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!


16 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).

  3. I am researching this topic, “Can Only a God-Man Atone For Sin?” The positive assertion is made loudly and boldly, and I have made it myself. But now that I research it I am surprised to find that there is so little biblical basis for a positive claim. You mention only one verse which really does not apply:
    “Mark 2:7, ‘who can forgive sins but God alone?”
    This one does not apply, as Jesus on the Cross said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus did not forgive their sins, he asked the Father to do it.
    Other creedal claims are made, but no other specific Bible passage directly applies to the question.

    1. Matthew 9 – Jesus forgives sins. Only God has the power to forgive sins. Jesus is God come to us in human flesh to atone for our sins himself, in order to satisfy justice and show mercy to those who repent, without compromising his perfect justice.

      1. In Mat. 9 we read that it was understood that God had given this authority to Jesus. “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 7 And he rose and went home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” This matches Jesus’ statements that he had no ability of his own, “I can do nothing on my own” Jn. 5:19,30. Jesus said, “I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” Jn. 14:10.
        When dying on the cross, Jesus petitioned his God and Father to do the forgiving.
        I agree with what you wrote, that God will “show mercy to those who repent”, as that is found throughout the Bible. But I don’t find that forgiving is compromising God’s perfect justice. That seems to be an injected presupposition, as I can’t find anything in the Bible to support the claim. God forgives and we are asked to forgive like He does.

      2. You are failing to recognize the distinction between the economic Trinity and the ontological Trinity. In the economic sense, the Father sends the Son, the Son submits to the Father, the Son “empties” himself and takes on the role of the servant, and the Father gives his authority to the Son. In the ontological sense, the Father and the Son (and the Spirit), although 3 distinct persons, are God. It says in Romans 8:33 – it is God who Justifies, yet it also says we are justified by Jesus (1 Cor. 6:11). God is our Savior (1 Timothy) and Jesus is our Savior (Titus 2:13 – which also calls Jesus “our great God”).
        Here’s more on economic vs ontological Trinity: https://nickcady.org/2023/02/03/the-trinity-ontological-economic/

      3. It seems that you are obfuscating. The economics have nothing to do with the atonement other than the obedience to God that is due from all of us. If God rewards our obedience or not, that is His prerogative, not ours, and it is a very different topic than the question of whether or not Jesus had to be God for atonement.
        Jumping from there into the topic of ontology is again irrelevant and obfuscating. The Bible never connects the two – Jesus being God and atonement. In fact, the only ontology I can find specified in the Bible and this topic is the fact that Jesus is a man, a human being. “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive an abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” Rom. 5:17, 19. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” 1 Tim. 2:5-6.

        In the end, the claim seems to be a made-up attempt to resolve a made-up problem. The Bible never presents God’s forgiveness as being a problem that needed solved. Nobody in the Old Testament was waiting for someone to come to fix God’s problem. When Jesus died the disciples did not rejoice, and we do not read of this resolved problem in the book of Acts as the apostles dealt with the Jews. There is a total silence about this until centuries later.

      4. It’s not obfuscation. Jesus’ ontology as God absolutely matters, and there is a clear difference between Jesus’ ontology and the economic interaction between the Father and the Son (not to mention the Spirit). If Jesus is God (as he clearly declared to be {e.g. “I and the Father are one”, “before Abraham was, I AM”}; a claim for which he was killed), then it changes the picture of what it means that Jesus died for our sins – i.e. he was not a scapegoat, but the God who saves us [himself], which is the meaning of his name (Matthew 1:21).

  4. Actually, there are several characters in the Bible with the same name as Jesus (more accurately Yeshua, as Hebrew does not use the English “j” sound). The name is sometimes translated to Joshua or Jeshua, but it is still representative as the same name as Jesus. There is one mentioned in Act 13:6 who was a false prophet. Jesus had an rather common name which means Yahweh saves. Having the name does not indicate that the person was believed to be Yahweh.
    Ultimately, what your article does reflects an embrace of a theological package and then attempts to squeeze it into the Bible, while ignoring the evidence to the contrary.

    1. Thanks for the lesson 😂. You’re failing to realize that Jesus’ name Yeshua (God saves), we are told was given to him BECAUSE he would fulfill it’s meaning by saving his people from his sins.
      “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) “For” (γὰρ in Greek = BECAUSE (indicates a reason why). Yeshua = God saves.
      So, name him Yeshua (GOD saves) because HE will save his people from their sins.

      1. The Bible does not connect saving people from sin with Jesus being God.
        “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Rom. 5:19

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