In my travels I've had the opportunity to visit a wide variety of churches. Not long ago I was in a mainline Protestant denominational church where I couldn't help but notice a variety of Sunday School classes that were being promoted in the foyer. On the table were a number of books to be studied in the respective classes. To say I was shocked to see a volume by the Episcopalian bishop John Shelby Spong is an understatement.
Spong has become (in)famous in recent years for his blatant and boastful denial of virtually every foundational Christian doctrine. Spong mocks belief in the incarnation of Christ, his deity, his virgin conception, his atoning death, and his bodily resurrection, just to mention a few. That any of his wretched books should be used as the basis for a Sunday School class is a sad commentary on the state of spirituality in too many churches today.
I suppose I was especially energized by the presence of this book because I happened to be preparing this meditation in Colossians at the time. Contrary to Spong and other like-minded heretics, there is hardly a more explicit affirmation of the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ than what we find in Colossians 1:19 (and again in Colossians 2:9). Here is how this verse is rendered in three different translations:
"For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (ESV).
"For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him" (NASB).
"For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him" (NIV).
Paul literally says that "all the fullness" was "pleased" to dwell in Christ. But "fullness" is not a person and only a person has conscious and willful intent; only a person can be "pleased" to do something. So both the NASB and the NIV translate the verse to indicate that God the Father is the subject of the verb: it was his good pleasure that the fullness of the divine nature dwell in Christ.
In this and subsequent meditations we are going to think deeply about this truth.
Let me begin by urging you not to be misled by the word "dwell". Paul is not suggesting that there was a man named Jesus in whom deity or divinity resided. In other words, the fullness of deity didn't dwell in Jesus the way the Holy Spirit dwells in you and me. When God the Son became a human, the fullness of the divine nature "became flesh" (John 1:14), yet without ceasing to be divine. The divine and the human united in the one person of Jesus Christ.
The early church wrestled with how best to articulate this marvelous and mind-bending mystery and reached its conclusions at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 a.d. Here is that portion of the statement that attempts to explain what Paul is saying in Colossians and elsewhere in the New Testament. Jesus Christ is "to be acknowledged in two natures [one divine, one human], without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ . . ."
The authors of this statement had three primary goals in mind.
(1) Their point in saying the two natures were not confused or changed is to prevent us from concluding that the divine and human were so united that an altogether different third thing, neither truly divine nor truly human, was created. For example, if you have a glass of water and a glass of wine and mix them together in a pitcher, you end up with something different from what you started out with. The water is now somewhat alcoholic and the wine is now somewhat diluted, but the substance in the pitcher is different from what was in either of the two glasses.
Contrary to what some in the early church suggested, the divine nature did not "swallow up" the human (as the ocean would a drop of ink), nor did the human dilute the divine into something less than truly God.
(2) Their point in saying there was neither separation nor distinction is to prevent us from concluding that the divine and human natures in Christ were artificially bonded, almost like one would glue together two separate pieces of wood. There was more than an external "connection" between the divine and human: there was and is a true union of the two.
(3) Finally, they wanted to be certain that the union between the divine and human not be construed in such a way that we think of the incarnate Christ as if he were two separate persons. He is one person, wholly divine and wholly human, neither less divine because he has a human nature nor less human because he has a divine nature.
Yes, I know it's mind-boggling! But if our Lord Jesus Christ were anything less or other than the God-man, one person who is truly divine and truly human, we would still be in our sin.
Marveling in the Mystery,