The Deity of Christ & the Church

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There is no more important biblical truth for the life and health of the church than the deity of Christ. Although this truth exists in seed form in the Old Testament (Pss. 45:6–7; 110:1; Isa. 9:6; Dan. 7:13–14), it comes to full flower in the New Testament. I marshal five arguments for the deity of Christ:

First, Jesus is identified with God. Recent scholarship has taught us to argue for Christ’s deity based on the way that early Christians identified Jesus unambiguously with the one God of Israel (1 Cor. 8:5–6).

Second, Jesus receives devotion due to God alone. Amazingly, the New Testament not only continues to affirm Old Testament monotheism, but also affirms another truth: it is proper and necessary to offer religious devotion to Jesus. He is worshiped, honored in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, praised in doxologies, adored in hymns, and is the object of prayers (Matt. 28:19; John 5:22–23; 1 Cor. 11:20; Eph. 5:18–19; Heb. 13:20–21; Rev. 22:20).

Third, Jesus brings the age to come. David Wells captures this point: “Jesus was the one in whom the ‘age to come’ was realized, through whom it is redemptively present in the church, and by whom it will be made cosmically effective at its consummation” (The Person of Christ, p. 172).

Fourth, Jesus saves us when we are spiritually united to Him. The Father planned salvation before creation, and the Son accomplished it in the first century. But we only experience that salvation when we are spiritually united to Christ by grace through faith. Only union with Him in His death, resurrection, ascension, session, and second coming brings salvation (Col. 3:1–4). This is a role played only by God Himself.

Fifth, Jesus performs the works of God. Christ performs many works that only God can perform: creation, providence, judgment, and salvation (Col. 1:16–20; Heb. 1).

It is difficult to overemphasize the significance of Christ’s deity for the church. The church’s lifeblood depends on who Christ is (the Godman) and what He did (died and arose, 1 Cor. 15:3–4).

Christianity stands if Christ’s deity is true. If Jesus is divine, then His claims are true “and there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). G.C. Berkouwer follows suit, when he argues that Christ’s deity is essential to Christianity:

The heart of the Christian religion pulsates in the confession that in Jesus Christ, in the incarnation of the Word, God truly came down to us… . The practice of the ancient church, to speak of Christ “as of God,” goes directly back to the New Testament itself where we hear adoring voices addressing Christ as truly God and not as quasi-God (quoted in The Person of Christ, pp. 156–57, 161–62)

Robert L. Reymond underscores the importance of the deity of Christ when he argues that the affirmation or denial of it affects every other point for Christology and for systematic theology in general (see his Jesus, Divine Messiah, p. 323). He also points out that one’s estimation of Jesus has consequences beyond this life, as Jesus Himself says: “Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). In fact, Jesus claims: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6). 

Wells laments the disastrous effects for those who deny the deity of Christ:

Their christs might be admired, but they cannot be worshiped. They might inspire religious devotion, but they cannot sustain or explain Christian faith. They tell us very much about their authors and very little about Jesus… . These christs are impotent, and their appeal is superficial. Their appeal is not that of the biblical Christ. (The Person of Christ, p. 172)

The true Christ of Scripture deserves more than our admiration. That is because He is the eternal Word become incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. He is God and man in one person and deserves worship as the only mediator between God and human beings. Because He is God, “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him” (Heb. 7:25). As Wells reminds us, the biblical Christ is “the One who was God with us, the means of forgiveness for our sin, and the agent of our reconciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation are what we need centrally. We need to know there is someone there to forgive us, someone who can forgive and heal us, and that was why the Word was incarnate” (The Person of Christ, p. 172). Indeed, we need to know that God incarnate forgives and reconciles us. Because of His unique identity and because of the unique work He performed, the church stands in fulfillment of Jesus’ own prediction: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

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