"Bearded Slave," an unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo
When we confess that Jesus is God's only begotten Son, one thing we are saying is that there has never been a time when Jesus did not exist. If God the Father is eternal, then perhaps we can at least begin to understand how he might have an eternally begotten Son. The begetting of the Son of God is not a momentary event in time because God is outside of time.
When we confess Jesus as the Son of God we are in effect saying that he is God. In John 1:18 we read, "No one has ever seen God, but God the only begotten one, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." This is an amazing and mind-boggling verse, but in essence it gets across the idea that the only begotten Son is the only begotten God.
The Greek term used in this verse is, transliterated, monogenas. It means that Jesus' sonship is totally unlike our sonship. Believers in Jesus are adopted children of the heavenly Father. However, Jesus is not an adopted Son. He is the only one of his kind. He shares the same substance with the Father.
C. S. Lewis has a chapter in Mere Christianity entitled "Making and Begetting". In that chapter he says,
Now the point in Christianity which gives us the greatest shock is the statement that by attaching ourselves to Christ, we can "become Sons of God." One asks "Aren't we Sons of God already? Surely the fatherhood of God is one of the main Christian ideas?" Well, in a certain sense, no doubt we are sons of God already. I mean, God has brought us into existence and loves us and looks after us, and in that way is life a father. But when the Bible talks of our "becoming" Sons of God, obviously it must mean something different. And that brings us up against the very centre of Theology.
One of the creeds says that Christ is the Son of God "begotten, not created"; and it adds "begotten by his Father before all worlds."... We are thinking about something that happened before Nature was created at all, before time began. "Before all worlds Christ is begotten, not created. What does it mean?
We don't use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself.... But when you make, you make something of a different kind than yourself....
Now that is the first thing to get clear. What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God....
But what man, in his natural condition, has not got, is Spiritual life--the higher and different sort of life that exists in God. We use the same word life for both: but if you thought that both must therefore be the same sort of thing that would be like thinking that the "greatness" of space and the "greatness" of God were the same sort of greatness. In reality, the difference between Biological life and spiritual life is so important that I am going to give them two distinct names. The Biological sort which comes to us through Nature, and which (like everything else in Nature) is always tending to run down and decay so that it can only be kept up by incessant subsidies from Nature in the form of air, water, food, etc., is Bios. The Spiritual life which is in God from all eternity, and which made the whole natural universe, is Zoe. Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoe: but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or a statue and a man. A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.
And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor's shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.What a beautiful picture of Jesus' unique nature as the only begotten Son of God! But at the same time, Lewis gets across the vital point that we can come to share in that begotten nature, that Zoe. When you realize this, then you know that God is giving to us an incredible gift and it makes you want to give back to God in return.
There was a Christian school for the children of "untouchables" in India prior to World War II. Each year the students received Christmas presents from children in England. The girls got a doll and the boys a toy. On one occasion the doctor from a nearby mission hospital was asked to distribute the gifts. In the course of his visit, he told the children about a village where the boys and girls had never heard of Jesus. He suggested that maybe they would like to give them some of their old toys as presents. The children liked this idea and agreed readily. A week later, the doctor returned to collect the gifts. The sight was unforgettable. One by one the children filed by and handed the doctor a doll or a toy. Tho the doctor's surprise, they all gave the new present they had just received several days earlier. When he asked why, a girl spoke up, "Think what God did by giving us his only Son. Could we give him less than our best?"
When God gave his Son for us, he gave his best because he gave himself, and he gave so that we too could share in the begotten life of the Son. How can we give him anything less than our best in gratitude for his tremendous love?