Jesus Christ is how we understand God

Bill Johnson once succinctly stated that Jesus Christ is perfect theology. That maxim has informed my understanding of the nature of God for many years.  It’s been a reoccurring theme on this blog. The implications are profound and transformational, but often ignored or not understood.

But understanding this is so critically important because when we read the Bible indiscriminately, as if Jesus never happened, we end up with all kinds of notions about God that are inconsistent, even ugly.

Here’s the point: only Jesus can accurately describe God to us.

18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:18 NASB *)

27 All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. (Matt.11:27 NASB *)

Think about what Jesus is telling us in Matthew. No one knows God except Jesus. What’s astounding about His statement is that this list would have to include Adam, Abraham,  Moses, David, the prophets…no one knew God except Jesus. Now, they did have a relationship with God, but it was one of separation and distance.

Why Jesus can say this is because He came from the very “bosom of the Father,” which means that He proceeded from the very essence of God Himself. In other words, only Jesus was in the Trinitarian circle of God. And, therefore, only Jesus can explain or reveal what God is actually like to us.

So, we can rightfully say that whatever is like Jesus, is like God. Whatever isn’t like Jesus isn’t like God….no matter who else said it.

This Christocentric view should inform us about what God is like, how He thinks about us, how He interacts with sinners. God thinks about and treats all people exactly the same way Jesus thought about and treated people. No exceptions.

So we have to be careful we don’t create a cognitive dissonance when trying to describe God’s nature, especially when describing His justice, wrath, or anger in some vindictive way, and then try to say it’s because He loves us.

Seeing God through the lens of Jesus Christ looks like loving your enemies, even loving them exactly the same way Jesus loves us, which is exactly how the Father loves Jesus. Justice, through the Jesus lens, doesn’t look like God wanting His pound of flesh, it looks like a loving Father restoring both the perpetrator and the victim to Himself because He wants His alienated and abused kids back.

Yes, Jesus got angry…at religious people.

So, when we talk about any attribute of God—His holiness, His justice, His judgment—we have to be careful we don’t describe them in a way that veers outside of the boundary of His other-centered, self-giving love demonstrated in Jesus Christ.

To bring this point home, I’ve included a video with Dr. Gary Deddo, a scholar on the theology of Karl Barth, who was arguably the greatest Christian theologian of the twentieth century. In this video, Dr. Deddo discusses the importance and contributions of Karl Barth to modern Christian Theology. He says this about Barth at the beginning of the video:

“For Barth, the center of the importance of the gospel is to realize that when God showed Himself in person in Jesus Christ, He was revealing to all humanity the rock-bottom total truth of who He is, that was true to Himself in His own being, not just toward us. In His own being, God had figured out a way for human beings to truly know who He is, and that way was through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit, and now according to Scripture…that’s who He is.

You think it would be simple, but it takes a lot of concentration, discipline, and even repentance to recall again, and again, that there is no other God except God revealed in Jesus Christ….what you see in Jesus Christ is what you get….

Another way to say it is, in Jesus Christ, you get the Son of God, we find the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, all God, in the character of God, the attitudes of God, the purposes of God. Therefore any theology has to be founded, centered, directed, disciplined, and oriented to the only place where there is this self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ. We can’t go looking around Christ or to other sources as a norm and status for that. God is who He is, in Himself and toward us, who He is in Jesus Christ. Any knowledge of God and any faith in God has to be controlled, ordered, arranged, and filled out in terms of Jesus–as He is, God with us.”

Dr. Deddo makes the point that it’s difficult to keep Christ at the center of our theology because, over time, we’re tempted to develop knowledge of God on other foundations, with other sources (including reading the Bible indiscriminately), and these ideas end up competing with what we find out about God in Jesus Christ. To quote Paul…

11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor.3:11 NKJV)

We must repent from making God in our own image and submit ourselves to the revelation of Jesus Christ, putting our minds and hearts on the potter’s wheel, letting Him reshape and re-form us into His image and likeness.

This Christocentric view has profound implications on how we see the atonement, sin, our identity, and the eternal purposes of God. It has profound implications how we conduct ourselves and represent Christ in this world.

The whole video is very good. I invite you to listen and consider what he’s saying.

* All emphasis added.
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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 38 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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20 Responses to Jesus Christ is how we understand God

  1. tsalmon says:

    Very nice Reverend Wild. I like the way that you define Jesus in terms of practice instead of affiliation. I like to think of it with the metaphor of the musician.

    A musician is not someone who wakes up one day and says, “I’m a musician”, like he just paid the entrance fee and joined some new club or a tribe. One can call oneself a musician all day long, but if that person does not practice and play music, then he or she is simply not a musician. On the other hand, if one practices and plays music, at some point that person is a musician, no matter what he calls himself.

    In a similar way, I believe that when we dynamically practice love as Jesus demonstrated and taught us, we “become” Christian, and that to be Christian, we must always be in a state of “becoming” through that practice. Holiness, as I understand it, therefore is as continuously and dynamically aspirational (and perhaps more so) as it is a one time commitment to Jesus.

    What I don’t claim to understand is the exclusive claims of some Christians, and perhaps you can explain this. If someone, no matter what denomination or religion, is practicing the love, compassion and sacrifice that Jesus taught, isn’t that person exemplifying Christianity more fully than the person who claims some Christian tribal affiliation, but uses his religion to proclaim a smug exclusion of others that foments hatred?

    • Mel Wild says:

      I like your analogy of a musician, tsalmon. Following Jesus is a lifestyle we practice. It’s the “way,” as the early church described it. Jesus Himself is the way, He’s the truth, and it’s His life we are to walk in (John 14:6). Conversely, Jesus said people will call Him “Lord” who He will say He never knew (Matt.7:21-23). There was no relational interaction with them. Following Jesus is relational, not transactional. Emphasizing the transaction is probably the weakest aspect of evangelical Christianity. It makes a relationship unnecessary. Jesus no more than a problem solver. We say the magic words and problem solved. We don’t need Him anymore. Which, by the way, was one of Barth’s main objections to this kind of superficial Christianity. But, as we follow Christ, we are transformed into His image. Everything with God is relational.

      I also agree with your assessment of denominationalism. God likes diversity but not division. So, while we may find our particular “tribe” in a denomination (diversity), to say this is the one true body of Christ (denominationalism) is divisive, prideful, and religious. It’s not the Spirit of Christ. You’re either following Christ or you aren’t. It doesn’t matter if you go to a certain church or not.

      Now, Jesus Himself is exclusive because He’s the only One in the “Circle” of God. This is why understanding the incarnation and hypostatic union is important. Otherwise, we have no way to directly relate to God as human beings. We’re left with religion—separation and distance. Our intimate relationship with God is IN Christ. But there are diverse ways to relate to Him and follow Him faithfully.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      • tsalmon says:

        I like your emphasis on the “relational” aspect – the incarnation affords an “exclusively” new relationship to God through Christ. In fact, couldn’t one say this relationship is “unique” in its wide open arms to take all comers, it’s inclusiveness of all of humanity? The “good news” here is that the humble and the meek, the lowly and the lost, rather than the proud and the strong, appear to be most welcomed by Jesus.

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but this makes any connotation of the tribal haughtiness of the word “exclusive” that “religion” sometimes manifests in a sense of political or in denominational superiority seem absurd. The paradox of Jesus is that the weak manifests as the strongest and the truly humble exalts above all.

        I think it was Woody Allen who once said that he would not want to be a part of a club that would have him as a member. Do you think that this is exactly why Christianity is not “exclusive” in this sense of that word and that it is counterintuitive to even think of Christianity as a club or as a tribe?

        I’ve read about Barth, but I’ve never read anything by him. I’ll have to take a look. Thank you.

        • Mel Wild says:

          “Correct me if I’m wrong, but this makes any connotation of the tribal haughtiness of the word “exclusive” that “religion” sometimes manifests in a sense of political or in denominational superiority seem absurd.”

          Exactly! Jesus is not exclusive in this regard at all. And it certainly has nothing to do with politics or any particular denomination. It really comes down to a heart issue. Are we open and do we trust Jesus? This is why the humble get in and the haughty don’t. For instance, Jesus welcomed the thief on the cross who had no prior relationship with Him. Jesus told the hardened Pharisees that many sinners would see the Kingdom of heaven before them. The point is relationship. Period. What belonging to a particular local church is supposed to do is to provide a family where one can be encouraged and grow up into Christ (Eph.4:11-16).

          “Do you think that this is exactly why Christianity is not “exclusive” in this sense of that word and that it is counterintuitive to even think of Christianity as a club or as a tribe?”

          That’s a good point. Christianity, understood in its purest sense, is not a religion at all. Religion is about ritual, Christianity is about relationship. Religion is transactional, Christianity is transformational. Even in Jesus’ day, there were Pharisees who are religious, and there were those whose hearts were open and followed Jesus. Paul’s conversion is a classic example of such a transformation. For most of us, the transformation is more progressive and ongoing.

  2. Good article. Jesus was God materialized. We have three parts ~ (1) mind/will that tells our body and mouth what to do and say, (2) spirit that keeps our body alive, and (3) our body. That does not mean there are three of us. God, the mind/will put his words in a burning bush. It didn’t make two Gods ~ one in heaven and one in the bush. We (mind/will can put our words in a tape recorder, but it doesn’t mean there are two of us ~ one in our body and one in the tape recorder. It is impossible to see God because he permeates everything and that includes the two trillion galaxies out there and the most minute speck of life. He made us as spirits with a body, so he communicates with us through his words that, at one time, entered a body.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Exactly, Katheryn. Well said. The concept of the Trinity is definitely a difficult one to grasp. It took the early church three centuries to hammer out the proper language for it, even though they received the revelation of it long before. And you make a good point about God being infinite and impossible for us to relate to as human beings. Christ holds all things together and “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Our continuing existence is held together in Christ. And there is no such thing as “outside” of this Eternal Christ. As Barth said, you can flee from God, you can deny Him, ignore Him, but you cannot escape Him.

      And, as C.S. Lewis said, knowing God by ourselves would be like Hamlet trying to know Shakespeare. We’re not even in the same dimension, if you will. But, to take the analogy further, the absolutely stunning thing is, Shakespeare wrote himself into the play and entered Hamlet’s world! This is what the incarnation of Christ in the person of Jesus Christ means. God with us! We now have a human face to the transcendent, unknowable God. We can now know God through and in Christ! It’s the most wonderful reality in human history.

      Thanks for your comments. Blessings to you.

  3. Amen, Mel! God is big, infinite, beyond our ability to conceive of Him properly, and there just aren’t words or paintings or music that do Him justice. Jesus brings Him down to a relatable level for us, we have Someone tangible that we can wrap our brains and hearts around.

  4. One of my favorite things about Jesus that I’ve only begun to be able to put into words is how He talks. I was telling a friend this the other day one of the things that helps me “know” that Jesus was(IS) God is the way he speaks. It is so “not of this world”. His thinking was always contrary to all human thinking towards His enemy’s and even contrary to His disciples standing right next to Him. I love it because it fills me with a trust that I can trust Him because He is not of this world. He is of a higher order. Example – “Before Abraham was I AM” Who talks like that? Only someone who is outside of time while still standing in it speaking to you. ooof. It gives me goosebumps *the good kind* 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      Very true! Jesus speaks to the deepest part of us. This is what’s transformational about our relationship with Him. His voice actually breaks lies we believe about ourselves. He teaches us how to love and show grace. I’ve tried to counsel people on issues they were having and then Jesus can speak a couple words to them and they’re totally free! As the line of song we like to sing goes, “You can love me more in a moment than other lovers can love me in a lifetime.” That’s about the truest thing I know. And, yes, lots of good goosebumps. 🙂

  5. Salvageable says:

    I very much agree that the Father and the Spirit are known only through Jesus. We come to the Father only through Jesus. I want to change the spin on one of your statements, though. You write, “No one knows God except Jesus. What’s astounding about His statement is that this list would have to include Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets…no one knew God except Jesus. Now, they did have a relationship with God, but it was one of separation and distance.” I would amend this to say that Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets knew God through Jesus. The God who spoke with them was Jesus, the eternal Son of God, the Angel of the Lord. J.

    • Mel Wild says:

      I would agree, God spoke to them this way, they had visitations, but it was not intimate knowledge like Jesus, or like our relationship in Christ. This is why it’s specifically stated that no one knows the Father except the Son. He is the one who tells us about God. We have more than visitations, we have habitation. 😊

  6. hawk2017 says:

    TY. Amen:)

  7. Ferdinand van Niekerk says:

    …I love it…especially because of jhn.14.8-10.msg Philip said, “Master, show us the Father; then we’ll be content.” “You’ve been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don’t understand? To see me is to see the Father. So how can you ask, ‘Where is the Father?’ Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you aren’t mere words. I don’t just make them up on my own. The Father who resides in me crafts each word into a divine act

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen. Jesus went out of His way to say that He and the Father are in total union. Hebrews says He’s the exact representation of God (Heb.1:3). What made Jesus unique is that He is in union both in God’s essence (in the Trinity) and in His human nature.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  8. Cindy Powell says:

    Amen. I’ve always loved that quote too. I like simple and keeping Jesus at the center is simple—or at least it is if we can keep our religious ideas out of the way! Always appreciate your commitment to keeping the main thing the main thing. Blessings!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Cindy! It also seems hard to keep it simple. We have a tendency to keep adding on the “Jesus paradigm” when understanding the nature of God. But the simplicity of Jesus unlocks everything for us about how God sees us and how we are to see ourselves in Him. Blessings to you.

  9. Lily Pierce says:

    Interesting post, Mel. I’m intrigued by thinking of God “through the lens of” Jesus, because when reading OT scripture, I can easily forget that Jesus existed then, too. I just wonder what to make of the especially gruesome parts of the OT when considered in relation to Jesus…for example, parts where God orchestrates people’s deaths through willing other people to act certain ways (according to the authors).

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, that’s particularly difficult, Lily. But keep in mind, a lot of Old Testament descriptions of God were our experience of Him, not necessarily how He actually was. This is why Jesus must be our guide to the nature of God, not what people said of Him. In other words, Jesus’ description of God trumps all others. We must read the Old Testament through the interpretive lens of Jesus Christ, otherwise we come up with a very conflicted view of Him.

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