Misbelieving Jesus

Jesus-Christ-Creative-Commons-Jim-PadgettIt seems there’s as many portraits of Jesus as there are people willing to paint one.

We tend to make Jesus in our own image.

Talladega Nights was on to something: we try to make Jesus the way we like.

But we don’t have a right to believe what we want about Jesus. All opinions about Him are not created equal. There’s only one historical Jesus, and a host of imagined ones.

Some people’s picture of Jesus is simply unhistorical, unbiblical, and dead wrong. Feeling strongly about our opinion does not change this.

Consider some of these false views of Jesus that we’ve invented because they make us feel good:

Jesus won people by accepting them unconditionally with no strings attached.
That may be our unbiblical model of friendship evangelism, but it was not Jesus’.

Jesus believed that motives matter more than behavior.
Be careful that we don’t impose our preoccupation with motives onto Jesus. He certainly was interested in our heart’s condition, but not at the expense of our obedience. Don’t use improper motives as an excuse to disobey.

Jesus showed that social action is more important than doctrine.
Read and Gospels to see how often Jesus corrects people’s view of God or Himself. Sound doctrine was central to Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Jesus condemned every brand of anger.
But Jesus Himself got angry (Mark 3 and 10). Paul commands anger without sinning in Ephesians 4. James cautions us not to get angry too quickly in James 1, but he doesn’t forbid anger altogether. And do you remember what Jesus did when He found money changers taking up space in the temple?

Jesus was opposed to religious leaders and organized religion.
Great example of making Jesus in our own image. Since many of us hold a distaste for religious institutions and their leaders, Jesus must have also. It’s not true. Jesus was a Jew; He was not opposed to organized religion. And He occasionally commended the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders. Some even followed Him (Saul/Paul). Jesus was opposed to prideful hard hearts, not religious leaders.

Jesus’ message and ministry was positively embraced by everyone who heard it.
Do you remember how the story ends? For some reason we think that if we portray Jesus accurately to the unbelieving world, they will receive Christ. But Jesus presented Himself perfectly and they killed Him.

Jesus’ message was principally one of peace and love.
At one point Jesus explicitly denies that He has come to bring peace (Matthew 10), claiming that He will begin by bringing division. There will be peace and God is love, but the way these will look may surprise many Christians.

Jesus stressed numbers, always going where the people were.
Instead, Jesus actually turned down a teaching opportunity in front of a large crowd (Mark 1). He spent more time ministering to individuals than crowds. So should we.

Devote your life to following Jesus, and strive to figure Him out along the way. You will rarely find Him predictable. You will seldom find that He is like us.


7 responses to “Misbelieving Jesus

  • Belle

    I found this article interesting. Made me think. I think you are right on target with most of what you say, but I wonder what you mean by, “…no strings attached.”?

    I believe he does accept everyone just as they are and if we give him our lives each day then there are no strings attached. As we get to know him by prayer and Bible study, he will change what is lacking in us by his Spirit. So, if I am a drug addict, or in love with money, or bad-tempered, I think he will slowly (or quickly) change us. We don’t have to give up drugs or drinking or anything for him to accept us. How can we without his help?

    A church I belonged to wouldn’t baptize a person unless they followed all the rules and regulations of the church. A long list. No smoking, drinking etc. I don’t find that in the Bible. Philip baptized a man the same day he witnessed to him. John the Baptist probably did the same. Peter did that to the guard at the Jail.

    This is one reason I left churches. You have to be good before you are accepted.

    • afalston

      Belle, I read your response yesterday, and I keep thinking about you. I don’t really know you or your story, but from the little bit that you’ve shared here, it sounds like you were hurt. I’m sorry.

      I hope that you won’t give up on meeting together with other believers, and that you will find a pastor whose Biblical teaching you can sit under. You sound like you are familiar with the Bible and believe it is true, so I’m sure you’re aware of Paul’s analogy of the church being like a Body. People need you. And you need them.

      I am sorry you were hurt, but please don’t give up! Maybe you are in a church now–maybe you are the Belle I know who is in my church! But it sounds like, from this post, that you are not currently meeting with people for the kind of fellowship the Bible talks about. I have been praying for you to find a place that you can be challenged and grow to be more like Christ as others build you up, and you build them up. Loving people is HARD, especially when they hurt you. But I do pray that you will find the place God is calling you to fellowship in and that even when they hurt you (because they will) that you will stick it out anyway.


      • Belle

        It’s not that I was hurt by people at church; I kept seeing other people hurt and turned from God by the actions of church members. While standing in the foyer one day I saw people attack a young lady for the song she sang and the guitar she used (it was not a rock song) and I thought, “I will never bring anyone to this church again.” Then I thought, “What am I doing here.” So, after 25 years of church attendance, I left. I was tired of self-righteous, condemning people. They drove my daughters and husband out of the church before I left.

        When my husband was in the hospital (very ill) some church members told him he would not go to heaven because he ate meat. (Maybe you can guess from that I was a Seventh-Day-Adventist.) This was after years of finding fault with him. Personally, when people condemned me I didn’t mind, but when I realized I couldn’t bring anyone to worship God there, I left.

        I believe in God, I still believe the seventh day is the Sabbath. Man changed that day to placate the pagans and distance themselves from the Jews. Therefore, there is no other church that worships on that day and I wouldn’t feel comfy joining a church that doesn’t. There are 5 or 6 Adventist churches near me, but they are the same – I have tried them.

        I could make a 10 page list of all the things fellow Christians have said and done to people I know. I suppose God may want me to spend another 20 years with these people, but since I am old and sick now, I hope he will let me worship him at home.

        I do have a ministry of sorts. My husband and I support two children overseas and I have a blog about God and I’ve joined a different religious blog to meet fellow Christians and discuss the Lord. Hubby and I help the poor and pray for many. I’ve tried to do volunteer work, but my mental illness prevents me. So, I am physically ill, mentally ill and very tired. I know God understands that and is giving me a pass on church attendance. 🙂

        I also listen to sermons online, yours being one of the pastors I follow. I appreciate your sermons so much. You bring things out of the Bible I’ve never seen or thought of. Your church seems to be wonderful, but I’ll bet the farm you have a list of things someone has to agree to in order to join or be baptized.

        It isn’t that I don’t forgive or love the people who are crazy Christians; I just thought that if I couldn’t bring anyone to Christ in that church atmosphere then what was the point?

        Thanks so much for your reply to my comment. But I would still like to know what strings are attached by coming to God.

  • afalston

    I’m also interested to see Pastor Miller’s response to your question, since I’m not really sure what he meant or how he intends to unpack his statement.

    What I can tell you is: as far as I know, the only thing ever required by our church to be baptized is that a person believe in the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit–as three distinct persons, but one God) and that Jesus was really all the way God and all the way man and He died on the cross to pay for people’s sins and was resurrected three days later. As far as I know no one in our church thinks that going to heaven takes anything more than believing these things. We are saved only by God’s grace through Jesus. It’s not by anything we can do, but only by what God has done.

    In order to become a member there are some statements that people are asked to agree with–such as the Bible really is God’s Word to people and that it is inerrant as it was originally inspired by the Holy Spirit, that Jesus was born without sin, that Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant with Jesus. The church also has some official stances on things, but people aren’t required to believe all of those in order to be members–just the “basics.”

    I have never experienced the kind of condemnation from people that it seems like you have seen in the place you used to fellowship. Although, I will say that once someone told me she didn’t think women should wear jeans to church, but I still do that anyway and figured if she didn’t like it, that was between her and God! I also had someone say something about not being able to understand how anyone could be depressed if they were thankful, and I just chalk that up to never really being around anyone who was truly depressed or having experienced legitimate depression. Both people that told me these things were nice people who lacked some understanding, I think. And I’m sure neither one of them would think salvation was dependent on not wearing jeans or never being depressed.

    Anyway, I don’t know if that answered your question satisfactorily or not. But I thank you for your honesty and vulnerability in sharing more of your story. And, I hope you don’t mind, but I am still praying for God to plug you in where ever He wants you!

    Happy Fourth!

  • Belle

    Afalston: I appreciate all that you wrote. Thanks so much. I don’t think that is too much to ask of people who want to be baptized or join your church. In fact, it makes me very happy to know there are churches like yours. May God bless you, Jeffrey and everyone at your church.

  • Jeffrey E. Miller

    Thank you both for weighing in so carefully. I’m not sure I have much to add to Ashley’s thorough responses. Although I don’t know you (Belle) personally, you seem to have a good grounding in the Bible and a heart that loves God. I do know Ashley, and she has painted a very accurate picture of our church and its requirements for baptism and membership.

    My original point about Jesus not accepting people unconditionally with no strings attached was directed at a certain type of misguided friendship evangelism. We all want to claim Jesus as our example for how we do ministry, but they take it too far. Jesus demanded a decision for Him; He invited people to follow Him. Unless they did, they would not be part of His kingdom on earth or in heaven. In other words, Jesus had an agenda: He wanted people to make the right decision and follow Him. This new brand of friendship evangelism acts like they don’t have such an agenda, and they are slow to communicate the Gospel–if they ever do.

    Jesus did not have a long list of requirements. But the one thing he demanded was pretty huge: Follow Me. That includes a change in one’s entire life direction, from the way you want to go to the way He wishes to lead you. The prerequisites are pretty simple: believe/receive/follow. The aftereffects are numerous and beautiful.

    I hope this helps to clarify my words. Again, thanks to you both for your tone and honesty. Belle, you can certainly worship at home alone, but corporate worship is so important. And I don’t do it because I enjoy it. I view church as a sanctification tool God can use to make me more like Christ–stretching me outside of my comfort zone.

    Blessings, Jeff

  • Belle

    Thanks, Jeff. I’m thinking you may be describing the emergent churches and I agree their teachings are not Biblical. I’ve read a lot about them lately and also communicated with a man online who says we can’t really understand the Bible – that the Bible we have now could be inaccurate so we can’t really know what to believe. I disagree with him and with the emergent church.

    Yes, Jesus does demand our complete surrender to him and the Father and you are right – the after effects are beautiful.

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