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Jesus Who?

by T.A. McMahon

"Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him" (2 Corinthians 11:1-4).

And Jesus saith unto them, "But whom say ye that I am?" (Mark 8:29).

"Brother, I'm not interested in any of your divisive doctrinal talk. All I care about is knowing that a person loves Jesus. If someone tells me that, no matter what church he goes to, he's my brother in Christ!" It didn't seem like the right time or place to get into an argument with this individual. Nevertheless, I felt compelled at least to get a question in before the conversation ended. "When you talk with someone who tells you he loves Jesus, do you ever ask that person, 'Jesus who?'"

After quick thought the elderly gentleman let me know that he would never ask such a question. "It wouldn't be loving."

Whenever I visit friends in Pennsylvania, there is a man whom I make it a point to see. He is a joy to be with, one of the friendliest men I know. Though a committed Muslim, he regards himself as an ecumenist. He's proud of the fact that he shares some of the beliefs of both Jews and Christians. Occasionally he attends a Presbyterian church with my friends and truly enjoys the experience and their fellowship. Once in a restaurant he was expressing to me and our Christian friends his love for Jesus. He ended his proclamation with these words: "If I could tear away my flesh so that all of you could see deep into my heart, you would know how much I love Jesus." The emotions that filled his every word were stunning; it's uncommon to hear such a devout declaration, even in Christian circles.

Getting back to my boysenberry pie, I felt good about my friend's expression of love when a nagging thought hit me: Jesus who? A brief mental skirmish took place over whether or not to ask such a question. My words, however, came out before my mind had settled the issue. "Tell me about the Jesus you love." My Muslim friend didn't hesitate: "He's the same one you love." Before I got "doctrinal" with my friend, I thought I should try to show him why it was important to make sure we were talking about the same Jesus.

I used his neighbor, who is a great friend to both of us, as an example. He and I really love the guy. After agreeing on our mutual feelings, I began to give a description of our common friend's physical attributes: "He's 5'6"; he's completely bald; he weighs 320 pounds; he wears a ring in his left nostril." Actually, I didn't get quite that far before objections were made. "Wait a minute... he's easily over 6'4", I wish I had all his hair, and he's the thinnest man I know!" My friend added that it was obvious that we weren't talking about the same person. "Does it matter?" I asked. He gave me an incredulous look. "Of course it does! I don't have a neighbor fitting your description. You may know someone else like that, but it's not my good friend and neighbor." I pointed out that if I truly believed the description I'd just given, then we couldn't possibly be friends with the same person. He agreed.

What followed was my description of the Jesus I knew. "He was crucified and died on the cross for my sins. Did the Jesus you know do that?"

"No, Allah took him to heaven before the crucifixion. Judas died on the cross."

"The Jesus I know is God himself, who became a man. Is that your Jesus?"

He shook his head. "No, Allah alone is God. Jesus was a great prophet, but just a man." The discussion went on to many other characteristics the Bible ascribes to Jesus. In almost every case, my Muslim friend had a different perspective. Though he remained convinced that he held the correct view, the fact that our contradictory convictions couldn't be reconciled seemed to dampen his zeal for proclaiming his love for Jesus.

Some may see my questioning as unloving proof of the divisiveness of arguing over doctrines. I see it as trying to clear the way for my friend to have a genuine relationship with the only true Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ – not someone he or other men have wittingly or unwittingly imagined or devised.

Quite simply, doctrines are teachings. They are either true or false. A true doctrine cannot be divisive in a harmful way; that characteristic applies only to false teachings. "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (Rom 16:17; also Rom 2:8-9). Jesus, who is the Truth, can only be known in truth and by those who seek the truth (Jn 14:6; 18:37; 2 Thes 2:13; Dt 4:29). Christ himself caused division (Mt 10:35; Jn 7:35; 9:16;10:19), division between truth and error (Lk 12:51).

"Jesus who?" is a pivotal question for every believer in Christ. We should first of all ask it of ourselves, testing our own beliefs about Jesus (2 Cor 13:5; 1 Thes 5:21). Misunderstandings about Him inevitably become obstructions in our relationship with Him. The question also may be vital in our fellowshipping with those who claim to be Christians. On a brief airline flight recently, a friend of mine was concerned enough to ask the person next to him some crucial questions about his relationship with Jesus. Although the young man professed to have been a Christian for four years or so and participated in a Christian fellowship for professional athletes, he didn't really know Jesus nor did he understand the gospel of salvation. My friend led him to the Lord before the plane landed.

All too often, phrases similar to "we stand together with anyone who names the name of Christ" are emotionally charged coverings for ecumenical agendas. The fear of destroying unity plagues those who take seriously such unbiblical propaganda, even to the point of discouraging any vestige of interest in contending for the faith. Astonishingly, "Christian unity" now includes co-laboring for the moral good of society with cults "that name the name of Jesus."

The cults' teachings about Jesus include every unscriptural idea imaginable. The "Jesus Christ" of Latter-Day Saints, for example, couldn't be further removed from the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus invented by Joseph Smith and after whom he named his church is the first spirit child of Elohim, just as all humans, angels, and demons are spirit children of Elohim. This Mormon Jesus became flesh through physical intercourse between Elohim (God the Father who has a physical body) and the Virgin Mary. Their Jesus is the half-brother of Lucifer. He came to earth to become a god. His sacrificial death gives immortality to every creature (including animals) at the Resurrection. However, whether an individual creature spends eternity in hell or in one of three heavens is totally up to his or her (or its) performance.

The Jesus Christ of the mind-science cults (Christian Science, Religious Science, Unity School of Christianity, etc.) is no different from any other human being. "Christ" is a spiritual idea of God and not a person. Jesus neither suffered nor died for mankind's sins because sin doesn't exist. Rather, he helped humanity to cease from believing that sin and death have any reality. That is "salvation" in so-called Christian Science.

Jehovah's Witnesses also love Jesus, but not the Jesus of the Bible. Before their Jesus was born on earth he was Michael the Archangel. He is a god, but not Jehovah God. When their Jesus became a man he ceased to be a god. There was no physical resurrection of the JW Jesus; Jehovah raised his spirit body, hid his physical remains, and now, once again, Jesus exists as an angel called Michael. The Bible promises that when a believer in our Lord and Savior dies, he or she immediately goes to be with Jesus (2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:21-23). With their Jesus, however, only 144,000 Jehovah's Witnesses have that privilege but not at death, for they are annihilated when they die. That is, they spend an indefinite period in an inactive and unconscious state, in effect, ceasing to exist. My fellowship of love with the biblical Jesus, however, is unbroken and everlasting.

Roman Catholics love Jesus. I did for twenty-some years of my life, but he was very different from the Jesus I now know and love. Sometimes he was still a babe in arms or a young boy, overshadowed and protected by his mother. When I wanted his help I made sure I prayed to his mother first. The Jesus to whom I pray now hasn't been a baby for almost 2,000 years. The Jesus I loved as a Catholic resided bodily in a small, boxlike tabernacle on our church altar in the form of a white wafer, while simultaneously inhabiting millions of pieces of bread worldwide. My Jesus is the (physically) resurrected Son of God; He doesn't indwell inanimate objects.

The Roman Catholic Jesus I knew was the Christ of the crucifix, his body continually hanging on the cross, fittingly symbolic of the perpetual sacrifice of the mass and his unfinished work of salvation. Nearly two millennia ago, the biblical Jesus fully paid the debt for my sins. He has no need of the seven sacraments, the liturgy, the priesthood, the papacy, His mother's intercession, indulgences, prayers to and for the dead, purgatory, etc., to help save anyone. Roman Catholics who say they love Jesus, though they may call themselves charismatic Catholics, evangelical Catholics, or born-again Catholics, actually love a Jesus who is not the biblical Jesus. He's "another Jesus."

Even some who claim to be evangelicals promote a different Jesus. The so-called faith-and-prosperity teachers promote a Jesus who was materially prosperous. According to evangelist John Avanzini, whose expensive wardrobe reflects his teachings, Jesus wore designer clothes (a reference to his seamless robe) similar to what kings and wealthy merchants wore. In a convoluted argument, success preacher Robert Tilton claims that being poor is a sin, and since Jesus was sinless, it follows that he must have been extremely rich. Positive-confession teacher Fred Price explains that he drives a Rolls Royce simply because he's following the way of Jesus. Oral Roberts says that because Jesus and the disciples had a treasurer (Judas), they must have had plenty of money.

In addition to preaching a Christ who was materially wealthy, many of the faith teachers, such as Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland, proclaim a Jesus who descended into hell and had to be tortured by Satan in order to complete the atonement for the sins of mankind. That's not the Jesus I know and love.

Tony Campolo's Jesus indwells everyone. Television preacher Robert Schuller presents a Jesus who died on the cross to secure our self-esteem. In support of this Jesus, Christian psychologists and numerous evangelical preachers tell us that His death on the cross proves our infinite value to God and is the basis for our self-worth. Not only are a variety of ego-enhancing Jesus' being promoted today, but we're also being told by a psychologized "church" that the truth about Jesus may not be as important for our psychological well-being as our own perception of Him. That's the basis for the current teaching by psychospiritual integrationist Neil Anderson and others who promote unbiblical inner-healing techniques. We have to forgive Jesus for situations in the past where we feel He disappointed or wounded us emotionally. Jesus who?

Fellowship with Jesus is the heart of Christianity. It's not something merely imagined but is a reality. He literally indwells all who place their faith in Him as Lord and Savior (Col 1:27; Jn 14:20; 15:4). The relationship we have with Him is both subjective and objective. Our genuine personal experiences with Jesus are always in harmony with His objective Word (Is 8:20). His Spirit ministers His Word to us and that knowledge is the foundation for our fellowship with Him (Jn 8:31; Phil 3:8). Our love for Him is demonstrated by and increases through our obedience to what He commands; our trust in Him is strengthened through the knowledge of what He reveals about Himself (Jn 14:15; Phil 1:9). Jesus said, "Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice" (Jn 18:37). To whatever degree we believers entertain false beliefs about Jesus and His teachings, we undermine our vital relationship with Him.

Nothing can be better on this earth than the joy of fellowship with Jesus and with those who know and are known by Him. On the other hand, nothing could be more tragic than the offering of one's affections to another Jesus, the invention of men and demons. Our Lord prophesied that many would fall prey to that great delusion just prior to His return (Mt 24:23-26). There will be many who, because of the alleged signs and wonders they perform in His name, will convince themselves that they know Jesus and are serving Him. To them He will speak these sobering words: "...I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Mt 7:23). Rather than being divisive, asking the question "Jesus who?" may be the most loving service one can perform these days. The answer has eternal consequences.

T.A. McMahon, The Berean Call (February, 1995), Box 7019 Bend, OR 97708 USA

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