This week, from coast to coast and all around the world, people of all races, faiths and creeds will pause to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He will be heralded as a freedom fighter. A bold voice for justice. An eloquent orator. An Noble Peace Prize winner. A civil rights icon.

But if Dr. King could tell it, he was simply a servant of Jesus Christ. Take a look at some of his lesser known quotes:

  • “We need to pledge ourselves anew to the cause of Christ. We must capture the spirit of the early church. Wherever the early Christians went, they made a triumphant witness for Christ. Whether on the village streets or in the city jails, they daringly proclaimed the good news of the gospel.” 
  • “By opening our lives to God in Christ, we become new creatures. This experience, which Jesus spoke of as the new birth, is essential if we are to be transformed nonconformists . . . Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.”
  • “Like the early Christians, we must move into a sometime hostile world armed with the revolutionary gospel of Jesus Christ. With this powerful gospel we shall boldly challenge the status quo.”
  • “If any earthly institution or custom conflicts with God’s will, it is your Christian duty to oppose it. You must never allow the transitory, evanescent demands of man-made institutions to take precedence over the eternal demands of the Almighty God.”

We don’t teach about this Dr. King in our schools, nor do we hear about this Dr. King at the mayor’s annual MLK Day breakfast. No, the real Dr. King –the pastor, the Baptist minister, the man of God–is rarely mentioned at all. (Listen to his last sermon, “Drum Major Instinct,” particularly at 16:00 mins.)

You see, fighting for human rights was what Dr. King did, but it was not who he was. Despite his flaws and shortcomings (we all have them), Dr. King was an unapologetic follower of Jesus Christ. He wanted to love like Jesus loved and that was his motivation for standing up for justice on behalf of the poor and marginalized in society. (You can find the MLK quotes above and others about his love affair with Christ, in Steve Simms’ book, Off The RACE Track: From Color-blind to Color-kind.)

As an author, teacher, speaker and founder of Teachers Who Pray, I believe that God will use my life and work to have a major impact on landscape of public education in America. But let me be clear: those things are what I do; they do not define who I am. I want my legacy to be that I did good work because I was a follower of Jesus Christ.

The best way I can honor Dr. King’s legacy today is to remind the world that Dr. King changed the world because he was a follower Jesus Christ, too.

Jesus started the revolution and only He can lead it.