Was Jesus a Christian?

(This is a re-post from October 2014)

Funny thing: when we read the phrase, “Jesus was not a Christian,” some might pause and at first be inclined to disagree.  But biblically speaking, it’s true.  Jesus was not a Christian!  J. Gresham Machen explained this quite well around 90 years ago:

“According to a very widespread way of thinking Jesus was the Founder of the Christian religion because He was the first to live the Christian life, in other words, because He was Himself the first Christian.  According to our view, on the other hand, Jesus stands in a far more fundamental and intimate relation to Christianity than that; He was, we hold, the Founder of our religion not because He was the first Christian, but because He made Christianity possibly by His redeeming work.”

“…Many persons hold up their hands in amazement at our assertion that Jesus was not a Christian, while we in turn regard it as the very height of blasphemy to say that He was a Christian.  ‘Christianity,’ to us, is a way of getting rid of sin; and therefore to say that Jesus was a Christian would be to deny His holiness.”

“‘But,’ it is said, ‘do you mean to tell us that if a man lives a life like the life of Jesus but rejects the doctrine of the redeeming work in Christ in His death and resurrection, he is not a Christian?’  The question, in one form or another, is often asked; but the answer is very simple.  Of course if a man really lives a life like the life of Jesus, all is well; such a man is indeed not a Christian, but he is something better than a Christian – he is a being who has never lost his high estate of sonship with God.”

“But our trouble is that our lives, to say nothing of the lives of these who confidently appeal to their own similarity to Jesus, do not seem to be like the life of Jesus.  Unlike Jesus, we are sinners, and hence, unlike Him, we become Christians; we are sinners, and hence we accept with thankfulness the redeeming love of the Lord Jesus Christ, who had pity on us and made us right with God, through no merit of our own, by His atoning death.”

J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2008), 110-111.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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