Orthodoxy on the person of Christ isn’t a guarantee of true, biblical fidelity. You can sign off on Nicea and the Chalcedonian definition, publicly denounce the biggie heresies like Docetism (Jesus wasn’t really human) and Ebionitism (Jesus wasn’t really God), and still miss the Jesus of the Gospels. In his very helpful book on spiritual warfare, Clinton Arnold lists 12 versions of Jesus we’re prone to fall for in the “conservative” North American church, which distort our thinking and rob us a full and vital life of discipleship with Jesus Christ:
- The Jesus without a body: there are plenty of Christian individualists who feel no need to be connected or accountable to the body of Christ. These are people who are “fingers” or “eyeballs” and prefer floating about doing their thing in a disembodied state.
- The Jesus who is far, far away: this is the view held by Christians who practically conceive of Christ as so remote from their life issues that they focus only on sharing their griefs and discussing their problems without any meaningful attempt to draw on Christ’s strength.
- The Jesus superseded by angels: Jesus is so austere, demanding and inaccessible that it is better to get in contact with our guardian angels. They watch out for us and are right there to help us if we should call on them.
- The Rambo Jesus: Jesus is blowing away the devil all over the place right now in his victorious church. All we have to do is use his name to tear down anything that gets in our way. This “commando Christology” sees the devil behind every bush.
- The healthy, wealthy Jesus: Jesus wants us all to kick back and enjoy all this life has to offer. With enough faith, we can claim for ourselves enormous wealth and freedom from illness. I will never forget when my wife was becoming acquainted with a new co-worker at the time when I was finishing seminary. When my wife mentioned to this lady that I was preparing for ministry, the young lady retorted, “Wow, you guys are gonna be rich. My pastor has two Mercedes and…”
- The Jesus who is my pal: Jesus is a cool friend who makes me feel real good about myself. This view ignores the fact that the Spirit of Jesus comes to bring conviction about patterns of sinful behavior and to promote holiness and integrity in our lives. It also minimizes Jesus’ identity as the transcendent God, Creator of heaven and earth, worthy of worship, honor, and profound respect.
- The Jesus who did not suffer: Although the New Testament says that “since Christ suffered, arm yourselves also with the same attitude” (1 Peter 4:1), there is a great segment of Christianity that thinks all suffering is from the devil. We must remember that we live in the present evil age. Suffering and evil are awful facts of life until Christ returns and once and for all deals decisively with the problem of evil and brings his people into the full experience of the kingdom of God. Until then, we do not seek suffering. Ye when we encounter hardships, we have access to the strength, peace, and joy of Christ can give even in the midst of suffering.
- The Jesus with no mission: this is the view of Jesus that holds that he entrusted his people with no task around which to unite themselves, commit their resources, and work. Jesus essentially came to provide forgiveness of sins, for which we are to be grateful and get on with our lives.
- The Jesus with no heart: Jesus had no social conscience and was unmoved by the plight of the poor, the oppressed, and the outcasts of society.
- The Jesus who did not die for all our sins: there are some Christians who believe that they will definitely pay for some of the bad things they have done. I have had more than one person tell me, “Clint, you just don’t know some of the things I’ve done. Jesus could not possibly forgive me for that. I’ll pay for it.” Satan wants nothing more than make Christians believe this lie. Unfortunately, I am convinced that many Christians do secretly believe it. This awful stronghold needs to be torn down with the truth of Colossians 2:14 “He forgave us all our sins.”
- The unforgiving Jesus: Jesus is so stern and severe that he does not easily forgive. When he looks at me, he recoils at the sight of my filth.
- The Jesus who does not discipline: at the other end of the spectrum are those who believe they can entangle themselves in sin with minimal consequences. They emphasize the love and grace of the Lord Jesus to the exclusion of his discipline of believers who err and fall into sin. Jesus counseled the mediocre church of Laodicea, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent” (Rev. 3:19)
-Clinton Arnold, 3 Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare, pp. 67-68
We need to be on guard against these distortions, any of which will seriously harm our ability to know, love, and follow Jesus.
One more good reason to read your Bible.
Soli Deo Gloria