Pillar Journal

The Crucial Importance of Christ’s Deity for Christianity

If we abandon Christ’s deity, then we lose the gospel.

Someone might object that we should not quarrel about words with people who love Jesus and desire to live by his teaching, but accept their faith regardless of whether they agree with a confessional statement about his deity. In reply, we answer that when people say that they love Jesus, we must ask, “Which Jesus—the real Christ or one of their imagination?” It is not pride but humility to submit to what God has revealed in the Holy Scriptures concerning his Son.

First, Christ’s deity is indispensable for faith in Christ. Saving faith in Christ requires us to trust in him as we trust in God the Father (John 14:1), for only God can save us from all sin and misery (Isa. 45:22). Our faith in God is categorically different from our faith in men or any other creature, for we depend upon his infinite lordship and love (Ps. 31:14–19). God curses those who give that kind of trust to mere men; it is an act of treason against him (Jer. 17:5–6). The denial of Christ’s deity leads people away from wholehearted dependence upon Christ and into self-reliance.

Second, Christ’s deity is indispensable for divine self-revelation. Christ is “the Word” who is “God” (John 1:1). He makes known the invisible God (John 1:18; 14:9; Col. 1:15). That is not to say that all revelation of God depends upon the incarnate Lord, but only by God’s coming to us in Christ does divine revelation bring into effect a personal, experiential knowledge of God. Since Christ is God, he is indeed “revelation of God,” for “Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father, and as such he is the revelation he brings.”1Torrance, Incarnation, 188; cf. Douglas F. Kelly, Systematic Theology: Grounded in Holy Scripture and Understood in the Light of the Church, Volume 2, The Beauty of Christ: A Trinitarian Vision (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2014), 2:192.

Third, Christ’s deity is indispensable for effectual salvation. If Christ is not God, then he cannot save his people from their sins.2Perkins, An Exposition of the Symbol, in Works, 5:112–13; and Westminster Larger Catechism (Q. 38), in Reformed Confessions, 4:306. The Savior had to accomplish “everlasting righteousness” for his people (Dan. 9:24), even “the righteousness of God” (Rom. 3:21–22; cf. Isa. 51:5–8). He had to bear the burden and pay the price for the countless sins of the “many” in whose place he died (Mark 10:45). He had to sovereignly lay down his life and take it up again in obedience to his Father (John 10:17–18). Having accomplished salvation, he must apply it to individuals who call upon him all over the world (Rom. 10:12; 1 Cor. 1:2) to the end of the age, when his church’s mission will be complete (Matt. 28:20). Only God can do these things. Athanasius said that “such grace” required “the Word of God, which had also at the beginning made everything out of nought. . . . For being the Word of the Father, and above all, He alone of natural fitness was both able to recreate everything, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be ambassador for all with the Father.”3Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, sec. 7, in NPNF2, 4:40. If we abandon Christ’s deity, then we lose the gospel.

Fourth, Christ’s deity is indispensable for God’s kingdom among men. Stephen Wellum says, “The only one who can bring God’s kingdom into reality is God himself,” for “the rule of God, the obedience of his people, and the judgment of his enemies . . . require the presence and power of the divine king.”4Wellum, God the Son Incarnate, 198. Yet Jesus claimed to meet all the expectations of the kingdom in himself and his work.5Wellum, God the Son Incarnate, 156–57. Therefore, it is both “the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14–15) and Christ’s kingdom.6Matt. 13:41; 16:28; Luke 22:30; Eph. 5:5; 2 Tim. 4:1. Because of the divine Christ, we may say to God’s people, “The king of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee” (Zeph. 3:15).

Fifth, Christ’s deity is indispensable for evangelical reverence, the childlike, joyful fear of God by faith in the gospel (Mal. 3:16–17; 1 Pet. 1:14–19). Only by the gospel of the God-man can we be awestruck at the Son’s sovereign glory, aware of his terrifying wrath, and hidden safely in his grace, so that we “rejoice with trembling” (Ps. 2:10–12). Wilhelmus à Brakel said, “If the Lord Jesus is God, meditation upon Him as such will generate great reverence in our hearts.” However, the deity of Christ also comforts us, for “He is almighty to deliver, keep, and comfort the soul, as well as usher him into eternal felicity. How blessed is such a soul which may have the Lord Jesus as his Savior!”7Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 1:512.

Sixth, Christ’s deity is indispensable for Christian discipleship. Those who claim to be disciples of Jesus but reject his full divinity do not understand the claims that Jesus laid on his followers. He said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37). Charles John Brown (1806–1884) said, “Behold here a teacher who, utterly unlike all that had come from God before him, claims for himself the supreme affection of his disciples; claims, not for another, but for himself, the very throne of their hearts.”8Charles J. Brown, The Divine Glory of Christ (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), 13. This is right and good only if Christ is the God who rightly demands the total love of our whole being (Deut. 6:4–5).

Seventh, Christ’s deity is indispensable for Trinitarian spirituality.9On Trinitarian spirituality, see RST, 1:944–52. Christian prayer and public worship are profoundly shaped by the doctrine of the Trinity. Christians enjoy access to the Father in the Spirit through the Son (Eph. 2:18), whose mediatorial work of salvation depends upon his deity. The saints have distinct communion with God the Son (1 John 1:3), from whom they receive divine grace and to whom they direct their worship (Rev. 1:4–5; 5:9). Remove the deity of Christ, and we negate all that is distinctly Christian about our faith, worship, and living.

Eighth, Christ’s deity is indispensable for balanced ecclesiology. Christ said, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Christ is not merely the church’s founding father, he is its Lord and owner (“my church”). Consequently, no mere man (or group of men) has the right to assert absolute authority over the church, but possesses delegated authority only insofar as he obeys (or they obey) Christ’s Word. At the same time, the church can move ahead in her work with great confidence, for all the powers of darkness cannot destroy her because the Lord of heaven and earth is with her (28:20).

Ninth, Christ’s deity is indispensable for evangelistic love. Those who deny Christ’s deity may be zealous in proselytizing for their religious party, but their zeal may be stained by hypocritical pride (Matt. 23:5, 15). Indeed, if we deny that Christ is God, then there is little that distinguishes Christianity from other religions. John Hick (1922–2012) believed that Jesus is merely one of many ways that the divine reality reaches out to mankind.10On religious pluralism, including the view of John Hick, see RST, 1:299–304. However, Hick recognized, “if Jesus was literally God incarnate, and if it is by his death alone that men can be saved, and by their response to him alone that they can appropriate that salvation, then the only doorway to eternal life is Christian faith.”11John Hick, “Jesus and the World Religions,” in The Myth of God Incarnate, ed. John Hick (London: SCM, 1977), 180. Truly Christian zeal for missions springs from the dual conviction that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13) and that this “Lord” is specifically “the Lord Jesus” (v. 9).

Tenth, Christ’s deity is indispensable for biblical fidelity. This is not a secondary doctrine in the Holy Scriptures, but a great theme revealed in the Old Testament and pervasive in the New Testament. Those who fail to see the divine glory of Christ read the Bible with a veil over their hearts (2 Cor. 3:14–15; 4:4). If we would be faithful students of the Word of God, then we must accept this doctrine and allow it to transform our lives.

The Clear Revelation of Christ’s Deity in the Bible God’s Word testifies to the deity of his Son. The evidence for this doctrine is so clear in its presentation and overwhelming in its scope that faith in Christ as the incarnate God has stood as common ground for many diverse denominations of professing Christians through the centuries.

Excerpt by
Reformed Systematic Theology
Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley