BreakPoint: Who Do You Say that I Am?

Idols vs. the Real Jesus

Who is Jesus? It’s a foundational question, and one many Christians struggle to answer.

In Matthew 16, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

“Some say John the Baptist,” they replied, “others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But who do you say that I am?”

These days, increasingly odd and just plain wrong answers to Jesus’ question seem to be floating around everywhere, and churches are one of the easiest places to find them. This shouldn’t surprise us, however. As we’ve said before on BreakPoint, beliefs come in bunches. So when you see increasingly unorthodox and innovative ideas about sex, marriage, and the human person coming from religious leaders, you can bet they’re also entertaining increasingly unorthodox and innovative ideas about truth, the Bible, and even God Himself.

For example, Dr. Karen Oliveto, the first openly lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church, recently offered this message to her flock:

“Too many folks want to box Jesus in,” she wrote, “carve him in stone, create an idol out of him. [But] the wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting one, prince of peace, was as human as you and me. Like you and me, he didn’t have his life figured out.” Jesus had “bigotries and prejudices,” she added, even sins which He had to learn to overcome.

Wait, Jesus can be an “idol”? As John Lomperis with the Institute on Religion and Democracy remarked, “[A]n idol is something other than God, usually something created by human hands, improperly worshipped as a god.” But Jesus is God. For Dr. Oliveto to suggest that it’s improper to worship God is like suggesting it’s improper to love your spouse.

And a Jesus who sinned wouldn’t have been God, nor worthy of our worship. Ironically, this bishop’s imaginary Jesus would be the idol—along with the Jesus of the Arian and Unitarian heresies, which teach that Jesus was a good man but a created being, not God in human flesh.

But before we give Dr. Oliveto too much grief, we ought to ask where our own theology is.

A 2014 LifeWay Research survey of self-described evangelicals found that while nearly all profess belief in the Trinity, one in four say God the Father is “more divine” than Jesus. That’s similar to what the Arians believed, it’s the error the Nicene Creed was written to combat.

In another survey conducted last year, LifeWay talked only with those who held core evangelical and conservative beliefs. Yet an astonishing seven in ten said Jesus was the first being created by God—again, a defining feature of Arianism. And more than a quarter held that the Holy Spirit is not equal with either the Father or the Son.

This sad mess shouldn’t just bother theological eggheads. These errors strike at the heart of Christianity, giving fundamentally unscriptural answers to the question, “Who is Jesus?”

Answering this question correctly is itself an act of worship. It’s a vital part of knowing and loving our God as He is. And it impacts Christians’ lives at the most basic level.

For example, because Jesus is equal with the Father and fully God means He can truly pardon us. As the scribes in Mark 2 correctly observed, “Only God can forgive sins.”

Yet Jesus is also fully human. In order to serve as our High Priest, He became like us in every respect, as Hebrews 2:17 says. In order to redeem Adam’s race, the Last Adam had to belong to it.

This God-Man was not only sinless, He is entirely worthy of our worship. In reply to His question, “Who do you say that I am?” We should be able to say with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and with Thomas, who fell on His knees before the risen Jesus and said, “My Lord and my God.”

Please come visit us at We’ll link you to books and other resources that will help you and your family walk through these essential truths and answer the fundamental questions of the Christian worldview.


Who Do You Say that I Am?: Idols vs. the Real Jesus

Get re-familiar with the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith. Check out the links below for resources that  discuss and develop the essential truths of “the faith, given once for all.”


The Faith
  • Charles W. Colson | Zondervan
Basic Christianity
  • John Stott | IVP Books | May 2012
A Practical View of Christianity
  • William Wilberforce
Mere Christianity
  • C. S. Lewis | HarperOne Publishing

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  • Just One Voice

    Excellent article! Great reminder that theology & doctrine matter. They’re not to be mistaken as carrying the most importance, but they do matter.

  • Donald Shifflett

    I fully believe in the Trinity and that they are all equal. I am curious on your view of the following verse

    Matthew 24:36New International Version (NIV)

    36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[a] but only the Father.
    The verse would seem to say that there are things that Son does not know showing some difference in the knowledge between the entities in the Trinity.

    • Scott

      I really like the way C.S. Lewis describes the Trinity. In his book Mere Christianity, he uses the analogy of three dimensions:

      “If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are drawing two, you could draw a figure: say, a square…. Now a step further. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body: say, a cube… As you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you don’t leave behind the things you found on simpler levels; you still have them, but combined in new ways—in ways you couldn’t imagine if you knew only the simpler levels…On the Divine level, you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being…Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube.”

      Of course we cannot expect to fully comprehend God, but I recommend reading Mere Christianity in its entirety as I found it very helpful. : – )

    • Daniel

      Philippians 2:5-9 sum this up well. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

      Jesus (God) truly humbled himself “emptying himself”, to experience life as we do. While Jesus was man he completely submitted himself to the father, as should we. – I find this to be good theological answer to your question.

      • Donald Shifflett

        Thanks I am not sure I ever viewed the issue that way.

      • Scott

        I like your perspective… nice use of scripture! I couldn’t connect to your link though?

  • Jud

    AMEN! One God – 3 Manifestations to carry out God’s Economy.

  • Theological ignorance is the fault of church leaders who themselves don’t understand the value of doctrine and theology. Thus most Evangelical churches preach a form of moralism more than they preach the gospel. I’ve heard it all my life, and it deeply saddens me.

  • Walta Gamoian

    This made my heart sick. There is rampant Bible illiteracy in the church. We need to be talking about who Jesus is and what He did for us. We cannot assume people know these truths. To love Jesus is to love The Word (the Word became flesh).

  • Ben Seltmann

    Good article. Definitions and interpretations have opened the door to the acceptance of blatant sin. Marriage is no longer marriage, life and death are determined by vote, justice is often subverted by money or politics. Perhaps it is time to reevaluate our own positions and the sources that have contributed to the confusion among believers in the One or the other Jesus! Have we considered that He was Jewish and all of His Disciples were observing all of the commanded events that were spoken to Moses by God Himself? If we only go back to the creeds, Nicene or others, have we done due diligence beyond what Martin did? Reformation or restoration is noteworthy only if the “grafting in” is into the rootstock of Israel. Martin Luther was a thinker and a doer, but what he was discovering didn’t go far enough to retrace the heretical direction instituted by the Roman Empire. It is said that Martin Luther became Anti-Semitic after his best efforts of converting Jews was rebuffed. Was Martin modeling the Messiah or had he accepted the fallacy that the “new” religion was superior to the one taught by the Jewish carpenter from Nazareth?

  • Esther David

    Jesus is: the Son of God that was exalted to be God as recorded in Acts 2:32 and Hebrew 1:3. Isaiah also prophesied in Chapter 9:6 that he (Jesus) was the “mighty God” and in Matthew 28th chapter Jesus declared that he was given “all power” which made him Almighty, Jr. because his father is Almighty, Sr. Remember in 1 Corinthians 15 , Almighty, Jr. is going to turn everything back over to Almighty, Sr. Also remember that Jesus is God’s Heir…

  • Weinstein

    He’s extremely powerful, he’s alive and well, but he’s not at all what the bible says he is.

  • Esther David

    There is no “Trinity” in the Scripture, there is “Unity” of the faith which is Jewish because the Scripture is all about the Jews, for the Jews, to the Jews, and for the Jews…remember God’s family is Jewish, starting with Abraham, “the Hebrew”, the. Patriarch of this Jewish faith… Everyone in God’s family is Jewish…you must be a biological Jew or ” an adopted” Jew to be in the family of God. There is only “Unity” because of the fellowship of the father with the son. The father, the Son, and the HolyGhost, which is the Spirit of God the father are one in UNITY. There is no TRINITY…that is man’s assumption or misguided interpretation…

  • Greg

    Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus is the “Firstborn of all creation”. I wonder if some of the Christians who filled out the Lifeway survey were thinking of this well known verse when talking about Jesus. I wonder if they would still agree that Jesus is God in the flesh and pre-existing with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. My point is that sometimes the wording of surveys come out with spectacular findings which may not be what the respondents intended. Was there a follow up to any of the questions and how were they worded. I do agree that American Biblical literacy has gone down and our understanding of theology is much less then it was in earlier years. But sometimes the way surveys are designed and executed yield results that are less then perfect.