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Why is Jesus so Misunderstood?

Updated on June 20, 2015

In the world of modern Christianity, when you appeal to Jesus you are, in essence, pulling out the trump card. Who can argue against Jesus? When we make arguments about “spiritual” matters or cultural issues, the hinge on which we hang our arguments tends to always be Jesus, and rightly so. Jesus is the supreme authority on that which He created. If you can convince someone Jesus believed something, honestly, who can compete with that? The problem comes when two people are making arguments for opposite sides of the same discussion, and they both appeal to Jesus to support their argument. Someone has to be right. For example, a major conversation in our cultural right now centers on the morality of gay marriage. Is it right? People from both sides of the argument appeal to Jesus to make their case. Some argue that Jesus’ example was love for everyone, and the call He placed on people’s lives was to love everyone (Matt. 22:37-40). Therefore, we have to love our gay neighbors and accept them for who they are. On the other side, you have individuals who say that Jesus declared marriage to be between one man and one women (Matt. 19:4-6), and therefore we have to hold to this view of marriage because Jesus called us to view marriage in this light. Someone has to have misunderstood Jesus. If I was an outsider looking in, I would have absolutely no idea what Jesus actually thinks about the issue.

I have a hard time perceiving Jesus as one who constantly waivers in what He thinks and feels on a particular issue. Jesus does not strike me as an unsteady man who was not sure what He believed. If Jesus is not wavering and He is steady in what He thinks, believes, and teaches, and we disagree on what that is, then we have to agree that someone has misunderstood Jesus.

This is the problem for many people of faith. We have misunderstood Jesus, and because of this we have misunderstood what He taught. If we are to be faithful to Jesus we have to come to a better understanding of what Jesus actually teaches, what He believes, and who He is. So what causes us to drastically misunderstand Jesus to the point that many perceive Him in two completely different ways? Here are a few reasons we misunderstand Jesus, and hopefully we can grow in these areas as we walk in faith.

1. We try to make Jesus like us, rather than us trying to be like Him. A defining mark of being a Christian is learning to die to self and live for Jesus. In Matthew 16:24 Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus is quite clear. We must deny ourselves. This means deny our desires, our wants, our ideas, our way of thinking, and even our preferences. And in turn, follow Jesus; taking up His desires, His wants, His ideas, His way of thinking, and His preferences.

This is hard work! Often times we have an aversion to hard work, so we try to make it easier. Rather than mold our lives to the life of Jesus, we try and mold Jesus into our framework of thinking and understanding, and we have people believing Jesus taught polar opposite views. We actually aren’t concerned with what Jesus taught, we are more concerned with supporting what we already believe with an unquestionable authority such as Jesus. The problem comes when we start our process of thinking with ourselves, rather than Jesus. We inevitably attempt to merely support what we already believe rather than letting Jesus shape what we believe.

We will never be able to fit Jesus into our framework of thinking. It is like trying to fit the round peg into the square hole. It doesn’t work. While it is harder work, it is much more beneficial to come to the person and teaching of Jesus, leaving our preconceived ideas at the door, and allow Him to shape how we think and live.

2. We isolate statements and miss the context. It is very important to remember that when we read the bible, it was not meant to be read as random isolated thoughts you get to pick and choose from. When the books of the bible were written the authors were writing with a particular audience in mind, and often for a very specific purpose. For example, the book of 1 Corinthians was written to a first century church, where there was a massive struggle between Jews and Gentiles, and the church was engaged in foolish behavior. That reality shapes the context of the book and how we understand what was being communicated. It does not mean it is not practical and relevant for us now, but it does shape our understanding. Paul was trying to encourage, yet rebuke the church.

I once heard someone say, “Never read only one verse of scripture.” What this person was trying to communicate was that the context shapes our understanding. We have to let scripture interpret scripture. Let me give you a practical example. Many people know Matthew 7:1 which reads, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” If we stop there, and that is all we read, we are right to think the bible forbids us from judging one another. In fact, that is not what the bible teaches. If you read the verses surrounding Matthew 7:1, you will see that what is being communicated is the danger of judging people by a standard you are not willing to be judged by. The bible actually tells us to judge one another in Christ. 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 tells us, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.” With this verse we see a bigger picture of judging one another. We are called to judge those inside the church, but based on Matthew 7, we never do this to a degree to which we are not willing to be judged.

In other words, we have to read the bible in its entirety, viewing the grand scope of the bible, or we will miss what is actually being communicated. The bible is more than the few verses we know, and constantly hear repeated. Before we make claims from the bible about what it says, and what Jesus communicated, we have to make sure we have evaluated those claims by the entirety of scripture or we may miss the mark.

3. We love the World more than the Truth. In Romans 12:2, Paul says to believes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Paul communicates that the world and the Christian faith stand in stark contrast. What the world values and loves is different than what faith values and loves. We cannot determine what we believe by the world’s standards. We must renew our mind with the Word of God as we live in this world. We will often misunderstand Jesus when we love the world more than Him, and let the world dictate how we understand our faith. We have to make sure we are viewing the world through the lens of our faith, rather than viewing our faith through the lens of the world.

The only way we prevent the world dictating our faith is by loving the Word of God more; allowing it to objectively lead how we think and live. This is not an easy task. The world puts on an incredible charade, but at its core is death. Our world does not determine truth. Jesus is truth. Through Him we clearly see and understand the world.

Ultimately, we have to get to the place where we accurately understand who Jesus is and what He teaches. It is easy to misunderstand Jesus, but we must constantly fight to understand Him correctly. Our faith and our lives depend on it. When we read the Scripture, and come to very different places, someone has misunderstood Jesus.


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    • Michael Matala profile image

      Michael Matala 2 years ago from Louisville, KY

      I appreciate the thoughts. We have to love well, we have to handle sin correctly, and the only way that happens is with a rich understanding of the Word. A Word that is able to interpret itself when we are struggling.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I think your emphasis on context is very important. "Scripture interprets Scripture," but if verses are interpreted with no attention to their scriptural context, the chance for significant error multiplies.

    • serenityjmiller profile image

      Serenity Miller 2 years ago from Brookings, SD

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Good topic. Much of the mainstream confusion over popular biblical controversies often seems to center on the difference between "loving someone" and "accepting someone's sin" - or rather, the confusion seems to be that in order to love someone, we have to accept that someone's sin. This is a total misunderstanding of the love Jesus modeled for us. Jesus loved people; Jesus never accepted people's sin. My lead pastor has a standard comeback for those who are convinced of a contradictory answer: "Show me where it says that in the Bible." Usually ends the debate. :) Thanks again for sharing.