Who is the Son?: Part 2 of a series of essays on the Articles of Religion
by the Rev. Matt Kennedy
Article II: Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile His Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.
The second article has to do with the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Article begins with the usually insignificant word “the.” But, in this case the “the” is a vital one. Christ is not “a” son of the Father. He is not simply one more created being within the realm of created beings. He is unique and singular. He is “the” Son of the Father and to the extent that any one of us may be regarded as children, sons and daughters of God, it is in and through him alone. I am “a” son of God but not by natural birth or by right but by gracious adoption in and through “the” Son Jesus Christ.
It is one of the more difficult truths of the scriptures that human beings are not children of God by virtue of birth. We are certainly all his “creatures,” created in his image and likeness. But we are not, by nature, members of the Father’s household. Humanity has collectively and individually rejected the Father. We have taken our inheritance and spent it on wild living. We are born in and, by nature, choose to remain in the pigsty.
As Paul says in Romans 3:10-18:
“None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Many read this and react defensively or dismissively. “This doesn’t apply to me!” they might say. And yet, God has rendered his perfect judgment:
“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22-23)
Who are we to argue? This is why Paul writes:
“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (3:19-20)
And yet despite our guilt and rebellion, the Father’s offer of sonship/daughterhood remains open and free for all who are willing to repent, receive, and surrender to “the” Son, Jesus Christ. You may, in other words, become “a” son through faith in “the” Son. As John puts it:
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”(John 1:12-13)
Our adoption into the household of God is, then, through the one and only Son of the Father, the only rightful heir and Lord, Jesus Christ.
The Son is described in the second article as “the Word of the Father.” The Son is the “Word.”
The word “Word” comes from the Greek term “Logos.” Logos, in Greek thought, refers not simply to the spoken word but to the ordering or organizing framework of all that is. The Logos is the founding principle of the universal order.
Within a Christian context, the Word, the Logos, takes on both a personal and a divine sense. Indeed, John tells us that the Word is not just a “thing” or a “principle” for framing the created order. The Word is God himself.
1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
The Word of the Father then is not an “it” but a “who.” God made all things through his Son who is the Divine and Personal Word. Creation was the work of God alone, but it was a shared work. God the Father determined to create through God the Son. In Genesis 1:26 God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The “us” points both to the plurality or trinity of Persons in the Godhead and the cooperative work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation.
It is important, before moving on to discuss the word “begotten”, to make a distinction between “being” and “role.” When the Father sends his Son or when the Son and the Father together send the Spirit we, as creatures, as those who receive these gracious gifts, often make analogies to describe the inter-Personal relationships revealed in these acts. These analogies, though they generally reflect human relationships, are quite often true and founded scripturally. The Father “sends” the Son. The Son is “obedient” to the Father. These are not simply a figures of speech. They are biblically true.
The human Jesus, God the Son, did what Adam failed to do. He was perfectly obedient to the Father. But obedience was not and is not simply a function of Christ’s humanity. God the Son, prior to the incarnation, willingly and lovingly submitted submited to the will of Father. The Son has always been his Father’s Son and his obedient Servant. There has never been a time when this was not true.
But while affirming that truth, we cannot lose sight of the substantial equality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is a distinction in the roles the Persons take in creation, redemption, and glorification, but there is no difference in their essence or being. The Persons are of One Substance.
Humans sometimes use terms like “obedience” in ways that point to a basic inequality of being. An obedient dog for example is obviously not equal in being to his master.
But an obedient child (or a disobedient one) is as substantially human as his parent. There is a distinction in role and a real hierarchy or order, but there is not a distinction in being. Both parent and child are fully human. This distinction between being and role also lies behind the biblical distinction between those in authority and those under authority. In Romans 13 Paul commands all believers to submit to the “governing” authorities.” This submission does not imply a superiority of being. Those in authority are not higher beings than those who are not in authority. Rather, they stand in and fulfill an authoritative role.
Though I already had a college degree, I experienced basic training as an enlisted man. My drill sergeant did not have a high-school diploma. He received a GED.
My educational status and, most likely, socio-economic status, were far higher than his. And yet his military rank was such that when he ordered me to spend a full day on my knees turning the pebbles on a pebble-parking lot from one side to the other so that “they could get some sun,” I did what he said. It was good for me.
In one context my status was higher than his and yet in another, his role was much more powerful than mine. But in both contexts we remained “co-equal” in our humanity. The onlydifference between us was the difference in our roles.
I labor this point because it is a crucial one when considering the relationships within the Godhead between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Son is the Word “of” the Father. He is, the second article goes on to say “begotten” of the Father. But this language, language of “generation” and “sending,” does not in any way suggest an inequality of being between the Father and the Son. The word “begotten” is an old word that was once commonly used to refer to the relationship between a human father and his children. A mother “bears” her children. A father “begets” them. The children are, in biblical terms, his “seed”.
It is in something akin to but not altogether like this sense that the scriptures speak of the Son as the only “begotten” Son of the Father. When applied to the Son of God, the word “begotten” does not refer to temporal “origin.” The Father did not “create” the Son. The Son, in his divine nature, is not the “seed” of the Father. The Son has been the only begotten Son from “everlasting” as the Article goes on to say. Rather, “begotten” refers both to the likeness or sameness of being between Father and Son in the same way that it refers to the sameness of “seed” between human fathers and sons and it refers to the eternal, loving, willful, “submission” of the Son to the Father not in being but in role and purpose.
We might also say that, in his human nature, Jesus was indeed “begotten” of the Father in the sense that Jesus’ mother Mary conceived through the power of God without a human father. But this human reference does not fully capture the “everlasting” begotteness of the Son to which the second article refers. The statement that “the Son is begotten of the Father from everlasting” points to the inter-Personal relationship between Father and Son within the Godhead. The Son, to use creedal language, is eternally begotten of the Father. He is eternally of one being with the Father and eternally obedient to him with regard to role.
This relationship is poignantly seen in Jesus’ prayer on the night before his death. Jesus prays to the Father:
“I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:4-5)
The loving, glorifying, obedience of the Son and the everlasting equality of his being with the Father are both manifest in this text.
The second article goes on to explicitly affirm the divine nature of the Son. He is the Word of the Father, eternally begotten. He is “the very and eternal God”. To say that the Son is “very” God is not to say that he is “quite” God or “very much” like God. It is rather to say that he is the one and only or the “true” God. He is the “very” God revealed in the scriptures, “of one substance with the Father.”
We have covered most of this in what has been said above with regard to the equality of being between the Father and the Son but one final thing must be noted before going on. The word “substance” here is simply another way of saying “being” or “essence.” It does not mean “material.” God is spirit, not matter. He took on a body in Jesus Christ. But he took on physicality without altering or transforming his substance.
The Son, in other words, was not “transformed” into a human being. He took on full humanity without losing or changing the nature of his divinity. The One man, Jesus of Nazareth, then, has two fully intact perfect natures: human and divine. In the words of the second Article, the Son:
“took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided,”
The Son’s humanity was taken from his mother Mary. The man, Jesus of Nazareth, was conceived, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in Mary’s womb and of Mary’s flesh. He shared her genes. He may have looked like her, smiled like her, shared her eye-color, skin color, and hair color. He was God the Son and he was the son of Mary.
We need to be careful here to recognize what Jesus was not. He was not a ghost or an apparition He had a real body. Nor was he a “flesh puppet”. He was not an empty covering of flesh fit over a divine being. Nor, finally, was Jesus a “demi-god” or, as one of our parishioners once said, a “were-God”…by which I beleive he meant something like a werewolf. Jesus was not half man-half God. Jesus was fully God, co-equal, co-eternal, and of one being or “substance” with the Father. And he was a full man with a body, soul, spirit, will and emotions.
But, having said that, the article goes on to affirm that the humanity of Jesus is not wholly like our humanity. Jesus’ human nature was “perfect” whereas ours is imperfect. The book of Hebrews reveals that Jesus was like us in every way yet without Sin.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15
Jesus lived his entire life without committing a single sin. But not only did he live without committng sin, Jesus, while sharing our humanity, did not share in our sin nature, our orientation toward sin. Jesus’ humanity was like Adam’s humanity before Adam sinned. Adam was created in the image of God. When he sinned, that image was twisted and marred. It remains so in us. Humans were created with an “orientation” toward God and away from ourselves. But when sin entered the world, that orientation was twisted. Now all human beings are born with an orientation away from God and toward the self.
As David laments, “I was a sinner from the moment my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)
David does not mean that he was doing bad or evil things inside his mother’s womb. He does mean that from the very beginning of life the inclination or impulse or orientation of every human heart, mind, and soul, is toward evil. We are concieved as rebels.
As Paul writes to the Ephesians:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” (Ephesians 2:1-5)
But Jesus was not “by nature [a child] of wrath.” He was wholly undefiled from conception to death and remains so today in his resurrected body.
The sinlessness of Christ is not just another ethereal theological proposition. It is part and parcel of his saving work. God the Son became man not only to die as our substitute, but also to live as our representative. He lived the faithful life Adam failed to live. He fulfilled the call and mission Israel refused to fulfill. He daily trod the obedient path in thought, word, and deed that you and I fail to tread.
When new believers hear of Christ’s sinlessness, they often shrug and say to themselves, “Of course he could do all of this. Jesus is God after all.” This response utterly misses the point. First, Christ, the man, by his perfect faithfulness undid or reversed Adam’s faithlessness so that while we are all by nature born under the curse of Adam and follow in his footsteps, we are by grace through faith reborn under the faithfulness or righteousness of Christ.
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:12-19)
The sinlessness of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, is imputed or credited to all who believe by the grace of God through the instrument of faith. The perfect obedience of Jesus, then, counts before the throne of God as your perfect obedience. God in Jesus not only died in your place. He lived in your place as well. We mustn’t forget that.
The second article goes on to affirm the scriptural record of Christ’s suffering, death and burial.
Jesus, “truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried.” He did not swoon or pass out or fall asleep. He suffered in the body. He was hung on a cross. He truly died and was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. These are vital affirmations in the face of so many contemporary attempts to explain away the resurrection appearances of Christ by denying his death. The Son truly died. He bore the full weight and penalty of sin in his suffering and death and in so doing “reconciled his Father to us.”
The scriptural formulation reverses the one found in the Article. We, says Paul, are reconciled to the Father not the Father to us. But the present formulation is also true. As Paul observes in Romans 1:18, God’s wrath at sin is a present reality. God is holy and just. He will punish sin and sinners to the full extent of the law. The debt that we owe him for the least of our sins is beyond our ability to pay.
We cannot make up for the evil that we have done by doing good. Good deeds do not erase bad ones anymore than not robbing a bank in the future can make up for robbing one in the present. Nor can we expect that our perfectly just God will simply forgive us our sins any more than we would expect the same of an imperfectly just human judge. God is eternally at enmity with sin and sinners are eternally in his debt and subject to his punishment.
But God himself acted in Christ, on our behalf, to put an end to this enmity by bearing in himself the full measure of the Father’s just and holy wrath at our sin. God exhausted his eternal wrath on himself in Jesus Christ. The penalty we could not pay because we are finite, God in Jesus Christ paid because he is infinite. And once the just wrath of God was exhausted on God in Christ, God the Father was “reconciled” through the Son to all those who bend the knee and surrender to Christ. There is, therefore, no condemnation for those who are found in Christ, because Christ was condemned on our behalf.
God in Christ became the one and final “sacrifice” of atonement to which the Old Testament law and prophets point. His death effected our salvation by dealing with both the offense of our “actual sins,” the sins we commit in thought word and dead, and with the “original guilt” that we inherited from Adam, the guilt that made us, as Paul wrote above, “children of wrath.”
We are then, in Christ, no longer children of wrath, but by grace through faith, we have have been made sons and daughters of the Father.
The second article is a glorious one because it deals with our Lord’s identity and, secondly, his saving work. When we read of Christ and his natures, his life and his passion, his death and burial, it ought to evoke both awe and humility: awe at the beauty and wonder of God and humility that he would stoop to take on human nature and die for the sake of those who so willingly and eagerly reject him.