Monday, April 11, 2011

T.F. Torrance: The Assumption of Fallen Flesh

Before I post Part 2 of The Necessity of Christ's Humanity (as I relate Jesus to Israel under the "law"), I wanted to share another lengthy quote from Thomas F. Torrance:

The Assumption of Fallen Flesh

But are we to think of this flesh (Christ's flesh in the incarnation) which he became as our flesh? Are we to think of it as describing some neutral human nature and existence, or as describing our actual human nature and existence in bondage and estrangement of humanity fallen from God and under the divine judgement? It was certainly into a state of enmity that the Word penetrated in becoming flesh, into darkness and blindness, that is, into the situation where light and darkness are in conflict and where his own receive him not. There can be no doubt that the New Testament speaks of the flesh of Jesus as the concrete form of our human nature marked by Adam's fall, the human nature which seen from the cross is at enmity with God and needs to be reconciled to God. In becoming flesh the Word penetrated into hostile territory, into our human alienation and estrangement from God. When the Word became flesh, he became all that we are in our opposition to God in our bondage under law--that is the amazing act of gracious condescension in the incarnation, that God the Son should assume our flesh, should enter a human existence under divine judgement, enter into the situation where the psalmist cried Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani, so that the Word or Son of God himself gave out the same cry when overwhelmed with the divine judgement upon our flesh. St. Paul declares quite plainly therefore that he was made under the law; he became a servant subject to the bondage of judgement and death; he was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and was even made a curse for us. That is what we see already in the baptism of Jesus--where he identifies himself with sinners, is baptised with the baptism of repentance, and immediately is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness where for forty days he fasts and is tempted in immediate fulfillment of his mission as made flesh of our flesh, and as identified with sinners from whom repentance is required, in complete solidarity with them.

Now when we listen to the witness of holy scripture here we know we are faced with something we can never fully understand, but it is something that we must seek to understand as far as we can. One thing should be abundantly clear, that if Jesus Christ did not assume our fallen flesh, our fallen humanity, then our fallen humanity is untouched by his work--for 'the unassumed is the unredeemed', as Gregory Nazianzen put it. Patristic theology, especially as we see it expounded in the great Athanasius, makes a great deal of the fact that he who knew no sin became sin for us, exchanging his riches for our poverty, his perfection for our imperfection, his incorruption for our corruption, his eternal life for our mortality. Thus Christ took from Mary a corruptible and mortal body in order that he might take our sin, judge and condemn it in the flesh, and so assume our human nature as we have it in the fallen world that he might heal, sanctify and redeem it. In that teaching the Greek fathers were closely following the New Testament. If the Word of God did not really come into our fallen existence, if the Son of God did not actually come where we are, and join himself to us and range himself with us where we are in sin and under judgement, how could it be said that Christ really took our place, how could it be said that Christ really took our place, took our cause upon himself in order to redeem us?

What could we then have to do with him? We stand before God as flesh of sin under God's judgement, and it is into this concrete form of our sin-laden, corruptible and mortal humanity in which we are damned and lost that Christ came, without ceasing to be the holy Son of God. He entered into complete solidarity with us in our sinful existence in order to save us, without becoming himself a sinner.

The Sanctification of Fallen Flesh

However, while we must say all that about the flesh that the Word assumed, we must also say that in the very act of assuming our flesh the Word sanctified and hallowed it, for the assumption of our sinful flesh is itself atoning and sanctifying action. how could it be otherwise when he, the Holy One took on himself our unholy flesh? Thus we must say that while he, the holy Son of God, became what we are, he became what we are in a different way from us. We become what we are and continue to become what we are as sinners. He, however, who knew no sin became what we are, yet not by sinning himself. Christ the Word did not sin. He did not become flesh of our flesh in a sinful way, by sinning in the flesh. If God the Word became flesh, God the Word is the subject of the incarnation, and how could God sin? How could God deny God, be against himself, divest himself of his holiness and purity? Thus his taking of our flesh of sin was a sinless action, which means that Jesus does not do in the flesh of sin what we do, namely, sin, but it also means that by remaining holy and sinless in our flesh, he condemned sin in the flesh he assumed and judged it by his very sinlessness....

T.F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, (InterVarsity Press, 2008), 61-62.