Was It Necessary for Our Salvation that Jesus be God?

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Advent is the time of year when we think and talk a lot about the incarnation, that event in which God took on human flesh and became one of us in order to save us.

Recently on the Calvary Live call-in show on GraceFM someone called in asking if it is necessary to believe that Jesus was fully God in order to be a Christian. He explained that he believes that Jesus was fully human, but not fully God.

Arianism: A Brief Background

Without knowing the name for it, he described his beliefs, which were basically Arianism: a belief popularized in the early 300’s by a man named Arius, who taught that – contrary to the generally-held Christian belief, Jesus was not fully God in the same way that the Father is God, but that he was a special created being, whom God created in order to bring about salvation for human beings. Arius was afraid that by saying that Jesus was God, Christians were slipping into polytheism, and that in Colossians where it says that Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15), it means that Jesus was the first creature whom the uncreated Father created.

Arius’ beliefs were condemned as unbiblical and incorrect at the Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical council of the church, which gave birth to the Nicene Creed, asserting that Jesus was of one substance (ousia) with the Father and that Jesus is “very God of very God”, leaving no ambiguity whatsoever that Christians unanimously believe that Jesus is in fact God.

(For more on Arius, Nicaea and St. Nicholas of Myra, check out: Taking Back the Story of Saint Nicholas)

But still… why is it important that we believe Jesus is God?

Is it just because that’s who Jesus is and who God has revealed him to be (ontological/revelatory reason)?  – OR – was it actually necessary for our salvation that Jesus be God (soteriological reason)?

Nicaea dealt with the ontological and revelatory side of this question, but my caller on the radio show asked the latter question: is there a soteriological reason why Jesus had to be God in order to save us?

My immediate answer was to point him to Romans 8:1-4, which says that Jesus fulfilled all of God’s righteous requirements on our behalf. In other words: Jesus lived the perfect life that I should have lived, and the good news of the gospel is that he then offers his perfect record to me. Jesus, having been the only human not born of the seed of a man – other than Adam – becomes the “new Adam”, who then fully obeys God whereas Adam disobeyed and sinned (see Romans 5:12-21 or listen to Who is Your Champion?)

He then asked, “Couldn’t God have created a perfect being, without a sin nature, in order to do that work of fulfilling God’s righteous requirements on our behalf in order to save us?”

Here’s Why Jesus Had to Be “Very God of Very God” in Order to Save Us:

The Scots Confession of 1560 addressed this issue directly. The answer it gave is that the full reality of Christ’s deity is essential for salvation because salvation must be an act of God, or else it is not salvation. The deity of Christ tells us that the action of Jesus in the incarnation and on the cross is identical with God’s own action.

The deity of Christ tells us that the action of Jesus in the incarnation and on the cross is identical with God’s own action.

Karl Barth explained that the full deity of Christ is essential because it is only God who can forgive sins. He refers to Mark 2:7, ‘who can forgive sins but God alone?’ It is equally necessary for atonement, Barth pointed out, that the one who makes amends for sin is human. 

Salvation, in other words, is an act of God, but an act that must be done from within humanity – thus Jesus had to be fully God and fully man in order to save us.

The whole of our salvation depends on the fact that it is God in Christ who suffers and bears the sin of the world, and reconciles the world to himself.

T.F. Torrance discusses the terrible implications of denying the full deity of Christ:

If the deity of Christ is denied, then the cross becomes a terrible monstrosity. If Jesus Christ is man only and not also God then we lose faith in God, because how could we believe in a God who allows the best man that ever lived to be put to death on the cross? If you put Jesus Christ as a mere man on the cross and put God in Heaven like some distant god imprisoned in his own lonely abstract deity, such a god is monstrously unconcerned with our life as he does not lift a finger to help Jesus.

The validity of our salvation depends on the fact that he who died on the cross under divine judgement is also God the judge, so that he who forgives is also he who judges.

Thanks be to God for what He has done for us by becoming one of us!


7 thoughts on “Was It Necessary for Our Salvation that Jesus be God?

  1. Those who say “it is only God who can forgive sins.” do forget that Jesus was given authority to ispeak and act in God’s name as well as to forgive sins and to judge the living and the dead.

    Those who say only god can be just, or meaning only God can follow His commandments make of God a very cruel being having given mankind commandments He very well knew they could not keep them, plus for coming to save them from the curse of death, not having taken action straight ahead in the Garden of Eden, plus having waited so many thousands of years before faking his birth, temptation, torture and death (because God has no birth, cannot be tempted, man not able to do something to God, Him also not able to die). And after He did not give us a proof that man can be taken out of the dead (because when Jesus is God he is not a man, like us all) He still kept us suffering so many centuries?!?

    those who say salvation is only an act of God do forget that there are many people who save others. They also make the ransom of Christ as nothing,. They do forget Jesus really suffered and really died, putting his own will aside; In case Jesus is God he would always have done his own will. though Jesus gave his own life as a ransom for many. It is by the Grace of God, Who accepted this offering from His sent one as a clean Lamb for God, that salvation has come over mankind. It is in the end always the Most High Who decides over life and death, over salvation and over judgement.

    1. It would be inaccurate to say that God “gave commandments to people knowing that they couldn’t keep them” because God’s commandments are only an expression of his character. This is why in Romans, for example, it says that we have sinned and “fallen short of the glory of God”. That is what sin is. The commandments were not arbitrary and mean, they are only a description of God’s character. If they were not written, we would still be in sin by falling short of them, ala Romans 1:18-32.
      Again, the reason why Jesus had to be God is because it is in this way that salvation is an act of God, which makes it salvation by nature.

  2. A false premise leads to a false conclusion. The ONLY requirement for salvation is contained in the 10 Commandments and the 8 Beatitudes. the “Deification of Jesus” is man made and unnecessary.

    1. Wow Carl, looks like you’ve created a soteriology of your own assumptions without reading the Bible. If this were the case, how is it then that Abraham was saved? Because there are multiple places in the Bible that tell us he was declared righteous because he believed God. Oh, and not to mention that John 20:30-31 doesn’t say a word about the 10 Commandments or the Beatitudes. Oh, and the Beatitudes are not actually commandments, they are promises… so I’m not sure how those can possibly be “requirements for salvation” as you say. There are too many Bible verses to list that contradict what you are saying. I’m sure you’re a nice person, but you should really read the New Testament before going around making assertions like this. And, if you’re going to say that the NT epistles are “man made” and not from Jesus, then don’t forget that Jesus himself is recorded throughout the Gospel of John stating that the works that God requires for salvation are to believe in Him whom the Father sent (John 6:29).

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