In his classic book All of Grace, C.H. Spurgeon makes the statement in regards to Christianity that “Faith is believing that Christ is what He is said to be, and that He will do what He has promised to do, and then to expect this of Him.” If this is accepted as an accurate description of what the Christian faith entails, then the we must analyze what these things are which are to be believed.
If faith is believing that Christ is what he is said to be, it must be determined what Christ is said to be. If faith is believing that Christ will do what He has promised to do, it must be determined what Christ has promised.
Only after this is done may we as Christians move on to the sphere of trusting in or expecting this of Christ; so, it must be determined who Christ was and what he did, does, or will do.
Before any of this may be done it is first necessary to construct some basic context from which we as Christians may view the person and work of Christ. Historic Christianity in such texts as the Athanasian Creed has asserted that Christ is both God and man.
In order to set the context it is necessary to analyze both God and man individually, before proceeding to the Christ who embodies both – or as John Calvin states in the first line of his tremendous Institutes of the Christian Religion, our wisdom “consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
Laying the Groundwork: God and Man
In speaking of God and of mankind, one thing which may be immediately noticed is that there is a gulf between God and man, a gulf which is twofold.
On the one hand, there is a gulf of class between God and man – we are not of the same type. God “is a Spirit,” is “eternal, immortal, invisible,” is sovereign and therefore “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will,” and that He has “made the world and all things therein” and is in need of nothing. Man, however, is created, and this is the most fundamental distinction that can be made, that between the Creator and the creature.
There is this gulf of class; yet God, as invisible creator, reveals himself.
After creating man in the garden he does not disappear from the scene, leaving man to wonder how he happened to come about, but rather communes with and speaks to him.
From this simple survey that has been made of Scripture regarding God and creation, two intertwined ideas emerge: one, that God is gracious, for not only does he create man who he does not need, but he communes with that man. In this communing with man he reveals himself to man, thus, he is revelatory in his grace; he does not disappear but rather communicates with his creation.
As is noted by Berkhof “Revelation is an act of grace…” He is revelatory in his grace, and he reveals his grace; thus, a chief theme to be had is the revealing of God’s grace to man, for God’s own glory in his eternal purpose.
God reveals his grace first, merely by creating and communing with man, and second, by covenanting with that man so that they might – as The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it – have “fruition of him as their blessedness and reward” achieved by “voluntary condescension on God’s part…”
The language of the divines further reinforces the gracious aspect of God’s covenant: God condescended to covenant with man.
This covenant serves as introduction to the second gulf which exists between God and man, the gulf of fellowship. God made this initial covenant – the covenant of works – with Adam, and in this covenant he fell from his good moral standing with God: man was “driven out of the garden,” “cursed,” subject to death having “transgressed the law,” have been made subject to Satan “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” and not only this, but all of creation fell with us.
Man stands out of fellowship with God, subject to death, and under the condemnation of the lawn the light of this context the Christian may then discuss the person and work of Christ, understanding the nature of God, the state of man, and the need for reconciliation; and not only in need of reconciliation, but unable to achieve this on his own, for “nothing good dwells in me” and “the carnal min dis enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”
The Person of Christ
As noted by Spurgeon above, a vital aspect of the Christian faith is who Christ is; and as is noted in the Westminster Confession of Faith, everything that is necessary for God’s glory or for man’s salvation, faith, and life, “is either expressly set down in Scripture,” or may be derived from them.
In looking at the doctrines of the person of Christ it is necessary to first look to Scripture, and in doing so two main things can be observed regarding Christ, the first that he is Son of God, and as such, is God, one of the three members of the Trinity; the second that he is the son of man – and as such, is a man. Thus, he is both human and divine.
The most clear indication of this truth may be found in The Great Commission as presented by Matthew, where Jesus is seen as calling the disciples to go and baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” implying that he is on equal par with the Father and the Spirit.
While this is more of an implication that Christ is God, a more direct statement can be found in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, where John begins with the statement “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” and then continues “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth,” shortly thereafter clarifying that this Word is Christ Jesus (ie, the one who John bore witness about, and by noting that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”).
Thus, John addressed well the first aspect of Christ’s natures, that he is God.
Perhaps the text which best deals with the humanity of Christ is Hebrews, where the author states that “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things…” A full and straightforward statement of the duality that manifests itself in Christ can be found in Philippians, where Paul states in regard to Jesus that “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
While this verse from Philippians alone might lead to the notion that Christ merely took on the appearance of a man, when one takes it in conjunction with the rest of Scripture – in this case the verse from Hebrews 2, or perhaps the birth narrative as given in Luke – it is clear that the second person of the Trinity indeed became fully man, in the flesh. Just from the brief survey of texts given above, it can be observed that Christ was both God and man.
The historic church addressed this issue directly in the wake of the Arian heresy – which denied the deity of Christ – and the gnostic heresy – which split the fleshly aspect of Jesus from the divine aspect of Christ. Thus the Athanasian Creed may be seen stating that Christ is “God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world.” The Westminster Confession of Faith similarly addresses the issue with its statement that: The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof… So that two whole, perfect, distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person.
Despite that such strong statements have been made by the historic church, the controversy has not completely abated with the years, and during the enlightenment and the following ‘modern’ age the question was once again raised – this time in the name of ‘reason’ and rationalism – whether Jesus was actually God or merely a man, with Protestant Liberalism taking the position that Jesus was merely a man.
If our own human reason is our ultimate authority, then it may be reasonable to reject the more supernatural aspects of Christ. Yet, if we have a proper understanding of authority and upon what our reason rests, we will know – with Pascal – that “It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason. That is what faith is: God perceived by the heart, not by the reason.” Or with Van Til that “God makes the facts what they are to be”11 for contrary to the view that reason is autonomous, man’s mind “is surrounded by nothing but revelation.”
In this can be seen the central theme once again of the revealing of God’s grace to man, specifically, the inherently revelational aspect of everything that we think and do.
Our mind’s are surrounded by nothing but revelation, and that revelation is revealing the grace of God, which can be seen most clearly in the work of Christ.
The Work of Christ
From the very creation of man, God condescended in his grace to reveal himself to man, and to covenant with man.
Man, having broken that covenant, broke the original fellowship with God.
The two natures of Christ as laid out above sets the stage for the work of Christ and perhaps this is best seen by analyzing why Christ was who he was; that is, why in the work of Christ he could not have been merely God, or merely man, or something else such as an angel. It has been seen that Christ is both God and man, and in looking at the work of Christ it will be seen that this is for a certain purpose.
As has been laid out, man was put at enmity with God through the original fall, and indeed all of creation was subjected to this fall. God, in the eternal purpose of his revelatory grace, sent his Son to bridge the gulf of fellowship created by man. The work of Christ in doing this is many faceted.
Alistair McGrath enunciates at least three ways in which Christ works: that he reveals God, that he is the bearer of salvation, and that he defines the shape of the redeemed life. Fairbairn discusses the death of Christ as the definition of love, and as the death of death. Or as Berkhof in section on the person and work of Christ stresses the threefold office of Christ, that in his work as mediator he acts a prophet, priest, and king, which is a reflection on the way The Westminster Confession of Faith discusses the issue, noting that Christ as the only Son of God was ordained by God: …to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Head and Savior of his church, the Heir of all things, and Judge of the world: unto whom he did from all eternity give a people, to be his seed, and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified,and glorified.
It can be noted especially here in the Confession that Christ came to act as a mediator between God and man, for as has been said, the exists a gulf between the two. Thus, Christ came to be a mediator regarding that gulf; as it says in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
So, this mediation is the primary focus of the work of Christ. The ‘why’ of this work can be seen – firstly – in the eternal degree of God “foreordained before the foundation of the world”; God ordained from eternity that he should bring a people to himself “having predestined us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace…”
Secondly, the ‘why’ of this work can be seen in the gracious and merciful aspect of God, which since creation has brought about fellowship with his creation, and thus in this grace he ordained to bridge that gulf.
Thirdly, the ‘why’ of this work can be seen in the justice of God, for as has been noted, man transgressed against the law of God, and in doing so brought death upon himself – hence Romans 6:23 states that the wages of sin is death, and man has sinned. Man warranted death; as God is a just God, this sin needed dealt with, and as God is a holy God, he could not allow this sin into presence.
Thus, God ordained Christ as mediator, to serve as a substitute for the satisfaction of penalty due for man’s sins; and not merely as a substitute to remove a penalty, but to rescue man from the sin, from the devil, to bring man back into full fellowship with God.
The Person of Christ in Relation to the Work of Christ
In doing this it was necessary that Christ be both God and man.
In regards to Christ as God, it is necessary that he be God because it is the grace of God which is being revealed, and this implies a condescension on God’s part. Man cannot bring himself up to the level of God, therefore God must come down to the level of man; thus, Christ must have been God such that God would be the one descending. This was also necessary because it is as God that Christ was able to take on the infinite value of sacrifice that needed to be rendered and thereby bear God’s full wrath.
It was necessary that Christ be God, merely because God ordained that Christ should be God – and this, in truth, is the ultimate justification for why anything should be the way it is.
If we had no further explanation as to why Christ came or to why anything regarding the relationship between God and man is the way that it is, we need look no further than that God has ordained it, and on this ground alone it is good and proper.
As Chapter 8 of The Westminster Confession begins “It pleased God, in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, to be the Mediator…” In regards to Christ as man, it is necessary that he be man – apart from the mere good pleasure of God – because it is man that is being redeemed.
It is man who has sinned, and it is man who is in need of punishment. Furthermore, it is man, who through his rebellion, has contaminated himself with a sinful nature.
In order to deal with sin he had to take on the nature of those who were in sin, as Berkhof states “Since man sinned, it was necessary that the penalty should be borne by man.”
Finally, Christ needed to be man in order to fulfill the role of federal headship; Christ needed to fill the same role for the human race that Adam did originally.
This can be seen in such verses as 1 Corinthians 15:22 “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive”, as well as verse 44 that “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” Naturally, in order to serve as head of mankind, it was necessary for Christ to be man.
The Ends and Effects of Christ’s Work
It has been seen thus far that God in the eternal plan of his revelatory grace, deemed it proper to create man and to fellowship with him, to covenant with him, and when man broke that covenant, to reconcile man once again back into fellowship.
Given that man had sinned against God and that man could not bridge this gap on his own, it was necessary for God to condescend once again – this time in the form of Christ – in order to bring redemption and atonement to those which He had called to be His people. The ends and effects of this redemption are multi-faceted, as has already been noted once.
While there are many ways of approaching this, one of the most precise is that offered by John Owen in his masterpiece The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. The chief effects of the death of Christ – as laid out by Owen – include the entirety of man’s being brought back into the fellowship of God.
It includes first, reconciliation to God, by removing the enmity between us; second, justification, by taking the guilt of our sins, pardoning them, and freeing us from the power of them; third, sanctification, by removing from us the pollution of our sins and renewing in us the image of God; fourth, adoption, with all the privileges thereof; and lastly, these effects bring us into final glory with God in heaven.
Thus: “The death and blood-shedding of Jesus Christ hath wrought, and doth effectually procure, for all those that are concerned in it, eternal redemption, consisting in grace here and glory hereafter.”
Christ does not merely stop at the cross, once the legal penalty has been paid for our sins and he has taken our place, but rather continues through and through all aspects of the Christian life.
It is the death of Christ that provides the initial reconciliation and pardons our sin, and it is also that which frees us from our sin.
Yet merely pardoning us from our sin and freeing us from it would still leave us contaminated with the sinful nature we were wrought in, and such sin a holy God could still not allow into his presence, thus Christ also removes that contamination and sets our image anew.
The how of coming into God’s presence is similarly answered here, for it is through adoption, and this by joining with Christ as his body, who we have already established as the the federal head of mankind.
Christ does not merely pay the penalty for our sins, but Christ joins with us and gives us his righteousness, a righteousness not our own and therefore not of any of our own merit.
As John Bunyan puts it, with Christ as our head and we as his body we may look on Christ as the public person of which the elect are a part “that we fulfilled the law by him, died by him, rose from the dead by him, got the victory over sin, death, the devil, and hell by him; when he died, we died, and so of his resurrection.”
Bunyan here provides a more nuanced perspective than Owen, noting the exact way in which we are reckoned as one with Christ by God, by being reckoned as the body of Christ, whose righteousness we are given, and in whom we fulfill all aspects of the law which we cannot fulfill of ourselves. Bunyan here also echoes back to the more classic view of the early church fathers victory over Satan, which in turn can find a base in Hebrews, which states that “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”
As is noted by Donald Fairbairn, this power of Satan was rooted in the fact that “we had alienated ourselves from God through our sinfulness.”
The death of Christ removed Satan’s power by removing that alienation.
Christ both sacrificed himself for our sins and in the pardon and redemption that was wrought, brought victory over sin, and Satan, who try to hold us captive to that death.
In this we can bring the entirety of the death of Christ’s effects into a succinct whole; that of God incarnating himself as the federal head of man in Christ, and through the death of this Christ that God’s people might be united with him as his body, his righteousness as theirs and him bearing the punishment for their sins, the effect of which is the freedom from sin and removal of the gulf between God and man, which thereby provides victory over Satan, and sets man on the path of moral righteousness by removing the contamination of his sin.
In all of this can be seen the revelatory grace of God’s eternal purpose. The revelation and the grace are intimately intertwined, for it is the grace which is revealed and it is gracious that God is revealed.
It is revealed in that God became incarnate, and it is at the same time gracious in that in doing so God condescended once again to covenant with man. Through the death of Christ God reveals his grace by showing us that he will condescend to save those who are unworthy, and ungodly, and actually does so.
It is gracious, furthermore, in that God had not need of revealing himself or providing this grace, but rather it was merely of his own good pleasure and for his own glory, according to his own eternal will. This is not merely a historic fact which finds its home in the 1st Century AD, but it is a truth which has a continued effect all the way into the present and is still impacting God’s chosen people today.
Christ in the Contemporary and Personal Context
The person and work of Christ is still one which is able to cause debate in today’s world.
Protestant Liberalism is still alive in various forms, reducing Christ to a good role model or – in its more postmodern aspects – to nice narrative to inspire our lives, an existential starting point in how we define ourselves.
A proper view of the person and work of Christ removes the pluralism and relativism of postmodernism by stressing that God has definitely revealed himself, and that God’s revelation is truth, and if Christ is who he said he was and did what he said he did, then only Christianity can be true. Not only this, but the person and work of Christ also has a real effect on the practical world of ministry, church life, and personal devotion to Christ.
The person of Christ gives us a real grounding in history. As was said by J. Gresham Machen, all of the ideas of Christianity could be found another religion, but there would in no Christianity in that religion “For Christianity depends, not upon a complex of ideas, but upon the narration of an event.”
It is this event, the death resurrection and ascension of Christ, upon which Christianity hinges.
It has a practical effect, for it decides for us what sort of gospel it is that we will preach.
We do not preach a gospel that is merely a call to act like Christ or only to social action, therefore we don’t call people to rest on their own actions. We do not preach a gospel that merely puts Satan on equal par with God, and has God paying a ransom to Satan, and therefore we can trust that God alone is in control.
We instead preach a gospel that depends on the grace of God as revealed in the Scripture, that the Son of God who is God came as a man to take our sins upon himself and thereby save us both from the penalty of those sins and the sins themselves, while giving us his righteousness.
It produces a profound humbling of the people of God, and in light of their changed life drives them to good works. It changes the church life because we are concerned not merely about the body and about its health or wealth, but about the soul and its everlasting abode.
These truths change our personal devotion because it allows us to know that our sins have been taken and that we have been made anew. It condemns our old self and gives us a great hope and a great life of our new selves; we do not have to worry about our selves failing, for our as Bunyan notes our righteousness is in heaven, such that it is not ourselves that effect or affect it. The comfort of this is such that “Now did my chains fall off my legs; indeed I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away.”
Because Christ was God, we are assured that his actions had their intended effect; because Christ was man, we are assured that we are intended recipients of that effect.
As Spurgeon has already been quoted as saying, in knowing who Christ is, and what Christ has promised, when may then expect this of Him.