“Jesus, there’s something about that name,’’ the lyrics of a song I once heard. But what are the merits of referring to our Lord by His proper name, and are there any downsides to always referring to Him as “Jesus?” I have heard preachers and churches speak of the Son of God almost exclusively as “Jesus.” They talk about “knowing Jesus”, “loving Jesus”, “being close to Jesus”, “worshiping Jesus”, “preaching Jesus” etc. At first, I interpreted my impression or my reaction as nothing more than a cultural issue maybe the by-product of emergent tendencies or Young Restless Reformed “cool” types that use “Jesus” to make things more intimate for their college age congregations and youth groups. But, then the magnitude of the implications of reducing the Lord’s name/titles to simply “Jesus” began to present itself to me. Here are several reasons why we should not be too imbalanced through an excessive use of our Lord’s proper name:
Intimacy over Lordship
The apostle John leaned over and rested on the chest of Jesus and called Him “Lord” (John 13.25). It shows the purity of their friendship, their love and intimacy but also John’s reference and gospel fear. If we use Jesus’ name to stress the intimacy that we have with Him to the exclusion of “Lord” and “Christ” we miss His Majesty and run the risk of undermining His Lordship. The word “Lord” stresses the total sovereignty of Jesus Christ. As Lord we owe Him our absolute allegiance. The word Lord does not emphasize His intimacy, it stresses our duty to obey Him in the totality of our lives. Sadly, some folks may think that intimacy is all that matters and because of His intimate closeness; He understands our failures and does not expect us to be “too obedient.” This however is a completely false dichotomy. We are intimately acquainted with Him. But the more comforting thing for us should be that the sovereign of the universe is acquainted with us (Ps. 139).
Practicality over Prophecy
It very well may be a trendy cultural thing that breeds this sort of “Jesus” only or mainly-type of speaking of Him but if we exclude “Christ” we may be settling for the practical over the prophetic. In fact, “Christ” is so crucial to understanding who Jesus is; that both Testaments refer to Him as Christ or Anointed shows the importance of this theological title (cf. Ps. 2.2). This is, in other words, a Messianic title that is full of rich meaning and theological truth. There is a prophetic force to the term “Christ” that we should not overlook. “Christ” connects us to very important biblical themes such as: Jesus as God’s Son (Ps. 2.12), Jesus as the descendant of Abraham (Gen. 22.17; Gal. 3.16), Jesus as the descendant of David and thus the Davidic throne (Ps. 45.6-7; Heb. 1.8-9), Jesus as the Prophet to come (Dt. 18.15; John 1.21).
Each of these themes stretch across redemptive history and have massive implications about who Jesus is as the Seed of the woman, as the Descendant of Abraham, as the long awaited Prophet, the Coming One, as the Davidic King etc. We cannot fail in our church services, church culture and in our fellowship to mention Jesus’ title as Christ.
Personal over Preeminence
Finally, the intimacy we may seek by using Jesus’ personal name, even if its to make Scripture more practical or personal, can also become the catalyst for minimizing His transcendence. Scripture teaches that Jesus was tender, transcendent, and majestic (Heb. 1.3). He can sympathize with our weakness and yet at the same time He can spit us out of His mouth if we are lukewarm (Rev. 2.16)! In seeking to make Jesus too personal, we make it about our individualistic outlook to an often-narcissistic degree. There is no question that Jesus is our friend, but He is not a friend on our level, we are not equals. In fact, our friendship with God refers to our covenant connection to Him. As Abraham was God’s friend, we too are friends of God and friends of Jesus Christ being justified by His grace and drawn into fellowship with Him (Eph. 2.5). Our union with Christ is personal, there is no doubt about that, but it is also corporate and ecclesiastical in nature. Jesus cannot be shrunk down to fit into our social media quirks; He is the sovereign Lord of the universe who must remain preeminent in all things (Col. 1.18).
The reality is that, Jesus, Lord, Christ, Messiah, Savior and God are all immensely important. Each title magnifies a different aspect of His person and work. Each title is given in the inspired Text so that we would have the whole second member of the Trinity magnificently displayed to us. Only a balanced use of His name and titles can yield a proper appreciation for His beauty and glory.
Emilio Ramos is the preaching pastor of Heritage Grace Community Church. Pastor Emilio is committed to the expository and exegetical teaching of the Word of God. Emilio is also the author of Convert, From Adam to Christ and the founder of redgracemedia.com- a media ministry devoted to the glory of God’s redemptive grace through Jesus Christ. He and his wife Trisha live in Dallas, TX.
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