“Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:27–29)
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Who is Jesus Christ to you?
Jesus’ question to the disciples—who do people say that I am—is a question that demands a response. Is Jesus a good teacher; a prophet; a savior; or Lord of Lords? Our response depends on our belief about Jesus’ identity (Chan 1998, 40). It also informs us as to who we once were, who we are now, and who we will become in the future.
If Jesus is merely a good teacher, then our actions are motivated primarily by abstract obligation. We might as easily be guided by the Ten Commandments. Law has the virtue of being clear and concrete. The Ten Commandments outline moral law while other parts of the first five books of the Bible give us both ceremonial law (how to worship) and case law (what to do in special situations). However, the abstract nature of this obligation means that it is contingent on the commitment of the heart. The mind acknowledges the obligation, but the heart is uncommitted.
If Jesus is only a prophet, then our actions are motivated by abstract expectation. A focus on law is possible because the role of an Old Testament prophet was, primarily, to remind people of their obligation under the law. However, both head and heart are contingent—we do not know if the prophecy will take place or if we care. In short, we are conflicted and uncommitted.
If Jesus is only a savior, then our actions are motivated primarily by the act of receiving. We cherish the assurance of salvation, but never count the cost (Luke 14:27–30). In effect, we have become fans—long on enthusiasm, but short on commitment. Fans want entertainment and a good show—they want a winning team. The Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments are all things that we have committed to memory, but when things become inconvenient our resolve dissipates.
If Jesus is Lord of lords, then our actions are motivated by an obligation of loyalty. In this case, our response is qualitatively different because both our hearts and minds are committed. We want to be just like Jesus. We want to act like Jesus; we want to pray like Jesus; we want to tell Jesus’ life story. Suddenly, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments start looking like important clues as to how to pray, to live our lives, and to discuss our faith with others.
Jesus is also the perfect match between form (being divine and human) and content (without sin). In the Hebrew mind, this perfect match makes Him both good and beautiful (Dyrness 2001, 81). Loyalty is a fitting characteristic for a servant and it a characteristic of Christ himself (Philippians 2:5–11). Our loyalty to God accordingly allows us to share in Christ’s goodness and his beauty—has anyone told you lately that you are beautiful? (Isaiah 62:5)
The church is composed of people who mostly share one thing in common—we are forgiven. Each of us must walk the path of faith alone, but at no step along the way are we truly alone because Jesus walks with us. If we persist in the walk of faith, our perception of Jesus will evolve from teacher to prophet to savior, and Lord of Lords. As we make this journey, our response to restoration and identity as persons will likewise evolve.
Chan, Simon. 1998. Spiritual Theology: A Systemic Study of the Christian Life. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
Dyrness, William A. 2001. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Who are We?
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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net
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