The Incarnation

Posted by on Sep 30, 2010 in The Gospel and the Christian Life, What We Write About

The Incarnation
This is the second chapter of my book that answers two very important questions facing Christianity. The first question is, “What is the Gospel?” and the second is “What is the effect of the Gospel on the Christian and his experience with Christ?” Under the heading of Incarnation, we will explore the doctrine of the incarnation historically, the reason for the incarnation, salvation through the God-Man, the Centrality of the Cross, Look at what the Bible says about the Incarnation and then conclude this chapter.
The Incarnation

The doctrine of the Incarnation is important to Christianity. The incarnation explains how Jesus is both God and man. It’s impossible to talk meaningfully about who Jesus is without talking about what He did and about the importance of that for us. James Denney, a professor at the United Free Church College in ….Glasgow.., ..Scotland…., around the turn of the centu1ry discussed this matter. He says:

Christ is the only person who can do this work for us. This is the deepest and most decisive thing we can know about him, and in answering the questions which it prompts we are starting from a basis in experience. There is a sense in which Christ confronts us as the reconciler. He is doing the will of God on our behalf, and we can only look on. We see him in judgment and the mercy of God in relation to our sins. His presence and work on earth are a divine gift, a divine visitation. He is the gift of God to men, not the offering of men to God, and God gives himself to us in and with him. We owe to him all that we call divine life. On the other hand, this divine visitation si made, and this divine life is imparted, through a life and work which are truly human. The presence and work of Jesus in the world, even the work of bearing sin, does not prompt us to define human and divine by contrast with each other: there is no suggestion of incongruity between them. Nevertheless, they are both there, ad the fact that they are both there justifies us in raising the question as to Jesus’ relation to god on the one hand, and to men on the other.[1]

The Reason for the Incarnation

What is the function of the Incarnation in Christianity? A classic statement on why Jesus became man and its answer is found in Anslem of Canterbury (Died 1109). Anslem’s theological masterpiece,Cur Deus Homo?(Why Did God Become Man?”) deals with the question of the Incarnation. Anslem answered this question that God became man in Christ because only one who was both God and man could achieve our salvation. The incarnation, coming in the midst of a history of human sin, indicates that God has not abandoned us but loves and values us even in our fallen state. The Incarnation does two things. It shows us that God is able to understand and sympathize with us. The Incarnation gives an example of how a person ought to live in this world.
The atonement is the reason for the Incarnation. Hebrews 10:4-7, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christcame into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’. The writer tells in Hebrews 10:10, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering ofthe body of Jesus Christonce for all. “ Matthew 1:21, “She will bear a son, andyou shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.“ Jesus spoke of his coming suffering. Mark 8:31, “And he began to teach them thatthe Son of Man must suffer many things andbe rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, andafter three days rise again.“ Mark 9:31, “for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed,after three days he will rise.”, linking the success of his mission to the crucifixion John 12:32, “32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will drawall people to myself.” At several places in John’s Gospel the crucifixion is spoken of as that vital “hour” or which Christ came (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1).
The death of Jesus is the theme of the Old Testament, first in regard to the meaning of the sacrifices (The meaning at the heart of the law) and then in regard to the prophecies, which focused increasingly on the promise of a Coming Redeemer. Isaiah 53 and other Old Testament texts speak of the suffering of the deliver to come. Isaiah 53 and other Old Testament passages speak of the suffering of the deliver to come. In Galatians the apostle Paul teaches that even Abraham, who live before both the law and prophets was saved by faith in Jesus (Gal. 3:8, 16). Jesus down the downcast Emmaus disciples that the Old Testament foretold his death and resurrection. Luke 24:25-27, “25And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary thatthe Christ should suffer these things and enter intohis glory?”27Andbeginning withMoses andall the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” In light of these text and many others it is vital to say that the atonement of Christ is the reason for the Incarnation. It is the explanation of the twofold nature and the focal point of the world and biblical history.

Salvation through the God-Man

Is the doctrine of the atonement central to the Scriptures? Why must Jesus, the God-Man be the one to provide salvation? John Calvin in the Institutes of the Christian Religion argues that this is how God has chosen to do it and that is how it is therefore impertinent of us to ask if there could not be some other way.

Anslem gave the best answer regarding the Incarnation. His first answer is that salvation had to be achieved b God, for no one else could achieve it. Certainly men and women could not achieve it, for we are the ones who have gotten ourselves into trouble in the first place. We have done so by our rebellion against God’s just law and decrees. We have suffered the effects of sin to such a degree that our will is bound, and therefore we cannot even choose to please God, let alone actually please Him. If we are to be saved, only God, who has power to save, must save us. Anslem’s second answer is that, in apparent contradiction, salvation must also be achieved by man. Man is the one who has it wrong God and must therefore make the wrong right. Granted this state of affairs, salvation can only be achieved by one who is both God and ma, namely by Christ.
Anslem says: It would not have been right for the restoration of human nature to be left undone, and it could not have been done unless man paid what was owing to God for sin. But the debt was so great that, while man alone owed it, only God could pay it, so that the same person must be both man and God. Thus it was necessary for God to take manhood into the unity of his Person, so that he who in hi own nature ought to pay and could not should be in a person who could. The life of this man was so sublime, so precious, that it can suffice to pay what is owing for the sins of the whole world, and infinitely more.[2]

First it is God who initiates and carries out the action. If this is forgotten, it is easy to think of God as somehow remote from the atonement and therefore merely requiring it as some abstract price paid to satisfy his justice. In that view God appears disinterested, legalistic and cruel. Actually, God’s nature is characterized by love, and it is out of love that he planned and carried out the atonement. In Christ God himself was satisfying his own justice. Its easy to see why the Incarnation and the atonement must be considered together if each part is not to be distorted.

Secondly there is no suggestion that human beings somehow placate the wrath of an angry God. Propitiation does refer to placating of wrath. It is not man who placates God. Rather it is God placating his own wrath so that his love might go out to embrace and fully save the sinner.

Third, it is not a matter of substitution in the bald sense in which an innocent victim takes the place of another person who should be punished. Rather, it is a substitution in a deeper sense. The one who takes the place of man in order to satisfy God’s justice is actually one who had himself become man and is therefore our representative.

A proper recognition of the connection between the Incarnation and the atonement makes the Incarnation understandable. At the same time it eliminates the most common misunderstandings of, and objections to, Christ’s sacrifice of himself as the means of salvation.
The divine Son, one of the three persons of the one God, he through whom, from the beginning of the creation, the Father has revealed himself to man (John 1:18), took man’s nature upon him, and so became our representative. He offered himself as a sacrifice in our stead, bearing our sin in his own body on the tree. He suffered, not only awful physical anguish, but also the unthinkable spiritual horror of becoming identified with the sin to which he was infinitely opposed. He thereby came under the curse of sin, so that for a time even his perfect fellowship with his Father was broken.

Thus God proclaimed his infinite abhorrence of sin by being willing himself to suffer all that, in place of the guilty ones, in order that he might justly forgive. Thus the love of God found its perfect fulfillment because he did not hold back from even that uttermost sacrifice, in order that we might be saved from eternal death through what he endured. Thus it was possible for him to be just and to justify the believer, because as Lawgiver and as Substitute for the rebel race of man, he himself had suffered the penalty of the broken law.[3]
The Centrality of the Cross
There are several explanations that follow from the foundation we have built on the doctrine of the Incarnation. First, according to Scriptures Calvary is the center of Christianity. Some people think that the Incarnation is the most important thing, that is, God identifying himself with man, and that the atonement was something like an afterthought. According to the Bible, the reason for the God-man is that it required a God-man to die for our salvation. Dr. Packer said, “The crucial significance of the cradle at ..Bethlehem.. lies in its place in the sequence of steps down that led the Son of God to the cross of ..Calvary..,, and we do not understand it till we see it in this context.”[4]To focus on the Incarnation apart from the cross leads to false sentimentality and neglect of the horror and magnitude of human sin.

Second, if the death of Christ on the cross is the true meaning of the Incarnation, then there is no gospel without the Cross. Christmas by itself is no gospel. The life of Christ is no gospel. Even the resurrection, important as it is in the total scheme of things, is no gospel by itself. Or the good news is not just that God became a man, nor that God has spoken to reveal a proper way of life to us, or even that death, the great enemy is conquered. Rather, the good news is that sin has been dealt with (the resurrection is proof of this); that Jesus has suffered its penalty for us as our representative, so that we might never have to suffer it; therefore, all who believe in him can look forward to heaven. The other biblical themes must be seen in this context, as we have already seen of the Incarnation. Emulation of Christ’s life and teaching is only possible to those who enter into a new relationship with God through faith in Jesus as their substitute. The resurrection is not merely a victory over death, but a proof that the atonement was a satisfactory atonement in the sight of the Father (Romans 4:25); and that death, the result of sin, is abolished on that basis.

Any gospel that talks merely of the Christ-event, meaning the Incarnation without the atonement is a false gospel. Any gospel that talks about the love of God without pointing out that his love led him to pay the ultimate price for sin in the person of his Son on the cross is a false gospel. The only true gospel is o the “one mediator” (1 Timothy 2:5-6), who gave himself for us.

Finally, just as there can be no gospel without the atonement as the reason for the Incarnation, so also there can be no Christian life without it. Without the atonement the Incarnation becomes a kind of deification of the human and leads to arrogance and self-advancement. With the atonement the true message of the life of Christ, and therefore of the life of the Christian man or woman, is humility and self-sacrifice for the obvious needs of others. The Christian life is not indifference to those who are hungry or sick or suffering from some other lack. It is not contentment with our own abundance, neither the abundance of middle-class living with homes and cares and clothes and vacations, nor with the abundance of education nor even the spiritual abundance of good churches, Bibles, Bible teaching or Christian friends and acquaintances. Rather, it is the awareness that others lack these things and that we must therefore sacrifice many of our own interests in order to identify with them and thus bring them increasingly into the abundance we enjoy.

Paul writing on the Incarnation said in 2ndCorinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” That is a statement of the atonement and of the Christian life. In that chapter Paul is speaking about the duty of the Christians at ..Corinth.. to give money for the relief of those less fortunate who lived in ..Judea… We will live for Christ fully only when we are willing to be impoverished, if necessary, in order that others might be helped with the gospel.

Biblical teaching of the Incarnation

Philippians 2:5-11 describes Christ’s example of humble service. This passage is often referred to as the “hymn of Christ.” Paul depicts Christ’s example of service in a stirring poem that traces his preexistence, incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God. Paul wrote this magnificent theology to encourage the Philippians to consider other people’s interests first (v.4). Jesus is the paradigm of genuine spiritual progress: not a self-aggrandizing struggle for supremacy, but a deep love for God and neighbor shown in deeds of service. Verses 6-11 have some clear indications of poetic structure, leading some to believe that this is a pre-Pauline hymn adapted by Paul. It is just as likely, however, that Paul composed the hymn for this setting. In view of the myriad theological questions that arise in these verses, it is critical to keep two things in mind: 1) these verses were written not to spur Christians to theological debate but to encourage greater humility and love; and 2) the summary of Christ’s life and ministry found here is not unique: the same themes are evident throughout the New Testament.

The believer’s mind needs to reflect on the proper model, if life is to be lived for God. There is a debate regarding whether this mind-set is something Christians receive by virtue of being united to Christ (Which is yours in Christ Jesus), or whether it is to be based on the model of Christ). In light of the consistent them of behavior modeling in this letter, many interpretations have adopted the latter meaning. Both ideas are theologically true. In either case, the central theme of vv.1-5 is the same- that the Philippian church would be of one mind (v.2), united by love (v.2) and humility (V.3), and looking out for the interests of others (v.4).

Prior to the incarnation, Christ was in the form of God (Gk. Morphe theou). Despite the assertions of some scholars to the contrary, this most naturally refers to the “preexistence” of Christ- he, the eternal Son, was there with the Father (John 1:1; 17:5, 24) before he was born in ….Bethlehem….. “Form” here means the true and exact nature of something, possessing the characteristics and qualities of something. Therefore having the “form of God” is roughly equivalent to having equality with God (isa theo), and it is directly contrasted with having the “form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7). The Son of God is and always has been God. “Form” could also be a reference to Christ being the ultimate image of God, “the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3). It might also refer to the fact that he is the visible expression of God’s invisible glory (Col. 1:15). Remarkably, Christ did not imagine that having “equality with God” (which he already possessed”) should lead him to hold onto his privileges at all costs. It was not something to be grasped, to be kept and exploited for his own benefit or advantage. Instead he, had a mind-set of service. ‘Christ did not please himself” (….Rom….. 15:3). In humility , he counted the interests of others as more significant than his own (Phil. 2:3-4).

Made himself nothing has occasioned much controversy. Greek keno can mean “empty, pour out” or also (metaphorically) “give up status and privilege.” Does this mean that Christ temporarily relinquished his divine attributes during his earthly ministry? The theory of Christ’s kenosis or “self-emptying” is not in accord with the context of Philippians or with early Christian theology. Paul is not saying that Christ became less than God or “gave up” some divine attributes; he is not even commenting directly o n the question o whether Jesus was fully omnipotent or omniscient during his time on earth. Nor is he saying that Christ ever gave up on being “in the form of God.” Rather, Paul is stressing that Christ, who had all the privileges that were rightly his as king of the universe, gave them up to become an ordinary Jewish baby bound for the cross. Christ “made himself nothing” by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. While he had every right to stay comfortably where he was, in a position of power, his love drove him to a position of weakness for the sake of sinful man (2 Cor 8:9, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich”). The “emptying” consisted of his becoming human, not of his giving up any part of his true deity.

It is remarkable enough that God the Son would take on human form (Greek schema, “outward appearance, form shape,” a different term from morphe, used in vv.6-7 for “form of God” and “form of a servant”) and thus enter into all the mess of a fallen world. But Jesus went much farther, becoming obedient (Romans 5:19) to the point of death, even death on a cross. Crucifixion was not simply a convenient way of executing prisoners. It was the ultimate indignity, a public statement by ….Rome…. that the crucified one was beyond contempt. The excruciating physical pain was magnified by the degradation and humiliation. No other form o death, no matter how prolonged or physically agonizing, could match crucifixion as an absolute destruction of the person (Matthew 27:35). It was the ultimate counterpoint to the divine majesty of the preexistent Christ, and thus was the ultimate expression of Christ’s obedience to the Father.

It was precisely Jesus’ humiliation that became the grounds for his exaltation. By humbling himself on the cross out of love, he demonstrates that he truly shared the divine nature of God, who is love (1 John 4:8). For this reason (therefore) God raised him to life and highly exalted him, entrusting him with the rule of the cosmos and giving him the name that is above every name. The name is not specified here, but it may refer to Yahweh. God’s personal name which is the Septuagint is translated as Kyrios, “Lord,” the name specified in Phil. 2:11. In any case, Paul means that the eternal Son of God received a status and authority (Matthew. 28:18; Acts 2:33) that had not been his before he became incarnate as both God and man. Jesus’ being given this name is a sign that he exercises his messianic authority in the name of Yahweh.

While Christ now bears the divine name Yahweh (“Lord”), he is still worshiped with his human name Jesus, since it was in the flesh that he was most clearly displayed his divine glory to the world. This astounding union of Jesus’ divine and human natures is reinforced by the allusion to Isa.45:23 in the words every knee should bow and every tongue confess, which in Isaiah refers exclusively to Yahweh (Isa. 45:24). The fact that these words can now be applied to God’s messianic agent- Jesus Christ is Lord- shows that Jesus is fully divine. Bu the worship of Jesus as Lord is not the final word of the hymn. Jesus’ exaltation also results in the glory of God the Father. This identical pattern is found in 1stCorinthians 15:23-28: God gives Jesus messianic dominion over all creation, and everyone will one day rightly give praise to him as their Lord. But when his kingdom reaches its fullness, Jesus does not keep the glory for himself. Instead, “The Son himself will also be subjected to him who puts all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). Even in his exaltation, Jesus remains the model of loving service to God.

Conclusion

This chapter began with discussing the importance of the Incarnation and ended by looking at Philippians 2. Throughout this chapter, we have examined what the Bible says about the Incarnation and what influential theologians have said about it. The Incarnation is vital to a robust understanding of the Gospel as we have seen. In the Incarnation God became a man. Jesus was born of a virgin in a manager. The Incarnation is important because it teaches that God became a man. The Gospels demonstrate Christ’s need for time alone with His Father in prayer for direction and guidance. The Gospels teach that Christ submitted Himself to His Father’s will for example in the Garden of Gethsemane before He would be brutally scourged, whipped and crucified for man’s sin on the Cross.

Above, all the Incarnation proves to man that God is not disinterested in the affairs but came to deal with the problem of man’s sin. This flies right in the face of modern thought about God being “disinterested in man”. The doctrine of the Incarnation demonstrates that God doesn’t talk a big game but actually offers a solution to man’s problem of sin. God in His love sent Jesus into the world. Jesus lived a sinless life as a man through experiencing all the temptations man faces. Jesus lived a sinless life in the midst of people who constantly criticized Him, wanted His teaching, His miracles or the healing He could perform. The people during Christ’s ministry spit in His face, ridiculed Him, but all the while Jesus demonstrated He cared for people by teaching, healing, setting the captives free, raising the dead and so much more. All of this disproves the modern notion that God is not interested in man because by becoming a man He showed He was interested in mankind through His willingness to step into our time and space.

Jesus is interested in you today; in you knowing for sure that He did come, did live a sinless life, did die victoriously on the Cross, was buried and rose triumphantly on the third day. All of the work of Jesus is to demonstrate to man that God is interested in the affairs of man. Since this is so the modern notion of “God not being interested in the affairs of man” is speculation at best and heresy at worst. Jesus cares for man, and demonstrated it by being the God-Man who lived a sinless life, died victoriously, was buried and triumphed over sin and death in His resurrection to secure our final justification before God. Rather than speculation the doctrine of Incarnation should lead man to worship the God of the Bible- the Creator who alone is worthy of all praise, honor and glory.

Bibliography

Denney, James,The Death of Christ,ed. R.V.G. Tasker (Chicago: Intervarsity Press, 1964).

Fairweather, Eugene R, ed. And trans.,A Scholastic Miscellany: Anslem to Ockham, “The Library of Christian Classics, “ X (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1956), 176.
Guillebaud , H.E.,Why the Cross?(Chicago: Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, 1947), pp.130, 185.
[1]Packer, Knowing God, p.51

Packer, Knowing God, p.51

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Review of The masculine mandate

Posted by on Sep 28, 2010 in Book Reviews, Reviews

The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men is written by Pastor Richard Phillips. His work is broken into two parts: Part one is about understand our mandate as men. In this section he discusses man in the Garden, man’s calling to work, man in the image of God and man as Shepherd-Lord. In part two, Pastor Phillips discusses living our mandate as men. In this section he teaches the about the role men have in marriage, raising and discipline children, having friendships with other men, the masculine mandate in the Church and being servants of the Lord.

It has been some time since I’ve read a book specifically designed for men. This book is a first rate work and one I will recommend for men to read. As with his other books, Pastor Phillips grounds his argument in the Word of God and then seeks to explain the practical outworking of the teaching of Scripture. I recommend that every man read this book to learn more about what it means to be a man of God.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Reformation Trust book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Review What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace

Posted by on Sep 28, 2010 in Book Reviews, Reviews

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What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace is written by Richard D. Phillips. In this work Pastor Phillips discusses the sovereignty of God in salvation, and Tulip. His approach to the doctrines of grace is thoroughly biblical as he sets those doctrines upon the foundation of the Word of God. Unlike many books on the doctrines of grace, Pastor Phillips work is not only biblical, and theological but also practical. Pastor Phillips seeks to explain the practicality of the doctrines of grace for all of life, and in so doing stands in the tradition of the Puritans who sought to live out the doctrines of grace. This book is extremely helpful. I recommend this book for the Young, Restless and Reformed Movement as it will help them learn not only the biblical moorings of the doctrines of grace but also the practicality of the doctrines of grace.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Reformation Trust book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Review of a A Praying Life

Posted by on Sep 28, 2010 in Book Reviews, Reviews

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World is written by Paul E. Miller. Mr. Miller is the director of seeJesus.net an organization that develops interactive Bible studies for small groups. He travels widely teaching on the person and work of Jesus, and prayer.  It is not often that I read a book on prayer but this is one I’ve kept my eye on for some time, and even read several reviews on it. Multiple times I’ve nearly bought this book at the bookstore but I already had so many books to read. This book is highly recommended by several authors that I have read before.

One of the most surprising parts of this book was his teaching on becoming like a child when we pray. Mr. Miller blows the dust off our prayers lives and guides us biblically, theologically and practically through the discipline of prayer. As one who is engaged in prayer and intercession on a daily basis even I found this book to be refreshing. Often times our prayer lives can become routine, complicated and cluttered. Mr. Miller helps us get to the heart of what prayer is.

If you haven’t picked up a book on prayer in awhile or even if you have, I recommend you get this book. It is biblical, and it is practical. This book is broken into five parts. Personally I found the last part of the book part five: praying in real life to be the most helpful- especially part 5 chapter 30 on prayer journaling: become aware of the interior journey. As one who reflects on the events of the day and previous events I personally have found journaling to be a good way to record my thoughts. I encourage you to pick up this book whether you are a new believer learning about prayer or a seasoned prayer warrior- you will benefit from Mr. Miller’s teaching.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Nav Press book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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