This article is part of our weekly series, “Our Life’s Comfort: One Year of Being Shaped by the Scriptures.” Read more from the series here.
(33) Q. Why is he called God’s “only begotten Son” when we also are God’s children?
A. Because Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God. We, however, are adopted children of God—adopted by grace for the sake of Christ.
(34) Q. Why do you call him “our Lord”?
A. Because—not with gold or silver, but with his precious blood—he has delivered and purchased us body and soul from sin and from the tyranny of the devil, to be his very own.
Jesus’s lordship makes sweeping demands. He has every right to command you to take up your cross and follow him, sacrificing your selfish ambition, putting to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13), obeying him in every relationship, in private and in public. This is hard. At first, Christ’s lordship might seem unwanted. We’re so committed to autonomy that we distrust anyone ruling over us. But our willingness to submit should depend on the character of the one we’re called to submit to.
The second article of the Apostles’ Creed introduces the second person of the Trinity using four key names and titles: Jesus, Christ, Son, and Lord. The first three terms can help us embrace the last one, the one most likely to make us bristle. Jesus saves. Christ is anointed as mediator. The Son is God’s beloved who gladly shares with believers his glorious inheritance. Knowing Jesus our Lord as the courageous, self-sacrificing, loyal, and loving Son of the Father can encourage us—this is just the master we should want, one who has shown us how to offer our bodies as living sacrifices by doing it first.
Jesus Is God’s Son
While the second person of the Trinity took on flesh and was revealed to us in time as Jesus of Nazareth, he’s God’s only eternal, natural Son. So his sonship isn’t about coming into being—he has always been (Heb. 1:8–10). It’s about his relationship to the Father. Jesus is of the same essence as the Father. Like the Father, he’s almighty, all-knowing, just, and good. This is how he’s able to reveal God to us. If we know the Son, we know the Father (John 14:9).
To understand the relationship between the Father and the Son we must know their love for each other. Central to John the Baptist’s introduction of Jesus is this truth: “The Father loves the Son” (John 3:35). In one of his last speeches to his disciples, Jesus pressed that truth upon them: “The Father has loved me” (15:9). As he prepared for the cross, Jesus prayed to the Father, “You loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). Whatever true love might mean—loyalty, unity, affection, passion, pleasure, tenderness, joy—it’s found nowhere more perfectly than between the persons of the Trinity. “God is love” (1 John 4:16).
And God isn’t stingy with his love. He shares it with us. God eternally loves his elect people (Is. 54:8), even when we were sinners. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4–5). Amazingly, God adopts his elect to be his children so that we might experience the love he has always had for us. “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:4–5). Jesus makes known the Father’s name to us so that the love with which the Father loved him will be in us (John 17:26). As the Father loved Jesus so he loves us (John 15:9).
Why must you know this? You will not trustingly submit to Jesus unless you know that “neither in heaven nor among the creatures on earth is there anyone who loves us more than Jesus Christ does.”[i] You will have no interest in doing the hard things of the Christian life unless you know that you’re fully supported and defended by the loving Father. Christ’s sonship, and our shared sonship with him, enables us to eagerly accept his lordship.
Jesus Is Our Lord
The catechism focuses on Jesus’s lordship over believers through his redemption. And this is right. But we should also remember that Jesus—with the Father and the Spirit—has always been, and always will be Lord of all. Jesus visibly came to earth to prove his eternal, majestic reign over all people; he’s the king, not just of the Jews, but of the whole world. The most undeniable evidence of Jesus’s lordship is his victory over death. After dying for sinners, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9–11). You cannot escape Christ’s lordship. Refusing to submit to him doesn’t liberate you from his authority. The tenants in Jesus’s parable rejected the son but were still destroyed by the master (Mark 12:1–9). He will come again to judge the living and the dead according to how we lived, compared with how he lived (2 Cor. 5:10).
But believers gladly submit to Jesus as Lord now. God’s children have twice the reasons to call Jesus Lord. No more than anyone else can we pretend autonomy. Because he made us, we belong to him. But he has also “delivered and purchased us body and soul from sin and from the tyranny of the devil, to be his very own.” He has done so “not with silver or gold, but with his precious blood.” The Father “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). The Father and the Son, through the Holy Spirit, are willing to share their love with us. God adopts us at the cost of Jesus’s shed blood and broken body so that we can joyfully serve as sons and daughters and no longer as slaves (Gal. 4:7). In response, the grateful believer now pledges to “live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”[ii]
John Bunyan’s Satan-figure Apollyon three times promised Christian that if he returned to the city of destruction and served him, all would be well. Christian gave the happy answer of every believer: “I have given [Christ] my faith and sworn allegiance to him… And besides … to speak Truth, I like his Service, his Wages, his Servants, his Government, his Company, and Country, better than thine; and therefore leave off to persuade me further, I am his servant, and I will follow him.” If the just rule of people can cause us to flourish (2 Sam. 23:3), how much more the perfect rule of God’s Son?
[i] Belgic Confession, 26.
[ii] A Short Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: A Handbook of Christian Doctrine (St. Louis: Concordia, 1965), 10.