I believe the Christian story is far greater if Jesus was no more than a man and therefore not God. And I believe that is what the Bible teaches. Many of my Christian brethren (I know–most of them don’t think I’m their brother in Christ because that’s what they have been taught), besides objecting to my assertion that Jesus was and is not God, they are offended that I say Jesus was a mere man. I don’t mean by this to be disrespectful of my Lord and Savior, Jesus. Heaven forbid!
Jesus’ virgin birth and sinlessness are extremely important to my Christology. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus had to be sinless in order for him to become the Passover lamb who died for his people on the cross as our Savior from sin. His being without sin thereby fulfilled God’s requirement that the sacrificial lamb be without spot and blemish. And I believe Jesus’ virgin birth is indicated in his favorite title he used for himself, which I believe he drew solely from “one like a son of man” depicted in Daniel 7.13-14. (I think the “one like” [Aramaic ke] indicates his virgin birth.)
Apparently, it’s easy for God to be sinless. For the Bible says, “God cannot be tempted by evil” (James 1.13). Guess who wrote that? Jesus’ brother James. Yet, all three Synoptists tells us that right after John baptized Jesus, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and the Devil tempted him with three huge temptations (Matt. 4.1-11; Mark 1.12-13; Luke 4.1-13). And Jesus emerged victorious over them and all subsequent temptations. The author of Hebrews says Jesus was “without sin” because he “learned obedience through what he suffered,” thus “having been made perfect,” and he “was heard because of his reverent submission” to God (Hebrews 4.15; 5.7-9; 7.28 NRSV). Paul says he “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5.21). And Peter quotes Isaiah saying, “he committed no sin” (1 Peter 2.22; Isaiah 53.9 LXX). Does all of that sound like someone who is both fully man and fully God, which the Bible nowhere proclaims? I don’t think so. And how could Jesus have been made perfect if he was God, since God is always perfect?
Dutch theologian Ellen Flesseman-Van Leer writes in her little book, A Faith for Today (ET 1980), that Jesus’ “complete obedience was not superhuman” (p. 67). She adds, “He was not only fully man, but also man as God intended him.” She means God made man, intending him to be what Jesus became. Some Christian scholars question that if Jesus was both man and God, he could not have been fully man. One reason is his temptations could not have been real since God cannot be tempted.
It wasn’t easy for Jesus to emerge victorious over all sin and become our Savior. That’s why God rewarded him mightily and will do so even more in the future. Furthermore, the Bible predicts that all those who cast their lot with Jesus–and thereby conquer sin in their own lives to some extent by making him Lord (cf. Revelation 2-3)–will participate in his great reward. Paul quotes a hymn that says since Jesus so “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death … Therefore God also highly exalted him” (Philippians 2.8-9; cf. Isaiah 52.13). The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to be “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12.2). And John the Revelator quotes the risen Jesus as saying to the church of Laodicea, “To the one who overcomes I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3.21 NIV). Scripture is clear: God exalted Jesus because Jesus did God’s will by overcoming.
That is what makes the Christian story so absolutely fantastic! It’s because Jesus was a man like us, except for his virgin birth and sinlessness, and he overcame. But if he was God, how can he truly be rewarded? God can’t be rewarded! This story about Jesus overcoming temptation and sin, dying on the cross for us, and being rewarded so magnificently for it makes absolutely no sense to me if he was God! (Yet that is what I believed for 22 years, but mostly because my church taught it to me.) So, I think the post-apostolic church dogma that Jesus is God to some extent ruins the Christian story. How so? It inhibits our appreciation for the awesome task Jesus accomplished for us in overcoming sin in order to become our Savior.