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God in the Flesh

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

What is Our Worldview Marinating In?

The viability of the Christian faith is bound amid a continuum of rationality and, what the bible calls, mystery. This is not a new phenomenon; that is, the Christian faith does not lack argumentative appeal in making sense of the created world. Yet at the same time, the premise of orthodox Christianity is built upon the notion that Truth will never be fully embraced by sheer humanistic appeal. The apostolic message is imparted by “words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:13). Thus, the Christian faith can not be truncated to mere naturalistic impressions. The storyline of Scripture is ascertained upon metaphysical realities that do not oppose creation, they define it.[1] That is, the biblical narrative encapsulates the central aim of the created order. God is Creator, and creation finds its purpose in Him (cf. Col. 1:15-16; 2:1-3). Doctrinal fidelity and a rational appeal to reality must be tethered, then, to an understanding of the Creator/creation distinction demonstrated within the Scriptures.


Thus, when speaking of the Christian orthodox faith there are a number of doctrines that garner mystery. Whether speaking about the doctrine of the trinity or the doctrine of the eschaton (last things), believers must hold in tension a dualistic scheme—natural and supernatural. Furthermore, one of the most difficult orthodox doctrines within Christian theism is the incarnation of Christ, i.e., hypostatic union. Not only are these doctrines difficult, but a modern worldview is fundamentally antithetical to its renderings. Undergirding such difficulties is what Charles Taylor articulates in A Secular Age as “disenchantment;” that is, the viability of atheism in the West is largely due to the denunciation and demarcation of supernaturalism. The historic movement of Western society from theism to deism and, ultimately, terminating upon philosophical naturalism has tilled the soil for the rise of atheism. Taylor elaborates by saying,

The great invention of the West was that of an immanent order in Nature, whose working could be systematically understood and explained on its own terms, leaving open the question whether this whole order had a deeper significance, and whether, if it did, we should infer a transcendent Creator beyond it. This notion of the “immanent” involved denying—or at least isolating and problematizing—any form of interpenetration between the things of Nature, on the one hand, and “the supernatural” on the other, be this understood in terms of the one transcendent God, or of Gods or spirits, or magic forces, or whatever.[2]

Though the church historic has dealt with a plethora of Christological heresies,[3] it is within the premodern worldview that the physical and spiritual notion of the incarnation can be fully embraced. The evaluation of one's presupposition, then, is necessary if the church is going to uphold the dual natures of Christ and, in turn, better understand the necessity of such convention in light of the Gospel message. To divorce ourselves from the dualistic worldview would be to unearth the framework by which the biblical structures find their residence. Craig A. Carter rightly asserts, then, that there “is a vertical dimension of existence because this world that is accessible to our empirical senses is not the sum total of reality. Rather, this world participates in a reality greater than itself and is only a shadow of this greater reality.”[4] To this end, in order to appreciate and, in turn, have great affection for doctrinal truths found within Scripture, one must create—by the power of the Spirit—space within the heart/mind to see the world in accordance to God’s self-revelation.


Sharing in Our Humanity:


Salvation is etched in the mind of God “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4; cf. Jn. 17:24; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8). Its aim is in accordance “to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:9b-10, italics mine). By His infinite wisdom, He decreed all things to culminate in the Person of Christ in order that He might be preeminent (Col. 1:18); that is, through His life, death, and resurrection Christ would obtain definitive authority in His kingly reign (cf. Matt. 28:18).[5] Accordingly, writes Patrick Schreiner, “The cross establishes the kingdom; kingdom comes through the cross.”[6] As the Hebrew author explains, then, it was “fitting” (Gk. eprepen) for God to ordain Christ to suffer in order that the inauguration of His kingdom would “[bring] many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10). The fittingness of Christ’s atoning work is in accords with God the Father’s wisdom, character, and grace.[7] The redemption of all creation is eagerly anticipating what the “angels [longed] to look” (1 Pet. 1:12; cf. Matt. 3:17; Rom. 8:18-25). Thus, the reflexive pronoun “He” (Gk. auto) asserts that the Father has decreed in covenantal union with the Son, i.e., pactum salutis, the task of accomplishing redemption through the agency of suffering and obedience. The author of Hebrews, furthermore, concludes that “He who sanctifies,” namely Christ, “and those who are sanctified all have one source” (Heb. 2:11).


Yet, a lingering question remains: why is the incarnation necessary for the restoration of all creation? Why is it essential for Christ, the second Person of the Godhead, to take on flesh in order for redemption to be realized? What is the significance of the incarnation, then, within redemptive history? As we analyze these questions, the author of Hebrews grants us glimpses into the divine wisdom of God. Two overarching entailments made by the incarnation are (1) the necessity of atonement and (2) the familial nature of the covenant.


Penal Substitutionary Atonement. By taking on flesh, Christ embodies an atoning sacrifice in epic proportion. As the author of Hebrews rightly submits: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22b). Thus, the incarnation encompasses a representative nature and a substitutionary scope that enlivens the redemptive formula. The messianic figure accomplishes the covenantal stipulations which renders righteousness for all those who would put their faith in His accomplishment (cf. Rom. 1:17; 4:11; Gal. 3:6; Phil. 3:9; Jas. 2:23; Heb. 10:38). Though Christ being greater than angels (cf. Heb. 1:5-2:8), lowered Himself for a time in humility in order that “He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9; cf. Phil. 2:3-11). That is, His divinity as well as His humanity is of the upmost importance in the economy of salvation. The incarnation, then, is not arbitrary nor capricious. Rather, it is imbedded amid divine ordinances which are conveyed through prophetic utterances (cf. Deut. 18:15; Ps. 8:4-6; 104:4). To this point, the incarnation in vicarious obedience builds a pathway toward a redemptive formula which inaugurates the eschatological reign of Christ’s kingdom.


That kingdom, then, in being reserved by His vicarious obedience conveys the fulfillment of His priestly task; while the first Adam failed in his priest-king role, the second Adam—Jesus Christ—achieves and renews the Adamic vocation for the elect. “As a representative and Adamic figure,” asserts Brandon D. Crowe, “Jesus’s obedience can be counted vicariously for others.”[8] That is, as vice-regents who are called to administer and express God’s kingly rule, Jesus restores regenerate believers back to their priest-king calling.[9]


Thus, according to the author of Hebrews, the Father makes “the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). And yet, how are we to understand the language of perfect? Does this connote that Christ was not morally upright in His earthly ministry? Is there deficiency in the Person of Christ? A broader approach to the epistle of Hebrews dismantles any notion of an amoral and, worst, immoral perception of Christ Jesus. Hebrews 4:15 (italics mine) asserts by saying, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Furthermore, 7:26-27 (italics mine) conveys, “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifice daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself.” A more expansive glance at the content of the respective epistle, then, garners a legitimate understanding that the notion of “perfect” does not warrant a contrarian apprehension, i.e., imperfection, but rather espouses, what Thomas R. Schreiner characterizes, as a vocational fulfillment.[10] That is, by taking on flesh, the second Person of the Godhead experiences suffering firsthand and, despite such adversities, reveals Himself faithful, steadfast, and unwavering in His commitment to God the Father. Thus, He is able to take on the role of priest and stand as representative for the elect as one who has fulfilled righteousness. Simultaneously, as the first Adam brought sin and, therefore, death into his representative status, Christ inaugurates perfection through His obedience in suffering and, hence, life (cf. Rom. 5:12-21; Heb. 2:10). As John C. Clark and Marcus Peter Johnson rightly comments, “Christ unites God with man by participating unreservedly in the being and life of both God and man as the God-man; thus, the God we meet face to face in the face of Christ has first-hand experiential knowledge of being buffeted by, and learning obedience amidst, the harshness of human existence under the conditions of sin.”[11]


To this end, the author of Hebrews contends that the incarnation and, furthermore, His fulfillment of righteousness is realized so that the Person of Christ “might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Meaning, perfection through suffering vindicates the representative role that Christ—the second Adam—has come to effectuate (cf. Rom. 5:12-21). Furthermore, the resurrection itself affirms and substantiates the notion of Christ’s messianic aim; that is, because death could not hold Him, He is who He says He is—the Messianic figure. Hence, Crowe can assert, “A strong case can be made that Jesus’s own resurrection life follows necessarily from His perfect adherence to God’s commands.”[12] To convey the concept in the negative, without the incarnational ministry of Christ, humanity, and thus creation itself, would not have an archetypal figure qualified to render the redemptive and covenantal formula (cf. Rom. 8:18-25). In making intercessory petitions for image bearers, Christ had to become man in order for those covenantal stipulations to be actualized. This notion is affirmed when the Hebrew author contends, “For surely it is not angels that He helps, but the offspring of Abraham" (Heb. 2:16). Meaning, He does not intervene on behalf of angel but, particularly, comes to redeem mankind. This, then, is congruent with the overarching biblical narrative; that is, Christ is the better Adam (cf. Rom. 5:12-21, 1 Cor. 15:45-49), He is the better Israel (cf. Matt. 2:13-15; 3:13-4:11; Mk. 1:13; Lk. 4:1-3), He is greater than Moses (cf. Deut. 18:15; Heb. 3:1-6), He is the better David (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Ps. 110:1-3; Mic. 5:2; Matt. 1:1; Lk. 1:32), and, therefore, He is our living hope (cf. Rom. 5:13; 1 Pet. 1:3). Meaning, Christ has obtained the righteous requirements essential to fulfill the covenantal mandate and redemptive formula.


Therefore, the perfection through “suffering” has a twofold performance (cf. Heb. 2:10). First, as we have already expressed, suffering alludes to the sinless life that Christ lived amid a broken and depraved world. Christ “learned obedience through what He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). Again, He experienced firsthand the power of temptation in the flesh and overcame the alluring appeal through obedience. The incarnate Christ was “in every respect . . . tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Secondly, suffering points to the necessity of His death upon the cross (cf. Matt. 16:21; 17:12; Mk. 9:12; 10:33-34; Lk. 9:22; 24:25-26, 46; Acts 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:3). As was stated earlier, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22b). Yet, the distinctiveness in communicating suffering, as it has been laid out here, should not be understood as a polarization to the fact. Meaning, suffering experienced in His earthly ministry and suffering upon the cross of Calvary should not be inferred to mean that they are two isolated realities. Rather, the suffering amid His incarnation fuels and validates His sacrificial offering upon the cross. Crowe is helpful in emphasizing this point,

In the Gospels we not only find that God desires love and mercy but also that Jesus Himself realizes these divine requirements. Too often sacrifice and love have been dichotomized, but Jesus points us to the spirit of love required by the Law and Prophets, even as He lays down His own life sacrificially. By offering Himself up unto death, Jesus definitively unites true circumcision of heart with perfect sacrifice. Jesus’s resurrection is His vindication as God’s Messiah and is predicated on the perfection of His life. Indeed, the resurrection not only is the vindication of Jesus as Messiah but also ensures that full salvation of all those who place their faith in Him.[13]

In sum, the suffering of Christ—in its totality through life and obedience upon the cross—functions as a substitutionary atonement for His people; that is, it is the means by which God unites His people to Himself in covenantal union (cf. Heb. 2:9). As Christ represents humanity perfectly, or rather is the perfect representative in His incarnation, He grants as their new federal head covenantal fidelity. The atoning nature of Christ through the incarnation “delivers all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Gk. douleias)” (Heb. 2:15, italics mine). Schreiner identifies, then, the atoning nature of Christ’s work by saying,

Hence, Jesus had to become a human being to destroy death. It wasn’t enough for Jesus to become human. He had to endure death Himself. Death would only die through the death of a human being. Through Jesus’ death those who are part of Jesus’ family are freed from the fear of death. If Jesus’ death frees His brothers and sisters from the dominion and fear of death, it seems that he dies in their place. The death they deserve He took upon Himself so that they are now free from the fear of death that haunts human existence.[14]

Thus, the incarnation is necessary and legitimate in order for salvation to be disseminated to the elect. The author of the epistle, then, rightly affirms that though “we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels . . . so that (Gk. hopos) by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).


Covenantal Family. The atoning work of Christ, then, not only rectifies our relational engagement with the triune God of the universe, but, simultaneously, engenders regenerate believers into the covenantal family of God.[15] This provokes the summation that Christ through the incarnation becomes our federal head and, furthermore, is our older brother (cf. Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:11-12). Language of family, accordingly, is peppered throughout the epistle to the Hebrews. Not only is God “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10), but “He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source” (Heb. 2:11a). The undergirding context presupposes the incarnation of Christ and, thus, conveys that the one who sanctifies, Christ Jesus Himself, and those who are being sanctified, the many sons of glory, are of one nature—namely humanity. Moreover, the emphasis upon “one source” then, conveys that the federal head and the body of saints “have the same Father and belong to the same family.”[16] For this reason, Christ “is not ashamed to called them brothers” (Heb. 2:11b).


The author of Hebrews, in turn, cites Psalms 22:22 which is widely known as a messianic psalm. Throughout the earthly ministry of Christ, He continuously refers to this psalm as a reflection of His redemptive mission (Matt. 27:43, 46; Mk. 15:24, 29, 34; Lk. 23:34; Jn. 19:23-24). Taking on the psalmist’s voice, Christ conveys “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1; cf. Matt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34) as well as “they divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Ps. 22:18; cf. Matt. 27:35; Mk. 15:24; LK. 23:34; Jn. 19:23-25). Thus, the incarnate Christ takes the context of Psalms 22 upon Himself by enduring the suffrage and, in turn, reaping the blessings and benefits of the covenantal Lord in salvation. Meaning, the suffering that the psalmist endures is applied to the adversities that are experienced by Christ through His earthly ministry. In addition, the redemption that the psalmist triumphantly undertakes is enforced, also, upon Christ through His resurrection. “The suffering one,” contends Schreiner, “has become the exalted one.”[17] To this end, the Hebrew authors reads the psalmist as the voice of Christ when He says, “I will tell of your Name to My brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise” (Heb. 2:12; cf. Ps. 22:22, italics mine). That is, Christ will mediate His redemptive siblings in the worship gathering of saints to the covenantal Lord Himself. Christ, then, will mediate relational fidelity between His brothers/sisters and God the Father.


Therefore, the author reasserts the familial bond in grounding the necessity of the incarnation to the priestly task of Christ. The messianic hope “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 the people” (Heb. 2:17, italics mine). In the Person of Christ, there is perfection in the mediatorial work of the priestly office (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5). As Clark and Johnson assert,

Just as surely as Christ humanly mediates God to men in and as man, therefore, He humanly mediates men to God in like manner. Assuming our humanity, body and soul alike, the man Christ Jesus personally lives and acts in our place and on our behalf. All Christ is and does as our incarnate Savior He is and does for us—that is, in solidarity with us as one of us. . . The vicarious humanity of Christ brings to expression the representative character of His person and work, underscoring that our incarnate Lord is never other than the One who is and acts for us—in our stead, as our Substitute. . . We must also hasten to add, then, that the vicarious humanity of Christ brings to expression not merely one but two internally related facets—thus, twin or dual facets—of His person and work: substitution/representation and incorporation/participation.[18]

The call to worship amid the congregational gathering, then, has a high view of the Gospel; that is, in urging the covenant community to corporately engage in the worship of the triune God, the one calling presupposes the mediatorial work of the blood through the cross of Christ. As the covenantal Lord (Heb. yhwh elohim) calls out to Adam and Eve “in the garden in the cool of the day, . . . the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord” (Gen. 3:8). The communal nature of this interaction is assumed in the verb “walking” (Heb. halak) which “is the same term employed to describe the divine presence in the later tent sanctuaries (Lev. 26:12; Deut. 23:15 [23:14 EV]; 2 Sam. 7:6-7).”[19] Due to the sinful act and now the sinfulness of the image bearers, they could not respond to the call of worship/fellowship: “But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Gen. 3:9). They were left to hide themselves amid the trees and cover their shame and despair with leaves and figs. Yet, through the intercessory work of Christ Jesus Himself, when the congregation gathers to worship their Lord He “will tell of Your Name to My brothers” (Ps. 22:22; cf. Heb. 2:12); that is, He will advocate by His blood for the covenantal fidelity that has been imputed into the elect for familial inclusion. “Consequently,” writes the author of Hebrews, “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).


He Who Knew No Sin Became Sin:


The dilemma and travesty of humanity is not construed upon naturalistic dimensions nor materialistic notions. Rather, the plight of the kosmos is rooted in the disfigurement of relational proportion to the Creator God Himself. “The greatest need of sinners is to be reconciled to God,” writes Treat, “to be brought into a covenantal relationship with their Creator.”[20] This quandary, then, embodies an infinite amount of weight with an incalculable amount of value. The beauty of the Gospel is that the covenantal Lord does not leave His image bearers to fend for themselves. Instead, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). He took on flesh and “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). He came and preached the Gospel while living out and fulfilling its covenantal mandate on behalf of His brothers.


Thus, what is seen through the incarnation of Christ is the covenantal Lord not remaining stagnant in His redemptive aim, but rather engaging in a relentless pursuit in making a people for Himself. The incarnation, then, is not a stationary doctrine, but rather a glorious truth in service to help the people of God look to the One who has sought out their redemption for His glory and their joy. We are not the sum total of our circumstance nor situation, but rather we are a redeemed people who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9). All of which is accomplished through Christ taking on flesh and fulfilling a righteousness that we could have never fulfilled by and for ourselves. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] See Craig A. Carter, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018), 61-91.

[2] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 15-16.

[3] See Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapid, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 365-388.

[4] Carter, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition, 83.

[5] “Just as Adam was created with authority over the created world but failed through his willful disobedience, now Jesus, through his wide-ranging obedience and vindication/exaltation in the resurrection, has all authority in heaven and earth (cf. Acts 1:4; 2:32-33). It seems, then, that the authority of Jesus is to be viewed in Adamic terms as a direct result of Jesus’s full-fledged obedience.” Brandon D. Crowe, The Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 196.

[6] Patrick Schreiner, The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross, SSBT (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 99.

[7] See John F. MacArthur, “Hebrews,” in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Publisher, 1983), 65-67.

[8] Crowe, The Last Adam, 74.

[9] See Jonathan Leeman, Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case for Congregationalism (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016), 33-59.

[10] Thomas R. Schreiner, “Commentary on Hebrews” in Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation, NT (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2015), 95-97.

[11] John C. Clark and Marcus Peter Johnson, The Incarnation of God: The Mystery of the Gospel as the Foundation of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 153.

[12] Crowe, The Last Adam, 181.

[13] Ibid., 197-198.

[14] Schreiner, “Commentary on Hebrews,” 106.

[15] Jeremy R. Treat, “Atonement and Covenant: Binding Together Aspects of Christ’s Work,” Locating Atonement: Exploration in Constructive Dogmatics, ed. Oliver D. Crisp and Fred Sanders (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 101-117.

[16] Schreiner, “Commentary on Hebrews,” 97.

[17] Ibid., 100.

[18] Clark and Johnson, The Incarnation of God, 130-131.

[19] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, 2nd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 247.

[20] Treat, “Atonement and Covenant,” 108.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (11), McColsen (9), and DeYoung (5). He is a Teaching Pastor at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN and a homeschool dad to his four children. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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