Thursday, February 26, 2015

is Jesus equal with the Father?

"When all things are subjected to him [the Son], then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all." (1 Corinthians 15:28 ESV)

I had a good discussion recently with our guest speaker on the following statement.  The context was Hebrews 1:2, Philippians 2, and the emptying of Christ at his incarnation... 

"Once he surrendered that place as divine Spirit beside the eternal Father, once he became human, there was no turning back.  He could never go back to what he was before. He had become human; he couldn't 'un-human' himself. He could never again be divine Spirit. He gave up that position. No man, not even Jesus Christ, can be equal with God."

Now we had a good discussion on this, and what he was saying was that Jesus laid aside his divine status and united himself permanently with a human nature.  And so, he would forever as the God-man represent the human race before God. As the human Representative he therefore could not have equal status with God in that character and role. 

There's much with his statement I would agree with, but I would qualify it at two points.  

1) Though after his Incarnation the Lord Jesus could never again be Divine Spirit, he would never cease to be a Divine PersonHe never gave up his Godhood, but rather laid aside his privileges as God and joined himself with humanity by fully taking on human nature. He laid aside his glory and his divine privileges, but he did not divest himself of them.  

2) For Jesus to submit himself to the Father does not imply inequality.  His nature as divine Son is eternal and unchanging, before and after the incarnation. At the incarnation he took "the form of a servant... in human form" (Phil 2:7-8). But he has been forever the Son. And in this relationship there is both submission and equality: 

"...he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. So Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.'" (John 5:18-19 ESV)  

As our divine-human Mediator Jesus would say and do things that highlighted either of his two natures, divine and human. These natures can be distinguished but not divided from his glorious Person. They are not separable, nor intermingled (like being a half-God-half-man kind of person). 

He is both God and man in one person. As to his divine nature he can say "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30), "whoever has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9), and he receives worship (Jn 20:28; Rev 5:12-14). As to his human nature he can say, "the Father is greater than I" (John 14:28), "I thirst" (Jn 19:28), and "concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." (Matthew 24:36). 

So, is Jesus equal with the Father?  Ever since the Arian controversy of the fourth century Christian churches have largely held that the Father and Son (along with the Spirit) are co-equal as to their shared essence of Godhood (Deity, God-ness).  One eternal Being, God, co-existing in three Persons. 

The Nicene Creed (AD 325) stated, "And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made."

Athanasius, a key character at the Council of Nicaea, put it this way: "And in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal." (Athanasian Creed) 

Christ is equal with the Father in essence, majesty, attributes, and eternality. The church debated for many years after that, seeking to understand just how the two natures (human + divine) could exist in the one person, Jesus Christ. The Chalcedonian Creed (AD 451) put it this way:

"Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; coessential [of one substance] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin... one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ..."

The Son of God is not a created being (as Arius believed) but resides in the bosom of the Father from eternity past, and to eternity future! Christ in his Deity remains unchangeably divine, whether before or after his Incarnation.  So God did not become man in some transmutational way, or with the loss of divinity itself.  Rather, the second Person of the Triune God joined himself permanently to humanity by taking on a human nature. So, it is true that Jesus the God-man will never un-human himself. But neither will he un-deify himself!

And yet this does not mean that all Persons within the Triune Godhead have the same roles. If we mean "equality" in the sense of "same as" or "same role as", then that statement would have to be qualified. It appears that the hierarchy (authority and submission) which we see in Christ's life (e.g., love and submission toward his Father) has existed (and will exist) within the Trinity forever. The Father sends the Son (before the incarnation), the Son accomplishes the Father's will, the Father and Son send the Spirit.  The Spirit glorifies the Son, the Son glorified the Father, who then glorifies the Son...!  So at the end the Son "subjects himself" to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:28), which is not something he does merely because he has a human nature, but appears to reflect essential relationships within the Trinity.  

Finally, I believe it's important how and what we think about Christ, since he is the One we trust for salvation, and our Example of Sonship that we should follow. (So ably portrayed by our guest speaker!) We should understand Christ as clearly as we can, as he is revealed in the Scriptures. The challenge of theology (for example, the Trinity) is not to come up with a statement that is supported by a few verses, but a statement that encompasses and explains all that the Bible has to say about that topic. 

At this point, we must just marvel and worship. There are so many unfathomable mysteries here!

Suggested for further reading: 

The Athanasian Creed

Athanasius' On the Incarnation 

What is the Trinity, a free eBook by R. C. Sproul

Delighting in the Trinity, by Michael Reeves.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

clearer and more glorious

"God undergoes no change, remaining always the same. But in the progress of revelation He makes Himself always clearer and more glorious to people and to angels." 

(Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, p. 146)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

the knowledge of God

"And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." (John 17:3 ESV)

What does it mean to know God?  

Here are some excerpts from Herman Bavinck, taken from "The Knowledge of God" from his Selected Shorter Works, and originally published as chapter 2 in Our Reasonable Faith (Magnalia Dei) in 1909.

God is the highest good of man -- that is the testimony of the whole Scriptures.

God gives Himself to His people in order that His people should give themselves to Him.

This declaration of faith on the part of the church is not a scientific doctrine, nor a form of unity that is being repeated, but is rather a confession of a deeply felt reality, and of a conviction of reality that has come up out of experience in life. 

God was for them not at all a cold concept, which they then proceeded rationally to analyze, but He was a living, personal force, a reality infinitely more real than the world around them. Indeed, He was to them the one, eternal, worshipful Being. They reckoned with Him in their lives, they lived in His tent, walked as if always before His face, served Him in His courts, and worshiped Him in His sanctuary.

They [biblical writers] did not have to strain for words, for their lips overflowed with what welled up out of their hearts, and the world of man and nature supplied them with figures of speech. God was to them a King, a Lord, a Valiant One, a Leader, a Shepherd, a Savior, a Redeemer, a Helper, a Physician, a Man, and a Father. All their bliss and well-being, their truth and righteousness, their life and mercy, their strength and power, their peace and rest they found in Him. He was a sun and shield to them, a buckler, a light and a fire, a fountain and a well-head, a rock and shelter, a high refuge and a tower, a reward and a shadow, a city and a temple. 

Such is the experience of the children of God.  It is an experience which they have felt because God presented Himself to them for their enjoyment in the Son of His love.  In this sense Christ said that eternal life, that is, the totality of salvation, consists for man in the knowledge of the one, true God and of Jesus Christ whom He sent.

Jesus speaks of a knowledge which is not mere information but is instead a real knowing. ... But real knowing includes an element of personal concern and involvement and an activity of the heart.

The knowledge and the love come together... God is known in proportion to the extent that He is loved. 

It is the product not of scientific study and reflection but of a childlike and simple faith.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

grace encircled by grace

"Special grace is encircled by common grace.  The vocation which comes to us in faith is connected and connects us with the vocation presented to us in our earthly calling.  The election revealed to us in faith through this faith communicates its power to our entire life.  The God of creation and of regeneration is one."  

(Herman Bavinck, Selected Shorter Works)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

the crusades were not what you think they were

At this year's national prayer breakfast in Washington, D. C., the President spoke these words... "And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ." (President Obama, 2015 National Prayer Breakfast)  Full transcript of his remarks can be found here. 

There is a widespread lack of knowledge about the Crusades, and misconceptions abound. "Remember the Crusades" is often thrown out as a moralistic sound bite.  What is needed is the clearer perspective of what really happened and what in fact the lessons are.  For that we must turn to the historians of the medieval age.  

Thomas F. Madden, professor of medieval history and director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University, is the author of The Concise History of the Crusades.  He writes, 

"It is generally thought that Christians attacked Muslims without provocation to seize their lands and forcibly convert them. The Crusaders were Europe’s lacklands and ne’er-do-wells, who marched against the infidels out of blind zealotry and a desire for booty and land. As such, the Crusades betrayed Christianity itself. They transformed “turn the other cheek” into “kill them all; God will know his own.”  Every word of this is wrong. Historians of the Crusades have long known that it is wrong, but they find it extraordinarily difficult to be heard across a chasm of entrenched preconceptions..."  Full article, "Inventing the Crusades," here.  

There's more background from Thomas Madden in "The Real History of the Crusades" in this 2005 article for Christianity Today.

Jonathan Riley-Smith is likely the world's foremost authority on the Crusades.  His book, The Crusades: A History, (pictured) would be the best place to start to get a clearer understanding of that period in history.  He writes, 

"As far as crusading itself is concerned, most Muslims do not view the crusades, in which they anyway believe they were victorious, in isolation. Islam has been spasmodically in conflict with Christianity since the Muslim conquests of the seventh century, long before the First Crusade, and the crusading movement was a succession of episodes in a continuum of hostility between the two religions."

And, "...those who are now demanding an apology for the crusades are themselves, without knowing it or understanding how rapidly the ground is shifting beneath them, sharing in a new consensus which is au fond not very far from the war theology they are condemning. A stance that justifies a 'humanitarian' war on moral grounds has placed itself at least in the same field as that once occupied by crusade theorists."  See the full article: "Rethinking the Crusades"

Ravi Zacharias responds to the President's comments here

Finally, Ross Douthat of the New York Times notes, "The first problem is that presidents are not historians or theologians, and in political rhetoric it’s hard to escape from oversimplication..." And, "The deep problem with his Niebuhrian style isn’t that it’s too disenchanted or insufficiently pro-American. It’s that too often it offers 'self'-criticism in which the president’s own party and worldview slip away untouched." Douthat's column can be read here

Sunday, February 8, 2015

all other voices had failed

They [the angels] said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."  Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher)...   (John 20:13-16 ESV)

"Having given this answer to the angels, Mary turned herself backward and beheld Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. No explanation is added of the cause of this movement. It matters little. Our interest at this stage of the narrative belongs not to what Mary but to what Jesus did. On his part the encounter was surely not accidental but intended. He had witnessed her coming once and again, her weeping, her bending over the tomb, her answer to the angels, and had witnessed not only these outward acts, but also the inward conflict by which her soul was torn. 

"And he appears precisely at the point where his presence is required because all other voices for conveying to her the gladsome tidings have failed. He had been holding himself in readiness to become in his own person the preacher of the gospel of life and hope to Mary. There is great comfort for us in this thought that however dim our conscious faith and the sense of our salvation, on the Lord's side the fountain of grace is never closed, its connection with our souls never interrupted; provided there be the irrepressible demand for his presence, he cannot, he will not deny himself to us... 

"Among all the voices that hailed his triumph no voice appealed to him like this voice of weeping in the garden. The first appearance of the risen Lord was given to Mary for no other reason than that she needed him first and needed him most."

(Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory

The painting above is "Mary Magdalene and the Risen Christ", by Harold Copping.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

on depression

Here are a few gems (reading highlights) from Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, by Edward T. Welch: 

It is easy to miss the obvious: depression is painful. It is a form of suffering.

Jesus Christ our Lord once said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” There was no sin in Him, and consequently none in His deep depression.

Therefore, depression, regardless of the causes, is a time to answer the deepest and most important of all questions: Whom will I trust? Whom will I worship?

The cross is the only evidence that can fully persuade you that God is, at all times, good and generous.

Don’t think that your case is unique.

If Jesus learned obedience through suffering, we will too.

Creation is to be enjoyed, but we don’t put our trust in it. The only alternative is God himself.

At the cross, Christ has taken your story of misery upon himself and he has given you his story of resurrection and hope.

Perseverance isn’t flashy. It doesn’t call attention to itself. It looks like putting one foot in front of another.  But beneath the surface, where few can see the glory, is something very profound (Rev. 2:2, 19). You are becoming more like God. God sees it, and he is pleased by it.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Here's a couple of quotes...

"A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in little things is a great thing." (Hudson Taylor)

"[God's] measurement of our success does not lie in our spectacular activities.  It lies in our quiet steadfastness for Him. He does not expect us to fully understand His management of our lives, but He does ask us to stay true to Him today."  (Phillip Keller, Lessons from a Sheep Dog, p. 44)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

a journey to see clearly

From Drew's sermon on Sunday...

“The Christian life starts in conversion with a clear sight of the excellency of Christ and the beauty of God. It is a sight through a glass darkly, but it is still sight. The culmination of that event is standing before the God of love and beholding him as my Father, seeing him clearly and growing in knowledge of him for eternity. Most of us currently stand in between these two events.  As believers, our lives are lived after this initial sight of the truth and beauty of the gospel and before its climax in glory. These events bracket the Christian life and give it its texture. The Christian life is a journey to see clearly. It is a journey inaugurated with a sight of faith and a journey whose destination is the perfection of that sight.”

(Kyle Strobel, Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards)

how big is your gospel?

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen." (Galatians 1:3-5 ESV)

He gave himself.  He gave, not something, not just a gift, but Himself. And he gave himself not for something small, but for something great. He gave himself to deliver us (completely) from the present evil age, according to the infinitely wise and good will of God, that we might reflect the beauty of God and bring honor to his Name. Forever. This is not small, but big.   

So, how big is your gospel?  Fred Sanders writes, 

“A gospel which is only about the moment of conversion but does not
extend to every moment of life in Christ is too small.

"A gospel that gets your sins forgiven but offers no power for
transformation is too small.

"A gospel that isolates one of the benefits of union with Christ and
ignores all the others is too small.

"A gospel that must be measured by your own moral conduct, social
conscience, or religious experience is too small.

"A gospel that rearranges the components of your life but does not put
you personally in the presence of God is too small.”