The Incarnation: Jesus Christ, The God-Man

Greg Strand – December 18, 2013 6 Comments

This time of the year is a wonderful time to ponder the incredible truths of the incarnation: the time when the second Person of the Godhead, the Son, became incarnate in a man such that without ceasing to be what He always was, God, He became what He was not, man, so that he is now and forever the perfect God-man, fully God and fully man.

The incarnation is a biblical truth (Matt. 1:18-25; 2:1-12; Lk. 2:1-20; Gal. 4:4-5; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16; etc.). It is foundational to an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. It is foundational to Christianity and the Christian faith. It is foundational to a right understanding of the Scriptures. It is foundational to a right understanding of salvation.

In addition to the biblical truth of this doctrine, there are also a number of statements affirming this wonderful truth, along with the heretical ways in which this truth of the God-man has been denied.

EFCA Statement of Faith

Jesus Christ

4. We believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, fully God and fully man, one Person in two natures. Jesus-Israel’s promised Messiah-was conceived through the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived a sinless life, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, arose bodily from the dead, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father as our High Priest and Advocate.

God’s gospel is made known supremely in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, pp. 98-99:

Jesus Christ is thus one Person in whom two distinct natures are united. Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man. He is fully and completely both at the same time, showing us the true nature of each. . . . The Son of God remained God – he never gave up being God, but he added to his divinity real humanity. As God incarnate, the divine subject made real human experience his own, and since the incarnation, the Son of God will forever be human.

There are three key statements/truths to understand Christology:

  1. Jesus Christ is truly and fully God.
  2. Jesus Christ is truly and fully man.
  3. Jesus Christ is one Person in two distinct natures.
    a. The two natures are distinct.
    b. The two natures are united in one Person.

Jesus is the God-Man – Historical Statements of this Biblical Truth

A. The Nicene- Constantinople Creed (325 A.D., revised 381 A.D.)

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

B. The Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.)

‘Therefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man [Nestorius], consisting also of a reasonable soul and body [Apollinarianism]; of one substance [homoousios] with the Father as regards his Godhead [Arianism], and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood [Nestorianism]; like us in all respects [Docetism], apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer [theotokos]; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence [hypostasis], not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.”

C. Key Phrases in the Chalcedonian Statement

It is interesting to note that this Statement attempted to address every Christological problem that had affected the church up to that time. Robert Reymond, (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith [Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998], 608-609), helpfully points them out, which I have adapted. He notes both explicit affirmations and implicit denials.

  1. Against the Docetists (Jesus only appeared to be human) it declared that the Lord Jesus Christ was perfect in manness, truly man, consubstantial (homoousion, not homoiousion) with us according to manness, and born of Mary.
  2. Against the Samosatian adoptionists (at some point, baptism, the human Jesus was adopted by the Father to become the Son) it insisted upon the personal subsistence of the Logos “begotten of the Father before the ages.”
  3. Against the Sabellians (a form of modalism) it distinguished the Son from the Father both by the titles of “Father” and “Son” and by its reference to the Father having begotten the Son before all ages.
  4. Against the Arians (Jesus was not eternal, but created, there was time when he was not) it affirmed that the Lord Jesus Christ was perfect in deity, truly God, and consubstantial with the Father. (An earlier version of this was known as Ebionism.)
  5. Against the Apollinarians (one person of Christ had a human body but not a human mind and spirit which were of divine nature), who had reduced Jesus’ manness to a body and an “animal soul” (psyche alogos), it declared that Jesus had a “rational soul” (psyche logike), that is, a “spirit.”
  6. Against the Nestorians (two separate persons in Christ, a human person and a divine person) it both described Mary as theotokos, not in order to exalt Mary in the slightest, but in order to affirm Jesus’ true deity and the fact of a real incarnation, and spoke throughout of one and the same Son and one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons and whose natures are in union without division and without separation.
  7. Finally, against the Eutychians (Christ has one nature only, human nature was absorbed into the divine nature so a third kind of nature resulted), it confessed that in Christ were two natures without confusion and without change, the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in the one person.

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

6 responses to The Incarnation: Jesus Christ, The God-Man

  1. love this post Greg. I like how Ryrie puts this…”Never less than God, but chose to live His life, never more than man.”

  2. Isaac Terwilleger December 21, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Greg, although I am a one who embraces the Nicene Creed and the work done at Constantinople and then the Chalcedonian Creed, I wonder specifically what we do with Nestorian believers today (what do we do with the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox churches)? By Nicene standards, these churches are couched in heresy. Yet most in Western Christian circles see them as brothers in the faith (like they would with Eastern Orthodox believers…. They are kind of step-brothers that our dad had but we don’t see or know). Yet they have rejected orthodox theology of one Person in two natures? Any thoughts?
    As a side, I got the link to this via Steve Hudson. I am a Presbyterian Church in America guy serving in aPCUSA church. This question has been rolling around in my head for the past few months and so in reading this post, it seemed like the time to ask. Just wondering your thoughts. If this is outside of your scope, no worries. Thanks for the post.

    • It is good to hear from you Isaac. Thank you for your important question. A thorough response would require a book-length response, so my answer will be more modest. But it should provide some help, nonetheless. (1) Nestorius said things like, “the creature hath not given birth to the uncreatable,” and “the Word came forth, but was not born of her,” and “I do not say that God is two or three months old.” Moreover, he rejected the term “hypostatic union,” which raised many and serious questions about Nestorius and his Christology. Granted, Nestorius desired to affirm the God-ness of the Son, because he feared it was lost in referring so strongly to his human-ness, which is why he preferred to refer to Mary as the bearer of Christ (Christokos), emphasizing the humanity, rather than as the bearer of God (theotokos). In his strong affirmation of one element of the truth, he ended up denying another, which led to his condemnation. (2) This is what led to the official condemnation of Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus in 431. (3) There is a significant difference between Nestorius and the Orthodox. I would not equate them. (4) The major difference between the East and the West is the filioque clause, “and from the Son,” and has to do with the procession of the Holy Spirit. This occurred in 1054 and is known as The Great Schism. (5) There are a number of other differences between East and West, Orthodox and Protestant and Roman Catholic, but all affirm the Seven Ecumenical Councils, one of which condemned Nestorius and Nestorianism, which still stands. Regarding Christology, one generally finds the East emphasizing “from below” while affirming “from above” (and regarding the Trinity they emphasize the oneness (unity) of the Godhead, while affirming the three Persons), while the West emphasizes “from above” (and regarding the Trinity they emphasize the threeness of the Persons while affirming the oneness (unity)). (6) There can be misunderstanding that causes problems and leads to condemnations made. These discussions and debates must be carefully nuanced, because one can fall off the doctrinal horse on one side or another. Where it is misunderstanding, further clarity must be sought and made. Where there is embracing of the Nestorian thought, it must be condemned as heresy. (7) Finally, if one embraces Nestorianism, it is still a heresy, which means I would approach it with this understanding even yet today.

  3. Isaac Terwilleger December 23, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    I guess I was under the impression that both the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Coptic churches had held to Nestorian beliefs. I thought that even after Nestorianism was declared unorthodox, that these two branches held to it. I am incorrect on this? If I am, I’m fine with that, I just thought I remember reading/studying that somewhere along the lines. I guess now I’m asking you to do work that I should be doing. Either way, I understand this is outside the scope of your post, which I really enjoyed reading.

    • Thank you for the follow up question, Isaac. Three brief responses. First, there are theological differences, which I noted in my initial response (#5). Second, there are nuances that must be considered. This addresses the need for a much lengthier response and the need to nuance carefully to ensure there are not misunderstandings and one is working on a similar understanding of the definitions/understandings (#6). Finally, the term “orthodox” and “orthodoxy” has various meanings as well, that are important to consider (with input from J. I. Packer): (1) right belief as opposed to heresy or heterodoxy; (2) statements that reflect the revealed truth of Christianity and are therefore normative for the church; (3) in the early centuries it was used in the defense of the biblical truth/the Christian faith during the Christological and Trinitarian controversies, which was also known as the “rule of faith,” initially with Gnosticism and then with those who opposed the definitive statements made by the early church councils: (Nicea [325], Constantinople [381], Ephesus ]431] and Chalcedon [451]); (4) the Eastern church refers to itself as orthodox and condemns the Western church for being heterodox, primarily because of the filioque clause; (5) in the seventeenth century Protestant theologians stressed the importance of orthodoxy in relation to the creeds of the Reformation, especially their focus on salvation, which was over against Liberal Protestantism who considered such a project deadening and misguided; (6) the term is being used more often today, generally in reference to Evangelical essentials.

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