Sometimes at church I think about what it would be like if armed men broke in to kill us all. This was one of those days because, like most Sundays, we were singing words that have led to murder and martyrdom throughout the world.
The worship leader in the Central Asian church I attend was leading us in a translated song by Graham Kendrick called “We Believe,” a rendition of the Apostles’ Creed. We came to the chorus, which says “Jesus (İsa) is our Lord.” People around me sang louder, and many raised their hands. Looking around the room at my formerly Muslim friends, I choked on my words and stopped to listen.
“İsa is Lord!”
Their proclamation—shouted out in our Muslim city—meant something. My thoughts trailed away from the song as I began to ponder why three little words matter so much to these worshipers, and what they should mean to Christians everywhere.
Jesus Is Lord: It Means Cost
“Jesus is Lord” matters to these Christians because they’ve accepted the potential consequences of that declaration. Any Muslim passerby who caught the swelling chorus through the closed windows would hear words they consider blasphemous.
This statement—Jesus is Lord–is a bold rejection of the majority religion. They are fighting words. They draw a line in the sand. They throw down the gauntlet. To proclaim it is to refuse anything that denies the Godhead and rule of Christ.
Families fracture, jobs are withheld, and lives are taken because people stand by this conviction in the face of persecution. Yet this Jesus is worth fighting for and dying for, even if it means forfeiting our reputations, our acceptance in society, or our lives.
Christ graciously prepared us for this cost when he said,“‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). My friends at church understand this cost. We must remember it too as we strive to be faithful Christ-followers in our own culture.
Jesus Is Lord: It Means Allegiance
Proclaiming Jesus is Lord is to pledge loyalty to him when other people or circumstances coax us to leave. The deceitful hope of something better can tempt us to replace Jesus as our first allegiance.
A new believer in my local church texted me a few days before her baptism. Her mom was trying to convince her to turn back—to give it up and come home. Yet, in faith, she decided to whom she owes her utmost allegiance, and it wasn’t her mom.
It was Jesus.
She understood, just as the apostles and early church leaders did, that her devotion to Christ should run so deep that he is her one and only master. Paul even said he couldn’t be a servant of Christ if he wanted to be a people-pleaser (Gal. 1:10).
In Scripture’s descriptions of our relationship to God—slaves of the master (1. Cor. 7:22), subjects of the king (Phil. 3:20; 1 Tim. 6:15), sons and daughters of the Father (2 Cor. 6:18), bride to the groom (Isa. 62:5), and coheirs (Rom. 8:17)—there is no room for higher loyalties. Our entire devotion is owed to Christ the Lord because we have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20). And because he has graciously set us free from the power of darkness, wouldn’t we want to remain loyal to him?
Jesus Is Lord: It Means Submission
Faithfulness to Christ’s lordship also means letting Jesus call the shots because we believe he knows best, even when we don’t understand.
Every Wednesday night, a small but faithful group from my local church gathers for midweek Bible study and prayer. And every week, one of our elders asks us to pray for young people in the church who want to be married. Those around the table, mostly single, snicker and look down awkwardly. But everyone knows what nobody is saying. There are not many options. The country we’re in is 99 percent Muslim.
I know young believers here who are desperate to be married. They are smart, educated, and good-looking. They could marry a Muslim and be done with it. Instead, they have submitted to Jesus as Lord and have committed to remain single until he brings them a Christian spouse.
They strive to understand submission in a similar fashion to the author of Psalm 119. Throughout the poem’s 176 verses, the psalmist asserts his trust that God knows best, even when life is hard. He proclaims his confidence that the character and acts of God are good (v. 68). Even in suffering, he finds comfort in the promises and commandments of God (v. 49–50).
As New Testament believers, we too place our hope in the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. We submit to God’s rules because we have experienced his goodness through salvation and we trust him to give us what is best (Rom. 8:31–32). Jesus set the example himself when he prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done.” He paved the way of submission through his own journey to the cross.
Jesus Is Lord: It Means Joy
Over the course of history, believers in Jesus Christ have been marked by joy, sometimes in the midst of great suffering. After all, Jesus himself endured the cross for the joy set before him (Heb. 12:2).
That morning at church when I saw my friends singing, I didn’t see dour faces. I saw radiant faces singing “İsa is our Lord!” They—and all who follow Christ—can say with Paul that they have not lost heart (2 Cor. 4:16–18), even when the cost, allegiance, and submission to his lordship hurts.
Even in such a context, Jesus’s desire is that we experience the fullness of his joy (John 17:13–14). In Christ, we see beyond this world’s brokenness to the spiritual reality of our eternal forgiveness. We can have hope for today because we know the end of the story. The Lord will have the final victory over sin and death, and we will be with him forever. In that our joy is made complete (John 15:11).
When we believe in Jesus, we don’t choose whether to carry his cross. If we truly follow Christ, we accept the cost, we give our allegiance, and we submit to Christ because we know with joy that our Good Shepherd—Jesus our Lord—is leading us safely home.
Madeline Arthington is a writer who serves with IMB in Central Asia.