I suppose it should come as no surprise that, as a Christian preacher, the name Jesus crops up fairly frequently in my speaking and appears often in my writing.

But what do I mean when I use the name Jesus?

I mean two things:

1. I use the name Jesus to refer to a man who lived for roughly thirty-three years in the first century CE in the eastern Mediterranean. He was an itinerant preacher who taught the fundamental lessons common to most spiritual traditions. Jesus is said to have taught with unusual power and authority and is purported to have performed extraordinary miracles.

Jesus taught his followers they should live the life of compassion, peace, and generosity that he modeled. He was a religious renegade who called the religious hierarchy of his day to return to a vision of God characterized by grace and unconditional welcome. He broke down social barriers and accepted all human beings with equal love and respect.

Jesus was executed by the Roman government after having come into conflict with the religious establishment of his day. Following his death, Jesus’ followers reported that they experienced his presence again and were filled with the Spirit that he had embodied.These reports of his resurrection were so powerful and convincing that the tiny Jesus movement grew in 300 years from a marginalized band of powerless believers, to become the dominant religious belief system of the western world.

2. The second way I use the name Jesus is to indicate those characteristics I believe were embodied in the historical person to whom the Gospel writings in the New Testament bear witness. “Jesus” is short-hand for those qualities that were apparently evident in all he did throughout his short life.

“Jesus” means love and peace. The name stands for grace, truthfulness, authenticity, integrity, humility, self-emptying, absolute surrender to God, and the life of freedom that flows from such surrender. It means a life of compassion, self-sacrifice, deep concern for the poor and disadvantaged, and commitment to justice for all people. “Jesus” means goodness, beauty, truth, light, and utter honesty.

When I use the name “Jesus” I am referring to all that is most deeply and truly human. The historical person Jesus was the embodiment of that “image of God” in which all human beings are created. He was fully human and fully awake. As the writer of the Letter to the Colossians said, he

is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)

But, Jesus is not just the image of what it means to be human. According to Christian tradition Jesus is also a picture of the nature of God.

He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being. (Hebrews 1:3)

So, when I look at Jesus I see the God in whose image I am created and I see the extraordinary majesty of what it means to be truly human.

But, herein lies a dilemma. The historical Jesus offers me a compelling vision of what it means to be truly human. But, I lack the power in myself to fulfill this extraordinary vision. I am not able to embody the beauty, truthfulness and loving compassion that all accounts agree characterized Jesus’ life. If Jesus is nothing more than a goal or a standard for human behaviour, I am left frustrated and powerless, unable to realize my true destiny. The distance I experience between my ability and the vision of freedom and light I see in Jesus leaves me trapped in despair.

Here is where the other name commonly associated with Jesus comes into play. Jesus was not only a historical person, not merely a vision of what it means to be human. According to Christian tradition, Jesus also embodied within himself the power of God that today  enables those who trusted in him to become the people we were created to be.

Jesus is called, not only Jesus, but also “the Christ.” Christ is the life of God, the power of love, the presence of the Spirit living and dwelling in my life enabling me to become more fully and authentically the person I am unable to become in my own power.

Christ is the path and the power to find my way to the glory for which I was created. The writer of Colossians calls this power,

Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

The failure to acknowledge our need for some power from beyond ourselves, leaves us trapped in the impossible demand of self-effort and the unrelenting exertion of grinding willfulness. Surrender to a power beyond myself lies at the centre of my understanding of the call of Jesus. He invites me to bend my knee and give up my will. He calls me to live a life dominated, not by self-will, but by the power of love. I can see no other way to become more fully the person I believe I was created to be than to submit to the power of love by which all life came into being.

I need Jesus to be the vision of true humanity, and Christ the power that moves me to more closely fulfill the beauty of that vision.