Today's Broadcast

The Deity of Christ

A Message by R.C. Sproul

There are many people in the world who will concede that Jesus of Nazareth was an actual historical person who lived in the ancient world of Palestine, and some even have given Him prophet status. But the testimony of Scripture doesn't allow us to stop there. The Bible says that Jesus is more than a prophet, and as Christians we must be prepared to explain that. What really makes Jesus unique was His beginning, or, should we say, lack of it. Dr. Sproul looks at this thought as he gleans from the Gospel of John chapter one, in "The Deity of Christ."

From the series: Defending Your Faith

Get the Defending Your Faith Resource Package for a Gift of Any Amount

Further Study On This Topic

  1. blog-post

    The Deity of Christ

  2. blog-post

    Accepting Christ's Deity

  3. devotional

    The Form of God

The Deity of Christ

John Gerstner

During his long, fruitful ministry, Dr. John Gerstner, mentor to R.C. Sproul, wrote a series of primers on various points of theology which were later printed in Primitive Theology. Over the next couple of weeks we will be sharing his "Primer on the Deity of Christ" as a series of blog posts. Interestingly, the primer is in the form of a dialogue. The dialogue is between ‘‘Inquirer,’’ who is an educated, thoughtful person becoming convinced of the truths of the Christian religion (though not yet converted to them), and “Christian,’’ an experienced evangelical minister. Here is how it goes:

I: Among the many Christian doctrines we have discussed so far, we haven’t yet taken up the doctrine of Christ Himself, have we?

C: No, not directly, although we did ground our doctrine of Holy Scripture on the teaching of Christ.

I: Yes, I recall. That was after we had demonstrated that Christ was a messenger sent from God. And that, in turn, was proved by the miracles He performed.

C: Exactly. From His ‘‘credit as a proposer’’ of doctrine, we noticed that we had to believe every doctrine He taught. Our primary concern there was with His view of Scripture. We agreed that as an authenticated divine messenger, He was to be believed in what He said about the Bible, specifically that Scripture, Old and New Testaments, was inspired of God.

I: Yes. And on that basis, I agreed that the Bible is indeed the Word of God. From that point on, we’ve grounded all the doctrines we’ve discussed on what the Bible says. But we haven’t yet focused on what the Bible teaches about Christ Himself, have we?

C: No, not yet, even though that is the central verity of the Christian religion.

I: What do you mean?

C: Well, it is not only an important doctrine of Christianity. but the most important doctrine. Furthermore, it is indispensable to Christianity.

I: You mean that if a person doesn’t have a sound doctrine about Christ, he is not a Christian at all?
C: Exactly. You see, many who call themselves Christians should not; their very idea of Christ is unsound.

I: But what if they still regard Him as very important and central in their lives?

C: They still would be at odds with the truth. If Jesus is none other than God incarnate, then to think He is merely a man would be a fatal mistake, would it not?

I: A very serious mistake, I grant you. But can you say that they don’t believe in Him or follow Him when they do listen to His teachings and try to do what He teaches?

C: That’s precisely the point. If He teaches that He Himself is God, and they follow Him as merely a man, can they meaningfully be said to follow His teaching?

I: I see your point. And yet, could they not follow some of His teachings, or even all of them, without realizing who He is as their Teacher?

C: That seems reasonable. But let’s take a specific example of His teaching. As you know, He taught the Golden Rule: ‘‘Do unto others as you would that they do to you.”

I: That’s what I have in mind. I know people who follow the Golden Rule and agree with Christ’s teaching about it, and yet they don’t think He is God. As a matter of fact, they would be appalled by the idea that Christ is divine. They regard Him as a very godly person who taught very sound maxims, including the Golden Rule. If these people take the Golden Rule seriously and practice it rather admirably, how can you deny that they follow Christ’s moral instruction, even if they don’t share the church’s theological estimate of Him?

C: I would grant that they could understand the Golden Rule and live according to it at least superficially.

I: The people I’m thinking of, however, are anything but superficial. They’re very serious people, and they do take the rule very seriously. I can’t quite see how, though they don’t believe in the divinity of Christ, they are superficial in their observance of His moral commandment.

C: I understand your perplexity. As far as our discussion has gone, you would seem to be reasonableness itself, and I would seem to be way off reality. But let me make an observation we have not yet considered.

I: Please do.

C: Well, as you probably know, Christ taught also that He is the vine, and His disciples are His branches. Are you acquainted with that teaching found in the fifteenth chapter of John?

I: Yes, vaguely. He did say something about His being the vine in which they are the branches, and they bear fruit through Him. I’m beginning to see what you’re hinting at. But, spell it out, please.

C: Well, as you sense, He teaches there that He is the source of their life and their fruit-bearing, that is, their morality. In another place He says, “Let your light so shine before men that they may behold your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.’’ Here in John 15 He explains where their good works actually come from, does He not?

I: Yes, I suppose that is the point of the analogy He makes. He, as the vine, is the source of life, which somehow fills His
followers, producing in them a moral life. As I ponder this, I see how profound the idea is. Are you saying that Christ not only teaches a morality but also claims that He Himself fulfills that morality in His followers?

C: Yes, that’s right. I don’t mean to deny that time and again He just issues commandments, as it were. He often sets forth teachings, describes maxims. But occasionally He also talks about the source of power for fulfilling the moral law, as in the vine and branches. In other words, the morality He commands is fulfilled in those who don’t simply hear what He says and obey it, but actually look to Him for the necessary strength to fulfill it.

I: I guess my friends who try to follow Christ’s morality without acknowledging that He is divine overlook this aspect of Christ’s teaching. I can’t help wondering if they’ve ever thought of Jesus’ representing Himself as the source for fulfilling His own commandments. I’m not sure they would follow His teaching on that point. I suspect they would not. These people are real moralists. They try to be humble, but they really are proud of their character. They feel it’s their character, and they don’t need outside help to obey these commandments. If you told them that they could not carry out what Jesus taught without His power, they would not buy that. They would, in fact—well, I don’t know quite what to say here.

C: What you’re thinking, but are hesitant to say, is this, is it not? If they understood Christ to say His moral commandments could not be kept except by His own power, they would simply reject Him. Isn’t that really what this whole thing amounts to?

I: I think you’re right. It’s hard to say, because I doubt they ever think in these categories. But when you put two and two together your answer seems inevitable. They think Christ is admirable as a moral teacher addressing Himself to moral persons such as themselves. They agree with His ideas. They join with Him in following them. But depend upon Him for the power to do good—you’re right, they would not accept that. I have to conclude that they would want nothing more to do with Him. They would reject Him. He would be insulting them.

C: Well, it looks as if we’ve gotten the answer to our question, doesn’t it?

I: It surely does. I’m surprised I didn’t even suspect that a few minutes ago. And yet it’s obvious, now that I think about it. I’m learning about myself, as well as about my friends. Up until this moment, I myself supposed that even though Christ was a messenger sent from God, whose every teaching I must accept, it was I who accepted them, I who would perform them (if I am forgiven for the sins I’ve already made).

C: Don’t be too hard on yourself. Most people think that way at first. It’s only when they realize how deep their depravity is and how little inclined they are to general morality that they begin to look around for help. Once they do realize they are sinners, as your friends apparently do not, then they know that they need forgiveness and power as well.

I: I can see that now.

C: Most people don’t think in terms of the parable of the vine and the branches. If, as sinners, they sense that they cannot become new people unless they have a new principle of life within them, they may not realize at first that it’s nothing less than Jesus Christ Himself dwelling in them and moving them to morality. But they learn quickly enough once He teaches them that.

Continued in Part Two

Accepting Christ's Deity

R.C. Sproul

In Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, He says: “And now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (v. 5). Here Jesus alludes to a position He held before creation. It is a tacit claim to His participation in the eternal glory of God.

In the fourth century, the church faced a serious crisis with respect to the deity of Christ. The Arian heretics denied the deity of Christ, claiming that Jesus was a creature who was adopted into a special relationship with God. In their controversy with orthodox Christians, they used ribald and derogatory songs as a method of propaganda.

In response to the Arian attacks, the orthodox Christians composed their own songs, one of which was the Gloria Patri. Note the words of this well-known song:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen, amen.

In its inception, the Gloria Patri functioned as a type of fight song, a rallying cry for orthodox Christianity. That original function has been lost through the passing of time so that it is now used as a liturgical response. We no longer sense the extraordinary significance of ascribing glory to Christ.  

Coram Deo: Try using the Gloria Patri in this reading as a spiritual warfare song. Quote or sing it out loud. 

John 17:5: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” 

John 17:22: “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one.” 

John 17:24: “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” 

The Form of God

Christ is more than a mere model, but He is a model for our behavior nonetheless. Thus, Paul rightly uses Jesus as an example of service that puts others first, service that he commends in Philippians 2:1–4. Beginning in today’s passage, the Apostle explores Christ as our model of humble, selfless service to others. In so doing, he provides a key passage for our Christology (doctrine of Christ).

We refer, of course, to the Carmen Christi — the hymn to Christ — found in Philippians 2:5–11. This passage has been subject to much debate in recent decades, with much ink spilled over the text’s origins, meaning, and so forth. It is often called a hymn because many scholars believe it was a song the first Christians sang in worship. Others see it as one of the very first Christian creeds, assuming that Paul borrowed it for his letter and that it did not originate with him. There is no good reason, however, to believe the Apostle was not the initial writer of this text, and we cannot be certain of its precise use in early Christian worship. In any case, Paul’s inclusion of these verses in his letter means that the Carmen Christi is the inspired Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

Philippians 2:5–11 reveals that service to one another is not inconsistent with authority — in fact, serving others is the true mark of leadership. Christ exemplifies true greatness and models excellent leadership because He did not use His position as an excuse not to serve; rather, He saw meeting others’ needs as inherent to leading them. The greatness of Christ Jesus is assumed at the outset of this hymn, for Paul tells us that Jesus “was in the form of God” (v. 6). Morphē is the Greek word translated as “form” in verse 6, and it means that which corresponds inwardly to an outer appearance. Essentially, Paul is saying that the Son of God shares fully in the very essence of God; to borrow a phrase from the Nicene Creed, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is “very God of very God.” The early church father John Chrysostom wrote, “The form of God is truly God and nothing less. Paul did not write that he was in process of coming to be in the form of God; rather ‘being in the form of God,’ hence truly divine. This is much as to say ‘I am that I am.’” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. 8, p. 227; hereafter ACCNT).

Since the beginning,

our aim has been to help Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to share it, and how to live it…

More about Renewing Your Mind