There was a time in my life when I was so entrenched in studying Christology that the Trinity faded from view. I am thankful for God’s patience with me, and His commitment to teach us as we come to Him. I think this is more common than we might admit; and even among those who claim “I’m no theologian!” So at the outset of this post, keep in mind that while Christ is central to our knowing God, we must not attempt to know Jesus Christ as quite separate from Father and Spirit.
“Through Him [Jesus the Christ] we both [Jew and Gentile] have our access in one Spirit to the Father.” Ephesians 2:18
This theology series started here, and you can also see here for some more introductory encouragement. This is the first of three posts about the Doctrine of Christ, which is frequently split into two main parts: the Person of Christ, and the Work of Christ. Not because we can actually dichotomise–but because systematic theology, for the sake of teaching in an orderly fashion, creates an orderly way to study and grow in understanding.
I’ll close the post with book recommendations; many books have been written on one aspect, or on contemporary heresies that we must guard against or put off. It is impossible to write a complete Christology in a blog post, so remember, this post is simply to stimulate your heart and mind to the study of this doctrine. Millard Erickson begins his book, The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology, in this way:
We begin our study of Christology where the church began its study of that subject from virtually the earliest times: with the Scriptures, and particularly with the documents which form the New Testament.Millard J. Erickson, The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1991).
Likewise, contemporary theologians must not make the mistake of trying to figure out anew, in a different way, apart from Scripture. Erickson moves next into a discussion of the Councils of Chalcedon and Nicea, so helpful! Most heresies today are repeats of past heresies. If we are to “contend for the faith once for all handed down” (Jude) then we must engage with church history, and be willing to fight the tendency to allow heresies to arise in our local churches. Most heresies involve denying the Divinity or the Humanity of Jesus. Thus, a good Christology will discuss what the Scriptures teach concerning His two natures and the incarnation; and especially who Jesus said He was and what He claimed to come to do.
Consider reading the Nicene Creed, and Apostles Creed, and thinking through what they affirm about the God the Son. Here is a comprehensive summary from the Council at Chalcedon, 451 AD, included in Erickson’s book, page 65:
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhood and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhood, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhood, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisible, inseparably; the distinction of the natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.Ibid
The Glory of Christ, His Office and Grace, written by John Owen, 1684; begins with this preface:
“Christian reader, the design of the ensuing discourse is to declare some part of that glory of our Lord Jesus Christ which is revealed in the Scripture, and proposed as the principal object of our faith, love, delight, and admiration. But, alas! After our utmost and most diligent inquiries, we must say, how little a portion is it of him that we can understand! His glory is incomprehensible, and his praises unutterable. Some things an illuminated mind may conceive of it; but what we can express in comparison of what it is in itself, is even less than nothing… Howbeit, that real view which we may have of Christ and his glory in this world by faith–however weak and obscure that knowledge which we may attain of them by divine revelation, is inexpressibly to be preferred above all other wisdom, understanding, or knowledge whatever.”John Owen, The Glory of Christ, His Office and Grace, (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Heritage Imprint, 2004).
Read that again. In the course of our Christology posts, we will ponder a rudimentary outline, a barebones beginning, to aid you in your studies.
God the Son
He came that we would know God, behold His glory, be filled with His grace and truth, be cleansed from all unrighteousness and redeemed from every lawless deed, and to bring us into His family. His incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension are all important–you cannot have a true Christology if you deny the importance or veracity of the Scriptural truths on these. He has brought us into His kingdom, into the household of God. At the outset, do not focus on yourself, but on Christ; and then on His Body which is His people, not just you. As Owen stated above, we cannot perfectly and completely express all that can be known–but one thing is sure, we cannot mix in American individualism or assume that Jesus Christ has set aside His work in His Church to bless our imagined ideals of His community.
The Eternal Son, having no beginning and no end, co-eternal with all members of the Trinity, took on flesh. God has no body, until historically the Son of God became man. The Father never took on flesh; the Spirit never took on flesh. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us that we would behold His glory, and know the Father through Him.
Remember, beloved, our theological orthodoxy will lead to doxology–if it does not, you are searching the Scriptures without coming to Christ that you may know Him, or you attempting to do theology apart from His Spirit illumining the Scriptures.
These posts will not focus on the problems of the day that we do not affirm. There are times for such teachings. But not in todays cancel culture which is already filled with notions of what many do not believe or no longer affirm. We will focus rather on what is true, good, lovely, pure, and which builds up His true Body.
Two resources that will not only grow you in your knowledge of this particular doctrine, but also invigorate your heart to doxology; sources I turn to often in delight, and are among the stack of books that I will continue to re-read until Christ takes me home:
Rejoicing in Christ, by Michael Reeves
The Glory of Christ, by John Owen
Books to further your study:
The Work of Christ, Robert Letham
The Person of Christ, Donald MacLeod
The Word Made Flesh, Millard Erickson
Next week we will outline the Person of Christ, and the following week the Work of Christ. As you prepare your heart for the Sabbath, consider this lovely passage from Michael Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ, page 21:
First, if there is nothing more precious to the Father than him, there cannot be any blessing higher than him or anything better than him. In every way, he himself must be the “very great reward” of the gospel (Genesis 15:1). He is the treasure of the Father, shared with us. Sometimes we find ourselves tiring of Jesus, stupidly imagining that we have seen all there is to see and used up all the pleasure there is to be had in him. We get spiritually bored. But Jesus has satisfied the mind and heart of the infinite God for eternity. Our boredom is simple blindness. If the Father can be infinitely and eternally satisfied in him, then he must be overwhelmingly all sufficient for us. In every situation, for eternity. Second, his sonship–his relationship with his Father–is the gospel and salvation he has to share with us. That is his joy. As the Father shares his Son with us, so the Son shares his relationship with the Father.Michael Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ, (Downers Grove, Il: IVP Academic, 2015).
photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash