Kevin T. Bauder
Our understanding of Christ connects directly to the gospel. Gospel means good news. The goodness of the good news stands out only against the backdrop of the bad news, and the bad news is that we are sinners who stand under the just condemnation of the eternal God. The good news is that God has sent a Savior to deliver us from sin and condemnation. That Savior has delivered us by taking our place and bearing the judgment of our sins (1 Pet. 2:24).
Because the guilt of our sin was infinite, we deserved an infinite penalty. That is why hell lasts forever—finite persons must bear their penalty over an infinity of time. To bear our infinite guilt within a finite period of time, our Savior had to be an infinite person. Only three infinite persons exist: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are one God. Each possesses one and the same substance, and is equal in power, dignity and eternity, with the others. Unless one of these three had become our substitute, we could never be saved. Any lesser person would still be bearing the guilt of our sins an eternity from now.
To put it in other words, our Savior and substitute had to be one of the three divine persons. He had to be God. He had to be an eternal person, someone who existed before all worlds. This one was God the Son, and His deity had to be entire. He had to possess a complete divine nature.
Even such a person, however, could not bear the penalty for our guilt simply in his deity. Human transgression could only be repaired by a human being, and that human being is Jesus Christ. “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21). “For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many” (Rom. 5:15). “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).
In other words, to become our Savior, God the Son had to add to His eternal divine person a complete human nature. This nature was not sinful, but it was genuinely and utterly human. God the Son became incarnate, and ever since the Incarnation this one eternal person possesses two complete natures, human and divine. His divine nature is necessary because of the infinite offense and penalty of our sins. His human nature is necessary so that he could bear sin’s penalty—so that He could die—for us. Without such a Savior we would be eternally lost.
We must never deny the deity of the Savior. To deny His deity is to obliterate the gospel, for no one less than God could have borne our penalty. Those who deny the deity of Christ inevitably end up redefining the atonement to make the Savior less than a full substitute. To take substitution out of the atonement they must detract from the gravity of sin. To detract from the gravity of sin they must diminish the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God. To deny Christ’s deity is to subvert not only the gospel but the entire system of faith.
At the same time, we must never deny the full humanity of the Savior. To deny His humanity is to obliterate the gospel, for no one less than a true and full human could have borne our penalty. The Savior cannot redeem those aspects of human nature in which He does not participate. Consequently, those who reduce the humanity of Jesus end up reducing the humanity of all humans. They lop off entire segments of normal human existence, calling upon human beings to forsake what God intended them to embrace. They call sinful what God created to be holy and declared to be good. To deny Christ’s humanity is to subvert not only the gospel but the entire system of morals.
Christ possesses two natures, but we must never deny the unity of His person. We do not have a divine Savior and a human Savior. Neither a divine savior nor a human savior could ever be adequate. Only a Savior whose one person comprehends both deity and humanity could bear the guilt of our sins. We have one and only one mediator, the (God-) man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).
Because we must not divide the person of Christ, whatever we can predicate of either nature we can also predicate of the person, according to that nature. To us the results seem paradoxical, but these results are necessary and true. Jesus Christ is infinite, eternal, and omnipresent according to His divine nature. He is finite and limited temporally and spatially according to His human nature. He was before all worlds according to His divine nature; He is the child of Mary according to His human nature. And because the virgin Mary (may we call her the “blessed virgin Mary”—Luke 1:48?) gave birth to the person, and not only the human nature, it is possible and even necessary to speak of her as “God-bearer.”
While we maintain the unity of Christ’s person, we must also maintain the distinctiveness of His natures. His deity was not converted into humanity. Rather, He added a human nature to His eternal divine person. His deity does not replace any part of His humanity (such as His human rational soul or His human will). His deity does not overwhelm His humanity like an ocean of water overwhelms a drop of honey. When Jesus sits upon the throne of David and rules the world through Israel, He will rule as our distant cousin, a fully human King, a genuine son of Abraham and David.
Imponderable? Yes, but necessary and true. Only in Jesus Christ has God actually become human and suffered for human sin. That is why only Jesus Christ can save; there is none other name under heaven given among men by which ye must be saved. And that is why we Christians rejoice so mightily in the Incarnation.
God rest ye merry.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
From East to West
Coelius Sedulius (400–409), tr. John Ellerton (1826–1893)
From east to west, from shore to shore
Let ev’ry heart awake and sing
The holy child whom Mary bore,
The Christ, the everlasting king.
Behold, the world’s creator wears
The form and fashion of a slave;
Our very flesh our maker shares,
His fallen creatures all to save.
For this how wondrously He wrought!
A maiden in her lowly place,
Became, in ways beyond all thought,
The chosen vessel of His grace.
And while the angels in the sky
Sang praise above the silent field,
To shepherds poor the Lord Most High,
the one great Shepherd, was revealed.
All glory for this blessed morn
To God the Father ever be;
All praise to You, O Virgin-born,
And Holy Ghost eternally.