The God Who Can Cease Being God
If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven (John 3:12-13).
The ruckus that took place among Christians over the Deity of Jesus is all the evidence needed to prove that some Christians actually believe that God can cease being God. That there are brethren who believe that the Divine Logos, in order to become a man,1 divested Himself of His Divinity and Godhood cannot be doubted. Although one who had very publicly espoused this view has now acknowledged his error, nevertheless, there are others who still believe it. It is my firm conviction that this issue is one of the most serious threats to the integrity of Christianity that has raised its ugly head once again now in the modern era. Consequently, it has troubled me that many Christians consider the whole controversy over the Deity of Jesus to be a preacher squabble about a subject that is just not all that important. Brethren, Jesus clearly said, “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”2 When He said this, He was not arguing for His humanity. On the contrary, He was saying that if one did not believe in His Deity, he could not go to heaven. The apostle John identifies this as the spirit of “Anti-christ.”3 Therefore, the question over the Deity of Jesus is not a “tempest in a teapot” issue. Where you and I will spend eternity depends upon getting this answer right!
For Christianity to be what it is, there are two cardinal tenets that cannot be tampered with: (1) the Incarnation of God’s Son, and (2) the triune nature of the Godhead. If Jesus Christ is, in fact, the eternal, divine Word of God the Father, and if the unity of God is taken seriously,4 then a plurality of persons within the Godhead is a fact that cannot be denied. In fact, if it had not been for the Incarnation, the truth about the triune nature of God would have never arisen. Hence, the truth about the Deity of Jesus and the Godhead are necessarily interconnected doctrines of the Christian faith. If one were to refute either of these doctrines, then Christianity would be shown to be nothing more than an elaborately devised sham. So, when one, for whatever reason, begins to argue that God the Son divested His Godhood and Divinity and became just a man, he has become, whether he thinks so or not, an enemy of the faith. Undoubtedly, an intrinsically human Jesus is nothing more than a sham god. When those who have created this gelded god then turn around and proclaim to believe in his Deity, they are engaged in orthotalksy.
Those among us who argue for a totally human Jesus (with Deity divested) are reflecting the influence of process theology, which proudly asserts that the classical two-natures doctrine of Jesus presupposes concepts that are outdated, absurd, and totally irrelevant to the modern way of thinking. According to the Processians, Jesus as the God-man is a concept that must go because it is not possible for the sophisticated, enlightened mind to believe the impossibly absurd idea that two entities (God and man) can occupy the same space at the same time. In other words, when viewed as substances, Deity cannot possibly unite with humanity without creating the displacement of one substance by the other. One can be God, or one can be man, but one cannot be both God and man simultaneously. Processians love to talk about the “havoc” wreaked by the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was both fully God and fully man at the same time. This is, of course, precisely the same idea being expressed by some brethren today who scoff at the idea that Jesus could be 100% God and 100% man without being a 200% monstrosity. Therefore, when I listen to or read after these brethren, I want to ask, “Will the real Processians among us please stand up?”
Given the nature of God, there is no chance that He can ever be anything other that what He is. This can be inferred from His self-existent, eternal, and infinite nature. His nature or essence cannot change, but is eternally the same, incorruptible5 and immortal6. In other words, He is unchangeable or immutable.7 What does this mean? It means that the Self-Existent One cannot be not self-existent; it means that the Eternal One cannot be not eternal; it means that the Infinite One cannot be not infinite; et cetera. God, ontologically speaking (i.e., by the nature of His being), cannot be anything else; if He were, He would not be God.
Included in God’s unchangeable or immutable nature are His moral attributes, for His moral character is no less a part of His essence than are His power and wisdom. What this means is that God has always been, and always will be, the holy, righteous and gracious God that He is right at this moment. His goodness has not been developed and it will never be altered. From everlasting to everlasting, He is the same in character, infallible and immutable.8
Of course, it must be kept in mind that the immutability of God’s nature does not mean that He cannot interact with His creation. As was pointed out previously, the Bible teaches that the Almighty has agreed to, and does, interact with His creation in the now of time. Such interaction is genuine and not pretended. God has agreed to be influenced by His creation. Whether or not I can explain this in view of God’s immutable nature is not the point. I cannot even understand it; how, then, can I explain it? In truth, it is not my responsibility to explain it; it is, instead, my responsibility to believe, teach, and defend it. If I had to be able to understand and explain everything about God, especially those things He has not chosen to reveal to me, before I could believe in Him, I and every other finite creature could have no choice but to remain in unbelief.
It is not possible that the essence of God could be anything other than what it has been, is, and always will be. If this essence were to change, then God would no longer be God. As a matter of fact, it is impossible to make distinctions between God, His essence and His attributes. “I Am that I Am” or “He who is”9 exists as a self-existent,10 eternal,11 infinite,12 immutable13 Spirit14. If He ceased to be any of these, He could not be God. God’s essence (i.e., that which makes Him what He is) could not be anything other than what it is; and that which makes God what He is, of course, is His attributes. Therefore, it is never correct to think of God apart from His essence or attributes. This means that God does not have an essence; He is His essence, and He does not have attributes; He is His attributes.
For example, the Bible tells us that God is love.15 It informs us that God’s love is great,16 eternal,17 infinite,18 and dependable.19 If the theme of the Bible is man’s redemption, then the central word of the Bible is love. In fact, the Bible tells us that the motivation for the scheme of redemption is God’s love for His creation. How much did God love His creation? He loved it so much that He was willing to give His only begotten Son so that it could be redeemed.20 But what kind of love would do such a thing? To understand this, we must realize that God’s love for mankind is a distinctive kind of love called agape. And what is agape? Primarily, agape is good will toward others. It is deep, tender, and warm concern for the happiness and well-being of another; it is charity toward those in need.
Again, when the Bible says, “God loves us,” it means that He really cares about us and always does what is best for us. God’s love is different from other kinds of love in that it seeks to give and not to get; it seeks to satisfy not some need of the lover, but rather the need of the one who is loved. This is what God is, that is, this is His nature. Strip from God His love and we no longer have the God who has revealed Himself to His creatures. Strip from Him His love and what remains is something very similar to the gods of the pagans.
Finally, what the Bible does not say about the essence or nature of God is just as important as what it does say. For instance, although the Bible teaches that God is His attributes and characteristics, it does not teach that any particular attribute of God is God. In other words, the Bible is not saying, and has never said, that “Love is God.” On the contrary, the Bible teaches that “God is love” (I John 4:8,16). Clearly, then, the Bible instructs us that God is His attributes and characteristics. Anyone who believes the Bible believes this. Consequently, God is, has been, and always will be who and what He is at this exact moment.
Jesus is God. This is the basic meaning of the Incarnation. In John 1:1, the Holy Spirit teaches that not only was the Word (i.e., the Divine Logos) in the beginning with God, but the Word was God. In verses 14-34, we learn that the Logos became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In a book written so that men would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing might have life in His name, Thomas, speaking of Jesus, exclaims, after seeing Him in His resurrected body, “My Lord and my God.”21 There are, of course, other passages that directly speak of Jesus as God, but since they are all disputed by some, I have chosen not to mention them here. Nevertheless, the cited passages serve to demonstrate, to those who are willing to believe the Bible, that Jesus is, in fact, God.
Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews, telling us what God had prophesied about Jesus, writes, “But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.’”22 He also clearly identifies Jesus as the Jehovah and Elohim of Psalm 102:25-27, who eternally existed before He created the heavens and earth,23 and who remains eternally the same24 and, therefore, in the person of Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”25 To see in Hebrews 13:8 only a reference to the faithfulness of Jesus, and not a reference to His immutability, is a serious mistake. In fact, Jesus Christ’s faithfulness is grounded in His changelessness. Because He does not change ontologically (i.e., because He has always been the fullness of God that He is at this very moment), He has been, is, and always will be, completely and totally reliable. It is only in this sense that Jesus could identify Himself as the “I Am that I Am” or “He who is” of Exodus 3:14.26 When Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am,” He used the aorist tense to describe Abraham’s existence and the timeless present tense to describe His own existence, and thereby identified Himself as the self-existent, eternal, infinite, immutable God with a capital “G.”
Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.27
As difficult as it may be for finite creatures to even begin to comprehend (the Bible calls it a mystery in 1 Timothy 3:16), when the Divine Logos or Son of God became flesh,28 or came in the likeness of man,29 or was manifested in the flesh,30 He did not divest, give up, or have stripped from Him, His Deity. Within the man Jesus of Nazareth dwelt, and continues to dwell (for such is the meaning of the present tense), all (not some of) the fullness of the Godhead bodily.31 From a Biblical standpoint, the historical Jesus is never understood apart from His embodiment as the self-existent, eternal, infinite, immutable God in time and space. One might argue that a God divested of His Deity would still continue to exist; but, if He did, He would no longer be what He had been and, therefore, would not be entitled to call Himself “I Am that I Am.”
When Jesus identified Himself with the enduring “I” of Exodus 3:14,32 He was not just claiming to have been God previously. Instead, He was claiming to be the eternal “I.” To those who rejected His Deity, He said:
Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going. You judge according to the flesh…[some translations say, ‘by human standards’].33
Brethren are creating a sham god and engaging in orthotalksy because they are trying to rely on their human understanding. Reason alone, unaided by divine revelation, provides a knowledge of God that is, at its best, only partial and, at its worst, frequently in error.34 Philosophy simply does not lend itself to an adequate understanding of God’s hidden character and purposes.35 God — who He is and what He is — is not understood on the basis of human speculation, but by the explicit teachings of the God-breathed Word. In other words, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God.”36
After reading the footnote, make sure you hit the back button on the browser to return to text.
- See John 1:1,14.
- John 8:24.
- 1 John 4:3.
- See John 1:1.
- See Romans 1:23.
- See 1 Timothy 6:16.
- Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17.
- See Numbers 23:19.
- Exodus 3:14.
- See Romans 1:23; 1 Timothy 6:16; John 5:26.
- See Deuteronomy 33:27.
- See Psalm 139:7-10; Isaiah 46:9,10; Jeremiah 32:27.
- Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17.
- See John 4:24.
- See 1 John 4:8,16.
- Ephesians 2:4.
- See Jeremiah 31:3; Ephesians 1:4-5.
- See Ephesians 3:18-19.
- See Romans 8:35-39.
- John 3:16; 1 John 4:9.
- John 20:28.
- Hebrews 1:8.
- See Hebrews 1:10.
- See Hebrews 1:11-12.
- Hebrews 13:8.
- See John 8:58.
- Psalm 90:1-2.
- See John 1:14.
- See Philippians 2:8.
- See 1 Timothy 3:16.
- See Colossians 2:9.
- See John 8:58.
- John 8:14-15.
- See 1 Corinthians 2:6-14.
- See 1 Corinthians 1:21-25.
- 1 Peter 4:11.