A little over a year ago, Dare2Share Ministries released the video above, featuring Christian hip hop artist, Propaganda, which was designed to explain and expound the gospel. Simply put, the video, entitled Life in 6 Words, was an “outreach” tool that sought to communicate “the full story of life crushed into 4 minutes”. The word “gospel” was used as an acronym meaning: GOD. OUR. SINS. PAYING. EVERY. LIFE. These words were chosen to act as touch points for communicating the story of redemption and the message of the gospel.
The first time I saw the video I was encouraged. I though the videography, transcript, and overall design were creative and engaging. I felt the artist communicated well, and that this could be an effective tool for communicating the message of the gospel. I used the video as a service opener at one point, and have posted the video on my blog. People responded with enthusiasm and seemed to be encouraged. I was about to use the video again, for a different service, and then I decided against it…
Up until making this decision, I was largely captivated by the artistic nature of the video. I was filled with enthusiasm because it seemed that this piece of Christian media had dodged the “cheese ball” which sadly characterizes much of contemporary Christian film/music. However, in my captivity and enthusiasm, I failed to pay close attention to the words selected to communicate the message. About 2/3 of the way through the video, after explaining God, creation, the fall and sin, the artist moves on to the reality of our need for a Savior. He notes that in order to effectively and fully satisfy the demands of God’s justice and be a fitting substitute, the one who would save must be perfect, human, and divine. He then makes the following statement:
“Clearly since the only one that can meet God’s criteria is God, God sent himself as Jesus to pay the cost for us.”
At this point, my ears perked up. Is what the artist just said true? Is it an accurate way to speak of the incarnation and overall redemptive work of God in Christ? I have to say, “no”.
Specifically, the issue comes with the statement, “God sent himself as Jesus to pay the cost for us.” Did God the Father send himself as Jesus? Would that then mean that it was the Father, in the form of Jesus, who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins? If instead “God”, in this statement, refers to Jesus, did Jesus send himself or was he sent? The language is troubling and confusing to say the least.
Let’s take the questions one at a time…
Did God the Father send himself as Jesus?
The answer is, “no”. Maybe my doctrinal ears are a bit more sensitive in the wake of the Elephant Room 2 controversy, but to say such a thing would be akin to the heresy of “Modalism”. Modalism was a viewpoint promoted by Sabellius, a third century priest and theologian, who taught that God was one being who existed in three different ‘modes’ (as opposed to “eternal, distinct persons” in orthodox Trinitarianism). It’s often explained in the sense that this one divine being wears a different “mask” depending upon the action he is taking. He creates as the Father, saves as the Son, and indwells believers as the Spirit. He is always one and the same being, manifesting himself in different modes. In sum, this view denies the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead.
The Scriptures teach the God is a triune being. That is, he is ONE God, eternally existing in THREE distinct, co-equal persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. I articulate the following in the “Beliefs” portion of my blog:
I believe that the Godhead eternally exists in three distinct persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—and that these three are one God, having precisely the same nature, attributes, and perfections, and worthy of precisely the same homage, confidence, and obedience (Matt. 28:18–19; Mark 12:29; John 1:14; Acts 5:3–4; 2 Cor. 13:14; Heb. 1:1–3; Rev. 1:4–6).
Historically, the position of modalism was condemned by Tertullian in AD 213 (see, Tertullian Against Praxeas). Additionally, the Athanasian Creed articulates the historic, orthodox Trinitarian position.
Was it God the Father, in the form of Jesus, who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins?
The answer is, “no”. The Scriptures declare that it was the Son, not the Father, who “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). One natural outworking of “Modalism” is “Patripassianism” (from the Latin patri– “father” and passio “suffering”), the erroneous belief that is was the Father, in the form of the Son, who suffered and died on the cross. Isaiah tells us that it was the Father’s will to crush the Son for our sins (Isa. 53:10). It is thus incorrect to say God (the Father) sent himself as Jesus to pay the cost for us. Jesus Christ, God the Son, the Second Person of the Triune Godhead, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father, of the same essence, yet distinct from the Father, is indeed the all-sufficient, substitutionary atoning sacrifice for all those who, by faith, receive and rest in him alone.
If instead “God”, in this statement above, refers to Jesus, did Jesus send himself?
Again, the answer is, “no”. The Scriptures teach that it was the Father who sent the Son to accomplish salvation for all those who would believe in him:
“Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” (John 5:23 ESV)
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV)
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” ( 1 John 4:9-10, 14 ESV)
Is all of this effort to be precise, merely making a “mountain out of a molehill”? Is doctrinal precision really such a big deal? A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Knowing God as he has revealed himself to us in the Scriptures is terribly important.
Now, I must say that I do not believe that the statement made in the video above is an intentional act of heretical teaching. I trust that articulating the biblical gospel was the intent of the producers of the video and the artist involved. I simply think this is an example of sloppy theological language. Everyone, myself included, has been guilty of this at some point. Yet, the language in this video leaves the door open for a severe misunderstanding of the work of God in Christ, and thus I cannot continue use it, nor can I recommend using it. In sum, believers must seek to honor God by speaking accurately and boldly concerning who he is and what he’s done, to the praise of his glorious grace.