Incarnation and Salvation

I would wager that most Christians easily associate Christ’s Incarnation with humanity’s need for salvation. It’s popularly recited, “God became man in order to save us.” In fact, I would even go further and wager that most Christians believe our need for salvation compelled God to become man. I’ve lost count of how many “gospel presentations” I’ve heard stating that God’s only course of action was to become human and rescue us. And I’ve heard the Incarnation reduced even further to such statements as “God became human just so that he could die for us.”

While such a statement contains a modicum of truth, I believe it misses the amazing truth of how our salvation is contained within Christ’s Incarnation. Certainly God became human to save us. And he saves us by becoming like us — the Word of God took on human nature so that we humans might participate in his divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). Or to quote St Athanasius once again, “God became man so that man might become god.” In other words, our salvation isn’t simply found in the several hours of Jesus dying on the cross. Rather, our salvation is found in the entire event of the Incarnation — from Gabriel’s pronouncement, through conception, pregnancy, and birth, through Christ’s entire life, through his crucifixion and resurrection and even beyond.

Because through the Incarnation, we discover the amazing reality of “God with us.” That is our salvation.

Our salvation is communion with God, who has taken on our nature and dwells with us. We have koinonia with him, which means we share our lives with him; we participate in him and he in us. And in that sharing of lives, we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, who is not only the genuine image of God, but also the genuine image of humanity. Jesus wasn’t just God in a shell of human skin and flesh. He was fully God and fully human. And in the fullness of his humanity, Christ embodies the kind of humanity into which we are being saved.

So, through Jesus — the Word and Image of God incarnate — God is recreating and renewing his image within humanity. Yet this renewal requires the vanquishing of the death and corruption that continues to distort the image of God in us. Death and corruption must first be vanquished at a cosmic level, accomplished through Jesus’ crucifixion. That’s why we sing at Pascha:

“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death. And upon those in the tomb, bestowing life.”

But the death and corruption that finds residence in our lives also must be expunged at a practical level. Christ died on a cross not so we could avoid one, but so we could take up one ourselves. The New Testament documents are replete with pastoral exhortations to mortify whatever belongs to the old nature and to begin practicing by grace that which belongs to the new nature, the renewed image of God as embodied in Christ. So in practice, communion with God requires both an ascetical side of dying to self and a sacramental side of participating in the divine grace. Through this process we work out our salvation and become by grace what God is by nature.

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10 thoughts on “Incarnation and Salvation

  1. Jason,
    You said, “And in the fullness of his humanity, Christ embodies the kind of humanity into which we are being saved.” I want to see that kind of humanity lived out. I want to learn to live it out and teach it to our children and to anyone who cares to learn that way of living. But my question is, how do we do that? You ended with this paragraph.

    “But the death and corruption that finds residence in our lives also must be expunged at a practical level. Christ died on a cross not so we could avoid one, but so we could take up one ourselves. The New Testament documents are replete with pastoral exhortations to mortify whatever belongs to the old nature and to begin practicing by grace that which belongs to the new nature, the renewed image of God as embodied in Christ. So in practice, communion with God requires both an ascetical side of dying to self and a sacramental side of participating in the divine grace. Through this process we work out our salvation and become by grace what God is by nature.”

    This is what I was trying to talk about last night. “Living a life that is participating in the divine grace.” seems to exclude certain activities, thoughts and habits and it includes others that are opposed to the former things. But, how do we talk about living like that, without sounding “legalistic” or seem like we are trying to be “holier than thou”? How can we raise our kids to live in the divine grace or the communion with God, if we let them watch whichever shows they want to watch and listen to whatever music that they want to listen to, etc., etc.? How do we ourselves participate in this salvation of our humanity if we are in fact, not really ready to mortify our desires or our entertainments? I know that it is easy to fall into legalism. I know that the “holiness movement” fell into that trap. But there has to be a way to live and participate in the divine grace that Christ has made available to us. There has to be a way of living out our salvation that imitates Christ and that causes people to note a difference between those who are imitators of Christ and those who are not. I don’t see how to live and teach this kind of life without setting rules and boundaries and removing things which are in opposition. Do you have any non-legalistic approach to living like this… imitating the fullness of the humanity of Christ which leads to our salvation?

    I look forward to your answer.

  2. Hi Debbie,
    At the birth of Jesus the angel said, “I bring you glad tidings of great joy…”
    Jesus’ first sermon was from Isaiah 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of prison to the bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord; … [Isaiah 61:3, to comfort all who mourn … to give them beauty for ashes , the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness,”][because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised KJV]
    If you are not poor, or brokenhearted, or captive to someone or something; or blind, or oppressed, then, I suppose, you have no need of the Deliverer, Jesus, the Spirit. (“Now the Lord (Jesus) is the Spirit.” 2 Cor. 3:17)
    Even Jesus recognized that when He said, “How hardly shall a rich man enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
    I was told some years back that the United States, with 2% of the world’s population had about 70% of the wealth. (That undoubtedly has changed.) That makes this country, these people, the richest in the world. ‘How hardly shall the rich enter into the kingdom of God.’
    Because you come from a long line of “people of the Bible,” and have married a ‘man of the Bible,’ and this is a Christian nation, (though it not as evident as it used to be) you are concerned about your Christian walk … your loyalty to the Way of Christ, your communion with the Lord. And you said, “I want to see the kind of humanity that Christ embodied, that Christ lived out, living in me, and teach it to my children and to anyone who cares to learn that way of living.”
    How can we live the humanity Christ lived? At His birth the angel said, “Unto you this day, a Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord.” When the baby Jesus was presented at the Temple, Simeon took Him in his arms and said, “My eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” When He was twelve years old He was in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.
    When He left home to begin His itinerant teaching He gathered twelve students, mostly simple fisherman. And then He taught the Jews to turn back to God for the kingdom of God had drawn near. He healed all who came to Him, and some who didn’t. He forgave sins (“Who can forgive sins but God only?”). He raised the dead, restored sight to the blind, made the lame walk, cast out wicked spirits, walked on the sea, stilled the storm, fed thousands with a few loaves and fish, turned water into wine, healed a woman who had a bloody hemorrhage for twelve years (she touched the hem of His garment and was made whole), cast out demons who recognized Him as The Holy One of God, “the Son of God,” restored a withered hand, healed a paralytic, cleansed lepers, cured a demon possessed, blind and mute man, made a fish with money in its mouth get caught on Peter’s fishing line, restored a man’s ear that had been cut off with a sword, walked away from a crowd that was taking Him to a cliff to throw Him off, foretold His resurrection from the dead – and, of course, raised Himself from the dead… This Is No Kind Of “Humanity Lived Out.” This is the Son of God with power. Romans 1:4.
    Dene

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