Jesus Christ remains a central figure and perennial person of interest in the American religious landscape. But what do Americans believe about Jesus? Who do they say he is? Here are five popular American perceptions of Jesus, based on recent Barna Group research.
- The Vast Majority of Americans Believe Jesus Was a Real Person. More than nine out of 10 adults say Jesus Christ was a real person who actually lived (92%). While the percentages dip slightly among younger generations—only 87 percent of Millennials agree Jesus actually lived—Americans are still very likely to believe the man, Jesus Christ, once walked the earth.
- Younger Generations Are Increasingly Less Likely to Believe Jesus Was God. The historicity of Jesus may not be in question for most Americans, but people are much less confident in the divinity of Jesus. Most adults—not quite six in 10—believe Jesus was God (56%), while about one-quarter say he was only a religious or spiritual leader like Mohammed or Buddha (26%). The remaining one in six say they aren’t sure whether Jesus was divine (18%).
- Americans Are Divided on Whether Jesus Was Sinless. About half of Americans agree, either strongly or somewhat, that while he lived on earth, Jesus Christ was human and committed sins like other people (52%). Just less than half disagree, either strongly or somewhat, that Jesus committed sins while on earth (46%), and 2 percent aren’t sure.
- Most Americans Say They Have Made a Commitment to Jesus Christ. On the whole, America is still committed to Jesus. The act of making a personal commitment to Jesus—often seen as the “first step” in becoming a Christian—is a step that more than six in 10 Americans say they have taken and, moreover, that commitment is still important in their life today.
White Americans are the least likely ethnic group to have committed to Jesus: Only six in 10 white Americans report having done so (60%), compared to eight in 10 black Americans (80%) and nearly two-thirds of all non-white Americans (65%). The more money people make, the less likely they are to have committed to Jesus: Those making more than $100K per year are significantly less likely (53%) to have made such a commitment than those making between $50K and $100K (63%) or those making less than $50K (65%).
- People Are Conflicted between “Jesus” and “Good Deeds” as the Way to Heaven. Among adults who have made a personal commitment to Jesus, most also believe that Jesus is the way to heaven. When given several beliefs about the afterlife to choose from, nearly two-thirds of those who have made a personal commitment to Jesus say they believe that after they die they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior (63%). Only 2 percent of adults who report a personal commitment to Jesus say they will not go to heaven. About one in seven admit they don’t know what will happen after they die (15%).
Many adults believe, however, that they will go to heaven as a result of their good works. Broadly speaking, this is the most common perception among Americans who have never made a commitment to Jesus—and it is also quite common among self-identified Christians. In this category, people believe they will go to heaven because they have tried to obey the Ten Commandments (5%), as a result of being basically a good person (8%), or on the grounds that God loves all people and will not let them perish (7%).