What Does Having A "Personal Savior" Mean?


Have you ever “accepted Jesus as your personal Savior”? This catch-phrase is as popular as it is unbiblical. Here is its history. Dwight L. Moody was the first to employ “the sinner’s prayer.” He developed this model of prayer when training his evangelistic coworkers. It took on popular usage in the 1950s with Billy Graham’s Peace with God tract and later with Campus Crusade for Christ’s Four Spiritual Laws. Certainly God will respond to the heartfelt prayers of any individual who reaches out to Him in faith. However, the sinner’s prayer came to replace water baptism as a response to the gospel call.

The phrase “personal Savior” is an innovation which has permeated western Christian culture. It was used as when one has “finally accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.” It grew out of the ethos of 19th century American revivalism and grew to popular parlance by Charles Fuller (1887-1968). He used this phrase thousands of times in his popular Old Fashioned Revival Hour radio program that aired from 1937 to 1968. By the time of his death it was heard on more than 650 stations around the world.

Of course “accepting Jesus as your personal Savior” is not found in Scripture. “You did not choose Me, but I choose you. . .” (John 15:16 NIV). Even at that many hold that as long as the phrase accurately reflects the transaction it purports to describe it is OK. The point may have merit but should we play “fast and loose” with God’s revelation? It is example of what C.S. Lewis called “a great cataract of nonsense.”

The Bible describes Jesus as dying not in hypothetical speculation for a single individual, but on a real cross in a real world for the corporate body of believers. Jesus is our real corporate Savior, not my personal hypothetical one. Christians are called to community, not isolation. John Wesley once wrote that “Scripture knows nothing of solitary religion.” From Genesis to Revelation, we see the story of a God who is creating a people, not just persons. Where we see individuals emphasized they are emphasized for the purpose of the people. Abraham was called individually to carry the covenant for what would become the people of God. Moses was called individually to be the mouthpiece of God to His people. The disciples were called individually only to then be sent forth to gather a global people. The popular notion that Christianity is a personal affair, making the community of faith unnecessary, has no basis in the pages of Scripture. It is only in community that we find accountability, corporate prayer, unified worship, and the edification of the saints. It is only in community that we become the Body of Christ.

If what is meant by “personal” is that I must myself be reconciled to God by Jesus, as opposed to anything my parents or priest or church or ritual might or could do, then this is correct. However, in Jesus Christ, you and I have received something far greater than a personal Savior. We have received Jesus Christ’s very own relationship with the Father. According to the New Testament teaching, what the Father was to Jesus, Christ is to you and me.

Because we are now “in Christ,” the Father loves us and treats us just He does His own Son. In other words, we share and participate in Christ’s perfect relationship with His Father.

This relationship is corporate just as much as it is individual. All Christians share that relationship together. In this regard, the phrase personal Savior reinforces a highly individualistic Christianity. But the New Testament knows nothing of a “Just-me-and-Jesus” Christian faith. Instead, Christianity is intensely corporate. Christianity is a life lived out among a body of believers who know Christ together as Lord and Savior.