LOS ANGELES, December 23, 2014 — Is Jesus God? In the Christian context, it is an interesting question. To be a Christian seems automatically to say that the answer is “yes.” Philippians 2:6 describes Jesus from this perspective: “being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God …”
We see bumper stickers, t-shirts and signs all the time saying “Jesus is God,” or “Jesus is Lord.” If we are Christians, how can we question that this is so? Yet question we should.
I am a Christian; I believe those things written in the Bible. Still, many Christians confuse Jesus’ relationship to God, or more specifically the Son’s relationship to the Father. We often hear Christians pray to Jesus, asking Jesus for blessings and forgiveness of sins. This is common in Christian culture, yet in point of fact, praying to Jesus is unheard of in scripture.
A possible exception is at the end of Acts 7, when Stephen is being martyred. At the moment before his execution by stoning commences, he sees a vision of Jesus “standing at the right hand of God;” and, while being stoned “as he was calling on God and saying ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’” Yet is Stephen really praying to Jesus here? Or is he praying to God, upon whose right hand Jesus sits, and who has sent Jesus before him to receive Stephen’s spirit?
The beginnings and endings to the epistles that comprise most of the New Testament often incorporate words of prayer, sometimes as in Romans chapter 1, where Paul writes, “First, I thank God through Jesus Christ for you all,” concluding in chapter 16 with, “to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” At the beginning of Colossians Paul writes in verse 3, “We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Peter writes towards the beginning of 1 Peter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” distinguishing and separating God and Jesus. But in the first verse of 2 Peter he writes, “to those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ,” identifying Jesus as God, before saying in the very next verse, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,” distinguishing them again.
Peter is not offering prayer in 2 Peter, but regardless, this is perhaps where some confusion enters in. And it would take someone much more educated in the ancient scriptural languages than I to say what is and is not lost in translation. But it is not my argument that Jesus is not God. I do believe that Jesus is God. The question is, in what sense?
For God the Father is described as acting through Jesus, and we are described as reaching God the Father through Jesus.
But in all cases, Jesus’ power, should you believe in it, is derived from the Father and not from Christ himself. For proof of that we need do no more than consult the words of Jesus, who said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me.” (John 12:44). Thus Jesus himself draws the distinction.
Eddie Griffin made a Jesus joke once, one of the few I had to like, impersonating Jesus’ reaction to those who pray to him personally for blessings, saying “no, no, no … that’s Pop’s job.”
Ultimately the difficulty is definitional. The Bible clearly shows that God and Jesus are one. In this the Father and Son are one, and both are God, or facets of him. But many define the word “one” as the word “same” when these words have different definitions. Jesus is God as my face is me. You speak to me through my face, and in that my face and I are one. It is a part of me. But remove it from me and it is no longer me. It is merely animated by what I am.
God hears prayer regardless. But this issue is not a theological trifle. It is spiritually important in moving Christians away from treating God as a blessings ATM and towards living a sanctified existence. For our relationship to Jesus according to scripture is not to ask him for anything as the source of power, for he unto himself is not. It is to imitate his perfect submission to the Father, becoming one with him and Jesus, to receive the salvation that the Father has wrought through his Son’s sacrifice on the cross.