What Every Christian Must Know about Jesus Christ

Volume 29, Issue 5, July 2023

by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher Southern View Chapel

Returning to Ligonier and LifeWay Research 2022 survey of “The State of Theology,” we discover that to the question: “Is Jesus the first and greatest of beings created by God?”, amazingly, only 50% of evangelicals agree. This means that up to half of evangelicals believe Jesus is a created being. To the statement “Jesus was a great teacher but not God,” 43% of evangelicals agreed, which is up from 30% in 2020.[1] These are disturbing numbers given that only about 7% of Americans are considered evangelicals. But if half of this 7% believes Jesus was created by God (the heresy known as Arianism), and if 43% do not think He is God, the percentage of evangelicals has just radically sprung a leak.

What has happened to evangelicalism? Going back to the 1970s when the consumer church was birthed, many well-intentioned Christian leaders determined that the only way to reach the “turned on, tuned in, and drop out” generation of the 1960s and 1970s was to offer them a form of Christianity that fit their lifestyle, desires, and taste in music and amusement. A new type of evangelism, based on meeting felt needs rather than the biblical gospel, was born, and as more people seemed to respond, this philosophy became dominant in many churches. Such churches structured their preaching and teaching around therapeutic topics, such as how to feel better about ourselves, self-help, and often some form of the prosperity gospel. After all, every survey said this is what interested contemporary Christians and what would attract them to church. This type of Christianity has become termed “moralistic, therapeutic, deism,” because it aims to help people be better by saturating them with psychological philosophies and involving God in their lives only at moments of great need or crisis.

More recently, church ministries have shifted to emphasize community and away from Bible teaching, theology, and learning biblical truth in general. This is evident in the structure of many churches wrapped around a big weekend “event” or gathering, and small groups.  And while small groups are helpful for community they are a bad place for instruction and learning.[2]

With weekend services geared toward the unbeliever, entertainment, and amusement, and small groups aiming at community or fellowship, there was little place left for teaching the great truths of Scripture and Christian doctrine. In time there existed little appetite for solid Bible teaching. Give people some great music and a good show and a bit of fellowship, and most are satisfied. It was predictable that biblical illiteracy would become an epidemic, and it has. And this spiritual anemia is not just “too bad” it is deadly to the souls of individuals and destructive to churches across our land.

The bottom line is that we now have evangelical Christians who do not understand even the basics of biblical truth. These evangelicals claim to love God, but it is delusional to think you love someone you do not know. Our subject in this article is Jesus Christ. What is it that we must know about Jesus Christ? We could examine many biblical texts and truths, but we will limit our focus to a few.

He Is God (John 1:1-3)

John begins his Gospel by talking to us about the Word or the logos. To the Jews the logos was a word describing deity; to the Greeks, it spoke of the power source behind the universe; and to all mankind, it speaks of communication. What does John communicate to us about the logos, whom he identifies as Jesus in verse 14? He highlights three truths.

He Is Eternal (“In the Beginning Was the Word”)

You no doubt already know this. Everybody knows that the Son has always existed, that He was never created; or do they? Apparently, half of today’s evangelicals are not so sure. Did you know that the church has had to deal with several major heresies on this very issue, the most important of which was Arianism?[3] In AD 325, at the council of Nicaea, a man named Arius said that the Son had not existed from all eternity but was created by God prior to the creation of the universe.  Therefore, the Son was not equal to the Father because He was different in essence and substance from the Father. Arius considered Him divine but not deity, God but not fully God. Athanasius, another important fourth-century theologian, saw that Scripture taught that the Son had existed from all eternity with the Father and was co-equal, coeternal, and of the same essence as the Father.  For these views (which later were accepted at Nicaea) he suffered exile five times by the church before his death.

Although Arianism was declared heretical in the fourth century, it is the belief today of the Unitarian and many liberal churches, as well as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and most cults. Sadly, it lives on, even among evangelicals as we have seen.  But what does God say through John?  He says, “In the beginning was the Word.”  Literally, this could be translated as, “When the beginning began, the Word was already there.”[4] This means that He was before all else, even before time itself.  But it means more.  The term rendered “beginning” can also denote “origin.”  Not only was He before all things, but He was also the origin of all things. There never was a time when the Word was not. And there is absolutely nothing that does not depend on Him for its very existence (as John 1:3 confirms).

He Was with God

This could be translated, as “And the Word was face to face with God.” That is, He was in the closest possible fellowship with the Father. How do you like it when someone gets in your space? It is uncomfortable, but not for a couple in love. A special fellowship is implied when people are face to face.  So it is with the Father and the logos

He Was God

There is only one God, according to Scripture (Deut. 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:4). Yet, John informs us that not only was the logos with God; He was God. What gives? Here we are introduced to the doctrine of the Trinity: that there is one God who exists in three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Each is co-eternal, co-equal, the same in substance but with different functions and ministries, as the Nicene Creed proclaims. Why is this important?  Because only One who is God is capable of saving us from our sins (John 1:12 – “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name”).

He Is Man (John 1:14)

Two important pieces of information are given to us in this verse concerning the first coming of Christ.

“The Word Became Flesh” or what We Call the Incarnation

John bounces back to the thoughts and context of verse one, where for the final time in all of the Bible Jesus is called “the logos.” He wants us to focus one more time on this important theme. The verb “became” has a very special meaning. He did not become something else, in the sense of ceasing what He was before. This is important, for at no time did Christ cease being God. The Word became flesh but did not cease being the Word. In some inexplicable way at the incarnation, Christ became totally man without ceasing to be totally God. The word “flesh” refers to human nature, as well as a physical body, which in Christ’s case was not sinful. But as a human, He, for the first time, experienced the effects of sin so that He was tired, felt pain, hungered, was tempted, and died.  God cannot die, but as a man Jesus did. He was truly human, yet fully God. The great God/Man. We don’t have to fully grasp the incarnation to believe it and adore it.

“And Dwelt among Us”

“Dwelt” means “to pitch a tent, or to tabernacle.”  While it may include the idea of a temporary visit, John probably had something else in mind as well. The place of worship during the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness, the place where God’s presence was localized, was in the Tabernacle. It is clear that John wants us to consider the Tabernacle from the immediate reference to glory, for the glory of God was associated with the Tabernacle (see Exod. 40:34, 35, 38). “Glory” in the Old Testament involved respect and dignity exhibited in external splendor. “The glory of the Lord” is a technical designation for the Lord’s manifest presence with His people (Exod. 16:7).[5] In the New Testament, it means honor and splendor. Thus, when the New Testament authors speak of the glory of God, they speak of His splendor and majesty. In the Old Testament, God’s glory was something that would appear occasionally, usually in the form of a cloud. That glory is now being revealed in the Word (logos) made flesh—Jesus Christ.

The glory of the Lord in Jewish writings came to be linked with the “Shekinah,” a word that means “dwelling,” i.e., God’s dwelling among His people. All the days of tabernacling in the OT had been transitory or incomplete; all are fulfilled and superseded by the Word made flesh and dwelling among us. This is the great point. What had been hinted at and even realized in a dim, incomplete fashion earlier, was perfectly fulfilled in the Word made flesh. So, Christ brings to fulfillment all the OT shadows. The Tabernacle could contain the glory of God in a limited way, but Christ demonstrated to mankind the fullness of God’s glory in human form since He was God Himself. And the content of this glory is grace and truth; grace to reach out to sinful humanity in love and redemption, and truth to inform them that He is the very essence of life itself.

D.A. Carson wrote of an Islamic friend during his days at a secular university in Canada. Their dialogue went like this, beginning with Carson’s Muslim friend:

“You believe that the Holy Spirit is God?”

“Yes.”

“So if you have one God plus one God plus one God, how many gods do you have?”

            I was studying chemistry, not theology. How was I supposed to answer that? The best I could do was say, “Listen, if you are going to use a mathematical model, then let me choose the branch of mathematics. Let’s talk about infinities. Infinity plus infinity plus infinity equals what? Infinity. I serve an infinite God.”

            He laughed good-naturedly. That was the level of our discussion and friendship. About November it suddenly dawned on me that he had never read the Christian Bible. He did not own one; he had never held one in his hands. So I bought him a Bible. He asked, “Where do I start?”

            He did not know how it was put together. He did not know about the Old Testament and the New Testament: he did not know about the Gospels. And I did not know what to suggest to him. So I said, “Well, why don’t you start with John’s Gospel?” I showed him where it was, right after Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

            Coming, as he did, from Asia, he did not read books the way I would read a book. (How many pages can I get through tonight? The more the better!) No, he had a style of reading that proceeded slowly with many pauses for reflection, rereading, and wondering. And the passage he was beginning to think about was John’s prologue.

            That Christmas I brought him home to my parent’s home, who at that point lived on the French side of our capital city, Ottawa, in a place called Hull. It transpired that my father had heart problems, and my mother and I spent most of our time in the hospital. My dear friend Muhammad was largely left on his own. By the end of that Christmas break, Dad was recovering nicely, so I asked to borrow the car so I could take Muhammad to see some of the sights in the capital city. We went here and there, and we ended up at our Parliament buildings. In those days there was much less security than there is now. We joined one of the guided tours—thirty of us being led around the buildings—to the rotunda at the rear where the library is, to the Senate chambers, to the House of Commons, to the rogues’ gallery of Canadian prime ministers from Sir John A. McDonald down, and so forth.

            We finally returned to the central foyer, which is circled by some large pillars. At the top of each pillar is a little fresco where there is a figure, and the guide explained, as he pointed from one figure to the next, “There is Aristotle, for government must be based on knowledge. There is Socrates, for government must be based on wisdom. There is Moses, for government must be based on law.” He went all the way around. Then he asked, “Any questions?”

            My friend piped up, “Where is Jesus Christ?”

            The guide did what guides do under such circumstances. They simply say, “I beg your pardon?”

            So Muhammad did what foreigners do under such circumstances. They assume that they have been misunderstood because of their thick accent, so he articulated his question more clearly and more loudly: “Where is Jesus Christ?”

            Now there were three groups in the foyer of the Canadian Parliament listening to a Pakistani Muslim ask where Jesus was. I was looking for a crack in the ground to fall into. I had no idea where this was coming from.

            Muhammad looked shocked. Picking up a line from the Bible verses he had been reading, he said, “I read in the Christian Bible that the law was given through Moses but that grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Where is Jesus Christ?”

            The guide said, “I don’t know anything about that.”

            And I muttered under my breath, “Preach it, brother.”

            Do you see how it looked to Muhammad? He was a Muslim. He understood about a God who has laws, who has standards, who brings terror, who sits in judgment over you, a God who is sovereign and holy and powerful. He understood all of that. But he had already been captured by Jesus, full of grace and truth, who displays his glory profoundly in the cross and becomes the meeting place between God and sinners because he dies the sinner’s death.[6]

He Is Our Savior (Mark 10:45)

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Speaking in the most general of terms, to be our Savior and ransom us from sin, Jesus needed to do three things:

Die in Our Place (1 Corinthians 15:3)

That Jesus died is a historical fact, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” There are few people, no matter how skeptical, who will deny that. But why He died is a matter of much speculation. Scripture says that He was the God/Man who died for our sins. The word “for” here means “on behalf of.” He died on behalf of our sins to remove them. In other words, Christ died in our place. He paid our price; He became our substitute so that we might not have to pay the penalty for our sin. A familiar story illustrates this concept:

A missionary by the name of Don Richardson had spent the best years of his life learning the Sawi language and training to reach for Christ a cannibalistic, head-hunting people of Western New Guinea, Indonesia.

So twisted was the Sawi mindset of treachery and duplicity that when Richardson told them the story of Jesus’s death, they saw Judas as the hero and applauded the account of Christ’s betrayal! Try as he might, Richardson could find no way to bring the good news to this tribe in such a way that it would penetrate their dark minds. After watching fourteen vengeance-driven blood baths outside his front door, Richardson was ready to pack it in and painfully conclude that he had located a people who were beyond reach. Surely, here was a people in whose hearts there was no echo of eternity, a culture so darkened that not even a scent of searching could be seen in their souls.

Richardson decided to give up, but shortly before he was to abandon his work, he saw something that changed everything, including those he came to help. In an elaborate ceremony, a Sawi chief took his own infant son and presented his child to the enemy chief. This “peace child” ensured reconciliation between the warring tribes and established a lasting relationship that would not be breached in their lifetimes. Seizing the obvious parallels to the gospel, Richardson proclaimed to them God’s “peace child” and the loving heart of their Creator, who gave His Son to be reconciled to each of them. Did it matter? Would they even care? That single analogy opened the way for entire villages and families among the Sawi to express their long-suppressed desire to know the God who made the world around them. The tribal people converted en masse, first tens, then hundreds, then thousands. The largest circular building in the world today is in western Indonesia where those who found eternity in God’s “peace child” gather to worship.[7]

The “peace child” encounter of Christ was used by the Lord to open the eyes of these primitive people to the fact that in Christ’s death, He took our sins and gave us His righteousness. This leads us to the question of what must we believe to appropriate Christ’s death in a salvific way?

  • First, that we are sinners. Not just that we do wrong things. Everyone admits that. But that we have rebelled against God.
  • Second, we are helpless. There is nothing that we can do to earn salvation.
  • Next, Christ did for us what we could never do for ourselves.  He took our sins upon Himself.
  • Finally, He offers us the gift of forgiveness, which can only be received by faith alone.

Rise from the Dead (1 Corinthians 15:4)

“And that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” I imagine that many of us when we present the gospel plan do not even mention the resurrection, but it is an essential part of the message. Why? Because without the resurrection, there is no gospel, for there is no good news. What would be good news about a man who claimed to be God dying on a cross? That would be tragic. But the good news was that Jesus did what no other man had ever done before—He conquered death. What is even better is that He has promised to give us the same ability. We too can conquer death. Now that is good news. I like a little story that illustrates the significance of the resurrection.

Little Philip, born with Down’s syndrome, attended a third-grade Sunday school class with several eight-year-old boys and girls. Typical of that age, the children did not readily accept Philip with his differences. But because of a creative teacher, they began to care about Philip and accept him as part of the group, though not fully.

One year on the Sunday after Easter, the teacher brought Legg’s pantyhose containers, the kind that looks like large eggs. Each receiving one, the children were told to go outside on that lovely spring day, find some symbol for new life, and put it in the egg-like container. Back in the classroom, they would share their new-life symbols, opening the containers one by one in surprise fashion. After running about the church property in wild confusion, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table.

Surrounded by the children, the teacher began to open them one by one. After each one, whether a flower, butterfly, or leaf, the class would ooh and ahh. Then one was opened, revealing nothing inside. The children exclaimed, “That’s stupid. That’s not fair. Somebody didn’t do their assignment.”

Philip spoke up, “That’s mine.”

“Philip, you don’t ever do things right!” a student retorted. “There’s nothing there!”

“I did so do it,” Philip insisted. “I did do it. It’s empty. The tomb was empty!”

Silence followed. From then on Philip became a full member of the class. He died not long afterward from an infection most normal children would have shrugged off. At the funeral, this class of eight-year-olds marched up to the altar not with flowers, but with their Sunday school teacher, each to lay on it an empty pantyhose egg.

Plead Our Case (Hebrews 7:25)

“Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Christ has now been exalted to the right hand of the Father, which is a way of saying He has returned to His place of glory and authority. What is He doing there, that is, what is His present ministry? Among other things, He is interceding for our salvation. The reason that He is able to save all those who draw near to God is that He has become the link between us and the Father. “No man comes to the Father but through Him,” He told His disciples in John 14:6.

He Is Coming Again (John 14:1-3)

Picture a man who, out of necessity, has moved away from his family to another part of the world. While gone, he has built a beautiful house, far nicer than they lived in before.  Finally, the man returns to pick up his family and take them to their new home. What a glorious thing that new home will be. But even more glorious will be the reuniting of the family. The wife and children do not want the new house as much as they want the man to come to them. In John 14:3 (“If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”), Jesus does not emphasize bringing them to their new home; He emphasizes bringing them to Himself. Our new home is a fringe benefit in comparison to being with Christ forever.

When Jesus comes for us, He does not just impersonally gather us up and dump us off at our new homes. Rather He is gathering us to Himself; He wants us to be with Him. Everyone knows that a house does not make a home—it is the ones who are in the home who make the difference. Our joy in eternity will not come primarily from our blissful surroundings but from our wonderful fellowship with the Savior.

Conclusion

Isaac Watts wrote the hymn “Joy to the World” as a paraphrase of Psalm 98, and he published it in his Psalms of David Imitated (1719) under the heading “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.” Traditionally we sing this hymn at Christmas time, but Watts had in mind the return of Christ for His children at the end of the age. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!”[8] Christ will come for us one day, and we who know Him will all cry out, “Joy to the world.”


[1] Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research survey, research.lifeway.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Ligionier-State-of-Theology-2022-Full-Report.pdf.

[2] See J. T. English, Deep Discipleship: How the Church Can Make Whole Disciples of Jesus (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2020), pp. 77-85, 95.

[3] Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), pp. 142-145.

[4] Merrill C. Tenney, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 9 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), p. 29.

[5] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Word (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), pp. 289-290.

[6] D.A. Carson, The God Who Was There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010), pp. 118-119.

[7] As told, with some modifications, by James MacDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs For (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook), pp. 42-44.

[8] Curtis H. Tucker, Majestic Destiny: Kingdom Hope Is Rising (Redmond, OR: Last Chapter Publishing, 2011), p. 253.

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