Hope

Hope has been redefined. It has been morphed and melted down from something strong and dependable to something vague and unsubstantial; something that speaks of doubt rather than faith. “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow;” “I hope I pass this exam;” “I hope he’s not mad at me;” or even, “I hope I get away with this.” This sort of “hope” is a mere caricature of true hope, a watered-down, anxiety and guilt-ridden shadow of the real thing. It is not how the Bible presents hope. In the world today hope is the vague glimmer of positivity for the glass-half-empty person, whereas for the biblical writers it was a concrete expression of anticipation for the glass-half-full, whose complete and overflowing fullness is ultimately assured.

Consider how the Bible speaks of hope:
“Hope does not put us to shame” (Rom 5:5)
The hope of salvation is a helmet, part of the full armour of God (1 Thess 5:8; Eph 6:17)
“Full assurance of hope” (Heb 3;11)
“a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Heb 6:19)
“a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3)

What is this hope, which is certain, living and secure? It is the hope of salvation. It is not some elusive wish, a pie-in-the-sky tenuous desire that may or may not come to fruition. It certainly does not rely on us being “good enough” or worthy. Quite the contrary, hope is the acknowledgement that what we are assured of is still future and is something that we look towards with absolute confidence. It is there ahead of us in time, in the hands of a timeless God, ready and waiting for us. That which we anticipate, which we long for, the focus of our hope, is eternal life in perfection with Christ in his consummated Kingdom.

The reason we hope for it is not because it is uncertain, but simply because it has not been fully manifested yet. We have eternal life now, with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee. In Christ we are now justified and are already citizens of the heavenly kingdom (Greek basileia), under the reign (basileia) of God in our lives. This hope, this guarantee is an anchor of our soul because we know that the God who promises our salvation cannot lie and is fully able and willing to bring it to completion. Paul prayed for the Ephesians, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might” (Eph 1:17–19). To the Thessalonians Paul wrote, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:8–9). Paul greeted Titus, “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2).

Notice that the apostles don’t express any doubt about the object of our hope. Their words of encouragement are not directed at God, pleading with him to follow through (“I hope God meant what he said”). Absolutely not! Their words of encouragement are directed at us, those who have every reason to hope in the sure and certain promises of God. We are not to waver, we are not to lose faith. We are to persevere, knowing that the strength to do so lies not with us, but with the God who cannot lie. Hope is not an expression of false modesty as to our worthiness; hope is something to be grasped with absolute confidence because it is anchored to a rock. That rock lies within the veil, in the very presence of Almighty God, whose throne Jesus shares. He has gone before us and laid that anchor, which cannot be moved, no matter what turbulence and storms we face in the seas of our lives.

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf” (Heb 6:17–20).

How can anyone who trusts in Jesus Christ, believing the promises of God, doubt their salvation? Doubt only arises when we forget that the basis of salvation is the work of God; Father, Son and Spirit, not our own work. That is why it is not a case of making ourselves “worthy,” for that is impossible. These exhortations about our hope are not there to make us worry whether we are good enough, as if we could save ourselves. If that were the case, then there would be no hope. Consider the encouragement in these words of hope; for the purpose of these exhortations is to build up our faith in Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation, and to give us courage (“en-courage”) for whatever lies ahead. Hope prompts us to rejoice, and to persevere.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1–5).

The key elements of hope in this passage are that it comes through the work of Jesus Christ, who has justified us and reconciled us to God and given us the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our sonship (2 Cor 1:21–22; 2 Cor 5:4–6). A guarantee makes a promise certain. Paul elaborates on this in Ephesians, having just prayed that they would be enlightened as to their hope, “the riches of his glorious inheritance” (Eph 1:18). Remember, he says, that once they were alienated from God, strangers to the covenants of promise, “having no hope and without God in the world, but now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ, for he is our peace…” for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father and are now fellow citizens and members of God’s household (Eph 2:12–19). Christ reconciled us; tore the veil, broke down the wall, anchored us to the very throne of God in heavenly places. The writer to the Hebrews paints this picture; “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf (Heb 6:19–20). “A better hope [than the law] is introduced, through which we draw near to God” (Heb 7:19). “Let us then hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23). This hope is the same as that which God promised to faithful Israelites, which is why this reconciling work applies to both Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:12–19) and Paul could proclaim, “It is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain” (Acts 28:20).

This hope is a call to endurance and a source of rejoicing (Heb 10:23; Rom 5:3–11; 1 Thess 4:13–18; 2 Thess 2:16–17) Speaking of the hope of salvation, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another, and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess 5:8–11).

The certainty of our hope lies not in ourselves or our efforts, but in the very character of God, as manifested in the person and work of his Son Jesus Christ. This is indeed good news.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person— though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:5–10).

God’s Son came into the world, humbling himself even to death, to do what we could not do for ourselves. He conquered sin in the flesh it which it had always reigned and bore our sins on the cross, redeeming us by his blood. We were ransomed, not by perishable things like silver and gold, “but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you, who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Pet 1:19–21).

Our hope is situated in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God with us, and currently “laid up for you in heaven” (Col 1:5) where Jesus is at the right hand of God, behind the opened veil. We, who have “the firstfruits of the Spirit,” wait eagerly for the bodily completion of our adoption and redemption; “for in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope…but if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8: 23–25). That hope will appear with Jesus and be made a reality. Until then we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us…” (Titus 2:13–14).

Given the certainty of our hope, vested as it is in the unchangeable promises, person and work of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, what should be our response? As the New Testament repeatedly emphasises, good works are the result of, not the cause of our salvation. We are not called to sit on a remote mountain top, navel gazing as we wait passively for his appearing. Nor are we to simply blend in with the world, keeping our hope to ourselves. We have been called to the hope of the glory of Christ by the gospel and are to make this hope known, for it is good news indeed (Col 1:27). “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Thess 2:14). Paul encouraged Timothy to strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, the Saviour (1 Tim 4:10). He reminded Titus that we have been redeemed and purified to be Christ’s own people, “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:13–14). We are to hold fast in our hope (Heb 3:6; 10:23) but not hold still! “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb 6:10–12). Because of our living hope, our imperishable inheritance, we are to prepare our minds for action, setting our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3–5, 13). We are not to be “conformed to the passions of our former ignorance,” but be holy as Christ is holy, knowing the price of our redemption (1 Pet 1:14-21). Peter concludes this exhortation with a reminder that our hope is not in ourselves and our works however, but in God.

Let’s be clear, a works-based view of salvation, which sets its hope in our own abilities to please God, to earn his favour, to add to the all-sufficient work of Christ, is no hope at all. Such a hope is no firmer a base for our lives than the hope that it won’t rain tomorrow, or that someone won’t be too angry with us, or that we get away with our imperfections. If any Christian doubts their assurance of salvation, the reality of the hope set before them, they should reflect on where their hope is actually placed. Are they clutching the strong rope of the anchor which holds firm in the holy place, or relying on themselves? Is a lack of faith in Christ’s work a result of a lack of understanding of, and faith in him, as “our great God and Saviour,” the one who  has by his blood redeemed, reconciled and justified us and will bring us to the certain hope of glory?

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation” (Psa 42:5 )

Obedience, Full and Free

Given the New Testament’s emphasis on salvation as a free gift of grace, which we can by no means earn, and the assurance we have in Christ, it’s not surprising that some might think this contradicts the notion of obedience. The Bible, after all, is full of commandments and imperatives. These range from the requirements of the Law, which were specific to the Israelite theocracy of the Old Testament, to the commandments of Christ; do to others as you would have them do to you. Little wonder that the ignorant opponents of the Gospel accused Paul of antinomianism (Romans 3:8). Paul’s response was to vigorously deny that grace was in any way a licence for sin or slackness concerning obedience. “What then, are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Rom 6:15). But extremism can work both ways. In the medieval church, and in moralist or legalistic denominations through the ages and down to today, there can be such an emphasis on the necessity for obedience that it becomes seen as the means of salvation, rather than the response to salvation.

The Law was given to the theocracy of Israel, to teach God’s ways and principles, to separate them from the nations as an example. The Law draws attention to sin, but it cannot save, because no one is able to keep it, other than the Lord Jesus Christ. He kept it perfectly for us with the result that we are now dead to the Law, and under grace (Rom 3:19–24; 8:1–4; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 2:8–9).

Yet we are still commanded not to sin, and have been given, if anything, stricter precepts by which to live (Rom 6:12–14; 14:23). Because it’s not enough just to refrain from murder; we must refrain from the brooding hatred and jealousy that can lead to murder. We are not just to refrain from overt sexual immorality, but from lustful thoughts and desires (Matt 5:19–22, 27–29). “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1–2; 1 John 3:4–9).

Which brings us to the issue of obedience. “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam 15:22) even though sacrifices were part of the obedience required of Israelites. Is this a contradiction? How can we be fully justified by grace, apart from works, and yet still be required to obey? “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). Here obedience seems to be a prerequisite for salvation, however that interpretation would ignore the first part of the verse, that to believe is the key to eternal life. The problem only arises if we force a dichotomy between belief and obedience. In the New Testament, particularly in John’s writings, belief and obedience are inseparable, because belief (faith; same word) is not mere intellectual subscription to theological concepts or a list of propositions, but belief IN Jesus Christ. Belief IN Jesus necessarily involves a change of behaviour, that results from a genuine relationship with him. The work of God IS faith in Jesus (John 6:28–29) and genuine faith will always be demonstated by obedience (John 13:34–35; James 2:17–22). Right behaviour and obedience to Christ is the expected flow-on from being in Christ, indwelt by the Spirit and “equipped for every good work” (Gal 5:22–25; 2 Thess 2:16–17; 2 Tim 3:16–17). This doesn’t mean we will never sin, this side of perfection, but it is no longer a way of life. We do not continue in sin (Rom 6:11–18; 1 John 3:4–9) but in sanctification. But if and when we do fail him, and sin, there is forgiveness, because we have an Advocate with the Father and the cleansing blood of Jesus whitens our soiled garments anew (1 John 1:7–10; 2:1).

The difference between legalistic obedience and the fruit of the Spirit comes down to a focus on internals rather than externals. Ritual obedience to sacrificial laws, tithes and ritual cleanliness are useless and even offensive, if the heart is not right with God. Without right motives, the greatest works are pathetic posturing (Amos 5:21–24; Matt 7:21–23; Luke 11:42; 18:9–14; 1 Cor 13;1–3). This is why the New Covenant had to involve more than prescriptive behaviour and external obedience. It had to address the heart, for that is the origin of evil (Mark 7:20–23; James 1:14–15). “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33).

What motivates obedience? Essentially it comes down to one of two things; fear or love. A child might obey his parents out of fear of consequences; being spanked, or having privileges revoked. But every parent would prefer that the child obeyed out of love for the parent, trusting that the parent actually has the child’s best interests at heart. Obedience through fear of consequences can be powerful for a time, but it is an immature form of obedience. The parent wants the child to mature in order to discern potential dangers for themselves and make sensible choices. The same applies to moral choices. The parent hopes the child will learn to not hit her sister, out of love for her sister, rather than fear of consequences. When an adolescent turns 18 his parents hope he will have an adequate moral foundation to not drink recklessly or be sexually immoral, even though those things are now “legal” for him. Similarly, there are laws prohibiting drink-driving, speeding, theft, murder and so on. These laws are established for the good of society. It would be great if every citizen obeyed the laws all the time out of common sense, moral decency and a love for country and fellow citizens. Moral people actually do this; they restrain selfish impulses because they realise that crimes do not help the greater good. They obey laws out of love rather than fear of consequences. Nevertheless, in any society there are people who put themselves above the law, and their interests ahead of the common good. That is why we have a judiciary system, to punish offenders. For a proportion of society, it is only fear of consequences that keeps them on the right side of the law. Even people who would never dream of stealing or murdering might only be restrained from speeding because of fear of a fine.

Likewise, God set rules for Israel, and because he knew their immaturity, he set down clear consequences for obedience and disobedience (Deut 28). He set before them life and death, good and evil. He literally put the fear of God into them. Sometimes that worked for a time, but not in the long run. They obeyed when it suited them, and reverted to cycles of sin, punishment and repentance, only to sin again, as the book of Judges attests. The problem was, fear is a poor long term motivator for devotion. What God really wanted was Israel’s love. He wanted them to obey him as a child loves, honours and obeys a loving Father. He wanted them to understand that,

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust… But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments” (Psalm 103:13–18).

He appealed to them on this basis: “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name.” (Mal 1:6). By putting his law into our hearts, and establishing us as his sons through adoption in Christ, the game has changed. Our obedience springs not from fear, but from the vigorous, empowering motivation of love.

God’s love is the cause of our justification and sanctification, not its result. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Greater love has no one than this, that Christ laid down his life for his friends (John 15:12–14). We are his friends if we do whatever he commands us, which we will if we genuinely believe IN him. Paul tells us “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Was this because we were already obedient? No! “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…. but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We have already been justified (declared not guilty) by his blood, saved by him from the wrath of God (against the children of disobedience Eph 5:6), so we are not motivated by fear.

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom 5:5–11). We are reconciled NOW, not after a lifetime of endeavour. Because we are now God’s children in Christ, we have the sure and certain hope of being fully conformed to his Son. We are Spirit-indwelt, and Spirit-enabled. Because of this we are motivated and empowered as never before, to obey. He has sent the Spirit of adoption into our hearts whereby we can cry “Abba, Papa,” (Rom 8:11–17) and progress from an immature, fear-based obedience which seeks to impress by works, to a now-natural, genuine, obedience from love. See how all this comes together in John’s first letter; our themes of obedience, not continuing in sin, belief IN Jesus, being children of God, abiding in him and overcoming.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are… Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure… No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:1–10).

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:15–21).

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world —our faith. (1 John 5:1–4)

To insist that obedience is somehow the foundation of salvation, and the means by which God is coerced or persuaded to love us, is to promulgate a different gospel (Gal 1:6–9). Legalism is obedience from fear, and is no gospel at all. The true Gospel of Christ is the Gospel of love. To love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves, is the sum of every commandment, the motivation and enabling of true obedience.

Yes, the Gospel alone can save

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel,” proclaimed the Apostle Paul, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

This statement at the beginning of his letter to the Romans summarises what Paul will show the gospel to be; a mighty work of grace that is solely the work of God, to be received by sinners holding out the empty hands of faith, knowing they cannot do anything to add to it.

The gospel, or euaggelion, means good news, the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. It is called the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1, Rom 1:9; 2 Cor 4:4; 9:13; 10:14; Gal 1:7; Phil 1:27) the gospel of the kingdom (Matt 4:23) the gospel of God (Rom 1:1; 1 Thess 2:2) the gospel of peace (Eph 6:15) and the gospel of grace (Acts 20:24). The corresponding verb, euaggelizo, means to proclaim good news (Luke 2:10; 16:16; 1 Pet 1:25). The same gospel was proclaimed and taught by Jesus and the apostles, in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises (Luke 4:17–19; Acts 8:35; 13:32; Gal 3:8; 1 Pet 1:12). Jesus is central to the whole biblical narrative, or “salvation history” from Genesis to Revelation. The early church exegetes saw Jesus as the great interpreter of Scripture, the antitype to which everything in the Scriptures pointed and in whom they found ultimate fulfillment. On the road to Emmaus, the risen Christ gently berated his disciples for failing to understand this, “and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Earlier he had stated to the Jews that Moses wrote about him and that the Scriptures witness to him (John 5:39, 46).

There is only one true gospel, that of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and his kingdom. Paul was adamant on this point; it is his purpose for writing to the Galatians. They had turned from “the grace of Christ” to “a different gospel, not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal 1:6–7). Paul finds this “astonishing” because the gospel he preached to the Galatians was not man’s gospel, but one he received through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:11–12). So significant is this point of a single, true , God-given gospel that Paul states, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8–9). Strong words! But then nothing less than the glory of God and their very salvation was at stake.

What was it that was so central to the gospel that the Galatians had missed? When Jesus preached the gospel he accompanied it with healing and blessing. It was a gospel of reconciliation, of healing and peace, a foretaste of the consummation of the kingdom of God. Jesus brought the kingdom, or reign of God, into the world because he is its king, and one day that kingdom will fill the earth. The gospel is for all nations, for the Jew first and also for the Gentile (Luke 2;10–11; Matt 24:14; Acts 15:7; Rom 1:14–16; Gal 2:7; Col 1:23; Rev 14:6). It is a gospel of peace (Eph 6:15) because it is the means of peacemaking, or reconcilation between God and humankind, and there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved (Luke 2:11–14; Acts 4:12; 10:36; Rom 5:1).

Jesus accomplished many interrelated things in his great work upon the cross, and central to his reconciling work are both the tearing of the veil that restricted approach to the Holy God, and also destroying the barriers between Jew and Gentile. For Jews under the Law, the only way to please God according to the Law was to keep it in every detail, which of course is impossible. The Gentiles were even worse off, they were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). The gospel changes all that. Paul continues:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father (Eph 2:13–18).

The new covenant in Christ, which is the essence of the gospel, can bring this reconciliation for all, because it is not based on human works. It is the gospel of grace. Paul opens his letter to the Romans by introducing himself as “set apart for the gospel of God… concerning his Son… through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom 1:1–5). Later in the letter, Paul reminds them “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Rom 5:1–2). In Ephesians, Paul makes it even more explicit: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8–9).

This is the heart of the gospel; salvation by grace, appropriated by faith, without any contribution of human works. As Paul goes on to explain in Romans, after his damning indictment of sinful humanity:

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:20–24).

This was what the Galatians had departed from. They had been enticed back to the works of the law, adding to the gospel of Christ. They had become persuaded that Christians should be circumcised, a work of the flesh, which Paul points out made them a debtor to the whole law and disqualified them from grace.

Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified… For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith — just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Gal 2:16–3:7)

Returning to those opening words from Paul, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” we see how the gospel is the power to save both Jew and Gentile. It is precisely because it is a gospel of grace and faith, not of works. Because the power to save is all of God, it is absolutely assured.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:1–4).

To try to add anything to the gospel, to add anything to the work of Christ, is to say that the gospel is not good enough, that the work of Christ is not good enough. It is to make salvation a human accomplishment, which is impossible. It is to base salvation on human works, human “righteousness” which is a garment of filthy rags (Isa 64:6).

The gospel is the power of God for salvation. It is the good news that salvation is in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. What would the Apostle Paul say to those who subscribe to the Christadelphian Statement of Faith,  then, which lists as a Doctrine to be Rejected, #24, “that the Gospel alone will save, without obedience to Christ’s commandments”? This flies in the face of all that Paul says about the gospel. It adds works to the gospel. It makes salvation a human achievement; only those who have obeyed the commandments will be saved. To this a Christadelphian might respond, that they are the commandments of Christ and he did not issue them in vain. That of course is true, and to ignore the commandments and teachings of Christ would be antinomianism, of which, ironically, Paul was accused! (Rom 6:1–2)

Obedience is our loving response to all that Christ has done for us. Obedience doesn’t save us, works don’t save us. Salvation is by grace on the basis of the work of Christ, received by faith. As Paul explains in Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph 2:8–10). Good works are the response to salvation, not the means of salvation. In Christ Jesus we have been created for good works, enabled by the Spirit to bring forth his fruit.

A Christadelphian might respond, yes, I believe all that, I believe I am saved by grace, not works. In fact, many Christadephians do believe this. They do have the right perspective on the means of salvation, yet that is not what their basis of fellowship states. To become a Christadelphian, in most ecclesias, one has to assent to the Statement of Faith and reject the Doctrines to be Rejected, in order to be baptised and to enjoy fellowship. The Statement of Faith is very detailed; thirty positive affirmations and thirty-six negative affirmations. Some of them are broad and foundational, a number are anachronistic and some are difficult even for many Christadelphians to accept. But to deny that the gospel alone can save, that works are required, is to preach another gospel, and what would Paul say to that?

Jesus plus ………. (insert your preference)

A low view of Christ results in a low view of his work and denies his sufficiency. A high view of Christ exalts his person and work and rejoices in his sufficiency. The Apostle Paul clearly understood this. Sometime in the late 50s or early 60s, Paul wrote to the Colossian church from prison. He had heard of false teachers at Colossae, and although it is not specified exactly who they were, we can deduce some elements of their teaching from Paul’s response. Evidently, they had a lower view of Christ than Paul taught in his gospel. This is clear from his magnificent proclamation of the supremacy of Christ in all things, in chapter 1.

[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:15–20).

There may have been some Greek philosophical elements, perhaps even proto-Gnostic, in the Colossian heresy. This is suggested on the basis of references to “hidden wisdom and knowledge” (2:3; sophia kai gnosis apokpyphoi) asceticism (2:23) fullness (1:19, pleroma) and the “elemental principles of this world (2:8,20). Gnosticsm was concerned with a hierarchy of heavenly mediators or “aeons,” which bridged the gap between the divine perfection of pure spirit and the evil world of created matter. Paul’s presentation of Christ as the divine Creator, sole intermediary and the fullness (pleroma) of the Godhead certainly puts the lie to such an understanding of God for the Colossians. But there were also Judaistic elements at Colossae, given the references to circumcision (2:11; 3:11) and “human tradition” (2:8) Sabbath and other regulations about uncleanness and dietary laws (2:16, 21). Religious syncretism was common in the Graeco-Roman world so some heresy involving both Jewish and Gnostic elements would be conceivable. Perhaps there wasn’t a structured or clearly delineated heresy at all, but Paul is emphasising that the Colossians were vulnerable to worldly attitudes and influences of the day. That the majority of the church had not erred from the Way is evident from his praises of their faith and love (1:4) and his confidence that in Christ they shared redemption (1:12–14).

Whatever the nature of the specific false teachings in first century Colossae, Paul’s response has timeless application. His central message in this letter is that Jesus is supreme and therefore Jesus is sufficient. There is no scope to add anything to Christ’s completed work. In every generation and setting, the natural impulse of Christians, being only human, is to try to add something to Christ. Grace is hard to swallow because it glorifies the giver, not the bankrupt and undeserving recipient.

I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (Col 2:4–10).

Christ Jesus is Lord, in whom the whole fullness of Deity dwells bodily; in him alone we are complete, filled to the brim. This means nothing else is required. No other rules or authorities (Col 2:10) no rituals such as circumcision (2:11, 13) no special laws or restrictions about food or drink or religious festivals or holy days (2:16) no ascetic practices or other mediators or special visions (2:18) no restrictive practices (2:21–22). In other words, don’t try to add anything to Christ. We are not saved by “Christ plus the Law,” or “Christ plus circumcision” or “Christ plus self-denial” or “Christ plus special spiritual experiences.” As the Casting Crowns song, Who am I?  puts it, we are saved, “Not because of who I am but because of what You’ve done; not because of what I’ve done, but because of who You are.”

It is all too easy to condemn Christian denominations and groups through the ages, for adding special rituals such as penance, or ecstatic second blessings like speaking in tongues, or ascetic denunciation of marriage or possessions, whilst we are quietly slipping into errors of the same kind. Whenever a church insists, either in writing, or from the pulpit or even by implication or by cold-shouldering non-conformists, that a certain attitude, language, appearance, practice or life style is expected of its members, they are guilty of adding to Christ. It becomes “Christ plus specified Bible studies/Bible versions,” “Christ plus this manner of dress,” “Christ plus certain respectable occupations,” “Christ plus this style of music,” “Christ plus the writings of the Pioneers of our denomination,” or “Christ plus this manner of worship/order of service.” Such errors come from “not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (Col 2:19).

Christ is supreme, all God’s fullness dwells in him. He is the head of the church and we are complete in him. Nothing else needs to be added, certainly not any human traditions or “works” designed to please or impress. To rely on such extras is to rely on “things that all perish as they are used; human precepts and teachings” (Col 2:22). Not only does this deny the sufficiency of Christ’s work, but it sets up a sham appearance of wisdom. It is hypocrisy, it promotes self-made religion and is “of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col 2:22–23).

The reason the Law failed to bring all humankind to God is not because the Law was foolish or inadequate, it was because we are (Rom 7:7–12). The Law functioned to emphasise sin, to draw it out into the harsh scrutiny of daylight. To force an acknowledgement that no one can be justified by works. We can only be justified by grace through faith in the all-sufficiency of the One who bore our sins and made atonement for us (Rom 3:19–28). If the holy and righteous and good Law of God could not justify sinners, how could we possibly expect any man-made traditions, rules or added extras to? Such hypocritical insistence on conformity to “human precepts and teachings” may give “an appearance of wisdom” but has no effect on the heart. The “indulgence of the flesh” is not constrained by rules, but by the Law of God written on our hearts, which only comes about through the new covenant in Christ (Jer 31:31–34).

Paul affirms a better way to the Colossians than “Christ Plus Something.” He addresses the inner response of the heart, for if we have indeed been raised with Christ then we will seek the things which are above, not things on the earth (Col 3:1–2). “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3). We have to put to death the things of the earth in which we once walked, but not merely through outward conformity. Paul puts the emphasis deep with in us, in what comes out of our hearts. Jesus said,

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matt 15:19–20).

Paul’s list of defilements is remarkably similar; sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry… anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk… lying (Col 3:5, 8, 9). These things are all to be “put off” like a filthy garment, and replaced with “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:12–14). Certainly these are manifested in outward actions, for God has saved us by his grace to do good works which he has prepared for us (Eph 2:8–10). But it is not these outward acts which save us. Rather they are the response to our gracious redemption. They come from the inside, from a Gospel-changed heart. The empowerment to do this comes not from our own strength, or from externally imposed rules, but because Christ rules in our hearts, his word indwells us richly and we do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Eph 3:15–17).

We are complete in him. We need nothing else and no one else but Christ to be acceptable to God. As soon as we decide that Christ is not sufficient and we have to add legalism, Paul says we are accursed, because that’s not the gospel (Gal 1:8). For the Galatians and, apparently, the Colossians, it was circumcision, which opened the way to indebtedness to the whole Law. For the Corinthians, it was following certain leaders, the “Pioneers” of their faith (1 Cor 1:11–17) and desiring certain “superior” spiritual gifts (1 Cor 14) not realising that it was solely the Spirit’s choice how such gifts were distributed. James rails against those who show favouritism to those who can afford to dress up for church (James 2;1–4), whereas Paul reminds Timothy that we should not dress up for church (1 Tim 2:9–10). Jesus warns against self-promotion and making a show of spirituality, or thinking ourselves better than others (Matt 6:5; Luke 18:9–14;1 Cor 1:26–31).

God forbid we should judge each other by outward appearances, consider ourselves better than our brothers and sisters, or impose man-made rules as a basis for acceptance into fellowship, for then we would hardly understand what fellowship actually is. God forbid we should think we can earn salvation by our works. God forbid that we should place any one or anything at the head of our body other than Christ. And God forbid that we should endeavour to add anything to the all-sufficient work of Christ, in whom alone we are complete.

An Interview: Talking about God, Jesus and discovering truth

Yesterday evening I had the privilege of being interviewed By the Pneuma Hermenutics Group about Christadelphians, the Trinity and my own journey of faith and scriptural rediscovery. I was asked about how and why I came to change my views about God and Jesus. Although the interview ran a little more loosely than set out here, these are the questions and the answers which I prepared.

1. How did you become a Christadelphian?
My parents were Christadelphians and I was brought up in that denomination, going to Sunday School and youth group and attending the Sunday services, being part of the community. I was baptised when I was 17.

2. How did you view Jesus while you were a Christadelphian?
I subscribed to the Christadelphian view of the Godhead, which is that Jesus is fully human, the son of Mary by a miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit such that God was Jesus’ Father. This means denial that Joseph was the human father of Jesus. I believed Jesus was not God incarnate and did not pre-exist before his conception, except in the mind and purpose of the Father and was not the agent of creation (contra Jehovah’s Witnessess). Christadelphians believe that Jesus has only one nature, the human, however in some way that is never clearly articulated, he was empowered to be sinless as a result of also being God’s Son, but his accomplishment was essentially by his own effort.

3. What made you question Christadelphian beliefs?
I accepted the Christadelphian interpretation and the arguments against mainstream Trinitarian doctrine — or at least what was presented as Trinitarian doctrine. The arguments seemed very reasonable, and very scriptural, and it must be admitted, the whole Christadelphian doctrinal package is consistent within itself. That means if you question one part of the complex edifice, you have to question nearly all of it, which is difficult.
However, I became increasingly uneasy with the Christadelphian assertion that the church began to deviate from apostolic teaching almost immediately after the death of the apostles and that the apostasy persisted unchecked until the full truth was rediscovered in the mid 19th century by John Thomas, the Christadelphian founder. It seemed to me incredible that God would have allowed 1900 years’ worth of Christians to perish from false doctrine and that generations of sincere and educated seekers after truth, with a high view of scripture, could have been ignorant of the truth until this man came along with no particular gifted insight or Spirit inspiration and finally got it right. I became increasingly unconvinced by arguments that mainstream Christians were willfully ignorant, or biased by church authority and tradition, or simply didn’t read their Bibles enough, especially as I began to engage with the wider Christian community.

I began to question whether Christadelphians really had it right, whether we were the only ones who really read and understood Scripture free from traditional biases, and whether we were correctly representing the beliefs of mainstream Christians which we so vehemently rejected. That discomfort and curiosity led me to go to Bible College to learn more about mainstream doctrines and to study Scripture, original languages and church history in depth. This study, along with a lot of prayerful reading, led me to two conclusions.
Firstly, that the Christadelphian position arises from an inappropriate hermeneutic that leads to a downplaying of the role of Jesus in the biblical salvation narrative. Secondly, Christadelphians consistently misrepresent mainstream Trinitarian doctrine when they argue against it, which means they haven’t proved their case at all. When I began to understand how the whole Bible must be understood with the incarnation in a central and defining position, and understood what the Trinitarian concept of the Godhead actually was and where it came from, scripturally and historically, I adopted this position and rejected the Christadelphian position.

4. After starting to question Christadelphian beliefs, how long did it take you to come to a Trinitarian view of God, and how did it happen?
It didn’t happen quickly, and it was no easy decision. I think I had subliminally been questioning the premise of some beliefs, such as the exclusivity of having “the truth,” for a long time. When I had children of my own in my early 30s it really brought home to me the need to set them on the right path. As I mingled with more mainstream Christians particularly through the godly people I met at the girls’ school I began to see Christadelphianism in a different perspective. Eventually that led to me beginning Bible College, in my late 30s. I still remained in the Christadelphian community but felt increasingly on the outer. It is very hard to break free from communities like the Christadelphians because they provide such a solid community, long standing friendships and powerful loyalty ties. These are positive things, and I certainly did not experience the ostracism which some others have. Nevertheless, questioning of doctrines is not welcomed, although I resigned voluntarily well before the issue of disfellowship would have arisen. Family circumstances were such that we moved away from the community in which I had grown up and in hindsight this was a blessing. It relieved me of the pressure of defending still imperfectly formed beliefs whilst still in the community, and the potential for friction that would have caused. I had freedom to visit other churches and complete my studies. I was in my early 40s when I recommitted myself to the Lord with a genuine understanding of his person and work and formally resigned from the Christadelphians.

5. What role did Trinitarian Christians play in your conversion?
I believe that God was teaching me from his word, but he also brought me within the orbit of some wise and Godly Christians. What I respected most was a lack of aggressive argument; no one attacked me or tried to “convert” me, I was just gently and convincingly led to the truth. I was accepted into Bible College even though I was open about my background. I was there to learn, not to push my own ideas. I also associated with a number of very Godly people who taught by example and demonstrated how beautifully integrated their lives were with their doctrines. I felt ashamed of the arrogance with which I had formerly argued my Christadelphian position and the way I had looked down on those who thought differently. I learnt a tremendous amount from my Bible College tutors and by reading Christian authors such as Don Carson, John Stott, Millard Erickson, Wayne Grudem and Gerald Bray. I know that lot of people prayed for me and that was very encouraging. But ultimately, conversion is a work of God and I can look back and see his influence.

6. Which specific passages convinced you of the full ontological deity of Jesus Christ?
It’s difficult to narrow down; it was more a change in how I viewed Scripture and how I changed my hermeneutic from an Old Testament dominated, verse-by-verse approach to a more contextualised approach that identified the centrality of Christ as the foundation of the biblical message. I already had a good head knowledge of Scripture, but I had been looking at it entirely the wrong way. Surprisingly, the most convincing passages were not the key Trinitarian “proofs” that I had been schooled to refute, and had believed critical to demolishing the doctrine. A lot of it was seeing how the New Testament writers applied the Old Testament scriptures about God to Christ, as well as examining what Jesus said about himself and how astounding those claims which he makes are. For example, Hebrews 1 exalts the Son as God by quoting Old Testament referents to God as applicable to Christ. John 12:39–41 states that Isaiah’s vision of God in ch 6 was a vision of Christ. Jesus is worthy of worship, a prerogative of God alone throughout the Old Testament, the God who will not share his glory with another. Jesus takes up the names, descriptors and prerogatives of YHWH and when the promised Lord God shows up to redeem his people, it’s Jesus.

Another factor was looking at the New Testament in the original Greek and realising that key words and phrases actually conveyed different concepts from what I had previously thought. Examining the depth and breadth of Paul’s use of the title kyrios, Lord, was eye-opening, as was a consideration of the root of the “I AM” sayings in Isaiah. Another important aspect was understanding the essential link between Christ’s work and his person. When I understood the nature of the atonement and how essential it was for the incarnate Son to be our Saviour, everything fell into place.

7. How did this change in theological conviction affect your family life?
As a member of a couple of ex-Christadelphian discussion groups, I am aware that some people have had a very difficult time leaving the community, whether voluntarily or being excommunicated, and this has had a profoundly negative effect on their families. I have been very blessed in this respect, the experience was almost entirely positive. My mother remained a staunch Christadelphian (my father was already dead) and she was worried about me going to Bible College. She hoped I wouldn’t be led astray from what she deeply held to be “the truth.” She died before I really changed my core beliefs, so I never had a chance to properly articulate what I now believe, and why. I would have wanted her to read my book, and I am confident she would have done so. My children grew up learning the Bible and have fond memories of Christadelphian Sunday School. By the time they needed to be thinking more doctrinally, we had already changed our church affiliation. I think the effect on my family would have been significant if we had not happened to have moved interstate, or if the children had been old enough to appreciate the life-changing paradigm shift I was undergoing. I took care to shield them from that at the time, but am open about it now they are older. I still regard a number of Christadelphians as friends, but a lot of them have distanced themselves from me. Part of that is the tyranny of distance, but I think many of them feel threatened and they truly believe I have apostasised and that consequently my opinions aren’t worth considering.

8. What is your advice to those who doubt the deity of Christ?
Firstly, challenge your assumptions. If you belong to a non-mainstream denomination or sect, think hard about the reasonableness of your group being the only ones to have discovered “the truth.” Do you really think that the founders and leaders of your group have better scriptural insight, read the Bible more, or have some special giftedness or revelation that justifies such a major doctrinal difference with the mainstream church over the centuries? Do you really understand enough about how the doctrines you criticise were debated and articulated from the earliest days of the church, and how Christians have wrestled with understanding and explaining these concepts? Do you really think that all mainstream Christians through the ages rejected the Bible in favour of superstition? If so many wise and godly and knowledgeable scholars made such a fundamental mistake, could not your own founders and leaders have been fallible too? Be prepared to break out of your comfort zone.

Secondly, make sure that you actually correctly understand any doctrine, such as the Trinity, that you critique. Most Christadelphian material on the Trinity actually profoundly misrepresents the doctrine. It refutes something that is not the way the Trinity is actually understood, but more like Apollinarianism or Docetism. If you take the time to study the arguments for the Trinity as presented by Trinitarian theologians, not by other anti-trinitarians, you will notice the difference. It’s a courtesy to allow someone a fair hearing.

Thirdly, try to read the Scriptures afresh, asking different questions of the text than you are probably used to. We are told to exalt the Lord Jesus and honour him as we honour the Father (John 5:23). What does that look like? Read through the New Testament specifically looking for passages, in context, that exalt Jesus and that describe his relationship to the Father. Think about how radical they must have seemed to the first readers and therefore what the text is actually claiming. Look at the original context of Old Testament passages that are applied to Jesus in the New Testament, and see how they originally applied to YHWH God. Appreciate how Jesus fulfils all that God said he himself would do. When you read about the workings of the Holy Spirit, think about whether the best fit is someone personal, or an impersonal force.

9. What were the major obstacles that you had to overcome in order to accept the Trinitarian view of God, and how did you overcome them?
Interestingly, when I came to understand what the doctrine of the Trinity really expressed and not what I thought it did, the “problem” passages were no longer problematic. For example, great stress is laid on the humanity of Christ in Christadelphian circles. I used to think that this discounted Jesus being fully God, and that to believe the Trinity was to deny the full humanity of Christ, for which there is so much scriptural evidence. When I realised that the correct understanding of the Godhead and the person and work of Christ requires the full humanity of Christ, the problem simply went away. Similarly with coming to grips with the unity of the Godhead as being intrinsic to, and not adverse to, the correct understanding of the Trinity.

But I think, deep down, the hardest part was accepting that I had been wrong for much of my life, and that the tradition in which I had grown up, and the beliefs of people I still loved and respected were wrong. In our pride we tend to kick against that. Another difficult thing for Christadelphians, which I experienced, was the idea that to adopt the Trinity was to apostasise, to adopt all that was and had been wrong with “the church” throughout the ages. It was viewed akin to becoming a medieval Roman Catholic and believing in indulgences! That’s partly because there isn’t a very nuanced understanding among Christadelphians of differences in doctrine and practice in wider Christianity, they can all be lumped together as “Christendom Astray.” To make Christ equal to the Father was seen as blasphemous, a very serious doctrinal error, particularly for a group that insists that correct doctrine (in enormous detail) is essential for salvation. You can’t undertake such a change lightly. What helped me was a reliance on God to reveal his will to me through perseverance with the Scriptures, and accept his steady directing and enlightening. Seeing that Trinitarians loved the Bible, knew it well and handled it aright was important.

10. Which were the major passages that you once considered as a major challenge to the doctrine of the Trinity, and how do you think about them now?
Probably the main ones were those which can be taken to imply a sort of adoptionism, that the human Christ had to undergo a testing and proving of himself before exaltation (Acts 2:22, 36; 17:31; Rom 1:4; Heb 1:9). Also those that demonstrated the functional subordination of the Son which can so easily be misinterpreted as ontological inferiority (John 14:28; 1 Cor 11:3; John 7:16). If these passages are considered in isolation, and from a predetermined non-Trinitarian perspective, they can be very convincing. We can tend to overlook or downplay passages that testify to the Son’s supremacy, preexistence and ascriptions of deity, explaining them way or interpreting them metaphorically. For example, Christadelphians assert, Christ pre-existed only “in the mind and purpose of the Father” and he is only permitted to be worshipped as God now that he is exalted. When I realised that Scripture should not be treated that way, and that Scripture should be allowed to explain Scripture, not having to “explain away” certain passages, the troublesome passages could be seen in context as not troublesome at all. I want to stress that the hermeneutic is key in all of this. As I said before, other passages that Christadelphians think are challenging to the Trinity, such as God is one and Christ as fully human, actually do not challenge the doctrine, when it is correctly understood.

11. What role should church history play in our conviction about the Trinity?
This is a very important question. Christadelphians have a low view of the value of church history and remain largely ignorant of it. They selectively cite historical theological writings to demonstrate what they believe is a continual deviation from the second century away from apostolic doctrine and practice (for example, the succession of creeds). They at times cite other non-trinitarian historical groups as their predecessors, sometimes assuming that these groups thought the same as Christadelphians in all major doctrinal areas.
For me, church history was enlightening. I was struck by the consistency of belief, from the very earliest times, in the deity of Christ. I came to see how the theological development and the articulation of doctrine came about largely as a response to various needs and heresies within the church, and creeds must be interpreted in light of the purpose for which they were written. They are not meant to replace scripture Doctrinal statements and expositions need to be appraised in terms of their scriptural basis and the historical context of their development. For example, if it is understood that the phrasing of the Chalcedonian Definition is designed to counteract specific heresies, it can be rightly understood as defining boundaries, rather than promulgating a new “apostasy.” Also, Christadelphians should be wary of alleging continuity of doctrinal conviction with other groups, to bolster their theological position and underplay its uniqueness. It is important to know all there is to know about those other groups. For example, it was once common to find Christadelphians alleging great commonality of doctrine with the Anabaptists, but this has now been thoroughly debunked. But we should be careful not to fall into the trap of placing church tradition above scripture, and believing that a doctrine such as the Trinity must be true primarily because the church has always taught it.

12. Which were the least convincing arguments from the Trinitarian side?
The least convincing arguments were those that were based on wrong ideas about non-trinitarian views! It works both ways. If Trinitarians try to argue against a Christadelphian or Jehovah’s Witness position with simplistic verse-by-verse polemics and an inadequate or inaccurate understanding of the beliefs they try to combat, it is every bit as bad as non-trinitarians attacking an inaccurate doctrine of the Trinity. For example, insisting that all non-trinitarians must believe that Joseph was the natural father of Jesus is plain wrong; Christadelphians don’t believe that. The least convincing arguments for the Trinity are typically the most simplistic, decontextualised, proof-texting arguments, such as repeating Jesus’ claim that “My Father and I are One,” as if that’s all that needs to be said. Other non-convincing arguments, for me, were those that derived from weak analogies, or non-scriptural writings such as ancient philosophies or the mere opinions of church fathers.

13. What are the strongest passages that, when taken together, point to the truthfulness of the Doctrine of the Trinity?
You have to look at the whole package. Just proving Jesus is divine doesn’t prove the Trinity. The same verses could be used by Modalists or Adoptionists or Docetists. There are plenty of passages that testify to the divinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit specifically and individually. Taken alone these could be interpreted tritheistically. But put together with the assertions that God is one we have to have a model, if you like, that explains how God can be one and yet three. Obviously, one in a different sense from which he is three. That’s what Scripture teaches, and whether we label this doctrinal understanding as “Trinity” and use ancient terms like ousia and hypostasis, or whether we come up with different terminology, such as Richard Baukham’s “divine identity,” the combination is what Scripture teaches. We cannot sacrifice diversity and threeness to support unity, nor sacrifice unity to support threeness. When we understand these bases, then triadic formulae and the ease with which the ideas of “Lord God” and “Lord Jesus” become interchangeable become very powerful.

14. Why should we reject modalistic explanations?
Modalism attempts to uphold the oneness of God and the equality of Father, Son and Spirit by downplaying the distinctiveness of the three. It avoids the heresies of subordinationism and tritheism, but it blurs or obliterates the distinction between Father, Son and Spirit. Ironically, Christadelphians come close to modalism with their doctrine of “God Manifestation,” which sees the man Christ Jesus as manifesting the person of the Father, not a separate person of the Son. But the Father sent the Son. The Son submitted to the Father, the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit leads us to Christ, they glorify each other. The Bible never equates Jesus with the Father; yes they are one in the unity of the Godhead, but they are also distinct.

15. What is the connection between the Trinitarian view of God and the Gospel?
This is a really important connection and one which was life-changing for me. If we don’t correctly understand the person of Christ, we cannot correctly appreciate his work, and vice versa. If Jesus Christ is not God incarnate, then God used a third person, a mere human, to accomplish his saving work. God stands at arms length and salvation is a human accomplishment. Jesus becomes merely a representative of sinners rather than an effective substitute. He gets condemned and bears the punishment as a man among equals, although he did not deserve it. This becomes a cruel parody of atonement. God is portrayed as being appeased by a sacrificial victim, and his love becomes the result, not the cause, of the atonement.

However, if Jesus is God, then God himself has personally intervened in his wayward creation to redeem it. He bears our sins and their consequences in himself, exactly as Isaiah 53 explains. Only God could bear the sin of the world and propitiate his own wrath in this way. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. The Son became incarnate, took on real humanity so that he could overcome temptation and die, and in doing so destroy sin in the very flesh in which it usually reigned. Although Jesus had to be fully human, and he was, he also had to be God in order to truly defeat sin. No mere human could overcome temptation and never sin, and what achievements he had in this respect would necessarily be as a mere puppet, his human nature overridden, or a work of the flesh alone. There would be uncertainty as to whether a mere man could pull it off, unless he were fully coerced. Our salvation would depend on imitation of Christ’s perfection, on works, rather than as a free gift of grace. Whereas the Bible presents salvation as wholly an act of God, from beginning to end and in this lies the Christian’s assurance.

16. What is your advice to Trinitarian apologists who are interacting with Christadelphians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other non-trinitarians?
Firstly, know your scriptures really thoroughly. You need to be able to think clearly and comprehensively and be able to argue from the whole of Scripture in an authentic and balanced way. Do not just rely on a “kit” of disconnected verses or proof texts. Address the larger metanarrative of Scripture, and keep the discussion in its scriptural context. If you present anything to a biblical monotheist or unitarian that is not thoroughly saturated with Scripture you won’t get past first base. They know their stuff.

Secondly, understand Christian doctrine thoroughly. Do not make the mistake of misrepresenting the doctrines, for example using modalistic analogies to explain the Trinity. When a non-trinitarian presents an anti-trinitarian argument, you must ensure they are not demolishing a “straw man,” an inaccurate version of the doctrine. Spot the error and be equipped to gently but firmly correct it.

Thirdly, understand the other person’s doctrinal position, thoroughly. Otherwise you will misrepresent them and argue against something different from what they actually believe. You need to read actual Christadelphian works to properly understand the Christadelphian position. You need to read Watchtower publications to understand the JWs’ position. Don’t just read what mainstream Christians say that Christadelphians or JWs or anyone else believe, because they often get it wrong. Use primary sources and make sure they are the best, most respected authorities from those denominations. Choose which arguments to focus on and don’t spread yourself too thinly by being distracted by a different doctrinal error if it crops up.

Fourthly, maintain a relationship of mutual respect. Assume that all those in the discussion want to love and honour God and value his word and show that you do too. Critique the doctrines, not the people. Find some common ground. This may mean being willing to use the JWs’ New World Translation when speaking with them, although you should have an understanding of its specific inaccuracies. Speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15) — Burning heretics has never been the right approach!

Finally, and most importantly, remember that it is not we who “convert” others, it is God’s Holy Spirit, through his word. No one likes to consider they may be wrong. Our job is not to win the argument or force people to see their flaws in a way that belittles them. These arguments are not mere points of objective fact, they touch on the things that define our view of God and salvation, they define our very selves. To question people’s beliefs and encourage them to do so will seem to them initially like an invitation to apostasy. Rome is not built in a day. Our job is to present scriptural truth, to preach the Gospel, not to win the argument. And to win the person is the work of God, not our cleverness or conviction. At the end of the day, we are just God’s humble servants. The power and the glory are all his.

Holy, Holy, Holy

The holiness of God shines throughout scripture and we are called to be holy as he is holy. Like so many beautiful words and concepts, the idea of holiness has been corrupted to represent a sort of superiority, “holier than thou” which is remote from its true intent. The root meaning of “holy” is the idea of separateness and God is the ultimate in holiness. He is completely separate in nature from all created things, because he is the Creator. The Hebrew qadosh/qodesh and the Greek hagios mean “set apart.” Only God is truly holy, set apart from his creation. We cannot claim any holiness for ourselves. Only God can determine what or who is set apart for him. Because that is the issue; holiness is not just separating from anything, as if we were somehow intrinsically better or superior, but being set apart to and for God. When God declares something to be set apart to or for him, he makes it holy; he sanctifies (same root words). Only God can do this because he alone is truly holy.

God is holy, and the things he sets apart for himself are holy. In Genesis 2:3 God singled out the Sabbath day and made it holy. To mark its distinctiveness, he gave Israel laws designed to focus their minds and actions on him on that set-apart day. They were to do no routine work (Ex 20:8–10). Of course, this concept became corrupted over time by the Jewish elite so that the Sabbath became a burden, a list of restrictions, instead of a joyous setting apart to God (Luke 11:46; Matt 12:10–12). Jesus reclaimed the Sabbath for God, doing the Lord’s work on the Lord’s day. Only the Lord God himself could claim this prerogative, to define what could and could not be done and Jesus is indeed Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:11–8). The creation prerogative is his (Col 1:16). God made a “holy covenant” with Abraham and his descendants (Luke 1:72–73) and set them apart for himself (Ex 19:5–6). This was an act of grace, in no way reflecting anything special or intrinsically deserving on their part (Deut 7:6–8). He gave them his holy law (Rom 7:12).

God directed them to make a sanctuary, a holy dwelling place for his name, so that he might dwell among his people. This tabernacle, and later the temple, were symbols of greater heavenly realities (Ex 25:8–9; Acts 7:44; Heb 8:5). God did not need a temple to dwell in (1 Kings 8:27; Acts 7:48–50) nor was the temple an assembly hall for the people. Rather, only a chosen, set-apart few could draw near to God under that dispensation. God used the tabernacle to teach lessons about holiness. Uncleanness was to be kept outside the camp (Lev 13:46; Num 5:2–3; 31:17; Deut 23:10–14). The tribes were arranged according to election by God, with the Levites closest to the tabernacle itself (Num 1:51–53; 2). The congregation could come only to the door of the tabernacle compound and present themselves to the priest with their sacrifices (Lev 1:2–5). The courtyard contained the sacrificial altar and its furnishings were bronze. Only the priests could enter the tent itself and then only into the outer room, the Holy Place, for its ministries (Ex 28:41–43; Lev 6:16). The furnishings here were gold. No one other than a priest could enter here, and not just anyone could be a priest; they were appointed by God (Lev 10:1–10; 2 Chron 26:16–21). The Most Holy Place represented the very presence of God, who dwelt between the cherubim on the mercy seat. Only the High Priest could enter here, only once a year and only with sacrificial blood (Lev 16:1–4, 11–17; Heb 9:1–7). God prescribed how he could be approached, and there was no other way. All these rules and symbols were not ends in themselves. They were appointed because of sin. In the garden (of which the tabernacle and temple served as types) Adam and Eve walked with God in his very presence and this will be the case again when Eden is restored and we walk among the trees of life with God and the Lamb in the midst of his people (Rev 22:1-3). Our sins separate us from God and the tabernacle and its sacrificial rituals only served to emphasise this. They pointed to the final solution.

These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Heb 9:6–12)

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Heb 9:22–26)

God himself entered into his creation to do what we could not do for ourselves (Isa 63:5; Rom 3:20–24). In our own strength and wretched attempts at holiness we could not approach a holy God. The curtain always stood in the way. Blood of bulls and goats pointed toward the sacrifice of Christ, whose blood paved the way permanently for entry to the Most Holy Place, into the presence of God himself (Matt 27:50–51; Heb 6:19–20; Heb 10:19–20). No longer are we forbidden to touch and partake of holy things because we have been sanctified by the blood of Jesus. The rules, “touch not, taste not” no longer apply (Col 2:20–23). We have no need to fear approaching the high and holy mountain upon which God dwells (Heb 12:18–24). We have been graciously given the pure hands and upright heart that is a requirement for entry to stand in his holy place (Psa 15:1–2). We are now enabled to worship the Lord in the splendour of holiness (Psa 65:4; 96:8–9).

Two things are important to understand here; firstly, Jesus and his work were in no way constrained by these Old Testament types, but rather they always pointed to him. Christ was always the meaning behind these rituals. Sacrificial blood was required as a covering, to temporarily sanctify, not because blood in general has some redeeming property, and not because God was no different from any other gods that required such rituals (1 Sam 15:22; Psa 40:6–8; 50:8–15; 51:16–17; Isa 66:3; Mic 6:7–8; Jer 31:31–34; Matt 9:13; Luke 22:18). Blood was required to teach us that only through Christ’s offering of himself, bearing our sins, could we truly be cleansed and sanctified.

The second thing to understand is that Christ himself was in no need of cleansing or sanctification. He is and was intrinsically holy (Psa 16:10; Mark 1:24; John 6:68–69; Acts 2:27, 31; 3:14; 4:27, 30; Rev 3:7). Isaiah saw a vision of the glory of God , with seraphim crying “Holy, holy, holy!” This vision of holiness and sanctification was, says John, a vision of the glory of Christ (Isa 6:1–7; John 12:41 — the link is Isa 6:9–10) with John 12:38–40). He came in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom 8:3); truly flesh and blood, yes, but not in any respect sinful. He was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners (Heb 7:26). Jesus was and is intrinsically holy because he is divine. Only God is holy, only God can make holy; Jesus sanctifies (makes holy) us because he is holy (1 Cor 1:2, 30; 1 Cor 6:11; Eph 1:4; 2:20–22; 5:26; Col 1:21–22; Heb 2:11; 9:14; 10:10, 14; 13:12; 1 Pet 2:5).

Haggai 2:12–13 explains a point of the old Law, that uncleanness was contagious but cleanness or holiness was not. Something unclean could not be the means of sanctification. Something secondarily made holy, such as Haggai’s “holy meat” cannot make anything else holy. Sanctification can only come from God; our own righteousness is as filthy rags; we need the righteousness from God through faith in Christ Jesus. Jesus could not have accomplished this without himself being holy. Otherwise, when he touched lepers and the woman with the issue of blood, he himself would have been unclean along with them. The Pharisees looked down on Jesus for consorting with unclean, sinful people and for disregarding the many rules about ritual cleanliness (Matt 9:10–13; 15:17–20). Jesus explained in response that he was a doctor come to heal the sick and that defilement comes from within, not from without. Jesus transcends external uncleanness, he enters into and cleanses the heart, just as God promised he would do through his new covenant. He enables us dirty sinners to be holy also and to draw near to our holy God. What God has cleansed must not be called common or unclean (Acts 10:13–16, 34–35).

There is a lot more that could be said about holiness, but three things stand out from this brief survey; what holiness teaches us about the Lord Jesus, about his work and about us. The Lord Jesus, like his Father and the Spirit, are perfect in holiness, as Creator separate from creation, in divinity wholly “other.” In this aspect as in so many others, the Son shares the attributes of his Father. The person of the Son is inextricably connected with his work. Being holy he can sanctify; if he were only “made holy” this would not be possible. Because he is holy he could enter the Most Holy Place and achieve our sanctification, once for all. This should give the Christian tremendous assurance, because our salvation depends not on human accomplishment or repeated ritual but on the gracious action of God who desires to dwell with his people. Finally, through his Holy Spirit, Christ continues the work of sanctification which will one day be complete when we will worship him in the splendour of holiness and dwell with him. We should be reminded that we can call no one common or unclean, nor should we have any attitude of superiority to others who do not live up to our human rules about “holiness,” or inspire a culture of shame or exclusiveness. For salvation and sanctification are not of works, lest anyone should boast, but wholly a work of God.

Supremacy

The Apostle Paul sings of the supremacy of Christ in Colossians 1:15–20.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

This is probably an ancient Christian poem or hymn of the exaltation and supremacy of Christ of which there are a number in the New Testament, such as Philippians 2:6–11. The middle part of the Colossians poem provides the theme; “he is before all things and in him all things hold together.” Notice how many times the phrase ta panta, “all things” is repeated. Nothing is omitted. Christ is Lord over the whole creation and over the church. He is the image of the invisible God and all God’s fullness dwells in him. In everything he is preeminent; the verb is proteuo, to have first place.

What does it mean to say Christ is the firstborn? It might be thought to mean Jesus is a creation of the Father, that he had a beginning. But that is incorrect, for a number of reasons. Firstly, creation itself is attributed to Christ As we see in the very next verse; he is the firstborn of all creation because  by him all things were created — through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together. The word for firstborn, prototokos, is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to the eldest son who held the family birthright, as well as to Jesus being the firstborn son of Mary. In its most literal sense it refers to birth order, but it also carried the meaning of the special status accorded the firstborn son. The firstborn received a double portion of his father’s goods, and a special blessing (Deut 21:17; Gen 25:29–34; 27:35–37). Nearly all firstborn sons in the Old Testament were disappointments, and often their younger brothers took on the responsibilities and received the spiritual inheritance that were their due. The only “firstborn” who truly deserved the rights of the firstborn was Jesus. The term firstborn can be used to refer to status, for example David is appointed firstborn in Psa 89:27 even though he was neither the eldest of Jesse’s sons nor the first king of Israel. This is why God can claim Israel (Exod 4:22) the Levites (Num 8:18) and Ephraim (Jer 31:9) are all his firstborn sons, without contradiction. To call Jesus the firstborn is a comment on his status and his supremacy, not his origin, and cannot be used to definitively support a unitarian position. This Colossians hymn emphasises Christ’s supremacy over and separateness from, creation and his participation in God’s rule. God is distinguished from “all things” and rules over “all things” because he created them (Isa 44:24; Rom 11:36) and the same is attributed to Christ (Matt 11:27; John 1:3; 3:35; 13:3; Eph 1:10, 22; 4:10; Col 1:16–20; Heb 1:2–14).

There are many other passages in scripture where Jesus’s superiority is noted. He is superior to all people and even to angels (Heb 1:5, 13; 2:5–8) in fact the angels are to worship him. This worship was not reserved for his exaltation following his resurrection, but when the Son first came into the world. Jesus’ superiority was evident during his earthly ministry, prior to his resurrection and exaltation. He was spoken of as greater than John the Baptist, Jonah, David, Solomon, the disciples, Adam, Moses, Melchizedek and the Levitical priesthood. Jesus could speak with supreme authority of heavenly things, because he spoke from direct experience (John 1:14–18; 6:51, 57–58; 8:26–28; 14:9–10).

He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.” (John 3:31–32).

The Son, being God, nevertheless humbled himself in his incarnation, not grasping at his place on the throne, but taking on the form of a servant, being born as a man (Phil 2:6–11). Nevertheless, he had tremendous authority whilst on earth. He referred to the angels and the kingdom of God as his (Matt 13:41; Luke 12:8–9; 15:10). He had the prerogative to forgive sins, which belongs to God alone (Mark 2:5–12) and the prerogative to judge the world (Matt 25:31–46). He directed people to believe in himself in order to be saved (John 14:1) knowing that YHWH alone is Saviour (Isa 45:19). He was Lord over the divinely instituted Sabbath (Matt 12:8) and claimed a unique relationship with the Father (John 10:30). He spoke with the authority of the divine Word (Matt 5:21–22, 27-28) and claimed that his words, unlike heaven and earth, would not pass away (Matt 24:35; Isa 40:8). He claimed to be the Way, the Truth and the Life, the only way to God and the only one who could reveal God (John 14:6; Matt 11:27). He exhorted the disciples to believe in him as they believe in God (John 14:1). He not only claimed the power of life and death but claimed to be the resurrection and the life (John 11:25; 20:31; Acts 3:15). The man Christ Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, the Word made flesh, God with us, had authority on earth which had never before been ascribed to anyone but God. And yet after his resurrection Jesus could claim even more; he could claim all authority in heaven and on earth:

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’” (Matt 28:18–19).

This claim to all-encompassing authority is rightly linked with his declaration that the Son shares the name of Father and Holy Spirit. He ranks together with them as Lord and God over all, and in this ultimate authority he gives his great commission. He humbled himself (Phil 2:6–11), and was to be exalted once again, to return “where he was before” (John 6:62) and take his place at his Father’s right hand, sharing his very throne (Heb 1; Rev 21:3–6). As the Philippians hymn fittingly scribes to him “the highest place,” it also quotes the direct ascription of the name above every name, the name of God, which is also Jesus’ name, that at this name every knee will bow (Isa 45:21–23) and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. This is to the glory of God the Father, whose glory he shares (John 12:41; 13:31–32; 17:5; Heb 1:3; Rev 5:13 c.f. Isa 42:8).

There is no inconsistency in the Father glorifying the Son and the Son glorifying the Father, because to glorify the one is to bring glory to the other. Whilst on earth, Jesus set aside his own glory in that he did not directly seek it (John 8:54–58). Instead, he drew the eyes of all to the glory of the Father. That’s why Paul referred to his example of humbling in Philippians 2:5. Jesus spoke of the cross as his glorification (John 13:31–32). He showed all humanity what it was like to live humbly before God and to glorify him in word and deed, even to death of the cross (John 17:4–8). Therefore it was fitting that when he had accomplished all things he would return to the glory he had with the Father before the world began. Nevertheless, even as Jesus walked among us as a fully human person, his glory was not completely hidden; “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,” because “grace and truth came” through Jesus, and these characteristics of God manifest his glory (John 1:14, 17; Ex 33:18–19). “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2Cor 4:6 ).

Therefore, all must honour the Son, even as they honour the Father (John 5:23). What an awesome imperative! This is why Jesus was and is worthy of worship, in his incarnate life on earth and now and forever. In the work of creation, and in the renewal and redemption of that creation, Christ is central. All things were created by him and for him (Col 1:16) and he is the agent and heir of God’s work (1 Cor 8:6; Heb 1:2). Christ is the conduit for every spiritual blessing; God chose us in him and predestined us to adoption through him. Through him we have grace and redemption; in him we were chosen. The mystery of God’s will, which he purposed in Christ, is to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ (Eph 1:3–12).

If Christ is not God, if he does not share in the Father’s unique divinity, separate from creation, we would have a tremendous contradiction. Christ addressed as Lord and God, Christ having the very name above all names (there’s can’t be a higher one, can there?), Christ sharing the throne of God and all his prerogatives, including being worshiped, glorified and honoured as God… how can this be possible for a mere human being? This is not to deny the true humanity of Christ as something he took on in the incarnation, but to rightfully attribute to Christ what is his and has been since before the world began. How can the complete supremacy of Christ possibly sit with a God who proclaims he alone is God, he alone is Creator, he alone is to be worshipped, and who will not share his glory with another unless that other is also of the Godhead? Yes, God is one, Scripture mightily and unequivocally testifies to this; there is no other Being in the universe or outside of it who can be called “God.” This divinity, this “God-ness” is what Father, Son and Holy Spirit share, and along with it a shared glory and a shared honour.

To deny this, to claim, against the scriptural evidence, that Christ was not just truly human but merely human (and there is a difference) is to dishonour the Son and the Father. Consider the consequences of the denial of the supremacy of Christ; it makes God a liar. Yet as soon as someone attempts to strip Jesus of his divinity, his preexistence, his involvement in creation, his sharing the attributes of God, they attempt to strip him of the glory, honour and supremacy that his rightfully and intrinsically his, and negate God’s testimony. Tell me, anyone who thinks it appropriate to take anything away from Christ; how can you possibly imagine this would glorify God?