Someday the entire earth will resound with one singular confession: “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11). This short sentence overflows with meaning. To say that Jesus is the Christ is to say that He is the “Anointed One.” It is to say that He is the promised and long-awaited Messiah. To say that Jesus Christ is Lord is to say that He is truly God of truly God. The incarnation is a wonder of wonders, an astonishing mystery. God became flesh. Even to call Him Jesus is to say that He is the one and only Savior. He came into the world on a mission to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).
“Jesus Christ is Lord” is a creed—a concise statement of belief. The English word creed comes from the Latin word credo, which means “I believe.” This short creed declares what we believe about Christ. Some think 1 Timothy 3:16 may also be a creed. Two reasons point toward this. First, Paul uses this expression, “great, indeed, we confess.” Second, the phrases of this verse are rhythmic and poetically expressed. These phrases form a concise summary of the incarnate Christ:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (1 Tim. 3:16)
The biblical pattern is important. When the early church formed councils and produced creeds, they were not creating a new method of confessing the faith. They were carrying on a biblically established tradition.
As challenges arose, the early church took a stand. Further, many think that liturgical needs, or the desire for pure worship, also prompted the church to engage in writing creeds. This is especially true regarding the doctrine of Christ. The essential truth of the person and work of Jesus has been the defining hallmark of Christianity down through the centuries.
The New Testament writers themselves battled false ideas regarding Christ’s identity and work. In the early centuries of the church, various groups challenged Christ’s true humanity. One group, the Docetists, claimed that Jesus only “appeared” to be human. Other heresies, such as Arianism, challenged the true deity of Christ. These heresies claimed He was less than God the Father. Later groups erred in expressing how the two natures, the true humanity and the true deity of Christ, are united in His one person.
The early church responded to these challenges and errors by convening councils and writing creeds that summarized the Bible’s teaching regarding the central truths of the Christian faith. These creeds are a rich legacy, handed down from one generation to the next. So today, we have the resources of the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Chalcedonian Definition. These creeds are boundary markers, drawing clear lines between orthodoxy and heresy.
These creeds have served to steel the church and, by the gracious and governing hand of God, have guided Christians to proclaim faithfully the gospel. They are recited today as a testimony to their enduring value. They remind us that Christ is at the center of our theology and at the center of our worship. These creeds summon the church “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).
Yet, these creeds only hint at the work of Christ. They do not fully expound on the gospel. A true division in the visible church occurred at the time of the Reformation. The work of Christ was the key issue. More specifically, debate over the doctrine of justification by faith alone was the central controversy that sparked the Reformation. Here the church divided along the lines of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Protestantism affirms the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide), while Roman Catholicism, following the decrees of the Council of Trent, rejects the doctrine of justification by faith alone, opting instead to see justification as resulting from the cooperation of faith and works. The Reformation also revealed a difference on another issue, namely, the supreme and sole headship of Jesus Christ over His church and, in fact, over all things.
Taken together, the ecumenical creeds of the early church and these emphases of the Reformation draw guidelines for the church for proclaiming a biblically faithful gospel. Creeds and the various Reformation confessions and catechisms provide summaries of the faith and bring clarity to the faith and to the gospel.
The Word Made Flesh: The Ligonier Statement on Christology humbly attempts to offer the church of this generation—and, with God’s blessing, generations to come—a succinct statement regarding the person and work of Christ that draws from the riches of the past, from both the ecumenical creeds and Reformation theology. Perhaps this statement and its accompanying twenty-six articles of affirmation and denial may serve as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection on these crucial matters of Christology. Perhaps this statement itself may even prove useful to the church. Every attempt has been made to make this statement conducive to public recital. We want every person who encounters this statement to know that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
The statement consists of six stanzas or sections. The first serves as a preface, with two key verbs: confess and rejoice. God has revealed both Himself and His will in the pages of Holy Scripture. Yet, there are still “secret things” that belong to Him alone (Deut. 29:29). We must always be mindful of our limitations in the task of theology. So we begin by confessing the mystery and wonder of the gospel. The primary focus of this statement is the incarnation, which we succinctly define with the words God made flesh. The person of Christ immediately leads to the work of Christ, so we collectively rejoice in Christ’s work of salvation.
The second stanza emphasizes the true deity of Christ, seeing Him equally positioned among the persons of the triune Godhead. This stanza ends with a restatement of the Chalcedonian formula from the Definition of Chalcedon. Since the incarnation, Christ has been and ever will be two natures in one person.
The exposition of the incarnation occupies the third stanza, emphasizing Christ’s true humanity. He was born. He is Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). Here we confess His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and second coming. These are the historical facts of the incarnation.
The theological facts of the incarnation follow in the fourth section, drawing on the recovered insights from the time of the Reformation. For us, Jesus was perfectly obedient. He kept the Law (active obedience) and paid the law’s penalty (passive obedience). He was the spotless lamb, making substitutionary atonement for us. He solved the most pressing problem confronting all of humanity: the wrath of the Holy God. This stanza ends by declaring the doctrine of imputation. Our sins were imputed, or counted, to Christ, while His righteousness was imputed to us. We have peace with God solely and exclusively because of what Christ did for us. We are clothed in His righteousness.
The threefold office (munus triplex) of Christ is a helpful theological construct that succinctly expresses Christ’s work. The three offices of prophet, priest, and king were separate mediatorial roles in the Old Testament. Jesus combines all three in His one person, and He exercises all of them perfectly. Here we reflect not only on Christ’s mediatorial work in the past on the cross, but also on His current work as our intercessor at the Father’s right hand.
The concluding stanza affirms the singular, concise confession: Jesus Christ is Lord. All true theology leads to doxology, or worship. Consequently, the statement ends with the key verb praise. By worshiping Christ now, we are preparing for our eternal work.
The phrases of this statement are gateways into a study of Christology, inviting exploration of the richness of the biblical teaching on the person and work of Christ. To further guide us, twenty-six articles of affirmation and denial have been added, each with accompanying Scripture proofs. One main text has been written out in full for each, with other supporting texts supplied. These articles are crucial. They lay out the boundaries of the biblical teaching on the person and work of Christ.
Article 1 serves as the preface, affirming the incarnation.
Article 2 asserts Christ’s true deity, while articles 3–5 lay out the Bible’s one person, two-nature Christology. Articles 6–9 unfold the true humanity of Christ. Articles 10–26 turn from the person of Christ to the work of Christ. These begin with affirming the doctrines of salvation and end with delineations of the threefold office of Christ.
The denials are of extreme importance. It is rather unfashionable in our age of tolerance to presume to deny a belief, but these articles of affirmation and denial are not an exercise in prideful presumption. Instead, they are offered in the hopes of helping the church stay within the safe and verdant confines of biblical teaching. Second John 9 declares, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.” This refers to going ahead of the biblical teaching of Christ, or extending beyond the prescribed boundaries of Christology as revealed in God’s Word. As the twenty-six articles expand on the various lines of the statement, so the articles themselves can lead into deeper biblical teaching on Christ.
Some may rightly ask why a new statement is even necessary. That is a good question. To that end, we offer three reasons for this statement. We trust it will serve the church’s worship and teaching today by addressing both ancient and current challenges. We also trust that it will provide those in the service of the gospel with a means of recognizing others who truly are partners in ministry. Finally, we sense that challenging times for the church are on the horizon, and we trust that this statement will remind us all of the essence of the gospel—its beauty, its necessity, and its urgency. Consider each of these reasons:
Ligonier humbly offers this statement for the church. From the early centuries, Christians have used creeds in the church’s liturgy. It is hoped that this statement might serve the same purpose. Creeds can be helpful teaching tools to explore the vast horizons of biblical teaching. It is also hoped that this statement and the twenty-six articles can be used in the church as a guide for further biblical exploration and reflection. The doctrines of the person and work of Christ are essential to the church’s identity and health. Every generation of the church needs to study and affirm anew the orthodox understanding of the person and work of Christ. We trust that this statement could be of help.
There are a growing number of nondenominational churches, organizations, and movements around the world—many serving to advance the gospel. Sometimes it is difficult to discern where there may be healthy partnerships and associations. Perhaps this statement could serve to identify fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and to solidify common endeavors for the gospel.
In the university town of Oxford stands the Martyrs’ Monument, commemorating the sacrifice made by a number of Britain’s Reformers such as Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, and Hugh Latimer. It speaks of them as having yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they affirmed and maintained against the errors of the church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake.
They believed, affirmed, and maintained the sacred truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In bearing witness to these truths, they proclaimed, defended, and even suffered for them. Many through the centuries have joined these Reformers. Much of the church in the modern Western world has enjoyed religious freedom. How long that lasts might be in question. This generation or the generations to come might very well be called to suffer for believing in Christ. It is rather unwise to be unprepared, and it is also unwise to leave the next generation unprepared.
Indeed, these truths regarding the person and work of Christ are worthy of believing, affirming, maintaining, and suffering for. In Christ is life.
There was a moment in the earthly life of Christ when the crowds had all abandoned Him, and He was left with His band of disciples. He asked them if they were going to leave too. Peter spoke up for the group: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69). Sometime later, one of the Twelve had his doubts. Jesus had been crucified and buried. There was testimony of His resurrection, but Thomas doubted. Then Jesus appeared to Thomas. He touched the wounds of Christ, the wounds He endured for our sins. Thomas confessed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
So we believe. So we confess.
Apostles’ Creed (Date unknown)
Nicene Creed (381)
Definition of Chalcedon (451)
Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), Book II, Chaps 12-17; Book III, Chaps 1-18
Belgic Confession (1561), Articles 10, 18-26
Second Helvetic Confession (1566), Chapter V
Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), Chapter VIII, XI-XV