10 Things you should Know about the Incarnation
We continue the series on 10 things all Christians should know about basic Christian doctrines. Today we look at the Incarnation of Christ.
(1) The word “Incarnation” refers to the idea that Jesus has come to earth “in the flesh" (1 Jn. 4:2; 2 Jn. 7); was “sent in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3); “appeared in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16); “suffered in the flesh” (1 Peter 4:1); “died in the flesh” (1 Peter. 3:18); made peace by abolishing “in the flesh the enmity” (Eph. 2:15): and “made reconciliation in the body of his flesh” (Col. 1:21-22).
Thus, by the Incarnation we mean that the eternal Word or second person of the Trinity became a man or assumed human flesh at a point in time, yet without ceasing to be God.
(2) The “Word” or God the Son did not simply become a man or even a human (although both are true). Rather “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), a strong, almost crude way of referring to human nature in its totality: true body, soul, spirit, will, emotions, etc.
(3) God the Son “became” flesh. The Word did not pretend to be a man or play at being human. The Word became flesh. The Word did not “beam down” in full bodily form. The Word did not enter into flesh, as if to suggest that there was a man, a human being, into which the Word made entrance. The Bible doesn't say the Word “dwelled” or “abided in” human flesh, but that he became flesh.
(4) The doctrine of the Incarnation means that two distinct natures (divine and human) are united in one person: Jesus. Jesus is not two people (God and man). He is one person: the God-man. Jesus is not a spiritual schizophrenic.
(5) When the Word became flesh he did not cease to be the Word. The Word veiled, hid, and voluntarily restricted the use of certain divine powers and prerogatives. But God cannot cease to be God. In other words, when the Word became flesh he did not commit divine suicide.
(6) When the Word once became flesh he became flesh forever. After his earthly life, death, and resurrection, Jesus did not divest himself of the flesh or cease to be a man. He is a man even now at the right hand of God the Father. He is also God. He will always be the God-man. See 1 Cor. 15:28; Col. 2:9; 1 John 2:7 (note use of present tense).
Thus, we might envision Jesus saying: “I am now what I always was: God (or Word). I am now what I once was not: man (or flesh). I am now and forever will be both: the God-man.”
(7) Jesus became incarnate “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). By sinful flesh he means fallen human nature. He took flesh like ours, because really flesh, but only like ours, not identical with it, because unfallen. He uses the word likeness because he feels compelled to use the phrase sinful flesh instead of merely flesh. Had he omitted sinful he also would have omitted likeness.
(8) The Incarnation means that Jesus had a true physical body (1 John 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:16; Luke 24:39,43; Jn. 20:17,20,27). Thus, he hungered (Matt. 4:2), thirsted (John 19:28), grew weary (John 4:6), wept and cried aloud (John 11:35; Luke 19:41), sighed (Mark 7:34), groaned (Mark 8:12), glared angrily (Mark 3:5), and felt annoyance (Mark 10:14). He also had a true immaterial soul (Matt. 26:38), spirit (Luke 23:46), and will (Luke 22:42). Thus he had a genuinely human emotional life. He felt compassion (Matt. 9:36; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; Luke 7:13), love (John 11:3; 15:8-12; Mark 10:21), anger (Mark 3:5; John 2:13-17), and joy (Luke 7:34; 10:21; John 15:11; 17:13).
(9) In becoming incarnate as a real human being, God the Son, the Word, did not cease to be God and did not “empty” himself of any divine attributes. Rather, he voluntarily and for the sake of becoming human, suspended for the duration of his life on earth the independent exercise of any attribute that would have been incompatible with his living a genuine human life (Phil. 2:6-11). In doing so he lived, ministered, taught, and experienced life on earth as a man who depended at all times on the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit (see John 3:34-35; Matt. 12:28; Luke 4:1, 14; 18-19; Acts 10:38; etc.).
(10) To deny that God the Son became incarnate in the person of Jesus is the height of heresy and an expression of the spirit of antichrist (1 John 4:1-6).