WILL THE REAL JESUS PLEASE STAND UP?
PART 1. (by Stephen Angliss)
Jesus just isn’t what he used to be. At least, not among Christians in our country. The identity of Jesus in American Christianity largely depends on who you ask. While many can rattle off orthodox statements heard from the pulpit about who Christ is, the role and personality American evangelicals project onto Jesus is varied. They find bits and pieces about Jesus they like, discard those they dislike, and fashion their very own “Jesus.” This Jesus tends to be whichever Christ is safe, convenient, and helpful for the individual’s life at the moment.
Here are four of the most popular versions of Jesus found in American churches.
1. Heirloom Jesus
Heirloom Jesus is doubtless the shallowest and, sadly, most common Jesus found in America. This Jesus was treasured by great-grandma and has been passed down generation by generation, but with increasingly less value. He might bring back great memories of times and persons gone by, but he’s no longer of practical use to the family. Heirloom Jesus is merely kept out of duty—like an old figurine on a dusty shelf. As a beloved figurine might be considered “part of the family,” so too is this Jesus. Those who’ve inherited him have no problem calling themselves “Christian,” because the name is embedded in the family identity: “To be a [last name] is to be a Christian.” Such folks attend church on Christmas and Easter, ensure their kids receive proper dedications and baptisms, and politely bow their heads before meals at the family reunion.
2. Political Jesus
Political Jesus is used to support arguments that are, well, largely political. Despite being leveraged by every side and faction, the whole picture of him is seldom seen. Like the disciples who followed Jesus in hopes of increased position and glory after his expected military feats (Mark 10:32–45), these Christians ride his coattails for their own advancement in politics and that ultimate court of opinion: Facebook.
This Jesus doesn’t so much represent God as He does the political beliefs of the individual. Politicians love to use this Jesus on the campaign trail, drawing on his reputation to win a demographic.
Pastors sometimes exploit this Jesus to drum up church attendance, using him to inspire the congregation by bemoaning the nation. Political Jesus supports the party, but not the body.
3. Insurance Agent Jesus
Insurance Agent Jesus can exist in the heart of true believers, but their spiritual growth is stunted by a need to feel safe. This Jesus is summoned exclusively during crisis. Like a good neighbor, this Jesus is there in the event of serious injury, terminal illness, job loss, divorce, or property loss.
He functions like an insurance agent. When things go wrong, he is just a prayer away. But when things go well, he is, like an insurance agent, largely forgotten. This is not Prosperity Gospel Jesus; Insurance Agent Jesus doesn’t offer prosperity, but reassures with a sense of safety. Many Christians will gladly announce they can go without a new BMW or lake house. But once the safety net has been removed, the house foreclosed, or the child lost, boasts of faith are shattered as they run to find the Bible left on the car floor from Sunday. They flip through the pages, hoping to find the right words to pray.
Insurance Agent Jesus is worshiped fervently and wholeheartedly—but only for a short time. When the season of trouble has passed, personal devotion goes with it, and the follower of this Jesus falls back into his or her old religious routine.
4. Therapist Jesus
Therapist Jesus is the most popular—and most handicapping—version of Jesus in the American church. Here one is urged to put trust in Jesus, not due to a need for forgiveness of sin but due to emotional turmoil.
Therapist Jesus lives to make you feel better. He is a homeboy, a friend in the storm. Are you depressed? Does your life feel meaningless? This Jesus is here to soothe.
Now, it is a true and precious promise that Christ will never leave nor forsake his children. Those who follow Therapist Jesus, however, misprioritize these comforting promises and forget that Jesus came first to remove the condemnation of sin. They aren’t concerned with living a holy life without the vice of sin, only a happy one. Therapist Jesus provides a shoulder to cry on, not a Savior to believe in. He functions like a motivational bumper sticker.
And Therapist Jesus sells books at high-volume rates.
So many cling to Therapist Jesus. Though patients in need of a surgeon, they prefer a masseur. They need to be cut but want to be coddled. They cling to the other models of Jesus for similar, self-focused reasons.
The Real Jesus
The Jesus of the Bible didn’t come merely to make us feel better. He came to make us better.
But he came first to deliver us from our sins (Mat. 1:21).
The pain we feel, hurt we endure, and trials we face are all real, and he comforts us amid them all. But they’re symptoms, and a good doctor tells his patients that symptoms are warning signs. It’s foolish, then, to seek a God who medicates the symptoms but dismisses the danger. Better to worship the God who removes the danger first.
On the cross, Christ finished the surgery to remove the tumor of sin from his people. The cuts on his back and punctures in his side provide healing for the sin-afflicted. This is the Jesus we must treasure. This is the Jesus we must obey. He looks at us in love and says, “This is going to hurt, but don’t fear; I’ve borne the pain for you.”
PART 2. (by John Aziza)
The best way to safeguard against the counterfeit Christ types of our day is to study the life and actions of the real Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures. Only this will sufficiently acquaint us with the attributes and qualities that made Jesus so special.
The following are the character traits of Jesus that are clearly displayed in the gospels.
Loving & Compassionate
Jesus was aware that those who came to Him were vulnerable and helpless, “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mat. 9:36). Thought He could have, He never exploited any of His followers for gain. Instead, being filled with compassion, He healed their diseases (Mat. 14:14; 20:34); taught them the way of salvation; and when they were hungry, produced enough food to feed more than 5,000 (Mat. 15:32). While Christ’s love is expressed throughout the Gospels, the story of Lazarus offers a profound look into His emotions and feelings. Notice:
…now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus… Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died… Jesus wept…. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! (Jn. 11:5; 32; 35; 36).
Even though Jesus knew that He would soon resurrect Lazarus, he was moved with great emotion when beholding Martha and Mary’s grief. And just like us, Jesus shed tears and wept openly. Clearly, Christ Jesus was not awkward about expressing His love at the emotional level also.
Serious & Focused
Christ lived with a singular purpose. His mission was to save mankind. Therefore, He was serious, motivated, and very focused. He refused to be sidetracked from His mission, knowing the magnitude of His work and the little time left Him (Lk. 2:49; 4:43; 13:33).
Servant & Selfless
Jesus regarded Himself as a servant. He did not come to be served, but rather to serve mankind (Mk. 10:45; Jn. 13:14).
Jesus was not a rebel. Indeed, His entire life can be summed up in one word—obedience. His complete submission to His Father meant that He was perfect and without sin. Jesus obeyed His Father by leaving heaven to live on earth as a man. He knew that dying on the cross was the only way to secure our salvation and so He submitted Himself to His Father's plan despite the intense suffering it would require. On the night of His betrayal, Jesus prayed the following: O my father, if it be possible, take this cup of suffering from Me: nevertheless not what I will, but as thou wilt (Mat. 26:39). This simple prayer is perhaps the best illustration of Christ's submissive nature.
Christ was also fully submitted to all of His earthly authorities such as His parents and government leaders (Luk. 2:51; Mat. 17:27). Because of this, Jesus is our supreme example of obedience.
Merciful & Forgiving
While hanging on the cross in deep agony, Jesus cried out: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luk. 23:34). This plea was made on behalf of those who were directly responsible for His murder. Such an act of forgiveness is rare, but Christ was the first to display it. Even today, Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father to make intercession for us: Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them (Heb. 7:25).
Our Savior offers mercy and forgiveness to any who would simply confess their faults before Him: if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9).
Christ always spoke the truth even if it offended the Pharisees and eventually cost Him His life. Therefore, He alone is qualified to lead us on the path of supreme truth: I am the way, the truth, and the life... (Jn 14:6).
The life and ministry of Jesus are full of examples illustrating His profound devotion to prayer. Clearly, prayer was of supreme importance to our Savior:
And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone (Mat. 14:23).
Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder (Mat. 26:36).
And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God (Luk. 6:12).
When Jesus was angered by the moneychangers and those who were buying and selling in the temple, He boldly rebuked them: It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you have made it a robbers den! (Mat. 21:13). In fact, during this one occasion Jesus even used a whip to drive out those who were violating the law by turning the temple into a “house of merchandise” (Jn. 2:13-16). It would seem the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” that we often hear about was out of character in this example....or was He??? It is clear that Jesus was not a weak or timid leader and when necessary, knew how to boldly exercise rebuke and discipline.
Jesus exercised great patience with those who were helpless and small in their own eyes. But He was intolerant toward any with a self-righteous and “holier than thou” attitude, which characterized the Pharisees of His day. Any who seek Christ with a humble heart will be rewarded with the same unfailing patience: The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some understand slowness but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).
WHAT DID JESUS DO?
Christians often pose the question, “what would Jesus do?” But perhaps we should turn this question around and ask, “what did Jesus do?” You see, the Bible offers enough information about Christ's life that we can know exactly what Jesus would do because of what He did do. So what are the things Jesus did which our modern culture has conveniently ignored?
For a start, most of Christ’s activity was spent in teaching His disciples the perfect way of salvation. He preached against sin and did not make Himself popular with the political or religious establishment of His day. Those who found themselves condemned by His message were the usual hypocrites and impostors who then devised ways to kill Him. Yet while Jesus rebuked the evil actions of the Pharisees, He comforted the sinners and gave them the means necessary to be set free from their sinful habits. As a result, we can analyze Christ’s attitude and actions based on His interaction with either the Pharisees or the sinners. His relationship with these two groups reveals the most about His life and teachings.
JESUS & STERN REPROOF
What was Jesus like in His communication with others? Was He soft-spoken and reserved, mild, formal? Was He diplomatic and extra careful not to “step on any toes” or offend anyone? Not at all! Jesus was not a timid man. In fact, Christ was a bold communicator and spoke in a manner that was frank and direct. He refused to “beat around the bush” or mince His words. He expressed His views openly, even if at times it seemed inappropriate or out of place. As a result, many were offended by Him. And His dialogue with the Pharisees was a good indication of it. Just notice these verses:
And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner. And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? ….. But woe unto you, Pharisees! ….Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! (Lk. 11:37-46).
Sadly, the modern church is more concerned about offending people than about turning them away from eternal destruction. We are cautioned not to sound too condemning or judgmental lest we hurt someone's feelings. But while it’s wrong to fault find or nitpick another person's actions in the wrong spirit and a self righteous attitude, the Bible encourages us to gently reprove those who are backsliding in their faith: Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful (Pro. 27:6).
In fact, according to the Bible, there are times when stern reproof is necessary, and especially so with those who are aware of their sin, but refuse to repent of it. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees when necessary, as demonstrated previously, and the New Testament Church is required to do the same. Notice the following Scriptures:
Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear (1 Tim. 5:20).
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Tim. 4:2).
This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith (Tit. 1:13).
These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee (Tit. 2:15).
So why is biblical reproof missing from most Churches today? Is it because we have misunderstood Christ’s instruction about judging others (Mat 7:1-3)? Is this the reason why we have eliminated nearly all forms of corrective discipline? Frankly, I believe so. I believe that a gross misunderstanding of Matthew 7:3 is at the heart of this problem.
But did Jesus truly condemn all forms of judgment or have we failed to grasp the meaning of His teaching on this matter? Here is a scripture to help answer this question: Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment (Jn. 7:24). Clearly, Jesus was not opposed to people using prudent judgment. Instead, He was opposed to people casting judgment unfairly based on external appearances or personal bias. So as long as we judge the actions of others fairly and without partiality, we can be sure that we are exercising “righteous judgement”.
WHAT JESUS WAS NOT
Because Christ’s character was flawless, everything He said and did was good and wholesome. But what are some characteristics that would be antithetical to His perfect nature? It's good for us to consider this question so that we may avoid falling victim to poor character.
The following are some examples of the character traits that were never present in the life of Jesus:
Proud and Boastful
Jesus was a humble man. He never bragged about His fame or success in order to amaze people: Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls (Mat. 11:29). The opposite is true in Christendom today. Too many of us like to parade our achievements around in order to provoke the respect and admiration of others. Perhaps this is the root cause underlying the failure of many churches and ministries. Once men fall into pride, God is forced to humble them (Prov. 16:18).
Preachers today are afraid to confront sin in the Church. They realize their popularity rankings would drop in a hurry if they rebuked sin or preached against it. They are too fearful to compel people to live a repentant and holy lifestyle. So instead, they condone and approve of the actions of the world. They glaze over sin issues as though they were trivial and insignificant. Such incompetent behavior is no different than applying a band-aid over a festering wound, or what the Bible describes as a superficial healing: They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace (Jer. 6:14).
But what about Jesus? Was He fearful of men? Not at all! He was not afraid to confront people’s evil actions or condemn them openly. If Christ is truly our example, then why do we cringe before men? Why do we avoid speaking out against sin?
Casual, Entertaining, and Clownish
Christ's ministry was never casual. He never clowned around or played “Mr. Funny Guy” with His disciples. And He never engaged in anything that was trivial or frivolous. On the contrary, Jesus lived with a singular vision and sober determination. His style of ministry was intense and filled with purpose. He wasn't seeking to entertain people; He was seeking to save them.
Today, Christians attend church to see entertaining performances. Preachers are expected to assume the role of stand-up comedian every Sunday and to elicit laughter from their congregants. The pulpit is no longer used to convict people; it's used to entertain them. This is the sad state of modern “christianity”. Those who are supposed to represent Christ to the world are nothing at all like Him.
According to the Scriptures, Christians should avoid foolish speech and excess jesting, and especially so within the Church. The following scriptures remind us of this:
Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks (Eph. 5:4).
Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ (Phip. 1:27).
Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober (1Th. 5:6).
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation (1Th. 5:8).
That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience (Tit. 2:2).
That they may teach the young women to be sober… (Tit. 2:4).
Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded (Tit. 2:6).
Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober… (1Pe. 1:13).
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1Pe. 5:8).
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil (Eph. 5:16).
Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time (Col. 4:5).
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment (Ecc. 11:9).
If there is one word that fits least with Christ's character, it's probably the word compromise. Jesus came to “rock the boat” and “stir the waters” (Mat. 10:34). He was intolerant toward any hypocrisy and soothsaying, and was unwilling to compromise with evil. Indeed, He was the perfect rebel, in so much as He came to spark the fires of revolution and overthrow satan's kingdom. How anxious He was to see His peaceful uprising sweep the world: I am come to send fire on the earth; and how I wish that it be already kindled! (Luk. 12:49).
A Lover of Fame and Money
Our Jesus was never drawn after fame and money. Instead, He earned men's scorn and ridicule, and eventually center place on Calvary’s hill. In contrast, many modern day preachers are often celebrities in their own right. They are well admired for possessing enough eloquence to downplay the Gospel message, making it non-abrasive and palatable. With their vain promises and counterfeit gospel they attract the masses. But they have little regard for their flocks and far more concern for their hefty salaries. The Scriptures warn us about such men:
For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple…Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake…walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men's persons in admiration because of advantage (Rom. 16:18, Tit. 1:11, Jude 1:16).
And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces… For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God… Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake… Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake (Mar. 12:38; Jn. 12:43; Mat. 5:11; Luk. 6:22).
There's simply no hint that Jesus was ever power hungry. He never used intimidation or manipulation to control His followers. Nor did He attempt to assert Himself as their dictator. All too often, spiritual leaders will try to coerce their followers into obedience by employing certain psychological techniques such as “guilt trips”. These kind of leaders merely wish to control their members and to defend their position of authority. Leaders who thrive on power and control usually exemplify the following traits:
1. They operate within a hierarchy in order to prohibit the same level of freedom from lower ranking members.
2. They appear threatened when others step in to lend some measure of spiritual support, feeling it is in conflict with their “interests”.
3. They isolate their members from outside influence and form cloistered groups with an exclusive theology aimed at protecting their selfish ambitions.
4. They twist God's Word and use it to inspire fear in any that refuse to submit to their authority.
If you recognize any of these traits in the leadership of your Church then you are probably victim to an abusive form of church authority. It is good for you to get out from under such authority and to seek a Church where the principles of equality and servanthood are put into practice. Jesus warned us not to practice hierarchical or political rule over others. Instead, we are to serve our fellow Brethren. The following New Testament scriptures adequately address this issue:
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant (Mat. 20:25-27).
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock…Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility (1 Pe. 5:2-5).
I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not (3 Jn. 1:9).
And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage (Gal. 2:4).
Preaching the “Broadway Gospel”
Many “christians” prefer to be told that they can live in sin and still make it to heaven so long as they have asked Christ into their hearts and prayed the "sinner's prayer". This popular message is known as the doctrine of eternal security or “once saved always saved”. Eternal security is a potently attractive false teaching that seems to be especially popular in America. Surprisingly, even some conservative churches are gradually succumbing to its influence. There is a spiritual stronghold at work called “easy believism” and it’s slowly overtaking the church and any “who love not the truth” (Rom 1:28; 2 Thes 2:12).
But Jesus never preached a “broadway gospel”. In fact, He explicitly warned against it: Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat (Mat 7:13).
You see, the real Gospel involves suffering and self-denial. And it involves "carrying our cross daily":
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me (Mat 16:24).
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (Jn 16:33).
Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Act 14:22).
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Ti 3:12).
So these are the unique qualities that made Jesus so exceptional and caused many to be drawn to Him. Because Jesus lived such a perfect life, He set a very high standard. Even so, all of us are expected to follow His example. The things that drew people to Jesus should be the very same things that draw people to us today. By empowering us with the Holy Spirit, God made it possible to overcome sin so that we can be conformed to the character of His Son (Romans 8:29). But this will only happen once we submit to the real Jesus, as LORD of the universe, not the imaginary "christ" of modern culture.