The incarnation of Christ – Part Three

Incarnation_of_ChristWhen we start our salvation message with Adam’s sin and the cross, we miss God’s eternal purpose for mankind–our adoption and communion with Him as sons and daughters. We looked at this in part two.

But how can we humans be children of an infinitely transcendent and unknowable God? After all, we’re not God and He’s not human. 

As C.S. Lewis pointed out, how can Hamlet know Shakespeare unless the author writes himself into the play? And this gets to the heart of the why of Christmas!

When God became man it was for love. God is a Father who has a Son, which means He’s relational before anything else. Because Love is relational, His desire was to expand this Divine Family to include us! But that would be impossible unless the divine and human could somehow be brought together. This has nothing to do with Adam’s sin but with the infinite dimensional chasm that exists between the Creator and His creation (like with Shakespeare and Hamlet). So, even if Adam had never sinned this difference would still be insurmountable.

But then, in an absolutely staggering demonstration of other-centered love, God does the unthinkable and becomes one of us! I want to unpack this a little further today.

This Revelation of Love is what the early church fathers contented for, especially in the first four centuries of the church. The hot topic was Christology. Jesus revealed Himself in a totally unanticipated way to His disciples who embraced the Greek and Hebrew paradigm of an indivisible God, although the earliest description of God in Scripture revealed this relational nature within Himself (“Let Us make man in our image…Gen.1:26. “God [Elohiym] is one…” Deut.6:4. Elohiym is Hebrew for “God” in plural form).

The word, trinity, wasn’t used until Tertullian (c. 150 – 225 AD), but this mind-blowing heavenly glimpse into the Godhead was seen and held on to from time of the first apostles. It was guarded tenaciously from the religious tampering of men, finally found its refined form through the work of early church fathers like Athanasius (298 – 373 AD). He effectively argued against the popular but heretical teachings of Arius (256-336 AD) and Sabellius (c.200-250 AD), and a written creed was eventually hammered out by the Church in 325 AD (Nicene Creed). Here’s where they landed on about Jesus:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
The only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
True God from true God,
Begotten, not made,
Of one being with the Father.

This wording is very precise, forged in the fire of much debate while also avoiding the theological ditches on either side: on the one side, denying that Jesus is God, or the other, having three gods. The fancy term they came up with to describe this dynamic nature of Christ is hypostatic union.

Simply put, Christ is both fully God and fully human.

Christ possessed two distinct natures (divine and human) co-existing substantively and in reality in the single person of Jesus Christ. There are many Scriptures that show both the fully divine and fully human Christ. Here are two examples (emphasis mine).

The Deity of Christ:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14 NKJV)

The Humanity of Christ:

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh (Rom.8:3 NKJV)

When we don’t understand these two distinct natures working in the one person of Christ, a lot of confusion and even false doctrine results. This is why Jesus would speak in a seemingly limited human way as the “Son of man,” but could also claim His eternal glory and divinity as “Son of God.”

There are two critical reasons why Christ, God the Eternal Son, must also be fully human in every way. First, if Christ is not God the Son, then He is not in the Divine Circle of God. This means that we cannot “partake of the divine nature” (2 Pet.1:4), seated in heavenly places in God in Christ (Eph.2:6; Col.3:3). We are left on the outside-looking in. I wrote about this in more detail in “Why Christ must be God for us to be in Him.”

Second, if Christ did not come in “the likeness of sinful human flesh,” then He could not take our sins away, nor could we be healed. Here’s what Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329-390), considered the “Father of Theology” in the patristic period of the early church, said about this (emphasis mine):

For that which He [Christ] has not assumed He has not healed;  but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.  If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole (Ep. CI, To Cledonius the Priest Against Apollinarius).

In other words, if Christ did not possess the normal fallen human body from Adam, one that could be “tempted in every point…” (Heb.4:15), then He could not reverse what Adam lost in the Garden. And we are still orphaned and unhealed.

The first point on Christ necessarily being in the Godhead also brings up another critical point. Christ is still a Man in the Godhead. Here’s a quote from Theopedia (emphasis mine):

“Christ’s humanity was not a mere fleshly shell that God rented and used for a temporary amount of time. God did not just come to live in flesh as a man, but the ‘Word became flesh’ (John 1:14). God incorporated human nature into His eternal being. In the incarnation humanity has been permanently incorporated into the Godhead. God is now a man in addition to being God.

Paul told the Athenians philosophers that God has appointed a future day of judgment for all mankind by this God-Man…“He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained…” (Acts 17:31).

Can you begin to see why the birth of Christ is a critical part of salvation yet?

To the early church (and the Eastern Orthodox today), salvation wasn’t about punishment and retribution like what we’ve inherited from our evangelical fathers; it was about incarnation and restoration. Unfortunately, they inherited this from our Latin and Medieval forefather’s obsession with Greek philosophy and Roman jurisprudence, which results in quite a different cultural “lens” from which to view God’s redemptive work.

It has been my contention that this innovative view has caused much harm in how we relate to God; especially in how we see Him as a Father.

Because this theological paradigm is dualistic and orphan-based in nature, it’s not relational in nature, and we have not only reaped the devastating consequences that work against having intimacy with God but also with our human relationships.

So now, hopefully, you can begin to see why understanding what the early church knew brings the meaning of Christmas front and center into the heart of the eternal purpose of God!

We will continue looking at the significance of Christmas next time.

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 37 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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