Bible Basics (5th edition): A study manual revealing the joy and peace of true Christianity

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Belief In Practice 14: The Real Christ

Non-trinitarians understand, quite correctly, that Jesus saved the world on account of being human- for all His Lordship and spiritual unity with the Father. If He had been of any other nature, salvation would not have been possible through Him. He in all ways is our pattern. It is our humanity that enables us to go into this world with a credible, convincing and saving message. We have to be enough of a man himself in order to save a man. We are not asking our hearers to be super-human. The way senior churchmen seem to lack a genuine, complete humanity has led so many to conclude that because they cannot rise up to such apparently austere and white-faced levels, therefore Christianity for them is not an authentically human possibility. Our message is tied to us   as human people, just as the message of Jesus was Him, the real, human Jesus. The word was made flesh in Him as it must be in us. This is why nowhere in the Gospels is Jesus described with a long list of virtues- His actions and relations to others are what are presented, and it is from them that we ourselves feel and perceive His righteousness. The teachings of Marxism, e.g., can be separated from Marx as a man. You can accept Marxism without ever having read a biography of Karl Marx. But real Christianity is tied in to the person of the real Christ. The biographies of Jesus which open the New Testament are in essence a précis of the Gospel of Jesus. His life was and is His message. We are to follow Him. This is His repeated teaching. A Marxist follows the ideas of Marx, not merely his personality. But a Christian follows Christ as a person, not just His abstract ideas.  

If the message of Jesus is defined by us merely as ideas and principles, then we will inevitably find that ideas and principles lack the turbulence of real life- they are abstract. The principles of Bible Truth will be found to be colourless and remote from reality- unless they are tied in to the real, concrete person of Jesus. God forbid that our faith has given us just a bunch of ideas. The principles of the Truth, every doctrine of the Truth, is lived out in Jesus- and it is this fact, this image of Him, which appeals to us as live, passionate, flesh and blood beings. A person cannot be reduced to a formula. It is a living figure and not just dry theories that actually draws people, and in that sense is " attractive" . The person of Jesus, as the person of each of us in Him, makes the ideas, the doctrines, the principles, real and visible; He " embodies" them. It is only a concrete, real person who can be felt to call and appeal to people. What I am saying is that if we present the principles of the Truth as they are in Jesus, then this will be far more powerful in its appeal than simply presenting dry theories. " The truth as it is in Jesus" is a Biblical phrase- surely saying that the doctrines of the one Faith are lived out in this Man. Because of this, the person hearing the Gospel will feel summoned, appealed to, called, by a person- the risen Jesus. And then later on in the life of the convert, it will become apparent to him or her that this same Jesus, by reason of His very person, makes demands, challenges, invitations to them, to yet greater commitment. And only a real, living person can be encouraging in life. Principles as mere abstractions cannot encourage much of themselves.  

Jesus is our representative- a distinctive Bible doctrine. We are counted as being in Him. This means that His life is counted as being our life- and only because He was human and we now are human can this become true. The wonder of this is that so many people have acquired a new personal quality through their association with the risen Jesus- for all their human failures, humiliations, setbacks. No longer is it so important for them to ask 'Who am I? What have I achieved in this dumb life?'. Rather it is all important that we are in fact in Christ, and sharing in His life and being. Life has become so achievement and efficiency orientated that many of us feel failures. Only by achievement, it seems, can we justify ourselves in society. We have become caught up in a machine of life that robs us of our humanity. Our initiative, spontaneity, autonomy, our essential freedom- is lost. Yet if we are in Christ, secure in Him, part of His supreme personality, then our lives are totally different. We are no longer ashamed of our humanity. We are affirmed for who we are by God Himself, justified by Him- for we are in Christ. This is the real meaning, the wonderful implication, of being truly 'brethren-in-Christ'. 

By losing our life, we gain it. But the life we gain is the life of Jesus. And therefore life has meaning and purpose, not only in successes but also in failures. Our lives then make sense; for we have and live the true life, even if we are destroyed by opponents and deserted by friends; if we supported the wrong side and came to grief; if our achievements slacken and are overtaken by others; if we are no use any more to anyone. The bankrupt businessman, the utterly lonely divorcee, the overthrown and forgotten politician, the unemployed middle aged man, the aged prostitute or criminal dying in prison...all these, even though their persons and lives are no longer recognized by this world, are all the same joyfully, gleefully, recognized by Him with whom there is no respect of persons; for they are in His beloved Son. 

Genuine Humanity

I remember the cold, Russian winter’s day when it finally burst upon me that the Lord Jesus really was human. Because He was genuinely human, so genuinely so, I suddenly started thinking of all sorts of things which must have been true about Him, which I’d never dared think before. And in this, I believe I went up a level in knowing Him. He was the genuine product of the pregnancy process. He had all the pre-history of Mary in his genes. He had a genetic structure. He had a unique fingerprint, just as I have. He must have been either left-hand or right-handed (or ambidextrous!). Belonged to a particular blood group. Fitted into one psychological type more than another. He forgot things at times, didn't understand absolutely everything (e.g. the date of His return, or the mystery of spiritual growth, Mk. 4:27), made a mistake when working as a carpenter, cut His finger. But He was never frustrated with Himself; He was happy being human, comfortable with His humanity. And as I walked through that long Moscow subway from Rizhskaya Metro to Rizhsky Vokzal, the thoughts were coming thick and fast. Why did He look on the ground when the woman [presumably naked] caught in the act of adultery was brought before Him? Was it not perhaps from sheer embarrassment and male awkwardness? Why not ask these questions? If He was truly human, sexuality is at the core of personhood. He would have known sexuality, responding to stimuli in a natural heterosexual manner, “yet without sin”. He was not a cardboard Christ, a sexless Jesus. He shared the same unconscious drives and libido which we do, with a temper, anxiety and ‘anxious fear of death’ (Heb. 5:7) as strong as ours. He was a real man, not free from the inner conflict, effort, temptation and doubt which are part of our human condition. No way can I subscribe to a Trinitarian position that “there was [not] even an infinitely small element of struggle involved” when the Lord faced temptation (1). He was tempted just as we are- and temptation surely involves feeling the pull of evil, and having part of you that feels it to be more attractive than the good. 

I suspect I can see through that huge gap between writer and reader, to sense your discomfort and alarm, even anger, that I should talk about the Lord Jesus in such human terms. I can imagine the splutter and misunderstanding which will greet these suggestions. I am not seeking to diminish in any way from the Lord’s greatness. I’m seeking to bring out His greatness; that there, in this genuinely human person, there was God manifest in flesh. The revulsion of some at what I’m saying is to me just another articulation of our basic dis-ease when faced with the fact the Lord Jesus really was our representative. I believe that in all of us, there’s a desire to set some sort of break between our own humanity, and that of Jesus. But if He wasn’t really like us, then I see the whole ‘Christ-thing’ as having little cash value in our world that seeks so desperately for authenticity and human salvation. The human, Son of God Jesus whom we preach is actually very attractive to people. There’s something very compelling about a perfect hero, who nevertheless has a weak human side. You can see this expressed in novels and fine art very often. Nikolay Gorodetsky wrote a book entitled The Humiliated Christ In Modern Russian Thought where he brings this out well(2). If He were really like us, then this demands an awful lot of us. It rids us of so many excuses for our unspirituality. And this, I’m bold enough to say, is likely the psychological reason for the growth of the Jesus=God ideology, and the ‘trinity’ concept. The idea of a personally pre-existent Jesus likewise arose out of the same psychological bind. The Jews wanted a Messiah whose origins they wouldn’t know (Jn. 7:27), some inaccessible heavenly figure, of which their writings frequently speak- and when faced with the very human Jesus, whose mother and brothers they knew, they couldn’t cope with it. I suggest those Jews had the same basic mindset as those who believe in a personal pre-existence of the Lord. The trinity and pre-existence doctrines place a respectable gap between us and the Son of God. As John Knox concluded: “We can have the humanity [of Jesus] without the pre-existence and we can have the pre-existence without the humanity. There is absolutely no way of having both” (3). His person and example aren’t so much of an imperative to us, because He was God and not man. But if this perfect man was indeed one of us, a man amongst men, with our very same flesh, blood, sperm and plasm… we start to feel uncomfortable. It’s perhaps why so many of us find prolonged contemplation of His crucifixion- where He was at His most naked and most human- something we find distinctly uncomfortable, and impossible to deeply sustain for long. But only if we properly have in balance the awesome reality of Christ’s humanity, can we understand how one man’s death 2,000 years ago can radically alter our lives today. We make excuses for ourselves: our parents were imperfect, society around us is so sinful. But the Lord Jesus was perfect- and dear Mary did her best, but all the same failed to give Him a perfect upbringing; she wasn’t a perfect mother; and He didn’t live in a perfect environment. And yet, He was perfect. And bids us quit our excuses and follow Him. According to the Talmud, Mary was a hairdresser [Shabbath 104b], whose husband left her with the children because he thought she’d had an affair with a Roman soldier. True or not, she was all the same an ordinary woman, living a poor life in a tough time in a backward land. And the holy, harmless, undefiled Son of God and Son of Man… was, let’s say, the son of a divorcee hairdresser from a dirt poor, peripheral village, got a job working construction when He was still a teenager. There’s a wonder in all this. And an endless challenge. For none of us can now blame our lack of spiritual endeavour upon a tough background, family dysfunction, hard times, bad environment. We can rise above it, because in Him we are a new creation, the old has passed away, and in Him, all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17). Precisely because He blazed the trail, blazed it out of all the limitations which normal human life appears to impress upon us, undeflected and undefeated by whatever distractions both His and our humanity placed in His path. And He’s given us the power to follow Him.  

He wasn’t a God who came down to us and became human; rather is He the ordinary, very human guy who rose up to become the Man with the face of God, ascended the huge distance to Heaven, and received the very nature of God. It’s actually the very opposite to what human theology has supposed, fearful as they were of what the pattern of this Man meant for them. The pre-existent view of Jesus makes Him some kind of Divine comet which came to earth, very briefly, and then sped off again, to return at the second coming. Instead we see a man from amongst men, arising to Divine status, and opening a way for us His brethren to share His victory; and coming back to establish His eternal Kingdom with us on this earth, His earth, where He came from and had His human roots. Take a passage must beloved of Trinitarians, Phil. 2. We read that Jesus was found (heuretheis) in fashion (schemati) as a man, and He humiliated Himself (tapeinoseos), and thereby was exalted. But in the next chapter, Paul speaks of himself in that very language. He speaks of how he, too, would be “found” (heuretho) con-formed to the example of Jesus in His death, and would have his body of humiliation (tapeinoseos) changed into one like that of Jesus, “the body of his glory”. We aren’t asked to follow the pattern or schema of a supposed incarnation of a God as man. We’re asked to follow in the path of the Lord Jesus, the Son of man, in His path to glory. Repeatedly, we are promised that His glory is what we will ultimately share, at the end of our path of humiliation and sharing in His cross (Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 3:18; Jn. 17:22,24).  

The Challenge Of Christ’s Humanity

The undoubted need for doctrinal truth about the nature of Jesus can so easily lead us to overlooking the need for obedience to His most practical teaching. As Adolf Harnack put it: “True faith in Jesus is not a matter of credal orthodoxy but of doing as he did (4). In this sense we need “to rescue Jesus from Christianity (5). We need to reconstruct in our own minds the person of Jesus and practical teaching of Jesus which so perfectly reflected His own life, free from the theology and creeds which have so often surrounded Him. As a result of this, our preaching of Christ so often ends up stressing those elements which the unbeliever or misbeliever finds most difficult to accept, rather than focusing on the Lord’s humanity and His practical teachings, which they are more likely to accept because as humans they have a natural affinity with them. The Lord Jesus was not merely human, as a theologically correct statement. He passionately entered into human life to its’ fullest extent. Thus B.B. Warfield comments: “[Jesus] knew not mere joy but exultation, not mere passing pity but the deepest movements of compassion and love, not mere surface distress but an exceeding sorrow even unto death" (6). 

There is an incredible challenge in the fact that the Lord Jesus had human nature and yet never sinned. He rose above sin in all its forms, and yet was absolutely human. It seems to me that many Christians feel that their calling is to rise above both sin, and also their own human nature. And this results in their belief that spirituality is in fact a denial of their humanity. In extreme forms, we have the white faced nun who has been led to believe that being spiritual equals being white faced, passionless, and somehow superhuman. In a more common expression of the same problem, there are many elders who believe it to be fatal to show any emotional conviction about anything, no chinks in their armour, no admission of their own human limitations or understanding. For this reason I see a similarity between the ‘lives of the saints’ as recorded in Catholic and Orthodox writings (replete with white faces and large holy eyes, hands ever folded in prayer, never making a slip)- and the glossy biographies of Evangelical leaders which jump out at you from the shelves of Protestant bookstores. They too, apparently, never set a foot wrong, but progressed from unlikely glory to unlikely glory. All this arises from an over-emphasis upon the Divine rather than the human side of the Lord Jesus. The character of the Lord Jesus shows us what it’s like to be both human and sinless. It has been truly commented that “if we believe in the fact of his humanity, we must affirm our own”. And the same author perceptively points out that “Just as we have sought a mythical model of Jesus Christ whose humanity is a sham, so we have sought a mythical model of the Christian life” ( 7). Because we seek to rise above being human, we are aiming for something that doesn’t exist. The Lord Jesus wasn’t and isn’t ‘superhuman’; He was and is the image of God stamped upon humanity, and in this sense the New Testament still calls Him a “man” even now. We need not take false guilt about being human. We should be happy with who we are, made in the image of God.


(1) F.D.E. Schliermacher, The Christian Faith (Edinburgh: T& T Clark, 1928) p. 414.

(2) Nikolay Gorodetsky, The Humiliated Christ In Modern Russian Thought (London: SPCK, 1938).

(3) John Knox, The Humanity and Divinity of Christ (Cambridge: CUP, 1968) p. 106.

(4) A. Harnack, What Is Christianity? (5th ed., London: Benn, 1958), x.

(5) R.W. Funk, Honest To Jesus (San Francisco: Harper, 1996) p. 300.

(6) B.B. Warfield, ‘The Emotional Life Of Our Lord’ in The Person And Work Of Christ (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1950) p. 142.

(7) Nigel Cameron, Complete In Christ (Exeter: Paternoster, 1997). He perceptively sees a link between the false notion of an ‘immortal soul’, and a wrong view of the nature of man and of Jesus: “There is the idea, as unbiblical as it is common, of the ‘soul’- understood as an animating spirit which inhabits the body but in fact itself constitutes the human person, the essential self. Then there is the related idea of the life to come as an ‘after-life’ in which the soul survives while the body departs. These are notions which derive from ancient Greece and have become parasitic on Christian thinking. They foster a lasting suspicion of man as a corporeal being, and undermine our confidence in the Christian life as a human life” (p. 110). I find these sentences very incisive and true in their analysis.

Bible Basics: Contents

Part 1: "The things concerning the Kingdom of God" Study 1: God 1.1  The Existence Of God || 1.2  The Personality Of God || Belief In Practice 1: Knowing God || 1.3  God's Name And Character || Belief In Practice 2: Grace (John Parkes) || Belief In Practice 3: The All Seeing God || Belief In Practice 4: God Is Omnipotent || Belief In Practice 5: Responding To The One God || 1.4     The Angels || Belief In Practice 6: God As Creator || Digression 1: God Manifestation || Digression 2:  Why The Trinity Was Accepted || Study 1: Questions Study 2: The Spirit Of God 2.1  Definition || 2.2  Inspiration || 2.3  Gifts Of The Holy Spirit || 2.4  The Withdrawal Of The Gifts || 2.5  The Bible The Only Authority || Digression 3: Is The Holy Spirit A Person? || Digression 4: The Principle Of Personification || Belief In Practice 7: The Implications Of Inspiration || Study 2: Questions Study 3: The Promises Of God 3.1  Introduction || 3.2  The Promise In Eden || 3.3  The Promise To Noah || 3.4  The Promise To Abraham || 3.5  The Promise To David || Belief In Practice 8: Covenant Relationship With God || Study 3: Questions Study 4: God And Death 4.1  The Nature Of Man || 4.2  The Soul || 4.3  The Spirit || 4.4  Death Is Unconsciousness || 4.5  The Resurrection || 4.6  The Judgment || Belief In Practice 9: Judgment Now || 4.7  The Place Of Reward: Heaven Or Earth?|| 4.8  Responsibility To God || 4.9  Hell || Digression 5: Purgatory || Digression 6: Ghosts And Reincarnation || Digression 7: The 'Rapture' || Belief In Practice 10: The Motivational Power Of Understanding Death || Study 4: Questions Study 5: The Kingdom Of God 5.1  Defining The Kingdom || 5.2  The Kingdom Is Not Now Established || 5.3  The Kingdom Of God In The Past || 5.4  The Kingdom Of God In The Future || 5.5  The Millennium || Digression 8: The Kingdom Of God Now (Graham Bacon) || Belief In Practice 11: What The Kingdom Of God Means Today || Study 5: QuestionsStudy 6: God And Evil 6.1  God And Evil || 6.2  The Devil And Satan || 6.3  Demons || Digression 9: The Implications And Origin Of The Belief In A Personal Satan || Digression 10: Witchcraft || Digression 11: What Happened In Eden? || Digression 12: Lucifer || Belief In Practice 12: Battle For The Mind || Study 6: Questions

Part 2: "The things concerning...the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12) Study 7: The Origin Of Jesus. 7.1  Old Testament Prophecies Of Jesus || 7.2  The Virgin Birth || 7.3  Christ's Place In God's Plan || 7.4  "In the beginning was the word" || Digression 13: Jesus The Son Of God (Michael Gates) || Digression 14: Did Jesus Create The Earth? || Belief In Practice 13: Jesus Didn’t Pre-exist: And So What? || Study 7: Questions Study 8: The Nature Of Jesus 8.1  Introduction || 8.2  Differences Between God And Jesus || 8.3  The Nature Of Jesus || 8.4  The Humanity Of Jesus || 8.5  The Relationship Of God With Jesus || Belief In Practice 14: The Real Christ || Digression 15: How The Real Christ Was Lost || Digression 16: The Divine Side Of Jesus || Study 8: Questions Study 9: The Work Of Jesus 9.1  The Victory Of Jesus || 9.2  The Blood Of Jesus || 9.3  Jesus As Our Representative || 9.4  Jesus And The Law Of Moses || 9.5  The Sabbath || Digression 17 The Crucifix || Digression 18: Was Jesus Born On Dec. 25th? || Belief In Practice 15: The Meaning Of Christ’s Resurrection For Us || Belief In Practice 16: Christ Died For Me- So What Should I Do? || Belief In Practice 17: The Real Cross || Belief In Practice 18: The Inspiration Of The Cross || Study 9: Questions || Study 10: Baptism Into Jesus 10.1  The Vital Importance Of Baptism || 10.2  How Should We Be Baptized? || 10.3  The Meaning Of Baptism || 10.4  Baptism And Salvation || Digression 19: Re-baptism || Digression 20 The Thief On The Cross || Belief In Practice 19: The Certainty Of Salvation || Study 10: Questions Study 11: Life In Christ 11.1  Introduction || 11.2  Holiness || 11.2.1  The Use Of Force || 11.2.2  Politics || 11.2.3  Worldly Pleasures || 11.3  Practical Christian Life || 11.3.1  Bible Study || 11.3.2  Prayer || 11.3.3  Preaching || 11.3.4  Ecclesial Life || 11.3.5  The Breaking Of Bread || 11.4  Marriage || 11.5  Fellowship || Study 11: Questions ||