Who do you say that I am?
It’s a question Jesus asked of his disciples in the gospels.
Peter’s answer still causes my spine to tingle – “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
But as definitive as Peter’s response was, 2,000 years later we still wrestle over the identity of Jesus. Was he really God incarnate? Or just a powerful teacher? Was he the promised Messiah? Or just another failed revolutionary?
If we are going to call ourselves Christians, followers of Jesus, then the question “Who do you say I am?” is one we must all answer.
So who do I believe Jesus is or was?
To put it simply, I believe Jesus was exactly who the Church has confessed him to be since the dawn of the faith.
The only Son of God our Lord…
I believe Jesus is/was God incarnate, fully God and fully man, second person of the Trinity, begotten not made. Can I explain to you exactly how God and man can be united in one flesh? No. But I trust the witness of those who knew him, the leading of the Holy Spirit in recognizing that identity, and I personally find a tremendous amount of hope in the idea that God took on flesh and dwelt among us. To me, that speaks to a God who truly and completely loves humanity. After all, why else leave heaven and submit yourself to all the pain, awkwardness, filth, and struggle that is so endemic to the human condition? For me, a God who would do that, who would show His love in that way even though He did not have to and then to go so far as to die so that we might live, that is a God worth worshiping.
….conceived by the Holy Spirit
As God incarnate I believe Jesus was conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit. Do I believe the Holy Spirit somehow had sex with Mary? No. Can I explain the biology of divine conception? No. But I believe the witness of the Church, I trust the leading of the Holy Spirit towards truth, and ultimately the life of Jesus was so unique, so loving and filled with grace that it seems to me to speak to divine conception.
….born of the Virgin Mary
Because I believe Jesus’ conception came about through the work of the Holy Spirit, I also believe he was born of the Virgin Mary. I recognize the scientific problems inherent in this claim. But, science also tells us that something very much like virgin birth does actually occur in the animal kingdom. It also seems to me that if this miracle had not taken place the first followers of Jesus would have been quickly and loudly denounced by those who knew otherwise, particularly Joseph. That being said, if it somehow turned out that it was definitively proven that Mary was not a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, it would not be of catastrophic consequence to me. The Bible is filled with stories of people of traditional births whom God worked through in powerful ways. If Jesus really did empty himself in the way Paul describes in Philippians 2, why couldn’t God indwell him regardless of who is earthly father was? That being said, I believe in the virgin birth.
….suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried
I believe Jesus of Nazareth was a real, historical person who was crucified by the Roman authorities sometime around 33 CE. I believe that he did not simply appear to be dead and was subsequently brought down off the cross and revived, but that he actually died and was buried. Moreover, for me, this affirmation of Jesus’ response to violence and evil is or at least should be a formative paradigm for the Christian life.
….on the third day he rose from the dead
This is the claim my entire faith is grounded upon. I will discuss it at greater length in a later post, but I believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead. Not a mystical or spiritual resurrection, not a resurrection in the minds or ideals of the apostles, nor do I think it was a story told to rewrite an apparently failure in mission. I believe Jesus actually, physically rose from the dead and that if he did not, then the Christian faith utterly collapses. (More on that to come in the post on resurrection)
….he ascended into heaven
After his resurrection I believe Jesus returned to heaven. Again, I can not explain the physics, nor do I believe Jesus floated up into the sky as if heaven is somewhere above the clouds. I believe Jesus returned from whence he came, be it another dimension or another plane of existence or something else altogether, frankly I don’t really care how he did it. And if he didn’t ascend, then I think we are left to explain where he went and I’m not convinced “he was secretly buried” or “he went quietly into retirement” make much sense in light of how his disciples responded. So unless a tomb is found with a body in it that leaves no doubt that it belonged to Jesus of Nazareth, I will continue to affirm his ascension.
….and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
I believe that the resurrected Christ currently resides in heaven, wherever that might be and that there he intercedes on our behalf to God the Father Almighty, bringing our prayer and petitions, hopes and dreams, fears and outcries to the feet of the One who can answer our prayers, make our hopes and dreams come true, grant us comfort when we’re afraid, and listen patiently and lovingly when we cry out in anger against Him.
….he will come to judge the living and the dead
As uncouth as it is to talk about, I believe, as he said himself, that Jesus will one day judge us all for the lives we have lived. I make no claim to know who Jesus will ultimately save, nor am I at all interested in speculating. But by his own word in Matthew 25 I believe this judgment, this separating of the sheep and the goats, will more tied to how we treat the least of these than to a list of doctrines we confess to believe.
Now, if you grew up in a church that valued tradition or if you were a Rich Mullins fan, then you no doubt noticed that I structured this post around the Apostles’ Creed (with just a dash of Nicaea).
I did that primarily for two reasons.
First, I am a firm believer that Christianity is not “my” faith. I may believe in it personally, but in becoming a part of the church I inherited an ancient faith far older than I am and which thus belongs to others as well as myself. Do I believe there is still space for me, or for any of us, to continue to contribute to its self-understanding? Absolutely. But I also believe just as firmly that when joining something as ancient and particular as the Christian faith, or any religion or organization for that matter, I do not have the freedom to reshape it however I see fit, discarding those things my modern sensibilities are not altogether comfortable with.
That is not to say there is no room for disagreement, but if there are parts of the historical and orthodox confession of the Christian faith that we want to reject, particularly when it comes to Jesus, then I think we must provide overwhelming cause and support outside our personal preference and experience for doing so. There may be parts of the historical confession of the church that give me pause, but I’m not interested in an Americanized, have it your way, entirely comfortable version of Christianity. The historical claims of the faith challenge me and sometimes even make me uncomfortable, but I believe that’s a fundamental part of the discipleship process and so I embrace it warts and all.
Secondly, I affirm the Apostles’ Creed and use it here because I find it to be an incredible pragmatic confession of faith. It may not appear that way at first glance, but as I alluded to earlier in the post, everything the Creed affirms about Jesus confesses a God who is intimately involved with His creation. Not a God who stands aloof in heaven, disconnected and disinterested in humanity, but One who incarnates that love in order to be reconciled fully with His people. A God who became like us so that we could become more like Him.
For me, it is this incarnated love that I see in the historical person of Jesus that inspires my faith and affirmation of this and other foundational creeds. Likewise, it the love and grace of those who claim the name Christian the solidifies that faith even in the face of doubt, for in them I see the continued incarnation of God in the world and the truth of the gospel embodied before my eyes.
Of course, it’s also the lack of love and grace from those who claim the name Christian that pushes so many others to reject Jesus and his gospel altogether.
Which means if we are going to claim to be that Jesus really was the Son of God, then we need to live out the incarnated life we confess and affirm to be true.
Otherwise, we need to stop pretending like Jesus really is “the Son of God, our Lord.”
Grace and peace,