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The Christ of the Creeds

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
April 8, 2023 12:01 am

The Christ of the Creeds

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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April 8, 2023 12:01 am

Throughout church history, Christians have sought to clearly summarize what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ. Today, R.C. Sproul reveals how we can benefit from the labors of believers who came before us and the creeds they left behind.

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There is the affirmation, the very important affirmation that every Christian has to make, that Christ is truly human and truly divine. And then whenever the church tries to explain the nature of that unity, then they fall back on negatives. It establishes the borders over which you dare not travel, you dare not transgress those lines, because the only thing on the other side of those borders will be some kind of heresy. Ever since the serpent challenged Eve in the Garden of Eden with the question, did God really say? The Word of God has been under attack, and that assault has also come against the person and work of Christ.

Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thank you for joining us for this Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind. To undermine the identity of Christ is to undermine the gospel itself. It's why the church through the centuries has been vigilant to defend and protect the person and work of Christ. And today as R.C. Sproul continues his overview of theology, he will look at several of those attacks and how the church responded. Here's R.C.

Sproul. When we looked earlier at the doctrine of the Trinity, I mentioned how that the greatest concern for the early church theologically was to establish a clear understanding of the biblical portrait of Jesus, where on the one hand the deity and humanity of Christ were confessed and the unity of God was preserved. And we saw how that worked out, for example, in the developments that led up to the Council of Nicaea and the framing of the Nicene Creed, which took place in the fourth century. Also, some of you may remember that at that time I mentioned that the church has faced a major crisis with respect to their understanding of Jesus in four centuries in church history—the fourth century, the fifth century, the nineteenth century with the advent of nineteenth-century liberalism, which made a fierce assault on the deity of Christ, and the twentieth century. And it's important for us to understand that because we happen to be living in a time where the person of Christ is a matter of great controversy among theologians.

We've seen the radical teachings of the so-called Jesus Seminar that have taken scissors and razors to the Bible and have chopped it up to such a degree that they've made mincemeat out of it and give us precious little to rely on from the biblical documents, even questioning such things as Jesus being born in Bethlehem. But in any case, throughout church history, the church has always had to define her understanding of the person of Christ. And in the fifth century, the church faced a crisis that was different from that provoked by the Arian controversy that led to the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century. And this crisis led to the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in the year 451. I remember again as a graduate student under Professor Berkhauer in the Netherlands studying the person of Christ, and in his writings Berkhauer had a whole chapter devoted to the Council of Chalcedon, and the title of the chapter in his book was this, Chalcedon-a-terminal-council? It was a fascinating title for a chapter on Christology. And the question that Berkhauer was raising there was, was Chalcedon the last great Christological council—there were other issues faced later and some other lesser councils—but was it the last terminal council of church history to define the person of Christ? And his answer was basically yes, for the simple reason that it was unimaginable that the church could ever go beyond where Chalcedon went in their formulation of the person of Christ. Now, what provoked the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century was the assault on Christian orthodoxy that came on two fronts.

The church was fighting a war on two fronts at that time. On the one hand, there was the heresy of a man by the name of Eutyches that was called the Monophysite heresy. And on the other hand, there was the heresy that emerged under the leadership of a man by the name of Nestorius, which was consequently called the Nestorian heresy.

And so what was involved in these heretical views was simply this. In the first place, Eutyches denied that Christ had two natures, a human and divine nature, and hence his position was called Monophysite, from the prefix mono, which means one or single, and from the word fusus, from which we get the word physics, which is a study of the nature of things. And so the Monophysite heresy was the view that Christ had only one nature. Now remember, in our doctrine of the Trinity, the church was very clear in affirming that God has only one nature.

And there the difficulty was having one nature or one being with three persons. And just the opposite problem comes up with respect to the person of Christ, because here you have one person with two natures. Well, that was what Eutyches objected against and said that Christ only had one nature. Well, you would ask the question then, how did he perceive that one nature? Was it just a human nature or just a divine nature? Because there had been those prior to Eutyches who had argued that Christ had only one nature, those who said that He was simply human with no deity, and others who argued that He was completely divine, such as the Docetists who denied His true humanity.

Well, you might think that Eutyches would be in one of those two camps, but alas, that's not the case. What Eutyches formulated was an idea that Christ had a single, which we call theanthropic, nature. Now, let's take a few moments to define this 50-cent word, theanthropic, because it's not a word that you hear every day. You might hear the word philanthropic, but you don't usually hear the word theanthropic, philanthropic.

Somebody who is engaged in philanthropy or who is philanthropically inclined is somebody who manifests a love for humanity. Remember the word Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. Phileo is love. Adolphos is brother. Well, in Greek, the word for man is the word anthropos, and the word for God is the word theos. And so, what is happening here is that the Greek word for God is just jammed together with the Greek word for man, taking the word theos and anthropos, placing them together. And what is in view here is this, that what Eutyches was saying was that Christ's nature was neither human nor divine, but it was kind of a hybrid form, a mixture that is partly divine and partly human, but neither truly divine nor truly human, but rather a blending, mixing, or confusing of deity and humanity. On the other side, there was the Nestorian heresy, and Nestorius argued that if Christ has two distinct natures, a divine and human nature, He must therefore have two distinct personalities. Two natures would spell two persons. If you have two persons, you have two natures. If you have two natures, you have two persons. And so, the doctrine of Christ was being attacked from both sides, one denying the dual nature of Christ by reducing it to a single confused mixture between divine and human, and the other one, though affirming two natures, denied the unity of those two natures by separating the natures or dividing the natures from the persons.

So, it's that issue that provoked the Council of Chalcedon in 451. And at that council, we get the classic formulation for what we call the dual nature nature of Christ, namely, that Christ is one person with two natures. And the formula that we meet at Chalcedon is found in the words vera homo, vera Deus.

Now, the word vera here, of course, is the word from which we get veritas or verily, veracity, voracious, and so on. It's the word based on the Latin word for truth. And so, the idea here is that Christ is confessed to be truly man and truly God. And so, if the church is to be consistent with the Scriptures, we have to confess that in Christ we meet one who has a true human nature, and at the same time, one who has a true divine nature as well. But then beyond this simple affirmation that Christ is truly man and truly God, it says that the two natures are perfectly united, and then what is affixed to the confession at Chalcedon, to the creed, is a list of what is called the famous historical four negatives. Now, some of you might recall early on in our study when we looked at the difficulty of making descriptive terms, or speaking in descriptive language about the nature of God, I said that the church had made use of different ways of describing things, including what I mentioned at the time was the way of negation, whereby we define what God is by saying what He is not. He is infinite, meaning He is not finite.

He is immutable, meaning He is not mutable. We take a concept that we understand like mutability or finitude, and then we attach the negative form to it, and that's called the way of negation. Well, you have these four famous negatives at the Council of Chalcedon that are very important for the historic understanding of Christ. The church confessed that Christ was truly human, truly God, the two natures perfectly united without mixture, confusion, separation, or division.

These are the four negatives, without mixture, confusion, separation, or division. In the first part of the formula, obviously what is in view is the heretical teaching of Eutychees in his Monophysite heresy, saying that the two natures, the divine and the human, are not mixed together or confused or blended in such a way that you have a deified human nature or a humanized divine nature. The human nature is always human, subjected to the normal limitations of humanity. The divine nature is always divine.

It's not mixed up with a pound of flesh or a pound of humanity. It's not that all of a sudden the divine mind loses its omniscience in the incarnation. The divine mind knows everything, but the human mind does not. For example, the church is trying to come to grips with questions that arise in the New Testament. For example, when the disciples asked Jesus questions regarding His return, and Jesus says that of the day and the hour, no man knows, not even the Son, but only the Father knows. And so at that point Jesus says to His disciples, here is something I don't know. Well, would that be an indication of the human nature or of the divine nature?

People struggle with this. On the one hand, when we look at the life of Jesus, as it is displayed for us in the pages of Scripture, certain things are easy. When we see that Jesus is perspiring, He's sweating in the Garden of Gethsemane, is that a human manifestation? I mean, is sweat something that you expect from God? God doesn't sweat. God doesn't get hungry. God doesn't bleed.

God doesn't cry. God doesn't die. Divine nature doesn't die on the cross. If the divine nature died on the cross, the universe would cease to exist. So we see many things in the life of Jesus that display or evidence His humanity. Now, when He says there's something I don't know, would that display something of His humanity or of His deity? Well, obviously it would be a statement regarding His humanity, but some people say, wait a minute, if that's God incarnate, and God knows everything, and there's a perfect union between the divine nature and the human nature, how could it be that there's something that Jesus doesn't know? Well, that's like saying, well, if there's a perfect unity between the divine nature and the human nature, how could the human nature get hungry?

Because God never gets hungry. Again, the point that we have to make here is that the church says that it's absolutely important to distinguish between the divine nature and the human nature so that we don't confuse them and blend them in together in such a way as to obscure the reality either of the divine nature or of the human nature. And by like manner, as soon as I start talking about distinguishing the two natures, I have some friends who come up to me and say, you're a Nestorian because you're dividing or separating the two natures. When you say, R.C., that in His human nature Jesus didn't know the day and the hour, aren't you separating His human nature from His divine nature?

I said, no, I'm distinguishing them. That human mind was always in unity with the divine mind. And we see Jesus displaying supernatural knowledge all the time in the New Testament where He reveals things that He knows that no human could possibly know on their own.

Where does He get that information? Well, He gets it from the One who is omniscient. But it's one thing for the divine nature to communicate knowledge to the human nature. It's another thing for the divine nature to swallow up the human nature and deify the human mind of Christ.

You see the difference? The human mind had access to the divine mind, if you will, but they were not the same, so that there were certain things that Jesus did not know by His own testimony. That really perplexed somebody as great as Thomas Aquinas who formulated what he called the accommodation theory where he said Jesus had to know the day and the hour. He's God incarnate, and there's a perfect union there. How could there be something that the divine mind knows that the human mind doesn't know?

That can't be, he said. So Jesus must have known, and this accommodation theory was, he said, but the knowledge was too mysterious, it was too deep, it was too holy, whatever. And to cut the Gordian knot, to spare all the explanation, the theological difficulties that they wouldn't understand anyway, just to make it simple, he told them he didn't know. So, yeah, well, Thomas, that's helpful at one point, but on the other hand, if Jesus is telling His disciples that He doesn't know something that He actually knows, He's lying.

He's deceiving them, and if He did, it may even be a little white lie, but that's just enough to disqualify Him as our Savior because He can't have any sin. And so, we have to take seriously what Jesus says about the limits, humanly speaking, of His own knowledge, just like His body was limited physically, and His appetite underwent transitions and changes just like ours are engaged in. So, in any case, the four negatives here are without mixture and confusion. That is designed to eliminate the monophysite heresy.

Without separation or division, those two words are designed to eliminate the Nestorian heresy. And all four negatives are setting for us the boundaries in which we seek to understand the mystery of the incarnation. Now, I stress the word mystery because even with these formulae that the church gives, let's not kid ourselves, nobody in this world has ever penetrated the depths of the mystery of how Christ can be truly God and truly man. We don't have any reference for that in all of history. Here we have one who is a sui generis.

He's in a class by himself. There's only been in all of human history there's only been in all of human history one person ever appear on the sphere of this earth who was God incarnate. And how the mystery of the incarnation works is beyond our full understanding. This takes us right back to the first lecture on the incomprehensibility of God. And so, well, if all we have are negative terms, doesn't that tell us we really don't know anything about it?

No. The value of Chalcedon here is twofold. On the one hand, there is the affirmation, the very important affirmation that every Christian has to make that Christ is truly human and truly divine. And then whenever the church tries to explain the nature of that unity, then they fall back on negatives. And about all that accomplishes, and I really shouldn't even say it that way, that all that accomplishes, because it accomplishes something extremely important, is that it sets the boundaries.

It establishes the borders over which you dare not travel. You dare not transgress those lines because the only thing on the other side of those borders will be some kind of heresy. I remember, again, when I was a seminary student, our professor of systematics later went on to become the dean of Yale Divinity School, and we were dealing with this subject of Chalcedon in class one day. And he said, if you try to think concretely about the nature of the union of the human nature with the divine nature, he said, if you go very far, you're going to get yourself in deep trouble. He said, because if you want to go beyond these negative categories established by Chalcedon, he said to us, I'll never forget it, he said, gentlemen, choose your heresy, because the only thing on the other side of those boundaries will be some kind of heretical distortion of our understanding of Christ. And so that's the great service that this creed has given to us to restrict us to say, no matter how you conceive of the two natures, don't think of them as being an amalgamated confusion or blending of two, and don't think of them as being separated or divorced from one another.

They're united yet distinct. And then added to that is a very important line that Chalcedon has been woefully neglected historically, each nature retaining its own attributes. Crucial, that in Christ, the divine nature does not lay aside any of His divine attributes. The divine nature in Christ is eternal, infinite, immutable, omniscient, omnipotent, and all the rest. And the human nature also retains the attributes of humanity.

The attributes of humanity, it is limited, it is finite, it is restricted to space and time, and so on. So, with that formula, we get some direction that I hope will help guide us as we continue our study of the person of Christ. As you can see, doctrine does matter.

We want to make sure that the Christ we follow is the Christ of the Bible. That was R.C. Sproul on this Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind.

What you heard today is part of R.C. Sproul's 60-part overview of theology, and we're making that available to you for your donation of any amount. This series will help you better understand why we can trust the Bible, the providence of God, even through times of trial and suffering, why Jesus had to die on the cross, and our future hope as Christians. And we'll send this to you. It's on eight DVDs for your donation of any amount. And you can give your gift by visiting Not only will we send you this DVD package for your library, you'll also have access to the digital messages and the study guide.

So give your gift today at Another way Ligonier Ministries has sought to help Christians better understand who Jesus is and what he has done on our behalf was through the release of the Ligonier Statement on Christology. We called it The Word Made Flesh. It's available in almost 30 languages, so I would encourage you to read it and share it at Jesus has many titles. Lord, Christ, Son of Man. But what do those titles mean? That's what we'll discover next Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-08 04:42:11 / 2023-04-08 04:50:35 / 8

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