“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, . . . of one being with the Father.”
Joel D. Otto
How can the Son be as completely divine as the Father, just as almighty and eternal? Wouldn’t that have to mean that there is more than one supreme deity? How exactly do the Father and the Son relate to each other? Those were questions that the Christian theologians and teachers were discussing and debating in the fourth and fifth centuries.
A number of them, influenced by Greek philosophy and a desire to make Christianity palatable to “intellectuals,” argued that the Son has to be less than the Father. That fit philosophical logic. Their solution was to make the Son less eternal and powerful than the Father. They viewed the Son as subordinate to the Father, the first creature of the Father.
But the orthodox leaders of the church recognized the implications of such a solution. First of all, the Bible would be lying. The Bible is clear in the Old and New Testaments. Jesus is God. He is the Mighty God (Isaiah 9:6). He is the eternal Word who is God from all eternity (John 1:1-3). While Jesus is descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, according to his human nature, he is also God over all (Romans 9:5).
Second, the leaders of the early church recognized that if Jesus is not truly God, equal with the Father, then we should not worship him, trust him, or pray to him. Yet, Jesus says that the Father and the Son are to receive the same honor (John 5:22,23). Jesus tells us to believe in him for eternal life, even equating faith in God with faith in him (John 14:1,6; 17:3). Jesus invites us to pray to him with the promise that he has the power to answer (John 15:7).
Finally, the church fathers understood the implications for our salvation if Jesus is not truly God, equal with the Father. He could not be our Savior. His sacrifice on the cross would not be sufficient. But because Jesus, true God and true man, was crucified, we can be certain that his sacrifice is valuable enough and precious enough to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:18,19).
The writers of the Nicene Creed did not try to explain or rationalize the truth that the Son is equal to the Father. They chose language that clearly confesses what the Bible has always taught. There is only one unique Son who is distinct from the Father but just as eternal as the Father. He is of the same divine substance as the Father. We continue to confess this truth about Jesus for our eternal salvation and comfort just as all believers have.
Exploring the Word
1. Read Philippians 2:6-8. Explain how Jesus can be equal with the Father, yet he could say that he does not know the day or the hour of the final judgment (Mark 13:32).
When the Son of God took on human flesh, he did not cease to be fully and completely divine. And Jesus as true God and true man continued to possess all the divine characteristics in their fullness. We see this, for example, in his many miracles and his transfiguration. However, he set aside the full use of his divine characteristics for a time during his earthly ministry. This is referred to as his “state of humiliation.” That’s why he could be a helpless baby and grow up. That’s why he could say that he did not know the day or hour of the final judgment. That’s why he could “become obedient to death.” All of this he did as part of his work of redeeming us.
2. Read Ephesians 1:15-23. How does knowing that Jesus is “of one being with the Father,” equally divine, help you as you face troubles and problems? How does this help you in your prayer life?
The Jesus who lived here on earth, battled temptations, and suffered for my sins is the same Jesus who now is ruling all things “for the church,” for the benefit of his believers. That means that when I face troubles and problems I know that Jesus is ruling the world is such a way that these troubles and problems will be used to serve my spiritual and eternal good (see also Romans 8:28). And the fact that he is “of one being with the Father” assures me that the will and the power of the Father and the Son are in perfect harmony for my good even as I face difficulty. This is helpful for my prayer life because I know that Jesus’ redeeming work opened the way to the Father’s throne room for me. And I know that Jesus lives and rules to hear and answer my prayers in the way that is best for me and in perfect harmony with his Father’s plan for me. We express that in many of the prayers we use in worship when we conclude: “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Spirit, one God, now and forever.”
3. “Jesus is Lord” is the simplest confession of faith we find in the Bible (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12:3). What is all implied in that confession?
“Lord” is the translation for the special name God revealed for himself in the Old Testament. That name emphasizes God’s absolute independency and constancy, his faithful love for his people. By confessing “Jesus is Lord,” the implication is that Jesus is the true God who revealed himself in the Old Testament Scriptures. It must have been rather stunning for the shepherds to hear the angel tell them that the baby lying in the manger in Bethlehem was “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). We’re implying that everything God reveals about himself in the Old Testament in connection with that special name also applies to Jesus (see Exodus 34:6,7). We’re acknowledging that Jesus is the God of free and faithful grace, the God who makes and keeps promises, the God who acts in love to save, the only true God who intervenes in human history to save lost sinners.
Contributing editor Joel Otto, professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee.
This is the third article in a 13-part series on the Nicene Creed. Find this study and answers online after Jan. 5 at www.wels.net/forwardinchrist.
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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 102, Number 1
Issue: Jannuary 2015
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