During the process of taking a class on the gospels this semester, I have been thinking afresh about what it means to be a Christian.
To be a Christian is to be a ‘little Christ,’ as it is said, a Christ imitator or follower. Defined this way, being a Christian is not primarily about remaining loyal to a set of ideas, adhering to a set of principles, or believing certain doctrines. It certainly involves those things (don’t hear me wrongly). But what it is primarily is a claim to follow a person, the real historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, not a person in the abstract (e.g., Jesus merely a means to an end that is my salvation), but an actual human being.
If this is central to what it means to be a Christian, this pushes against many contemporary forms of Christianity that have lost sight of the centrality of this person in favor of making other good but not central things central.
To illustrate, I will use evangelicalism’s infatuation with Paul.
I’m currently working on an ordination-type personal statement of faith; and I ran across this great resource in the back of one of my books.
An Outline of the New Testament Testimony to the Deity of Christ” by Murray J. Harris in Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992), 315-317.
A. Implicit Christology
1. Divine functions performed by Jesus
a. In relation to the universe
(1) Creator (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2)
(2) Sustainer (1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3)
(3) Author of life (John 1:4; Acts 3:15)
(4) Ruler (Matt. 28:18; Rom. 14:9; Rev. 1:6)
Steve Walton states that Jesus’ ascension “expresses the Christian conviction that Jesus now reigns over the universe” (59) and “The ascension of Jesus … provides the apostles with a visual demonstration of the truth of Jesus’ exalted status” (60).
In addition to these summary-type statements, he provides 7 significant theological implications of the ascension.
(1) The ascension implies that Jesus now reigns alongside God in heaven, and thus it is appropriate to call him *“Lord” as well as “Messiah” (Acts 2:36). The (singular) cloud (Acts 1:9) echoes the one in Luke 21:27 on which the *Son of Man comes to God (cf. Dan 7:13), clearly placing Jesus alongside Israel’s God. Thus Jesus, still human, is to be *worshiped (Lk 24:52) alongside Yahweh, and the portrait of Israel’s God expands (Johnson). Psalm 110 (esp. Ps 110:1, 4) was a key biblical passage that was interpreted (following Jesus’ own lead [Mk 12:35–37]) concerning Jesus, who is thus to be understood as having been enthroned at God’s right hand as coruler (e.g., Rom 8:34; Heb 10:12–13).
(2) The ascension presages Jesus’ return to earth from heaven (Acts 1:11; cf. Heb 9:28). That return will be the time of cosmic renewal and restoration promised in Scripture (Acts 3:20–21) and of *judgment (Acts 17:31). The cloud—a key marker of Jesus’ departure (Acts 1:9)—became an emblem of Jesus’ return in early Christian writing (e.g., 1 Thess 4:17; Rev 1:7; 14:14–16). Paul picks up Psalm 110:1 as testimony that the time will come when God will place Jesus’ enemies under his feet (1 Cor 15:25–26). The ascension is “the advance notice of the end” (Robinson, cited in Zwiep, 196).