We Believe: “One essence”

Mr. Joshua Griswold
"If Christ is not fully God then he cannot bear the weight of the wrath of God, as no created being could. Only God can take the wrath of God, and only a man could be a substitution to truly cover the cost of sin. The blood of animals could only ever cover, not remove (Heb 10:4). The Father and the Son must share equally in divinity and thus Arius and his lesser divinity of Christ falls short."
It is hard to discuss the Nicene Creed without delving into potentially the largest controversy of the council, the relationship of Christ to God. Yes, Jesus is God and the Father is God but just how divine is Jesus? The argument on the table concerned whether he is fully God or only shared in some part of God.

Arius, the presbyter in Alexandria, believed that if God were to become human it would change his nature and “the implication that God changes and suffers seemed blasphemous! So it must be then, Arius concluded, that only God the Father is without beginning.” If God is the only being without a beginning then the Son must be created and cannot be of the same essence as God the Father.

Jesus is according to Arius “God in name only.” Jesus is wholly man, but not wholly divine and thus only shares in being with God, making Christ subordinate in the Trinity, lacking eternality. Arius, in his troubled theology, was attempting to protect the divinity of the Father, but in the end, did so at the expense of the divinity of the Son. 

The vocal opponent to Arius at this council was Athanasius of Alexandria, who argued that the Son and the Father must be of one substance. The Son is not created, nor subordinate to the Father. The Father and the Son cannot be separated as Arius demands, making one subordinate to the other. Can you separate light from light? No. 

Athanasius argued that the only way for mankind to be redeemed from the impact and falleness of sin, is for a sacrifice to cover that sin. Jesus Christ, in order to be that proper sacrifice cannot be any less than fully God and fully man. If Christ is not fully human then he cannot be a proper substitution for man, he cannot take the place of what he is not. On the other hand, if Christ is not fully God then he cannot bear the weight of the wrath of God, as no created being could. Only God can take the wrath of God, and only a man could be a substitution to truly cover the cost of sin. The blood of animals could only ever cover, not remove (Heb 10:4). The Father and the Son must share equally in divinity and thus Arius and his lesser divinity of Christ falls short. 

The New Testament is full of affirmations of the full divinity of Jesus. John the Apostle artistically and beautifully declares at the beginning of his gospel that the Word was the beginning, the active agent in creation, and that the Word is God. John sprinkles seven distinct declarative “I am” statements of Jesus throughout his gospel. These statements drove the Pharisees to rage, and are a clear example of Jesus claiming divinity. The author of Hebrews attributes Psalms written about God to Jesus (Heb 1:8-9). Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus repeatedly says, “you have heard it said, but I say.” It was God who said it first and Christ who clarifies the Law that was given. In reading the words of Christ and the authors of the New Testament it is impossible to get away from the divinity of the Son. 

The Jesus of the New Testament, being “of one essence with the Father,” is fully divine.

This week’s article is written by Joshua Griswold, Collin County Faculty.
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