by George Sidney Hurd
Should the understanding that the God of Scripture is one as to essence and nature, yet existing as three distinct Persons, be considered an essential doctrine to the Christian faith? What about the belief that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was fully God and yet also fully man in His incarnation? Is it really that important what we believe concerning this controversial topic?
Some would say no. Among those who call themselves “Universalists” there are those who reason that, since all will be saved in the end anyway, it doesn’t really matter whether or not one is a Trinitarian or a Unitarian – whether our Savior be the Creator of all, or a mere creature. Some are what I would call “Pantheists.” However, not in the sense of believing that all is God, but in that they chose to ignore the subject altogether, saying that no matter what we believe about God it will all pan out in the end anyway.
However, looking to the Scriptures we see that it matters very much what we believe about God and about the Person of Christ. Jesus said:
“For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son JUST AS they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (John 5:22-23)
Jesus here says that, if we fail to honor Him in the same way that we honor the Father, we are dishonoring the Father. The only created being that sought honor equal to the Father was Satan. Certainly, Christ is no mere creature, and therefore all honor and praise is due unto Him (Rev 5:11-14). The Apostle John, countering an early form of Gnosticism which denied that the man Jesus was also fully divine (the Christ), didn’t spare any words in denouncing them. He said:
“Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” (1Jn 2:22-23)
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist… 9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” (2Jn 7,9).
In light of these, and many similar passages which we will be considering in this series of blogs, how can we as Biblical Universalists simply look the other way as New Agers introduce their pantheism which presents Christ as just another divine master on a par with Mohammad, Buda or Gandhi? How can we be silent before the Unitarians who deny the Trinity and Christ’s full deity?
My concern, and the primary motive for writing this series of blogs, is that the present revival of the doctrine of Universal Salvation could be derailed, just as the previous Universalist awakening was, if we remain silent. The restoration of the biblical doctrine of Universal Salvation had its beginnings among the Anabaptists and Moravians during the Reformation and flourished under the leadership of men like John Murray and Charles Chauncy in the 18th and 19th century, only to later decline under the influence of men like Hosea Ballou who introduced the doctrine of Unitarianism and denied the Penal Substitutionary Atonement of Christ, presenting His death on the cross as nothing more than a demonstration of God’s unconditional love for mankind.
The previous revival of Universalism reached an all-time low in 1961 when the Universalist Church of America finally merged with the Unitarian Church, becoming what is today known as the Unitarian Universalist Association. As of 2006, less than 20% of their members still identified themselves as Christian. 
Revival begins when we turn to the Lord and His Word with all our hearts. But when we do not abide in the doctrine of Christ, the glory of the Lord departs and apostacy sets in. If we do not awaken to the truth of the unadulterated gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the proclamation of sound doctrine, what began as a glorious rediscovery of the truth of Biblical Universalism will suffer the same fate as the previous awakening.
It is not necessary for one to be able to expound upon these truths in order to be saved, any more than an infant must identify his parents and understand the birth process in order to be born. However, if the infant grows into a young man and still cannot identify his parents, that would be a problem. It is similar with the new birth. The Holy Spirit convicts and draws us, and at the moment of regeneration we respond in faith, knowing little or nothing concerning the God who gave us new life. Nor did we understand what was necessary in order to make our salvation possible.
However, while it is not necessary to understand the triune nature of God and Christ’s divinity in order to be saved, and indeed many of God’s children still don’t understand these truths even after many years have passed, they are fundamental truths which babes in Christ need to be grounded in from the very beginning. Jesus commissioned the disciples to preach the gospel, making disciples of all nations. The very initiatory rite Jesus instructed them to perform when one believes and becomes a disciple, emphasizes the triune nature of God. They were instructed to baptize them “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). The very baptismal formula prescribed by Jesus for those who are to be baptized in His name, informs the new believer concerning the triune nature of their God, referring to all three Persons as the singular name.
While it is lamentable that so many of God’s children remain ignorant concerning the nature of God, it is a very serious matter to claim to be a teacher of the Word and actually deny these fundamental truths concerning God’s nature and the person of Christ. As John says, if anyone denies that Jesus is the Christ, i.e., that He is fully man (Jesus) and fully God (the Christ), he is antichrist.
For those who would minimize the importance of God’s triune nature and the full deity of Christ, I would like to consider the following points: 1) A Unitarian God would be incomplete within Himself. 2) Only God can be our Savior. 3) Only God is to receive worship.
A Unitarian God would be Incomplete within Himself
As to His essence, God is seen to be Love (1Jn 4:8,16). The agape love of God is a giving love which does not seek its own – it is not self-centered. By its very nature, love must have another person or persons in order to find expression. Therefore, if God were a solitary being, either His essential nature is not love, or else He would not be complete and self-sufficient within Himself: He would be dependent upon His creation to find completion. Aloneness is incompatible with agape love. But since God is seen to be a triunity He has never been alone, not even before creation. The Son was always the Beloved of the Father, “the Son of His love.” (Eph 1:6; Col 1:13; Jn 3:35; Matt 17:5; 3:17). The Father and the Son, along with the Holy Spirit, enjoyed communion from eternity before creation (Jn 17:4-5).
The Modalistic Unitarians, who believe that God is one solitary Person who plays three different roles, are presented with the same problem, or even worse, since any communion between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit would be imaginary. I will be presenting the scriptural evidence for the Trinity in another blog. But just from a logical perspective, it is inconceivable that an eternally self-sufficient God who is love in His essential being should exist in solitude in eternity, requiring creation in order to be able to give expression to His nature. This reciprocation of love and communion between the three Persons in a single divine essence is at times referred to as the perichoresis or the trinitarian communitarian relationship of the three Persons of the Trinity within the single divine essence.
Only God Incarnate can be our Savior
In order to qualify as our Savior, Jesus had to be Yahweh Himself. Yahweh most emphatically stated more than once that besides Him there is no savior.
“I, even I, am the Lord (Yahweh), and besides Me there is no savior.” (Isa 43:11)
“Yet I am the Lord your God ever since the land of Egypt, and you shall know no God but Me; for there is no savior besides Me.” (Hos 13:4)
“And there is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me.” (Isa 45:21)
As we see here in Isaiah 45:21, Yahweh is both a just God and the only Savior. A just God cannot remain just and simply look the other way when we sin without executing justice (Psa 9:7-8; Heb 2:2-3; Matt 12:36; Rom 3:5-6). The triune God Himself had to make propitiation for the sins of the world in order to be able to justly forgive our transgressions.
Salvation is made possible only because the Judge Himself took the judgment due to His creatures upon Himself. Our Savior could not have been a mere innocent creature bearing the punishment for the guilty. That would have compounded injustice rather than satisfying it (Deut 24:16). The beauty and justice of our redemption is that Yahweh Elohim Himself took humanity upon Himself and bore the just penalty for the sins of the world in the person of God the Son. Jesus Christ is both our God and Savior. Jesus Christ is Himself our Savior Yahweh Elohim. That is what Peter affirms when he refers to Jesus as both “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and “our God and Savior Jesus Christ” in the same epistle (2 Peter 3:18; 2 Peter 1:1). As Yahweh said before the incarnation, “I am the LORD (Yahweh) your God (Elohim)…there is no savior besides Me” (Hos 13:4).
The Jews of Jesus’ day were familiar with the Scriptures and knew full well that only God can forgive sins committed against His own justice. Their Scriptures are emphatic:
“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” (Isa 43:25; cf. Dan 9:9)
“No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him —
8 For the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever — 15
But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me.” (Ps 49:7-8,15 NASU)
In the light of these passages, we can understand why the Jews inwardly accused Jesus of blasphemy when He said to the paralytic: “your sins are forgiven you” (Mark 2:5-12). They knew something many today who deny the full deity of Christ fail to understand – only God Himself can be our Savior, only He can forgive sins committed against His own justice. And, just as in other occasions when the Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy, rather than denying His deity, He further affirmed it, first by demonstrating that He knew their inward thoughts which only God can know (1Sam 16:7; cf. Rev 2:23), and then healing the paralytic using these words:
“Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise, take up your bed and walk'? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins — He said to the paralytic, 11 ‘I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’” (Mark 2:9-11).
Just in the light of what we have seen here alone, it should be clear to all that the denial of the full deity of Christ is a very serious matter, since it is foundational to the salvation of all mankind. Put simply, either Jesus is Himself God and Savior of all, or He isn’t the Savior at all. The very name Jesus means “Yahweh saves.” That is why Peter could so boldly declare before the Sanhedrin: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Equally important is the true humanity of Christ. In order for Yahweh to atone for our sins He had to come in the likeness of sinful flesh and be tempted in every way as we, yet without sin. And then, as our representative head, He had to be put to death in the flesh, which was the just penalty for Adam’s original sin (Rom 8:3; Heb 4:15; 1Pet 3:18; Rom 6:23). It is only in Jesus Christ, the Last Adam that all who died in Adam can be freed from the penalty of Adam’s sin and made alive (1Cor 15:22). Nothing less than Jesus Christ the God/Man could give His own life as a ransom for the sins of the world and then take it back again, raising from the dead, thereby creating a whole new humanity as the resurrected and glorified Last Adam (Jn 10:17-18; Eph 2:15).
Only Yahweh could have done what Jesus Christ did, bringing salvation and a new creation to a fallen world. That is why Jesus warned the Pharisees who refused to acknowledge Him, “if you do not believe that I am (EGO EIMI), you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). We will look at this in more detail in another blog, but EGO EIMI is the very name God told Moses to call Him at the burning bush (Ex 3:14). That the Pharisees understood what He was claiming is evident, given their response when Jesus said: “Before Abraham was, I am (EGO EIMI). They took up stones to stone Him for blasphemy. (Jn 8:58-59).
I believe that Unitarians haven’t duly considered how much the idea of a solitary God diminishes the glory of God’s love. One is left with only two options; either deny that love is His essential nature or else claim that He is not self-sufficient, since He would require creation to be able to give expression to His essential nature which is love.
Also, even more consequential is their belief that Christ was merely a created being whom God sent to die in His place for us, rather than Him coming Himself in the person of His own unique Son who is eternally in the Father’s bosom. This greatly diminishes the demonstration of God’s love when He Himself took the form of man and died for our sins upon the cross. Yahweh didn’t simply send someone to die for us – He came in the person of the Son, our God and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1).
Many are scandalized by the cross because they fail to comprehend the Triune being of God. They picture the Father as an independent being sending His created son to die in order to pay our sin debt which we owed to Him, scourging and crucifying His Son as a go-between for us. That is a gross misunderstanding of the Triune God’s loving sacrifice for us. God the Father was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself (2Cor 5:19), and Christ by the Holy Spirit willingly offered Himself up for us all (Heb 9:14). And, it was the Father with the Holy Spirit that raised Him from the dead (Rom 8:11;1Peter 3:18). All three persons of the Trinity participated in our salvation. All three persons equally suffered. There is no greater love than this!
Only God is to receive worship
We find it repeatedly and emphatically stated throughout Scripture that we are to worship only Yahweh Elohim, and that He will not give His glory nor His praise to any other:
“you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” (Ex 34:14; cf. Matt 4:10)
“I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images.” (Isa 42:8)
It follows that, if Jesus is not God, then we should not worship Him; we should not glorify Him and praise His name. Such worship would be blasphemous idolatry. When Herod received worship as a god, an angel of the Lord struck him and he died, eaten of worms (Acts 12:21-23). For this reason, when the men of Lystra were going to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you” (Acts 14:14-15). Likewise, when Cornelius fell at Peter’s feet to worship him, he said: “Stand up; I myself am also a man” (Acts 10:26).
If Jesus were merely a sinless man, we would certainly expect Him to react the same way. But quite the contrary, when Thomas said to Jesus, “my Lord and my God,” Jesus affirmed the truth of his confession saying: “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Instead of saying to Him, “you are mistaken, I am a man and not God,” He reproached Him for having to see Him face to face before believing that He was his Lord and God.
Some Unitarians say that Jesus Christ was a created angel. We will see why that is impossible later, but here I just want to point out that mere angels do not receive worship, since it is due to God alone. Two times John was overwhelmed by the splendor of the angel who appeared to him and fell down to worship them. But both times the angel responded saying: “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren… Worship God!” (Rev 19:10; 22:9).
God’s glory is exclusive to Himself. Yet, we see Jesus in His intercessory prayer in the night of His passion praying to the Father saying:
“Now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5)
So, either God in fact shared His glory with another, even before creation, or else Jesus was indeed the Son of God, eternally existing in the bosom of the Father, but willingly leaving His throne of glory, taking the form of a man and being obedient unto death, at which time God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him above all creation.
Combining His prayer to the Father in John 17 with Paul’s description of Christ’s kenosis in Philippians 2, we see that Jesus Christ was always the God of glory who became incarnate as Man, being obedient unto death, only to be restored to the glory He had with the Father from eternity:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation (He put aside the glory He had with the Father before the world was), taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man (while yet being fully God), He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name (restored Him to the glory He eternally had with the Father), 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (in worship), of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Yahweh), to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:5-11)
As the resurrected and exalted Christ, the Son of God, He is then worshiped by all of the restored creation, receiving the glory, honor and praise that is due to God alone:
“And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’ 14 Then the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.” (Rev 5:13-14)
When it says that they worship Him who lives forever and ever, it refers back to Revelation chapter one where Jesus says of Himself: “I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore” (Rev 1:17-18). He also said: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,’ says the Lord, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’” (Rev 1:8). As we will see in another blog, these are titles exclusive to Yahweh Elohim. There cannot be two “Almighties.” There is only one God who exists in three persons.
So, we see the importance of the deity of Christ in that only God is to be worshipped. If Jesus is not God, then we are breaking the first commandment when we worship Him. If Jesus is not God, then Thomas should have been reprimanded for calling Him “my Lord and my God.” But once we understand that He is both our Lord and our God, then the only response is to bow the knee to Him in worship and adoration, to the glory of God the Father.
I hope that I have been able to briefly demonstrate the importance of acknowledging Jesus Christ as God incarnate. John was so emphatic as to its importance he said that those who deny that Jesus is the Christ are antichrist. In the following blogs I will demonstrate that “the Christ” is none other than Yahweh of the Old Testament, and that Yahweh Elohim is one God who manifests as three persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.