Can a Christian believe that Jesus is not God? Are there any implications to salvation? Can one truly be born again and think that Jesus is not God? There was a conflict in the early church over the doctrine known as Arianism. This is most commonly represented by the Jehovah’s Witness movement today. They hold that the Bible is God’s word but reject the view that Jesus is God. Thus, the Arians would consider themselves Christians who believe that Jesus is not God. They would say that the apostles did not consider Jesus to be God. They would say that Jesus did not think that he was God. How should we react when we meet such a person? Should we regard them as brethren? Can a Christian believe that Jesus is not God?
What does one have to do to be saved? A good Protestant will answer this question by referring to grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone. This means that one is saved by the grace of God alone, and not by their own works. The manner in which they do that is by putting their trust in God. The mechanism for their salvation is the sacrifice of Christ. Jesus Christ absorbed the punishment that we deserve. Thus, we are saved by grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone.
If that is what we need for salvation, then how can we say that we must also believe that Jesus is God? Well, because all of these things presuppose the belief that Jesus is God. One cannot put their trust in Christ if they do not believe that Christ is God. One cannot have faith in the Father if they do not have faith in the Son. Can a Christian believe that Jesus is not God? What does the Bible say?
Honor the Son As You Honor The Father John 5:22-23: “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” The word translated into honor in this verse refers literally to the value that we place on somebody, the esteem that we give a person. If a king tells us to honor the prince, we are to treat the prince as though he were the king. He is to be esteemed as one esteems the king. That illustration is precisely parallel to what Jesus says of himself and the Father.
He says that we must honor the Son in exactly the same way that we honor the Father. The Father acts so that “all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” Then he takes it from a corporate level to an individual level. The man who does not honor the Son in this way, does not honor the Father. The man who does not honor the Son exactly as he honors the Father, does not honor the Father. Thus, the man who does not esteem Jesus as God consequently fails to honor the Father. Can a Christian believe that Jesus is not God? No. They would not be honoring the Son as they honor the Father. Thus, their entire system of worship would be shown to be a fraud. They are not honoring the Father, because they do not honor the Son.
“What must I do to be saved?” That is what the jailer asked Paul and Silas, to which they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:30-31). How does one believe in the Lord Jesus? They put their trust in him for their salvation. They know that on the day of judgment, they will be found innocent. They are guilty before God, and Jesus Christ stepped in and paid their fine. Thus, they believe in the Lord Jesus. But how can one believe in the Lord Jesus if they think that the central claim of his ministry is a lie?
What is the central claim of his ministry? It was the fulfillment of Zechariah 2:10, which reads, “Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” declares the Lord.” Jesus Christ declared for himself the very divine prerogatives of God the Father. God said that he would seek out the lost sheep, (Ezekiel 34:11), which Jesus claimed for himself (Luke 15:1-7). God said that he would judge between the goats and the sheep (Ezekiel 20:28,34:17), but Jesus said that the Father judges nobody (John 5:22-23), and that he would judge between the goats and the sheep (Matthew 25:31-46). All of creation praises the God (Psalm 148:3-4) and Jesus said that creation praises him (Luke 19:40). God alone created the universe (Isaiah 44:24), by himself. But even the Jehovah’s witnesses admit that Jesus Christ created the universe (John 1:3).
Can a Christian believe that Jesus is not God? The man who says that must take Jesus’s claims and say that he is a liar. Paul and Silas tell the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” How can we say that we believe in the Lord Jesus, if we do not believe what he said? In citing Old Testament scripture referring to God, Jesus applied them to himself and unequivocally claimed to be God. “Unless you believe that I am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” John 8:24
Can A Christian Believe That Jesus Is Not God? The answer is inescapably, no, they cannot. Jesus said that all who fail to honor the Son consequently fail to honor the Father (John 5:22-23). Paul and Silas say that we must believe in the Lord Jesus to be saved (Acts 16:30-31), and the man who says that Jesus is not God is the man who says that Jesus Christ is a liar, because he unequivocally applied Old Testament prophecies meant to be fulfilled by God to himself.
Thus we are left with CS Lewis’s famous trillemma. “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. 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 the 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. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (Mere Christianity, page 54-56).
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