The Face of God
by Chris Donato
As has been mentioned time and again in our study of the epistle of John, there were certain folks within that church who claimed a secret knowledge, one that set them apart from the rest of the crowd, setting them free from the physical limits of the world, enabling them (so they claimed) to reach new spiritual heights and salvation to the kingdom of light. Saint John responded simply: Matter is not evil, for Jesus Himself came in the flesh “to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14b). Such a grand sweep with respect to God’s redemptive activity did nothing less than undermine the Gnostic elitists’ claim that they alone were of a special elected status. Seeing such love from God, we are to confess that Jesus is His Son. Moreover, our lives are to manifest this truth by leading pure lives and by loving each other with the love of God.
Grasping one of these “tests” entails grasping the other two. For example, to know the truth that God sent His Son (the truth test), which is the result of God’s own love, leads us to love (the love test) and live in obedience to God and for His glory (the moral test). This all begins with a confession of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is itself a response to the work of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 12:3). It is He who stands behind all this activity on our part: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (v. 15). This simple response is little different than Saint Paul’s in Romans 10:9: “For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” And while simple, it is nonetheless an ancient faith: “But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deut. 30:14). How near? Both apostles answer the same: When we are changed inwardly, having had a love for God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5; 1 John 4:13), our mouths confess what our hearts believe. But what is this crucial belief about Jesus as the Son of God?
The short answer finds its summation in the Nicene Creed: Jesus is “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 ….” Yet the Scriptures never state it so plainly. Is this what it means to “confess that Jesus is the Son of God”? (1 John 4:15). Without a doubt. The apostles, being devout monotheists, would not have allowed for a Jesus who was some kind of semi-divine intermediary. God alone is to be worshiped (Deut. 6:4), yet Jesus was also worshiped (Matt. 14:33). How then could the apostles (and we along with them) confess Jesus as Lord, the Son of God?
To answer this question the apostles resolved the question of God’s identity, that is, who God is. The Nicene fathers resolved to answer yet another question: What is the substance of divinity, or, what is the divine nature of the one, true and saving God?
Along with Nicea we confess that Jesus is of one substance with the Father precisely because the apostles themselves confessed that Jesus could be completely identified with the one God of Israel. In other words, Jesus kept and fulfilled the promises that God made to Israel in the old covenant. What was expected of Yahweh by the old-covenant Israelite, Jesus did in the new covenant.
In Exodus 34:6ff, God reveals His character and proclaims His name. This was of great importance to the Israelites, for it was this unique God and His unique relationship with His people that set them apart. He was the one who established covenant with them. He was the one who redeemed them from Egypt’s dreadful grasp. Equally important was His sovereignty as Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler over all life. Whatever everything else in the universe is, it is not God. God is He who created everything else. Thus everything else is subject to Him. But how could Jesus be identified with so magnanimous a being?
Probably the best example we have is the early Christian identification of Jesus’ exaltation in terms of Psalm 110:
“The Lord says to my Lord:
‘Sit at my right hand, until I make
your enemies your footstool’” (v. 1).
Consider for a moment all the direct quotations and allusions in the New Testament that identify Jesus as the one who, seated on the cosmic throne of God, achieves supreme lordship over heaven and earth (Mark 12:35–36 [and its synoptic counterparts]; Acts 2:34–35; Eph. 1:20, 22; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:13; 10:13; 1 Peter 3:22, etc.). Now, either the apostles were not monotheists or they understood Jesus to be included in the identity of the one God as sovereign ruler over all creation (and thus not a creature). Jesus is, therefore, just as Yahweh revealed Himself in Exodus 34:6 and Deuteronomy 6:4, the second person of the one, triune God of Israel who alone is worthy of worship.
It is this confession, that Jesus is Lord and that He was raised from the dead, that exhibits the necessary inward change of hearts by the Spirit and the subsequent union with God (“God abides in him, and he in us”), which union serves as the catalyst for both our assurance and our love for one another.