By Cecil Willis
The fundamental fact upon which the church of Christ was built, and upon which it yet rests is, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. In Matt. 16:16, Peter confessed, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then Jesus said, “upon this rock I will build my church.” The rock upon which the church was built was not the apostle Peter, but the confession which the apostle Peter made, namely that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. How do I know this? In the first place, both the context and the language of Matt. 16 say as much. Not only this, but in 1 Cor. 3:11, the apostle Paul says, “For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” The Sonship of Christ is the foundation and support of the church of Christ.
Univocal Usage of Language
I want us first to see what is meant by the expression “deity of Christ,” and then proceed to see some of the reasons why we believe Jesus to be the divine Son of God. There are many who apparently pay tribute to the Son of God by speaking of the deity of Christ, who actually, upon investigation into what they mean by “the deity of Christ,” are not honoring Him at all. Rather they are blaspheming the Son of God. I mean by that, that there are many who use the language of orthodoxy but certainly do not attach to the language the meaning ordinarily attached to it. That great warrior against liberalism, J. Gresham Machen, said the church “is being lulled to sleep by the use of orthodox terminology which has unorthodox beliefs behind it.” Later, the same writer depicts the problem of a common usage of language like this. “The willingness of unbelievers to use the terms in their sense coupled with a proneness of Christians to understand them in theirs, is causing the great issue between Christianity and unbelief to be obscured” (Machen, Christian Faith in the Modern World, p. 133). To the liberalist, “this use of traditional terminology seems like a stained glass in an old cathedral. It puts everything in a sort of dim religious light; it seems to impart a solemn glow of sanctity to what would appear to be bold unbelief if it were revealed in the true light of day” (Machen, Op. Cit, p. 136).
So, we must be sure that when those about us speak of the deity of Christ, they mean the same thing by it that the Bible means when it declares his divine Sonship. Sometime ago, I heard a denominational preacher say that modernism is as dead as dodo. However, that man just indicated that he is not cognizant of all the modernism that yet really does exist. Certain phases of the liberalistic movement may be waning, but myriads more arise to take their places. I heard that same man speak of what a good Christian Ghandi was; Ghandi was a Hindu, not a Christian. And on another occasion, he said that he was just as prepared to differ with the apostle Paul as he was with me. Modernism will not be dead as long as men like this are yet alive. They speak of the Bible as being the revelation, but they do not mean that the Bible is a supernaturally revealed and recorded revelation. They mean that the Bible is a very fallible, human account of revelation. that it is a very fallible, human account of revelation. When they speak of sin, they do not mean transgression of God’s law but that which is injurious to the body, or an antiquated mental attitude or an imperfect attitude. Modernism yet lives!
As I said, when some preachers speak of the deity of Christ, they do not mean the same thing by it as one who really believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. For example, under questioning, one who pays lip service to the Son of God may tell you that he means that Jesus is the Son of God in the same sense that every other human being is the Son of God, or in the same sense that every Christian is the Son of God. But this definitely is not what the Bible means when it calls Jesus the only begotten Son of God. They speak of Him as a very influential and morally upright, religious reformer. It is true that he was a great religious teacher but one cannot stop here in his estimation of Christ “You may take Him as very God, or else you must reject Him as a miserable, deluded enthusiast. There is really no middle ground. Jesus refuses to be pressed into the mold of a mere religious teacher” (Machen, op. cit., p. 180).
Others who think themselves perfectly orthodox in their attitude toward Christ will speak of Him as the Son of God. But what do you mean when you say that Jesus is the Son of God? Do you mean that He had but one earthly parent and was begotten by the Holy Spirit? Do you mean that He was born of a virgin? They very quickly reply, “Of course, not. We mean that Jesus is the Son of God, in the church’s living experience.” Their doctrine of the Sonship of Christ is simply a part of the historical formulation of the church’s doctrine of Christ. Of course by now, they tell us, we have outgrown those outmoded concepts of him, which include the miraculous. “They will not say that Jesus was born of a virgin. They will not say that He worked miracles. They will not say that the things He said were always true; they will not say that He died as our substitute on the cross; they will not say that He rose from the tomb on the third day; yet, they say, He was God” (Machen, op. cit., p. 134).
What we mean when we say that Jesus is the Son of God is that which those words so obviously mean. In Matt. 3:17, God said of Christ, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” In Mark 9:7, at the transfiguration, God once again said, “This is my beloved Son.” Jesus was the Son of God in a sense in which no other human being has ever been the Son of God. In 2 Cor. 5:19, Paul says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” God was incarnate: in human flesh. To say that Jesus was God is to assert the preexistence of Christ, which, of course, the Bible does. In John 1:14, we read “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth.” As John speaks of the Word, he speaks of the Word which became flesh, Jesus. Of that Word he says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Christ was God (Deity) and existed before He took upon Himself the form and the likeness of a man. In Philippians 2:5-8, Paul says, “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.” Christ existed before he took on Himself the form of a man. By the deity of Christ, then, is meant that the man Jesus was God. In the first epistle of John, we find we have three first century false doctrines confuted. There were some that admitted the deity’ of Christ but denied his humanity. There were others who said that Jesus was but a human being, thus, not divine. There were others who said that Jesus was but an illusion. But John said that “whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him and he in God” (1 John 4:15). In I John 5:1, he said, “whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God.” The statement, “Jesus is the Christ, ” refuted the three false doctrines with which John was dealing. When one said “Jesus” he asserted the humanity of Christ; when one said is, ” he asserted the reality of Christ; and when one said Jesus is “the Christ, ” he asserted the divinity. By saying that Jesus is the Son of God, then, is meant that humanity really was Deity in Christ, and that Deity really was humanity when the eternal Christ became incarnate in the flesh.
Proofs of the Deity of Christ
After having seen what is meant by the deity of Christ, let us point out some of the reasons we believe in His deity. First of all, I would like to notice with you that Jesus never considered Himself the Son of God in the same sense as the disciples were sons of God. Of course, it is true that Christians are sons. In 2 Cor. 6:17-18, Paul said, “Wherefore come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, And touch no unclean thing; And I will receive you, And will be to you a Father, And ye shall be to me sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” But Jesus never classified Himself as being but a man. In all four of the gospel accounts, never once did He speak of “our Father” so as to include Himself in the group. Often He spoke of “My Father,” and frequently “your Father,” but never “Our Father.” In Luke 2:48-49, we read about the occasion when Jesus was separated from His parents, when together they had gone to Jerusalem. When the despondent parents finally found Him, his mother said unto him, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold thy father and I sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? know ye not that I must be in my Father’s house?” Note, He did not say, “Our Father,” but “My Father’s house.” In Matt. 7:21, he said “not everyone that sayeth unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.” But someone says, “what about the Lord’s prayer; did not Jesus pray `Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name’ (Matt. 6:9)?” Yes, it is true that such a prayer is recorded, but for one to say this prayer is the Lord’s prayer is really a misnomer. This was not a prayer in which Jesus joined with His disciples. As Luke tells us about this prayer, he says, “One of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, even as John taught his disciples to pray, And he said unto them, when ye pray, say . . .” and then follows what is commonly called the Lord’s prayer. This prayer should more properly be called “The Disciples Prayer.” It is a prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray. So the first proof we offer for the Deity of Christ is the fact that He never spoke of Himself and His disciples being equally related to God. He never prayed “Our Father who art in heaven,” but spoke of “My Father” and “your Father.”
Truth Magazine XIX: 30, pp. 467-469
June 5, 1975