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AN ESSAY by Carl Wohlgemuth June, 2002

The Journey of a Confused Deist

Some Christians say that Jesus while on earth acted as God in His demonstrations of unusual power. Instead of trying to build a case for my belief in that regard with logic and scriptural support, here is a personal testimony. Some things are best learned by our own experiences and those of others.

Together as friends and associates during the early years of adult life, we were serious seekers for God. We were greatly influenced by our group culture which was both a plus and a minus. Not knowing it at the time, we essentially were deists. Deism is a belief that God started creation and will be there at the end. In between, He leaves it up to us to live within natural laws that work well if we use them rationally. Actually for us, it was not pure deism since we did many inconsistent practices such as occasionally praying to an attentive God. These inconsistencies were awkard situations that we didn’t know how to resolve. Nonetheless, God to us was important but a distant being who had little relevance to daily living.

We discussed the life of Jesus in Sunday School, Wednesday night Bible study and personal conversations. We believed that Jesus was God which placed us fundamentally within Christendom. In summary, we reasoned that Jesus interrupted the overall scheme of things and came to earth to better communicate God’s plans and purposes to humans. Primarily this was done by His teachings that are recorded in the Gospels and commented on in the Epistles. This all cuminated in bringing salvation to His human creation. His earthly behavior on the other hand was believed to essentially demonstrate His deity. The purpose was to validate His worthiness to accomplish salvation through His death and resurrection.

By His death on the cross, we believed He paid the penalty for sin of humankind. The implication was that we are still guilty of sin but those who believe in Jesus escaped its penalty. With His resurrection, He had done all He is going to do for now. So we were satisfied with having His teachings, having escaped hell, having a hope of heaven, and living in a beneficial nature that God designed. However, it seemed we were pretty much on our own as individuals and as a community. Using common sense, living a decent life and caring for one another would apparently be good enough to get us through this life.

Understanding that Jesus did His power demonstrations as God provided a convenient rationale for why those experiences were not a part of our lives. Actually to expect that dynamic as being a part of “Christ-likeness” by humans was viewed as presumptious and arrogant to say the least. After all that would be acting like God. One of our more devoted deists said, “I would not believe a miracle if I saw one.” For Betty there would be some hidden natural explanation.

The supernatural acts recorded in the lives of His followers were viewed as a kind of residual momentum left over from their days with Jesus. Basically it was thought they were marketing tools needed to jump-start the new church movement. Now with the written Bible in our own language, refined theology and centuries of traditions, that dynamic as a requirement had ended long ago.

Opinions of what Jesus meant by the new birth was all over the place. The ministry and personality of the Holy Spirit was even vaguer. As the Sunday School teacher, I once asked the class if the term “baptism with the Holy Spirit” was in the Bible. Most either didn’t know or didn’t think so. But even if it was, so what? It was a concept off their radar screen.

Those days were hard, impotent and miserable. If that experience had not been balanced by great friendships, it would have been nearly intolerable. If those friends have not found their life in the Holy Spirit by now, I really feel sorry for them.

As a seeker, I attended a Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship meeting and received the baptism with the Holy Spirit. My newly found associates believed that God was intimately involved in our lives. That was a major fork in the road for me. This new direction was not simple. The path from deism to a Spirit-filled life must surely be more difficult than for even an atheist. Deism requires movement from believing something to believing something different. Atheism only moves one from nothing to something.

Believing that Jesus was God came easy for me. That was already a given. Believing that Christ-likeness was more than following His teachings became a monumental paradigm shift. I was learning that by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was living out his life through us. If that was not difficult enough, there was also the companion issue of how Jesus lived out His life on this earth. Even the deist can affirm the divinity of Jesus. His humanity is another issue entirely.

One of the most remarkable realizations that set me free from the bondages of deism is that Jesus lived fully as a human on this earth. Yes, He was sinless perfection. Yet sinless perfection had appeared on the earth before when Adam and Eve were created. I now understand that sinlessness is a human attribute and not one of God. To be sinless, one must have the capacity to sin. Adam and Eve demonstrated that. God cannot sin and is therefore neither sinful nor sinless. The perfection of Jesus qualified Him as the human sinless Lamb of God to accomplish salvation for humankind—for me. His profound love overwhelms me.

Even today it is a struggle for me to even slightly compenhend the magnitude of the love of Jesus. His humanity is most difficult. One help has been to stop humanizing God. It is obvious that God is another species. God is One. Yet the Essences of God is expressed as Heavenly Father, Son of God and the Holy Spirit. One Essence is Jesus, the Son of God, who became completely human as the Son of Man by entry into the world. What an imponderable and magnificent act! It can only be a God thing. His humanity communicated love to His human creation by thorough identification and exemplified potential.

To me, Jesus living all of His life on earth fully as a human being in obedience to the Heavenly Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit is the supreme view of Him. Accordingly that view elevates every human’s potential to become like Him. We too can then live in obedience and empowerment. Contrary to this by saying that Jesus employed His “Godness” while on earth greatly diminishes His ministry and the potential for humans. As deists, we affirmed that low view as a principle tenant of our belief.

Now I know that Jesus living fully as a human expressed an unmeasurable love for His human creation. He was the Word that effectively communicated to humans in a language of speech and action that was understandable by His creation.
He taught by thought and example. To those who interacted with Him and those of us who follow even in our sinful condition, His invitation is to become like Him—in His humanity. To express His “Godness” while on this earth would have been counterproductive as an example for us to follow. We humans are not invited to become like God.

Now I know that Jesus living fully as a human expressed His thorough identification with His human creation. Even during His sinless life on the earth, He experienced the vicissitudes of humanity. Then on the cross, He became acquainted with sin. The greatest transaction with His human creation was accomplished there. Only God, an altogether another species, could become like His creation and still remain the creator. Only God, an altogether another species, could become guilty of sin without being the sinner. Only God, an altogether another species, in His humanity exchanged His innocense for the guilt of His human creation. What amazing love! Thereby in life and in death, Jesus by His humanity completely and thoroughly identified with humankind. His love goes much farther and deeper than the deist’s view that Jesus merely paid the penalty for sin and provided a legal out.

Now I know that Jesus living fully as a human expressed the potential for His human creation to become His Body. Otherwise, the standard for Christ-likeness is compromised. It then becomes a matter of determining what part of the “mixed life” of Jesus was human that we are to emulate and what was divine that is irrelevant to us.

As deists, we drew the line very liberally in our favor. Other than His teachings, He was God on earth and His behavor didn’t really apply to us.

Today, some draw the line at His demonstrations of supernatural power. This too is an easy out by excusing ourselves of weak performance by simply saying we are not God and He was.

As Pharasees, the line is drawn at the point of forgiveness of sins. For me, a careful reading of the words of Jesus indicates His declaration of forgiven sins certainly does not violate His humanity. It is like a friend of mine back in Kansas who was listening to a confession of my sins. These sins had nothing to do with our relationship. He was simply being a good brother by listening. John said to me in conclusion, “The Lord forgives you and so do I.” The vanishing of that burden was so dramatic from those human words of declaration that I vividly remember it even today after many years.

Grasping the potential for believers today on this earth should be motivating and exhilarating. His Church is the Body of Jesus in His full humanity. For the individual believer to draw the line totally in the favor of the humanity of Jesus, raises the bar for potential to its ultimate height. Challenging to be sure, this view moves me to press toward Christ-likeness. No excuses are appropriate. Lack of experiencing the full reality of His life is irrelant other than to be a continuous call for repentance and maturity. The gap between where I am and where He was on this earth is huge. Nevertheless, I find great joy, peace, freedom and fellowship in the pursuit of Christ-likeness in the humanity of Jesus.

Coming from the confusion of deism to a clearer understanding of the Spirit-filled life is grand evidence of the empowering grace of our Lord Jesus. It has been an interesting journey. One for which I am immensely grateful. The journey is still ongoing. With great anticipation, the best is still ahead. That will be another testimony.

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