has infected the Faith from earliest days. James warned against casual profession when he wrote, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” [JAMES 1:22]. Bishop J. C. Ryle wrote many years ago that “Open sin and avowed unbelief has no doubt destroyed its thousands. But profession without practise slays its tens of thousands.”
In His sermon, Jesus extended an invitation for those who heard Him to cease pretending to follow in order to become true disciples. A man informed me that had taken offence at a message I had recently preached. He contended that in my message, I caused “good Christians” to question their salvation, creating doubt in those who were following Christ. Though such a thing never entered my mind, I plead guilty to that charge, if by his accusation this gentleman meant that I teach that professing Christ without being transformed by His presence means nothing in the Kingdom of Heaven.
You must possess the life Christ promises before you can live that life. Possessing that life, His disciples will reflect the transformation that has taken place by the way in which we live. According to the Saviour’s words, I take it that from earliest days people have attempted to be His followers without being transformed. I do not judge anyone; I accept all at their word if they profess Christ. However, when an individual professes to have submitted to Christ as Lord, I properly anticipate that we will witness a desire to obey Him. Having claimed allegiance to Him, I expect that I will see a willingness to honour Jesus as Lord. Progressively, inexorably, those who are born from above will reflect the character of their Father. To be religious without reflecting the nature of God who lives within the heart of the believer is meaningless.
How we live reveals who we are. Our works provide a snapshot of our heart. John, the Beloved Apostle, dealt with this issue in his first missive. In that letter he says, “I write these things to you who believe in the Name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” [1 JOHN 5:13]. The “things” John spoke of include the child of God loving being with the people of God, not enjoying a sinful life, not wanting to emulate the world, and above all, longing to honour the Son of God. John teaches that a life marked by obedience toward Christ, a life that seeks His honour, is a life that displays increasing confidence. In the context of prayer, the child of God longs to speak with the Father, joining fellow believers in seeking the glory of the Lord.
I am confident that if you are a child of God, you desire Christ’s glory—you want to honour Him in all that you do. I am assured on the authority of God’s Word that if you are born from above, you always try to walk in the light with Christ. Moreover, because you are a child of God, you want to be with the people of God, identifying yourself with His people and with Him because you love His church. As Christians, we cannot long enjoy sin because we are not capable of enduring the degradation of wickedness. Because you are a Christian, you are alert to the spirit of antichrist and are thus enabled to overcome the world. As a Christian, you love the Father and you love the Son.
Christians, however, need to be taught the will of God and encouraged to obey Christ in all that He teaches. Just because we have always performed a ministry one particular way does not make that action right. Just because we have always conducted worship in one particular way does not mean that it should always be done in that manner. Likewise, just because we have permitted ourselves to grow comfortable in spiritual lethargy does not mean that God is honoured.
If your Christianity consists of a few actions repeated without a heart to follow Christ in all things, then you need to confront the words He spoke after He had chosen the Apostles to be with Him. You must answer the unanswerable question that Jesus asked. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” Your excuse, what you may tell others, is ultimately of no consequence. What matters is that you realise that there is no answer. You must be born from above through faith in the Son of God. You must submit to His mastery over your life, surrendering your will to His will.
The words are familiar, but that does not change their significance. God now calls all people to faith in the Son of God, so that He can save them, thus initiating the process that will change all who believe into Christ’s image. God calls us to faith. For this reason, the Word of God declares, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. It is with the heart that one believes and is declared right with God, and it is with the mouth that one confesses and is saved.” That invitation concludes by quoting the prophet Joel, reminding each one that “everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved” [ROMANS 10:9, 10, 13, author’s translation].
And that is our call to all who will receive it. Believe the message of grace. Receive Jesus as Lord of your life. Be saved. Do it now. Amen.