The Need for Believers to Apprehend the Deity of Christ

Just as we are guilty of breaking all the commands if we break just one, so, in like manner, the denial of one divine truth leads to the denial of many others. There is a glorious connection between all the points of doctrine in Scripture because it is a system of truth, harmonious and consistent throughout, each planned and purposed, not loose and unconnected. The doctrine of the deity of Christ is one of these great and glorious truths that must be seen as a part of this system. In fact, it is the doctrine from which all others suspend. Because of this, one would think that such an important doctrine would be of utmost importance and comprehension in the minds of believers.

Sadly, there seems to be a dwindling zeal in the churches today for this doctrine to be held in the forefront of our minds. It may simply be viewed as a settled debate, something that was needed to be discussed long ago and no longer needs to be today, and it is therefore a doctrine that is taken for granted. These attitudes lead to a loss in our guard and leave us vulnerable to theological attacks. And if we slip in this doctrine, we will slip in all others, as well. Therefore, the doctrine of the deity of Christ is a doctrine that needs to be deeply apprehended and upheld within the faith of each believer. And I will propose three reasons why the deity of Christ needs to be regularly held in a prominent place in our doctrine and life: 1. It is needed because the theological attacks of the past are still present today; 2. It is needed because the testimony of Scripture speaks of the deity of Christ throughout; and 3. Because the surety of our eternal salvation is at stake with the deity of Christ, and believers would do well to hold to it for greater assurance.

This Doctrine Needs to be Deeply Apprehended Because it is a Truth of Scripture Under Attack

The knowledge of the deity of Christ is needed for every believer because every one of us is called to hold fast to the truths of Scripture and not to be swayed this way or that. This means that we are called to be ready to give an answer even for the Biblical truth of the deity of Christ in both an apologetic (defense against those outside the faith) and a polemic (defense against errors from within the faith) sense so that one remains steadfast to the truth of the Bible and guard against error, no matter which front these attacks come from.[1] Each member of the church is gifted with his or her own abilities, so the manner in which one defends the deity of Christ against the onslaughts from those within and without the church is going to look different for each person. We cannot expect each believer to be a great debater with impressive argumentative skills, but each believer is expected, to one degree or another, to be at least convinced of the deity of Christ within themselves. And in being convinced of this and remaining steadfast in it when confronted with opposing ideas, the believer is faithfully taking part in this defense.

There have been significant oppositions to the doctrine of the deity of Christ, and this doctrine was a prominent issue in the 3rd and 4th centuries with Arius and his subsequent followers. Arius believed that only the Father was truly God and could in no wise share that substance with anyone. The Logos, who is the Son of God, the Christ, was inferior to God, a created and mediate being of a different substance who entered a body at the time of the incarnation.[2] Arius argued that he was laying forth the truth of the Scripture and was defending the fact that there was only one God. But he failed to recognize that his views did not accurately reflect the way God has revealed Himself in His whole Word, and he failed to supply us with the kind of Savior we truly need. These beliefs ignited a fierce controversy and division within the ancient church and was the prominent subject of debate for nearly a century. It deceived many because of its orthodox-sounding arguments and proof-texts and pitted the church against itself. So, there was at this time a great need for believers to fight for the truth by delineating and spelling out the specifics of the Biblical truth of the deity of Christ. This was done most famously in the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon, and it helped believers to better articulate and know what they believed about Christ and it helped defend against error.

However, this controversy, though not in such a prominent place as it was in the 3rd and 4th centuries, is not over, and the problem is most notably manifested in the Jehovah’s Witnesses today who hold to a more pure, Arian standpoint. But, also, there are aspects of liberal theology where the divinity of Christ is absolutely rejected and He is simply regarded as a mere man. So, there still is an apologetic and polemic need to come to an understanding of the doctrine of the deity of Christ on different fronts and in different ways. We can take a cue from the ancient church in defending this essential doctrine – we need to maintain and uphold truth and unity by outlining a clear and specific definition of what Scripture says about something. This is what the ancient church fathers did centuries ago, and the result was the Nicene Creed. Yet, this method is in sharp contrast with the practice of today; when a controversy or disagreement arises, vagueness is maintained for the sake of unity. There is a popular saying in our culture today that seems to be reflective of this vagueness regarding the truth of the Word of God: it says “no creed but Christ,” or is some variation of that. Though the people who subscribe to such a statement may be doing so in an effort to be unified with a greater variety of believers in the church, simplified statements like this leaves more questions unresolved than answers may end up doing more harm than good.

For some time, the trajectory has been to have a more minimal statement of faith to allow for a greater unity. But in the instance of the doctrine of the deity of Christ, we need to be unified around what Scripture teaches and have the truth of the Bible be our basis of unity.[3] So, not only is it important that Christ is believed, but it is also important what is believed about Christ. We are called to give a defense for the hope we have, not heed any other doctrine, and to hold fast to the truths of Scripture, and these cultish influences challenge each believer regarding these Biblical mandates. Thus, we are to steel ourselves to truth of the deity of Christ.

This Doctrine Needs to be Deeply Apprehended Because Our Word Speaks Clearly On it

            True believers, out of a love for God, desire to hear what God has to say to them. So, they endeavor to have a steady diet of God’s Word and cherish what it is He has to say to them. But with statements like Luke 24:44, where Jesus says that all of the law and the prophets were written concerning Him, and 1 Peter 1:11 confirming this, then Jesus should be seen and sought for on every page. Therefore, we should have a Christocentric view of the Bible and be aware what Scripture says about Christ.

First, the position of Scripture is one that assumes the deity of Christ.

The Bible, and most notably in 1 Timothy 3:16, speaks of a mystery, and it is called a mystery because what is being spoken about is profound and incomprehensible to the finite minds of men. The profoundness and mysteriousness comes not only from the fact that God would ever save sinners, but it comes from the fact that it was God who took on flesh, and this is Jesus Christ. This mystery is also a testament to the power and glory of God who can do all things and this mystery is written down for us because it is something that has nevertheless happened. Frequently, the Scripture epistles or gospel narratives begin in position of a Christ who is in a prior state of exaltation, and then speaks of Him taking upon human flesh, even arguing for the necessity of the incarnation, and how exactly this consists and works out is a great mystery. It is as if that, instead of having to argue for Christ’s deity, Scripture assumes this and then moves to convince men that, though Christ is God, He was indeed a real man, too.

Hebrews 1-2 is a great example of this.[4] Chapter 1 begins with an explanation of Christ’s exaltation as far above anything that has come before, that is now, and that will come. It shows Him to be the creator of the world (v. 2)- not as an instrument, but as the cause and originator because in Him is all the eternal wisdom of God and power, through His word, to form, order, and uphold the world. Therefore, He is the heir of all things, so we are all under His authority and none can surpass it. And Christ is also said to be the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person – there is no greater way to make God known than by the One who is His exact image and impress, and all must beam and radiate through Christ for it to be a true reflection of God. What is described in this chapter are attributes that are divine prerogatives that can belong to God alone. Then, in chapter 2, in order for this One to enact salvation, it “behooved (ὤφειλεν, opheilen) Him to be made like unto His brethren.” This word ὤφειλεν has an argumentative force to it, showing the necessity for such a One as was described in chapter 1 to become as we are. John 1 takes this same approach, the Word that was God and then “became flesh.” The Gospel of Mark, too, shows from the outset in verse 1 that the One who works in this account is the Son of God. Even the account of the incarnation and virgin birth in Luke 1-2 follows the same pattern of a movement from God above to mankind below.

Second, The Old Testament prophesied of a Divine Messiah, and so the Savior that should have been expected would be God.

Micah 5:2 declares that from Bethlehem, the fulfilment of the Davidic kingship will be One “whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting.” This eternality and being everlastingly existent is a quality that can only be attributed to God and it is said of the Messiah. Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 both reference the Messiah’s forerunner who is to prepare the way for the LORD, and from the context of both these passages, this One coming is the covenant God, YHWH, the sovereign God of hosts.[5] Daniel 7:13-14 speaks of the Son of Man who is given all dominion, glory, and an everlasting kingdom. Again, all which are divine prerogatives that belong only to God. Jeremiah 23:5-6 tells of the Messiah to come, one who will save Judah, and His name will be “the LORD our Righteousness.” This text echoes Isaiah 9:6 where the incarnation of the Son of God is foretold and similar names of glory and righteousness are given to this One, names like “The mighty God, The everlasting Father,” which are names that can only be attributed to the God Himself.[6]

The New Testament alludes to these significant texts in finding their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Luke 1:32-33 says of Jesus that David’s throne is His and that His kingdom shall have no end, which is a clear reference to Daniel 7:13-14. Luke 2:4 gives the setting for both the lineage of Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, and the city of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem, a fulfilment of Micah 5:2. Luke 2:11 also mirrors the language of Isaiah 9:6 when the angels say to the shepherds that unto them a Savior is born. Matthew 3:3, Luke 1:76, Mark 1:3, and John 1:23 all reference Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 as John the Baptist being the one who prepares the way for this divine Messiah. And the person for whom John the Baptist prepares and the one to whom he points is Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself, throughout His ministry, also takes up the language of Daniel 7:13-14 and calls Himself the “Son of Man,” a clear claim to this divine Messiahship. There is a clear fulfilment of the Old Testament expectations of the Messiah’s divinity in these New Testament texts, and this is not including the many independent references and claims to the divinity of Jesus.

Scripture often admonishes us not to teach other doctrines (1 Tim. 1:3) and it also warns us not to heed other doctrines (Gal. 1:6-9). To teach and to heed something different than what Scripture has laid out for us would be to teach and believe a different Christ. It would be a distortion and a twisting of the Gospel and therefore a false one. We are also exhorted to grow in the knowledge of the character and being of God (Col. 1:10), part of which is to be for an apologetic or polemic purpose, being ready to preach the truth of this gospel in season and out of season, giving a defense for the hope that is in us. We are to maintain, study, and defend the deity of Christ because it is the clear witness of Scripture and a point of continuity between the Old and New Testaments which arches over the whole of the Bible. If we truly believe that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, and sufficient testimony of God unto mankind for their salvation and life, then this doctrine of the deity of Christ is a major part of the truth of the gospel that we are not to swerve from. Because Jesus is on every page of the Bible, He is to be the lens through which believers read all of Scripture and we ought to be constantly reminded of it every time we read it.

This Doctrine Needs to be Deeply Apprehended Because it is Needed for Our Salvation

            Since scripture is given for the growth of our knowledge of God unto salvation, then every time we read it, we are to be growing in the knowledge of our Savior. So, seeing His deity as Savior has implications upon our apprehension and appreciation of the salvation that has been given to His believers.

Without the deity of Christ, there is insufficient satisfaction for the just punishment of the sins of His people.

Due to the nature of God’s justice, He cannot let sin go unpunished (Gen. 18:25), for to let it go would be an insult to His perfect attributes which includes being perfectly just against offenses committed against Him.[7] If the nature of God’s justice is to be truly God’s, then the execution of this justice must be in accordance with His being, which is infinite and eternal. Then, whatever violation is committed against His holy, perfect being must be met with an equally infinite act of just punishment (Gen. 2:17, Rom. 6:23).[8] However, being just and merciful, God provides for His people a Surety – one who will and is able to make satisfaction for this justice on our behalf so that both his infinite mercy and justice are fully satiated.

A mediate being, who the Arians and the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim Jesus Christ to be, who is someone that is not infinite, almighty God, cannot endure this infinite punishment that the nature of God’s justice necessitates. Wilhelmus a’Brakel said: “If eternal punishment had to be suffered in its duration, His suffering could neither be concluded nor be exhaustive, and therefore satisfaction had to be made by such suffering which in efficacy and value was equivalent to eternal duration. This could only be accomplished by one who is infinite in Himself,”[9] and this applies only to God. Anything short of infinity is infinitely short and is therefore insufficient to satisfy the justice of God that is necessary for the complete forgiveness of sins. If God accepts the sacrifice of a lesser, mediate being, then it is a partial acceptance, and it is remittance without full payment, it is not true satisfaction, is contrary to the nature of God (Gen. 18:25; Ps. 119:137; Prov. 17:15; Mark 16:16; Rom 1:32; 6:23), and we are without hope concerning the full propitiation of our sins and we should despair of our salvation. Therefore, it is necessary for the one to bear the brunt of God’s retributive wrath and justice to have infinite strength so as to bear an infinite punishment, procuring an infinitely efficacious and precious remedy, and it is said of Christ – “he had by himself purged our sins.” (Heb. 1:3). Thus, it is necessary for Christ to be fully God, not an intermediate being, if we are to have any hope of God’s just wrath being turned away from our sins.[10]

Without the deity of Christ, we have an insufficient mediator.

If there was some work given to this intermediate being, Jesus Christ, that was connivedly able to merit a glorified state (glorified as a creature) so as to be in a position of mediation at the right hand of the Father, His standing between God and man, interceding on our behalf, is severely and fatally truncated. If we are to have any hope of full reconciliation unto God, it must be the only begotten Son, who is coessential and coeternal with the Father, who took upon Himself a form of a servant and enfleshed Himself, being fully man and also fully God, where both parties in need of reconciliation are represented in one Person. “No one could be Surety and bring man to God but he who was God and man in one Person.”[11]

His mediation for us as a Prophet is compromised without His deity, for what respect will the Holy Spirit have to speak words unto His people that are not God’s? And what business is it of God’s people to heed words that are not God’s, or are verifiably in agreement with Him? Only God can reveal God, and Hebrews 1:2 shows us the finality and perfection of the Son revealing the Father. We can trust the words of Christ that we hear with our ears and perceive with our hearts by the Holy Spirit’s work because they are the words which proceed from the throne room of God. There is no need for Him to say “Thus saith the Lord,” because He speaks with divine authority, with divine power (it is effectual), and with wondrous wisdom since they are archetypal words, proceeding from the mind of God Himself. Therefore, we can trust Him when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you.”

His mediation for us as Priest is compromised without His deity. As it was mentioned before, anything short of infinity is infinitely short, so Christ’s intercession and pleading for us as our High Priest must be one of eternal sufficiency and persuasion so as to efficaciously apply salvation and make us partakers of it. No one is qualified to intercede except upon the basis if He is the one who has procured a full atonement (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 9:12). So, in His intercession for us as High Priest,

One must not think that Christ falls upon His knees there [in the throne room of God] and prays with strong crying and tears (Heb. 5:7) [as if there is desperate and anxious argumentation going on]; no, that was His engagement in His humiliation. His intercession, however, consists in His appearance in the sanctuary before the countenance of His Father with His blood, ‘that speaketh better things than that of Abel’ (Heb. 12:24). It consists in the demonstration of the efficacy of His suffering and death… He is great in His Person, being coessential with the Father, and great is the friendship between Him and His Father. ‘For the Father loveth the Son’ (John 5:20). With full acquiescence and total delight He has become Surety… How can such an Intercessor possibly be rejected?[12]

So, Christ’s intercession for us is a complete and sure intercession because of the nature of who He is demonstrating what He has done.

His mediation for us as King is compromised without His deity, for who else but the King of Kings can ensure that the work of salvation which He procured is to come to its ultimate and final fruition? All power in heaven and on earth is His, and all things work to the good of those who love Him. This King is not limited in His authority or in the extent of His rule, and no end can be found in His kingdom either in eternity past or future. It is a divine prerogative to move, control, and direct all things, even unto their τελος, which means all things are done for the good of His redemptive, sin-purifying interests. By His sovereign control, believers can be certain that whatever lot is before them in life is under the control of their Savior and will certainly work for their eternal benefit because His hand is a divine hand – apt, able, and desirous to secure these things for those for whom He died.

Without the deity of Christ, the promises that God has made are not kept.

Recall the witness of Scripture mentioned earlier. These verses and prophecies revolved around and are wrapped up in God’s covenant promises to His people to save them. The kind of salvation that is promised to us is a complete salvation that forgives all sins, restores all His people unto Himself, and continues on forever (Ez. 36:24-30), and as was discussed earlier, the only way for this complete salvation to be procured is if the Savior is able to do so. And the only one able to truly and fully do so is God, and we are told over and over again that it is Christ who has satisfactorily accomplished this work (i.e. Rom. 5:9, 1 Thess. 5:9, Heb. 7:24-28).

If this is not the case concerning the deity of Christ, then we do not have sufficient forgiveness, and the promises of God’s full redemption are unfulfilled in Christ. This makes God a liar regarding the statements about Christ procuring a complete salvation both regarding the Old Testament and the New, and we are yet without hope.

Without the deity of Christ, we have insufficient assurance of our salvation.

This is tied into the previous points in knowing that a comprehensive salvation is fully procured because a complete savior has been provided. Scripture repeatedly calls us to be assured of the salvation of our souls, rebuking doubts (John 2:29, Heb. 11:1, James 1:6), and urging us unto confidence in the faith (Prov. 28:1, Rom. 10:11, Heb. 4:16, Jude 20). These biblical exhortations are pipe dreams without the deity of Christ because then they would not be founded upon the reality of a complete salvation and a sure intercession, and the Christian walk would be full of fear and anxiety. Regarding the confidence of one’s salvation in a divine Savior, Andrew Fuller said,

Those who deny the Divinity of Christ may plead that they confide in the truth of his declarations; but they might also confide in the declarations of Peter or Paul, seeing that their testimony is equally true. But to commit our souls into their hands would be unwarrantable and presumptuous; and it would be equally so to commit them into the hands of Christ, if he were a mere creature like them… God has expressly appropriated trust to himself alone, and prohibited our placing it in a mere creature [Jer. 17:5,7]… To deny his proper Divinity, therefore, is to destroy the foundation of a sinners’ hope, and to make void the distinctive evidence of primitive Christianity: Calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus, and committing our souls into his hands for salvation.[13]

Often, questions and doubts regarding the security of one’s soul in Christ’s hands are brought to the fore when a person contemplates their inevitable launch into eternity upon death. John Owen calls us to reflect upon the divine glories of Christ for confidence in such questions,

But Jesus Christ it is who doth immediately receive the souls of them who believe in Him. So we see in the instance of Stephen. And what can be a greater encouragement to resign them into His hand than a daily contemplation of His glory, in His Person, His power, His exaltation, His office, and grace? Who that believes in Him, that belongs unto Him, can fear to commit his departing spirit unto His love, power, and care?… [This contemplation] will strengthen and confirm our minds in the resignation of our departing souls into His hand.[14]

In like manner, Richard Baxter said, “My Saviour is the fore-runner, entered into the holiest, and there appearing and interceding for me: this after he had conquered death, and risen again to assure me of a future life, and ascended into heaven, to show us whither we must ascend… Shall I not follow him through death, and trust such a guide and captain of my salvation? He is there to prepare a place for me, and will take me to himself: and may I not confidently expect it.”[15] Therefore, for the sake of understanding the guarantee of our salvation and a confident expectation of our eternal rest based upon the merits of Christ, we are to apprehend His deity and hold it dear.

Conclusion

The doctrine of the deity of Christ is greatly needed to be in a prominent position within the hearts and minds of Christians because of the manifold blessings of comforts it gives to believers. It gives us the more earnest confidence of our motions after this life. But the only reason we have this confidence is because of who it is to whom we are committing ourselves. It is the One who has the power to uphold and preserve our souls after death, who is able to perfectly and fully intercede for us all at every moment of every day, who has sufficiently propitiated for all of our sins, and who is the fulfillment of all the Scriptural promises. Therefore, the deity of Christ is a vital doctrine that demands our utmost attention and diligent defense, not just for those who were in the past, but it is for those in the present and for future generations to come.

_________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Joel R. Beeke, Heidelberg Catechism Sermons, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1999), 128.

[2] Everett Ferguson, Church History: From Christ to Pre-Reformation, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 193.

[3] William VanDoodewaard, “Ancient Church History” (Class Lecture, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI, Spring 2017).

[4] Donald MacLeod, The Person of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 78–86.

[5] Joel Beeke et al., eds., Reformation Heritage Study Bible-KJV (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 1344.

[6] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Abridged in One Volume, ed by. John Bolt (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 404–406.

[7] Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans by. G.W. Williard (Cincinnati: T.P. Bucher, Publisher, 1851), 78–79.

[8] Andrew Fuller, The Works of Andrew Fuller (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 938.

[9] Wilhelmus a’Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, ed by. Joel R. Beeke, trans by. Bartel Elshout, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), 481.

[10] Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, 87.

[11] a’Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 1:511.

[12] a’Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 1:550–552.

[13] Fuller, The Works of Andrew Fuller, 940.

[14] John Owen, The Glory of Christ (Choteau, MT: Old Paths Gospel Press, Date not available), xxvi.

[15] Richard Baxter, The Practical Works of Richard Baxter: Selected Treatises (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 943.

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