The Importance of Christ’s Deity

 

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This week I decided to post an essay on the topic of the importance of Christ’s deity, which is what I wrote for my Theology II class. Why is Christ’s deity important? Is it foundational to saving faith? Can it be compromised? Does it matter whether Jesus was partially God or only human? This response answers this crucial doctrinal question:

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF CHRIST’S DEITY

The deity of Jesus Christ is one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith. It is the foundation and the basis for the gospel message and what distinguishes Christianity from all other religions in the world. No other religious or philosophical figure claimed to be God, whether in the form of only God or dual nature of God-man. Failure to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ leads to a major misunderstanding of Christianity, and constitutes a belief in another gospel altogether. Despite Scripture’s clear statements regarding the divine nature of Christ, many throughout history and today do not believe in the deific nature of Jesus, even people within the evangelical community. They liken Jesus to being partially God or a glorified human being. However, this is not what the Bible teaches or what the majority of Christians throughout history believed about Jesus’ nature. Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus is divine, thus belief in Christ as God is necessary and important because the truth of Christianity, including the truth of Scripture, worship, and salvation, rests in this crucial reality.

Before beginning a discussion of the importance of Christ’s deity, it is imperative to begin by briefly demonstrating the Godness of Jesus Christ from the New Testament. One example of Jesus’ implied divinity and authority which only God can lay claim is found in the healing of the paralytic account in Matthew 9:1-8. After Jesus declares that the paralytic’s sins were forgiven, the scribes say in verse 3, “This man blasphemes.” This statement would in fact be true for anyone other than God incarnate, but since Jesus obviously placed Himself in God’s position, His words to the man were an unequivocal claim of divine authority.[1] The author Matthew not only portrays Jesus as divine, but Jesus Himself implies His divinity through His words and subsequently by His actions when He heals the paralytic, something only God has the power to do.

The authors of the New Testament also state, in theological reflections, the reality of Jesus’ divine nature. A prominent example is found in John 1:1-2, in which the text states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” The opening verses of the book of John demonstrate Jesus to be a separate person from the Father, yet not different in essence or being. Jesus, as the Word, is portrayed as essentially God, and verse 2 shows Jesus as participating in the creation of the universe, which Genesis 1 shows was God’s task alone, and not angels or men. John here unequivocally affirms the Word’s deity, one who is on par with the Almighty Creator; both Yahweh and the Word – Jesus – are called theos, or “God.”[2] This passage shows that the Word Jesus has all the essence or attributes of deity. His intimate and eternal relationship with the Father gives credence to Jesus’ identification throughout the New Testament as the Son of God (Mark 1:1, Matthew 16:16, 1 John 4:15), who is different from the Father in Personhood and function, but the same in essence and being. The authors of the New Testament, and Jesus Himself, give no doubt in their words and writings that Jesus, in His human nature, was also God, fully equipped with power, authority, and truth.

Now that the deity of Christ has been established and discussed using New Testament references, there is the question of how important is the theology of Christ’s divinity for the Christian faith. Is it absolutely important to believe that Jesus is Lord? Is it an indispensable element of the gospel message and of Christian living? If so, then why? The next few paragraphs will answer the question of why Christ’s deity is important to the Christian faith.

The first reason why the doctrine of Christ’s deity is important is that it authenticates the inspiration and authority of Scripture. If Jesus is truly Lord, then this shows that Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, an act which not only authenticates the inspiration of the Old Testament, but gives credence to the Christian faith. An example of a passage in which Jesus’ deity affects the integrity of Scripture is Psalm 110:1-7. Jesus implies in Matthew 22:44 that He is the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy of Psalm 110:1-7, since this passage speaks about the Son of David, which the people in New Testament epoch acknowledged Jesus as (Luke 18:38, Matthew 1). However, Psalm 110 mysteriously portrays the Son of David as greater than David. He is on par with the essence of God, since verse 1 states, “The Lord says to my Lord…”

 This verse hints that there are at least two Persons within the Godhead, and one of those Persons is depicted in Psalm 110 as human, since He is David’s human heir and a perpetual priest interceding for the elect people forever. The prophesied Messiah is inescapably both human and divine, which only Jesus is by His deific nature and incarnation. David declared the nature of the Messiah in Psalm 110, and Jesus affirmed it in His words and ministry.[3] Jesus’ deity and life gives us a clear understanding of the meaning of Psalm 110 and affirms its fulfillment, showing that Scriptures are indeed the word of God.

Jesus’ deity is also vividly portrayed in the New Testament, being a theme of central focus particularly in the book of John to inspire trust and obedience to Jesus and, essentially, God’s Word. In John 2:13-22, Jesus cleanses theJerusalemTempleof its corrupt practices. When questioned by the Jews about His authority to do such things, Jesus states in verse 19, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Verse 21 interprets this saying of Jesus, commenting that it refers to Jesus’ body rather than theJerusalemTemple. This passage presents Jesus as the new temple, where proper worship is to be rendered. According to Jesus’ words in John 4:23, true worship is not measured by one’s presence in a physical location (theTemple). Rather, it is done according to a right heart, in spirit and in truth.

As the book of John proceeds, Jesus shows that in His incarnation and ministry, He constitutes the replacement of the entire Jewish festal calendar, including the festivals of Tabernacles (chapters 7-8), Dedication (chapter 10:22-39), and even Passover.[4] Basically, Jesus is the new temple that replaces the old sanctuary by virtue of His crucifixion and resurrection. All of sayings that direct worship to Jesus would be truly blasphemous if Christ were not God in human flesh. If Jesus were not divine, the point that the author John tries to make concerning the book of John would be futile and pointless, since Jesus would not have been the fulfillment of Old Testament Judaism. However, since Jesus is evidenced to be divine through His fulfillment of OT prophecy and the New Testament writers’ endorsement of His identity, this reveals that Scripture is truly God-breathed, efficacious, and trustworthy. Since the gospel message speaks on the necessity to believe in Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9, John 3:16), the deity of Christ is of tantamount important to the Christian faith. Scripture commands us to believe in not only this gospel theology, but all the teachings found in the Bible (John 14:15, Deuteronomy 11:1) since they come from God. Failure to believe in Scripture’s teaching of Christ’s deity is to trivialize, ignore, or manipulate the Bible, which can lead a person to ignore other vital teachings about Christ and the Christian life.

The second reason that Christ’s deity is of importance to the Christian faith is that it informs believers of the true nature of the Godhead and of proper worship. Throughout biblical history, the Jewish people recited the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) twice daily because this foundational confession affirmed the existence of the one true and living God and entailed that He alone is the proper object of worship.[5] To worship other gods, humans, or other created objects entails blasphemy against the one true God. Against the backdrop of the historic Yahweh religion, two astounding points come to mind. First, Jesus was fully human, yet He received the praise, worship, and adoration that is due only to God without ever rebuking people of idolatry (Matthew 14:33, John 20:28). Second, after Jesus returned to heaven as the glorified Lord and Messiah, praise and worship of Jesus intensified in the church (Ephesians 5:19, Philippians 2:9-11).

Since a mere human being cannot be worshipped, this entails that Jesus must also be God in nature. The life of Jesus portrays the fascinating reality that God is eternally existent through more than one Person. Passages such as Matthew 3:16-17, 28:19, and 2 Corinthians 13:14 shows that there are three Persons within the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is a reality that was hinted at in the Old Testament (Genesis 1:1, 26) but given full light and understanding in the New Testament. Therefore, Jesus is apt to receive worship, devotion, confidence, and trust that God alone demands and deserves. Like the Father, Jesus is also the One whom prayer is directed towards and is the object of saving faith. Acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord and God as triune is absolutely essential to true understanding of God and proper worship of Him. Anything other than this constitutes apostasy, idolatry, and futile worship, whether it be from a Jew, Muslim, or professing Christian. The doctrine of Christ’s deity is so significance that to deny this would reveal oneself to be a false Christian who does not truly worship Jesus or God.[6] Since John 4:23 states the importance of worshipping God in spirit and in truth, the revelation of Jesus and the triune relationship is of utmost importance to worshipping God in the right way and having a saving relationship with Him.

In the New Testament, Jesus is presented as an additional object of saving faith, a reality not known before in the Old Testament times. In fact, God the Father in the NT is held up somewhat infrequently as the object of faith compared to Jesus.[7] This is not because Jesus is a competing object of faith separate from the Father. Rather, it is in Christ that God meets believers in salvation. Only because Jesus is fully divine, intrinsically sharing God’s nature and attributes, does He become a legitimate object of trust.[8] Therefore, pleasing and saving worship of God springs from an acknowledgement of the Person and deity of Christ, which is in full harmony with the monotheistic reality of the historic Jewish faith.

The third reason that Christ’s deity is important to the Christian faith is that it is the basis for a believer’s eternal salvation. In other words, our salvation depends on the reality that Jesus is God and not merely a glorified man. Why is this so? First, Jesus’ deity gives credence to the claim of His sinlessness (John 8:46, 2 Corinthians 5:21). If Jesus were not divine, then He could not have been sinless, since no human beings can be sinless by birth. All people are unrighteous by nature and deeds (Romans 3:10, Psalm 51:5, 1 John 1:8). If Jesus were not sinless, He could not have qualified to take our punishment upon Himself on the cross, for He would have needed to be punished for His own sins. Since only God is good and holy by nature (Mark 10:18, Leviticus 11:45), He alone is morally spotless and can empower the incarnate Christ to live out a truly sinless and obedient life. Thus, Jesus is fully qualified to be the perfect atonement and substitute for sinful humanity. As much as Christ needed to be God, He also needed to be human, since the debt of eternal justice is for man alone to pay, and not other created beings. That is why through Christ, humanity has an all-sufficient Lord and Savior. For the Son’s sacrifice on the cross to be efficacious, the Redeemer had to be both divine and human simultaneously without ever losing one nature.[9] The addition of Christ’s deity to His human nature is proof that His work on the cross has the power to save us, because our faith is futile if Jesus is forever dead and unable to grant us eternal life. The Son of God was able to sacrifice His human nature for our salvation and make it effective only because the death of that nature was not the end of his existence. It is because He remained fully divine throughout His earthly ministry (and even now) that death could not hold Him captive.[10]

Because of Christ’s finished work on the cross in His humanity and divinity, we are counted as righteous and just when we are united with Christ in repentance faith. Unionwith Christ means that Christians receive every benefit of salvation when they abide in Christ by faith.[11] Union with Christ is the application of salvation, in which the Spirit of God join believers to all Christ’s saving deeds, including His death (Romans 6:2-6), resurrection (Romans 6:4), ascension (Colossians 3:3), session (Ephesians 2:6), and second coming (Romans 8:19).[12] Being joined in Christ, we receive regeneration (Ephesians 2:4-5), justification (2 Corinthians 5:21), adoption (Galatians 3:26-29), perseverance (Romans 8:1), resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:22), and glorification (Colossians 3:4). Union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.[13]

When we abide in Christ by faith, the entire righteous, holy, and pleasing life of Christ is credited and counted to the Christian’s life so that He can be presented as perfect before the Father. God treated Jesus as if He committed all our sins so He can treat us as if we had lived Christ’s perfect life. The life of Christ is the basis for our merit before God so that we may have eternal life and all its benefits counted and reckoned to us. If Christ were merely a teacher or human being, His work on the cross would not have been efficacious or acceptable, and our union with Him would grant us no saving benefits. Since God alone is the author and finisher of salvation (Psalm 62:1, Jonah 2:9), only He is qualified to pay the penalty of sinful humanity on the cross and make people perfect by crediting His ministry work to their account when they abide by faith in Him. This union underlies and makes possible the entire process of salvation.[14] From beginning to end, people are saved only in Christ, and that union is a role only God could take on.

In conclusion, the doctrine of the deity of Christ is an indispensable one that is also exclusive to the Christian faith. No other religions or philosophies speak of a god who came to earth and took on human flesh to pay the penalty of man’s debt toward God so they can be made innocent and righteous. Christianity stands if Christ’s deity is true and falls it is not. If Jesus is divine, then He is the fulfillment of Scripture. His life testifies to the trustworthiness of Scripture, the power of God, the need to worship God in spirit and in truth, and the fact that there is salvation is no other name other than Jesus (Acts 4:12). The unbelieving world may misunderstand the life and nature of Jesus Christ, but the church must not for the sake of its missionary efforts to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15). Christians must faithfully uphold the important doctrine of Christ’s deity if they desire to see God at work in their preaching and evangelism. To believe otherwise would prove detrimental to the cause of the gospel, and make Christianity a lifeless religion.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY 

 

Bray, Gerald. God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology.Wheaton,Ill.: Crossway, 2012.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Kostenberger, Andreas J. “The Deity of Christ in John’s Gospel.” In The Deity of Christ, edited by Christopher W. Morgan & Petert A. Peterson.Wheaton,Ill.: Crossway, 2011.

___________. A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, Biblical Theology of the New Testament.Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 2009.

Harris, Murray J. Three Crucial Questions about Jesus.Grand Rapids,MI: Baker, 1994.   

Hoekema, Anthony A. Saved by Grace.Grand Rapids: MI: Eerdmans, 1989.

MacArthur, John. Editor. The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible Updated Edition.Nashville,TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006.

Murray, John. Redemption Accomplished and Applied.Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans, 1955.

Ortlund Jr., Raymond C. “The Deity of Christ in the Old Testament.” In The Deity of Christ, edited by Christopher W. Morgan & Petert A. Peterson.Wheaton,Ill.:            Crossway, 2011.

Peterson, Robert A. “Toward a Systematic Theology of the Deity of Christ.” In The Deity of Christ, edited by Christopher W. Morgan & Petert A. Peterson.Wheaton,Ill.: Crossway, 2011.

Stott, John R.W. The Authentic Jesus.London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1985.

Wellum, Stephen J. “The Deity of Christ in the Apostolic Witness.” In The Deity of Christ, edited by Christopher W. Morgan & Petert A. Peterson.Wheaton,Ill.: Crossway, 2011.

 


[1] John MacArthur, ed. The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible Updated Edition (Nashville,TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 1375.

[2] Andreas J. Kostenberger, “The Deity of Christ in John’s Gospel,” in The Deity of Christ, ed. Christopher W. Morgan & Petert A. Peterson (Wheaton,Ill.: Crossway, 2011), 99.

[3] Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., “The Deity of Christ in the Old Testament” in The Deity of Christ, 49.

[4] Andreas J. Kostenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 2009), chap. 10.

[5] Stephen J. Wellum, “The Deity of Christ in the Apostolic Witness” in The Deity of Christ, 142.

[6] John R.W. Stott, The Authentic Jesus (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1985), 34.

[7] Murray J. Harris, Three Crucial Questions about Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994), 77.

[8] Ibid., 77.

[9] Wellum, The Deity of Christ, 134.

[10] Gerald Bray, God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton,Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 202.

[11] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 1256.

[12] Robert A. Peterson, “Toward a Systematic Theology of the Deity of Christ” in The Deity of Christ, 209.

[13] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1955), 161.

[14] Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids: MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 59. 

 

  • KRG

    Hi. Can you show me from Scripture where only a Deity qualifies for the atonement for sin? I see that blood is given for atonement, not Deity.

    • Steve Cha

      Hello. Thank you for reading the article. Jesus’ deity makes Jesus’ sacrifice perfect because no human being is sinless. All people born under Adam are under the curse of sin, which is why Scripture states that no man can die for the sins of another, because he has his own sins to account for (Psalm 49:7; Ezekiel 18:10). Since Jesus was God, He is able to live a sinless life, which is why He is the only human being qualified for atoning for mankind’s sins (1 John 3:5; 1 Peter 1:18-19). Blood is given for atonement (not deity), but deity under the perfect guidance of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life (Matthew 3:17) makes it possible for Jesus to be the only person in history fit to atone for our sins on the cross.

      • KRG

        Hi Steve. Thank you for your answer. Ez. 18:10 says nothing related to this subject. Maybe that is a typo?
        The verse in Psalms, when read in context, does not apply. It is about those who think they can buy God’s favor or make a ransom with their riches. Riches do not qualify. Only sinless blood qualifies.

        Ps 49:6 Those who trust in their wealth And boast in the multitude of their riches, 7 None of them can by any means redeem his brother, Nor give to God a ransom for him—NKJV

        Paul says in Romans 5:18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. – NKJV

        Notice that it is man-to-man, 1:1.

        I cannot find that God placed a curse of being sinful, but rather that each one chooses to sin. Many verses can be given. Here are just a few:
        Ecclesiastes 7:29 Truly, this only I have found: That God made man upright, But they have sought out many schemes.” – NKJV
        Romans 2:14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) – NKJV

        I found that even Jesus Himself had to learn good from evil and choose good:
        Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. 15 Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.

        I was taught the same as you claim. But the more I look into this subject, the more I find that it is a presupposition that the Redeemer had to be deity. He had to be a man who was sinless. Whether He was deity or not is a separate matter. The qualification for taking the substitution was a sinless man, a human. Jesus is that human. Therefore He qualifies to be the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).