Breakfast Club Blog: Christology and Sonship

The most important Christian doctrine today – bar none – is what theologians call “Christology”, that is, the doctrine that articulates who Jesus Christ is (His person) and what Jesus did (His work).  I make this claim for two reasons.

The first reason is a social-historical reason. In the first three centuries of Christianity, the chief reason that people rejected the Christian faith was its exclusive claim, as the Apostle Peter put it, that “salvation is found in no one else (besides Jesus Christ), for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Ancient Roman society was willing to add another god to their pluralistic pantheon of gods and religions; but they could not accept the exclusive claim and allegiance Christian’s made to Jesus Christ as the only “Lord” and “Savior.” In response, Christian leaders, preachers, theologians and apologists spent the first three centuries hammering out the doctrine of who Jesus Christ was. Why? Because the essence of the Christian faith is based on Jesus’ unique claim that he was not just another religious teacher offering religious advice or a religious “way” for his followers to walk; but, rather, that he was the very incarnate Son of God sent by his Father to live a perfect life on behalf of his people, to die an atoning death in their place, and to be raised from the grave for the forgiveness of their sins and their adoption into God’s family. 

Consequently, in the fourth century, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the doctrine of Christ as the Incarnate Son of God - fully God and fully man in one Person - was established, there was less of an urgency to articulate the doctrine of the unique nature of Jesus Christ; and other doctrines, especially the doctrines of grace, became the primary doctrines that the church debated and articulated. However, in today’s pluralistic climate, when people again reject Christianity primarily because of its claim to be the one true way to God, the church must urgently articulate the uniqueness of Jesus Christ over and against all other religious teachers and religious paths.

The second reason that Christology is the most important Christian doctrine is a personal, subjective reason. Let me put it this way. Your deepest need is to be reconciled to God, to experience “sonship” – the profound spiritual experience of knowing oneself to be a beloved son or daughter of God.

One of the clearest pictures of sonship occurs when Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. Mark’s gospel reports that “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:10-11)

Here, in the prologue to Jesus’ ministry, the curtains are pulled back and we get a glimpse of what was at the very heart and essence and core of Jesus’ identity: his Divine Sonship! As someone once put it, “The one great passion in Jesus life was his Father. He carried a secret in his heart that made him great and lonely.”

In God the Father’s benediction over Jesus, we discover the deepest longing, the most profound need, the unspoken wish of all of our hearts. Let’s take each phrase in turn.

First, God the Father proclaims Jesus identity: “You are my son.” You are mine. You belong to me. I am your Father. Our primal need as human beings is to know who we are; to have a secure and stable identity.

Second, God the Father communicates how much he values Jesus: “whom I love.” He says, “You are my beloved; you are my treasure; you are so valuable to me.” This is also a primal need we have as humans: to be beloved; to be valued; to be treasured; to be loved unconditionally.

Third, God the Father establishes the security of Jesus: “with you I am well pleased.” He says, “There are no hoops you have to jump through! You are the apple of my eye! When you turn towards me you can have the security that you always have my smile!” Again, the security of being delighted in unconditionally is one of our most primal needs as humans.

Our deepest personal need is for identity, to be valued, to be secure. But nothing – not even the best parents in the world, or the best education, or the best career, or the best anything! – can fill this primal need of our heart. God alone, our Creator, can fill this need! And this is why Jesus has come. Our sin has separated us from God. But through Jesus Christ, who “baptizes” his people with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Sonship, heaven is torn open, and we can hear the voice of God say to us – “you are my son (or my daughter), whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Thus, the reason why the doctrine of the Person and work of Jesus Christ is so important now is clear. Jesus is uniquely the Son of God sent from the Father on a mission to make us sons and daughter of God. There is no other way of receiving the adoption of the Father, the Spirit of sonship, apart from the unique Person and Work of Jesus Christ. In short, you can’t have Sonship without going through the true Son.