I usually don’t care to debate the theological opinions I hear on the radio. This is mostly because I believe Christian radio hosts are simply trying to love Jesus, love people, and do some encouraging things in the world. Furthermore, they do not seem to offer their opinions as though they believed they were the official teachers of the church universal.
Every now and then, however, someone says something that causes me to say, “No!” In my head, this is usually followed by a little bit of debate with whoever said what they said. In this hypothetical interaction, I often attempt to offer a bit winsome correction. To be honest, though, this is simply an exercise that helps me get my own head around why I think what I just heard is out of theological bounds.
The other day I was driving down the road and listening to a Christian radio station somewhere in Wisconsin. I do not remember what song had just played and, honestly, I do not recall much of what was going on. However, at one point the host said something along these lines:
“When we spend time with Jesus, by proxy we meet with God.”
When I heard that, I paused. I immediately knew something was off. But I wanted to be sure, so (at the next stop), I looked up the dictionary definition of proxy to see if it meant what I thought it meant. Here are the definitions of proxy via Merriam-Webster.
First, Webster provides the “essential meaning.”
- A person who is given the power and authority to do something (such as vote) for someone else;
- Power or authority that is given to allow a person to act for someone else.
Then, a fuller meaning is provided. The problematic language within the “essential meaning” and the “fuller meaning” is simply that a “proxy” acts as a “substitute…for another.” The idea of being a proxy is that the proxy represents and acts for someone else, for someone they are not. For instance, imagine if it were legal to allow your spouse to vote in your place during an election. I might give my wife the right to cast my vote if I’m unable to do so due to sickness, travel, or any other unforeseen circumstance. She acts on my behalf yet she is not me. Or, perhaps, imagine I have given power of attorney to her so that she can sign a document for me. She again acts on my behalf but she, again, is not me. We are not the same person.
If that is the meaning of proxy, then the host of the radio show has said in essence that when you meet with Jesus, you meet with God via someone who acts on God’s behalf but is not God himself. At least this is the implication of the words, even if this was not the intent. He did not say that when you meet with Jesus, you meet with the Father via proxy. There is perhaps a way we could nuance that to make it work, since the Son is not the Father, though they are one in essence. But, even there, the Son and the Father, along with the Spirit, are without division. To meet with the Son is to be with the Father and the Spirit. However we might have parsed out that idea is beside the point. The host said that when you meet with Jesus, you meet with “God via proxy.” That does not work, because to meet with Jesus is to meet with the God of the Cosmos.
The Bible is abundantly clear on the identity of Jesus Christ. He is no mere mortal. Jesus is God of very God, while also being fully human. When we talk of Jesus, we speak of the one in whom perfect deity and complete humanity are joined together without mixture or confusion.
The Gospel of John paints the picture as clear as any portion of the Bible. As soon as John opens his Gospel, the deity of Jesus flies off the page.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
In the context of John, the Word is a reference to Jesus (John 1:14). John opens by pointing to the creation account in Genesis, letting the reader know that this Jesus, though recently born of a woman, was there when the world was created. He was with God at the start and, in fact, “was God.” Being God, he is the agent of creation and had life in himself. He was, then, the a se Word (from where we get the idea of aseity).
One of the clearest statements of the deity of Jesus comes in John 8:58. In that passage we find one of the “I am” statements that results in the crowd wanting to throw rocks at Jesus. They understood his words to be blasphemous. Here is the context of Jesus’ statement in 8:58:
Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:53–59)
Jesus had talked about believing in him and escaping death (John 8:52). The Jews thought he was out of his mind, since even Abraham had tasted death. Surely this boy from Nazareth did not believe he was greater than Abraham, right? Jesus uses this as an opportunity to tell them that Abraham had looked forward to seeing the day of Jesus and was glad it had come. But how could this be, since Jesus was “not yet fifty years old” (John 8: 57)? This gave Jesus the chance to assert his eternality. He tells them that before Abraham existed, “I am.” The words he used are ἐγὼ εἰμί, the same words used in the LXX for the name of Yahweh in Exodus 3:14, where Yahweh reveals his name to Moses. The implication is clear to the original audience of Jesus’ words. So, they pick up stones to kill him. The one John says “was God” in John 1 is claiming to be God in John 8.
And the disciples of Jesus had come to believe this themselves. They had left everything to follow him. Even Thomas, who we call “Doubting Thomas” today, came to see Jesus as Lord and God. After Jesus had been raised from the dead and finally revealed himself to Thomas, the only words Thomas can muster are words that affirm the lordship and deity of Christ. Thomas exclaims, upon seeing the resurrected Jesus, “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
This, then, is the faith once for all, delivered to the saints. Passed down through the ages, the deity of Jesus Christ is a non-negotiable point of Christian doctrine. Thus, Christians around the world have confessed this in creeds and confessions. The Nicene Creed, recited by churches around the globe, professes the deity of Jesus.
I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
In Nicene language, Jesus is “begotten” and “born,” but not “made.” He is “true God from true God…consubstantial with the Father.”
At Bethlehem College & Seminary, where I currently serve, we devote space in our Affirmation of Faith to upholding the complete deity and perfect humanity of the Son.
Article 1: We believe in one living, sovereign, and all-glorious God, eternally existing in three infinitely excellent and admirable Persons: God the Father, fountain of all being; God the Son eternally begotten, not made, without beginning, being of one essence with the Father; and God the Holy Spirit, proceeding in the full, divine essence, as a Person, eternally from the Father and the Son. Thus each Person in the Godhead is fully and completely God.
Article 6: We believe that in the fullness of time God sent forth His eternal Son as Jesus the Messiah, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary. We believe that, when the eternal Son became flesh, He took on a fully human nature, so that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one Person, without confusion or mixture. Thus the Person, Jesus Christ, was and is truly God and truly man, yet one Christ and the only Mediator between God and man.
With Christians across time and throughout the globe, we uphold and profess and delight in the reality that Jesus, the one who died in our place to make atonement for our sin, could sympathize with us in our weakness because he was truly a man (Hebrews 4:15). And he could make full atonement for our sins, not because he acted on behalf of another as some type of proxy, but because he was God of the very God.
This, then, is perhaps why I was moved to sit down and give more attention to the words of the host on the radio. Calling Jesus a “proxy” of God is no light matter.
It seems to imply, if we take the words seriously, that Jesus acts on behalf of God but is not God himself. If this is true, we lose something we cannot lose. If we undercut the complete deity of Jesus Christ, if Jesus is not God, as John asserts and Jesus himself declares, and if he is not “my Lord and my God” as Thomas exclaims, then we have no hope. We have no gospel. Jesus is able to die in our place and reconcile us to the Father precisely because he is the divine Son of God, worthy to atone for the sins of all who would believe in him.
I do not know if the host simply made a mistake or if he really believed what his words implied. I’ll likely never know. However, I do know that our words matter. When we talk about Jesus, when we use language to describe the King of the Cosmos, let us do so in ways that uphold the Bible and guard the faith once for all delivered. Let’s do so in order that the nations would see Jesus for who he is. And in seeing him as Lord and God, our prayer is that they would turn to him in faith, being saved from sin and death and reconciled to God, their “exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4).