Who Do You Say That I Am?

Idols vs. the Real Jesus

By John Stonestreet Published on October 19, 2017

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.

A Jesus who sinned wouldn’t have been God, nor worthy of our worship. Ironically, this bishop’s imaginary Jesus would be the idol.

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.

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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.

This God-Man was not only sinless, He is entirely worthy of our worship.

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 BreakPoint.org. 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.



Originally published on BreakPoint.org: BreakPoint Commentaries. Republished with permission of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

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  • tz1

    It was Peter who answered correctly.
    Jesus said it was not flesh and blood but the Father who revealed it.

    But it apparently petered out so Christianity became flat so Biships weren’t from Apostolic Succession…

    Everyone wants to draw the line as to what Scripture implies or forces somewhere at different points, but in this case the Catholics are at the end if you follow the line all the way.

    • Ken Abbott

      “the Catholics are at the end if your follow the line all the way.”

      The Orthodox beg to differ.

      • tz1

        Beggars can’t be choosers. They got off the Rock in 1054.

        • Ken Abbott

          Or vice-versa. Besides, the rock of Matthew 16 doesn’t refer to the man Peter but his confession.

          • Chip Crawford

            Exactly; it refers to the rock of the revelation that he is the Christ, the son of the living God.

          • tz1

            Somehow changing the name from Simon to Cephos (Paul uses the term) or Kepha (Aramaic for Rock) contradicts your view.

          • Andrew Mason

            And yet while Peter sounds similar to rock, at least in Greek – petros v petra, he is not the rock the church is built upon. Jesus had just asked Peter who the Son of Man was, and he said that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus then called him blessed for having been given this revelation from God, and that it was on this rock that He would build His church.

          • tz1

            “You (Peter/Simon/Cephos) ARE ROCK and upon this ROCK I will build my church.

            So many Christians hate the literal words of Scripture.

          • Andrew Mason

            What version is that? None of the versions I see call Peter rock. The Greek is quite clear in it’s distinction between Peters (petros) and rock (petra). Petra is a feminine word and cannot refer to Peter since petros is masculine. If it helps petros refers to a pebble i.e. a small movable unstable stone so does have some connection to rock. Petra is used in other passages to refer to the rock rolled in front of Christ’s tomb, and Christ Himself.

            As far as I can see the Catholic Church bases its position that Peter=rock based upon the presumed Aramaic – we don’t actually have an Aramaic version, only the original Greek.

            I for one am very pro-literal, it’s just there is no way to make that argument if you use the literal text.

          • Ken Abbott

            Not at all–a good commentary can explain your confusion. Don’t forget that Paul refers to Christ himself as the Rock in explicit language, and that Christ used a rock foundation (meaning his words) as a solid and sure base upon which to fix one’s life (Matthew 7).


    This article seems to put belief in the Trinity as the litmus test for true Christianity, even though the Trinity doctrine is nowhere explicitly defined in scripture. And there is a lot of debate about what, exactly, scripture implicitly states about the relation of the Father to the Son. If we’re really against describing Christ in terms that flatly contradict scripture, we shouldn’t turn around and define Christianity on the basis of a problematic interpretation.

    • Ken Abbott

      Actually, the main point of the article is to affirm the full deity of Jesus Christ.

    • Andrew Mason

      There are many things not explicitly mentioned in Scripture which are still categorically true. That Jesus IS God is one thing that is however explicitly expressed, and it is for this blasphemy that the Council sought His death.

    • eddiestardust

      Sounds like a non believer to me:(

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