The Incarnation


The Doctrine of the Incarnation

Fully God and Fully Human

The other major biblical doctrine that comes up in this whole thing of the virgin birth is the doctrine of the incarnation and this is a great time to talk about it. The incarnation, the becoming flesh, is the doctrine that Jesus was fully God and fully human at the same time. The incarnation is the doctrine that Jesus was fully God and yet he became fully human, and he existed fully God and fully human at the same time, and in fact he still is fully God and fully human, interceding for us before the throne. The doctrine of the incarnation is not that Jesus was half God and half human, it’s not two ways of looking at the same person. Just like in the doctrine of the trinity, ultimately all analogies fail as you try to think of how Jesus could be 100% God and 100% man at the same time. Our statement of faith for the institute says that “God the Son is fully God and fully human without confusion or mixture.” All that’s saying is he stayed fully God and fully human they weren’t somehow blended, so he was less than fully God and less than fully human, but the two natures existed, “without confusion or mixture conceived by the Holy Spirit and born by the virgin Mary.” That’s the doctrine of the incarnation. The church has never found a way really to describe it, they have talked about it, but there is no analogy or anything like that.

We have already seen discussion that Jesus was fully God; we did some of that when we looked at Mark. When we go into John we will spend more time on Christ’s divinity. What the birth narratives are about is to try to teach us that Jesus was unlike any other human being. He was fully God, but also that he was born. He had a mother her name was Mary, and he is fully God. One of the strongest verses on this is John 1:14: “The word became flesh and dwelt among us,” actually “tabernacled among us,” and the word that John uses for flesh is the meat that’s hanging off your bones—the most basic fundamental word that he could come up with. Scripture teaches that Jesus was fully God, but it also teaches that he was fully human, born of Mary and that is the doctrine of the incarnation.

The Importance of Believing in the Incarnation

Let me ask you those two questions. Is believing in the incarnation really important? Yes, otherwise I wouldn’t be spending so much time on it. Let me take a step back though. Understand that the doctrine of the incarnation is a theological formation. It is nothing that is explicitly stated in Scripture. This is a hand out on the council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, which settled this issue on Jesus’s incarnation as fully God and fully man. It’s interesting to read what they are saying, and then at the top of the table it shows you what they are speaking against.

This is one of those balancing acts that the church historically has struggled with. They want to fall on the idea that he is more God than he is human, or he is more human than he is God. The council of Chalcedon just said, we don’t understand it, but we believe that both are completely true. For example, there was a heresy called Docetism that says he only appeared to be human, so the council said, no he is perfect in manhood, truly man, of a reasonable, and the word used to mean rational, soul and body, consubstantial with us according to the manhood. In other words, he is just like us. Then there was a heresy called Adoptionism, where he is a human being who was adopted at his baptism when the Spirit came down, and when he died the Spirit left and the human cried out, “my god my god whey have you forsaken me?” The Adoptionists couldn’t believe, or didn’t want to believe that God could die. Against that, the council of Chalcedon said “no he is perfect in his Godhood, he is truly God.” There are a few other ones that are interesting to read. What the church did was that since there are no words to describe the fusion of fully God and fully human, rather, they fully asserted both and said the both exist. Here is some of the historical information if you want to see it.

It’s interesting in the theologies to read how they worked to get around this confusion. For example, what some theologies will do is, say “as to his human nature he was tired, but as to his divine nature he is omnipotent. As to his human nature he was no longer going to be in the world, as to his divine nature he is omnipresent, he is both creator and he is creation.” So the theologies struggle with how to describe this fully God and fully human. It is a mystery, and mystery lies at the heart of most of our basic beliefs, doesn’t it. My nephew David, he is a pastor now, but when he was about 5, he was one of these little kids that had to understand anything. He was very meticulous; he was like Tyler my son. And I was in seminary and my sister lived within driving distance, so every weekend I would go down and fill up my stomach and make it through the next week without eating and then go down the next weekend. I was down there one weekend and Davey, I think he was five years old, came to me and asked, “Uncle Bill, Jesus is God, right?” and I thought, “Oh my goodness, here it comes.” “Yes Davey, Jesus is fully God.” “Well, Jesus was a man too right?” “Yes, that’s right Davey.” I wish you knew my nephew because he started shaking and clenching his fist and starting jumping and going, “No, that can’t be!” because he couldn’t process it; he couldn’t put it together. I’m standing there watching my nephew have a fit, and then it struck me. They have a dog named Bengie; I said, “David, do you understand Bengie?” he said, “yes, uncle Bill.” “Tell me about him.” “He’s a dog, he eats food, he drinks too much.” “Do you think Bengie understands you?” “Well I guess a little.” “Well do you think Bengie understands everything about you?” “Uncle Bill of course not, he’s a do….” And stopped mid-word because he got the analogy. Bengie was a dog and he could not understand Davey because Davey was a boy. In the same way, you and I are part of creation, God is the creator, and we should not expect to understand everything. That is where faith comes in. I say all of that all as a background of this whole doctrine of incarnation. It is a mystery and it is an expected mystery.

To get back to the point, is it important to believe in the incarnation? Yes, if you want to be a Christian. This is one those pieces of answering, “What is the minimum it takes to get to Heaven?” In the book of 1 John 4, he is speaking against the Docetists, who said Jesus was God and he only appeared to be human, but he really wasn’t flesh. John writes, “My beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they be of God, for many false prophets have gone out in the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit” (and by spirit he mean person) “that does not confess Jesus” (does not confess that Jesus has come in the flesh) “is not from God,” in fact this is the spirit of the anti-Christ, to deny the full humanity of Jesus Christ.

I remember a few years ago reading this and I remember changing how I shared salvation with people. I used to say, you have to believe that Jesus’s death on the cross paid the penalty for your sins and obviously that’s not enough. You have to believe that he is fully god and fully human, and this is one of those passages that pushed me to change how I present the gospel. You have to believe that he is fully human. Elsewhere in Romans 10, you have to be able to confess that he is God, that he is Lord, that he is Yahweh. You have a belief in the incarnation being part of the offer for salivation. Therefore, yes, it is rather important.

The Significance of the Incarnation

What is the significant of the incarnation? There is another area in which its significance is paramount, and that is the doctrine of the atonement, and we have talked about that. The only way for Jesus’s death on the cross to have paid the penalty for my sins was that he was fully human. The passage is Hebrews 2:17, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of people.” He had to be made like his brothers, human beings, if he was to be our propitiation, our sacrifice of atonement. Evidently, there is something in the mind of God, that for the sacrifice to be effective, it had to be a human sacrifice for human sins. That’s why the author of Hebrews in 10:4 says that the blood of bulls and goats never took away sins. In other words, the death of a non-human ultimately cannot forgive human sins, it has to be a human being. The doctrine of the incarnation is important in the offer of salvation, so the doctrine of the incarnation is important for how we share our faith and the doctrine of the incarnation is important as we struggle to understand the atonement.

Philippians 2

The other place that we are going to touch on the incarnation is when we get to Philippians chapter 2. There is a translation that talks about Jesus emptying himself. Some people argue that he emptied himself of his divinity when he was born, and the problem is that he can’t, because he is God and he can’t cease being God. Philippians 2 is probably more accurately translated, “that he gave himself.” Most evangelicals believe that what happened in the incarnation is that Jesus gave up the independent exercise of his divine power, that he didn’t cease being God, but he didn’t rely on the fact that he was God to do anything. Everything that he did, his sinless life, his miracles was all done through the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the general way that people now are looking at it. He gave up the independent exercise of his divinity, he stayed God, and that’s why you have passages like, when he goes into Galilee and he was surprised at their lack of faith, and he was not able to do many miracles there. He couldn’t do many miracles because of the people’s lack of faith. Now how can that be true of God? Well it can only be true of God is if he is living by the power of the Spirit and in the Spirit, the ability to do miracles is tied in with faith. Anyway, we’ll look at those when we get there.




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