Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Deity of Christ and why this Matters

 In the official Watchtower publication, Should You Believe in the Trinity, Jehovah’s Witnesses proclaim that:

·        Jesus had an existence in heaven before coming to the earth…the Bible plainly states that in his pre-human existence, Jesus was a created spirit being, just as the angels were spirit beings created by God.

Nevertheless, they believe that Jesus died for our sins and that we have to place our trust in Him. In light of this, is His deity worth fighting over? Doesn’t doctrine divide and create acrimony? Isn’t it enough to believe that Jesus was, at least, a form of deity?

Hopefully, without any acrimony, I’d like to try to explain why this is such a critical doctrine, one that profoundly impacts our lives.

For one thing, God requires that we know, love and worship Him as He truly is. Jesus claimed that this knowledge was essential:

·        “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins." (John 8:24)

According to Jesus, faith and salvation were a matter of believing what He taught about Himself. In contrast, many today believe that a relationship with God isn’t about believing a set of teachings or doctrines about God, but rather in experiencing Him. Oprah asserted this very thing:

·        “God is about a feeling experience, not a believing experience…A mistake we humans make is believing that there is only one way…There are many paths to what you call God…There couldn’t possibly be just one way…Do you think that if you never heard the name of Jesus but lived with a loving heart…you wouldn’t get to heaven?...Does God care about the heart or if you call His Son ‘Jesus?’”  

According to Oprah, a relationship with God is a matter of both experience and the quality of our heart. However, we all fail the heart test (Rom. 3:10-18; 23). That’s why salvation must be by grace and not by our merit.

Understanding God is not optional. God had been angry at Job’s three friends because they failed to understand and speak rightly of Him:

·        After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. (Job 42:7)

Jesus reaffirmed the fact that we have to approach God bearing a correct understanding. He contrasted a true understanding with the understanding of the Samaritans:

·        “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the [doctrines of the] Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:22-24)

Why is God so insistent about being worshipped according to the truth of who He is? Perhaps we can best understand this if we examine our own relationships. We tend to value those friends who appreciate us according to who we really are, rather than people who might appreciate us but for the wrong reasons.

An accurate knowledge of God is so valuable that this is the one thing we can boast about (Jer. 9:23-24). For one thing, knowing that when we confess, He forgives our sins is so freeing. It also endears us to Him.

However, knowing of Christ’s Deity also endears us to our Triune God. Scripture reveals that the cross was a monumental demonstration of God’s love for us (Romans 5:8-10). I had experienced decades of the severest depression and panic attacks, even into my Christian life. It often felt that God was a cosmic sadist, eating popcorn as He delighted in the freak-show below.

Even though I wanted to believe otherwise, my feelings allowed no other interpretation. One night as I walked with head to the ground, crying my eyes out, I suddenly realized that this wasn’t a freak-show, and that Christ suffered on the cross for me and even suffered for me now (Heb. 4:15).

However, how could the cross demonstrate God’s love for me? God could have created 50,000 Christs in one second, at absolutely no cost to Himself. However, if Jesus is God and not a created being, this was totally another matter. God actually loved me so much that He Himself died for me! He didn’t send a mere created being to take my place.

Jehovah’s Witnesses isn’t the only groups that obscures the truth of Christ’s Triunity and His love for us. The modalists do the same thing but in a different way. For instance, the United Pentecostal Church claims that Jesus was no more than an appearance of deity, a manifestation – smoke and mirrors. Consequently, God didn’t die for us but rather an appearance of God “died” – hardly a token of God’s love.

I continue to find evidences of this atomic explosion of self-sacrifice that has changed this world. Jesus talked often of His coming moment of glory. How could anyone imagine that this moment would entail His time of pain and humiliation?

·        Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:23-24; 7:39; 13:31)

What love! He so desperately longed to show us His glory, and we thought that this had been fulfilled on the Mount of Transfiguration. However, He was pointing to something even more glorious - His torture and His death, the spit and the naked humiliation – the greatest tokens of His love.

It also served as an example for us of what our own self-sacrifice should look like. (Lord, help us!) Paul argues that if Jesus, God Himself, had humbled Himself to die on the cross, so should we do likewise for others (Phil. 2:3-8).

However, if Jesus isn’t God but rather a created, non-priceless being who was created for the very purpose of dying, this fails to both demonstrate God’s love and glory. It also fails to impress us into self-sacrificial living.

Furthermore, the death of a mere created being fails to humble us by showing us the depths of our sins. In fact, they were so weighty that the blood of animals couldn’t begin to atone for them:

·        Because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, 'Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll--I have come to do your will, O God.' " (Hebrews 10:4-7 quoting Psalm 40)

If our sins could have been atoned for in a less costly way, our Savior would have done it that way. However, nothing short of the death of the Savior would suffice! This humbles us more profoundly than would the crucifixion of a created being.

It also gives us great confidence. It demonstrates to us that if God loved us so much while we were still His enemies, how much more will He keep and protect us now that He has already paid the price and has converted us into a band of friends and worshippers (Romans 5:8-10).

Even beyond this, the cross of Christ our God communicates that we are rich beyond reckoning. Paul argues that if we have Christ, we have everything. Why? Because in Christ is everything – all Deity (Col. 2:9-10). Before making this life-altering assertion, Paul set forth the Deity of Christ – “the image of the invisible God…by Him all things were created…and hold together…all [God’s] fullness dwells in Him” (Col. 1:13-21). Therefore, we really do have everything, along with the assurance that we are co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).

Because of these surpassing riches, we should never be tempted to think that we lack anything. We need to know that we are safe and beloved as we venture forth every morning into the discouragements of this life. The fact that God Himself died for us while we were still sinners can give us this assurance, especially as we drink deeply from the truth of our own unworthiness.

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