Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.John 14:1
We now come to the most controversial topic in the entire book, as we grapple with the validity of an assumption which both propelled the Trinity’s development and serves as its inviolable conclusion. Incidentally, it’s important to note that the issue is not a product, conclusion, or output of the Filium; rather, it is a veil that prevents us from being able to see the veracity of the Filium in the first place. It’s a partial truth that effectively hides and distorts the plain truth of Scripture, an errant byproduct of Trinitarian ideology that is so deeply intertwined in our beliefs that we rarely…if ever…give it a second thought. And since even recognizing that this veil exists can be a challenge, permit me to introduce it by way of the following analogy.
Potato chips and French fries are salty foods, and to the extent that salt is lacking – especially when it comes to French fries – we can immediately tell that it’s missing. Salt is the key ingredient that makes all the difference, and yet we would never say that “French fries are salt.” In similar fashion, just as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the key ingredient that makes us children of God, we know better than to say that “we are the Holy Spirit.” Because even though we have become partakers of the divine nature…
He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
2 Peter 1:4
[We] have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit.
we are clearly not Divine. For just as salt is added to French fries to make them salty, the Holy Spirit is likewise “added” to us upon our conversion in order that we might become “godly.” In short, the Holy Spirit is the “key ingredient” which transforms us from what we were – enemies of God – into children of God and heirs of the Kingdom:
For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
And this is where we differ from Jesus. For whereas the Holy Spirit is “additive” with respect to us, it is “inherent” in the person of Christ. To continue the analogy, compare French fries to bacon, which is naturally salty due to the process of using a salt bath to cure pork belly. The salt becomes part of the bacon in a way that makes it inseparable from the meat, so although the key ingredient is the same in both cases, the results are markedly different when it comes to the way in which the end products are themselves “salty.”
As with any analogy, this comparison can quickly break down if taken to extremes, so take it for what it’s worth: the same Holy Spirit that makes us “godly” by addition is also what makes Jesus “fully God” by nature. Moreover, the quality of becoming “godly” through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit doesn’t make us “God” any more than “French fries are salt” by virtue being “salty.” That being said, though, since we also wouldn’t say “bacon is salt” even though salt is an integral part of the bacon itself, why do we then say that “Jesus is God?”
To be blunt, while declaring that “Jesus is God” clearly serves to highlight Jesus’ measure of the Spirit in comparison to our own, this statement only tells half of the story in light of what the Bible teaches about Christ. A better way to encapsulate the relationship between Father and Son would be to say that “Jesus is God in Man,” that “Jesus is God Incarnate,” or even that He is “Immanuel,” God with us. These formulas all implicitly acknowledge both natures of Christ and thereby avoid the pitfalls and inaccuracies of the more generic declaration that “Jesus is God.”
Think about it this way: if the affirmation that “Jesus is God” completely described the person of Jesus, then logically Jesus could only be “fully God” and could never be “fully man” as well. In fact, the early Docetic heresies which denied Jesus as having come in the flesh are really nothing more than the unavoidable conclusion of this partial truth. The reasoning goes that since God vehemently prohibits the worship of any being other than Himself, then Jesus could only have been the divine “second person” and is therefore pure Deity…full stop. The problem, of course, is that without the “fully man” part of the equation there is no Gospel. Hence it is no surprise that John had some pretty strong things to say about this line of thinking:
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.
2 John 1:7-9
Preoccupation with Jesus’ deity also underlies the heresy of Modalism, a movement that was prominent during the third century AD. Modalism taught that God is a single person who appears sequentially in different “modes” throughout history: Creator during the Old Testament, Redeemer while Christ walked the earth, and Sanctifier thereafter. As such, Jesus was simply a visible, physical manifestation of God who was necessary in order for that part of God’s plan to unfold.
The obvious appeal of this argument is that since there is no difference between God and Christ, it is therefore not a problem to worship Jesus as Lord; the equally obvious problem, though, is that it can’t withstand the scrutiny of Scripture. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life unambiguously portray the simultaneous existence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the remainder of the New Testament testifies to the same condition. So contrary to the modalistic proposition of a single Being, Jesus is clearly distinct from and coexists alongside of God. Even the way that Jesus addresses God, as Father, testifies to the distinction, since we know that logically fathers and sons are not the same person.
To that end, we need to remember that as an eternal, unchanging Spirit, nothing about God’s essence was altered or otherwise diminished by virtue of His union with Christ. Not only that, but every time we refer to “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” it should remind us of the fact that the Father didn’t stop being omnipresent or transcendent simply because the Son was on the earth. For just as God’s glory filling the Tabernacle and the Temple in no way constrained or limited Him, the only thing about God that changed on account of Jesus was His proximity with mankind.
“But will God indeed dwell with mankind on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house which I have built.”
2 Chronicles 6:18
That’s why Scripture focuses upon Jesus as “Immanuel,” God with us, because there are two participants in the equation. The God who had previously been distant from us made a way to dwell amongst us in the person of Jesus, His only Son, and to the extent that you overemphasize either the “fully man” or “fully God” dimension of who Christ is, you run the risk of inviting heresy.
Still, when you consider God’s insistence that we worship Him and Him alone, declaring that “Jesus is God” certainly serves to dramatize the fact that we are not committing idolatry when we offer our worship to Christ. That’s clearly not a bad thing! Thus the real problem is not stating “Jesus is God” per se, rather, the problem is trying to subsequently explain a statement like “bacon is salt” when you instinctively know that something is missing from that declaration.
In other words, whether you affirm that “Jesus is God Incarnate” or merely that “Jesus is God,” either statement inexorably leads to the next question: how does it work in practice? That being the case, the clear advantage of the assertion that “Jesus is God Incarnate” is our ability to defend it directly from Scripture apart from any external appeals to philosophy or other “wisdom of man.” For by declaring that “bacon is pork belly cured in salt” as opposed to “bacon is salt,” we are at least acknowledging the obvious, essential inputs to the process. So even if you can’t explain the process of how the two parts come together – and when it comes to God becoming incarnate, of course, we can’t – you need look no further than the end result to know that the process works:
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.
Conversely, if you’re focused on justifying the statement that “bacon is salt,” now you have two problems to deal with: not only is the process itself in question, but you effectively have to redefine salt in such a way that makes a process even possible! After all, since everyone knows what salt is…and what it isn’t…you can’t simply say that “bacon is salt” without redefining what you mean by “salt.” Accordingly, when it comes to trying to redefine the essence of physical things like salt, the folly of that endeavor is immediately apparent because you can put any suggestions to the test and clearly see that they are nonsense. When it comes to trying to define the nature of something in the non-physical realm, though, any fallacies in our arguments are more difficult to spot because we don’t have the luxury of testing our theories.
And this is where the Trinity went off track from the very beginning, since the church fathers were compelled to redefine God in a manner that allowed them to justify their assertion that “Jesus is God.” It’s the exact same problem from the murder mystery where the presupposition of the husband’s guilt dictated the interpretation of the evidence…instead of the other way around. So rather than simply proclaiming the full counsel of God – “Jesus is God Incarnate” – and leaving the details in the realm of mystery, the early church became preoccupied with redefining God in such a way that it could boldly proclaim “Jesus is God” and thereby steer clear of any hint of idolatry.
The ultimate irony, though, is that from a practical perspective, it makes absolutely no difference whether we worship Jesus as “God” or “God Incarnate.” Why do I say that? For just as Moses, David, Elijah, and all of God’s other “agents” were as Elohim to those around them, how much more is this true of God’s only-begotten Son, in whom the fullness of Deity dwells? Furthermore, when it comes to worshipping the person of Christ, it really doesn’t matter if we are able to understand Jesus’ identity with the Father or not – the most important thing is that we follow God’s instructions.
To God Be the Glory
When God commanded the nation of Israel to make offerings at the Tabernacle and later the Temple, would He have accepted Israel’s sacrifices if Moses had erected a second Tabernacle in the name of expediency? Or what if Solomon had decided that Bethel was a better location than Jerusalem for the Temple? The point is that the physical structures of the Tabernacle and the Temple had no inherent value in and of themselves, since even if Israel had followed every detail of God’s instructions except for the location their sacrifices would have been an abomination to Him. Thus the reason that their worship was acceptable to God was on account of the fact that God had both ordained and consecrated them unto Himself:
Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
They praised the Lord saying, “He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting,” then the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.
2 Chronicles 5:13-14
So as long as Israel worshipped God according to His precise instructions, their praise and their offerings were a fragrant aroma to Him. It was their faithful attention to detail that pleased Him, as opposed to their understanding of how their actions anticipated Christ, because every aspect of their worship both foreshadowed and ultimately exalted the person and the mission of His Son! Indeed, given that the focal point of their rituals and festivals was bigger than anything they could have possibly imagined, is it any wonder that God valued their obedience far more than their ability to comprehend the “big picture”?
Similarly, when it comes to worshipping the person of Jesus there is no reason to get pre-occupied with downplaying His humanity because God consecrated His Son for this very purpose! This is why Jesus refers to Himself as the Temple, and why God commands us to “hear Him.” Thus declaring that “Jesus is God Incarnate” – rather than simply saying that “Jesus is God” – in no way diminishes our obligation to honor and worship Jesus as Lord because that is what God has commanded us to do. Consequently, whenever we offer our praise and our devotion to Jesus, we likewise worship His Principal. We aren’t committing idolatry when we worship Christ as Lord…we are in fact glorifying God:
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The bottom line is that by virtue of worshiping Christ, we are in turn worshipping God due to their complete union. Indeed, none other than Tertullian himself – the church father who first coined the term Trinity – recognized that worship only constitutes idolatry if it is offered to another being that is in competition with God:
Now you must understand the overthrow of a monarchy to be this, when another dominion, which has a framework and a state peculiar to itself (and is therefore a rival), is brought in over and above it: when, e.g., some other god is introduced in opposition to the Creator, as in the opinions of Marcion; or when many gods are introduced, according to your Valentinuses and your Prodicuses. Then it amounts to an overthrow of the Monarchy, since it involves the destruction of the Creator.
Tertullian, Against Praxeas, Chapter 3
Hence worshipping Jesus as Lord would clearly be an affront to God if Jesus was in fact a “rival monarchy” who was trying to ascribe glory to Himself instead of the Father; however, we know this is not the case. On the contrary, Jesus is faithfully executing all that God has given Him to accomplish, acting as God’s Agent here on earth as He glorifies His Father. Again from Tertullian:
For in all these passages He had shown Himself to be the Father’s Commissioner, through whose agency even the Father could be seen in His works, and heard in His words, and recognised in the Son’s administration of the Father’s words and deeds.
Tertullian, Against Praxeas, Chapter 24
Thus not only does the declaration that “Jesus is God Incarnate” take nothing away from Christ’s majesty versus the statement that “Jesus is God,” but the latter simply misses the point. It is a remnant of our Trinitarian indoctrination, both perpetuating the faulty logic of the Trinity and subsequently veiling our understanding of who Christ is in relationship to God, namely God’s Agent and His Servant:
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him.
Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.
1 Corinthians 8:6
Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’”
Trust in God, trust also in me.
How many times does Jesus talk about His authority being received from the Father? Or that He only does the will of the Father? And read those last two verses from John again from the standpoint of “Jesus is God” as well as “Jesus is God Incarnate.” While they fit seamlessly with the latter affirmation, they become non-sensical when viewed through the first.
In short, even though Jesus’ relationship to the Father is unquestionably unique, as the only-begotten Son of God who is the fullness of Deity in human flesh, He is nevertheless distinct from God…just like every other agent / principal relationship. And once again, our reluctance to embrace this truth about the person of Christ is founded upon our tacit acceptance of the Trinity more so than Scripture, since the authors of the New Testament seem to have no trouble acknowledging it!
Indeed, the New Testament triumphantly proclaims Jesus’ dual office as Son of God and Son of Man, because it is precisely this intersection of humanity and Deity that distinguishes Him from both and thereby qualifies Him to serve as our “kinsman-redeemer” and our propitiation, an acceptable sacrifice to a Holy God on behalf of an unholy people.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
The Consummation of the Kingdom
Before you start tearing your proverbial robes, we need to go back to the Scriptures and think this through. Where does Jesus ever plainly say that He is God? There are many passages where His words reveal that He is more than a mere man; moreover, His contemporaries obviously understood the implications. Still, if you take Jesus’ words at face value, it becomes clear that His primary concern was not to “grasp equality with God” (Philippians 2:6) Rather, the import of Jesus’ message is to convey the legitimacy of His authority and the source of His power:
Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him, and began saying to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?” And Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question, and you answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things.“
And amazement came upon them all, and they began talking with one another saying, “What is this message? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out.”
For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.
For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.“
Furthermore, as the Agent of the Father whom He represents, there are literally dozens of statements throughout the New Testament that don’t just hint at the distinction between Jesus and God, they declare it outright.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.
Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead).
For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him…He raised Him [Christ] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased” – and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
2 Peter 1:16-18
To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood – and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father – to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Not to mention the opening of virtually every epistle, which includes a statement that clearly differentiates between the “God of our Lord Jesus” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” Himself:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:3
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 1:1-2
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
1 Peter 1:3
Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
2 John 1:3
Think back to how the Old Testament refers to Yahweh as the “God of Abraham” or the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” We would never confuse those statements to somehow think that Scripture really meant that “Abraham is God,” and yet it is our tacit assumption that “Jesus is God” which compels us to read that into passages like the ones above. Once again, it’s not that “Jesus is God” is patently false, but it veils the fact that in spite of whom Jesus is and the authority that He has been given, it is still authority that has been given to Him. In other words, as God’s Son it is absolutely clear that Jesus possesses a measure of authority and honor that is unequaled; nevertheless, He is still God’s Agent and therefore subject to the Father.
Perhaps the starkest illustration of this fact can be found in the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he is expounding upon the hope of our future resurrection. Some of the Corinthian believers are apparently doubting that bodily resurrection is even possible, a falsity which Paul refutes on the basis of the fact that Christ Himself has been raised from the grave. He sees Christ’s resurrection not only as validation of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, but also as the guarantee of future resurrection for all who are in Christ. It’s a magnificent chapter that continues to build as it reaches its crescendo, and in the midst of his exposition Paul includes these details about Christ’s ultimate triumph over all of His enemies:
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.
1 Corinthians 15:22-28
Read the latter part of that passage very carefully so you don’t miss it. Paul is quoting Psalm 8, wherein David declares that even though God has made the “son of man” a little lower than the angels, He has crowned Him with glory and majesty by putting all things – angels included – under his feet. And although it may not be clear that David’s reference to the “son of man” was tacitly referring to the person of Jesus, Paul certainly interprets it that way. Yet no sooner does Paul draw that connection to Christ but he includes the disclaimer that “all things” being subject to Christ clearly doesn’t include God Himself. What is the point of this exception?
Here again, the Trinity throws the full weight of its explanation upon the distinction between Jesus’ human and divine natures, but the entire scenario depicts Jesus handing over the kingdom “to the God and Father” even as the “Son Himself also will be subjected” to God. Doesn’t this necessarily imply that in the process of being made subject to God, that Jesus’ union with the Son must forever be broken? Because if not, then Paul is basically stating that even the divine Son becomes subject to the Father…a conclusion which the Trinity would categorically reject.
The problem is that although it might make some intuitive sense – at least from the standpoint of the Trinity – to separate between Jesus’ human and divine natures when it comes to things like knowledge and authority, how can you do that in this scenario without completely destroying the person of Christ? Furthermore, why does the Father have to put everything under Jesus’ feet in the first place? Wouldn’t that be the “second person’s” right already…and by extension Jesus’ right as His incarnation?
Things get a lot clearer when we think about this passage in light of Jesus’ statement to the apostles that “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him.” (Matthew 28:18) In practical terms, this simply means that Jesus’ authority extends to both the physical and spiritual realms, as evidenced by His power to calm storms, to heal the sick, to drive out evil spirits, and to command the Host of Heaven:
Then Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?”
Without a doubt, Jesus’ authority was bestowed upon Him by His Father for a singular purpose: consummating the Kingdom in all of its glory through the redemption of Creation. Consequently, as the Agent whom God has invested with the power to do just that, this passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is a picture of Jesus presenting the Kingdom to His Father because His work is done. Jesus has faithfully accomplished everything that His Principal has asked Him to do, using His power and authority not to serve His own interests, but those of His Father. Once again, from Philippians:
Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Indeed, Paul’s description of this heavenly spectacle recalls Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man, and points us forward towards the time when the Son’s triumph and His glory will be complete. It’s a picture of the New Heaven and the New Earth whereby the barrier between heavenly and earthly things can finally be removed because the Father’s will is being done on Earth even as it is in Heaven:
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.”
The Kingdom has come, God’s will is being done, and the only thing left for the Lamb to do is receive glory, praise, and honor for all eternity.