Can you believe in Jesus but not in God?

For decades, I argued that the answer is “yes.” I was proof, after all, because I believed in Jesus of Nazareth but I did not believe in God. Not the One God, the Only God, the Israelite God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Creator God. No God. Yet I said I believed in an itinerant preacher who talked about love, mercy, forgiveness, and charity who invited everyone to the table, even those on society’s fringes who are the first to be cast out by proper religious folk.

This was years before I heard of such a thing as Christian atheism. I thought I was an anomaly. Maybe even special.

Jesus in the Catacombs of Rome, 3rd century fresco

I had answers for the naysayers. “You can’t believe in the son of God if you don’t believe in God!” Well, that one is too easy, I’d say. I don’t believe he was the son of God.

“But! The miracles!”

An extraordinary man, I’d say, but still a man, not a demi-god like the Greek and Roman heroes. Not the child of a mortal and a deity.

“You can’t believe in Jesus if you don’t believe him when he said he was the son of God!”

Um, no he didn’t. Sure, if we are to believe that the Bible is an accurate, historical  reference, there are plenty of verses where he equated himself to God the father, but he is not recorded as calling himself the son of God. In fact, when asked directly if he was the son of God, he cryptically replied, “You say that I am.”

Nothing proved that I could not believe in Jesus without also believing in God because no one can disprove what someone else believes. You may argue on behalf of what you believe and why, but you cannot possibly dispute that I believe what I believe.

So even after I came around to believing in God, having experienced grace first hand and slowly being transformed (mine was not a Damascus road experience), I continued to make the case that one can believe in Jesus without believing in God.

I’ve changed my mind and, ironically, I think I can prove that to believe in Jesus is to believe in God.

The distinction is the word in.

You can believe that there was a 1st-Century man named Jesus (or Yeshua) without believing in him. What’s the difference? Well, I believe that there was a 5th-Century B.C. man named Socrates but I do not believe in him. I agree with some of his teachings. I believe he was clever, provocative, and influential. But I do not believe in him.

To believe in someone is to put your complete trust in them, to have no doubt, to stand fast with them. When you believe in someone you know that you can rely on them. You trust that they are who they say they are and will do what they say they will do.

And yes, when you believe in someone you accept their wisdom above your own.

Those are some of the differences between believing there was a real man named Jesus and believing in Jesus. So when Jesus showed his followers a God who is more like a loving, compassionate, merciful father than a punitive overseer, to believe in Jesus is to trust that what he said about God was -and still is- true.

Whether you believe Jesus is the son of God or not, you cannot deny that Jesus believed in God. And if you believe in Jesus, you must believe in God because he did.

I get it now: all those years of thinking I believed in Jesus but not in God was not an honest appraisal of my own opinion. I believed in my image of Jesus- a hippie flower child who inspired John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance.” A guru. A role model. A really cool dude.

Not the creative and transformative power of God that I now believe in.


What do you think? Can you believe in Jesus without believing in God?

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