In my interactions and dialogues with those who deny the Deity of Christ, I’ve become aware of a pattern which is all too commonly adhered to. Namely in which the denier is eagerly willing to debate the question of the Deity of Christ with you, armed with their supposed trump cards: the lack of textual evidence for the Comma Johanneum, the fact that Jesus never said the phrase “I am God” as such in the Gospels, the tired old theory about how the Church corrupted the “true” teaching of a merely human messiah at the Nicene Council in 325 AD, and so on.
However, when confronted by a believer with some skin in the game, and an answer to their objections, they start to backpedal. No longer interested in rational and reasonable discussion of a Divine vs. created Jesus, they switch tacts from trying to prove to you that Jesus was merely a created being and instead throw out a smokescreen saying, “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway whether I believe Jesus is God or not” – which is to say, by implication, “This conversation is a waste of time, and also, screw your logic.”
Now, in sports, it’s a bit of a giveaway when you only care about the score as long as you’re winning – but as soon as the other team takes the lead you suddenly decide that you don’t want to play anymore. Aside from the intellectual dishonesty of such tactics – that is, if you really care about truth you’ll follow where it leads instead of jumping ship when it pulls into a harbor you’re uncomfortable with – this statement also bespeaks a considerable naivete on the part of those who say such things.
What do I mean? And why is the Deity of Christ THE issue of central importance? What does it matter what we believe on the issue anyway?
To answer this question I will appeal to four categories of argumentation, namely: logical, scriptural, philosophical, and emotional. Let the reader understand that none of these categories exist in a box, but freely mix and interact with one another – so too what I am about to say, while presented point by point, must not be taken in isolation but understood in the context of the whole.
In this way the issue is understood to be not one of simple intellectual exercise (rationalism), simple scriptural argumentation (proof-texting), simple philosophical meandering (abstract), or simple emotional appeal (subjective). Instead, it is my hope that you will see that the truth is not defined by any single one of these categories alone, just as a person cannot be defined just by his shoe size or favorite color alone. No, a person is an organic unity comprised of many different facets – and so must truth be…
…because Truth is a person.
His name is Jesus.
DOES THE DEITY OF CHRIST MATTER – AND DOES IT MATTER WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT IT?
Category #1 – Logical
It’s the beginning of a new year, and you know what that means: taxes are due in only a few months time. I’m dreading the paperwork already. Good thing I live in Switzerland, where we have the lowest income tax rate in the world. I sure don’t envy the people of Germany, Denmark, or France – all of which fall into the top 5 list of free nations with the highest tax rates in the world. Yes sir, it’s good to be Swiss.
“Tom, you live in the United States.”
I do? Well, that changes things! This means that I need to send my taxes to the US IRS, not the Swiss government. Good thing you told me!
Of course, I was never under the impression that I lived in Switzerland, but this scenario is a good illustration of a couple of points I would like to make:
a) Believing something does not make it true – my geographical location and national citizenship is an objective fact with or without my belief
b) What I believe has consequences – if I believe I live in Switzerland, the IRS is going to be looking for me in a few months when they don’t get their check in the mail (and the Swiss are going to wonder when Americans set up a donation fund for them)
In other words, when the judge is deciding my fate, a plea of ignorance (“I thought I was in Switzerland!”) is probably not going to get me out of sharing a cell with Wesley Snipes. Why? Because the judge would merely say, “you had plenty of evidence that you live in the U.S.A., United States flags are everywhere, the name of our country is on your money, the fact that your driver’s license and voter’s registration card also testify against you…etc. Ignorance is not a valid excuse – unless you also want to plead an IQ of 10?” And he would be right.
Now, some will call me out and say, “But Tom, that’s a straw man. Sure, you’re going to change certain things about the way you live depending on where you believe you reside (paying taxes to the IRS instead of the Swiss, saluting the American flag and not the Swiss flag, rooting for Venus Williams instead of Martina Hinges, etc.), but it’s not like I’m going to change how I live based on whether I believe in the Deity of Jesus or not.”
Who said anything about changing “how you live”? I said what you believe has consequences, not that those consequences are necessarily behavioral. (They are, of course, but I’m making a different point for now.)
In John ch. 8 v. 24 Jesus says, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.”
Now, this verse has some interesting things going on in the original Greek, about which I will no doubt go into detail in future posts; for now though, read that through a couple of times. Then crack open your Bible and read it again, in context. Ask yourself, do the Scriptures teach that what you believe about Christ matters?
On that note, we turn to our next category.
Category #2 – Scriptural
“Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in His fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established the ends of the earth?
What is His name, and what is His son’s name?
Surely you know!”
Do you know who said these words? In Proverbs ch. 30 v. 4 one Agur son of Jakeh gives us a hint of what is to come later, namely the revelation of the Son of God.
Hundreds of years later Simon son of Jonah recognized this one that the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (Hebrew Bible) pointed to and made this confession: that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:16) Six days after that confession he and two others would witness this Son of God transfigured, and hear the voice of the Father confirm once and for all what he who from that time on was called Peter had said. (Matt 17:5)
Clearly, the Bible makes no secret that the nature of Jesus – who and what He is – is an issue of primary importance, and many more scriptures could be marshaled in defense of this point (e.g. Matt 26:63-64, Mark 1:23-24, Luke 3:21-22, and John 8:25). To say that “it doesn’t matter if Jesus is true God from true God, His Deity is not an issue and it doesn’t matter what we believe about it” is to speak against the express testimony of the Word of God.
“But Tom,” the skeptics cry. “All we see here are verses talking about how Jesus is the Son of God – not actually truly Deity.”
My response: you’re missing the point. The issue I’m addressing here is that the Bible makes it expressly clear that WHO and WHAT Jesus is does not constitute an idle question. Instead, the Scriptures bear witness that WHO and WHAT Jesus is should be given THE MOST SERIOUS AND CAREFUL THOUGHT. Therefore the answers to both “Does the Deity of Christ matter?” and “Does it matter what we believe about it?” are resoundingly YES, regardless of the final verdict on whether He is in fact God, because it is reaching a verdict as to who and what He is that the Bible insists upon. To say that it doesn’t matter is to completely contradict the Scriptures themselves (or do I need to mention John 8:24 again?).
As to the point raised that the above citations affirm the Sonship of Christ but not His Divinity – this line of argumentation was taken up by a Unitarian I debated some months back, who stated, “By definition, Son of God = not God.”
My response: “The same way son of man = not man?”
I am not impressed by this classic Unitarian line of reasoning. To say categorically that the title “Son of God” denies deity is the same as to say categorically that “son of man” denies manhood – this is absurd and smacks of circular thinking. Not only so, but John 5:18 proves that this title was understood by Jesus’ contemporaries to be an explicit claim to equality with God; that is, Deity.
I’m sure we will have ample opportunity in future posts to go deeper and deeper into the passages which deal with this title, as well as other passages which speak of the Deity of Christ in other ways. For now, however, I have demonstrated that Scripturally speaking, the who and what Christ is and what we believe about it matters very much. Thus we move on.
Category #3 – Philosophical
Not long ago, a man I have deep respect for – who happens to be a Unitarian – and I were talking philosophy with one another, and he made this statement:
“It is impossible to know God.”
I asked him what he meant, and he gave the following analogy:
God is to men what human beings are to dogs. it is possible for the two to have some sort of relationship, but that relationship is severely limited by the dog’s lack of ability to comprehend the things of men. For instance, a dog may have some sense that when his master scratches his ear it is a sign of affection; however, when the man sits and reads a book the dog has no comprehension of what is taking place. To the dog, the man is immobile and staring blankly at an item in front of him – he might as well be sleeping with his eyes open if not for having to flip a page every so often. Or when the master climbs into his car to go to work, the dog has not even a modicum of understanding about what is taking place – that the master is going to a place to work in a certain vocation, which through a system of exchange and economy will eventually result in more Kibbles and Milk Bones later on. The dog is clueless. And what’s more, he is clueless about how clueless he is. That dog cannot really “know” his master, though we are both finite and limited creatures; how much less can a man know God, since He is the infinite and limitless creator!
My friend was right. Absolutely, unequivocally right. Man cannot know God because He is beyond us – so far beyond us that, like the dog, we don’t even know how clueless we are when it comes to Him. We have no hope, as my friend expressed so well, of ever having a real, true relationship relationship with Him – just as the dog has no hope of ever having a real, true relationship with his master. Unless…
Unless his master became a dog.
Yes. If the master condescended to take the form of a dog – to live as a dog, to play as a dog, to eat as a dog, to be limited as a dog (no opposable thumbs – that’s giving up the ability to do a lot of things), and to die as a dog – then the dog could know his master.
Most of you, I think, know who C.S. Lewis is. Before he became a Christian, Lewis was an emphatic proponent of my friend’s view – that God absolutely cannot be known by mere men. Here, let him tell you in his own words:
I distinguished this philosophical “God” very sharply (or so I said) from “the God of popular religion.” There was, I explained, no possibility of being in a personal relation with Him. For I thought He projected us as a dramatist projects his characters, and I could no more “meet” Him, than Hamlet could meet Shakespeare.
Lewis continued to ponder this, and it was ever more apparent how true it was that man cannot, by his own reason or strength, approach God for communion with Him. But as he pondered, Lewis realized that it was perhaps not true to say that Hamlet and Shakespeare could never meet.
Even if my own philosophy were true, how could the initiative lie on my side? My own analogy, as I now first perceived, suggested the opposite: if Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare’s doing. Hamlet could initiate nothing.
– C.S. Lewis in Chapter XIV of Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955)
You see, it is a fact that men cannot have a relationship with God outside of the actions of God Himself. And what would be the ultimate action of God’s part, to reach out and interact with man? He could become a man, so that we could understand who God is on our terms.
No, the dog will never understand what it is to live a day in the life of a man, and no, men will never understand what it is like to live as God. But none of that matters. God has come to us to seek restitution and fellowship. He Himself has been the one to make the sacrifice necessary to have communion with us – this is why we say God “condescends” to take human flesh, because it was Him lowering Himself (descend-ing) in order to be together with (con-) us. He allows men to see Him, to hear Him, to touch Him, and to know Him – all in a way we can understand.
Philosophically, this is why it is important that Jesus is Deity: because God cannot be truly known another way. This is what John means when He tells us in chapter 1 verse 18 of his gospel that “No one has ever seen God; the Unique God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made Him known.”
Do you want to know God? Then know Jesus, who is Immanuel – “God with us”.
Category #4 – Emotional
If you’ve made it this far and haven’t yet experienced emotions like wonder, awe, and exhilaration at what God has done for us, you are one hard egg to crack. This category will, I hope, drive the wonder of the God-man home. For this I will divide the presentation into 3 parts, each of which I find gives me all the emotional affirmation I need to know that the Deity of Christ is not only important, but vital. I hope to go into some great detail and explore each of these at a later date, but for our purposes here, I think a synopsis will do.
Back when I was in school, I interned for a hospital kitchen one summer to learn management skills. I worked immediately under the Director of Nutrition Services, Mike, who was in charge of not only the kitchen (including employees in 3 different facilities) and cafeteria, but also the clinical dietitians who see patients on the floors. I can’t paint a great picture for you, so you’ll have to take my word for it – he was high on the totem pole, and he reported only to the hospital president’s right hand man.
Most of the time Mike stayed in his office, carrying out managerial duties and addressing employee’s concerns if they came in with problems. He always wore nice shoes, nice slacks, and a pressed business shirt. The employees all referred to him endearingly as “boss”.
One day came when the cafeteria was short-staffed. Breakfast had been served and the dishroom – which is right behind the cafeteria, separated by a wall – was busy doing the dishes from both the patient trays and the cafeteria. Even on good days, the old drains in that facility were not the best, but on this day they gave up – complete block. The dishroom didn’t realize it, but the cafeteria and the dishroom shared a drainage system, and while the dishes were being done, the cruddy, murky, stinky dish water was bubbling up into the cafeteria. It was only half-an-hour until lunch serving began, and housekeeping was also short that day. The cafeteria was on its own for clean-up.
Now, here’s what could have happened: Mike could have told the cafeteria staff to get a bucket and start mopping, while he pulled another worker from somewhere else to finish prepping the tray-line for serving, or he could’ve done that easy, clean job himself while the unskilled laborers did the dirty work.
Here’s what did happen: Mike walked out of his office, pulled out a bucket and a mop, rolled up his pant cuffs, and started cleaning. He stood there out in the open, for all the hospital employees who had begun arriving for lunch to see and, perhaps, to scorn, nice shoes mucking around in the grime, and did the job of a housekeeper – the lowest paid position in the entire hospital.
Humility. It’s a quality we all prize, yet few practice. God demands it of us. Does God not do it Himself?
When Abraham had Isaac he was ecstatic. He finally had a son of his own flesh who was born of his wife, Sarah. Isaac was the apple of his father’s eye, precious in his sight. But then God demanded him as a sacrifice.
Of course, in the end, it turned out to be a test. God wanted to know that Abraham loved Him, and the final proof was that Abraham would not withhold his son, his only son, from God. This has been understood by Christians universally as a prefiguring, a type, of what God was later to do by sacrificing His only son in ransom for our sins.
But you have to ask yourself… if Jesus was only a man, a mere created being, was God’s sacrifice any greater than Abraham’s? In fact, wouldn’t God’s sacrifice be less than Abraham’s? For God to create a man, only to use Him as a sacrifice, when that man was not the eternal, uncreated, begotten Son become incarnate – does that not cheapen the value of that sacrifice?
Does that not cheapen God’s…
“For God so loved the world that He gave His ONLY BEGOTTEN Son…”
So starts the most widely quoted and universally known verse in the Bible, John 3:16. But for all the times we quote it, do we ever actually ponder it?
What does it mean, that God would send His Son, His only son, from eternity, into the world (John 1:14)?
What does it mean that this one, “though He was rich, yet for your sake became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9)?
It means that God the Father bankrupted heaven of His treasure, with Him and loved by Him from eternity, to buy your freedom.
It means that God the Son divested Himself of all that was rightfully His, to be born of an unclean woman, in an unclean land, to feel hunger, to be thirsty, to know heat, cold, sickness, and affliction…
…to be mocked…
…to be ridiculed…
…to be spat on…
…to be scourged…
…to be crucified…
Let me now ask you the very question that I have been trying to answer: does the Deity of Jesus matter? Does it make any difference whether or not He is, from eternity, the Divine Son of God? Or is it all the same if He is a mere created being who, though sinless, is just like the rest of us?
And after reading all of this, does it really not matter which we believe?
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.