What Would You Say to Someone Who Doesn't Believe Jesus Is God?
A blog reader asked, "What would you say to a sweet Christian friend who doesn’t believe that Jesus is God? She also disagrees with John 1:1 and says it is unclear in the Greek. But she is not a Jehovah’s Witness."
John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That is the first verse I ever memorized in Greek (and about the only one I still remember.) What it’s saying in the Greek is what is self-evident in the English translation—that Jesus was with God the Father in the beginning, and that He himself was God. From before time, God the Father and God the Son co-existed along with God the Holy Spirit (not mentioned specifically here).
Some people say, “We could translate that verse as, ‘The Word was a God.’” There are other passages in which you could insert the word “a”, and it is sometimes done. But in this particular passage, it is very clear that it is saying, “In his essence, Jesus was God.”
We’re told in verse 14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of the Father, but He is not a created being. He was with the Father and the Spirit in the beginning. He is the infinite, eternal, never-brought-into-existence, ever-preexistent God.
Someone can say they disagree with John 1:1 or that interpretation, but they are disagreeing with what the Bible clearly says. We know this because Jesus’ deity is evident not only in this verse, but also repeatedly in the gospel of John. For instance, in John 8, Jesus is talking to a group of Jewish people that includes the teachers, scribes, and Pharisees. He says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” It’s significant that He doesn’t just say, “I existed before Abraham,” but “before Abraham was I am”, because He is taking on the name of Yahweh—“I AM WHO I AM”—that God used when He revealed Himself to Moses (Exodus 3:14). Jesus was stating that as the Son of God, He was God—the eternal, pre-existent God of the Old Testament.
Some people say, “Well, that’s not how I interpret that passage”, or “He didn’t really mean that. He meant this…” Well, how did the crowd who heard Him interpret it? We’re told they picked up stones to stone Him. Why? Because it was blasphemy for a man to claim to be God. Clearly even His enemies understood what He was claiming.
If you look in the Gospel of John, it is full of “I am” statements from Jesus: “I am the bread of life,” “I am the gate,” “I am the Good Shepherd,” and “I am the light of the world.” It’s not just these things He’s emphasizing; it’s the very words, “I am.” This repeated theme establishes Him as deity.
Titus 2:13 talks about “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” It’s not differentiating between our God the Father, and then our Savior Jesus Christ. No, the way the Greek is constructed, it’s talking about the same person. Jesus is our Savior and He is our God.
Another example is Jesus being called “God.” In John 20:28, He doesn’t rebuke Thomas when Thomas beholds Christ’s resurrection body and says, “My Lord and my God!” In contrast, whenever somebody falls on their knees to worship the angels in Scripture, the angels are terrified, saying, “Don’t you dare do that because I’m not God!” Likewise, when people fell down on their knees to worship Paul and Barnabas, they cried out, “No, no, no. I’m not God!” Why does Jesus not say, “I’m not God” to Thomas? Because He was God. Clearly He accepts worship as befitting to Him as Lord.
So how do you help people who don’t accept Jesus’ deity? I believe it is to sit down with them and say, “Please understand what this passage says. You can disagree if you want to as to whether Jesus is God, but just understand that Scripture is clearly stating that He is.”
The person who asked the question mentioned Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it brings to mind a story that I haven’t told for many years. There was a woman named Diane who was not only a Jehovah’s Witness, but who also trained other Jehovah’s Witnesses on what to say and how to persuade people when they go door to door. I had a friend who said to me, “Randy, you’ve got to meet this woman. We’ve been talking, and she’s got all her Jehovah’s Witness ideas. Would you be willing to meet with her?”
I said, “I really don’t want to meet her and here’s why: I’ve met with numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses and numbers of Mormons, and nothing ever comes out of it. We sit down, and I open the Bible. I start talking to them, and they are always just all over the place, bringing their stuff in and not listening. I really don’t want to do it.” (In other words, I didn’t have a good attitude at all about meeting with this woman!)
Finally he said, “Come on. Please meet with her.”
So I begrudgingly agreed, “Okay.”
I went into this meeting with this lousy attitude. Maybe I prayed that God would speak through me to this person, but I certainly didn’t believe that He actually would.
I sat down with Diane and said, “Could we start by agreeing together that we’re going to trust whatever the Bible says? You can turn to any passage that you want; I will turn to any passage I want, and we’ll go from there. We’ll trust the Bible.”
She looked at me and said, “Okay, that’s fine, because I do believe the Bible.”
I thought, Yeah, yeah, yeah. You say that, but what’s going to happen as soon as I open it up?
I turned to John 1:1, thinking I know how she is going to respond, and said, “From years of studying Greek with the Greek teachers, and the Greek expositors I’ve read, here’s what they say about this passage.” Then I turned to John 8 (“Before Abraham was, I am”) and set up the whole context. I looked at the Titus 2 passage and dozens of other passages.
Then I said, “Diane, what does it seem to you like the Bible is saying about Christ?”
She said, slowly and deliberately, with a sort of stunned look on her face, “It sounds like it’s saying that He’s really God.”
I’m thinking, Okay, she’s just going with me for the moment. Then it’s going to collapse at the end when she comes back with all her Jehovah’s Witness stuff.
We went through Scripture for about half an hour, and then I looked at her and asked, “So, bottom line, what do you think based on this? Not what have you been taught as a Jehovah’s Witness, but what do you really think God is saying about Jesus in the Word?”
She responded, “Well, I think it’s saying that I’ve been wrong, and that Jesus is God.”
I shared the Gospel with her, and she prayed and gave her life to Christ. She was disowned by her Jehovah’s Witness family and was baptized in a Christian church, and last I knew she was walking with Jesus.
The moral of the story is don’t give up on people who are in cults. Yes, there is a time when you just realize, this isn’t productive to keep talking with a person who seems never to listen to Scripture. Maybe you think, I’ve tried and tried to witness to this Mormon friend or this Jehovah’s Witness friend. I’ll pray for them, but it’s going to take a miracle of grace to break through. But it is always a miracle for someone to come to faith in Christ. And God does those miracles, sometimes when we least expect him to.
God taught me a very valuable lesson that day. There is no question in my mind that it was not my wit, wisdom, or good attitude (which had started out bad) that won this woman to faith. It was the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in her life.