The obedient son

Does The Son of God submit to and obey his Father? Over the past few weeks, I’ve been writing some articles about the relationship between The Father and the Son and responding to a particular controversy. The controversy is over whether or not The Son submits to The Father in eternity. Some Christians believe that it is essential to declare this whilst others see it completely wrong and there have been lots of accusation of heresy from both sides.

The problem is that all of those arguments, especially when they descend into technical language and obscure footnotes are a distraction from something very important. The Bible does want us to see The Son submitting to the Father.  We can put some important qualifications in place including that

  • The language of obedience needs to be understood analogically because how the Son relates to the Father is different to how human fathers and sons relate to each other.
  • That this is specifically focused on the incarnation.

However, we must not be distracted from the truth that the Son does, willingly obey. 

Why is this important? Well, it is important because the Bible narrative sets two sons up in contrast to one another. Adam is described as a son of God. He is a son by creation. God loves him with fatherly care and provides for him and protects him in the Garden of Eden.  When Adam is tempted by the serpent, he fails. He is tempted to doubt the Fatherly goodness and authority  of God.  The result is death and exile.  Adam is the failed son, the disobedient son.

This is the story of human history, we are the disobedient son. Israel are chosen as God’s representative people, a new son. Hosea 11:1 says “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Sadly, Israel proves to be a disobedient son. Out in the wilderness, the son is tested, tempted by the lack of food and water, tested by strong and determined enemies and seduced by idolatry and sexual temptation. Once again, the test is about whether or not the son can trust The Father and whether the son will own and continue in the unique role of son or become just like the nations around. Israel fails, disobeys, tests God and so wanders in a death like exile for 40 years

Then we have Jesus, The Son. The father announces that he is well pleased with his son. He loves him and takes delight in him. Why? Well surely because it is because he is fulfilling the will of the Father. Once again a son faces temptation. Like Israel, Jesus is tested in the wilderness.  Once again, the test is about whether he trusts in the Father’s loving care and whether or not he will fulfil his role as The Son.

Later, the Son will face a garden temptation like Adam did. This time The Son does not fail but submits to the Father’s will. Whilst Adam’s disobedience was a rebellion leading to death, Jesus chooses to submit to the penalty of death. In recapitulating the role of Son, Christ the obedient son does two essential things for us. First of all, his obedience is on our behalf. Reformed theologians explain that this is how we are justified. Christ’s righteousness, his obedience even to death is imputed to us so that we too are righteous.  Secondly, The Son reveals to us what it means for us to know the Father as adopted sons. If he can submit and obey then we too can with the help of the Holy Spirit.

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