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Life Theology

I’m not sure Jesus is God! What do I do?

“I’m not sure Jesus is God! What do I do?” Perhaps you have heard this from a friend, or even said it yourself. It’s a legitimate concern and question that deserves a legitimate answer. It does no good to answer, “Well, the Bible says so, so you better believe it.”

If we’re honest, there are a lot more people inside our churches who deal with this than we want to believe. How can we help others (or ourselves!) when this issue comes up?

This past week, I preached from Luke 22:66-71. The passage centers on the beginning of Jesus’ trial with the Jews. Is Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (and consequently God in the flesh)? That’s what the Jews want to know. But they weren’t looking for information. They wanted incriminating evidence. The Jews didn’t want to acknowledge Jesus’ divinity and messiahship because he wasn’t the kind of God and Messiah they wanted. Jesus flips the table and turns the Jews’ accusation into an unwitting confession. So, what’s really going on is that Luke (and ultimately the Holy Spirit) wants us to see that it’s the Jews who are on trial, not Jesus. And it’s Jesus who is the Judge, not the Jews.

After the sermon, a visiting college student came up to me and asked what he can do in his struggle to figure out whether or not Jesus is God. He said he’s been a Christian for a long time. He goes to a Christian college. Yet he identified with the Jews and said he feels like he’s been putting Jesus on trial. It was difficult for him, I’m sure, to come up to a pastor he had never met who is convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is God. But I’m happy he did. It showed me that 1) God is working in his life; 2) he is humble enough to ask for help; and 3) he has a soft heart and wants to figure this out rather than take the easy road and dismiss Jesus’ divinity altogether.

So I told him to do four things (they’re a bit more refined here):

  • Acknowledge and embrace your doubts, but don’t settle there. Wrestle with them; work through them. It does you no good to suppress and ignore them. Anyone who says you should never have doubts is crazy. That’s not possible. You’re a sinful human! Use these doubts to get to the bottom of what’s going on in your heart in order to move closer to God. Doubts, like all trials, are meant to refine faith, not stifle it. Suppressing doubts, hiding behind them, or cradling them will only move you further from God.
  • Continually open up the Bible, read, and simply pray, “God help me see!” Ultimately, these answers are going to come from God. You have to have an open heart and plead with God to reveal reality through his word. Be honest with him, he knows your need.
  • Wrestle through the affectual aspect of this issue, not only the intellectual aspect. By that, I mean, look at what this has to do with your heart, not just your mind. It is one thing to cognitively grasp that Jesus is God. It’s another thing to grasp it with your heart (i.e. emotions, desires, etc.). If we think about the passage before in Luke, when Peter denied Jesus, it’s clear that Peter did not have a cognitive dilemma when he denied Jesus three times. He didn’t lack information about Jesus! His worldview was not the problem. What was the problem? Peter loved something more than Jesus in the moment. He desired something other than Jesus. It was not convenient for him to confess knowing Jesus in that courtyard. So when we come to the question of whether or not Jesus is God, getting the right information is important (we need that!), but this goes beyond information. We have to ask ourselves, “Why would I not want Jesus to be God? What is it about his divinity that threatens me? How would this reality inconvenience me? What do I love that is an obstacle to me loving and worshiping Jesus as God? What would I need to reject if he really was God?” More than likely, the core of the issue is an idolatry problem–a heart problem–not an intellectual problem.
  • Surround yourself with a community of people who worship Jesus as God and ask for their help and friendship. Don’t hang around Christians who say, “Don’t doubt! The Bible says so.” Find people who will embrace you and honestly address your concerns and love you through the process. This issue cannot be tackled alone. In fact, if you try to tackle it alone, chances are you will justify false conclusions, fuel skepticism, and settle in your doubt. It will take a lot of personal examination and private prayer, but you must also work this out in Christian community.

If you have similar doubts, or know someone who does, I hope this is helpful. What have you found to be beneficial as you’ve wrestled through doubts concerning Jesus’ divinity or helped others?

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Life Theology

Exchanging God’s Glory for Created Things

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:22-23)

Paul describes in verse 23 what this looks like.  The result of believing yourself to be wise in your own right is exchanging the glory of God for the glory of some lesser thing—that is, something created.  Here, we see the first dark exchange that man has made for worship of his Creator.  Paul writes, “And [they] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”  People have exchanged the worship of God for idols.  Futility of mind and foolishness ultimately leads to idolatry.   Every person was created for worship.  People either worship God as Creator, Author, and Sustainer of life, or something that is created and, by definition, finite, dependent, and frail.  Paul said that people have exchanged the glory of God for images.  What kind of images?  He points to man, birds, animals, and reptiles.  In essence, every created animate object on earth.

Paul does not have in mind the Israelites of the OT or pagan Gentiles, but rather the entirety of mankind (Moo, Epistle to the Romans, p. 110).  It is natural for people to worship and in our foolishness and unrighteousness, we suppress God’s truth and worship we can see and touch.  So this passage applies to the one who worships sex, money, fame, food, friends, or technology just as much as it does to the one who makes a statue out of gold or stone.

The question we must ask ourselves is: “What am I exchanging for the glory of the immortal God?”  In other words, what is it that we want to glorify and exalt and take true satisfaction in?  Tim Keller has said that nearly every idol is a “good thing.”  Think about the things that we worship.  None of them are inherently bad—money, sex, food, spouse, children, work, friends, computers, communication, etc.  However, when a good thing becomes an ultimate thing, Keller says, that thing becomes a god thing, an idol.  We must get to the root of our desires and discern what those things are that we consider ultimate things.

Keller said one way of identifying those things would be to pose this statement to yourself: “If I lost _______, I would want to die.”  If we examine our lives closely, we can ask ourselves, what takes up our time, energy, and resources.  Is it the one who is “blessed forever,” the one who is “immortal, invisible, the only God” who has “honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Tim. 1:17)?  Or is it something that is finite, dependent, and frail?  And if this other “god” were to die, would it rise from the dead like Jesus did?  The answer is a resounding no.

 

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Life

Christ-centered, Others-oriented

Next Wednesday, I’m teaching our high school students at our church on being others-centered. As I am starting to prepare for this message, I can’t help restructure my thinking to look like this:

We must be Christ-centered, not others-centered. We must be others-oriented, not self-oriented.

The problem with being others-centered is that this can lead to idolatry of people. If we center our thoughts, actions, and words around a person, we will inevitably do things simply to please them or to earn their praise. The world does this every minute of the day. If we become people-centered people, we will seek to (even unknowingly) glorify them.

On the other hand, if we are Christ-centered, we will do everything for his glory — and not to please people or be praised by them. When Christ is the blazing center of our lives we will be able to orient our efforts, resources, attitudes, actions, and thoughts toward others because we will want them to know him.

If Christ is our center and foundation, we will be able to do what the Apostle Paul called us to do: “In humility count others more significant than yourselves.” And the ultimate goal of this humility is God’s glory: “Therefore God has highly exalted [Christ] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:3, 9-11).

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Life Theology

Meditating on Massive Realities

The other day, at work during a training class, I was drifting off into theology land, as I often do, and I was hit with the reality that God is. He exists. I couldn’t come up with other words. I was bumbling in my head. I was thinking, God is and always has been. He’s…there…here. That is massive.

Then I was struck with the reality that I exist. I breathe and talk and walk and think. I am actually alive.  That is a massive reality.  Add onto that another layer of heavy, cosmic bricks: God created me and knows me. How about one layer more: God reigns over the universe, including my small world, and controls it all with wisdom and ease.

That’s enough to make you think for eternity. These are massive realities, and as I sat in a small training class with sixteen other people, I was worshiping in my heart. And now, as I type, I think of God’s words to Moses in Exodus 3 when Moses asked, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”  God answered Moses like this: “I AM WHO I AM…Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (3:13-14).

“I AM” (God’s name, “Yahweh” in Hebrew) communicates a self-dependent, unchanging existence. It communicates sovereignty and freedom. That is massive.  But God does not merely exist; he is a God who reveals himself. He initiated with the people of Israel, to give himself to them and to save them. And he reveals himself to you and me through his word — the story he has written since creation. What a great God!

Because of this, I need to ask myself (and you need to ask yourself) a few questions: Is the God I worship the self-dependent, unchanging, sovereign, and free One? Or do I worship a god that is dependent, changeable, powerless, and bound? Do I worship the creator God, or something that has been created?

These massive realities are of infinite importance, and our eternity hangs on what we do with them.

Categories
Life

Passion Week – Monday Mediation

Series Index

  1. Monday
  2. Tuesday
  3. Wednesday
  4. Thursday
  5. Friday
  6. Saturday
  7. Sunday

Part 1 in a 7 part series. View series intro and index.

Luke 22:24-30:

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

This weekend, John Piper announced he is taking an eight month leave of absence starting May 1.  The main reason for this, he said is pride: “I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me.”

That really humbled me.  It convicted me.  I set that alongside this passage from the Gospel of Luke, and my own pride rushed to the surface.  And you know what?  It’s ugly.  Jesus said, “Let the greatest among you become as the  youngest, and the leader as one who serves.”  Do I do that?  Am I that?  Most days, I am not.  I crave applause and recognition.  I want people to know my name and face. I want people to read my blog and visit my Twitter.  I want people to be impressed with what I know or how I present myself.  I want people to like me. But, it’s not just addiction to acceptance, as psychologists might put it.  Most fundamentally, it’s idolatry.  I idolize myself instead of worship God.

Jesus ends the disciples’ dispute in our passage by saying that the Father has given him a kingdom, and Jesus is giving that kingdom to his disciples so they may “eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.”  Jesus is bringing them in, not so that they can be the king, but so that they can be a part of Jesus’ kingdom. We, by grace, get to be participants. It’s all about Jesus.  Not me.

Father in Heaven, forgive me.  Help me be humble. Pride is a damning thing, and if I want to be great, I need to be the least. Let me be a servant in your kingdom; help me be like you.