The other day I was stopped at a stoplight and saw a car in front of me sporting a bumper sticker which read, “Let me tell you about My Jesus.” Do I even need to say that this didn’t sit well with me? What is implied by this phrase, that this person somehow knows the “real” Jesus that everyone else has missed? Maybe I’m overreacting to a simple bumper sticker… or maybe not.
There is a great misunderstanding when it comes to Jesus as our “personal Savior,” a phrase you won’t find anywhere in the Bible. Maybe it’s a Western tendency to individualize and personalize everything, including faith, to an extreme degree. But there is certainly danger in this kind of thinking.
If you study American religious history, you will find it to be characterized by a myriad of denominational splits through the years. A handful of denominations existed in the early colonization of America, but disagreements birthed new slices of the Christianity pie and left us today with upwards of 1500 different denominations. It seems that it is the American way to pursue life, liberty, and whatever denominational expression of Christianity seems right to us.
Don’t get me wrong, variety is good and I believe God loves it. It is one of the evidences of grace that there are so many different styles and types of worship. Isn’t this what it means to be a body? We are all members of one another, some of us are hands while others are elbows. We run into trouble when we start to say hands are better than arms.
The problem with an overly personal Jesus is that it inherently places more emphasis on subjectivity than objectivity. Opinion starts to replace reality. To be honest, I don’t really want to know your Jesus, I want to know the Jesus. Jesus is a real person with real attributes who really did miracles and really died and really is still alive today. Your interpretation, my interpretation, or even your favorite podcast host’s interpretation of who Jesus is isn’t more real than Jesus himself. We’re all grasping at straws when it comes to describing the massive and infinite Son of God. No one has the market cornered on Jesus.
Now I’m not saying no one can know Jesus. That road leads to relativism. We know Jesus through the Word of God, and by the Spirit he has given to us (Matt. 16:17, Rev. 19:10) and yes, as the body, our perspectives on who he is can help others grow and know him better. But we have to understand that he is bigger than our interpretation of him. As humans, our best efforts to understand and explain him are bound to fall short in one way or another. As John writes in his gospel, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)
Let me encourage you to humbly expand your horizon of who Jesus is. He reaches far beyond your own experience, beyond American culture, beyond human language and beyond our limited understanding. Our best response to who he is simply to worship him and know that we are dust (Ps. 103:14).