Thursday, September 30, 2010

Struggle of Faith--The Incarnation

The Incarnation

We who have come to Christ by faith believe in the Incarnation, of course, as a matter of orthodoxy. We don’t believe, as Arianism teaches, that the Christ was a creation of the Father and so Jesus Christ as “Son of God” was a special creation of God for man’s salvation; we don’t believe that Jesus was just an exalted man as do the Socinians and Moralists; and we don’t believe, as the Modalists do, that God is one unitary Person who wears the “masks” of Father, Son and Spirit at any given time and who only assumed the “role” of the “Son” at the incarnation. We who bear the name and fragrance of Christ believe that God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became a man, a real live in-the-flesh human being, without relinquishing His deity.

But do we really understand what this means? Do we understand the implications of Christ becoming human? We typically view the Incarnation as simply a necessary mechanism by which God saves us. In other words, “the flesh” (humanity, as such) is simply the “vehicle”, a contrivance, used by God to affect our salvation. God the Son had to come as a “man” in order to affect our salvation by living a perfect human life in obedience to the Law and thereby qualifying Himself to die for our sins. He had to come as a human being in order to be constituted able to die in our place and on our behalf so that we could have eternal life. But is this the full extent of the meaning of the Incarnation? Is the Incarnation relevant only to His final work and not to the totality of His Person? Does the Incarnation only speak to us with regard to His vicarious death and not also to His vicarious life? Is the importance and purpose of the Incarnation simply that Christ had to “take on flesh”, as it were, so that He was then capable of dying for our sins as atonement on our behalf?

Without necessarily realizing it, I think we typically reduce the atoning work of Christ to the Cross Event (His death, burial and resurrection) and neglect the atoning “work” of His life, thus missing the full glory and implication of the Incarnation. Why is this? Why do we so readily look to the Cross when we consider the “work” of Christ on our behalf without also recognizing the “work” of His life on our behalf? I’m not referring to a few miraculous things He did throughout His life that bore witness to who He was (which we all acknowledge), but His actual existence as a man that He lived on our behalf. We so easily separate or divide Christ into two, His Person (as the promised Messiah) and His work (of atonement upon the cross), that we miss, I believe, the point of the Incarnation: that the Person of Jesus is Christ’s work! Contra James Denney (The Death of Christ, 1973), the Incarnation is the very heart of Atonement which culminates in The Cross and Ascension. Jesus the Christ is our atonement in His very Person as the Incarnate Son.

Christ’s “work” of atonement (of redemption) is His entire life as a human being (the true and faithful “son”) lived out in our place and on our behalf in the power of the indwelling Spirit culminating in the Cross Event as He makes expiation for our sins; and although atonement has been made in full (as our Lord said, “It is finished”), nevertheless, He continues to work for us and on our behalf as our Ascended High Priest who has taken humanity into the Holy Place, into the very presence of God, in Himself where He mediates on our behalf as our representative. Humanity is seated with Jesus at the Father’s right hand because Christ has joined Himself to us irrevocably and forever; He is forever the God-Man, the Incarnate Son, who “ever lives to make intercession for us” as our Great High Priest.

Christ’s “work” of atonement is that He took on our humanity (our real, sin-cursed humanity) and cleansed it from the disease of sin and guilt (overthrowing the curse) by living the life of perfect, obedient “sonship” in true faith, prayer and worship to the Father in our place and on our behalf. His “work” of atonement is His entire life as a man (as the true and faithful “son”) lived out in our place and on our behalf culminating in the Cross where He died, was buried, rose again and ascended to God’s right hand. Christ’s “work” of atonement is taking our sin-diseased and alienated humanity upon Himself, overcoming it through a life of perfect, obedient sonship in true faith, prayer and worship, killing it by judging sinful humanity on the cross and raising it to newness of life as a new humanity (a New Creation) in Him. Humanity has been “born again”, as-it-were, in Him in objective reality. The “work” of Christ is His continued existence as the Incarnate Son who has ascended to the Father’s right hand and has taken our now cleansed and purified humanity into the very life of the Trinity in Himself.

The glorious truth of the Incarnation should inform and fill out our doctrine of atonement and should help us eliminate not only any bifurcation with regard to the Person and Work of Christ, but also any notion of a bifurcation within the category of humanity that Jesus died for. We too easily forget Paul’s words that “one died for all, therefore all died…that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them….”

The Incarnation as the ground of our Union with Christ

Christ’s union with us in the Incarnation, therefore, forms the very ground of our union with Him, though, as I mentioned in the first post, it is still a matter of faith. Why? It is still a matter of faith because we weren’t there to witness the life of Jesus Christ. But others were! The Scripture is clear and John tells us plainly that the Incarnate Son was heard, seen, beheld and handled. We believe in the Incarnation by faith, but it is a faith that is not without historical, empirical evidence. The Incarnation, because it is the basis of our union with Christ, tells us how it is that we are “in Christ”! The Incarnation tells us what it means that “we have died and our lives are hidden with Christ in God.” The Incarnation shows us how our spiritual or mystical union with Christ is relevant to us today. The Incarnation is the ground of our union with Christ because it is He who has united Himself with us forever! The tangible, ontological relevance of our union with Christ is found in His union with us in the Incarnation and the vicariousness of His life as a human being for us and on our behalf. Now when we read about our union with Christ, as those who have been joined to Him by the Spirit, we can have a tangible, ontological basis for understanding what this means and how it becomes relevant to us as we seek to live as Children of God. Our spiritual union with Christ as “sons” of God is an ontological reality because Christ has truly united Himself with us in our humanity!

The Incarnation speaks to the totality or wholeness of Christ on our behalf—His existence—not just toward His specific “work” on the cross. We do not simply have a new “standing” before God as those who have now been “forgiven”; we have truly been transformed into “new creations” by virtue of our participation in the One who has taken us into Himself! So what’s the point? As Jesus lived a life of ontological reality by simply being who He was, so we too, by virtue of our union with Him by the Spirit (our “in Christness”, as Paul refers to it), are called to freely live out the ontological reality of who we now are as Children of God in Him by the power of the Spirit. As Jesus didn’t have to purpose to do anything to live in conformity to who He was, so we, because we have truly been joined to Him by the Spirit, do not (and cannot) purpose to do anything to obtain or secure our place as “sons of God”; we simply come to Him by faith. As with Jesus, and in His power by the Spirit, we are to simply be who we are in the confidence that, because we have been united in Him by the Spirit, we are truly “sons” of God who are even now continuing to have the life of Christ formed in us by the Spirit.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”

James B. Torrance’s little book, “Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace” is an excellent, easy-to-read introduction to the vicarious humanity of Christ and the ontological basis for our faith, confidence and life in this world.

The Vicarious life of Christ

We have no problem speaking about the vicarious death of Christ in His humanity as the One who died in our place and on our behalf. Why do we not also recognize the vicarious life of Christ in His humanity as the One who lived in our place and on our behalf? Christ is the “second Adam” not only because He died vicariously (in our place and on our behalf) as our representative, but because, as Adam, Christ is actually a human being who lived vicariously a true human life in perfect “sonship” to the Father (in our place and on our behalf) as our representative.

This "vicariousness" of Jesus is what Paul is trying to explain to us as he draws parallels between the two representative human beings—Adam and Jesus. Just as Adam represented us in his humanity, and we were found in him “in Adam” with respect to sin and death (the curse of alienation), in the same way Jesus now represents us in His humanity and we are found in Him “in Christ” with respect to righteousness and life (the blessedness of communion)! The sin-diseased humanity of Adam (of which we share) has been cleansed by Christ in and through His Incarnation such that as Adam was our representative and head with regard to sin and death (the curse), so Jesus is now our representative and head with regard to righteousness and life (the New Creation). In other words, as Adam lived out his humanity (and by extension and representation—our humanity) as “son of God” in sin and disobedience in our place and on our behalf as our representative and head (the “first” Adam), so Jesus as the true human being has and continues to live out His authentic humanity (and by extension and representation—our humanity) as “son of God” in righteousness in our place and on our behalf as our representative and head (the “second” Adam). Jesus in His Person “undoes”, as it were, the “work” of Adam. As Adam corrupted humanity in his falleness and so brought estrangement and death (the curse), so Jesus cleanses humanity in His righteousness and so brings communion and life (the overthrow of the curse). This is what the Incarnation speaks to—not simply the impending death of Jesus on the cross, but the whole existence of Jesus as the man who lives, responds and acts as a human being in our place and on our behalf.

Christ’s Humanity

But Paul is not suggesting that Adam and Jesus had two different human natures—one fallen and one exalted. No, Christ came and assumed our condition; our fallen, sinful nature. Christ’s humanity was identical to our humanity—and it must be this way if the creation is to be reconciled.

We will pick up here the next time (as…well…time permits).

15 comments:

thekingpin68 said...

'We who have come to Christ by faith believe in the Incarnation, of course, as a matter of orthodoxy. We don’t believe, as Arianism teaches, that the Christ was a creation of the Father and so Jesus Christ as “Son of God” was a special creation of God for man’s salvation; we don’t believe that Jesus was just an exalted man as do the Socinians and Moralists; and we don’t believe, as the Modalists do, that God is one unitary Person who wears the “masks” of Father, Son and Spirit at any given time and who only assumed the “role” of the “Son” at the incarnation. We who bear the name and fragrance of Christ believe that God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became a man, a real live in-the-flesh human being, without relinquishing His deity.'

Yes. Nor is he a god as with the Watchtower, and also in a sense with the LDS.

He is an eternal person/distinction within the trinue Godhead, that became incarnate and stays the God/man.

satire and theology said...

'He is forever the God-Man, the Incarnate Son, who “ever lives to make intercession for us” as our Great High Priest.'

Yes, see Hebrews, and see P.E. Hughes' Hebrews commentary...

Dr. Kingpin;)

Dr. Kingpin said...

'We will pick up here the next time (as…well…time permits).'

Yes sir, of such great mind and so few followers...;);>

Time

Greg said...

I admit you lost me in a couple places. :( I have to disagree with your last statement: "But Paul is not suggesting that Adam and Jesus had two different human natures—one fallen and one exalted. No, Christ came and assumed our condition; our fallen, sinful nature. Christ’s humanity was identical to our humanity—and it must be this way if the creation is to be reconciled."

Jesus' humanity HAD to be DIFFERENT from ours, in order for His sacrifice to be accepted as payment for our sins. If He was identical to us, He would have also inherited Adam's curse, been unable to resist sin, and been just as unqualified as Savior of the World as anyone else. The fact that God Himself was the father of Jesus' human form kept His body free of the Curse of Adam and qualified Him as the Lamb of God.

Also, I don't think anything Jesus did before the cross contributed to His power as a sacrificial lamb, else it might imply that good works increase OUR value in God's eyes; they do not. He qualified solely on Who He was and in the manner of His Incarnation (which I think you've actually said before). I believe He did the things He did while on earth , in order to (1) help convince witnesses around Him of His deity and (2) serve as examples to us.

Greg said...

Subscribing...

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Hey Greg,

Thanks for your comments (and yours as well, O Mighty Dr. Kingpin--you can seldom go wrong with Hughes!).

Greg,

I know that my statement about Jesus' humanity is...well...controversial at best to most of us. But that's because, I believe, we haven't given enough consideration to what it really means that Christ has become Incarnate. That and an overemphasis in the West on the legal/forensic (kippur) aspect of atonment to the neglect of the ontological (goel) and the deliverance/ransom (paddah) aspects of this great redemption.

Completely contrary to your assertion, I believe that Jesus' humanity HAD to be JUST AS OURS in order for His sacrifice to have any effect on us. This is the power of Christ in the Incarnation--that He came in our diseased humanity and overcame it without sin. His becoming human in our flesh-cursed humanity in no way disqualifies Him but actually is the only way that He becomes qualified! If He is not just like us in our humanity, then His work is not on our behalf at all!

I'm glad you brought this up because this will be the subject of my next post--whenever I get around to it with school and stuff going on.

Here is a link to a "taste" of what I'll be exploring in more detail. When you open this link, go to pages 37-38. The whole article is excellent and I suggest printing it out and reading it, but Kruger speaks briefly to this issue on pages 37-38.

I'll briefly comment on your second issue next.

Thanks Greg.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

As to your second comment, again (of course) I disagree. :-)

I do agree that many of the things Jesus did on earth was to testify to who He was as the promised Messiah. But the life that He lived as a human being (the important implications of a proper understanding of the Incarnation) was a vicarious life for us and on our behalf to fulfill our side of the covenant. In no way does this initmate or imply a value to us or anything we may do from day-to-day because we are now joined to Christ--it is soleley His faith, prayer, worship, obedience, etc., on our behalf as the human being (in our condition) who lives perfectly as "son" (as we were commanded to do under the law) without sin that the Father sees when we come to Him with our imperfect faith, prayer, worship, obedience, etc.

So you see, this concept actually minimizes, in a sense, our "value" while extolling and uplifting Jesus' value. In Jesus (because of the Incarnation), God Himself fulfills both sides of the covenant--the God side and the man side--in perfect faithfulness. If Jesus wasn't a man like us (in our fallen humanity), then His life and sacrifice are removed from us and we are still in our sins.

I think many of these things will come out in my next post as well; so hang in there with me. If after all is said and done you still don't agree with me...that's fine. Some day we will have an eternity to discuss the greatness of our God and we'll both discover how truly ignorant we both are concerning His majesty and the awesomness of this redemption! :-)

Until then, however.... :-)

Great Googly Moogly! said...

I forgot to provide the link:

Here it is:

http://www.perichoresis.org/x2/file/f2217062e9a397a1dca429e7d70bc6ca.pdf

GGM

thekingpin68 said...

'Completely contrary to your assertion, I believe that Jesus' humanity HAD to be JUST AS OURS in order for His sacrifice to have any effect on us.'

I stick with the traditional understanding that Christ was completely human, and had to be the perfect man to die for our sins, and as the infinite God could outlast finite sin.

I do not think Christ had a sinful nature.

'His becoming human in our flesh-cursed humanity in no way disqualifies Him but actually is the only way that He becomes qualified! If He is not just like us in our humanity, then His work is not on our behalf at all!'

Yes, but as Erickson points out Adam and Eve were not necessarily created immortal, so outside the Garden of Eden especially, it is quite reasonable that a perfect human being could still face physical death.

Erickson suggests that if Adam and Eve would have stayed sinless their bodies could have been transformed to immortal at a later date.

satire and theology said...

'(and yours as well, O Mighty Dr. Kingpin--you can seldom go wrong with Hughes!).'

Thanks for the respect mate (UK), I am glad the Colorado air has not made you Rocky Mountain high. You are a fine bloke (UK) to blog with.

I am glad your theology is not always under an Avalanche of deception.

thekingpin68 said...

Further thinking on this:

Roman 8: 3

'New American Standard Bible (©1995)
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,'

Cranfield in his Romans commentary states p.176, comments on the likeness of sinful flesh.

Cranfield states with what he thinks is the best explanation, that being that the Greek word for likeness is not to water down Christ's fallen human nature, as in being fully human, but is to draw attention that the fallen nature was assumed but Christ did not become a fallen human being.

So, unlike some views that reason Christ's sinful human nature was purged out at the incarnation, this view reasons it was there but because of his perfect obedience and I would reason deity, he did not become a fallen human being that sinned.

So, in a sense in the likeness of sinful flesh he had fallen human nature.

In another sense in the likeness of sinful flesh he did not have an active fallen human nature that would have led to sinful thoughts and choices.

Mounce in his Romans commentary sees it the same way on p.175-176, Christ took upon our nature but did not become completely like us, as in sinners.

So, this could have occurred by having this fallen nature purged out of him at the incarnation or he could have kept the nature, but remained via the Father and Holy Spirit the perfect man and of course God and therefore essentially did not have a fallen nature which allowed him to be the perfect sacrifice.

So he would not have a sinful nature.

Greg said...

"I think many of these things will come out in my next post as well; so hang in there with me."

Very well, I shall stay my Rod of Wrath for the time being... ;) Some scriptural references would help, though.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

"I am glad the Colorado air has not made you Rocky Mountain high...I am glad your theology is not always under an Avalanche of deception"

Oh brother!

"the fallen nature was assumed but Christ did not become a fallen human being."

Cranfields view here is fairly close to how Torrance, et. al are suggesting the human nature of Christ. Jesus was subject to all of our condition with respect to our "fallen humanity" in order to cleanse it and transform it into the New Creation for which we were created. As Hughes says in his fine book (which I've mentioned countless times here), humanity's destiny is in Christ. But God accomplishes His goal of brining us into His life (union with Christ) by bringing us completely out of the curse--and He does so by becoming a curse for us. By taking upon Himself our humanity in its fallen condition (yet without sin), He can actually cleanse us and make us new!

The concpets of enhypostasis and ahypostasis are crucial in understanding how it is that God and man are united in Jesus Christ without any diminishing of God in His Godness or "man" in his (fallen)...well, "manness" (or humanity, if you will). I don't think we do justice to God's work of salvation in Christ when we speak of Jesus' humanity as essentially different than ours. He took upon Himself our "fallen nature" and was subject to the curse as we are. But because it was God Himself who became what we are, He was able to overcome that which we can't and thereby offer the perfect sacrifice (in life and death) as the obedient "son" on our behalf.

I don't believe Mounce goes far enough either. Jesus can have our fallen nature and be completely like us (as Torrance and others argue, must be completely like us) without being a sinner. He could not have been tempted if He did not have a nature that is subject to temptation. This is why His life of perfect sonship is so important--He was truly like us in our fallen humanity yet He did not give in to the "flesh".

I hope to get my next post up before too long.

Thanks Russ.

GGM

quick post. Sorry for any errors.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Scriptural references? You mean the word of GGM is not enough!?

I hope to get my post up sometime before the end of the year! :-) I don't have specific "proof-texts" (since I abhor proof-texting anyway), but I hope to show from the "warp and woof" of the Scripture that these things are true. If I don't accomplish my goal, that's okay. All who are sons and daughters of God in Christ serve the on and only glorious God who is in many ways incomprehensible.

Thanks Greg.

GGM

satire and theology said...

'I don't believe Mounce goes far enough either. Jesus can have our fallen nature and be completely like us (as Torrance and others argue, must be completely like us) without being a sinner. He could not have been tempted if He did not have a nature that is subject to temptation. This is why His life of perfect sonship is so important--He was truly like us in our fallen humanity yet He did not give in to the "flesh".'

Well, a good philosophical point can be made that Jesus was not 'exactly' like us in nature as he did not sin and was not sinful. This could be a subject of a PhD thesis.

I think this is a subject for much debate/discussion and consideration over the years. There are also considerations on whether or not Jesus actually could have sinned, I think not, as God and man, even though I do reason he was truly human via Romans 8, for example.

Philosophically via Augustine it seems clear any finite perfectly good being could be corrupted as there is limited goodness. This relates to his argument on Privation, see thekingpin68 via search if this interests anyone. On the hand, I reason Jesus' finite human mind and spirit was so in tune with the Father and Spirit that it would not happen, and so in a sense, could not happen.

Further:

Not with force, coercion or compulsion but by God the Son in his new humanity constantly willing obedience even within his questioning of God at times, which is an aspect of being human (Luke 22).

Jesus' obedience in tune with God is likely another form of compatibilism.

Blessings to GGM (Great Googled Man) and family this weekend.

It is good to have friends all over.

BTW, I am placing my comments in satire and theology comments as well.