Why do we call Jesus “Lord” and “Savior”?
These aren’t just spiritual-sounding titles; these names for Christ reveal our relationship with Him
Life in Christ comes with its own lexicon—words that pertain to the many truths and practices of our faith. Yet we use these terms so frequently and with such familiarity that we run the risk of mindlessly speaking them without meaning or conviction. In this new ongoing column, we hope to reclaim the heart of our Christian vocabulary, which holds such life-giving potential.
–The In Touch Staff
Lord and Savior–we often repeat these two words when speaking about Jesus, and for good reason: Scripture identifies Him by both terms, and they’re essential to a proper understanding of what it means to have a relationship with God.
Though we often use them in tandem, Lord and Savior aren’t synonyms. Each communicates something essential about Christ and His role in our lives. And what we may not realize is that these words say just as much about us as they do about Him.
We typically use the word Lord to identify Jesus as the ruler and guide of our lives. As His followers, we strive to obey His commandments and the promptings of the Holy Spirit, relinquishing our will in favor of fulfilling His. Another way to understand the term is to think of Christ as our master—the one to whom we, the servants, belong. Applying that title to Him implies that we have chosen to submit wholly to Him, His ways, and His agenda.
Yet if we’re not careful, we can let our understanding stop here. Jesus becomes something of a boss to us—the person who tells us what to do and when to do it. But the deeper reality is that Christ is the authority because He is first the author of existence.
The Bible tells us that the Son of God created all things and in Him all things are held together (Neh. 9:6; Col. 1:17). Comprehending this truth changes the way we see His commandments and teaching. Rather than think of them as an external system of rules and regulations, we come to recognize that His commandments are statements about the reality of existence.
To put it another way, because Jesus’ authority is tied to His role as Creator, His decrees shouldn’t be compared to the “law of the land,” but to the laws of physics. If they tell us how to act, it’s because they first tell us how things are designed to work.
Jesus Himself is the ultimate definition and source of reality and truth. For this reason, obeying Him is the only way to experience life as it really is and should be, for in Him “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Like Lord, the word Savior also contains an element of choice—but this time on Christ’s part. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is described (in His own words) as “distressed” and “deeply grieved, to the point of death” (Matt. 26:37-38). Yet despite this torment of soul, He prayed, acknowledging three times that He would follow His Father’s will rather than His own (Matt. 26:39, Matt. 26:42-43).
Jesus was single-minded in His purpose for coming to earth and clear in expressing it—He was here “to save that which was lost” (Matt. 18:11). Connecting His death with the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28), He told His disciples, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). The epistle writers also describe His sacrifice as a deliberate choice, using language like “humbled Himself,” “becoming obedient,” and “yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (Phil. 2:8; 2 Cor. 8:9).
By extension, though, the word Savior has implications for us, too. It implies not only our acknowledgement that we need to be saved from something but also our compliance—namely, trusting in Christ’s atonement on our behalf. Scripture identifies Him as “the Savior of the world” who “desires all men to be saved” (John 4:42; 1 Tim. 2:4) and yet underscores that faith must precede salvation (John 10:9; Rom. 10:9, Rom. 10:13).
Though infinitely more valuable, the spiritual transaction can be compared to a million-dollar check that is made out to your name but provides no benefit until you endorse it.
In essence, acknowledging Christ as Savior means agreeing with Him that we need to be saved from our sin—and from our sinful nature. In other words, it is not simply our behavior that needs adjustment (which we might actually be able to achieve, given the right circumstances and a hefty dose of willpower). Instead, we need an entirely different make-up: a regeneration and renewal that God alone can accomplish (2 Cor. 2:5:17; Titus 3:4-7).
Understand that sin separates man from his Creator. God didn’t have to save us from that hopeless predicament, but He chose to because He loves us and wants unending fellowship with us, extending throughout eternity. Calling Him “Lord” and “Savior” is our grateful acknowledgement of who He is, what He has done for us, and His rightful place of authority in our life.