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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Why the deity of Christ matters

There are many things that I love about Christmas. I love the cookies, the Christmas trees, and waking up early to open presents. I love the extra time with the extended family, seeing people that I don’t normally see throughout the year. I love all those things, but what I love the most about Christmas is it’s the one time of the year where even non-religious people find within them the desire to sing about the God who came to earth in the form of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. Often during this time of the year I wonder how so many millions of people can sing songs like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy to the World” without considering the meaning of the words they are singing. Today on this Christmas day I’m going to ask you to do just that.

About six weeks ago, I was flying over the Pacific Ocean when a very nice guy about the same age as me decided to engage me in conversation. In the beginning it felt like I was talking to a fellow missionary and we were encouraging each other in our respective faiths, but not too long into the conversation I realized I was talking with a Jehovah’s Witness.

Let me say first that I have a lot of respect for Jehovah’s Witnesses. When I was in Senegal my wife and I, along with our faithful disciple Jean Pierre, used to go every week to the university to distribute Christian literature. One of the questions people often asked us is “Are you Jehovah’s Witnesses?” That my wife and I would be mistaken for Jehovah’s Witnesses speaks powerfully to the dedication that many people in this movement have for their cause. I also admire the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses stand for their convictions. Even though it’s culturally taboo to knock on doors, they still do it. Even though American culture praises people that vote, celebrate the holidays, and serve in the military, Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse. Regardless of whether one agrees with these positions or not, that takes grit. They genuinely don’t care what others think about them—and I deeply admire that.

Even on the linchpin subject of “Who is Jesus?” Jehovah’s Witnesses are light years ahead of the vast majority of people in our culture that take their theological cues from books like “ The Da Vinci Code” and “Embraced by the Light.” Jehovah’s Witnesses will tell you that all things were created by Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus. They’ll tell you that Jesus holds everything together. They’ll even tell you that Jesus is the exact representation of who God is. All of these statements are Biblical truths. But even though they have a very high view of Jesus, in Kingdom Hall thinking, Jesus is still a created being, not God Almighty. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but they stop short of saying that He is God.

So why split hairs over a technicality?

Shortly after I got home from my trip, I called my good friend Dianne Kannady with Riches in Christ Ministries ( Dianne is one of the best Bible teachers that I know, so I decided to pick her brain for a few minutes about a question that had been nagging at my mind since the start of my dialogue with Nick (We’ve been corresponding with each other ever since). If you read the Book of Acts, one thing that you will notice is that more often than not, when Peter or Paul preached the gospel, they emphasized the humanity of Jesus when discussing His resurrection and His ability to forgive sins and grant eternal life (See Acts 2:22, 13:38). The question that had been gnawing at my mind is this: Since the Book of Acts records sermons that Peter and Paul preached where the deity of Christ isn’t explicitly mentioned, and we know that some of the people that heard their messages believed and were saved, how important is it then for someone to believe in the deity of Christ to be saved?

Dianne wasted no time in getting to the point. Here is a summary of what Dianne said to me. On this Christmas day, I think we all need to be reminded of these truths.

1. The Bible teaches that one of the primary points of deception, especially in the last days will be on the subject of the identity of Jesus. Many people will preach a different Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:4, I John 4:1-3)

2. There are two traps that people tend to fall into when it comes to the identity of Jesus. One error is to undermine His deity. The other error is to undermine His humanity.

3. The sermons recorded in the Book of Acts are merely a synopsis of what was said, not necessarily the sermons in their entirety.

4. Peter and Paul didn’t necessarily have to emphasize His deity in their sermons. That Jesus claimed to be God was already a given. That was why He was put to death. In Jewish law, there were only a few crimes punishable by death, and one was blasphemy.

5. When Jesus claimed to be the “Son of God” the Jewish people of His day understood Him to be saying, “I am God.” In the language of their times, they didn’t distinguish between “God” and “Son of God.” (John 5:18, 10:33-36)

6. If Jesus isn’t God, then His blood doesn’t qualify to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world.

As true as the first five points are, it was Dianne’s last point that grabbed me in the gut. How easy it is to forget that essential truths of the gospel are all connected! You can have a beautiful glass of water, but if there is just one drop of arsenic, then the whole glass is poisoned. So it is with essential doctrine. If the deity of Christ is in any way undermined, then the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is undermined as well—and down goes the house of cards. If Jesus isn’t God, then He doesn’t qualify to be our Savior either. God says in His Word, “I, even I, am the Lord, And besides me there is no Savior” (Isaiah 43:11). This explains why the Apostle Paul used the terms “Jesus”, “God”, and “Savior” interchangeably (especially in the Book of Titus). You can’t have one without the other.

The central truth of the entire Bible is this: Only God can save. As tempting as it might be to attribute our salvation to anything other than God Almighty bearing the sins of the world in His own body on a tree, we must resist! As my friend Dr. Eddie Hyatt pointed out in a recent editorial, Jesus didn’t say that He would build His Church on the foundation of His moral teachings (as important as His moral teachings are). He told Peter that He would build His Church on the revelation of Who He is (Matthew 16:18). Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).

Although words like “doctrine” and “orthodoxy” are out of vogue with our postmodern culture, I would like to encourage you to take some time today and reflect on the claims that Jesus made about His identity. The doctrine of the deity of Christ matters whether we like it or not. It matters for the world and, according to Jesus, eternal destinies are determined by whether people believe His claims or not.

Lastly, to my fellow believers out there, I would like to encourage you to “Earnestly contend for the faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) Don’t let culture shake you from your faith in who Jesus is and what He came to do for you—no matter who is doing the talking! And to everyone reading this, believer and non-believer alike, I’d like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

With lots of love,


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