Being God’s Beloved: Day 19: The Incarnation

Being God’s Beloved: Reflections on God’s Love.

Today marks an important transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament. God’s love is continuous across both Testaments – there is no change in God’s attitude and feelings towards us. However, the New Testament heralds a new way of expressing that love! God now comes in person into humanity in the form of Jesus Christ. This is the greatest demonstration of God’s love since the creation. And it allows us to encounter God is a completely new way. God’s coming into the world – the incarnation – is a radical shift in God’s engagement with the world, and sets in motion a wonderful new experience of Being God’s Beloved.

You may recall that on Day 7, when we looked at Exodus 3, we heard God say:

  • I have seen…
  • I have heard…
  • I am concerned…
  • I have come down…

God drew near to Israel in their time of suffering in Egypt.

And now God draws near again, but in a new and profound way – God becomes human.

When we think of the incarnation, many of us think of the baby Jesus born in a manager, which we celebrate at Christmas. But in fact the incarnation took place roughly nine months before, at the conception. It must, surely, be at the conception that the incarnation took place, otherwise what we have is a human baby who is subsequently infused with God’s spirit – and that is no incarnation at all.[1]

Exactly how this works, we cannot be sure. But let us consider the possibility that in some mysterious way, by the Holy Spirit, there is a blending together of human and divine. Mary’s genetic material is spliced together with God’s to form a being who is both fully human and fully divine – two natures in one person, as the Nicene Creed says. It is at the conception that God incarnates into human form – God is woven into the very fabric of Jesus’ genetic makeup, forming a completely new entity: a God-man. This happens at a cellular level, starting with a single cell.

This is an important point, because it points to God’s new work of salvation, which starts at this conception. Let us think back to Genesis 3. Adam and Eve, created in perfection, chose to turn away from fellowship with God. We call that turning away ‘the Fall’, because in that moment something happened not only to Adam as an individual, but to the whole human race. The whole of humanity fell. Indeed, we can say that human nature fell. Something went wrong with who we are as people. As we heard Schaeffer say on Day 17, we are ‘glorious ruins’.

Paul writes about this in Romans 5:12, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” He continues to say this over the following verses (5:15-19): “…many died by the trespass of the one man… The judgement followed one sin and brought condemnation… by the trespass of one man, death reigned through that one man… the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men… through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners.”

In these verses Paul expresses the consequence of the Fall – the sin of one man, Adam – as death, judgement and condemnation. It is human nature that was damaged by the Fall, and that resulted in estrangement from God – the intimate fellowship that Adam and Eve had experienced in the Garden, was shattered and they were cast out into the world. Paul emphasises repeatedly that the action of ONE man impacted the MANY; indeed the ALL. In other words, Adam’s sin (and we should not forget Eve too) changed humanity.

Therefore, the incarnation is a tremendous start to God’s plan to unravel the knotty mess that Adam made. By God inserting Godself into human DNA, God begins to transform humanity at a genetic level. The incarnation is not merely a human being with a particularly large dose of Spirit. The incarnation points to an interweaving of human and divine, to form an integrated, indivisible, whole person. In doing this, God begins to redeem human nature. This does not mean that the incarnation brings salvation to every individual person. Rather, it means that the fabric of what it means to be human is redeemed. God opens up the path to a total transformation of our being, just as Adam’s sin led to a total transformation of our being.

Paul writes about this too in Romans 5:12-20. Throughout this passage, he contrasts Adam with Christ – two individuals, whose lives impacted not only on themselves but on the whole of humanity. Adam impacted us negatively – sin, death, judgement and condemnation – while Christ impacted us positively: “…how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! …the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification… how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. …the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. …through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (5:15-19).

In these verses, which parallel the verses about Adam, Paul expresses the consequences of Jesus’ work: grace, justification, righteousness. And just as Adam’s individual sin impacted the whole of humanity, Jesus’ individual gift impacts the whole of humanity. Yet, twice in this passage, Paul says, “how much more” – Adam impacted everyone, but Jesus impacted everyone even more – the cure is much more powerful than the disease.

Paul picks up this theme again in 1 Corinthians 15:45-49, where he explicitly contrasts Adam as “the first man Adam” and Christ as “the last Adam”. And in the same passage he writes of the “first man” and the “second man”.

Thus, the incarnation is Jesus coming into the world as a renewed and restored kind of human, infused from conception with the divine, setting in motion the redemption of humanity, of human nature, that continues through his ministry and teaching, culminating in the cross and resurrection. This whole sequence of work makes possible the salvation of humanity, and our transformation into the likeness of God.

Roman Catholic and Protestant theology (in other words, the Western Church) has tended to emphasise the cross as the heart of salvation, and this is certainly correct. But the Church Fathers and the Eastern Church (such as Russian Orthodox theology), while recognising the importance of the cross, also emphasised the importance of the incarnation as being central to God’s plan of salvation. Irenaeus, for example, writing in the second century, stressed that the “incarnation itself was redemptive, not merely a necessary step toward either Christ’s teachings or the cross event. Rather the becoming human of the Son of God – God’s eternal Word (Logos) experiencing human existence – was what redeems and restores fallen humanity if they let it. … For Irenaeus, then, the incarnation was the key to the entire history of redemption and to personal salvation. The incarnation was itself transformative… In a literal sense the entire human race is ‘born again’ in the incarnation. It receives a new ‘head’ – a new source, origin, ground of being – that is unfallen, pure and healthy, victorious and immortal. It is ‘fully alive’ – both physically and spiritually.”[2]

One of my books on salvation has a section entitled, “The incarnation: God’s basic act of forgiveness.”[3] I love this title! Think about this. Human nature had fallen into ruin through Genesis 3. Despite everything that we’ve been saying so far about God’s love, let us not forget that God is also holy and righteous, and that sin really is unpleasant for him. It may help to think of sin as something that smells really bad. A couple of days ago, my neighbour laid down fresh manure in their garden – it smelled something awful and invaded every corner of our home. Sin is something like that for God.

And yet in the incarnation God chooses to come close to humanity. God chooses to not just to come close, but to come into humanity. Yet even more than this, God becomes one with humanity! Despite our brokenness and inadequacy, despite the stink of humanity’s sin, God decides to merge God’s divine nature with our human nature. Does that not shake you to the core?

What would motivate God to do such a thing? What could be so powerful as to persuade God to pinch his nose, so to speak, and dive into the smelly world of humanity?

Just one thing: LOVE.

God’s eternal and persistent love for humanity – God’s chesed (God’s loving-kindness tied up in a covenant that God made with humanity) – is extravagant. This love is not genteel, polite, proper, tightly controlled and neatly expressed. It is wild and enthusiastic and joyful and energetic and risky and beautiful! From this heart of extravagant love, God plunges into human existence, taking on all of our ugliness and embracing us just as we are – in our human nature.

This choice – this act – is a demonstration of forgiveness. It is, as Gaybba says, “a basic act of forgiveness.” Not basic in the sense of simple; but basic in the sense of a foundation – the incarnation is the base of forgiveness. It is the first and radical step in God’s great new plan for salvation of humankind.

It is here that God begins to unravel the effects of the fall. It is here that God begins to change the fabric of our being. It is here that God bridges the sin-divide between us and God. It is here that we see God’s love in action.

Meditation for the Day

Consider what it means that God incarnated into the genetic material of humanity. Reflect on God’s demonstration of forgiveness in becoming human.

Prayer for the Day

Precious Saviour, I thank you for coming into the world, for becoming one of us, for becoming like me. Transform me, from the inside to the outside, into your likeness.

Being_Gods_Beloved_square_3


[1] There are, of course, many different perspectives on the incarnation, held fervently by sincere and true Christians. Feel free to differ from me – I do not have exclusive access to Truth. But these are views that I hold fervently and that make sense to me in light of what I understand in the Bible, of theology and my experience of God. If nothing else, let my thoughts stimulate your own thoughts.

[2] Olson, R. E. (1999). The story of Christian theology. DownersGrove, IL: InterVarsity Press, pp. 74-75.

[3] Gaybba, B. (2005). Soteriology. Pretoria: Unisa Press, p. 40.

3 thoughts on “Being God’s Beloved: Day 19: The Incarnation

  1. Cathy Nicholson says:

    What a brilliant ‘piece of writing’ … I am a bit behind with the daily readings (end of school term etc etc) … Love the academic analytical approach. Thank you so much.

    Like

  2. […] the incarnation, which we reflected on back on Day 19, we saw how the eternal Son of God had to empty himself – we used the Greek word kenosis – in […]

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