These two lies many Christians believe remind the church to frequently return to the basics of what we believe about Jesus Himself.
By Aaron Earls
As Americans finalize their plans to celebrate Christmas, many are deeply confused about the person whose birth they’re recognizing.
Jesus remains a popular figure and Christmas a widely accepted holiday. Nine in 10 Americans celebrate Christmas, including 82% of the religiously unaffiliated and 74% of adherents of non-Christian religions, according to a 2021 Lifeway Research study. Almost 3 in 4 Americans (71%) believe the Jesus that Christians believe in was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago, according to an additional Lifeway Research study.
Also, majorities of Americans accept biblical truths about Jesus. According to the 2022 State of Theology study, most U.S. adults believe Jesus physically resurrected from the dead as described in the Bible (66%), that His death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of sin (64%), and that He will return to judge all the people who have lived (64%).
Yet, despite these orthodox concepts being widely accepted, two misunderstandings about Jesus have taken root in both church and culture. These may seem like obvious lies to pastors, but many in the pews aren’t quite as confident.
Lie 1: Jesus is not eternal
To use just two examples, John 1 and Colossians 1 speak of Jesus existing before God created anything. As God the Son, He played an active role in the creation of the universe. Yet, not only do many Americans doubt this concept, many Christians share those doubts.
In relation to Christmas itself, there’s confusion about Jesus’ eternality. While 80% of Americans say Jesus is the Son of God the Father and 72% say the birth of Jesus is a historical fact, only 41% believe the Son of God existed before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Even among evangelicals, just 65% agree. The more frequently one attends church, the more likely they are to believe the Son of God existed prior to Jesus’ birth. However, fewer than 2 in 3 (63%) of the most frequent churchgoers believe this.Only 41% of Americans believe the Son of God existed before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Even among evangelicals, just 65% agree. Click To Tweet
More than half of Americans (55%) say Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God, according to the 2022 State of Theology study. What’s worse, evangelicals are more likely to agree (73%) and have been more likely to agree since the first State of Theology study in 2016.
Some of the confusion among Christians may stem from seeing the phrase “first and greatest” and wanting to ascribe those characteristics to Jesus. It may be you could quickly show many what was wrong with that statement, but they won’t always have someone there with them. When they engage in conversations with non-Christians, including those belonging to breakaway groups like Latter Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses, they could easily miss the important distinctions of Christianity.
That may be why 67% of Americans and 56% of evangelicals believe God accepts the worship of all religions. They can’t explain what makes any of those religions unique, including their own.
Lie #2: Jesus is not God
Again, John 1 and numerous other biblical passages point to Jesus’ divine nature, but most Americans and many Christians aren’t quite sure.
The State of Theology study found most evangelicals (97%) and even Americans as a whole (71%) accept the Trinity as a doctrine. They agree there is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Just don’t ask them to go much deeper than that.More than half of Americans (53%) say Jesus was a great teacher but not God. More than 2 in 5 evangelicals (44%) agree. Click To Tweet
One couldn’t and shouldn’t expect the average churchgoer to be able to explain the intricacies of the Trinity. If you believe God the Son is one person in the one true God, however, it shouldn’t be too difficult of a step to affirm that Jesus is God.
More than half of Americans (53%) say Jesus was a great teacher but not God. That’s clearly contradictory to other beliefs but somewhat understandable for non-Christians. Unfortunately, even among Christians, there’s confusion.
More than 2 in 5 evangelicals (44%) agree that Jesus was a great teacher but not God. Fewer than half of Americans who attend religious services at least monthly (47%) outright say they disagree with the statement.
For some, these two lies may be more misunderstandings than heresies. Still, the fact that these beliefs are so widely held, even among Christians, demonstrates that churches must frequently return to the basics of what we believe about Jesus Himself.“Use the opportunities presented by the Christmas season to clear up any confusions about Jesus' identity that exist in your congregation.” — @wardrobedoor Click To Tweet
Use the opportunities presented by the Christmas season to help clear up any confusions that exist in your congregation. Reaffirm our belief in the baby born in a manager being both fully God and fully man who grew up to be a great teacher but also so much more.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.