Ever been asked this question?
Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?
Do you feel a little tongue-tied when this one’s thrown at you? On the one hand, you want to say, “yes,” and on the other, the question doesn’t quite sit right with you–something about it is off. I know that’s how I feel. There’s something about the way the question is worded that makes me want to say “Well, yes, but…” I tried to figure out the tradition out of which this question comes and a bit about its particular theology to help us better understand those who ask the question, but I didn’t have much luck. So let’s break it down from end to beginning and see if we can make heads or tails of it!
Lord and Savior
No objections here. Of course, Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. In the Greek, Lord is kyrios–the master, the one with complete ownership over us, the title of respect a servant calls his master. Savior is soter–the deliverer, the savior, a title used for heroes and liberators in Ancient Greece. The name Jesus itself is a Greek derivative of the Hebrew Yeshua which means “Yahweh saves.” So, yes, we believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. What’s the catch?
It seems from the rhetoric that typically surrounds this question in Protestant circles that personal Lord and Savior is emphasized in opposition to “just going to Church” or “just being baptized.” There seems to be an impression that having a relationship with Christ through the community of Christians that we call the Church is somehow not equivalent and certainly inadequate to having a one-on-one relationship with Christ. I think us Orthodox get confused by this whole business because for us, a relationship with Christ is a relationship with His Church. The Head of the Church and the Body are united, and when we unite ourselves to Christ in baptism, we unite ourselves to the Church, to each other. I love this passage from Fr. Stephen Freeman’s blog Glory to God for All Things on the subject:
The salvation into which we are Baptized is a new life – no longer defined by the mere existence of myself as an individual – but rather by the radical freedom of love within the Body of Christ. To accept Christ as our “personal” savior, thus can be translated into its traditional Orthodox form: “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” And this question is more fully expounded when we understand that the Christ to whom we unite ourself is a many-membered body.
In other words, we are most intimately connected with Christ when we are living and loving sacrificially in and for the Body of Christ, His Church.
This is the trickiest part of the equation for me. What does it mean to accept Jesus Christ? If you mean have I intellectually assented to the facts–that Jesus Christ is the Incarnate God, crucified for the sins of all and resurrected that death may no longer reign over Creation–then sure, yes, the answer is yes. That’s why I recite the Creed everyday. But is this all there is to accepting Christ? An intellectual nod in His direction? St. Gregory the Theologian said
We must remember God more often than we breathe.
That’s the kind of acceptance we desire–that every action, every word, every thought, every breath will be a “yes” to Jesus Christ. If I’m honest with myself, that means I give Christ a whole lot more “no’s” than “yes’s.” Does that negate the yes’s I occasionally give? I don’t think so. It just means I have a whole lot more of life to live in repentance for the no’s and in prayer for the ability to say yes like St. Gregory.
So what should you say when someone asks you if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? I think it’s just fine to say yes…and then yes again with our ascetic practice…and yes again with our prayer life…and yes again with our repentance…and yes again with our love for one another.