A recent conversation between my oldest son and daughter coming home from the park one day relayed how to distinguish if a person believes in the true God. The conversation ensued from my daughter’s invitation to another girl to our church’s Vacation Bible School. After the fact, my son’s instruction to my daughter was to draw upon the truth of John 1 which asserts Jesus’ divinity.
The deity of Jesus is unquestionably a fundamental truth of historic biblical Christianity. Because the person and work of Jesus stand at the center of the Bible’s articulation of the Gospel, it is of critical importance what we believe about Him and how we articulate and defend those beliefs. So how does the Mormon understanding of Jesus compare to the Bible’s teaching?
For Bible-believing Christians it is often difficult to know how to cut through the fog of LDS belief about Jesus to get to the heart of defining who He is and what He offers. Part of the reason for this is the insistence of Latter-Day Saints that they are the Church of JESUS CHRIST.
The physical prominence, typically all caps and larger font of the name of Jesus Christ on Mormon literature and signs, invokes the sense of the centrality of this person to their system of belief. Another difficulty revolves around LDS writing on this topic. For instance, James E. Talmage, one of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve in the first quarter of the 20th century, wrote an extensive book entitled, Jesus the Christ.
In its pages, the reader can find statements which sound biblically orthodox yet when read in their total context present views of Jesus’ person and work that deviate from biblical truth. To cut through this fog, it is important to first have a clear grasp of what the Bible teaches us concerning who Jesus is. Let’s briefly consider two biblical truths concerning Jesus.
Jesus is the Eternal Son of God
While the Old Testament gives us hints of the plurality of the Godhead, it is in the New Testament where we are explicitly confronted with this key biblical truth. John’s Gospel begins with a definite assertion of Jesus’ (John uses the appellation, “the Word” for Jesus) presence with God and oneness with God. The careful wording of John’s prologue demonstrates the truth of Jesus’ deity in eternity past.
Beyond the prologue, John records Jesus’ own claims of deity. Jesus calls God His Father (John 5:17–18). He asserts that He existed before Abraham (John 8:58). He claims oneness with the Father (John 10:30–33). In all of these instances the Jews understand the significance of Jesus’ claims, which is why they picked up stones to stone Him for blasphemy.
Beyond explicit claims, the Gospel accounts demonstrate Jesus doing things which only God can do. One of my favorite accounts of this is in Mark 2, when the paralytic is lowered through the roof so that Jesus might heal him. Jesus states that the man’s sins are forgiven, which causes concern for the scribes who overheard knowing that only God can forgive sins. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, follows up by healing the man of his paralysis to demonstrate Jesus’ authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:8–12). The point of this early narrative in Mark’s Gospel unmistakably demonstrates Jesus’ deity. These are just a few of the places where the Bible directs us to this fundamental truth of Jesus’ deity.
Jesus took upon a Sinless Human Nature
The Bible affirms that Jesus is God, but it also points us to the fact that He became man. Now it’s very important to note the difference between verbs. Jesus existed always as God the Son in eternity past, but at a point in time, he took upon a sinless human nature becoming a true man. The doctrine of the Incarnation is truly a marvelous truth! Just consider the wonder of the eternal Son of God taking upon human nature for the central purpose of being our sin-bearing Substitute. This truth of Jesus’ full experience of humanity yet without sin is another fundamental biblical truth which we must be clear on.
The Gospel writers record the experience of Jesus’ humanity from his human birth to the regular human needs of sleep, food, and water. It is clear from the witnesses to Jesus’ life that He was a genuine man. The apostle John in his longest epistle makes significant statements regarding Jesus’ humanity. John uses words like heard, seen, and touched to underscore the tactile witness of the apostles (1 John 1:1–4). This is not incidental, but of great importance to Jesus’ mission of accomplishing redemption. As I stated earlier, the entire purpose for Jesus’ incarnation was to be the substitute for sinners. He had to live a genuine human life yet without sin to be the sinner’s representative.
Recently, one of my LDS neighbors sat at our dinner table sharing a variation of a talk she had given at a local nursing home. It included a strange mixture of personal anecdotes, LDS Scriptures, quotes from church presidents, and even a Bible verse or two. It was impassioned, but foggy and ultimately unclear. Moments like that remind me of the need to be clear and to be convincing about the biblical gospel.
There’s a chance that your Mormon friend may not understand or even have read all that the LDS church has written about their view of Jesus. Our job, however, as ambassadors of the true and living Christ necessitates that we know the truth about Him and commend Him clearly. Work hard to know the biblical doctrine of who Jesus is so that you may be able to commend Him more faithfully.