“For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough!” 2 Corinthians 11:4
As the evangelical Christian church has been pummelled by secular critics for being hateful for her biblical views on ethics, many church leaders have responded by shifting the focus from ethics to “Jesus.” They say that the main thing is “To know Jesus and make him known,” and not get broiled down in controversial ethical issues. To know Jesus Christ and make him known to the outside world is certainly a laudable goal. But as they keep name-dropping “Jesus” I start wondering, “Who is this ‘Jesus’ guy they keep talking about?” The more they talk about him the less I recognise him. It has made me question if we are thinking about the same person. I have this sneaking suspicion that many churches are promoting “another Jesus” than the one that is revealed in the New Testament (2 Cor. 11:4).
Taking a stand on the person of Jesus Christ ought to be the ultimate apologetic of every Christian for Christ is at the epicentre of our faith. Yet in our day simply alluding to the name of ‘Jesus’ is not enough of a witness to this world. We need to have a theologically sound understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ (Christology). Unfortunately, the “Jesus” that is being bandied about in the modern church has become a poor substitute for the true and glorious Son of God. How so? I see a few errors.
Name in Vain
What’s in a name? Many Christians seem to be on a first-name basis with Jesus. It’s always, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” Why do Christians simply call their Lord and King, “Jesus”? If you were invited to Buckingham Palace would you say, “Good to meet you, Charles”? Consider the offence of not addressing or referring to the present king of England as “Your Majesty.” Terms like “Majesty” and “King” are titles appropriate to the office. If you would never disrespectfully address an earthly king, how much more should you reverently address the King of kings and Lord of lords?
After Jesus died, rose, and was exalted to the right hand of God the Father, he was anointed and was bestowed titles such as “Christ,” “Son of God,” and “Lord.” The apostles, who intimately knew him, consistently refer to Jesus Christ as “the Lord,” “the Lord Jesus,” “Jesus Christ,” “Christ Jesus,” “Christ,” or “the Son of God,” but they almost never call him “Jesus.” It is true that the Gospels use the name “Jesus” in their accounts of his earthly ministry and that the apostles referred to “Jesus” when explaining the significance of Christ’s ministry to their contemporaries (see Acts 2:36, Heb. 12:2), but believers should by their naming of Christ acknowledge his exalted, authoritative position over them. When people flippantly allude to “Jesus” it may betray an attitude that Jesus is simply your friend and equal. Christ is not our buddy or our mate, he is our Lord and God (John 20:28).
The misuse of Christ’s name is inexorably tied to the church’s failure to recognise the majestic rule of Christ over this world. Christians who regularly refer to just “Jesus” emphasise his incarnation and humiliation during his past life and ministry on this earth to the detriment of acknowledging his present kingdom and ministry from heaven as the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ’s suffering during his incarnation certainly enabled him to sympathise with all our weaknesses, but he no longer lives in that humiliated state. He retains the experience of his former weakness, but rules now with his present power. Space does not allow for the citation of every Scripture verse from both testaments that speak about Christ’s current power and rule over this world, but a few key verses may suffice: Ps. 2:6-12; 45:1-7; 110:1-2; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; Isa. 9:6-7; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; Eph. 1:19-23; Heb. 1:1-4. If you want to “introduce people to Jesus,” the person they are meeting is not that guy who lived in Galilee for thirty years, but the One who sits on a throne for all eternity. A saving relationship with Christ requires someone to say, “Jesus, you are Lord!” not “Jesus, will you be my friend?”
In previous generations, Christians had to fight against the worldly error that Jesus Christ was just a “good moral teacher.” Following C.S. Lewis, the church countered that Christ was either a “Lord, liar, or lunatic,” but not a mere moral teacher. We have progressed from that line of argument. Since our current generation has shifted all the ethical lines, the church is reticent to hold strong positions on any of the traditional moral absolutes around sexuality, marriage, abortion, and now gender. In order to present a less controversial Christ, it appears that this new “jesus” [I use the lowercase ‘jesus’ to indicate a false representation of the real Jesus Christ, the same way Scripture contrasts “gods” with “God.”] being presented to the world has no strong positions on ethics or godliness. Instead of Jesus as “a moral teacher” he is now an “amoral teacher”–he is just not that in to righteousness. This jesus is always a friend of sinners and cancels stone-casting, but he never tells anyone, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11). In the new gospel and the new jesus salvation consists of the absolution of sins and the cancellation of condemnation, along with the full affirmation of anyone’s brokenness or orientation.
The name of “Jesus” was given to the Messiah “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Within Christ’s saving purposes is a progressive plan of sanctification in a person in preparation for heaven. The Spirit of Christ within the believer is the active power of holiness that continually mortifies sin and creates new righteousness. Instead of a Redeemer who sanctifies sinners, this new jesus is primarily a therapist who cares for you in your weakness. Any representation of Christ that does not include the hope of salvation from sin in all its aspects is not the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
Many Christians follow the adage, “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible!” which bashes all types of fixed doctrinal positions. Established doctrines are considered “human tradition” or “dead orthodoxy.” Instead what is offered is an emotional, experiential knowledge of Jesus. The Puritans of old promoted “experiential religion,” as opposed to mere nominalism, but it was never divorced from doctrinal precision. When the contemporary church advocates for “knowing Jesus” it cannot be of the subjective twelve-step variety– committing your life to God [Jesus] as you understand him.
Too many church leaders in our day have either assumed teaching positions without the requisite theological training or, probably worse, have been trained at institutions that do not value the truths that our godly forbearers have formulated over two millennia. How is the church better off if leaders disregard such doctrines as the Son’s place in the Trinity, the intricacies of Christ’s two natures in one person, Christ’s redemptive role in atoning for sins, his office as head of the church and king of a kingdom, a Christian’s identity in Christ in the New Covenant, and the practical dynamics of the Spirit of Christ working out sanctification? At this stage in church history, we ought to be building upon established truth instead of tearing it down and starting from scratch. Wisdom should teach us that before leaders direct people to know Jesus, they should spend some more time knowing him correctly. An easy step is Google some of those old Christian creeds and confessions (Nicene, Chalcedon, Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, Westminster Confession of Faith,…) and start learning what you don’t know.
The tragedy of this ignorance about Christ is that Christians are unwittingly breaking the 2nd Commandment and creating an image of Jesus that does not resemble the real Lord Jesus Christ. People forge a jesus that is a projection of an idealised man or the kind of saviour they want, but not the Christ of the Scriptures. The Word of God who came down to earth is the perfect revelation of the unseen God (John 1:18), and the whole counsel of the Scriptures is the perfect presentation of the whole nature of Christ. The Old Testament paints a picture of the Christ who would be a conquering king (Psalm 2) and a suffering servant (Isaiah 53). In the Gospels a complete range of attributes, deeds, and words reveal the complex beauty of our Saviour who is merciful and merciless, weak and omnipotent, gentle and harsh, silent and argumentative, peaceable and divisive, forgiving and condemning, popular and rejected, inclusive and exclusive, … the list goes on. The one-sided, distorted image that it is being projected from pulpits and podcasts is a false witness that is leading the church astray. If the goal of sanctification is to transform a sinners into the perfect image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18) we need to have a high-definition, Scripture-based, doctrinally-tested representation of the true Jesus.
If the contemporary church is going to abandon all its theological territory and take a final stand for Jesus Christ, it better be for the real Christ. Be done with this palatable and tamed jesus and introduce the world to the real Lord Jesus Christ: the eternal Son of God sent into the world to save and rule the world, crucified, dead, and buried, but risen and exalted; the One who receives sinners and makes them saints. The Christ who created and sustains all things and will return once again to judge his enemies and make all things new. Any Christ less than this is not worth knowing.