Don’t be deceived
Who was Jesus?
Was Jesus just a brilliant teacher or a charismatic prophet?
Seems these days that Jesus gets to be whoever you want Him to be. We’re all happy to define each other by our politics, race, gender, neighborhood, and more. Why should Jesus escape this treatment? But where are the Christians shouting the truth about Him?
Oh, wait… they’re also guilty of redefining Jesus so they can keep living the life they prefer. Or using Him to buoy their social or environmental justice work.
Recently, I read Natasha Crain’s new book, Faithfully Different: Regaining Biblical Clarity in a Secular Culture. The back cover starts with this:
IN AN INCREASINGLY SECULAR SOCIETY, THOSE WHO HAVE A BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW ARE NOW A SHRINKING MINORITY. AS MAINSTREAM CULTURE GROWS MORE HOSTILE TOWARD THE BIBLE’S TRUTHS AND THOSE WHO EMBRACE THEM, YOU’LL FACE MOUNTING PRESSURES — FROM FAMILY, FRIENDS, MEDIA, ACADEMIA, AND GOVERNMENT — TO CHANGE AND EVEN ABANDON YOUR BELIEf
Research studies offer data points that can muddy the definition of a Christian. Lots of people (69% in Pew’s 2014 research) claim to be Christian. Yet, Arizona Christian University’s worldview study in 2020 found only 6% of Americans had a biblical worldview.
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
(John 15:18–19, NIV)
Clearly, even Jesus didn’t expect His followers to hold to the majority’s worldview. Believers in Jesus are never mainstream.
The false Jesuses
Crain describes 12 false Jesuses commonly presented in modern life. The first false Jesus someone introduced me to was Socialist Jesus. It happened in the fellowship hall of a Presbyterian church about twenty years ago. A prominent lawyer in town made the assertion and my mouth opened and closed like a fish on land.
I didn’t respond to his alarming words. I’ve since heard this argued many times — social media memes are a common vehicle for this lie (usually with a picture of Jesus holding fishes and loaves).
Jesus never asserted that we rely on government to care for the needy. Christians are commanded to do that work (Matthew 25:35). Yet, somewhere along the way, the church has abdicated much of its responsibility to provide this service without government interference. This is a whole post of its own, so let’s move on.
Anti-organized religion Jesus proponents believe Jesus wants us to have an individual faith away from the problems of groupthink in the traditional church-going context. Jesus attended synagogues and taught in them. That He had a difficult relationship with the Pharisees’ false religiosity isn’t a sign that He reviled organized religion.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:16, NIV)
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
(1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV)
Judge-not Jesus is immediately summoned whenever a Christian mentions anything the Bible says is morally wrong. Matthew 7:1 (NIV) says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” But the entire 7th chapter is an admonition against hypocritical judgment. Jesus never prohibited correct judgment.
Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly. (John 7:24, NIV)
Prosperity Jesus says if you would only have enough faith, you’d never be sick or poor. Life’s problems will refuse to cross your doorstep.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 1:2–4, ESV)
The Prosperity Gospel movement twists the Bible by teaching that believers can use their faith to bring about their own will. We are warned about these false teachers.
… and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
(1 Timothy 6:5, NIV)
Red-Letter Jesus is defined by what He does and does not say. The rest of the Scripture can be ignored if you like, but if you do, you’re also missing the “red-letter Jesus” who definitively spoke about the authority of Scripture.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17, NIV)
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.” (Luke 24:44–46, NIV)
I chose five “Jesus versions” I encounter most often on social media and in conversations with non-believers or those who’ve forgotten what it means to be a Jesus follower. Crain offers additional modern-day “versions” depicted by those who seek to diminish Jesus into a caricature. You can read more about them and learn how to diffuse all the silly arguments in her terrific book.
The Jesus we must follow is the Bible version
Maintaining a biblical worldview that’s not corrupted by the trends of modern culture requires the believer to practice discernment — through reading/understanding the Bible, its historical contexts of the texts presented there, and experiencing consistent teaching of the Bible.
Jesus affirmed the validity of Scripture, quoting the Old Testament often. The Old Testament prophesied accurately His birth (Isaiah 9:6, Micah 5:2), death (Psalm 22), and resurrection (Isaiah 53).
Jesus is The Word (John 1:1) and His followers must live by it — the inerrant, inspired word of God.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15, NIV)
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