How Can Jesus Be The Son of God?

Dallas Willard

Originally published in The Student

Another graduate student and I were waiting for our university library to open one Sunday afternoon. We fell into a discussion of religion. He commented that he could accept most of what Christianity taught but not that Jesus was divine. That, he said, was something he just could not understand.

Perhaps he expected me to present him with an explanation or an argument. Instead, I simply asked him how much time he had spent trying to understand it. Laughingly he replied: “About ten minutes.”

His was an honest response. Rejection of Jesus’ divinity is seldom based upon deep and sustained thought about the matter. Unfortunately, the same is true for acceptance of it. It is rare to find a believer who has any view at all concerning how Jesus, the enfleshed Christ, could be the Son of God and therefore be divine.

In order to understand Jesus’ divinity we must keep clearly before us what human fatherhood and son ship involves. Fatherhood has three dimensions: The father originates the physical organism in the womb of the mother, conveys his personal character to the child (“Like father, like son,” we say), and gives the child entry into the life which he has established in the world—usually by helping the child step into legal, social, and professional relations where the father stands. These three acts or processes illustrate the concept of fatherhood.

To be the Son of God, then, Jesus must meet three conditions. First, God must have been the cause of His conception, of His origination as a physical organism among others in the physical world. Second, Jesus must have the character of God, the “family resemblance.” Third, He must have at His disposal the resources of God as He enters into the work of God. That is how Jesus can be the Son of God.

When we look at the New Testament documents and the tradition of church teaching, we see that Jesus is presented precisely as meeting each of these conditions. Mary was with child of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18,20). The angel indicated that there would be a specific moment when “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35,NASB)1

In that moment the spiritual agency, which created all things acted to supply the genetic materials that would, in Mary’s womb, become the physical body of Jesus. Thus Jesus is God’s only begotten Son. If God is able to intervene in the course of physical nature as He wills, there is nothing incomprehensible about the physical conception of Jesus by God’s act.

But then Jesus also manifested the character of God. When He said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, NASB), He made reference to a view of God’s nature, which clearly emerges from the Old Testament writings, a view of supremely loving personal rightness and goodness, with no lack of power to accomplish its goals. The followers of Jesus found this to be His character also.

Finally, Jesus was “at home” in the work of God the Father. He said: “My Father is working until now, and I myself am working” (John 5:17, NASB). The authorities of His day recognized this to be a claim of equality with God and tried to kill Him. But He simply insisted that His action was God’s action as He worked in His Father’s “business” (v. 19).

Moses, by contrast, was merely a faithful servant in the “household,” the business establishment, of God. But Christ was faithful over God’s household as a son of the family (Heb. 3:5 6).

There is, then, little real mystery about how Jesus could be the Son of God. His son ship is a question of fact which each person must settle by considering Jesus Himself—His life, His teaching, His effect.

Abstract thinking about the nature of God and the nature of man and about what obstacles there might possibly be to their coming together in one person are of little use. In its place we must ask: “What more could reasonably be demanded of someone, in order that they should be the Son of God, than what is found in Jesus?”

  1. From the New American Standard Bible. Copyright © The Lockman Foundation, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. Used by permission. Subsequent quotations are marked NASB
Dallas Willard. “How Can Jesus Be the Son of God?” The Student, March 1988.