Throughout the history of the church, the person of Christ has been attacked perhaps more than any other doctrine or teaching of Christianity.
The Apostles John and Paul dealt with it in the New Testament in First John and Colossians. Both address an error that Christ was not who He appeared to be. Part of what John dealt with is teaching that taught Christ appeared to be the Christ but He could not be because the flesh was sinful and deity could have nothing to do with it.
Fast forward a few hundred years later and you come to the church creeds and councils. The first was the Apostles Creed. Though the creed deals with all three members of the Trinity the emphasis is on Jesus. The same goes for the Nicene Creed. Then we come to the Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith. These creeds were specifically written to explain Scripture’s teaching about who Jesus is.
Coming up to present-day Ligonier Ministries published their Statement on Christology. In an interview on their website they say these are some of the reasons they published the statement, “We recognize the extreme importance of the question “Who is Jesus Christ?” We wanted to offer a concise statement of historic one-person, two-nature Christology.
They go on to say, “Additionally, the challenges of the growth of Islam and the crumbling morality of Western culture press upon us the need for renewed clarity and conviction regarding the gospel.”
Ligonier also does a study called the State of Theology every two years. Here were some of their findings among those who identified as Evangelical in 2018:
- When told the statement, God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, 51% said they agreed with the statement. This would show they do not understand that Jesus is exclusive. He is the only way to the Father. It is only in and through Christ that our worship of Christ will be accepted.
- When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement, Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God, 78% agreed with the statement. This is a teaching from a man named Arius who was condemned by the council of Nicea as a heretic and the creed that came from it is a response to his teaching.
Each year those numbers grow. They are increasing.
Common Errors About Christ
When it comes to Jesus’ person there are three main categories about His person that are false.
- A Denial of His Divinity. Some will argue that Jesus was only a man as Arian did and Jehovah’s Witnesses today. They teach that Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God. He is created. He is not eternal. He was not with the Father in the beginning.
- A Denial of Christ’s Two Natures. These confuse the two natures of Christ so that they are absorbed one into the other. One teaching is that Jesus was a new person. The divine nature and human nature came together to form a new nature, a new person. Others believe that Jesus possessed within Himself, two persons. He was a human person and a divine person not one person with a divine and human nature.
- A Denial of Christ’s Humanity. Jesus was only God and He appeared to be a man. There is a teaching that denies part of Christ’s humanity. They believe He has a divine nature and a human body but He does not have a human mind or spirit they are divine.
Others focus on Jesus’ purpose and not His person. But in this case, it is not Jesus’ work that he actually did but work they think is important and they use Jesus as an advocate for it. This is often found in what are called mainline protestant denominations such as Unitarians. Here is a taste from two Unitarian leaders.
- “As an agnostic humanist, I find a deep resonance with the Jesus portrayed in the early Gospels. Here is a man who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and clothed the poor. He did something about the suffering he saw around him because he felt connected to those who suffered. He was a revolutionary in this way, going outside the existing structures to right the wrongs of the system. This ethic is consonant with religious humanism, and I find it both educational and inspirational.”
- “As a Unitarian Universalist, I love reading the Gospels and witnessing the method Jesus would use to guide people to answers rather than simply giving them the answers. I connect to Jesus as a person who wanted to fix the problems he saw in his faith community and society, to build the community that he knew was possible rather than simply go through the motions of everyday life. It was in my de-deification of Jesus that I could reconnect with his story, trading messiah for mentor.”
In each case, they had a view of Jesus in mind that was important to them and that’s what they found as they read the Gospels. In the first quote the person cared about relieving the suffering they saw around them and they saw that in Jesus. But notice, they did not even identify themself as a Christian. They said they were an agnostic humanist.
In the second quote, the person was looking for someone to help with the issues they saw in their faith community and when they turned to the Gospels they found what they were looking for. They deny the deity of Christ, they said it was in their (notice they did this not Scripture) de-deification of Jesus that they could reconnect with His story. Jesus was no longer Messiah or Savior but He was their mentor.
We see this type of thinking often in the political realm. If someone cares about a justice issue then Jesus is used as validation for their cause or to say that God is on their side. Again this is having an idea in mind before coming to the text of Scripture and then drawing out from the text what we want or already had in mind.
Others hold Jesus up as an example. His person does not matter but He is an example to us of how to love our neighbor. His death is the supreme example of laying down your life for those you love but it is nothing other than that.
The Biblical Teaching
Many of us want to run to apologetics to answer these errors. We think we need to defend Jesus and defend the faith. There is a time and place for that although probably not as often as we think. If we think of apologetics as applying the Bible to unbelief or error and heresy in this case then we need to teach the Bible.
There are many passages we could go to but let’s focus on Colossians 1:15-23 and ask one question: what do we learn about Jesus?
- He is the image of the invisible God (1:15). He represents God clearly to us and reveals God to us as God. We see this in John 1:18 where John said Jesus has made known to us the Father, literally He has exegeted for us and explained for us who God is. When we are looking at Jesus we are seeing God.
- He is the firstborn of all creation (1:15). Some read this and think it means that Jesus was created which goes back to one of the errors we mentioned earlier. Some believe Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. This word firstborn is often used to describe the privileges that the oldest son in a family would have. It was especially used for the son of a king. Jesus is our older brother through whom all the gifts of God flow. The same word will be used later so we can see how this ties together.
- All things were created through Him and for Him (1:16). Jesus is the agent of creation. He is the one through whom creation happened. Jesus is the creator which means He is our owner, He is God. We were created for Him. We see this again in John 1 in verse 3, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”
- He is before all things and in Him, all things hold together (1:17). He is before all things so He could create all things. He not only created the world He is the one holding it all together. If Jesus was not who He said He is this world would blow apart.
- He is the firstborn from the dead (1:18). This is the same word Paul used in verse 15. This means that Jesus is the first to be resurrected so that in Him we too might be resurrected.
- In Him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (1:19). Jesus is God. All that God is dwells in Jesus because He is God. He possesses God’s wisdom, love, holiness, justice, and every other attribute because He is God, He is the second person of the Trinity God the Son.
- Jesus reconciled to Himself all things through shedding His blood on the cross (1:20). Jesus can reconcile all things to Himself because of who He is and the death He died. Paul is making the case that who Jesus is comes before what He has done but who Jesus is bolsters or directs His work. Jesus died on the cross to reconcile all things to Himself, including sinners living a sin-centered life and not a God-centered life.
- Jesus reconciled us in His body of flesh (1:22). Paul continues the thought about reconciliation. He not only reconciled us as God He reconciled us as man. It was in his body of flesh by His blood that reconciliation was purchased for those who were alienated from God and hostile in mind toward Him.
Taking what we’ve learned here, study John 1:1-18 and Philippians 2:1-11 and continue to learn more about the person of Jesus. Continue to ask the one question, what do these passages teach us about Jesus?