“Jesus never said he was God.” I heard this comment often while I was in college. Some of my contemporaries willingly accepted Christ as a great teacher or perhaps a guru, but they were not willing to accept his claims to deity. These skeptics added that the “Church” made up these claims to enhance his story and teachings. They claim that he taught the same as most other religious leaders.
Many people today believe the same ideas about Christ. Others may believe that it does not matter what he claimed to be as long as we focus on the Golden Rule or the Ten Commandments, or if we just love Jesus. When someone tells me that all you have to do is love Jesus, my question is, “Which Jesus?” Isn’t there just one Jesus? No, He himself said that many false Christs would arise in the last days. Matthew 24:24 says, “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”
Does it make any difference which Christ we believe in? After all, anyone who believes in Christ is a Christian, right? Jesus told the Jews where he was from. John 8 records his discussion with them. He said that they were of the world, therefore they would die in their sins. He repeated that in the next verse. John 8:24 says, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (NKJV). Notice what he says here in the original language. “If you do not believe that I am…you will die in your sins.” There is no complement to the linking verb “am.” Most modern English verses will add the word “He” in italics, or “the one I claim to be” in brackets in my earliest copy of the NIV translation. The brackets and the italics indicate that those words are not found in the original language.
That is a common practice in translation, not a deception. Sometimes one language expresses a thought in fewer words, but the target language requires more words to be grammatically correct. Jesus said that if you do not believe that “I AM,” you will die in your sins. The Jews recognized this as a claim to deity. Later in verse 28, he used a similar construction: When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am…”
He made the same claim later in verse 58. There he said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” A former Mormon once asked me how this proved that he was claiming to be God in the flesh. I said, “Look at the Jews’ response.” The next verse says, “Then they took up stones to throw at Him.” I asked, “Why did they pick up stones to stone him? Because they recognized his claim to deity.” They could not stone him for not completing his sentences.
This claim is magnificent. If you believe that Jesus was a wonderful Teacher, Master, Guru, Prophet, Example, one of many sons of God with many spirit brothers, an archangel in the flesh, but you will not believe that he was Jehovah God in the flesh, hear the words of Jesus: “you will die in your sins.”
Loving Jesus is not enough. You have to love the right Jesus, not the jesus who is not God in the flesh. This is another reason why doctrine is so important.
To recap: There are only two religions in the world. There is biblical Christianity, which makes these three claims: 1) Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, 2) You cannot do anything to earn your salvation, and 3) the Bible is sufficient to tell you how to be saved. All other religions and cults in the world deny one or more of those claims. They state: 1) Jesus Christ is anything but God in the flesh, 2) You must do something to earn your salvation, and 3) The Bible is insufficient to tell you how to be saved.
Are you following a man-made religion in which you will die in your sins, or are you following the God-man, Jesus Christ who alone can lead you to salvation because he has already paid the price in full for your salvation? How you answer that question will determine your eternal destiny.