Fundamentally, salvation is very simple. In 1 John 4:14-15 we read:
14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.[NIV]
This central claim of Christianity is the most controversial: that a man who looked like everyone else and had a body just like everyone else’s that died like everyone else’s, was God. To deny that claim it is to depart from Orthodoxy Christianity as seen by both Calvinists and Arminians. However, its implications call into question some of the core assumptions of Calvinism, for what definition of God permits Jesus to be God?
In Philippians 2:5-8, Paul says:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. [RSV]
When it came to “emptying” himself (gr. kenoo), Jesus did an extremely good job in shedding Omniscience, Omnipotence, Omnipresence, Glory, and Sovereignty. So much so, that the people who saw him in Nazareth every day refused to believe that he was anything more than who they saw with their own eyes (Matthew 13:54-58, Mark 6:1-6, Luke 4:16-20).
Despite this, the testimony of Scripture is that Jesus, even after all this emptying of himself of the Divine Attributes, nevertheless was God. He, of His own will and by His own action, stripped Himself of those attributes of God that Calvinists believe God works to preserve. The Sovereignty of God that Calvinists believe God works to uphold through the decrees of election and damnation? Gone. The Omniscience of God that Calvinists believe God works to uphold by denying free will and preordaining and predestinating all things by decree? Gone. That Glory which God obtains by ordaining some to salvation and the rest to damnation? Gone. That Omnipotence by which God makes all things do His bidding? Gone. These abilities and properties that Calvinists believe God seeks to preserve are abandoned by Jesus who, though lacking them, yet remains God. By maintaining that these properties and abilities unique to God defines God, Calvinism helps blind the world from seeing the Divinity of Jesus Christ.
So what qualities of God did Jesus retain that qualifies Him as being God? We would be better served by heeding the self-testimony of God from Scripture rather than resting our knowledge on deductions based on Platonic ideals regarding the Divine. Here is Exodus 34:5-7, which documents an earlier descent of God into man’s world:
5 And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” [RSV]
Mercy, goodness, faithfulness, love, and justice. These are those qualities and character traits that the God of Exodus thought important enough to mention, and which the entire New Testament attests were in Jesus Christ, and which He displayed in abundance to all who came to Him. We should not confuse abilities gained through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who came upon Jesus after his Baptism by John with the Divine Attributes Jesus left behind when He was Incarnated as the son of Mary (unless you want to accept the testimony of the Gospel of Thomas that records several miracle stories of Jesus as a child, some of which reveal a character more like the God of Calvin than that revealed by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).
In this season of good will, when men turn their normally selfish hearts and minds outwards to others, if at least temporarily, may this reflection on the true implications of the Sacrifice that was made to give the First, and Greatest, Gift of the First Christmas to mankind make us appreciate it more!