Jesus = God? Part 1: The Groundwork

Is Jesus God, or just the Son of God, or is he a human Messiah created by God apart from Adam’s corrupt lineage, or is he no more than a morally perfect man chosen and empowered by God to fulfill a prophesied mission?

According to orthodox dogma, Jesus is said to be the second person of the trinity. The trinity doctrine states that God = Father = Son (Jesus) = Holy Spirit and that Father, Son, and Spirit are three persons yet one God. The word “trinity” does not appear in scripture. This doctrine is derived at by interpretation rather than any one specific biblical statement.

Does the relationship of God to the persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit matter? Does it matter if the trinity doctrine is based on an erroneous premise? Is Jesus a separate person or being from the Father and are both God? Is the Holy Spirit also God, or a distinct person or being, or something else? Does any of this really matter?

The whole of Christian religion is built and based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross stands at the center of Christian religion. If Jesus’ bones were found and proven to be his, the whole of Christianity would dissolve in a moment – and rightfully so.

The most basic tenet of Christianity is that to be saved a person must believe in Jesus. What does this really mean? Belief implies awareness and choice. It is something of a paradox that neither knowledge nor choice saves when we are commanded to know God and to choose to place faith in him. God reveals himself to us by various means. This revelation is from him to us – not a human work but a gift from God. The liberty to choose is likewise a gift given. The choice we make is not a work we accomplish, but an act of love in response to our Creator who loved us first.

To say a person must know this or that fact or must do this or that act to demonstrate faith is to make God in our image. That is backward. The most vague awareness of God, if faith is genuine, is sufficient. One of the greatest schisms in church history occurred over whether salvation is by works or by faith alone. This fight divided the church in what is called the Great Reformation. Many Protestant denominations came about following this break from the Roman Catholic position on this issue. At nearly the same time another division was caused over the question of whether man’s free will choice saves him or whether God is sovereign over salvation apart from man’s free will. If we believe Christ is not divided, we must all look at these divisions with sorrowful hearts and wonder at how we who are called to be one came to be so shattered.

To answer our questions effectively requires us to explore who Jesus is, what he said and did, and what we are to be saved from and for. This knowledge is not what saves us, but to have a belief means we need to receive some awareness. It must be revealed to us. This revelation is both the seed and the fruit of salvation. Salvation itself, though, is not knowing but believing. Believing is not merely acknowledgment of fact, but submission to one whom we trust. This all begins and ends with a change, performed by God, which we experience at the core of our being. This change is variously called conversion, repentance, being born again, becoming a new creation, being given a new heart, or something like that. It is a transformation carried out by God for His purposes and glory. We experience and participate, but we have no merit either in the initial event or in the new life as we live it out.

We can look at three specific places to find out who Jesus is. The first place to look is in the Old Testament. The second place to look is in the gospel accounts. The third is in the rest of the New Testament. These are not the only places, but they are three specific places I want to bring to your attention because they are universally and easily available.

Why look for Jesus in the Old Testament? Consider what Jesus said to his disciples following his resurrection: Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Lk 24:44) The Old Testament contains very specific as well as very general information about Jesus. It describes far more than prophecies about events the gospels record as simple facts. The Old Testament explains why Jesus had to come and the purpose of his suffering and death.

There are wonderful volumes written about the specific Old Testament prophecies Jesus fulfilled, but his purpose, why he did what he did, and what it means to us today is revealed plainly and explicitly throughout the New Testament. We have hope because Jesus did what we could not do on our own. This message is at the heart of most of the epistles, the preaching recorded in Acts, and the triumph of Jesus and the realization of our ultimate hopes described so vividly in Revelation.

The four gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are considered part of the New Testament, but for the sake of this discussion we will consider them uniquely. The rest of the New Testament talks about Jesus, but the gospel accounts tell us what he actually said and did in graphic detail. The entire bible is a beautifully woven tapestry of revelation, history, and hope, but the climax of it all is arguably found in the closing chapters of each of the four gospel accounts.

Now that we know where to look, let us explore the question at hand – is Jesus God? To be continued…

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About Lance Ponder

Christian author of "Ask James one"; public speaker; husband and father. Available to speak on Creation and the Gospel.
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14 Responses to Jesus = God? Part 1: The Groundwork

  1. Michael Knudsen says:

    A great kickoff, Lance, to an extremely important question. I look forward to your further exposition on the subject. For now, I can answer the question “Is Jesus God?” with an emphatic “YES!”

  2. Todd Beal says:

    Lance, I have never read such a compelling introduction to Jesus. This post completely wraps its arms around the entire scripture and subsequently says, “All of this means ‘this’”, with a perfectly straight arrow pointing from the perimeter to the epicenter, called Jesus the Son of God.

    God gave you a great talent for explaining his message Lance.  This is truly your gift.

    This belongs in publication.

    • Lance Ponder says:

      Wow. That’s very generous. I don’t think I said anything very profound. I’m really just trying to lay out the foundation for the arguments to come. This all came about as a result of discussion on another blog – I don’t even remember where anymore. But the question had to do with the identity of Jesus. Another writer was struggling with the notion of the deity of Jesus. I know Fr. Robert is very big on the trinity. He speaks of it with elation, but seldom with elaboration. I hope he stops by and participates in some of this conversation. Anyway, as I mentioned to Michael, I hope the upcoming posts live up to your expectations.

      • Todd Beal says:

        Lance, I don’t want to give the impression that I disbelieve in the Trinity – God forbid.

        Jesus said if you have seen me you have seen the Father, for I and the Father are one. Also, God sent his Holy Spirit to divinely inseminate Mary’s womb. If God and the Holy Spirit are not one in essence, then the Holy Spirit is not God and could have therefore not become God, Jesus, in human form through Mary. Paul says that God’s Holy “Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” [Romans 8:26 ESV]. Paul also says that the Holy Spirit empowers each of us with one or more of the seven specific gifts unique to the Holy Spirit, as represented in Revelation 4:5, John’s vision of the seven-fold Spirit of God. If the Holy Spirit is not God, then he could not personally empower us with the seven personal attributes of God. Revelation 4:5 [ESV] says, “…and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God”. Revelation 5:6 [ESV] says, “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” Paul said to some followers of the then-deceased John the Baptist in Acts 19:2-6 [ESV], “…“what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.”

        There are only two beings that are greater than we are, God and angels (angels that are heavenly and angels that are fallen). Lucifer, Satan, can possess us but can only do so in direct rebellion against God, his creator. This rules Satan out as the spirit of whom Paul was speaking. We cannot receive a heavenly angel into our self because scripture explicitly forbids the worship of angels. In Revelation 22:8-9, an angel told John not to worship him; “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!”” [ESV] This rules out heavenly angels as the spirit of whom Paul was speaking. This leaves only one being that we can receive as God, the Holy Spirit – the ever-present presence and unified oneness of God.

        God has a head (his executive center), the Father; we have a head. God has an image, his composite makeup, Jesus; we have an image. God has a Spirit, his personal presence and unified oneness, just as we have a spirit. Our head (our executive center) is both us, and separately part of us. Our image (our composite makeup) is both us, and separately part of us. Our spirit (our presence and unified oneness) is both us, and separately part of us. We are made in God’s image and all we need do to understand God’s structural makeup is look at our own design, for we are made in his image. God patterned all creation after who he is, in both essence and structure.

        • Lance Ponder says:

          I love the way you explained the construct of what we call Trinity. I picture it in a similar way, but I’ve never been able to articulate it like that. Very cool. Thanks so much for elaborating. I will look at afresh from now on.

          • Todd Beal says:

            Cool! Thanks, Lance. I didn’t know whether you would receive it well or not. I look forward to reading the next installment.

          • Lance Ponder says:

            Oh yeah. The word “trinity” doesn’t appear in scripture because they NT authors didn’t think of God as 3 persons. Perhaps it is easiest for a lot of people to think of God that way, but really God is bigger than our imagination or our labels. God spanked certain zealots for getting ahead of Him just as he spanked others for failing to keep up. I think perhaps we are getting “ahead” of Him with some of our theology and fancy lingo that isn’t in His revealed word. It doesn’t matter how we break the orbit, if we are not in God’s will we are either drifting out toward dark coldness or in toward the fiery interface with the atmosphere. … hey, that’s a pretty cool allegory, I might have to use that (hehehe). Thanks.

          • Todd Beal says:

            I will say this: Paul was the only person in all of history to whom Jesus personally revealed his entire divine nature. I find it hard to believe that Paul, of all people, was ignorant of the tri-fold nature of God.

  3. Lance Ponder says:

    Todd:

    “I will say this: Paul was the only person in all of history to whom Jesus personally revealed his entire divine nature. I find it hard to believe that Paul, of all people, was ignorant of the tri-fold nature of God.”

    Now I’d like you to elaborate, if you would, just to prevent confusion. First, how is Paul the only one? Second, what exactly do you mean by that second sentence?

    • Todd Beal says:

      Lance, nowhere in scripture does the Bible mention God revealing himself to anyone as he did to Paul in Acts. Scripture definitely states that historically, God explicitly revealed himself in various ways to numerous individuals, giving them topic-specific prophecy and information, but to Paul, Jesus revealed the entire plan of salvation along with the revelation of his divine personage, the nature of God. Paul’s entire message (his complete writings) was based on one thing; the fallen human condition and how God reconciled us back unto himself based on who God is, past, present, and future.

      I stated my second sentence – “I find it hard to believe that Paul, of all people, was ignorant of the tri-fold nature of God” – in rebuttal to your comment, “The word “trinity” doesn’t appear in scripture because they NT authors didn’t think of God as 3 persons.”

      Nowhere does the New Testament scripture imply that the NT authors did not think of God as 3 persons. When John finished writing Revelation, the Bible was finished, with no new divinely inspired scripture added now for two thousand years. If indeed God is triune, and if indeed God completely revealed himself to us through scripture – as is explicitly and repeatedly promised throughout the Old and New Testaments – and if the scripture exists as our divinely inspired written means to understand him, then his triune nature must necessarily exist within that scripture.

  4. Lance Ponder says:

    Okay, good. Now we have something to work with. 😉

    Yes, Paul had a unique experience with Christ glorified. He wasn’t the only one with a unique God experience, nor glorified Christ. John wrote a whole book about his unique experience. As for getting the whole revelation of salvation on the road to Damascus, I don’t think that’s an accurate description. Paul encountered Christ and became a changed man. But he spent the next few years being tutored before he went out as a missionary with his whole doctrine intact.

    Regarding that second sentence discussion… Touche about mentioning vs not mentioning. That was a clever comeback. 😉 Neither of us can prove a negative, so maybe there’s a better way to get at this. Jesus spoke of himself as Son, he spoke of the Father as a person, and he spoke of the Holy Spirit as though it were a person. To that end I suspect it is best if we use “he” rather than “it” when speaking of the Holy Spirit. Having admitted that much, I would suggest that while the contemporary view of the trinity is diverse among Christianity generally, the trend is to demystify to the point of dividing God into three different people. The result is confusing to say the least, particularly among the less spiritually and/or theologically minded. I happen to agree more with your explanation of the trinity than I would with the schizophrenic view of one God with three personalities or three Gods in one or three people sharing the same last name (ie Father God, Son God, Spirit God). Since it is a spiritual mystery I am not going to slam any believer for taking a view I do not hold out of ignorance or difference in tradition. I hope this clarifies. 😀

    Oh, and just because I’m nit-picky, Revelation is the last book in its present order, but was probably not the last book written. John’s epistles may have and some scholars feel strongly were written after Revelation. 😉

  5. benicho says:

    Is Jesus G-d? I don’t know, did Jesus pray to himself in the garden? c’mon it’s not just as easy as saying “Jesus is G-d”.

    • Lance Ponder says:

      We can say just about anything. The question is whether it agrees with what God has revealed about Himself through the scriptures. And that’s where the next few posts go. You do raise an interesting point, though. Much of what Jesus did by way of prayer was for the sake of others. Even the suffering in the garden and the prayer of which you speak show us how to approach the Father, with fear and trembling as well as utter submission. It is an amazing thing indeed to try and wrap your head around.

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