“What should we print on our baptismal T-shirts?” they asked.
They didn’t like the suggestion, “Jesus is Lord.” Sounds like church jargon, they said. Friends and family of the person being baptized would not find that message attractive.
They had a point. Portraying Jesus as Lord has to be about the most unattractive message for a culture where each individual wants to be their own authentic self, not defined by anyone.
So the shirts were printed with a message many churches use: “I have decided.”
Clever message, eh? Church people recognize it as the jargon of a personal decision, and for those outside the church it’s non-confrontational. It’s the message of Western culture: I, the consumer, have the power to decide!
Now, I have no objection to the T-shirt. It isn’t the issue. It’s just an example of how we can substitute a message about me and my power for a message about Jesus and his power without realizing it. Just as a fish doesn’t know it’s wet, we’re so immersed in our culture that we don’t even realize when we absorb its consumerist message.
It all started to go wrong when humans decided for themselves instead of acknowledging their heavenly sovereign. At least the T-shirts didn’t have a picture of Eve sharing an apple and asserting, “I have decided.”
What others are saying
N. T. Wright, Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978–2013 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 324:
Let me stress, by the way, that it is these verses that say what ‘the gospel’ actually is: as in [Romans 1] verse 3, it is ‘God’s gospel concerning his son’, a message from the creator God about Jesus. When we then turn to 1:16–17, what we find is a statement of what the gospel does, not of what it is in itself. In other words, ‘the gospel’, the thing which Paul fundamentally announced, is not ‘here is how to be saved’, or even ‘here is how to be justified by faith’, but rather ‘Jesus the Messiah is Lord, and God raised him from the dead’. The gospel is not a message about me, dependent on one about Jesus; it is a message about Jesus, with immediate implications for me, for us, for the world.