Is Christ’s Life Dependent On The Father?

Is Christ’s Life Dependent On The Father?

By Paul Chung

John 6:57 “As the living Father hath sent me, and I LIVE BY THE FATHER: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.”

I have heard some non-Trinitarians tell me that John 6:57 is referring to how Christ’s life is always dependent on the Father, whether we are talking about his pre-incarnate life or His incarnate life. Some but not all among the non-trinitarian camp speak as though Christ’s divinity is inferior to the Father’s for it was given to Him by the Father; that is not withstanding the fact that the Father gave Christ to have life in Himself.

We know that, as a Man, Christ, not unlike the rest of the human race, took our fallen flesh and assumed the role of a created being, as opposed to Him being the creator and thus He voluntarily subjected His life to be dependent on the Father:

“As God He could not be tempted: but as a man He could be tempted, and that strongly, and could yield to the temptations… HIS HUMAN NATURE WAS CREATED; IT DID NOT EVEN POSSESS THE ANGELIC POWERS. It was human, IDENTICAL WITH OUR OWN.” {6MR 111.1} 

But is Christ’s life always dependent on the Father even as a pre-incarnate, divine Son of God?

Sometimes, I’ve find that, in order to distinguish the preeminence of the Father over the Son, some non-trinitarians are just as guilty as the trinitarians in trying to wrest certain scriptures to fit their pet ideas and thereby unwittingly or intentionally denigrate Christ's Godhood/divinity to be inferior than the Father's.

When Christ said, “I live by the Father,” I don’t believe He is describing His divinity nor His Godhood being dependent on the Father's life but rather, He is describing how He has always lived out his life according to the Father's will, both as a pre-incarnate Son and as an incarnate Man. And we see this being more apparent as Christ lived out His life on earth.

Consider the following statements:

“As the living Father hath sent Me, and I LIVE BY THE FATHER: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me.” SO FULLY WAS JESUS SURRENDERED TO THE WILL OF GOD THAT THE FATHER ALONE APPEARED IN HIS LIFE. Although tempted in all points like as we are, He stood untainted by the evil that surrounded Him. THUS WE ALSO ARE TO OVERCOME AS CHRIST OVERCAME." {HLv 258.5}

"WE SHOULD LIVE BY FAITH ON THE SON OF GOD, AS THE SON LIVED BY FAITH IN THE FATHER. Says Christ, “As the living Father hath sent me, and I LIVE BY THE FATHER; so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.” Are you doing it, brethren? We read again, “This is the bread that came down from heaven; not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead; he that eateth of this bread shall live forever.... Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" {RH June 11, 1889, par. 10}

Note: "WE SHOULD LIVE BY FAITH ON THE SON OF GOD” how? “AS THE SON LIVED BY FAITH IN THE FATHER.” What is implied here in this statement is that the phrase, "THE SON LIVED BY FAITH IN THE FATHER.” is equated with the statement, "I LIVE BY THE FATHER." Thus, by faith, Christ lived out the perfect character of His Father by wholly trusting and relying upon His Father.

"The figure used by the disciple John, in which the believer is represented as eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of God, IS AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE GROWTH OF CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE. “As the living Father hath sent Me, and I LIVE BY THE FATHER,” the Saviour declared, “so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me.” As we partake of Christ’s experience of self-denial and self-sacrifice, we are making Him a part of our life. But to feast upon Christ we must trust Him fully; we must claim the salvation He has provided. Unless we hunger and thirst for His righteousness, we can never rejoice in Him as our Saviour, or receive the benefits of His perfect life." {ST January 20, 1909, par. 6}

"ALL WHO ARE ONE WITH CHRIST THROUGH FAITH IN HIM GAIN AND EXPERIENCE WHICH IS LIFE UNTO ETERNAL LIFE. “As the living Father hath sent me, and I LIVE BY THE FATHER: SO he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.” He “dwelleth in me, and I in him.” “I will raise him up at the last day.” “Because I live, ye shall live also.” {YI August 4, 1898, par. 6}

Note: The contexts of the above statements are very clear in that of an incarnate Christ's life on earth. Thus, what Christ is trying to describe in John 6:57 is that, the LIFE OF FAITH, which He demonstrated, AS A MAN, was one that was fully surrendered to His Father. He laid aside his divinity but was dependent on the Father implicitly whereby He lived His life according to the Father's will always; "SO FULLY WAS JESUS SURRENDERED TO THE WILL OF GOD THAT THE FATHER ALONE APPEARED IN HIS LIFE." 

This is how Christ lived "by the Father." Jesus has said, "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise." (John 5:19) "for I do always those things that please him." (John 8:29). 

Similarly, the pattern of Christ life is one that we are also told to follow. "WE SHOULD LIVE BY FAITH ON THE SON OF GOD, AS THE SON LIVED BY FAITH" {RH June 11, 1889, par. 10} or as how Christ expressed it, "I live by the father."

The figure of eating of His flesh was to illustrate the "GROWTH OF CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE" which is to be emulated by His followers. Moreover, we are told, "Thus we also are to overcome as Christ overcame." {HLv 258.5}

Therefore, "I live by the Father" is NOT necessarily referring to how Christ's life as the divine Son, is dependent on the Father's life but how He was wholly dependent and completely surrendered to the Father' will as He lived out His life here on earth.

All of God’s creation is not self-existent for it relies upon God and Christ for its continued PRESENT existence:

“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and UPHOLDING ALL THINGS by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:” (Heb. 1:3)

"For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and BY HIM ALL THINGS CONSIST. (Colossians 1:16, 17)

“Upon all created things is seen the impress of the Deity. Nature testifies of God. The susceptible mind, brought in contact with the miracle and mystery of the universe, cannot but recognize the working of infinite power. NOT BY ITS OWN INHERINT ENERGY does the earth produce its bounties, and year by year continue its motion around the sun. AN UNSEEN HAND GUIDES THE PLANETS in their circuit of the heavens. A mysterious life pervades all nature--A LIFE THAT SUSTAINS the unnumbered worlds throughout immensity, that lives in the insect atom which floats in the summer breeze, that wings the flight of the swallow and feeds the young ravens which cry, that brings the bud to blossom and the flower to fruit. {Ed 99.1}

The SAME POWER THAT UPHOLDS NATURE, IS WORKING ALSO IN MAN. The same great laws that guide alike the star and the atom control human life. The laws that govern the heart's action, regulating the flow of the current of life to the body, are the laws of the mighty Intelligence that has the jurisdiction of the soul. FROM HIM ALL LIFE PROCEEDS. Only in harmony with Him can be found its true sphere of action. FOR ALL THE OBJECT OF HIS CREATION THE CONDITION IS THE SAME—A LIFE SUSTAINED BY RECEIVING THE LIFE OF GOD, a life exercised in harmony with the Creator's will. To transgress His law, physical, mental, or moral, is to place one's self out of harmony with the universe, to introduce discord, anarchy, ruin.” {Ed 99.2} 

“The youth need to understand the deep truth underlying the Bible statement that with God ‘is the fountain of life.’ Not only is He the originator of all, but HE IS THE LIFE OF EVERYTHING THAT LIVES. It is His life that we receive in the sunshine, in the pure, sweet air, in the food which builds up our bodies and sustains our strength. IT IS BY HIS LIFE THAT WE EXIST, HOUR BY HOUR, MOMENT BY MOMENT. Except as perverted by sin, all His gifts tend to life, to health and joy.”  {FLB 164.3 Ellen White}

“Many teach that matter possesses vital power. They hold that certain properties are imparted to matter, and it is then LEFT TO ACT THROUGH ITS OWN INHERENT POWER; and that the operations of nature are carried on in harmony with fixed laws, that God himself cannot interfere with. THIS IS FALSE SCIENCE, and is sustained by nothing in the word of God. NATURE IS NOT SELF-ACTING; she is the servant of her Creator. God does not annul his laws nor work contrary to them; but he is continually using them as his instruments. Nature testifies of an intelligence, a presence, an active agency, that works in, and through, and above her laws. THERE IS IN NATURE THE CONTINUAL WORKING OF THE FATHER AND THE SON. Said Christ, ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’ ”  {HL 290.1}

“God has finished his creative work, but HIS ENERGY IS STILL EXERTED IN UPHOLDING THE OBJECTS OF HIS CREATION. It is not because the mechanism that was once been set in motion continues its work by its own inherent energy that the pulse beats, and breath follows breath; but every breath, every pulsation of the heart, is an evidence of the all-pervading care of Him in whom we live and have our being. It is not because of inherent power that year by year the earth produces her bounties, and continues her motion around the sun. The hand of God guides the planets, and keeps them in position in their orderly march through the heavens. IT IS THROUGH HIS POWER that vegetation flourishes, that the leaves appear and the flowers bloom. HIS WORD CONTROLS THE ELEMENTS, and by him the valleys are made fruitful.”--S. of T., 1884, No. 12.  {HL 290.2} 

“The mechanism of the human body cannot be fully understood; it presents mysteries that baffle the most intelligent. It is not as the result of a mechanism, which, once set in motion, continues its work, that the pulse beats and breath follows breath. IN GOD WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING. The beating heart, the throbbing pulse, every nerve and muscle in the living organism, is kept in order and activity BY THE POWER OF AN EVER-PRESENT GOD. 

" . . . Jesus said, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow." The graceful forms and delicate hues of the plants and flowers may be copied by human skill, but what touch can impart life to even one flower or blade of grass? Every wayside blossom OWES its BEING to the SAME POWER THAT SET the starry worlds on high. Through all created things THRILLS ONE PULSE OF LIFE FROM THE GREAT HEART OF GOD . . .{MB 95.5}

Note: The above statements reveal that all of creation does not sustain itself or we can say they are not "self-existent." They do not have the inherent power or energy that would sustain them but are dependent on God continually. 

On the contrary, Christ’s life is original, unborrowed, underived and self-existent:

Lest I be misunderstood, let me be clear, Christ's life was given; it was received from His Father as an inheritance via His begetting, but nevertheless it is self-existent. 

“For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself”-John 5:26

Note: The life Father GAVE to His Son “to have life in himself” was not lent to the Son. The Son did not borrow this life with the intention of returning it but was given to Him to keep as His own; Christ possesses this life NOT as keeper of Father's property but He retains it as its rightful owner to do as He pleases.

“I am the resurrection, and the life.” In Christ is life, ORIGINAL, UNBORROWED, UNDERIVED. “He that hath the Son hath life.” 1 John 5:12. The divinity of Christ is the believer’s assurance of eternal life." {DA 530.3}

Silence fell upon the vast assembly. The name of God, given to Moses to express the idea of the eternal presence, had been claimed as His own by this Galilean Rabbi. He had announced Himself to be the SELF-EXISTENT One, He who had been promised to Israel, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from the days of eternity.” Micah 5:2, margin. {DA 469.5}

"NOT ONE of the angels could have become surety for the human race: THEIR LIFE IS GOD'S ; they could not surrender it. . . BUT CHRIST IS EQUAL WITH GOD, infinite and omnipotent. He could pay the ransom for man’s freedom. He is the eternal, SELF-EXISTING Son, on whom no yoke had come; and when God asked, “whom shall I send?” He could reply, “Here am I; send me.” He could pledge Himself to become man’s surety; for He could say that which the highest angel could not say,—I HAVE POWER OVER MY OWN LIFE, “POWER to lay it down, and ... POWER to take it again.”—The Youth’s Instructor, June 21, 1900.

" The angels prostrated themselves before Him. They offered their lives. Jesus said to them that He would by His death save many, that the LIFE OF AN ANGEL could not pay the debt. HIS LIFE ALONE could be ACCEPTED of His Father as a ransom for man. EW 150.1

"When Adam and Eve realized how exalted and sacred was the law of God, the transgression of WHICH MADE SO COSTLY A SACRIFICE NECESSARY to save them from utter ruin, they pleaded that they and their posterity might endure the penalty of their transgression, rather than that the beloved Son of God should make this great sacrifice. The anguish of Adam was increased. He saw that his sins were of so great magnitude as to involve fearful consequences. And must it be that Heaven's honored Commander, who had walked with him and talked with him while in his holy innocence, whom angels worshiped, must be brought down from his exalted position to die because of man's transgression. {ST January 30, 1879, par. 11}

Note: You see, "The highest angel in heaven HAD NOT THE POWER to pay the ransom for one lost soul. Reason being, “THEIR LIFE IS GOD'S.” They have only the glory with which they are ENDOWED by the Creator as His creatures. Their life is not self-sustaining but dependent on God; They require the power and energy that is outside of themselves to perpetuate their life. On the contrary, the reconciliation of man to God could be ACCOMPLISHED ONLY through a mediator who was “EQUAL WITH GOD”, “POSSESSED OF ATTRIBUTES” that are of the same as the Father; having a life that is “SELF-EXISTENT” not unlike the Father; only the kind of life of such would be worthy of our substitute. This life, “to have life in himself!” (Jn 5:26) Christ had and He continues to possess it as the only begotten Son of God.

Let's not make Christ's divinity any less than the Father...

"And that doctrine that denies THE ABSOLUTE GODHEAD OF JESUS CHRIST, denies also the Godhead of the Father; for no man knoweth the Son but the Father. {ST June 27, 1895, par. 3}

"Self-existent" does not mean life without origin or source:

Typical SDA Trinitarians will tell you that the expression, “self-existent” must mean an ingenerate life; an independent life without source or origin…There are many statements to consider but let’s focus on the two following statements to give us the full sense of the word "self-existent" as Ellen White used it. The word, “self-existence” is not an expression found in Scripture but in Spirit of Prophecy. Therefore it would be prudent to establish the meaning based on how Ellen White used the term:

"There is much talk of the Lord in nature, as if God were bound by the laws of nature to be nature’s servant. Do men know what they are talking about? Do they suppose that nature has a SELF EXISTENT POWER WITHOUT THE CONTINUAL AGENCY OF THE FATHER? Many theories would lead minds to suppose that nature was a SELF-SUSTAINING AGENCY APART FROM DEITY, having its OWN INHERENT POWER with which to work. But the Lord does not exert His laws to supersede the laws of nature. He does His work through the laws and the properties of His instruments, and nature obeys a 'thus saith the Lord.' 
The God of nature is PERPETUALLY AT WORK. His INFINITE POWER works unseen, but manifestations appear in the effects which the work produces. The same God who guides the planets works in the fruit orchard and the vegetable garden. He never made one thorn, one thistle or tare. These are Satan’s productions, which he plants among the precious things. It is THROUGH GOD'S IMMEDIATE AGENCY that every bud bursts into blossom. When He was in the world, in the form of humanity, Christ said, 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.'" {Ms115-1898} 

"There is much talk about the Lord in nature, as if God were bound by the laws of nature to be nature’s servant. In this men do not know what they are talking about. Do they suppose that nature has a SELF-EXISTING POWER WITHOUT THE CONTINUAL AGENCY OF JEHOVAH? Many theories would lead minds to suppose that nature was A SELF-SUSTAINING AGENCY APART FROM DEITY, having its OWN INHERENT POWER with which to work. The Lord does not exert His laws to supersede the laws of nature. He does His work through the laws and the properties of His instruments, and nature obeys a 'Thus saith the Lord.' 
The God of nature is PERPETUALLY AT WORK. His INFINITE POWER works unseen, but manifestations appear in the effects which the work produces. The same God who guides the planets works in the fruit orchard and in the vegetable garden. He never made a thorn, a thistle, or a tare. These are Satan’s work, the result of degeneration, introduced by him among the precious things. It is THROUGH GOD'S IMMEDIATE AGENCY that every bud bursts into blossom. When He was in the world in the form of humanity, Christ said, 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.'" {Ms170-1899} 

Note: These two statements pack a lot of punch when it comes to fleshing out the "meaning" of "self-existent". In these two statements, Ellen White alternates "self-existent' and "self-existing" in the same contextual statement in two different locations.

Here we see the same phenomenon. Self-existing is a more focused nuance than the broader "self-existent". While "self-existent" could pertain to EITHER origin OR continuance, "self-existing" is decidedly a term referring to a PRESENT PROCESS.  This is further born out by an additional synonym used in both instances "self-sustaining".

It is clear from these three terms (self-existent, self-existing, self-sustaining) that Ellen White is referring to the PRESENT quality of natures’ sustainability, not to the origin of nature. We see further expressions like "continual agency" of Jehovah/the Father, "agency apart from deity". Ellen White affirms contrary to the idea of nature's self-existence that God is "perpetually at work" with His "infinite power" and that the laws of nature operate "through God's immediate agency".

Here's a quick parallels we can make. No one believes that Eve, although she was made after Adam and from a rib taken from his side, is ontologically inferior to him. So why should anyone say that of the Son’s divinity is inferior even if He was begotten after the Father?

Eve was brought forth from Adam and that Eve was formed with Adam’s material but Eve’s “humanity” is entirely hers. Her being an “Adam” or her being an human is no longer dependent on Adam (her husband). Similarly, while Christ received all things from the Father, Christ’s “godhood” is entirely His; his divinity is not dependent on the Father; He is wholly self-existent.

Thus, to be "self-existent" is not necessarily referring to life without origin but to continue to exist without extrinsic sustaining; to be self-sustaining. Thus God the Father is self-existent - relies upon no other for His PRESENT existence. Christ is self-existent - relies upon no other for His PRESENT existence.

Self-existent and yet subordinate

Even though the Son is rightfully all that the Father is in terms of His ontology, authority and power (for all things were given unto the Son-John 3:35, Matthew 11:27, 28:18), He has and He will continue to live out His life that is subordinate to the Father, even before His incarnation and after.

THE KING OF THE UNIVERSE summoned the heavenly hosts before Him, that in their presence He might set forth THE TRUE POSITION OF HIS SON and show the relation He sustained to all created beings. The Son of God shared the Father’s throne, and the glory of the eternal, self-existent One encircled both….Before the assembled inhabitants of heaven the King declared that none but Christ, the Only Begotten of God, could fully enter into His purposes, and TO HIM IT WAS COMMITTED TO EXECUTE THE MIGHTY COUNSELS OF HIS WILL. The Son of God had WROUGHT THE FATHER'S WILL in the creation of all the hosts of heaven; and TO HIM, AS WELL AS TO GOD, their homage and allegiance were due. Christ was still to exercise divine power, in the creation of the earth and its inhabitants. But in all this HE WOULD NOT SEE POWER OR EXALTATION FOR HIMSELF CONTRARY TO GOD'S PLAN, BUT WOULD EXALT THE FATHER'S GLORY AND EXECUTE HIS PURPOSES OF BENEFICENCE AND LOVE. {PP 36.2}

Note: Even in His pre-incarnation, the Father’s position always preceded that of Christ. It is evident that even while Christ was "made equal," Christ was always subordinate to the Father in that He "WOULD CARRY OUT HIS [Father's] WILL AND HIS PURPOSES BUT WOULD DO NOTHING OF HIMSELF ALONE. THE FATHER'S WILL WOULD BE FULFILLED IN HIM.” Thus, even in His pre-incarnation, Christ lived "by the Father," which is to say, He lived according to the will of His Father.

Conclusion

The father gave to the Son "to have live in Himself" (Jn 5:26) which means He relies upon no other for His PRESENT existence and yet Christ's life was one of subordination to His Father and to perfectly live out His will. When Christ said, “I live by the Father,” He is not describing His divinity nor His Godhood being dependent on the Father, in order to sustain His life but rather, He is describing His purpose as our redeemer on His Father's behalf as an incarnate Man. ”SO FULLY WAS JESUS SURRENDERED TO THE WILL OF GOD THAT THE FATHER ALONE APPEARED IN HIS LIFE." {HLv 258.5} His entire being was to reflect the Father's character and to fulfill the Father's will.

For related studies on the life of Christ: 

"Self-Existent"

"Life, Original, Unborrowed, Underived