WELCOME FELLOW THEISTS!
Nearly everybody in America believes in a higher power. We usually call that power “God”. The Greek word for God is theos or theoi. It’s where we get the term theist. You are a theist if you believe in a supreme spiritual being.
Hello all you theists out there. We are many!
It might surprise you to learn that only a small number of Americans identify as atheist – which would be those who believe that there is no God. Atheists are in the minority and most surveys put their numbers somewhere within the 3% to 5% range of our population. So, that means that if you are reading this blog you are most likely a theist…just like me. And as theists we believe (along with the other 95% of the American population) that there is some sort of higher power, a supreme being, or some sort of “God” that exists.
Now, in speaking of this supreme “God” we say we believe in, have you ever wondered: What the heck does this Jesus guy we sometimes hear about have anything to do with God? Why do so many American “religious” people talk about Jesus, or express that they love Jesus on bumper sticker? Why do they talk about Jesus instead of talking about “God”? What does a random Jewish dude named Jesus, who lived in the Middle East 2000 years ago, have anything to do with God? Why is He so important? What is the big darn deal about Jesus?
FACT OR FICTION?
Most of what we know about the person we usually identify as “Jesus” comes from the Christian Bible. For nearly 2000 years the majority of the Western world regarded the testimony concerning Jesus of Nazareth, as found in the New Testament, as holy and factual. However, in recent decades that once unwavering Biblical embrace has now been mostly rejected in mainstream thought. It is now unfashionable to believe in the accuracy of the Bible or the message of Jesus. Undoubtedly, the most critical objections aimed at the Bible have been launched in our own lifetimes:
The rise of cultural relativism now laughs at the idea of a one-size-fits-all spiritual path. Vast technological/medical/agricultural advances have increased in our self-sufficiency, subtly proposing the notion that we have outgrown the need for a God. Religion continues to be compartmentalized, relegated back to our private life, and we are ever more being indoctrinated that “faith” is not socially acceptable for public conversation. Modern Biblical criticism, even upon the authenticity of the text itself, has for some cast doubt on the reliability of the ancient writings. Progressive social issues on the left that seem to be at odds with traditional Bible teaching have further pushed the once popular opinion of the Bible into the negative. And a presumed incompatibility with the soundness of the scientific method have all contributed to the discrediting of anything that supposes itself as Biblical truth. Faith has intentionally been labeled as “taboo” in popular conversation. God is most certainly not a topic you would just strike up casually while sharing an elevator with someone. And to assume that our next door neighbor holds the Bible as an authoritative or accurate work, as most Americans once did, would be a critical error.
But regardless of the recent challenges to the faith there is still a common consensus, even among secular scholars and historians of today, that a teacher named Jesus did indeed live in Israel those many years ago. The probability is very real and should not be something to be quickly discarded just because of current trends or social norms. Countless people around the earth, both young and old, continue to read the text today, come into a real relationship with this guy named “Jesus”, and testify to the hope and transformation He has brought to their lives.
And for the sake of this blog, let us also for a moment consider the perhaps audacious premise that the New Testament Christian Bible actually did record the life and teaching of Jesus somewhat accurately. Furthermore, let us also wonder:
If the life and person of Jesus as recorded in the Bible was perhaps true then what does this mean for us? Who was this Jesus? And if Jesus actually was who He and His followers said He was then what is the big deal anyways?
I have considered this myself and I can say that entertaining these thoughts have left me forever changed.
WHO WAS THIS JESUS?
If we concede to the notion that Jesus existed, then who and what was He?
Maybe Jesus was a prophet? You know, a regular person whom God used in a special way to speak to His people. Yes, that could be.
Maybe He was a nice guy? You know, just someone who was a good person, in tune with God and acutely spiritually aware, who in turn showed us how we should live our lives on earth. Yup, could be that too.
But, the unique thing about Jesus as documented in the Christian Bible, so unique in that this point separates Jesus and the Christian faith from every other religion around the world, is that both Jesus and His early followers claimed that He was GOD. Yes, it is this specific point that is the most significant about the person of Jesus. Jesus and His followers believed that He was God Himself, or at least ( in throwing a bone to my lovely non-trinitarian believing friends) that He was of the exact same essence of God as being God’s divine Son.
This Biblical claim means that Jesus wasn’t merely a nice guy, or just a spiritual person, or simply a prophet to deliver God’s message, but actually shared in the same divinity as God. Jesus claimed to be the actual tangible presence of God on earth. Jesus in his person was the Divine, was the Higher Power, was the Great Spirit, was the Supreme Being, and was our eternal Creator and the heavenly Architect of the universe.
Here are some verses from the Bible that share insights into Jesus’s divinity:
The author of the book of John refers to Jesus by an ancient pronoun, the Word. In chapter 1 verses 1-3 it says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” ESV, emphasis mine
Also, take a look at what verse three says in Hebrews chapter 1 when Jesus is being referred to through a different pronoun, God’s Son: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being*, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” ESV, emphasis mine
*The phrase exact representation of His being is also translated in other translations that Jesus: expresses the very character of God (NLT), is the exact imprint of God’s nature (ESV), is like God in every way (CEV) and is the very stamp of God’s nature (RSV).
Colossians 1:19 also says, “For it was by God’s own decision that the Son has in himself the full nature of God.” – Good News Translation, emphasis mine
Even in the Old Testament we find references to Jesus’s divinity as God himself when His coming is foretold as the soon coming king and messiah: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” – Isaiah 9:6-7, (emphasis mine)
And lastly, John 1:14 concertizes this idea that God came to earth as Jesus: “The Word became a human being and lived here with us. We saw his true glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. From him all the kindness and all the truth of God have come down to us. CEV, emphasis mine
What these verses say about Jesus’s nature is nothing short of mind blowing. There isn’t a set of words vast enough to represent this wondrous claim. The Jesus from the Bible wasn’t just a human messenger, a prophet, or a just good moral example to follow, but God Himself, God’s very essence on earth, who actually dwelt and lived among us in physical form.
If that is too far of a leap for you (as it can be for some of my non-Trinitarian friends) we can still agree wholeheartedly on this: the scriptures clearly put forth that the person of Jesus was so exactly God in His display and character (Hebrews 1:3), and in sharing the same spiritual essence of God as His Son (Matthew 16:13-18, John 10:30, 17:11,20-22) that there isn’t the slightest difference between the two persons by any measure of comparison. The Bible declares the notion that if the two divine entities were to be set against each other for review, they would be indistinguishable.
And for me personally, I’ve come to believe the Bible claims about Jesus: that He was indeed God, the same substance as God, and displayed who God is, both perfectly and accurately in every way. And I believe furthermore that Jesus didn’t just display one side of God, or was one unique revelation of God among other previous revelations of God. But that Jesus is the final and full revelation of God.
SHOW US GOD!
Even one of Jesus’s closest followers, Thomas, asked Jesus directly, “Show us who God is”. This disciple was curious, just like us, in wanting to know who God is and what His nature/character is like. Apparently, the answer to Thomas’s question should have been self evident. So much so that Jesus acts surprised at Thomas’s request for Jesus to show him God:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? – John 14:6-9 NASB
Jesus reaffirms the fact that He Himself was reflecting God so perfectly, primarily because He also shared in God’s divine nature as His Son, that when we look at Jesus we are looking at a direct reflection of God. It’s the same idea as if we were to go look at ourselves in a mirror. We believe that the mirror is reflecting back EXACTLY what we really look like. We never challenge the mirror image or doubt it’s reflection. So likewise, we can very confidently make this statement: when we see Jesus we see 100% of exactly God.
SO THEN, WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL ABOUT JESUS BEING GOD?
When Jesus walked the earth, God walked the earth. What Jesus did, God did. Or better yet, whatever Jesus saw The Father God doing, Jesus did exactly the same on earth (John 5:19).
So now, to answer the question, “What is God like?”, all we have to do is open the New Testament and read about Jesus’s life and let His biography educate and form our opinions about who God is.
Moreover, what is such a big deal is that Jesus acted exactly how we would want a “God” to act:
Jesus forgave all sin(s), dispensed unconditional love, physical healed anyone who humbly came to Him, placed and demonstrated extreme value on us, provided both a present and eternal purpose for life, and provided a present and eternal hope for those of us in the midst of trial and adversity.
Jesus called out religious hypocrisy in the wise and exalted those humble in heart. He never forced His will upon anyone and did not use His power to coerce in order get His way.
Jesus was gentle, kind, patient, and compassionate. He was pure enough to judge and speak the truth when correction was needed but never condemned (John 8.10-11).
Jesus laid down His own life for others, though not in an attempt to passive-aggressively serve His own needs/desires, but out of genuine love for His endeared creation made in His image.
The biggest truth in all of this is that through Jesus we finally get to see who God really is! And this is why Jesus’s divinity as God is such a big deal.
Through the person of Jesus we know exactly what God is like. Now, thanks to the Word incarnate in Jesus, we know God’s true nature as it has been fully revealed in His Son. Additionally, we know what His opinions are toward us and how He would treat us if we were seeing Him face-to-face. This is WONDERFUL! Why? Because what Jesus taught us, in both through His words and His life, is undeniably THE BEST NEWS EVER!
Here are five points that the life and words of Jesus tell us:
- You, no matter who you are, have TREMENDOUS INCOMPREHENSIBLE value to God! You are loved. You are immensely cared for. So much so that God Himself came and lived among us and offered Himself up on the cross to defeat the powers of death, whom we were being held slave to, in order to bring you back to Him. You have a purpose in being on earth and share in a future destiny and eternal purpose that is unbelievably awesome beyond anything you could ever dream of imagining. A purpose to have an intimate relationship with God and to become as beautiful and loving as the person of Jesus throughout eternity.
- God isn’t causing or allowing the problems in your life. Jesus showed us the there is an opposite anti-God force that is in operation in the world. That force is out to interfere with everything good that comes from God. Now, don’t just automatically think of a red guy with horns and a pitchfork standing in a burning hell. Those are just folklore images used to scare or mock those who believe in the idea of a devilish adversary. But yes, Jesus identified this global agent of evil with the name Satan. These two forces are in conflict. They are not in agreement or colluding with each other. Jesus revealed that there is a war between the two factions. And the source of our problems are either originating from Satan’s rebellious influence or just our own selfish desires. Jesus brought the truth that our problems are not from God.
- Jesus offers us full forgiveness for both our own sin and shortcomings, and also the negative consequences that those sins create in themselves. Full redemption has been made and is now offered to us.
- God isn’t angry with us. In fact He is in deep passionate love with us. And by turning to Him through faith in Jesus’s work (accomplished by His death on the cross by delivering a fatal blow to the devil – I John 3:8), we can enter into abundant state of being with Him now and receive life, even His own life, through His Spirit coming to live in us. And this new life in Him is not just a gift for the present time, but His gift of abundant life with Him extends into eternity!
- God’s will is for us to always be abounding in good health, free from sickness and disease, thriving, having more than enough, and able to bring life and blessing to others.
In revealing God to human kind Jesus’s life and His promises to us gives us an incredible hope in both the present and the future. Life in Jesus’s Kingdom is both right now and later to come:
In the present we are assured that in having turned to Him that He is always with us, will never leave us, we are never alone, and He is on our side rooting for our well-being. In turning to Him we are eternally cleansed, white as snow, and righteous before Him–free from any fear or shame that would prevent us from being in His presence. We have assurance that He is not authoring or authorizing our current problems but in quite opposite has enabled us through the giving of His Spirit to overcome them, regardless if the problems come as a result of our own poor choices or if they are attacks/residual effects from the opposing Kingdom. He offers us the ability to have peace of mind in our crazy world, a loving family through His church made up of fellow believers, victory over our physical circumstances, and freedom from our own culturally influenced and corrupted personal identities. He offers us healing in our physical bodies and healing in our hearts while we wait for His return.
In the future we are promised a glorious resurrected life with a spiritual body that will be free from any pain, ache, disease, ailment, or flaming dart from the evil one. Jesus promises an eternal life where we will forever behold our creator as He really is and co-rule and reign with Him over His creation.
And although in this life we can only experience Him in part, we who trust in Him today have a great hope, and rejoice with joy unspeakable, that we will soon be with Him and like Him, living out the fullness of our destiny for which He has prepared for us from the foundations of the world –that is, being His very own beloved sons and daughters in His kingdom family.
Jesus, as God, brings the heavenly presence of God down to earth and makes Him personal and easily available to us. Through Jesus, eternity isn’t something far off or contained only in an impersonal cosmic realm. It is available right now to those who come to believe in the glorious news that God has come to earth and made a way for us to become members of His spiritual family through giving us His Spirit.
JESUS AS GOD IS A BIG DEAL. IT IS THE GREATEST AND MOST AWESOME DEAL FOR PEOPLE EVER!
ARE YOU LEFT SCRATCHING YOUR HEAD?
Books upon books upon books have been written on those 5 points and other content I shared above. I cover some of that in my own blogs and each point is a wildly fantastic point of study.
But if you are new to this “Jesus” thing you might be left scratching your head a little bit just as I was when I first came to believe. Heck, for many of us who have been believers for a long time we are still scratching our heads trying to wrap our minds around some of the concepts Jesus modeled and taught us.
But specifically, it certainly can be confusing when we try to fully comprehend Jesus’s divinity by our human understanding. It is difficult to make sense of this crazy yet truthful concept that Jesus shares the same divine life as God, and that He is also God in Himself at the same time. For example, here are some fun questions I had to (and still do sometimes) wrestle with when I came to believe:
- How can Jesus be God if there was also a Father in heaven from which Jesus was sent? And didn’t Jesus pray to God while He was on earth? So when God (Jesus) prayed to the Father God in heaven wasn’t He then praying to Himself??
- Was Jesus created by God? Or did He exist eternally with God from the start?
- How does the Holy Spirit fall into the divine mix? Is the Holy Spirit also God? Does the relationship between God, Jesus, and the Spirit have something to do with the idea of the Trinity?
- If Jesus was God then how can He be a human at the same time? Is it possible that Jesus was just a spirit being only appearing to look like a human?
- Aren’t there some other Bible verses that plainly show that Jesus was wasn’t God or equal to Him (i.e. John 14:28, Mark 10:17-18)?
- Is is possible that Jesus was only a member of God’s divine family? Not the same person of God the Father himself?
- Is Jesus subordinate and less in power than God, or are they somehow equals?
- If Jesus was raised from the dead then did God die? Did God raise Himself from the dead? Huh?
These are all great questions and we will look at some of those in future posts. I wanted to list some of those ideas out just so that you know that it’s perfectly normal to have these questions. Humans love to try to put everything concerning God into a nice neat, fully explanatory, doctrinal box. Including trying to describe, in limiting human words mind you, how God’s divinity can be expressed in more than one person at a time. That is precisely why we have churches that challenge the traditional orthodox view (i.e. Latter Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Worldwide Church of God and its splinter groups, etc.) And in doing so we often tend to get tangled up on how we box up these details rather than focusing on the simple message that God was trying to bring to us through Jesus: which is that God has an incredible love for us, and is offering us eternal life through faith in Jesus as the Christ.
So if your mind is spinning regarding the divinity of Jesus then here’s my advice – from someone whose head still spins at times:
Seek it out. Don’t take anyone’s word on it without doing your own independent investigation. Read and search the scriptures for yourself. Ask God questions and give Him LOTS of time and space to answer. Talk with others. And enjoy the journey.
And at the end of the day I believe that Jesus came to the humble, hurting, lowly, and despised of the world. He was not well received by the rich, wise, or the learned. Jesus’s message was not conveyed in an intellectual way to convince the mind, but was delivered via love and self-sacrifice to persuade the heart. The text puts less concern on how we should definitively describe His divinity and instead places the importance on how our hearts should be oriented to His person. We as followers are simply tasked to believe in Jesus as the divine Son of God and the work accomplished through His death and resurrection. While I agree it’s important to know as much as we can know about the divine, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we humans in our limited capacity could or will ever truly grasp the depths and inner mechanics of the eternal realm. We need not understand what is every in-and-out concerning Jesus’s divinity and how it relates to the Father and the Spirit. Instead, let us rather humbly receive the person of Jesus as divine, who was with the Father and then sent down to us, who is both our now and soon-returning Savior, Lord, and King.
WHAT ABOUT THE OLD TESTAMENT?
Lastly, one of the biggest obstacles in accepting Jesus as the full revelation of God is that we have to contend with many Old Testament stories where God seems to be acting in and upon the world contrary to the very life and teachings that Jesus himself embodied. If Jesus was God then why does it seem like the God of the Old Testament acts completely opposite of the character and temperament of Jesus?
For example, Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to pray for them. Yet in the Old Testament we find God giving instructions to wipe out entire enemy populations of people – including women and children! Jesus says He forgives all of our sins freely and in turn tells us to forgive others when they sin against us. Yet in the Old Testament God seems to annihilate the whole world by a global flood, and sends fire down from the sky to consume all the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah, all because of their sins that God isn’t forgiving. We see Jesus telling us to never divorce or split up from our spouses but in the Old Testament we see God hand down a law to Moses allowing for men to divorce their wives. We see Jesus advocating an extreme non-violent approach to conflict whereas in the Old Testament we see God inciting and ordering extreme violent judgment upon the people in the neighboring lands.
How then are we to reconcile what appears to be two completely looking Gods?
There are a few different ways that theologians explain, integrate, or work around this seemingly oil-and-water like dichotomy of the two testaments. Some seem plausible and more palatable, while others seem utterly revolting. But just quickly for me, I see the whole Bible’s story as one pointing to the Son of God as Jesus Christ, preeminent over all creation, who obtains a non-coercive lordship over His beloved created people through faith, as the ultimate destiny of the universe. Anything other than that reality, such as the time period contained in the Old Testament, falls desperately short of God’s eternal purpose and end goal. To examine or make doctrines from the Old Testament without first interpreting everything first through the revelation of the grace and truth of who God is, which only came through Jesus as the Christ (John 1:17), would be to leave out the most important part of the Biblical spiritual equation. Everything must be seen in the light of the Son and nothing can be seen accurately or understood correctly, including the Old Testament, without seeing it first through the testimony and love of Jesus. For everything was made by and through the Son, and all things in heaven and earth are being worked to be reconciled to Him, for the glory of the Father, so that He can freely lavish His immense love to we, His family, whom were created for His delight and good pleasure.
Sound interesting? Stay tuned. More to come in upcoming posts.
*As always, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind so please drop your thoughts in the comment section below!