I Like Jesus – Not the Bible
We have come to the end this journey—a journey that, in the end, we embarked on in order to be better prepared in answering questions when we share Jesus.
When we started, a few key observations were highlighted:
- First, the experience of Pocket Testament League Members, as they share a Gospel of John, is positive. They are not typically flooded with a myriad of questions.
- Second, when people do ask questions, they ask questions that may catch us “off-guard”, yet their questions are extremely reasonable based on their point of view. Why point this situation out? Because we need to understand how they think.
- Third, while we may not be flooded with a myriad of questions, as followers of Jesus, it is appropriate for us to be able to speak our view, a biblical view, into the world’s questions and confusion.
- Fourth, our answers are to come from a biblical perspective. We live in this world, and at times its views infect us with wrong thinking. We need to sort ourselves out on these issues first, and then develop effective ways to engage others. It is that moment, the moment of engagement, when our counter-cultural world view collides with their cultural world view. We need God’s grace in that moment.
- Fifth, the aim of our effort is not to “be right” (there are some who have appropriately taken up that mantle against ravenous wolves). We seek to encourage lost sheep to MEET JESUS.
Beyond these observations, we gathered a list of topics, based on input from Pocket Testament League Members, to develop this series:
Sharing Your Faith – And The Bible
The list, repeated below, was daunting.
- The Bible: What Non-Christians Think About The Bible & How Their View Should Shape Sharing Your Faith
- The Bible: Why I Believe The Bible
- The Bible: Isn’t The Bible Just Myth?
- The Bible: Old Testament or New?
- The Bible: Miracles or Science?
- The Bible: Evolution or Creation?
- The Bible: Work—Play—Family: An Integrated Life
- The Bible: Hard Topics of Today
- The Bible: I Like Jesus – Just Not The Bible
Our goal in this series was not to win an argument—or even to argue.
Our goal was to think through these difficult questions.
Thinking through these questions requires us first to root ourselves in Scripture’s view, and only then to think through how we might respond to others.
Ultimately, I think, the question in the pit of our stomachs is,
“Can we be comfortable answering difficult questions, avoid becoming argumentative and instead find a way to engage in order that we not lose track of our AIM?”
Our aim is to invite people to meet Jesus.
Which is why this series ends with, “I like Jesus – Just Not the Bible”.
NOT THE BIBLE, OR NOT THE CHURCH?
You may be wondering how “I like Jesus, just not the church” failed to make the list of topics? Two reasons.
First, our Members, who we surveyed, did not identify this question as a topic of discussion.
Second, I expect they did not identify this question because most of us simply say, “Don’t confuse Jesus (or God) with the Church”.
You and I, as followers of Christ, know that Jesus is returning for “His Bride, the Church.” We understand the Church, the Body of Believers, is part-human, but also is a place where Christ dwelling in each redeemed sinner is at work. We are a work in progress.
However, we must realize that most non-believers view the Church as a 100% human institution – and judge it a failure.
We do not dispute our imperfection. We, humans, are the reason the Bride of Christ errs. We know that Jesus will return for us and finish the work he has begun in us. Until then, we press-on, and it is messy.
Yet Jesus is perfect.
Most humans consider Jesus one of the best humans that ever lived.
Yet they stop well short of saying He is perfect, never mind saying He is God. One survey shows that 52% of Americans believed Jesus sinned.
It is EASY for most people to like Jesus – it is HARD however for them to accept He is God come, come to earth to pay the price for their, ours, and the world’s, SIN.
We know that He is God and that ultimately every knee will bow, and every tongue confess…but that is not most people’s perspective.
“I LIKE JESUS, BUT…”
When someone says to me “I like Jesus but not the Bible,” I must remember the goal.
My first reaction is sarcasm, something like, “Well that is interesting, because HE WROTE IT!”
My second reaction is to take the offensive, to come to Jesus’ aid, to defend my Lord.
But, on a good day, I collect myself and simply say:
Tell me what you like about Jesus.
I want to be curious. I want to find out how, or even if, Jesus has spoken to them. Have they actually read any of the words he spoke? Have they experienced his touch? Is he simply a historic, even mythical, figure to them?
What I am about to write next is “my bit.” However, when you are in this situation for real, first listen intently to how they answer the question – it will help you shape your next actions.
After I have listened, my next action is to have at the ready my answer to the question, “Why do I ‘like’ Jesus?”
However, again, let me remind you that the goal is not for you to impart information or give the perfect answer. So often we are so excited that we are actually having this conversation, we “don’t hear” their answer, and we immediately vomit out our prepared answer.
I am harping on this point of listening because their answer may cause you to disregard all I am about to write regards why you “like Jesus.” Their answer may cause you to disregard all you have thought about. In some ways this is exactly how God works. He wants you to depend on the Holy Spirit.
I appreciate you may be reacting to the phrase “like Jesus.” I expect you are in the place where the phrase “love Jesus” would be a better choice. (Praise God you are in that place—it is His Grace that puts all of us in that place.)
Yet if my aim is to genuinely engage the other person, then I want to have my answer framed in a way that communicates the relationship I have with Him, but at the same time does not soft-pedal the Son of God.
Further, from their perspective, they might be thinking (as I am communicating that I have a real relationship with Jesus) that I think I have a relationship with someone who they think is “dead and gone.”
Remember, we need to try as best we can to think about their point of view.
I often start with a statement that I believe Jesus is God come to earth. That Jesus is alive. And that I know Him and have a relationship with Him.
I will say, “You probably think me crazy, but can I talk some more about Him?”
Acknowledging you have some sense that the two of you are on “different pages” is good. It also invites them to give you permission to continue. You might consider pulling out a Gospel of John and reading parts of John 15 with them. Let them hear Jesus’ words.
The “end of all this talk” is simple. Might they hear you speak of Jesus in a way that draws them to know Him in this same relational way?
Jesus, the Son of God, describes himself with many names – one name is Friend. John 15:15
When people ask me “Why do I like Jesus?” I go to the word friend, a real friend, a true friend.
A friend who will never leave me or forsake me. Not just when the world comes at me hard, but even when I am at my worst.
A friend who can tell me the truth about ME!
JESUS IS MORE THAN SOMEONE I LIKE: MORE THAN A FRIEND
After spending some time on the idea that Jesus is my friend, as well as seeing how they are reacting (and it may be a second or third conversation) you will get to how your “friend” offered the ultimate act of love: He gave His life for you.
In order to get to this point, I find you need to depart from Jesus and get to the general situation of the world (this sets up why He willingly gave his life, vice his death was beyond his control).
Most people know the world is a mess. Most people, in the quiet of their hearts and minds, know they are a mess.
I typically share that Jesus, Jesus as God, makes the most sense for all I see and experience.
Here is my thumbnail sketch.
- I note that the world is simultaneously full of beauty and goodness and creativity, and evil and pain and suffering.
- The evil and pain and suffering bothers me. I have this “echo” I hear that the world is to be good.
- That echo, I believe, is God’s design for His good, very good, world.
- I move from this point to the reality that this good versus evil conflict lives in me. It does. It bothers me. There are times I am good and loving. There are times I am selfish. I want to live a good life.
- And it is not just good versus evil in me, it is my desire for my life to matter; to have a purpose.
- Both these desires in me come from God. He says I am created in His image. His image is not just good, it is perfect. He created me to have real meaning and purpose.
- The problem is I cannot fix what is broken in me and in the world. No one can.
- Many people have tried to fix it. Many people have created all sorts of religions and other ideas to explain the world—and how we can live in it with meaning—all the while having this conflict within ourselves—and yet ALL these human systems fail.
- God provides the answer in the person, in the life, death, resurrection and ascension, of Jesus.
Now, what I laid out above is rather linear. I expect your conversation will be very different. However, I tend to have this mental map in my head, so that as the conversation moves to-and-fro, I can ultimately get to the point of why Jesus came to earth.
Depending on how your conversation is going, you might want to check in with them and say something like, “I know that is a lot to take in, what questions or reaction might you have?”
Again, be listening.
They might say, “Well that is good for you, but I just like Jesus, he is a really nice guy.”
You need to remember that one conversation may not (probably will not) win the day with them.
You want to plant a few ideas, let them go off and think about these ideas, and then re-engage you. Spend time in prayer after you speak. Allow the Holy Spirit room to work.
At some point ask, “What if Jesus really is as I understand Him, would that interest you?”
This question gages their heart. Are they lost? Are they longing? Or are they numb to the vanities of this world?
It is a hard reality, but many are simply floating along. You may be the person who is planting a seed that will sit for years.
However, hold simultaneously a patient heart, but make sure you ask! By asking you are living into God’s Word which proclaims that today is the Day of Salvation.
JESUS AND THE BIBLE
At the right time ask them, “Do you want to know where I get all this stuff from?”
They may know the answer is the Bible (or not). I suggest you make sure they know. I suggest you ask them if they are interested in “reading what Jesus says about himself?”
The phrasing of that question is key.
Time and again, when we ask people if they want to know what He said about himself, their perspective changes.
You are putting them in the position to “judge for themselves.” They feel as if you are not forcing your views on him. They “get to decide.”
You and I know that the Word of God has power, more power than our words.
As you read the Gospel of John with them, be prepared for their mind to wander. I suggest you always bring them back to Jesus.
Make statements with questions. For example, when they read about Jesus healing someone, the common reactions is, “I had a friend who was sick and prayed, but they died.”
Express genuine empathy, but bring it back to Jesus. Say something like, “That is so hard. I am sorry. We often don’t know the reasons these things happen. I also try to imagine what I would do if I was present, right there in the story, when Jesus healed the person. How do you think you would react?”
Consider other stories, such as the woman caught in adultery. Their minds (our minds) go to questions like “Where is the man?” There are two points:
- Jesus has that question as well. The situation Jesus is presented with is to entrap him. The people presenting this situation to Jesus are in violation of all sorts of Jewish Law.
- Yet in the midst of this entrapment, look at Jesus’ focus. It is not on himself. It is on this woman.
After you deal with the natural reaction, the question is, “If Jesus is God, what picture of God does this scene give you?”
The Pocket Testament League 21-Day Challenge is an aid to help you get “back to Jesus” as you read through the Gospel of John with a friend.
WHAT IF THEY “DISENGAGE” AT SOME POINT
Along the path described above, the person may disengage. They may not be ready.
Can I ask you not to beat yourself up?
If you hear a voice in your mind criticizing you or condemning you, might I remind you that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
That voice is not God’s. It is the accuser’s, the liar’s voice. Rebuke him.
God is pleased that your heart breaks for the lost as his does. God knows what it feels like to be rejected by a human.
Yet God continues to stand ready, and so should we.
Consider what you have accomplished.
You have been obedient. Jesus says if you love me you will obey me. Your actions express your love of Jesus.
Perhaps you have been successful. If you have, then you have them now in God’s Word.
They started with “I like Jesus, just not the Bible” and now they are reading it.
God’s Word will not return void. All those who seek Him will find Him.
And if they did respond as you hoped, let me end with a story.
I had the privilege, in the span of three weeks of baptizing a 70 year-old, a 60 year-old, and a 50 year-old. At the end of every baptism, each one had tears in their eyes, and they each said, “My grandmother, or mother, or friend Bill, would be so happy if they were here. They prayed for me, or they “often spoke to me.”
Every one of them remembered the person who cared for them enough to share Jesus.
Your efforts will be honored by God, and you may never know the results this side of heaven.