Archives For Incarnation

One of my commitments is to read and study the biblical and theological truths associated with the celebrations of the Christian year. Having just celebrated and worshiped as we focused on the arrival of Jesus Christ, the birth of the God-man, the incarnation, I read a few excellent books about this wonderful truth. One of them, as I noted, was Tim Keller’s, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ.

I share a couple of pertinent and challenging quotes.

The God of Christmas

In an interview about this book, Keller was asked the following question: “Neither the god of moralism nor the god of relativism would have bothered with Christmas, you observe. Why not?” He replied,

Moralism is essentially the idea that you can save yourself through your good works. And this makes Christmas unnecessary. Why would God need to become human in order to live and die in our place if we can fulfill the requirements of righteousness ourselves? Relativism is essentially the idea that no one is really “lost,” that everyone should live by their own lights and determine right and wrong for themselves. The “all-accepting god of love” many modern people believe in would never have bothered with the incarnation. Such a god would have found it completely unnecessary.

Neither moralism nor relativism are the answer, and both leave us completely helpless and hopeless.

Keller addresses this further in the book. If “God who was only holy,” he would not have done anything for us and expected us to do it ourselves. We would have died in our sins, and justly so. If he was a “deity that was an “all-accepting God of love,” he would not have had to do anything either, since he would have simply overlooked sin. God, the God of the Scriptures, the one and only true God, is both “infinitely holy” and “infinitely loving,” so he did for us what we could not do, sending his Son to address our sin and to secure our salvation. Keller writes (46-47),

The claim that Jesus is God also gives us the greatest possible hope. This means that our world is not all there is, that there is life and love after death, and that evil and suffering will one day end. And it means not just hope for the world, despite all its unending problems, but hope for you and me, despite all our ending failings. A God who was only holy would not have come down to us in Jesus Christ. He would have simply demanded that we pull ourselves together, that we be moral and holy enough to merit a relationship with him. A deity that was an ‘all‐accepting God of love’ would not have needed to come to Earth either. This God of the modern imagination would have just overlooked sin and evil and embraced us. Neither the God of moralism nor the God of relativism would have bothered with Christmas. The biblical God, however, is infinitely holy, so our sin could not be shrugged off. It had to be dealt with. He is also infinitely loving. He knows we could never climb up to him, so he has come down to us. God had to come himself and do what we couldn’t do. He doesn’t send someone; he doesn’t send a committee report or a preacher to tell you how to save yourself. He comes to fetch us. Christmas means, then, that for you and me there is all the hope in the world.

The Doctrine of the Incarnation

Often we get caught up in the sentimentalism of Christmas. We like the feelings, emotions and memories it elicits and creates. We do not want to be weighed down with the doctrine or dogma of Christmas. For those who conclude feelings are more important than beliefs, experience trumps truth, Jesus unites and doctrine divides, that doctrine just does not matter, they often do not realize all of those statements reveal a great deal about a person’s beliefs, their doctrine. For most of them, it is doctrine without substance. More specifically, it is a doctrine of salvation by works. In contrast, Christmas is about the doctrine of salvation by grace. According to Keller (131),

When you say, ‘Doctrine doesn’t matter; what matters is that you live a good life,’ that is a doctrine. It is called the doctrine of salvation by your works rather than by grace. It assumes that you are not so bad that you need a Savior, that you are not so weak that you can’t pull yourself together and live as you should. You are actually espousing a whole set of doctrines about the nature of God, humanity, and sin. And the message of Christmas is that they are all wrong.

We give thanks to the God of Christmas for the God-man sent at Christmas! We are also thankful that the doctrine of salvation by grace, the message of Christmas, has been experienced, which is reflected in worship and a life lived joyfully hoping and trusting in God.

The Incarnation

Greg Strand – December 30, 2016 2 Comments

At this time of year, we celebrate the incarnation: “the act whereby the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, without ceasing  to be what he is, God the Son, took into union with himself what he before that act did not possess, a human nature, ‘and so [He] was and continues to be God and man in two distinct natures and one person, forever.’”

Many of have been taught about the incarnation through reading the historical accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And there are other biblical texts that also address the incarnation, e.g.. John 1:1, 14; Romans 1:3; 8:3; Galatians 4:4; 1 John 4:2 , along with some early Christological hymns such as Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18-22; and Hebrews 1:2b-4. Added to this are the recollections of the Christmas story being reenacted as part of the annual church children’s Christmas program. And added to this are the hymns and choruses associated with the truths we celebrate at Christmas, including the heart of Christmas: the incarnation.

I remember well when many of these teachings of the person and work of Christ crystallized for me in the fall of my first semester at TEDS. One of my first courses was God, Man and Christ. It was an incredible learning and worshipful experience. We would begin each class with singing and prayer, and then the professor would begin the lecture. It wedded together theology and doxology, biblical truth and worship.

At the conclusion of the semester, my wife and I traveled home to visit family for the Christmas holidays. It was a lengthy trip, so we listened to Christmas music. As I was driving, Charles Wesley’s classic Hark the Herald Angels Sing came on the radio. Having learned this song as a child, I sang along. Now on the other side of this course at TEDS, I sang with a new, different and deeper meaning. In verse 1, the expression “God and sinners reconciled”  had new significance. When we got to verse 2 and I sang the phrase “veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity” I was overcome with the importance and reality of the incarnation and I wept.

Since that course, and many others, and since that experience, and many others, I have been drawn to know God in all his fullness. Although I confess sometimes it can be knowing for the sake of knowledge, in my more sanctified moments it is theological knowledge for the sake of knowing God for the purpose of the worship of God.

Any understanding of the incarnation begins with the text of Scripture, as noted above. Then those texts must be understood within the canon of the Scriptures, so that there is an engagement with the theology of the texts of Scripture, a theological theology, which begins in God and ends with God. Furthermore, we consider how the church has understood these issues and articulated them throughout the history of the church.

This methodological format has been followed in the recent book written by Steve Wellum, God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ. In light of the remembrance of Christ’s incarnation, which we remember and celebrate at Christmas, Steve highlighted 10 Things You Should Know about the Incarnation. He has focused on texts of Scripture summarized in the theological summaries. I include only the summary statements, so I encourage you to read the whole essay as an aid to the worship of God in all his fullness, particularly as we focus on the incarnation.

  1. The person or active subject of the incarnation is the eternal Son.
  2. As the eternal Son, the second person of the triune Godhead, he is the full image and expression of the Father and is thus fully God.
  3. As God the Son, he has always existed in an eternally-ordered relation to the Father and Spirit, which now is gloriously displayed in the incarnation.
  4. The incarnation is an act of addition, not subtraction.
  5. The human nature assumed by the divine Son is fully human and completely sinless.
  6. The virgin conception was the glorious means by which the incarnation took place.
  7. From conception, the Son limited his divine life in such a way that he did not override the limitations of his human nature.
  8. But the Son was not limited to his human nature alone since he continued to act in and through his divine nature.
  9. By taking on our human nature, the Son became the first man of the new creation, our great mediator and new covenant head.
  10. God the Son incarnate is utterly unique and alone Lord and Savior.

Steve will be joining us for our EFCA Theology Conference. He is one of a line-up of excellent speakers we have to address key biblical, theological, historical and pastoral issues related to the Reformation, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary Luther’s posting of his 95 theses, along with its legacy in in the EFCA.

You can register here. Plan to join us!

As we prepare for our celebration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, that which we specifically remember at Christmas with implications of this reality for all of life, both now and for eternity, here are a few texts of Scripture that explicitly inform us of why Jesus came. Please note I have highlighted the fact that Jesus came into the world (bold) and the purpose for which he came (italicized).  

I encourage you to read, ponder and pray through these biblical texts during these days of the Christmas season. Even more so, I am hopeful they lead you to a deeper worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Matthew 20:28: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. 

Luke 19:10: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  

John 18:37: “Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the worldto bear witness to the truth.”

1 Timothy 1:15: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

Hebrews 2:14-15: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

1 John 3:5: “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.”

1 Jn. 3:8b: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” 

1 John 4:9: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.