How many people who attend Christian churches could not identify and articulate the essential doctrines of the Christian faith?
Essential doctrines are non-negotiable truths of Christianity—specific teaching from Scripture that, if rejected, would place one outside the historically recognized boundaries of Christian orthodoxy. These teachings are also conditions of true christian fellowship.
Liberty of opinion
While we should honor everything the Bible teaches, there are some doctrinal truths that throughout Church history have not been considered as central to true faith.
Liberty of opinion is permitted on these doctrines.
For example, believers have different views about the time of Christ’s return, but to deny that Jesus Christ is returning would place one outside of Christian orthodoxy (see: John 14:1-3; I Thessalonians 4:13-18).
If someone rejects the deity of Jesus Christ, however, he rejects a required teaching for true Christianity.
The first doctrine on most evangelical statements of faith has to do with the authority of the Bible as God’s Word. It forms the foundation for every other belief. If the Bible is not inspired of God, the rest of our statement is in question.
Yet I don’t believe the early church was as sharply focused on the doctrine of Scripture as evangelicals.
Doctrine of Scripture
At one point in time, (not too long ago) a person could simply say he believed in the inspiration of Scripture and we would have known he was orthodox.
Now we speak of inspiration as verbal (the words themselves), plenary (all the words) inspiration and we want to know if one believes in the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible. Yet this is a relatively recent focus of concern.
The identity of Jesus Christ was the primary doctrinal concern of the early church. This is the specific doctrine that I wish to briefly examine. If you are outside of the Christian faith, one examining the truth claims of Christianity, I invite you to consider the central truth related to the person of Christ.
Illustration: A number of years ago, when I was attending my brother’s wedding , one of my brothers-in-law, who was new in the faith, pulled me aside to ask me a question. He said, “My pastor keeps referring to Jesus as God. I told him that this wasn’t a good idea because it’s going to confuse people.” He went on to tell his pastor that the Father is God and Jesus is God’s Son, and by referring to Jesus as God he would confuse people. Then my brother-in-law said to me, “Am I right on this?” So I put my wedding cake down and tried to help him clear up his confusion.
I clarified for him that God is the Father and Jesus is God’s Son, but that while there is distinction there is also oneness. He said, “Yes! Oneness in purpose and goals.” I said, “No! The oneness is more profound than that! Jesus said, ‘If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.’ John 1:1 says, ‘In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.’ Distinction and unity—“with” and “was.”
John 1:14—”The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory… ” Colossians 2:9 says, “In Him (Jesus Christ) dwells all the fullness of the godhead in bodily form” (not some of it).
So we may say without hesitation and with full conviction and authority that Jesus, the Nazarene was and eternally is God! This was the earliest and shortest of all Christian creeds: “Jesus is Lord.” And those who acknowledged this were baptized and included in the Christian community as His disciples (cf. Acts 2:36-41).
Paul’s insistence that “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” has also troubled later readers, since it would seem possible for anyone to say these words at will. But that misses the radical nature of this confession for the earliest Christians. The use of “Lord” in such a context meant absolute allegiance to Jesus as one’s deity and set believers apart from both Jews, for whom such a confession was blasphemy, and pagans, especially those in the cults, whose deities were called “lords.” Thus this became the earliest Christian confession, tied in particular to Jesus’ having been raised from the dead and therefore having become the exalted One.
What does Romans 10:9 say? “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” I Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” This was the earliest and shortest Christian confession.
This confession of the Lordship of Jesus involved two components:
- A profound doctrinal conviction about Jesus.
- A radical personal commitment to Jesus.
Philippians 2:9-11 makes a significant contribution to our understanding of this. These verses present to us the climax of what has been understood to be an early Christian hymn, referred to as “the song of Christ.” The apostle presents a powerful case for the deity of Jesus, (i.e. the fact that He is God). He does this with three points of application to Christ.
Philippians 2:9-11 applies to Jesus Christ:
- The title of deity: Lord
- The text of deity: Isaiah 45:22-23
- The worship of deity: Every knee will bow to Him
Let’s explore each of these in greater detail:
1. The title of deity (or a God title) in verse 11, “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Kupios in the Greek).
In relation to this title, it’s helpful to realize that 200 years prior to the birth of Jesus, devout Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek and out of sensitive reverence for God’s name, Yahweh or Jehovah, rather than translating or transliterating it, they used the Greek designation “ o kupios”, the Lord. Most English Bibles continue to contain the title “LORD” for Yahweh/Jehovah. It appears over 6,000 times. (Adonai – Lord)
This being the established title for Jehovah (the covenant keeping God of Israel), it becomes very significant that the early followers of Jesus used this title for Him without hesitation. The conclusion simply cannot be avoided: On the part of the early disciples (being of Jewish background) saying “Jesus is Lord” was equivalent to saying “Jesus is God.”
Think about the powerful implication here. The apostle teaches that one day there will be: “Universal acknowledgment of the Lordship of Jesus” with 1.) the confession of the mouth and 2.) the bending of the knee. Looking at this from a historical perspective, one writer so apply stated that, Christolatry (the worship of Christ) preceded Christology (the developed doctrine of Christ). But Christolatry is idolatry if Christ is not God.” ( p.89, The Contemporary Christian, John R. W. Stott) cf. Hebrews 1:6 (referring to Jesus) “Let all the angels of God worship Him” (cf. John 20:27-28; Revelation 19:10 ).
When the risen Christ appeared to him, Thomas confessed, , “My LORD and my God” (John 20:27-28 ). This profound doctrinal conviction about the identity of Jesus was equally a radical life-changing commitment. When someone willingly confesses Jesus as Lord on bended knee, it results in a transforming dedication of life to Him. It is an acknowledgment of: 1.) His right of ownership over my life and of 2.) my lifetime commitment of service to Him.
Jesus Himself set the example. Philippians 2:7 – He took “the very nature of a servant”. Mark 10:45 – He insisted that He: “had not come to be served, but to serve and give His life.” Luke 22:27 – He identified Himself with the words, “I am among you as one who serves.” So it is no small thing for Him to enlist us in His service.
The same writer went on to say, “If we claim to follow Jesus, therefore, it is inconceivable that we should spend our lives in any other way than in service. And this means that we must be able to see our job or profession in terms of service. Our daily work is meant to be a major sphere in which Jesus exercises his lordship over us. Beyond and behind our earthly employer we should be able to discern our heavenly Lord. Then we can be ‘working for the Lord, not for men’, since ‘it is the Lord Christ (we) are serving’. (p. 93, The Contemporary Christian, John R. W. Stott)
This should lead to a radical personal commitment to Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:23-24)
I am compelled to ask how anyone could truly acknowledge the profound conviction about Jesus without going on to this: radical personal commitment of lifetime servanthood on bended knee? Have you?
In Romans 14:9, the Apostle wrote, “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” And what did we learn in I Corinthians 6:19-20? “…you are not your own—for you have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body.”
- Bought by the Lord Jesus at great price (His life-blood)
- Possessed by the Lord Jesus as our owner (you are not your own)
- At His service as His slaves (and a liberating service it is for those who take His yoke upon them and learn of Him)
A radical commitment of life with no part of the life of the slave outside of the Master’s authority. I agree with the one who stated that: “Disciples have no liberty to disagree with their divine teacher. What we believe about God, about man, male and female, made in his image, about life and death, duty and destiny, Scripture and tradition, salvation and judgment, and much else besides, we have learned from him. There is an urgent need in our day, in which wild and weird speculations abound, to resume our rightful position at his feet. ‘Only the person who follows the command of Jesus without reserve’, wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘and submits unresistingly to his yoke, finds his burden easy, and under its gentle pressure receives the power to persevere in the right way. The command of Jesus is hard, unutterably hard, for those who try to resist it. But for those who willingly submit, the yoke is easy and the burden is light.’” (Ibid, p. 91, Stott)
In understanding servanthood, I’ve always been drawn to the definition of a servant as: “One who has no plans of his own, no time of his own and no possessions of his own—but is totally dedicated (in plans, time and possessions) to the will of his Master.” Have I just described the way your life is lived under the Lordship of Jesus?
In Luke 6:46, Luke recorded a stirring question from Jesus indicating that it is possible to confess with the mouth—without a radical commitment of life to back it up. Jesus said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” And even more dreadful is that large number of people on judgment day who will say, “Lord, Lord…” and will be exposed and disposed as workers of sin.
This is further confirmed by the next point:
#2 The text of deity applied to Jesus
As one writer put it: “Now Paul has the audacity to lift this text out of Isaiah and reapply it to Jesus” (Ibid., p. 88, Stott). Listen carefully to Isaiah 45:22-23. “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance” (cf. similar application: Joel 2:32 with Acts 2:21, 28; Romans 10:13).
Philippians 2:9-11 is a direct application to Jesus Christ of a text referring to God.
In I Corinthians 8:6 we confess that, “…for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” There is distinction! But there is also a oneness far more profound than purpose and goal. (cf. I Thessalonians 1:1; 3:11; II Thessalonians 1:2, 12; 2:16-17; John 8:29, 58 )
3. The final point–The worship of deity–is the only fitting response to the first two points. Read Philippians 2:10-11.
What should motivate us to evangelism? What is the incentive for reaching others with the good news of salvation? Obviously, a number of answers are possible:
But I would like to suggest that we consider another motivation: the exaltation of Christ. The end result of the humiliation and self-giving sacrifice of Jesus Christ (outlined in Philippians 2:5-8) is revealed in Philippians 2:9-11 (Read it!).
This should be the strongest incentive to Christian witness. If we truly attach our will to the will and longing of God, then the zeal that motivates us in both worship and witness will be that without exception (every knee and every tongue) should acknowledge the supreme honor given to Jesus by God the Father (Ephesians 1:18-22; Colossians 1:18).
“We should affirm without any sense of embarrassment or shame that he is ‘superior’ to all other religious leaders, precisely because he alone humbled himself in love even to the cross and therefore God has raised him ‘above’ every other person, rank or title” (The Contemporary Christian, John Stott).
“Consequent upon his elevation or exaltation to the highest place, God desires ‘every knee’ to bow to him and ‘every tongue’ to confess his Lordship. The repeated ‘every’ is absolute; it admits of no exceptions. If God has given this supreme honour to Jesus, and desires everybody else to honour him, then the people of God should share his desire.” (p. 367, Ibid., John Stott)
“Moreover, the apostolic statements of Jesus’ exaltation are at pains to emphasize that he was elevated above all possible rivals, indeed ‘far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come’. This is ‘the highest place’ to which God has exalted Jesus and the ‘supremacy’ which he wants him to enjoy.” (p. 366, Ibid., John Stott)
Referring to those who see Christian witness as unnecessary, perhaps even a rude intrusion into the lives of others, Stott asks, “… Have these men, then, no jealousy for the honour of Jesus Christ? Do they not care when he is despised and rejected? Do they not long, as God does, that all human beings, whatever their culture or religion, will bow their knee to Jesus, and submit to him as their Lord?
It is this zeal for Christ which integrates the worship and witness of the church. How can we worship Christ and not mind that others do not? It is our worship of Christ which impels us to witness to Christ, in order that others may come and worship him too.” (p. 368, Ibid)
The zeal of the people of God should be that without exception (every knee and every tongue) should acknowledge the supreme honor given to Jesus.