J. Gresham Machen asks a very provocative question in his chapter (from Christianity & Liberalism) on the divergent views of Christ. He asks if Jesus was a Christian. I have never asked myself that question. I now believe how we answer that question will shed great light on our attitudes and beliefs about who Jesus is and what he came to accomplish. Before I go on, answer the question in your head. Is Jesus a Christian?
Well, what do you think? Is Jesus a Christian? If you do a quick search of religions, you’ll probably find out who founded the religion. The one who founds the religion is always pointing others to some thing that is the object of the new religion. From that object, worshipers garner their sense of purpose and maybe even a little hope. In the major religions that are practiced in our world today, none of the founders of those various religions claimed themselves to be the object of that religion. Muhammad did not claim to be Allah, only His prophet. Buddha did not claim to be god. The Hindus have many gods. Joseph Smith did not claim to be God, only his prophet. L. Ron Hubbard did not claim to be God. We can safely say that each of these founders were the first of their respective religions. The first Muslim, the first Buddhist, the first Hindu, the first Mormon, the first scientologist. So that brings me back to our question. Is Jesus a Christian? Lets deal with the two possible answers separately.
First, we could say, yes, Jesus was a Christian. On the surface, that sounds nice. I follow Jesus, if I’m a Christian, doesn’t that make Him a Christian? I believe a deeper examination will reveal a different answer. One problem Machen describes with this answer is that Jesus proclaims Himself to be the object of faith, not an example of faith. We are not called in Scripture to have faith in God like Jesus had faith in God. We are called to have faith in Jesus. Jesus is not our example of faith like Muhammad is an example of faith. For a Muslim to worship Muhammad as Allah, that is heresy. Yet we Christians worship Jesus as God. There is only one name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved. It is the name of Jesus. Secondly, the problem of sin that Christianity alleviates also disallows Jesus from being a Christian. You become a Christian by admitting you need your sin problem fixed by Jesus. How can Jesus fix our sin problems if he too is admitting He needs a sin problem fixed? Since Jesus is the object of faith and the means by which we attain salvation, Jesus cannot then be a Christian. He lived a perfect life and continues to live perfectly in heaven. He has no sin problem. He came to deal with our sin problem. He transcends the movement. No other worldly religion can make this claim. Only Jesus. His otherness is what makes Christianity even possible. If he was just like us and we were to only have faith like Jesus, our faith we be utterly worthless, for we would still be dead in our sins.
What if we answer the other way. Jesus wasn’t a Christian. That sounds almost like heresy (I’m beginning to think that if it sounds like heresy to the modern church, it’s probably not heresy at all and quite sound biblical doctrine…but that’s another story). What was Jesus? We cannot deny that Jesus was a devoutly religious man. He prayed, He fasted, He went to synagogue. So what was Jesus’ religion? Machen states it is the religion of perfect sonship. Perhaps only in heaven will we ever attain to such heights. Machen talks in terms of religions. Perhaps it would be more helpful to our modern ears to talk in terms of relationship. Does Jesus relate to God like I relate to God? I hope you are giving a resounding no! Jesus is God. He relates to himself and the other members of the Godhead in a totally different way that we cannot even grasp. It is a relationship which we will never experience this side of heaven. Our sin masks it. Paul says we see dimly now, but at death, clarity of sight. So if Christianity is a relationship, between man and God, it is safe to say that Jesus was no Christian. He was something more, something deeper, something all-together mysterious. He was the final revelation of Christianity, it’s ultimate object.
I think the significance can be huge. I believe a generation of Christians grew up in a Sunday school system that taught them to be like Jesus. We are told to imitate Jesus. While a worthy goal, we can never fully attain it. We can never relate to the Father as He does. We can never attain sinlessness. All we have that resembles Jesus is imputed upon us by Jesus Himself. Perhaps we should shift our teaching. Perhaps we should teach children to have faith in Jesus, instead of teaching them to be like Him. The difference sounds subtle, but the ramifications are huge. Perhaps we’ll have less legalism plaguing the church. Perhaps there would be less Christians consumed by the guilt over their inadequacies. Perhaps the faith in Jesus would bring a revolution to the church in which many souls are brought into the Kingdom of Light.
My challenge to you is to quit trying to be like Jesus and instead have faith in Jesus. Faith that he will supply your every need. He will supply your atonement, your grace, your strength, your righteousness, your propitiation. I challenge you to embrace Jesus for all that is and wants to be for you. Don’t limit him to a mere example of acceptable piety. Embrace the freedom of the abundant life that He offers.