Faith in the historical Jesus, or in “Christ the Son of the living God?”
In Matthew 16:17 the Lord told Peter that his response, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” did not find its source in flesh and blood but was the result of the Father’s revelation.
Peter had not arrived at his belief by mere reason: flesh and blood had not worked out the problem; there had been a revelation to him from the Father who is in heaven. To know the Lord in mere doctrinal statement, no such divine teaching is required; but Peter’s full assurance of his Lord’s nature and mission was no theory in the head: the truth had been written on his heart by the heavenly Spirit. This is the only knowledge worth having as to the Person of our Lord (Charles H. Spurgeon, The Gospel of Matthew, Revell, p. 224).
The Apostle Paul’s own testimony of personal salvation also includes the revelation of Christ. “But when it pleased Him, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, in order that I might preach His Gospel among the Gentiles. . .” (Gal 1:15-16a).
The outward and the physical would have never sufficed to convert Paul. The Apostle’s testimony was in “His good pleasure He revealed His Son in me.” It changed a man who was breathing murderous threats against Christ’s church into one who breathed doxologies whenever he reflected on God’s marvelous redeeming love to one so undeserving as himself.
The immediate purpose if this separation and calling is here said to have been “to reveal His Son in me.” To reveal is to remove the scales from the eyes of the heart. Paul had been persecuting God’s only begotten Son. God wanted Paul to see that the Jesus, whom in His disciples Paul had been persecuting, was indeed partaker of God’s very essence, Himself God (William Hendrickson, NTC, pp. 52-53).
Many today believe in the historical Jesus who are ignorant of the character of God. The power of the Gospel is to give the knowledge of the glory of God (His true character) in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). Many trust in Christ precisely as the Jews did in Moses. This is another gospel; an historic Jesus, not the glory of God in the face of Christ. Those who hold to this gospel are strangers to the truth and are still in love with the world (James Haldane, Revelation of God’s Righteousness, Chapel Library, p. 27).
As a consequence of this reductionist gospel, many have devalued knowledge; as if we might become acquainted with God without having the heart affected by the truth. No, the knowledge of God produces the radical change; the entire change of the sinner’s heart.
The knowledge of God is maintained in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. If God is our soul’s portion then our continued enjoyment of such is due to our minds being enlightened in the knowledge of Christ. That knowledge is maintained by the Holy Spirit. Oh how great is our dependence upon God; the Holy Spirit bringing home the truth of God to our minds. Without His continued influence we would totally relapse to ignorance and alienation.
We are not to conclude from our dependence upon the Spirit that we should be passive quietists – no, we are to strive and make use of the means of grace; but all the while we are to know that the Holy Spirit keeps us from the loss of our knowledge of God in Christ. By means of the Spirit’s enablement we keep fixing our hopes for time and eternity on the incarnation, sufferings, death and resurrection of the Son of God who is our life. The same gracious Holy Spirit who first revealed Christ in us will do so until the day of eternity – Phil 1:6 (ibid., pp. 28-29).
Nature may have a superficial knowledge and illumination of the Savior. The natural man may be active and do something for Him. But to love the cross, to suffer with Him, to follow Him through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha as He stoops dumb before His shearers so that your spirit feeds on His flesh and blood and humiliation is a work of God’s Spirit in you. The natural man may have His emotions stirred by Christ’s passion, but only the true saint is acquainted with Christ in his spirit so as to feed upon his Substitute (Morgan, The Life and Times of Howell Harris, p. 239).
The most important question that could ever be asked is: Do you know in reality the living Christ? Do you know Christ by personal revelation? The question is not: Do you read the Bible? Are you religious? The question is: Have you ever seen yourself a lost, vile sinner before a holy God? Have you ever been stripped of your self-righteousness and laid low in the dust of humility? Have you ever viewed by faith the glorious Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, all because of a direct and personal revelation to you of God the Holy Spirit? (W. F. Bell, Do you know Christ by personal revelation? -- Chapel Library).
If you only know Jesus by no more than the world knows, than the learned among men know, you have not the real blessing. If you only know the Lord of Glory by what you have found out yourself, in reading or in talking to others, unaided by the Father’s drawing power, you are not blessed with true salvation. The true children of God have been made humble. They confess their total dependence upon the grace and mercy of Christ, and place their entire confidence and faith in His meritorious righteousness and shed blood (ibid.).
Is Christ your Surety, your Substitute, your Sacrifice, and your Savior? Do you believe in Jesus by an inward discernment of Him? Do you clearly see Him as the Son of man and the Son of God? Do you see Him as your propitiation before God? If you know Him in this way, it has not been learned from the instruction of men; you have had a direct revelation made to you by the Father concerning who Jesus Christ really is (Gal 1:16) (ibid.).
The saved have had their eyes enlightened to understand the full and complete satisfaction made by the Son of God; that He has satisfied divine justice for all who believe. They are enabled to apply this to their own hearts. They have the testimony of the blood and the washing of the Holy Spirit (Morgan, p. 78).
The true saint never ceases to marvel that God has made an infinite difference between us and our fellow creatures by causing us to behold (by revelation) Christ’s death, humiliation, passion (ibid.).