The Person and work of Jesus Christ is continually belittled in this post-postmodern age. Cults and sects would reduce Him to a created being, and an increasingly secular society dismisses Him altogether. But the identity of Jesus Christ is absolutely essential for a genuine Christian Gospel. To preach or believe in any other than the biblical Jesus is eternally fatal.
The opening sentence of the paragraph about Jesus in the Baptist Faith and Message states that Jesus is "the eternal Son of God." Nestled near the end of the paragraph is the assertion that Jesus Christ is "fully God." In both of these statements, the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message stands in continuity with all of the great creeds and confessions of historical Christianity. Scripture itself makes these confessional statements abundantly clear.
The Confession - "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God"
The central confession of the Christian faith was expressed by Peter (Matthew 16:16) and Martha (John 11:27)-Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Whatever else Christians may believe, of greatest importance is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. There is no Christian Gospel absent this confession.
Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, serves as the climactic mid-point of Matthew's Gospel. Upon hearing this confession, Jesus affirmed that this confession did not come from "flesh and blood," but was a revelation given by His Father in heaven (Matthew 16:17). Mark opened his Gospel with the same apostolic teaching-the simple yet profound affirmation: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1).
Part of Luke's strategy early in his Gospel was to point out the significance of the confession that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. In Luke 1:35, the angel announced to Mary that the Son she would bear would be the Son of God. In Luke 2:49, after Jesus had stayed behind in the temple when His parents began their trip home, He explained to them that He had to be about His Father's business. At Jesus' baptism, God the Father declared, You are My beloved Son. I take delight in You! (Luke 3:22). During the temptation narrative, the devil affirmed the essential Sonship of Jesus on two occasions (Luke 4:3, 9). Still very early in His messianic ministry, Jesus was confronted by an evil spirit who cried out that Jesus was the Holy One of God (Luke 4:34). Luke points to this amazing identity in the opening chapters of his Gospel so that the reader will begin to share his conviction that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. By the end of the Gospel, no one is surprised at Jesus' clear answer to the direct question in 22:70 from the chief priests and Pharisees, "Are you the Son of God?"
The apostle John described the purpose for his Gospel in very clear terms: And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name (John 20:30-31, KJV).
The apostolic preaching and teaching in the early church reinforced this fundamental confession time and time again, both in the early sermons of Acts and the didactic passages in the Epistles.
When the Ethiopian eunuch requested baptism, Philip informed him, If you believe with all your heart, you may. The eunuch then confessed, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Acts 8:37). Following Saul's (Paul's) conversion, he immediately preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God (Acts 9:20).
Years later, in one of Paul's high christological affirmations, he made an extraordinary claim: God, through our response in repentance and faith, has delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His dear Son (Colossians 1:13).
The writer of Hebrews expressed similar language in the prologue to his book: In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things and through whom He made the universe. He is the radiance of His glory, the exact expression of His nature, and He sustains all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:2-3).
He goes on to state in 1:8-9, but about the Son: Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the scepter of Your kingdom is a scepter of justice. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; this is why God, Your God, has anointed You, rather than Your companions, with the oil of joy. In these passages, Jesus is clearly identified as the Son of God who is eternal.
Simply stated, the central confession of the Christian faith is the affirmation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
The Deity - "Our God and Savior Jesus Christ"
Many non-Christian groups, including the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, exploit confusion regarding the term "Son" to claim that Jesus is a created being who is inferior to the one true God. Non-Christian groups may hold Jesus in high esteem, but do not confess that He is fully God in the flesh. In our confession as Christians, we embrace the reality that as the Son of God, Jesus is "fully God." According to the Bible, the Person of Jesus and His ability to save - His divine sonship - is grounded in His eternal co-equality with the Father and an affirmation that He is indeed God. When Christians confess that the Son is "of the same essence as the Father"1 they mean that whatever the Father is as God, the Son is as well. Jesus' very being is that of God.
Scripture acknowledges that Jesus, as the Son, is fully God. In the well-known prophetic statement in Isaiah 7:14, God promised the future virgin birth of a Son. What is significant about this promise is that the Son would be called Immanuel, a term translated in Matthew's birth narrative, God with us. There is no denying that in the mind of the biblical writer this Son was fully God. How else could God be "with us" in this Son? Only two chapters later, the promise of a future Son is reiterated. Isaiah 9:6 says this Son will be called the Mighty God, and eternal Father. In other words, the promised Savior in Isaiah is the one true, eternal God.
John's Gospel begins with the affirmation that Jesus Christ is fully God. John refers to Jesus as the "Word" of God. The background to this term is Psalm 33:6, in which the Bible tells us the Word of God created the heavens and the earth. John simply picks up on this idea from the Old Testament that the Word of God was the one who created everything. And, since Genesis 1:1 tells us it is God who created the heavens and the earth, God and His Word must be one and the same being. John's insistence that the Word, who is the Creator from Genesis 1 and Psalm 33:6, became incarnate (verse 14) has the sole purpose of acknowledging that Jesus Christ is fully God.
Paul follows the same line of thinking in his letter to the Colossians in one of the most important and remarkable passages of Scripture. Beginning in verse 15 of chapter 1, Paul claimed that the Son is the image of the invisible God. With this statement the Bible claims that the Son is the way in which God is seen. An image is an exact presentation of something. In other words, the Son is God, not simply someone who looks like God. When a mother looks at a picture of her child, there would be no confusing the picture with the genuine article. A photograph of a daughter may suffice when the father is on a trip away from home, but it is no substitute for her actual presence. Colossians is telling us that when we see Jesus we see God, not just a picture of God.
When Jehovah's Witnesses wish to paint Jesus as a creature, they turn to the end of verse 15, where Jesus is called the firstborn over all creation. But they misunderstand Paul's point - the word for "firstborn" had a rich tradition in Jewish literature as a recognized title for the Messiah. The church fathers uniformly affirmed this messianic reference as pointing to Jesus' priority to creation and His sovereignty over all creation.2 This term does not imply a point of origin, but rather a position of privilege.3 Paul was not suggesting Jesus was born first before all creation, but that He held a privileged position of prominence over all creation, and in verse 16 he details Jesus' role in creation. In other words, after saying that when you see the Son you see God, Paul elaborates further by telling us that the God you see when looking at Jesus is the God of Genesis who created everything that exists.
Paul reiterates the point of Jesus' identity with God in verse 19 when he says that the fullness of deity dwells in him. There is no mistaking the Bible's message in Colossians 1: Jesus is the Creator of the universe and all that is in it. There is one true God, and He is Jesus.
The climax of the biblical affirmation that Jesus Christ is indeed fully God can be found in the great hymn of Christ in Philippians 2:5-11. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ did not think equality with God was something to be grasped, for He was, by nature, the very form of God. Even more telling is the description of the resurrected Jesus. The text says that, having been obedient to the death of the cross, Jesus has been given the Name that is above every other name. This Name is the one at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. What Name is this? Using similar phrasing, Isaiah the prophet foretold this in Isaiah 45:21-24:
Who predicted this long ago? Who announced it from ancient times? Was it not I, the LORD? There is no other God but Me, a righteous God and Savior; there is no one except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. By Myself I have sworn; Truth has gone from My mouth, a word that will not be revoked: Every knee will bow to Me, every tongue will swear allegiance. It will be said to Me: Only in the LORD is righteousness and strength.
The Name to which Jesus has rightful claim is the Name of the LORD, or Yahweh. God revealed His Name to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). In fact, Jesus specifically and boldly proclaimed that very Name when He declared in John 8:58, Before Abraham was, I am. Only in this Name is there salvation (Acts 4:12). And now, the Bible equates Jesus as the LORD. In fact, the Name "Jesus" means "Yahweh is salvation." The incarnate Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and all the other prophets of the Old Testament. He is the prophet greater than Moses, the King greater than David. He is the God who created all things out of nothing by means of His own power. He is the God who promised redemption and then delivered on the promise by His own incarnation. In taking on our humanity He subjected himself to death on the cross and then was raised from death. His resurrection conquered not only sin, but also death and hell, humanity's three-fold enemy since the Fall in the Garden of Eden.
There is but one God to whom we bow the knee and confess our utter devotion. This one God is the God of the Bible Who has made everything that exists, things that are visible and invisible. He created the world and made it inhabitable for human beings. He then created a garden and put two people in it. After their sin He promised offspring who would be the remedy for their sin, the One who would restore their life. This One was the Son, Jesus Christ. As the eternal Son of God, He reveals the Father because they are both God. He is able to redeem us because He is God. And this one true God has a name. His name is Jesus.
In Romans 10, we are told that saving faith is faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In a passage reminiscent of Philippians 2, Paul tells us that to be saved we must confess "Jesus as Lord." The Christian gospel is not a story of the death of a first-century Jewish rabbi. It is not the ethic of a great teacher or a call to follow His perfect example. Instead, it is the message of God at work reconciling us to Himself.4
As Christians, there is one Jesus in whom we are to have faith. He is the God of the Bible, who made us, who reveals Himself to us in Scripture, who took on flesh to die on the cross for us, whose resurrection makes life possible for us, and who is coming again to establish His Kingdom forever through a restoration of His creation. This is Whom we confess. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, fully God, Who for us and our salvation became a man.
1. The Nicene Creed.
2. For an excellent treatment of this term, see J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (Macmillan, 1879; rpt.,Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), pp. 146-150.
3. Richard R. Melick, Jr., "The New American Commentary," Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Broadman Press, 1991), 216.
4. 2 Corinthians 5:19.
Steven A. McKinion is a member of New Covenant Fellowship in Raleigh, North Carolina; and professor of theology and patristics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.