Let me ask you a question. How would you sum up Christianity in just one word? Someone once did so by saying that Christianity is Christ. Yes Christianity involves a creed - absolutely. Where basic beliefs about Jesus are denied and Christian behaviour is not practised, Christianity doesn’t exist. But you can know the creed and still be a stranger to Christianity. In the past Luther, Whitefield and Wesley had to learn that through humbling experiences. Perhaps you did too. Perhaps others of you are beginning to be humbled in such a way – you’re happy to say the Nicene Creed as we do in Communion services, maybe even without understanding all that it states, but you’re starting to realise that you don’t know Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. For, as Jim Packer put it, the essence of Christianity is neither beliefs nor behaviour patterns; it’s the communion here and now with Christianity’s living founder, the only Son of God, Jesus Christ, as we trust in him as our Saviour and Lord.
Christianity is Christ relationally. Being a Christian is knowing Christ, which is more than just knowing about him. Real faith involves real fellowship. “Our fellowship”, explained the apostle John, “is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). And how do you enter into that fellowship? John 3:16, says:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
By believing and trusting in the only Son of God, Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection. And he, the only Son of God, is our focus this morning as we continue our series on the Living and True God, on the meaning of the Nicene Creed. Right beliefs are vital. Who we believe and trust in, what we believe about Jesus, the only Son of God is critical. John 3:16 says it’s a matter of life and death. The only Son of God is the only way to God. And, of course, what we believe affects how we behave.
Christian creeds are defences against doctrinal error as well as true positive statements of faith in the one true God. When the Nicene Creed was drawn up on 19 June 325 AD, the chief heresy was Arianism, which denied that Jesus, the only Son of God, was fully God. So, in line with the Bible, the Nicene Creed clearly states that there is one God, that God is one in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit and that each person is fully God.
Today these heresies are still around, especially in such groups as the Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses. But also both within and outside the church there’s been a drift into a lowered view of Jesus as a good and godly man who’s simply an inspiring example rather than God the Son, the almighty Saviour and Lord. This trend has produced great confusion and weakness. People don’t know the truth about Jesus. To many he wasn’t the Son of God incarnate but rather a man whom God indwelt, important as an example of sainthood rather than as a supernatural Saviour from the guilt and power of sin.
One reason for this is that the practice of making children memorize catechisms (or instructions in the Christian faith) which state Christian beliefs, has fallen out of use. Many modern Sunday schools, it is suggested, mostly limit themselves to teaching Bible stories. Children therefore grow up in the church without being drilled, so to speak, in its creed. They learn of Jesus as friend and helper without ever hearing that he’s the second person of the Trinity, and so become adults to whom this fact is altogether strange. So what does the Nicene Creed and more importantly the Bible say about the only Son of God? What is the truth about Jesus? The Nicene Creed states:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father.
We’ve said those words many times as a church. You’ve probably said them many times. But do we understand what they mean? How well do we know who Jesus Christ is? Now remember that the Nicene Creed was drawn up to repudiate Arius, who denied that Jesus is fully God.
* We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
* the only son of God
Here and in John 1:14&18 the original read either "only Son" or “one and only Son” or "only begotten Son." Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. He’s not a son but the Son. Through faith in Jesus Christ we are adopted as sons of God (Galatians 3:26). But Jesus is the only begotten Son. He is fully God, God the Son. The one and only (v14&18). He is God, we are not. He is in himself divine and eternal and not a created being. “God’s will”, said Jesus, “is that all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father” (John 5:23).
* eternally begotten of the Father,
The Son of God didn’t originate after the Father, neither is he himself less than the Father. Arius was fond of saying, "The Word (the Son of God, as in v1 of John 1) is not eternal. God begat him, and before he was begotten, he did not exist." Arius falsely taught that the Father alone is God and he had created a Son. So for Arius it wasn’t true to say that God the Father and God the Son are co-eternal and both possess the quality of deity. Rather, Arius proclaimed that “before the Son was created he was not, the Son has a beginning, but God is without beginning.” Those who rebutted Arius replied that the begetting of the Word was not an event in time, but an eternal relationship. Look at John 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” Notice the Word was with God, distinct from the Father and was God. Jesus was and is God in the fullest sense.
* God from God, Light from Light
The only Son of God is God from God, light from light (v5). We can know the sun (s u n) only through the rays of light that it emits. To see the sunlight is to see the sun. Just so, Jesus says, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9) God the One and Only or the only begotten Son has made God known (John 1:18).
* true God from true God,
* begotten, not made
This was inserted by way of counteracting Arius' teaching that the Son was the first thing that the Father created. Jesus is truly God. He is true God from true God. He is begotten, not made.
Arius said that if the Father has begotten the Son, then the Son must be inferior to the Father, as a prince is inferior to a king. Athanasius, a leading opponent of Arius, replied that a son is precisely the same sort of being as his father, and that the only son of a king is destined himself to be a king. It’s true that an earthly son is younger than his father. But God is not in time. Time, like distance, is a relation between physical events, and has meaning only in the context of the physical universe. When we say that the Son is begotten of the Father, we do not refer to an event in the remote past, but to an eternal and timeless relation between the Persons of the Godhead. So while we say of an earthly prince that he may some day hope to become what his father is now, we say of God the Son that He is eternally what God the Father is eternally.
* of one being with the Father.
This line: "of one essence with the Father, of one substance with the Father, consubstantial with the Father," was the crucial one, the acid test. It was the one formula that the Arians could not interpret as meaning what they believed. They denied that the Son was God in the same sense in which the Father is God. Yet Jesus clearly states (John 10:30) “I and the Father are one.”
If Jesus is not fully God and indeed fully man then there is no Christianity and no salvation. You see the Bible teaches that God alone can initiate and accomplish salvation. Therefore the Word of God, who became flesh v14, could not be a creature, as Arius asserted, but he must be of one substance with the Father – that is, he must fully share the “Godness” of the Father.
And v14 the Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. But what did it mean for the Word to become flesh? Did it mean that Jesus was just flesh, skin, bones, blood and organs, not fully human with a human mind, soul and spirit? Did it mean that he’d simply assumed a human nature but that the human and divine remained separate? Did it mean that now there were actually two Beings, one who did divine, Godlike things and another who did weak, humanlike things? No. Jesus, the only Son of God, was and is fully God and fully man as the Bible states and as the Chalcedonian Creed affirmed in 451 AD. Christ had a human soul as well as human flesh. Christ’s two natures are distinct yet not divided or separable.
So let’s now turn to p1179 of the Bibles and to Philippians 2:5-11.Look at v5-8:
5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!”
Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” What does that mean? It means that before his incarnation (ie before becoming man, before coming to earth to be born as a baby), being fully God, he was prepared to give up his glory and status with his Father in heaven to do his Father’s will by dying for our salvation. The second line of v6 literally insists that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be exploited, something to be employed for his own advantage. Rather, he made himself nothing and took the form of a servant. The eternal Son didn’t think of his status as God as something that gave him the opportunity to get and get and get. Rather because he was in very nature God, because he is one with God, the ultimate giver, he made himself nothing and gave and gave and gave, for us. The way appointed by the Father was giving not getting, sacrifice and humiliation not taking advantage of one’s position. This is the way Jesus willingly went and the way we are called to follow him.
So, v7, he then took the first ‘step down’ of taking on human nature (not ceasing to be God, but ‘taking’ human nature as well, simultaneously – fully God and fully man). Look at that verse: he “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness”. Literally ‘he made himself nothing’ is ‘he emptied himself’. But that doesn’t mean he emptied himself of his deity or the attributes of his deity, no, but rather of his glory. He made himself of no reputation, says the AV. He was born in a stable. He was a refugee in Egypt. He often had nowhere to lay his head. Jesus became a servant, even a slave. He abandoned his rights; he became a nobody. He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. But again note, Paul does not say that Jesus was God, gave that up, and became a slave instead. Rather without ever abandoning who he was originally, he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a slave. To do this he became in human likeness, he became a human being, born of the Virgin Mary, fully God and fully man.
Jesus then took the second ‘step down’ of dying for us on the cross. Look at v8: “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!”
How do you react to that verse? It’s meant to shock – “even death on a cross”. Death on a cross was a death of unimaginable pain and utter shame. It was a curse in the eyes of the Jews. Of the various forms of Roman execution, crucifixion could be used only for slaves, rebels and anarchists, never for a Roman citizen unless by the Emperor’s decree. Crucifixion was considered too cruel and so shameful that even the word itself was avoided in polite conversation. But Jesus, God the Son, fully God and fully man, stooped low and became obedient to death – even to death on a cross.
Jesus came into the world to take on himself the death and judgement that
we deserve, so we could be forgiven and rescued from hell. That's what happened when he died on the cross. Because he was God, he'd never sinned. Because he'd become man, he could take our place, face our judgment. So sins have been punished. He has paid. And sinners, such as you and me, can be forgiven if we trust in him. On one Christmas card I received last year was this 2 line poem: “He came to pay a debt he did not owe, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.” That’s exactly right. That’s what the cross achieved. So to go back to v7:
Jesus considered himself our servant: He whom we should rightfully serve came to serve us. He didn’t consider serving us as beneath him. And (v8) Jesus considered himself God’s servant: he became ‘obedient to death – even death on the cross.’ He didn’t consider that God’s plan of salvation was asking too much of him; he didn’t obey so far, but no further. Not what I will, but what you will, he prayed. Another Christmas card put it like this:
The God of the Universe invaded history as a tiny baby…for us.
He traded the beauty of heaven for a humble manger…for us.
He exchanged his glory at the Father’s side for humiliation upon the cross…for us.
He defeated death so we could live for eternity with him. Why?
Because he was, and is, passionate about a relationship…with us!
That’s the amazing love Jesus Christ has for you. That’s what he willingly gave up and did for you. Will you respond by humbling yourself and confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord and God and so have hope or will you refuse and have no hope? For one day we’ll all confess that he’s Lord whether willingly or not. Look at v9-11:
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
But maybe someone’s thinking. “I’m pleased that you believe this Jesus helps you. But it’s not for me. I don’t need Jesus.” But I have to insist that the Jesus of the Bible, the only Son of God, the one whom I know as my Lord isn’t some sort of personalised therapy. The Jesus I’m talking about made you. You owe him. And one day you’ll have to give an account of your life to him. Every knee will bow to him sooner or later, whether in joy or shame and terror. Here Paul is not teaching us about a Jesus who is domesticated, easily marginalised, psychologically privatised, remarkably sanitized, and merely personal. He is one with God, yet he died on the cross in your place and mine to redeem us to himself and rose from the dead, proving who he is. God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name. He is Lord of all. He is coming again as Judge of all. Before he comes again, before it’s too late how are we to respond to him? We are to respond to him in faith and obedience, having the same attitude as him, to the glory of God the Father. The only Son of God is the only way to God. And because he’s fully man and fully God and was tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin, he’s then able to sympathise with our weaknesses and give to us the help we need to live for him. Who needs to hear that and go to him today and in the week ahead?