The Person and Work of Jesus Christ According to Saint Paul

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Saint Paul's theory of redemption, or soteriology is "Christocentric"--centered upon the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Speaking out of the Apostolic tradition of the early Church and in accord with the other authors of the New Testament, Saint Paul proclaimed Jesus of Nazareth to be both the Messiah of Israel and the Divine Son of God. Jesus was "the Christ," the anointed descendant and successor of King David, promised by God to Israel through the Prophets of the Old Testament (Romans 1:1-3). He was also the Incarnation of God the Son, the manifestation of the power, wisdom and glory of God in human form (see Ph. 2:6-11; Col. 1:15-20, 2:9; 1 Cor. 1:24, 2:8). Thus, Saint Paul speaks repeatedly of Jesus as "Lord" (Gk. kyrios-see Ph. 2:11; R. 5:1, 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3, 15:57; 2 Cor. 8:9), a title which the Jews reserved exclusively for God. According to Saint Paul, the eternally preexistent Son of God became man in Jesus of Nazareth; he "emptied Himself" (or "divested Himself") of His Divine prerogatives and took "the form of a servant"" (Ph. 2:6-7). Saint Paul also speaks of God the Son as the source and sustenance of the created order: "...In Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible...All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Cor. 1:16-17). This same Divine Son was "born of woman" (Ga. 4:4), and His Divine nature was made one with human nature in the Person of Jesus Christ. Christ is true God--For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells bodily" (Co. 2:9, 1:19); and He is also true man, the perfect image and likeness of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15; 2 Co. 4:4). In and through the saving work of Christ--and especially through His death and Resurrection--mankind and the cosmos have been saved from the forces of evil.

Saint Paul recognized that the Apostolic proclamation of Jesus as the Divine-human Christ Who has suffered and died for the sin of the world was difficult for many to accept: "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:23). From at least as early as the 2nd century B.C., Judaism depicted the Messiah as a great man-a king anointed by God-who would lead the nation of Israel to victory over her enemies and prepare the world for the advent of the Kingdom of God. Thus, most Jews regarded the idea of a Divine and yet crucified Messiah as a scandal--indeed, blasphemy. And the Gentiles of St. Paul's time--especially the "sophisticated" Greeks and Romans--regarded Christianity as nothing more than a particularly superstitious and fanatical sect of Judaism, just another religious cult propagating its own peculiar brand of "foolishness." Believing that the "scandal" and "foolishness" of the Christian faith was, in fact, the very wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18-2:5), Saint Paul saw it as his divinely ordained duty to bring the Apostolic message of salvation through Christ to both Jews and Gentiles (see Acts 9:15, 26:12-23; Romans 1:1-3:20, 9:1-11:36; Gal. 2:7-8; Eph. 3:7-8).

The New Testament teaches that the Divine plan of salvation has been carried into effect by the Holy Trinity. The Father has purposed the redemption of the world from all eternity, and, in the fullness of time, He has sent the Son and the Holy Spirit into the world to make possible and to proclaim the good news of salvation from evil. While not ignoring the "economy of the Father" or the "economy of the Spirit," the New Testament concentrates its attention upon the "economy of the Son". The mission of Jesus Christ, the Son of God Incarnate, is presented as the key element in the redemptive plan of God. Even the ministry of the Holy Spirit in and through the Church is a product of the "economy of the Son", for the Church was able to receive the indwelling power and life of the Spirit only after Christ had ascended to the Father (see St. John 15:26-27, 16:5-11).

In proclaiming the Apostolic message of salvation through Christ, theologians of the ancient Church emphasized some aspects of Christ's ministry more than others. The elements of the Lord's word most often selected for special consideration were His Incarnation, His Passion, and His Resurrection. When speaking of the Resurrection, most ancient Christian writers--including Saint John the Apostle and Saint Paul--were also thinking of Christ's ascension and exaltation: they were three phases of a single Divine act. Through the Incarnation of God the Son in Jesus Christ, human nature was united with the divine and thus transfigured and deified (theosis); through the passion and death of the perfectly righteous Christ, mankind can be absolved of sin and thus delivered from the dominion of death; and through the Resurrection-Ascension-Exaltation of the Lord, the liberation of the human race from the curse of mortality was made manifest to all the world.

Saint Paul's account of the redemptive ministry of Christ is centered upon the saving effects of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord. Saint Paul presupposes the Incarnation as the basis of Christ's saving work, for only He who is both true God and true man can save the world by dying and rising again…Through His passion, death and resurrection, Christ has effected the expiation (or remission) of man's sins, the justification of man in the sight of God, the redemption of man from the forces of evil and the reconciliation of God and man. To share in these effects of Christ's work, of course, man must acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord (Col. 1:23). Fallen man needs reconciliation, of atonement, with God; and Saint Paul's testimony is that Christ has made such reconciliation possible. Through faith in Christ, the believer's sins are washed away, his life is rededicated to the service of God, he is constituted as righteous before God, he is liberated from the demonic powers of sin and death and he is adopted as a son of God (Gal. 4:5).

(Source: The Message of the Bible: an Orthodox Christian Perspective by George Cronk)

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George