Earlier Studies –
- Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section One – Authority, Revelation, and Scripture
- Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Two – Theology Proper
- Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God
- Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Four – Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall
Q.24: Who is the Redeemer of God’s elect?
A. The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ;1 who, being the eternal Son of God, became man,2 and so was and continueth to be God and man in two distinct natures, and one person for ever.3
11 Timothy 2:5-6
2John 1:14; Galatians 4:4
3Romans 9:5; Luke 1:35; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 7:24-25
To this point, we have sought to lay a foundation for the necessity of Christ’s work of redemption, the great climax of all of redemptive history. We began with a survey of God’s authority, His revelation of Himself to mankind, and His saving revelation of Himself in Scripture alone. Second, we considered Theology Proper: who and what God is. Third, we considered God’s decrees of creation and providence and, specifically, how he created man and provided for him through covenantal relationship. Fourth, we observed how man broke covenant with God, fell into an estate of sin and misery, and are now subject to God’s righteous judgment apart from the forging of a new covenant.
In the last post, we looked at this new covenant. We noted first that this covenant was struck on behalf of those who God chose from eternity in accordance with His own good pleasure and His love toward us, and not on anything in us. Second, we considered the nature of the Covenant of Grace, how it unfolded throughout Holy Scripture, and how it finds its fulfillment in Christ alone. Before, we identified as slaves of sin in Adam. Now, we identify as sons of God in Christ. However, we must not think of this transition as merely being as simple as God flipping a light switch. A great ordeal was undertaken to accomplish our redemption, and it is that accomplishment of our redemption that now demands our attention.
Redemption in Christ Alone
On the outset, let us allow our eyes to be drawn to one word in the Catechism’s answer to Question 24: only. We must start by recognizing the exclusive nature of the claims we are about to make. When Christians confess that Christ is the “only Redeemer of God’s elect,” we mean to say not only that God has chosen a particular people from eternity to be His elect, but that those elect only come to Him by way of Christ. Christianity does not claim to be a way; it is the way. Christ made this claim of Himself: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,’” (John 14:6; NASB). As such, Christians have not arrogantly devised an exclusive religion of their own imaginations. We have humbly accepted God’s own testimony about how He will be approached.
To the minds of those who have not submitted to Christ, Christian exclusivism is calloused, cold, and uncaring. They think that we have formed these ideas within our own minds, in which case their criticisms would be correct. However, given all that we have already seen of God’s goodness, love, and patience—given also His holiness, justice, majesty, and immutability—that God would be merciful to any among the sea of sinful rebels we call mankind makes God infinitely kind and gracious! The proud atheist, the Buddhist, the Hindu, and the agnostic ask why God would provide only one way. The humble Christian stands in awe of God and wonders that He provided even the one way.
The word way is a proper and biblical term. As we have already seen, Christ used the word of Himself. Christians, long before there was such a term as Christianity, also called themselves the Way (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14; 22). However, it is not as though God simply opens up a way to Himself to all mankind and simply stands there waiting for them to respond. Rather, we are told that Christ, like a great conquerer, infiltrated the kingdom of darkness and extracted from it citizens of a new kingdom (Eph. 4:7-10). In order to do so, He had to take on a new nature and become the truly man. In order to save us, He had to first identify with us both in life and in death (Heb. 2:9-13).
The Divine Nature of the Son
We must remember the infinite chasm came to exist between God and man as a result of Adam’s fall. Prior to the fall, the gulf was already great in that man was a mere finite creation of God and God the infinite, unsearchable, intangible Creator. With man’s fall, humankind parted with God in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (see The Baptist Catechism, Q.13). No mere man, then, would be able to bridge this chasm. It would require One with both the infinite, eternal, and immutable nature of God and the knowledge, righteousness, and holiness man forfeited at the fall. The only suitable Mediator had to be divine.
Hence, the Catechism uses the divine name Son of God to refer to Christ at the introduction to His work of redemption. “As such it points to a pre-existent sonship, which absolutely transcends the human life of Christ and His official calling as Messiah,” (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 314). It is with this Son that we find the Father speaking in Psalm 2 and entering into what theologians have termed the Covenant of Redemption from eternity.
“7I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
8‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
9‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware,’” (Ps. 2:7-9; NASB).
Much ink has been spilled by the cults to try to explain away the deity of Christ. The result in each instance is the mangling of the doctrine of the atonement such that Christ’s obedience in life and death are not sufficient for the reconciliation of God and man. Additional works are necessary on the part of man, because only One who is truly divine and truly man can fully atone for the sins of men. He had to be greater than all creatures (Heb. 1:3-14) in order to ascend to the Father “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10; NASB). Surely, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man,” (John 3:13; NASB; cf. Eph. 4:9-10). So, to deny the deity of Christ (or any other aspect of the doctrine of the Trinity) is to deny the very foundation of the gospel itself.
The Baptist Confession refers to the Him as the “Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Father’s glory, of one substance and equal with him who made the world, who upholdeth and governeth all things he hath made,” (The Baptist Confession, 8.2). Indeed, this has been the confession of the church from the very ascension of Christ. There is no denying the clear meaning of Scripture in its testimony to His deity.
“15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together,” (Col. 1:15-17; NASB; see also, John 1:1-3, 14, 18; 8:58; Galatians 4:4).
He is the image of the invisible God—that is to say that He is the clear representation of His nature. When we read of Christ in Scripture, we catch a glimpse of God Himself in His purest form. No picture can faithfully depict Him, but the inspired, infallible, inerrant words of God in describing Him do. By Him, and through Him, and for Him all things were created. Paul uses this type of language in another place in his writings. Of God, he writes, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36; NASB). Had he thought Christ any less than God in the flesh, He truly would have been blaspheming to transcribe these same attributes to Him in his letter to the Colossians.
The testimony of Scripture on the matter of Christ’s deity is clear. He is truly God and, as our Mediator, could not have been anything less. No less than the divine Son of God would suffice in making atonement for sinful human beings. He also had to become truly man, or it would have likewise been impossible for Him to bring many sons to glory.
The Hypostatic Union
It’s clear then that Christ identifies as God. However, where do we see that He came to identify with man in order that we, identifying with Him, might be brought to glory? It is in the humiliation of the Son that He identifies with us. The apostle Paul exhorts the Philippian saints to have the same attitude that was in Jesus Christ, “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross,” (Phil. 2:6-8; NKJV). Here, Paul outlines several key aspects of Christ’s humiliation.
He emptied Himself; that is, He set aside divine privilege. He did not cease to be divine. Rather, not clinging to His divinity, He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant.” Here we see the voluntary nature of Christ descension from heaven to earth. He came on a divine rescue mission. The Father chose the elect, the bride of Christ, and the Son of His own volition—though essentially of one mind with the Father—entered into a sinful, fallen world in order to purchase His bride out of her bondage in this fallen world. He descended in humiliation to become a slave and identified as a captive in order that, ascending in His exaltation, He might lead captive a host of captives (Eph. 4:8-10).
He further identified with us in our humanity, “coming in the likeness of men.” Here, we have what the Catechism states when it confesses that the Son of God “became man.” Did Christ merely seem to be a man, though? No. What we have in the confession of Paul is precisely what we see also in John 1:1-14. From eternity, the Son exists (Gk. ἦν). There is no sense in which the language of John 1:1-3 allows that Christ could have been created. The term used for created things in John 1 (made or came to be; Gk. ἐγένετο) is diametrically different from ἦν in John 1. The starkest distinction between the two types of being is found in verses 2&3:
“2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being,” (NASB; emphasis added).
Interestingly, though, we find that the Son of God, emptying Himself as Paul writes, did take to Himself a body like ours. In taking to Himself a body, John now applies the Greek term ἐγένετο to the Son: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth,” (John 1:14; NASB; emphasis added). Here, we catch a glimpse of the transcendent, unapproachable God of all glory condescending to identify with us in our humanity.
Yet, in His flesh, we do not see a ceasing in the divinity of Christ. The divine name Son of God persists as a proper title for Christ well into His humiliation. “The angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God,’” (Luke 1:35; NASB). Here, we see that Christ, though yet a baby, still retains His deity in full (cf. Col. 2:9). This is more than a mere title, though. This is a functionally divine character.
“The Word was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well. When He moved His body He did not cease also to direct the universe by His Mind and might,” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 17).
There is a mind-blowing concept present in this affirmation. Even as a baby in the womb of the virgin Mary, the divine Son of God was still everywhere present, holding all things together, and directing all things to His own glorious ends. In fact, the same God who knits the babe together in his mother’s womb, it is reasonable to conclude, also knit for Himself a body in the womb of His earthly mother. For this reason, the historic Christian creeds—affirmed by both Protestants and Roman Catholics—have unapologetically granted Mary the title Mother of God. The distinction being that Roman Catholics use this title to exalt Mary above where the Bible does, while Protestants use the title to emphasize the true divinity of Christ and the singularity of His Person, though consisting of two distinct natures, even while in the womb of Mary.
It was necessary, given God’s decree to save a bride, that the Son of God become a man. It was necessary not merely so that He might enter into flesh like our flesh, but also so that He might enter under the same curse under which we are born. “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,” (Gal. 4:4; NASB). In Adam, we are all born under a curse, a curse whereby we have forfeited dominion over this earth to angelic majesties. In other words, as a result of Adam’s sin, we have been made for a little while lower than the angels (Heb. 2:5-8), and now Satan himself is the ruler of this world system (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Hence, God the Father perfected the Son of God—the Author of our salvation—through His being made for a little while lower than the angels, His suffering, and His death (Heb. 2:9-10). His humiliation, then, was undertaken for the purpose of identifying with us, the means by which—as we shall see—He would come to redeem us.