Is It Essential For Salvation to Believe that Jesus Is God?

Question from a Site Viewer

What if I don’t believe that Jesus is God?

Can my friend be truly saved if he believes the core of the gospel (salvation by faith through the grace of Jesus Christ) but does not believe that Jesus is God but instead was the first being created by God? I’m leaning towards the view that he can be saved in spite of his beliefs (or lack thereof). God does not require us to get everything right in terms of theology in order to be saved. But then again, I think it was just assumed that believing Jews back in Jesus’ day believed that Jesus was/is God because only God can forgive sins, and a big part of being saved is believing that Jesus came, died, and rose again to forgive the sins of mankind. Jesus forgives because Jesus is God; that is what New Testament Jews and Gentiles believed. How is it possible that some people today can arrive to and operate on that theological disconnect — Jesus is our Savior but He isn’t God? So contradictory!

Tim’s Answer

You asked about whether your friend can be truly saved if he believes the core of the gospel (salvation by faith through the grace of Jesus Christ) and yet does not believe that Jesus is God but instead believes that Jesus was the first being created by God. I am not the judge of who is saved. God knows those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19). Yet, in thinking about your friend’s situation, I am reminded of the words of Jesus: “. . . if you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24) The Jews of Jesus’ day believed that Christ existed, but most of them were not saved. This verse, accordingly, is not simply a belief that Jesus existed. Rather, I see this as saying something more, the essential need to believe something about who Jesus is.

I do not take the position that anytime the phrase “I am” appears in Scripture that it is reference to Yahweh Himself. In John 9:9, the blind man uses these same two words to state that he was the man born blind. But if we note his use of these words, he uses them to affirm something about himself; namely, that he was the blind man who sat and begged. Likewise, I think we should read Jesus’ statement as affirming something about Himself. He stated in the previous verse that He was not of this world (John 8:23). Therefore, what He is affirming is tied to who He actually is.

In Exodus 3:14, God appeared to Moses and said “I Am that I Am.” I think it is no coincidence that Jesus picks up these last three words in saying “if you do not believe that I am.” The Jews certainly understood who the “I Am” was. And the Jews also understood that Jesus had made Himself equal with God (John 5: 17-18). We find later in this same passage that when Jesus used these words a second time (before Abraham was, I Am), the Jews sought to stone Him (John 8:58-59). And John lets us know the power in these words in John 18:5 where at the utterance of these two words, those who came to apprehend Him in the garden suddenly found themselves on the ground. So, I conclude that Jesus is saying that we must believe that Jesus is the I Am or we will die in our sins. To deny this truth about Christ is to deny the witness of the Holy Spirit which I see as the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, leaving us with unforgivable sin. For this reason, I believe that the church down through the ages has been right in holding that this is one of those doctrines such that if one denies it, they stand outside of the faith and are not part of the shared life of Christ that He offers to those who believe in His Name.

I know this is a hard saying. I do not reach this conclusion lightly. I am very tolerant of a wide range of beliefs within the unity of the Spirit of God. And I believe in practicing grace to those who I see standing outside of the life of Christ. But grace cannot overshadow my concern for your friend and His eternal state. I cannot tell your friend that all is well when I read Scripture as saying that all is not well. I pray that the Holy Spirit will give you wisdom in dealing with your friend and helping him see that Jesus is more than a created being dying for our sins. Creation could never atone for the sins of creation. It would be the same as taking an innocent bull and killing it for the sins of people. As the author of Hebrews points out, such can never deal with sins (Hebrews 10:4). It takes the death of the Creator to provide eternal atonement for the sins of people. This is the core of the gospel. It is not just that we must believe, but rather it is that we must believe in who Jesus is.

May the Lord Jesus and His Spirit guide you in this matter,

a pilgrim,

believe that Jesus is God