Monday, January 26, 2009

Which Jesus?

"Paper people" by Brokenarts

One of the blogs I follow, Challies Dot Com, pointed me to the following article. It’s a real eye-opener about the state of modern Christendom, and I hope you’ll read it. (Then come back here when you’re through.)

1 in 3 'Christians' says Jesus sinned

We talked before about what it means to believe; in other words, what saving faith is. But now, in light of the “sinful Jesus” article you just read, I must ask you, “What does it mean to believe in Jesus?

One can assume, I think, that anyone who calls himself a “Christian” would claim to believe in Jesus. It would seem, however, that whenever someone makes such a claim, it might be wise to ask, “Which Jesus? Why Him?”

Which Jesus?

Scriptures are full of references to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the benefits of believing on His name. See, for example, Acts 8:12, Acts 19:5, 1 Co. 6:11, and 1 John 3:23.

Perhaps one of the most misused references is this one:

"Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Rom. 10:13)

Is the name of Jesus some sort of incantation, a magical word that, when spoken, gives eternal life? Or does believing in the name of Jesus mean believing His identity? Does calling on His name mean calling on Him?

In many Hispanic cultures it is common for mothers to name their children Jesús. That’s perfectly fine, of course, but I don’t think anyone would argue that I could be saved by putting my faith in one of those children, even if they have the “right name.” They are a Jesus, but they are not the Jesus. And yet many seem to believe that the truth about Jesus’ identity doesn’t matter, so long as you name His name.

A very prominent evangelical leader recently prayed a globally televised prayer, watched by millions of people. He closed his prayer “In the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesús, Jesus…”

That makes my blood run cold.

I don’t have a problem with using the Hebrew name of Jesus (Yeshua), or the Spanish name (Jesús), or any other translation of the name, as long as you’re talking about the same Jesus. But when you refer to Isa, you are not speaking of the same Jesus. Isa is the Islamic version of Jesus…a merely human prophet, not the son of God. (Islam emphatically states that God has no son.) Isa did not die on a cross or anywhere else. He does not save. Isa is not God, but will lead people to believe in Allah. He is subordinate to Mohammad.

Excuse me, prominent evangelical leader? Isa changed your life?

Play all the slippery word games you want, but equating Isa with Jesus is either elevating this Islamic prophet to godhood (idolatry) or lowering Christ to a merely human level (blasphemy).

It’s not the “name”…mere letters spelled out, and spelled differently in every language. It’s the name…the identity.

Suppose I had a neighbor named Barack Obama. Suppose he asked me to pick up something at the store for him. I might go to the store and say, “I’m here in the name of Barack Obama to get a gallon of milk.” I might use that name to get special treatment, to cut ahead in line, whatever. But when people found out that the Barack Obama I was referring to was my regular old neighbor, and not the guy in the White House, they would have every reason to be furious with me.

Or suppose that same neighbor should now assume that he holds the reins of power in the nation, because his name was voted into office. Would we respect his interpretation of the election results?

We all know that we can go to Mexico and refer to George Bush as “Jorge Bush,” and as long as we’re talking about the former President of the United States, we’re talking about the same person. Names aren’t primarily about spelling and pronunciation.

Everyone knows that “name” refers to identity…until we start talking about Jesus. Then, suddenly, it’s okay to talk about a totally different person by the same name and pretend it doesn’t matter.

And 1/3 of professed “Christians” in America believe in a Jesus who is a sinner.

Can a sinner save anyone?

Who is this Jesus in whom we are to believe…the only Jesus who can save?

John 20:31 is a good place to start. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Believing in this Jesus gives life in His name.

Do you believe in the Jesus who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth (1 Pet. 2:22), who bore our sins in His own body on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24), who is The Way, The Truth, The Life, and the only way to the Father (John 14:6)…is this your Jesus?

Do you believe in the Jesus who holds the keys of Hell and Death (Rev. 1:18)? Do you believe in the Jesus who is the judge of all mankind (John 5:22), who will separate the saved from the lost, will welcome the saved into Heaven, and will condemn the lost to their eternal punishment (Matt. 25:31-46)? Or does your version of Jesus take sin lightly…the very same sin that scourged and crucified Him? Is your Jesus perfectly fine with people worshiping self, and Satan, and sin? Is he perhaps a Jesus who also sinned?

Peter wanted to make sure that we knew which Jesus he preached:

let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the 'STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED BY YOU BUILDERS, WHICH HAS BECOME THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE.' Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

(Acts 4:10-12, emphasis added)

Pretty specific, wasn’t he? Jesus (Yeshua) was a very common name back then. So Peter made it clear that he meant not just any Jesus, but the one from Nazareth who was crucified and rose again. The reference to the “rejected stone” refers back to a messianic prophecy in Ps. 118:22, further specifying Jesus’ identity as the one who had been promised.

It matters which Jesus you believe in.

And listen to this one:

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Php 2:9-11)

This is no “Prophet Isa,” subordinate to the prophet Mohammed!

Is the Jesus you believe in the same one? The one who will be highly exalted by every creature in Heaven and earth and everywhere else? Here’s a hint…if you highly exalt Him above everything else and look forward to the day when every tongue confesses Him, if you long to see Him honored even now, if you so honor Him with your worshipful, obedient life, then yes, you probably believe in this Jesus. If you pay lip service to such a Jesus, but your life reveals that you think far less of Him, then the Jesus you truly believe in is not this same Jesus.

(Allow me to clarify here…I’m not talking about being sinless or perfected. That won’t happen to any of us until Heaven. I’m not asking about your performance so much as the desire of your heart and the direction in which you’re growing. What do you truly believe Jesus has a right to expect from you? That will reveal who you believe He is.)

If you believe in a different Jesus, is it not because you would prefer a different Jesus? Have you rejected the Jesus of Scripture in favor of an idol to whom you’ve given your heart?

Oh, I could go on and on, but I think it’s time to wrap up with one slightly different but related point.

Do you want further proof that the name of Jesus cannot be used as an incantation to save you from the Evil One? Listen to this.

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, "We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches." Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?" Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. (Act 19:13-19)

The name of Jesus was used as an incantation by those who did not know Him, love Him, or belong to Him, and it backfired. As a result, the name of Jesus was not denigrated, but was rather glorified. Why is that? Hadn’t it failed?

No, turning the holy name of Jesus into an incantation blasphemes it.

The true faith in Jesus which resulted from this event was marked by the fear of God, confession of sin, and a radical turning away from that sin. Those are the things which glorify Him.

There is salvation in His name alone…but only if we’re using His name honestly, to refer to Him. Our faith must be in Him!

(Next time we’ll look at the 2nd question: “Why Him?”)


Ed said...

Thank you again Betsy for keeping me on my toes to be discerning and hear with spiritual ears things being said. The Barna article is a rather sad commentary on the state of those claiming to know the true Jesus we see in Scripture. Keep up the good work!! In Him, Ed

Laurie M. said...

I missed the Isa reference in that prayer. I doubt that pastor had any idea of the implications of what he was saying, in trying to cover all his bases. Thanks for informing me on that one, and on who this Isa is.

I've got a sad story related to this post. When I was 19 I was all mixed up in the Word of Faith movement with my mom, down in So. California. We went to a convention of one of the biggest names in that movement in those days. I remember thinking to myself that this man looked and acted more like a man posessed than a Christian (his eyes were terrifying), but I felt guilty - maybe of something unpardonable - for thinking it, because the banner over his head read in giant letters "Jesus is Lord". You see, I had read the verse that said noone can say those words except by the Holy Spirit. So I thought he must be from God. Thankfully I know better now.

Keep sounding the alarm!

Mary Moss said...

Wow! Betsy, this is just incredible. Thank you for your discernment. There is a lot to take in here and I will be back to read this post again.

I may even have to do a post of my own at some point on this topic

elaine @ peace for the journey said... that's something. So funny you should write about this. Today I lunch with my "ancients", one of whom is married to a Muslim. I know. Strange. Anyway, been married for years. She is a Christian and attends my Bible studies. We're getting geared up for Beth Moore's Esther. She asked me, over a mouth full of pizza, what Esther's Islamic name was. While she was studying her Esther yesterday, her husband was trying to fine "Esther" in the Koran. I nearly spit my pizza out. Now, I don't know enough to really debate the issue over lunch, nor would I ever want to isolate my precious, dear, friend whom I love so much.

But I'm pretty sure that Esther isn't in the Koran...I would imagine that the Muslims wouldn't think to highly of her.

Not only that, but I've had a few members of our church tell me that Allah and our God is one in the same. I'm happy to shoot that one down. I may not be able to articulate it all very well, but honestly...

who are we as a church? Love your thoughts here. I'll be pondering them further as I grow in my own understanding.


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