The Lordship controversy, which began years ago, continues and it lies in the background of some of the contemporary discussions about justification and sanctification. Some evangelicals speak of “making Christ Lord” and others reject that Christ is really, actually ruling over all things. They look forward to a future in which he will actually begin to rule over all things. Still others argue that one can have Christ as a Savior without submitting to his Lordship by responding to his grace, by living, in union with Christ, by grace, through faith a life of piety and godliness. Christ’s dominion and Lordship is certainly beyond question by those who read Scripture with the historic Christian church, with the Protestant Reformation, and with the Reformed churches and confessions. For catholic (i.e., those who confess the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon, and the Athanasian Creed), Reformed (those who confess the theology, piety, and practice of what we might call the Six Forms of Unity, i.e., the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards) Christ is Lord. We do not have to make him Lord, though we agree that every believer ought to recognize that fact and adjust his faith and life accordingly. It is true that there have been chiliasts (i.e., historic premillennialists) who have looked for a literal reign of Christ and the saints on the earth for 1,000 years, before the last judgment, but those chiliasts did not deny that Christ is presently reigning in heaven. With the early Christian Fathers (e.g., Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians, c. 150s AD) and the Protestant Reformers, the Reformed believe that believers, having been justified and saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone must, as a consequence, commit themselves to a life of sanctity, to a life of mortification (dying to sin) and vivification (living to Christ).
Those who defend Christ’s dominion and Lordship typically appeal to his sovereignty over all things in creation and providence. There is no question that he is Lord of creation and providence. He spoke everything into being by the power of his Word (Gen 1:1–3; John 1:1–3). His voice breaks the cedars of Lebanon (Ps 29:5). The wind and the sea obey him (Mark 4:41). We have already considered the providence of God in earlier posts. When the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), however, asks the question “Why do you call Him ‘our Lord’?” it does not appeal to creation and providence but to grace and salvation:
Because, not with gold or silver, but with His precious blood, He has redeemed and purchased us, body and soul, from sin and from all the power of the devil, to be His own.
Astute readers will recognize in the answer a quotation of 1 Peter 1:18 and 19:
…knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Pet 1:18,19; ESV)
This is not the early medieval ransom theory, i.e., the doctrine that all the fallen belong to the Devil by right. By virtue of the fall, however, we all did become children of darkness by nature. In Matthew 13:37, in the parable of the sower, the weeds represent “the sons of the evil one” (Matthew 13:38). Paul was commissioned by the risen Christ “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). According to Hebrews 2:14, the devil has the power of death. God is sovereign over all and nothing transpires outside his providence and yet the evil one is a reality and salvation is a real deliverance from the devil’s power.
The catechism is addressing those who profess faith in Christ, who, if they believe, have been redeemed. One of the ideas behind redemption is not far from the notion behind the verb the Peter uses in v. 18, “ransomed.” They both involve a purchase. Both are forms of deliverance. The Apostle Paul uses this same sort of language in 1 Corinthians 6:20, “for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (ESV) and in 1 Corinthians 7:23, “[y]ou were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men” and Titus 2:14, “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” In Colossians 1:14 he connects the idea of redemption with the forgiveness of sins: “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Scripture generally assumes the propriety of ownership of property. The owner of the vineyard can dispose of his property as he will: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” (Matt 19:15; ESV). According to Paul, those whom God has purchased with the blood of Christ belong to him. They are not free agents.
He has complete say over us because he has purchased us, as Peter says, not with precious things but with the most precious thing, the most valuable thing: his own life. He who laid down his life for us, to pay the penalty that we owed, was God the Son incarnate. For that reason believers belong to the Lord to whom the Lord said, “Sit at my right hand” (Ps 110:1). In Matthew 22:43 Jesus claimed to be the Lord to whom the Lord said, “Sit at my right hand.” He is, as Ps 110 says (and as our Lord quotes in Matthew 23), putting his enemies under his feet. Peter proclaimed at Pentecost, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36; ESV). He is, by his Spirit, making us willing servants of the King. According to Psalm 110, as it was interpreted in the New Testament, Christ isn’t becoming Lord. His dominion and Lordship is not contingent upon our recognition of him. He is Lord. He is sovereign and he is the Savior.
Peter reflects on this same complex of ideas, redemption and Lordship, in 1 Peter 2:9 when he says to believers, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Pet 2:9; ESV). As the redeemed, believers owe thankful obedience to him who redeemed them not at a distance but by going through the Red Sea judgment for them so that we who believe might, as it were, walk through on dry ground (Exod 14:16).