Minutes With Messiah banner

Misleading Meme

by Tim O'Hearn

If you say it long enough and loud enough people begin to believe it. This should be the mantra of Facebook users. Someone is always sharing various forms of e-gossip. “Facebook took down this picture, so share it with everyone on your friends list before they take it down again.” “A checker in a hijab at Walmart would not serve a man until he took off his cross that offended her.” “Facebook is about to steal the copyright to all your photos and posts.” And the list goes on. And it is not just on Facebook. Even preachers can perpetuate the questionable statements. A few years ago they said, “Scientists have used computers that showed that there is a one day discrepancy in the time record, thus proving that Joshua made the sun stand still and Hezekiah had the clock turn backward.” Some statements, though, are not so obviously ridiculous. In fact, the less outrageous it sounds, the easier it is for others to believe it. If it has even a kernel of truth it makes it that much easier to accept the lies. This seems to be the case with the phrase, “Accept Jesus as your personal savior.”

This phrase has become the touchstone for the “anybody can be saved without effort” movement. You don’t have to follow rules or color within the lines. Just “accept Jesus as your personal savior” and everything else will fall into place. According to some, even, you will gain wealth and success instead of persecution and death.

One problem with the phrase is that it implies that if you don’t accept Jesus as savior, he no longer is savior. In one sense this may be true; you reject the salvation offered to you. But the overall implication is false. If you don’t “accept him” (more on that later), that does not make him any less your savior. “Not my savior” is no more true than “not my president.” Just because you believe 2+2=5 does not make 2+2=4 less valid. Jesus is savior whether you accept him or not.

For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar. (Rom 3:3-4)

A second issue is the word “accept.” This is where many people are misled. There is no personal responsibility, no effort, no accountability. The impression is that one accepts Jesus like they accept a gift of a knick-knack; take him home and put him on a shelf. In contrast, the scriptures speak of putting Jesus on by immersion (baptism) (Gal 3:27), or being buried with Christ by immersion (Rom 6:3-4). Admittedly, some say that one accepts Christ by the work of prayer (while at the same time denying “works” salvation), but most of the time “accepting” is mere mental assent.

Then there is the issue of “accepting Jesus as your personal savior.” Donald Trump has a personal chef; so does Oprah Winfrey. One does not just go out and hire the president’s or Oprah’s personal chef for an anniversary party. They have exclusive contracts. One of the problems of repeating a meme is that it may ignore the true meaning of its components. The meme is the whole and not its constituent parts. So it is with this phrase. If Jesus is your personal savior he can’t be mine.

And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 Jn 2:2)

John denies the concept of a personal savior. Jesus saves persons, but he is not a personal savior. You do not, and cannot, have an exclusive contract; otherwise there would have to be as many persons of Jesus as there are persons to be saved. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim 2:5) Paul does not speak of multiple mediators, but “the man Christ Jesus.” It is not “the men.” As they say in the movie Highlander, there can be only one.

Like any meme, the phrase “accept Jesus as your personal savior” is meant to convey a complex thought in a simple, easily-transmitted form. The problem is that its simplification has led to oversimplification, which can be dangerous when salvation is involved.