The Quick and the Dead
There’s a reason why after we are introduced to someone new that we most often ask, “What do you do?” The truth of the matter is that our identity is rightly tied up in our labors. What we do not only reveals, but is part of, what we are. I don’t begrudge people who want to separate their work from their being, but I hope they understand why it’s natural to keep the two together.
In our systematic theologies, we make all sorts of divisions, and that carries with it a danger. That we are able to distinguish regeneration and faith does not mean that we can separate them. That we can have a chapter on justification followed by a chapter on sanctification doesn’t mean that you have one without the other.
In like manner, while we use the language of “the person and work of Christ,” while there might be some benefit of dividing our discussion of His person from our discussion of His work, we would be wise to remember that the two are intimately tied together. Jesus does what He does because He is what He is, and He is what He is because He does what He does.
The great medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury, in writing his classic Cur Deus Homo, made just that point. Translated, the title asks this question: “Why the God-man?” The incarnation, Anselm demonstrated, isn’t an afterthought, an interesting bit of trivia. Instead, God’s atoning work required that He should take on flesh, take on humanity, in order to suffer for our sins. Indeed, for our sins to become His, He had to be one of us. For His righteousness to become ours, He had to be one of us.
That said, Jesus also had to be God. To speak with the authority with which He spoke, to in turn judge the whole world, He had to be God. Which is precisely why the contemporary Jesus is so badly off both in terms of His person and work. That is, the unbelieving world, while happy to honor Jesus as at best a great prophet and at least a great moral teacher, still leaves Him in His humanity, precisely to leave off His judgment. The world denatures Him so that it can remake Him. Then it remakes Him in its own image. Professing to be wise, they become fools, worshiping the creature rather than the Creator.
The reason, then, that so many are reluctant to admit Christ’s deity, the reason no one likes the options liar, lunatic, or lord, is not a philosophical, disinterested skepticism about persons and natures, but because of a practical, biased need to avoid the truth of the coming judgment of God. This is why, when people speak well of Jesus, we ought not to conclude that they are halfway home. It’s not as though they are just missing a piece of the puzzle, and if we can add it they will get the picture. Indeed, they would rather burn the puzzle to ashes than add the terrifying truth of His coming judgment.
Which explains why we are doing such a disservice to our unbelieving neighbors when we seek to hide from them the truth of His judgment. We are keeping from them the one needful thing. We are hiding from them the very glory of God. When John the Baptist preached and the Pharisees came to hear his message, he asked, “Who told you to flee from the wrath to come?” In our day, many churches are filled with so-called seekers who will never be told to flee from the wrath to come, for wrath, we are told, drives people away. Win them with Jesus who is merely meek and mild, and we make them twice the children of hell as we are. It was Jesus who, when asked about those killed when the tower of Siloam fell, warned, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
It was Jesus who told us that the one who beat his breast and cried out, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner” went home justified. It was Jesus who spoke more of hell than He spoke of heaven.
Jesus speaks with authority because He has authority. He has authority because He and the Father are one. In His authority, He speaks law, which law we ever fail to obey. And so He calls us to repent, to confess our failure, to cling to His work. He promises—because in His deity He is all-powerful—that nothing will ever be able to take us from His hand, that He who has begun a good work in us will carry it through to the end. Separate His deity from His person, or separate His work from His person, and His glorious gospel collapses in a heap.
Our calling, then, is to preach Christ, in season and out of season, and to be clear, honest, and forthright—and to leave the results in His sovereign hand. We are called to give over our clever strategies, our nuanced subtleties, and to speak forth boldly to the watching world that our Lord reigns, and that He is coming again to judge the quick and the dead.