Does God Care about Who and What We Think He Is?
Eric V. Snow, sermonette, 7-26-08, Ann Arbor, MI, UCG
Today some in (or associated with) the Church of God deny that Jesus is God, [such as Ken Westby, Anthony Buzzard, Gary Fakhoury, etc., who are associated with the “One God” movement]. Should this controversy matter to us? Does God care about who and what we think He is? Of course! In particular, God cares about what ideas and the words we sincerely use about Him and His attributes, essence, character, and personality. Sure, talk is cheap. But words still do matter, not just good works.
S.P.S. Since we have to have the right ideas about God to be saved, the words and ideas we use to describe Jesus are important.
We have to be aware of the effects of our nation’s culture on us in this area: Especially we Americans, and the English speaking peoples in general, are a very pragmatic, non-reflective people. We tend to care about what works rather than what is actually true. When issues of high level politics, philosophy, and theology are asked, many Americans reflexively ask, “Well, how does that idea affect my life? Does that idea matter? Does it work?” Given this cultural background, it’s no coincidence that the only native school of philosophy that America has ever produced is called “pragmatism,” such as expounded by the philosophers William James and John Dewey. By contrast, the French are very different from the Americans and British. Even average French people will think about and be much more concerned about the fundamental questions of life and the theories their philosophers propound, such as Descartes, Pascal, Sartre, and Camus. They aren’t as practical, as their political history over the past 210 years certainly demonstrates, but they are less apt to drift through life without thinking things through and considering the big picture. Think of the big public splash existentialism once made with the French public. They even teach philosophy to everyone attending the lycees (academic high schools) in their senior year. So why am I making this cultural comparison to you today during a sermonette? Well, we have to be alert to how our cultural inheritance from the world influences our perceptions of what matters to us as Christians. Hence, true Christians of different nations will have somewhat different problems and sins to struggle with as they live in the world of their own nations. Since “the world” varies from place to place, even as it is still opposed to God’s ways, we have to be self-conscious of these influences on how we interpret the Bible and live the Christian life.
V. 20: The Samaritan woman makes a doctrinal point vs. Jesus.
To have correct knowledge about God is necessary for salvation. Since God chose to reveal Himself to Israel first, they got the knowledge of the true God far better than any gentile nation had. Furthermore, since the promise of the “Scepter,” of the Messiah, of the Savior, was to Abraham’s descendants by the way of Isaac and Jacob, salvation came from the Jews to the world for this reason also. Jesus was a Jew, thus salvation came from the Jews for that reason also.
We have to worship God correctly when that knowledge is available. Being nice and doing good works aren’t enough. For example, the good works and self-sacrifice of Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India in helping the poor are enormously impressive from a Christian viewpoint. But the errors in Catholic belief and practice in other areas are proof enough that she wasn’t saved despite all the good works she did. Salvation is by faith, and true faith requires having correct beliefs about who God is and what He requires of us. If someone has good works, but wrong belief, they are no more saved than someone with no works, but right belief. (This is not the place or time to hash out salvation theology in detail, such as the implications of the parable of the sheep and goats).
Jesus said words do matter. So shouldn’t they matter to us? You can’t be saved if you don’t know or deny that Jesus is the Savior. Furthermore, consider this: If Someone is God, but a man denies that Person is God, isn’t that blasphemy? Blasphemy occurs when God is insulted, disrespected, or treated contemptuously. That means using the wrong words about God. So if Jesus is God, but someone denies that He is God, can he be saved? I don’t think so. Hence, Unitarians, Arians, and those religious liberals who say, “Jesus was a great religious teacher, but he wasn’t God,” can’t be saved because they don’t identify who and what Jesus was correctly.
[Skip if lack time] C.S. Lewis explains why no middle ground is possible about Jesus’ identity, because of His claims about Himself: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic‑‑on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg‑‑or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”
Not the time or place to work through John in citing the standard texts proving Jesus is God. I’m merely saying today that as Americans we shouldn’t let our culture’s pragmatic tendencies mislead us into thinking it doesn’t matter. The debate between the Trinitarians and Arians over which of two very similar Greek words could describe Jesus in the 4th century wasn’t an exercise in hair-splitting. “Homo-ousios” (same substance) vs. “homoi-ousios.” One commits blasphemy, the other doesn’t.
Paul speaks on the Areopagus to the Athenians, who had erected an altar “To an Unknown God” (v. 23). God now commands all to repent since there is a witness to all the world of the truth since He resurrected Jesus from the dead. If you deny Jesus’ resurrection, you can’t be saved, even if you were a nice person and did lots of good works.
Conclusion: In order to be saved, we must uphold the right beliefs about God. Since these beliefs are ideas that are expressed by using words to symbolize them, we have to use in sincerity the right words about God in order to be saved. People who deny that someone is God when He actually is God commit blasphemy, and can’t be saved until they repent of it. Therefore, let’s remember that we have to believe that Jesus is God in order to be saved. For although talk is cheap, words do matter.