January 29, 2017
Most Christians know that “Lord” is not Jesus’ first name. But did you realize that the Bible uses this word to mean more than just “master”? In fact, it is a divine title, affirming that Jesus is God. Alistair Begg examines how the Bible’s teaching on “one Lord” underpins the unity of those who are in Christ. Those who name Jesus as Lord are characterized by belief in Him, belonging to Him, becoming like Him, and telling others about Him.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn with me to our text for this morning, which is Ephesians 4:5. It reads, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” That’s actually our text for the day, because we won’t complete it this morning.
We pray together:
Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the [truth] of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness.
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Well, from the beginning of the chapter, Paul, as we have noted, has been urging his readers to “maintain the unity of the Spirit.” He’s not asking them to create a unity but to maintain a unity which is already theirs in Christ. The maintenance of that unity—the enjoyment of it, the experience of harmony—he has also made perfectly clear, is tied in some measure to the expressions and experience of humility. And so, he says there are ingredients that are involved in maintaining this unity of Spirit, and along with “humility,” “gentleness,” and “patience,” and the willingness to put up with each other, they’re all keys to harmony.
And then, as we began to look last time, he provides the foundation upon which this unity is built. And last Sunday we paid attention to “one body and one Spirit” and “one hope.” And I hope that I made clear that the unity to which he is referring is unique. It’s unlike anything else in the world. There are all kinds of quests for unity—designs to create economic unity, ecumenical unity, political unity, and so on. This is something radically different from all of that. In fact, as I was thinking about it, I went looking for Lion King this week, because I had remembered there that there was some kind of expression and call for unity, and I thought, “I bet a number of our young people have confused the unity of Lion King with the unity in the Spirit here.” You know, that stuff about “You’re part of the circle of life,” and the lion—very nice little lion—sings these songs. But here’s the kind of sentiment; it’s not unusual: “Tears of pain, tears of joy, one thing nothing can destroy”—is what?—“is our pride, deep inside.” It’s a very self-focused thing; we’ll be able to handle this. “We are one, you and I. We are like the earth and sky, one family under the sun.” So, just in case we’re in any doubt, Paul is not talking about that—not even close to talking about that. That is, at best, sentimentality, and at worst it is a form of pantheism that is an unattainable goal.
No, the unity that he is referencing is the unity about which we’ve just been singing; it is found “in Christ alone.” And if you turn in your Bible one page back to 2:4, there he has highlighted the wonder of God’s dealings for them when he says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace … toward[s] us in Christ Jesus.” He can hardly stop himself once he gets started, and he is describing this great and amazing mystery, that God has been gracious to us, allowing us to sing—although we do not sing these words, but they’re good words:
We’re the children of the kingdom of God,
We’re the chosen ones for whom the Savior came.
We’re his noble new creation by the Spirit and the blood,
We’re the church that he has built to bear his name.
And this church has one Lord in whom we trust, and one true faith that we believe and declare, and those who are included in this company are identified by the same sign—namely, that of baptism.
So, let’s begin to look at this by considering what he is saying when he says there is “one Lord.” “Jesus is Lord”—Jesus kurios, kurios Jesus—was the earliest of the Christian creeds. The Christians in the Roman Empire were used to people greeting one another in the morning by declaring that “Caesar is Lord,” in much the same way that in the world of India people greet one another with the greeting “namaste,” which is, “I worship the god that is in you.” It has to do with Hinduism; it has to do with the fact that where there are multiple, multiple, multiple gods, and whatever god is in you, then I acknowledge that. I had a bit of a cold this week in Dallas, and there were a number of Indians there, and one of the men came to me—his name was Daniel—and he wanted to shake my hand, and I said, “No, I won’t shake your hand,” I said, “but we can do the Indian thing.” And he said, “Oh no, you must not do that. That is pantheism.” So I stood corrected. All right? So, when they said to one another “Caesar is Lord,” the Christians were saying, “No, actually, he’s not. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the sovereign Lord who sets up authorities and brings them down and so on.”
And so, that early creed is embedded in the instruction of the New Testament. Romans 10:9: “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.” It’s very straightforward, isn’t it? And when Paul writes his great hymn in Philippians 2 of the Lord Jesus Christ descending from heaven and finally ascending to heaven, he says—in that discourse there, around Philippians 2:11—one day “at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Now, what he’s saying there is not that that will be an expression, first of all, of personal devotion, but it will be an expression of the true identity of Jesus. You remember when we sing, in another of Townend’s songs, about the return of Christ, and the phrase is—what is it?—“A shout of joy, a cry of anguish, as [Christ] returns, and every knee bows low.” “A shout of joy, a cry of anguish.” So whether from the perspective of joy or anguish, Paul says, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess who Jesus is—namely, God himself.
When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, giving us the Septuagint, the challenge for the translators was, “What word will we use for the most common word of God, Yahweh, or Jehovah?” And over six thousand times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, they used this word kurios—kurios. And the importance of this is found in the fact that the early disciples knew that kurios was a divine title—a divine title. And consequently, it is used over seven hundred times in the New Testament concerning Jesus. It is not his first name, as it were: Lord Jesus. It is a defining explanation of who and what Jesus is, so that what is said in the Old Testament is then exemplified in the New.
We could spend a long time on that, but I just want to give you one cross-reference, and hopefully this will make the point. In Isaiah 45, the prophet Isaiah is encouraging his listeners to distinguish very clearly between those who have no knowledge of God—“the makers of idols” who “go [around] in confusion”—and the God who is the God of Israel—namely, “the Savior.” You need to read the whole chapter to get context, but let me just give you a couple of verses. Verse 21: “Declare and present your case.” He says,
“Let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the Lord [Yahweh, translated into Greek, kurios]?
And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me.
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return.”
What is that word? It’s the word that Paul quotes in the passage in Philippians 2: “To me every knee shall bow, [and] every tongue shall swear allegiance.” So when Paul declares this in his song there in Philippians 2, he is actually picking up the word of the prophecy of Isaiah, and he is adding it to what he’s saying.
Now, with that by way of background, the members of the “one body” who are indwelt by the “one Spirit,” who are confident in the “one hope,” are described as those who submit to the one Master, or to the “one Lord.” He is Lord, he is Master, he is King. In the time that we have, I want to consider four aspects of what this means for somebody who is, in this description here, a member of the body, indwelt by the Spirit, called to the one hope, and living under one Lord.
This first almost goes without saying, but these individuals are those who have believed in him. They have believed in him. What we’ve quoted in Romans 10:9 is a description of their shared faith: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord”—yes, we have—“and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead”—yes, we did—“then you will be saved”—yes, we share that. That is where our unity is to be found. Or in John’s prologue: “He came to his own, his own did not receive him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God.”
Now, that believing into Jesus is as a result of a supernatural activity. It has to be. You see, we cannot access God on our own terms and in our own time. There is an invisible boundary that separates us from God in his holiness and ourselves as men and women, by nature in our sin. So when we begin to consider these things; when we begin to get an inkling of this as being truth; when somewhere in the dim and distant background we seem to be being called out of our sleep, out of our deadness, it is an indication of the activity of God.
Now, we have worked our way through these first three chapters, and therefore we shouldn’t be in any doubt about this. Because Paul has already reminded these people that they were “dead” in their trespasses and in their sins. How dead is dead? Dead is dead! I have never found a dead man whistling. Some people say, “Well, I’m not as dead as you are.” What do you mean by that? “Well, I’m not a Hell’s Angel, you know. I haven’t been doing coke.” Yeah, well, so what? I’ve been drinking Coke. And outside of Christ, we’re both dead. And we’re both equally dead. There are no degrees of dead.
So, in order to be included in his body, we have to be made alive. Who makes us alive? You remember the conversation with Nicodemus in John chapter 3. And Nicodemus, when Jesus says to him, “You need to be born again or you’ll never enter the kingdom of God,” and Nicodemus immediately switches to the physical, and he says, “How can you be born again in your mother’s womb when you’re the size that I am?” And Jesus says, “No, no, no, no. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be marveling at the fact that I’ve said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Not as a result of a human decision, not as a result of a husband’s will, but as a result of the supernatural activity of God.
You see, we are, by nature, as dead spiritually as Lazarus was—the friend of Jesus—recorded in John chapter 11. If you want a homework assignment, then read John chapter 11. When you read the chapter, you will find there that the sisters of Lazarus had come to Jesus, and they were concerned that since their brother was ill, they needed Jesus to come. Unfortunately, Jesus delayed, from their perspective. Therefore, their brother died. Lazarus was in the grave. And in fact, in the King James Version, it was said of him that “he stinketh”; therefore, the decomposition of his body had already begun to take place. That’s dead.
And Martha chides Jesus, you remember, and she says to him, “Jesus, you know, if you’d only been a little quicker, then my brother would not have died.”
And Jesus says to her, “Well, your brother will live.”
She says, “I know that he will live in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me, even though he die, yet shall he live, and whosoever lives and believes in me will never die.” And then he said, “Do you believe this? Do you believe this?”
A little while later he would call Lazarus out from the tomb. Called him by name! The commentators all say the same thing: the reason he addressed him by name was to prevent everybody else from coming out at the same time! Because “He speaks, and, listening to his voice, new life the dead receive[d].” He was only calling Lazarus out.
When he calls your name, you’ll know. When it moves beyond some dull thought in the back of your head to an insistent knocking in your heart; when you find that you’re no longer able simply just to push it to the perimeter; when suddenly you begin to get interested—suddenly the hymns start to cajole with your thinking, and so on—what’s happening? You see, it is the supernatural activity of God.
Can I ask you the question that Jesus asked Martha? Do you believe this? Do you believe this? I’m not asking, Do you make an intellectual assent to the existence of Jesus, or to the things that are even said about him concerning his death and resurrection. But do you believe, in terms of personal trust? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of you do not believe, and the reason you don’t believe is because it just sounds far too simple for you, and you are very learned. And you say to yourself, “It cannot be that way. It has to be far more complicated. There must be something that I have to do”—partly because we like to do things so that it makes us feel good that we’ve actually accomplished something. And apparently, in this program, there is nothing we contribute at all. Have you believed like this?
A story told by an old evangelist who, years ago, encountered two boys who were in a London hospital. They were side by side in the beds. One of the boys had a dangerous fever; the other had been struck by a truck, and his body was mangled badly. The second boy said to the first, “Hey, Willy? I was down to the mission Sunday school, and they told me about Jesus. I believe that if you ask Jesus, he will help you. They said that if we believe in him and pray to God, then when we die, he’ll come and take us with him to heaven!” Willy replied, “But what if I’m asleep when he comes, and I can’t ask him?” His friend said, “Just hold up your hand. That’s what we did in Sunday school. I guess Jesus sees it.” Since Willy was too weak to hold up his arm, the other boy propped it up for him with a pillow. During the night, Willy died. But when the nurse found him in the morning, his arm was still propped up.
We can be sure that the Lord saw his arm. Because the Lord sees faith. The Lord accepts faith. Nay, the Lord gives faith. He gave the very faith to the boy, in order that, with the enabling help of his friend, he may simply place up his hand. By faith he found the way to heaven. By faith he saw what some of us, in our intellectual arrogance, will never discover on our own. “For unless,” said Jesus, “you become as a little child, you will in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” God’s greatest truths are discovered by simple faith. Let me ask you: Have you ever put up your hand?
One Lord. They believed in him. One Lord. Secondly, they belong to him—they belong to him. The believing is about belonging. On one occasion Jesus said to his disciples, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.” That’s John 13. John 14, in his discourse with his followers, he says, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” So, in other words, our profession of believing in Jesus will then become apparent as we belong to Jesus, and our belonging to Jesus will be revealed in our behavior. And so, you know, sometimes your mom or your dad might say to you, “Now remember that your name is Alistair Begg. And you belong to us. And you represent us.” In a far greater way, the Lord Jesus looks on us and says, “Now, remember, you belong to me. Now go out there and live in such a way that it becomes apparent.”
What does it mean? Well, in intensely practical terms, since Jesus is Lord, the believer is not at liberty to disagree with his teaching. I meet people all the time who think they’re so smart. They say, “Well, there are certain parts of the Bible that I don’t like. I don’t like this section, and that section, and the next section.” I’ve got news for you: you’re not allowed to choose the sections you like. If you believe in Jesus, you belong to Jesus, and you have no liberty to disagree with anything that he has taught, and you have no freedom to teach anything than what he teaches. It’s straightforward. It makes sense.
We have no freedom to disagree with his teaching; we have no freedom to disobey his commands. For the test of our believing is in our behaving. Paul explains to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6, he says, “Listen, you’re not your own. You were bought at a price. So glorify God in your body”—“in your body.” The way we used to deal with this in Scotland was the song—you probably sang it as well—“Be careful, little eyes, what you see. Be careful, little feet, where you go. Be careful, little hands, what you touch.” And here I am at sixty, almost sixty-five years of age, having to sing the song to myself all the time. Why? Because I belong to him.
Therefore, what I do with my body matters. We can’t live with this gnostic dichotomy between “Well, the spiritual part of me is really tuned in, but the physical part of me doesn’t really matter, because it will all eventually disintegrate.” No, no, no, no, no. That is Gnosticism. That is not Christianity. “I beseech you therefore, brethren,” says Paul, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God.”
Now, we could apply this in fifty different ways, but let me use just one, because it is so obvious and so necessary. Nowhere is this matter more clearly seen in contemporary America than in the realm of human sexuality—than in the realm of human sexuality. And nowhere that I encounter do I discover more monkeying around with the clear instruction of the Bible than in this realm. Seeking to accommodate ourselves to a culture, seeking to appear to be far more magnanimous than the Bible allows us to be, and so on, we dodge, we weave, we bob, and we shift.
Not if we understand what it means to belong to Jesus! Marriage is not a human institution. It is a creation ordinance established by God. The God who has made us as male and female has declared that a monogamous, heterosexual, lifelong union is the only context for sexual relationships. A monogamous, heterosexual, lifelong union is the only context, thereby ruling out sexual activity before marriage, sexual activity instead of marriage, sexual activity with members of the same sex—indeed, laying it down as clearly as any person in sixth grade can understand.
And why has God done this? To deprive us? To save us! To keep us! To enable us to discover that he has made us in order that we might glorify him and enjoy him. And when we fiddle with this, and when we get it wrong—and we do get it wrong—then we realize how easy it is to drift from there into all kinds of excuses, all kinds of explanations. And we find ourselves very quickly saying, “Well, you see, this is just one of the parts of the Bible that I haven’t found is really fitting in with my program.”
Well, did you believe? Then you belong.
And if you belong, then thirdly, God’s purpose for you is that you might become like the one to whom you belong.
I just met a couple on the stairs. It’s their twenty-first wedding anniversary today, and I was glad to greet them. It’s quite amazing that the longer you live with your spouse, they get a lot better, don’t they? The more they become like you. No, it is strange. It’s a strange phenomenon. I’m being facetious there. But we do become like the people with whom we spend time. And the purpose of God from all of eternity—this is Romans 8—is at the end of Romans 8: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” That’s twenty-eight. Twenty-nine: “For those whom he called he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” So, we are one body, we have one Spirit who indwells us, one hope to which we make progress, and we are under the one Lord, who is in the process of making us like Jesus.
Now, Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 3, he says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the … image.” So, in other words, God’s eternal purpose from all of eternity is to make his children like his Son, like their elder brother. Now, says Paul, the existential reality of that is that we “are being transformed”—it’s an ongoing process, it’s called sanctification—“from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” And this process is not an instantaneous process. It takes place over time. And we all have occasion to say to one another, “Please be patient with me; God has not finished with me yet.” But we may be confident that God’s eschatological plan will be fulfilled—1 John 3—and one day when we see him, we will “be like him.”
So, one Lord. They believed in him, they belong to him, they are becoming like him. And finally, they are telling others of him. They are telling others of him.
The whole body is committed to taking the whole gospel to the whole world. The whole body, committed to taking the whole gospel to the whole world. That’s why Jesus gave the mandate to his disciples to tell the good news, to make disciples, to baptize them. And so, it’s important that when we pay attention to that, we realize that telling the world the good news is not to be the hobby of a few eccentrics or fanatics—you know, the people from our church that have been crazy enough to go to Japan, or have buried themselves in the center of Asia, or up against the Wall in Eastern Europe, or wherever we might think of them. No, it’s not the proviso of a few folks who have regarded it in that way. Nor is it a dispensable option so that we can say, “Well, you know, that’s really not my thing. And frankly, the whole idea of it makes me uncomfortable.”
Oh, really? Do you realize that the people that live in your street and work in your office, outside of Christ, are dead in their sins? That one day they will be part of a company that bows and declares the lordship of Jesus? You and I may be the key to them participating on that day in a shout of joy rather than in a cry of anguish. It is not—taking the good news to the world—it is not an impertinent interference in other people’s private lives: “Well, who am I to interfere? After all, everyone has their own way. There are multiple gods. There’re all kinds of ideas.” That sense of pluralism, that notion of pantheism, is pervasive in our culture. And the only way that we will be able to fight against that is by submitting ourselves to the truth of the Bible. “Why would you say such things about marriage? Why would you say such things about sexuality? On what basis would you say there is only one God and Savior, and that Savior is Jesus?” It is here.
And think about this: We would not be here—there would be no gospel in America—were it not for the fact that others took seriously what it meant to believe, belong, behave, and to declare this good news to the ends of the earth. In actual fact, mission, to quote John Stott, is a logical deduction from the universal lordship of Jesus. Mission is a logical deduction.
You have it, for example, in C. T. Studd. Played cricket for England. Huge, wealthy family; I mean, he would’ve been a billionaire today. He writes in his journal one day, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then logically, no sacrifice that I could ever make for him could ever be too great.” And if you know the story of C. T. Studd, he went and buried himself.
You see, this morning, “We bear the torch that flaming fell from the hands of those who gave their lives proclaiming.” I was telling the students in Dallas this week of Marie Durand. I’m sure you know her well. She was a Huguenot, and with a number of other Huguenots in 1729 was imprisoned in the Tower of Constance in southern France; it’s near Montpellier. I’ve gone there, and I’ve visited it. The reason that she and the others were imprisoned was because they refused to renounce Protestant worship. She was imprisoned when she was fifteen years old. Three years later, her brother was hanged in front of her in the same prison. In 1745—do the math, ’29 to ’45—in 1745 she was offered freedom if she would agree to renounce the faith of the Reformation. She refused all such offers and remained captive for thirty-eight years, resisting the temptations to despair, to suicide, and to betrayal. If you have the chance to visit, you will discover that in the tower room where they were held, there is a stone coping that surrounds an opening in the floor, and carved into the stone is one word: Résistez! Resist! Resist! And the fact that they resisted carried the gospel forward. If they had capitulated, we would not be the beneficiaries.
“We go to all the world with kingdom hope unfurled.” Why? Because “No other name has power to save, [save] Jesus Christ the Lord.” Do you believe this?
Father, help us to believe. Thank you for enabling us to believe, to belong. Thank you for being so patient with us—that, in making us like Jesus, through all our faults and stumblings and mess-ups, the good work that you begin you will bring to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Help us not to keep this story to ourselves. Help us, by lip and by life, to commend the gospel to those who are in our circle of influence, whether in the immediacy of our daily routine, or should you take us to other places. Lord, help us, we pray, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, “Speak O Lord” (2005).
 Ephesians 4:3 (ESV).
 Ephesians 4:2 (ESV).
 Ephesians 4:4 (ESV).
 Marty Panzer and Mark Feldman, “We Are One” (1998).
 Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, “In Christ Alone” (2001).
 Jimmy and Carol Owens, “Children of the Kingdom” (1974). Paraphrased.
 Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, “Jesus Is Lord” (2003).
 Isaiah 45:15–16 (ESV).
 Isaiah 45:21–23 (ESV).
 Isaiah 45:23 (ESV).
 John 1:11–12 (paraphrased).
 See Ephesians 2:1.
 John 3:3–7 (paraphrased).
 John 1:13 (paraphrased).
 John 11:39 (KJV).
 John 11:1–26 (paraphrased).
 Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (1739).
 Matthew 18:3 (paraphrased).
 John 13:13 (ESV).
 John 14:21 (ESV).
 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 (paraphrased).
 Traditional children’s song.
 Romans 12:1 (paraphrased).
 Romans 8:28–29 (paraphrased).
 2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV).
 1 John 3:2 (ESV).
 See Matthew 28:16–20.
 Source unknown.
 See Norman P. Grubb, C. T. Studd: Athlete & Pioneer (Wheaton: Sword of the Lord, 1937), 129. Paraphrase.
 Original words by Frank Houghton, new words by Keith and Kristyn Getty, “Facing a Task Unfinished” (2015).
 Edmund P. Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity, 1998), 215. Paraphrased.
 Houghton and Getty, “Facing a Task.”
 Philippians 1:6 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.