When was the last time you gave any thought to having a savior other than Jesus? At this moment, you’re probably thinking, “Never!” To be sure, Jesus is the only Savior. But you might be surprised to see just how easily we replace Jesus on the throne of our lives with “functional saviors,” which we imagine will meet us in our place of deepest need.
A functional savior is anything other than Jesus that we focus on to meet our needs, give us our identity, strengthen our significance, or magnify our meaning in life. Jerry Bridges writes:
“They become the source of our identity, security, and significance, because we hold an idolatrous affection for them in our hearts. They preoccupy our minds and consume our time and our resources. They make us feel good and somehow make us feel righteous. Whether we realize it or not, they control us and we worship them.”
My years spent devoted to men’s ministry brought me face to face with countless functional saviors that men serve: from accomplishment to addiction . . . from money to ministry . . . from good looks to the good life. The foremost functional savior for many of these men was their careers! Whether they are searching for a feeling of significance, meaning, purpose, identity, or approval, most men I have counseled over the years look to their careers as their savior—not Jesus Christ. In the end, of course, the career could not deliver on its promise and left these men wrecked, washed up, and wandering aimlessly on the empty trail of their own selfish ambition.
So . . . is there a functional savior that you are depending on to bring you happiness and fulfillment? Let us look at a man who worked through this question.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)
The functional savior for Zacchaeus was money. He even profited off of his own people by charging more than what was owed; because of this he was hated and despised by his neighbors. Then Jesus showed up and everything changed, because this tax collector now knew what he was looking for in his money was only to be found in his new Master. Zacchaeus was not only willing to give half of his possessions to the poor, he was willing to make it right with anyone he had cheated out of anything.
You see, while Zacchaeus was depending on money, he was never really happy. He was never really fulfilled or satisfied. And this is clearly evident in the account above; he was so eager to meet the genuine Savior that he scaled a tree, so as to be sure not to miss Him as he passed by! Zacchaeus had tried to fill the God-sized void in his heart with money, but it wasn’t until that void was filled by his Master that he come to know true joy and fulfillment and to discover his real identity. Do you know this feeling? Is this the confession of your life?
Only the truths of the Gospel can empower us to trade in all of our functional saviors for the only true and real Savior: Jesus Christ. Only Jesus has the power to deliver on His promises—every one of them, every single time.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!