28
Feb
11

in the likeness of sinful flesh… (2)


Matt 11:27 (ESV)
All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father…

‘The problem with much modern theologizing about the humanity of Christ is that it is all too human, too fallen.’

So began and ended my last post reflecting on the person of Christ, particularly his humanity.  The biblical text makes plain we are completely closed to revelation if we are to have any appropriate understanding at all of the Son.   The final comment charges much theologizing about the person of Christ with ignoring this reality and canvassing views arising more from speculation and unfounded presuppositions than revealed truth.  When considering the imponderables of the person of Christ,  here above anywhere else, we must avoid ‘going beyond what is written’ (1 Cor 4:6).

Two common views – that Christ’s humanity was fallen like ours (a heinous view) or unfallen like Adam’s (only marginally more acceptable) – dominate Christological reflection; both views are inadequate to describe the humanity of Christ.  In a moment, we shall consider the biblical revelation but let me state the core point of what is, I have no doubt,  the biblical position; Christ’s humanity was not innocent (like Adam’s)  nor sinful (like ours), but holy.  Continuity with Adam is affirmed by Jesus being ‘the seed of the woman’.  He is Mary’s son.  Discontinuity is signalled by a virgin birth which carries with it the revelation,

Luke 1:35 (ESV)
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy-the Son of God.

Christ’s humanity, in state (not in essence), is, I repeat, not like Adam’s, innocent (an absence of sin), nor like ours, corrupt (an attraction to sin), but holy (an abhorrence of sin).  He loved righteousness and hated lawlessness.  His was not Adam, a man of earth, child-like and without a knowledge of good and evil, but Christ, the man of heaven (1 Cor 15) , the  Spirit-filled Holy One  of God (Jn 6:69) ; holiness implies a knowledge of good and evil with an invincible preference for good and an inexhaustible hostility to evil.  Christ, in a word, is humanity in a new state, a state we call new creation.

Let’s look at some of the evidence for invincibility.

  • The OT foretells a servant of God who would not fail.

Isa 42:1-7 (ESV)
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, ​​​​​​​my chosen, in whom my soul delights; ​​​​​​​I have put my Spirit upon him; ​​​​​​​he will bring forth justice to the nations. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, ​​​​​​​or make it heard in the street; ​​​ ​​​​​​​​a bruised reed he will not break, ​​​​​​​and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; ​​​​​​​he will faithfully bring forth justice. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​He will not grow faint or be discouraged ​​​​​​​till he has established justice in the earth; ​​​​​​​and the coastlands wait for his law. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Thus says God, the Lord, ​​​​​​​who created the heavens and stretched them out, ​​​​​​​who spread out the earth and what comes from it, ​​​​​​​who gives breath to the people on it ​​​​​​​and spirit to those who walk in it: ​​​ ​​​​​​​​“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; ​​​​​​​I will take you by the hand and keep you; ​​​​​​​I will give you as a covenant for the people, ​​​​​​​a light for the nations, ​​​ ​​​​​​​​to open the eyes that are blind, ​​​​​​​to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, ​​​​​​​from the prison those who sit in darkness.

I have already commented on this text and others and how they relate to an invincible Christ in a previous post.  The points here are very similar.

Isaiah speaks of a servant of the Lord who will ‘neither falter (grow faint) nor be discouraged‘.  He is a servant in whom the success of God’s plans is certain.  The will of the Lord will prosper in his hands (Isa 53:10).  These are just a couple out of many OT texts that anticipate a coming ruler, God’s Warrior-King, who will conquer and destroy all God’s enemies and reign in righteousness and justice (Isa 11:1-9).

There are a number of reasons for the invincibility of this ruler.

  • God providentially works on his behalf to protect and enable him.

To him, God says in Isa 42 ‘I will take you by the hand and keep you’.  In the NT, we see this ‘keeping’ right at the beginning of his life when Joseph is warned in a dream to take the child to Egypt; Jesus is providentially preserved from death at Herod’s hand.   It is simply pointless to ask speculative questions like ‘would Christ have died had a tower fallen on him’ or ‘could he have caught a fatal disease’ for the simple fact is God ensured his humanity never faced these situations.  Angels themselves are sent to minister to him when needed (Matt 4:11; Lk 22:43).

Every step of his life and circumstance from cradle to cross was ordered by God.  Pilate will not crucify him without God-given authority (Jn 19:10).  If he is taken by wicked men and crucified it is only because this is the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2).  The people’s of the earth plot in vain against the Lord and his anointed (Ps 2).  The Lord will sovereignly protect the woman’s child (Rev 12: 4,5).

Ps 91:7-16 (ESV)
A thousand may fall at your side, ​​​​​​​ten thousand at your right hand, ​​​​​​​but it will not come near you. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​You will only look with your eyes ​​​​​​​and see the recompense of the wicked. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place- ​​​​​​​the Most High, who is my refuge- ​​​ ​​​​​​​​no evil shall be allowed to befall you, ​​​​​​​no plague come near your tent. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​For he will command his angels concerning you ​​​​​​​to guard you in all your ways. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​On their hands they will bear you up, ​​​​​​​lest you strike your foot against a stone. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​You will tread on the lion and the adder; ​​​​​​​the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; ​​​​​​​I will protect him, because he knows my name. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​When he calls to me, I will answer him; ​​​​​​​I will be with him in trouble; ​​​​​​​I will rescue him and honor him.

But, of course, God’s ‘keeping’  must go much further merely providences, for if the servant is to conquer, he must conquer sin.  He cannot ever submit to sin for such submission is abject failure.  At the very least, if the servant is not to fail, God must keep his servant from sin.  He must keep his feet from any possibility of slipping.    In this way, even if no other, invincibility is assured.

However, invincibility is assured in other ways too.

  • He is sustained by the Spirit of God.

It is impossible to read OT or NT and fail to see that Christ is One who lives in and is anointed by the Spirit beyond all others.  He is born by the Spirit (Matt 1:20), led by the Spirit (Matt 4:1), does miracles by the Spirit (Matt 12:31) and so on.  The Spirit of the Lord rests upon him (Isa 11:1,2; Cf. Jn 1:33).  He is given the Spirit without measure (Jn 3:34).  To live and walk in the Spirit is to live and walk in invincible moral power and spiritual authority.  Those that walk in the Spirit always fulfil the just requirement of the Law (Roms 8:4).  Indeed he not only lives by the Spirit, so closely related is he too the Spirit of God  he gives the Spirit to his followers; he baptizes in the Spirit (Matt 3:11).  Indeed he sees the Holy Spirit as functionally his equivalent in the life of God’s people (Jn 14:16).   The biblical witness of the person of Christ in Scripture is of a life indivisibly united to the Holy Spirit lived constantly through the Spirit’s power and guidance.  Life in the Spirit is one of invincible power, holiness and wisdom..

  • He is a divine person

The biblical record regularly distinguishes between Christ in humiliation and exaltation.  However, the deity and humanity of Christ, while distinct, are viewed indivisibly.  It is invidious to say ‘here we have Jesus in deity… and here we have him in humanity).   The truth is his deity and humanity always work together in perfect unity; they are never in conflict.  When we look at an aspect of his humanity (his physical sufferings, for example) we must remember we are looking at a feature of one who is fully God.  When we look at a strong marker of his deity (his ability to forgive sins, for example) we must remember it is found in a person who is truly man.

John’s gospel, which stresses his deity, is careful to maintain the unity of his being.  His distinctively human title Son of Man (that most adopted by Christ) is used by John to describe his divine origins.  Thus when Jesus the Son from heaven is revealing ‘heavenly’ things (as opposed to earthly) and thus revealing his own ‘heavenly’ origin and divine identity, he is careful to call himself by his essentially human title ‘Son of Man’.

John 3:13 (ESV)
No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

and again

John 6:62 (ESV)
Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?

Christ is the Word made flesh.  He is God’s omnipotent Word, the Word that will not return to him void (empty and ineffective)  but will accomplish what he has sent it to accomplish.  This Word  is life and light.  He is light, the true light who was coming into the world (Jn 1).  The light who would shine in the darkness and would not be overcome by it (Jn 1:5).  The light must conquer the darkness.  He was the human tabernacle that contained the glory of God.  Likewise, he was the temple, the dwelling place of God.  In the OT, tabernacle and temple both had to be purified by blood.  The Church in the NT, which is also the temple of God, can only be God’s temple on the basis of blood.  Not so Christ.  He needs no blood shed to be God’s dwelling place.  He is utterly and absolutely holy, a temple in which the fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell.  Such is the glory of his person that angels are constantly serving him in his needs (ascending and descending on the Son of Man (Jn 1:51).  Notice they serve him as ‘Son of man’.

Images of  word, light, tabernacle, or temple all stress the utter and invincible holiness of Christ.  It is not that he simply speaks God’s Word, he is the Word.  He does not simply have life, he is life.  He is not a light-bearer but the light itself.  He is all of these in character and essence.  He cannot be other.  He cannot be darkness.  He is light and in him is no darkness at all.  He may enter the darkness but he remains the light.  He may submit to death but he is always the life.  He may be made sin but he is ever the Holy One who cannot see corruption (Acts 2:27).    He is what he is in all his being, intrinsically and absolutely.  We lose sight of the glory of Christ if we fail to see the indomitability of his being.

Christ is the stronger man who will bind the strong man (Matt 12:29).  He is the seed of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3;15).  He is the lamb of God who is also the lion of the tribe of Judah (Gen 49).  He has complete power over his destiny.  He knows when his time has come and when it has not come (Jn 7: 6,8).  Although he lived in a world ruled by sin, Satan and death they had no rights over him.  Those who sin, Jesus says, are slaves of sin.  Yet he is confident enough to assert that he is without sin  (Jn 8:46).  Sin had found no footing in him.  The devil has no hold (not merely no accusation he can bring but no traction for tempting ) over him (Jn 14:30).  He has the authority to lay down his life and take it up again (Jn 10:17,18).     Failure for him is never contemplated, least of all by himself.  He will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matt 16:18). When they come to take him in the garden they all fall back.  Again, he is the Holy One of God (Mk 1:24).

The idea that the divine Son was united to a corrupt human nature is as barmy as it is blasphemous.  What fellowship has light with darkness, righteousness with lawlessness, the temple of God with idols (2 Cor 6).  Can a house divided against itself stand (Lk 11:17)?  The idea that he was morally vulnerable, or vulnerable to failure of any kind is completely foreign to the Christ who is revealed; the son who can do nothing by himself but only the things he sees his father doing (Jn 5:19).

Let me say again that a proper biblical Christology of Christ’s humanity never forgets Christ’s deity. The ruler of Bethlehem is one whose goings forth have been from everlasting (Mic 5:2).  The virgin’s son is Immanuel, ‘God with us’ (Matt 1).  He is conceived of the Spirit, overshadowed by the power of the highest, and the child born shall be called holy – the Son of God.  He is the Word made flesh (Jn 1).  Hebrews presents his deity (Ch 1) before his humanity (Ch2).  Right thinking about Christ’s deity prevents wrong thinking about his humanity.

  • He has humanity that is new creation

Sovereign protection and arranging, Spirit empowering, and personal Sonship (deity) all affirm and guarantee an invincible Christ.  Yet the Biblical revelation goes further.  Christ has an impeccable human nature.  He is not morally vulnerable.  He cannot sin.  That is what it means to be ‘born of God’ (1 Jn 3:9).   We Christians are ‘born of God’.  That is, we have God’s ‘seed’ implanted (1 Jn 3:9),  a life and nature that comes from God and belongs to God.   We are made ‘partakers of the divine nature’ and so have escaped the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires (2 Pet 1:4).  We have ‘put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:24) and are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works that God has prepared beforehand (Eph 2:10).  In addition we have been baptized in the Spirit, the Spirit of Christ who empowers our new nature and life (Roms 8:9,10).  This is what it means to be ‘new creation’ (2 Cor 5;17).

What is this new life we have received?  It is the life of Christ.  We have ‘put on’ Christ.  Our new humanity is simply what it means to partake of Christ.  The new life is simply growing up in the knowledge of him. (Eph 4).  It is a life we can only share because he has died and risen yet nevertheless it is his.  The life we have is that life displayed in Christ in incarnation.  We are ‘light in the Lord, children of light (Eph 5:8) and ‘letters of Christ read by all men’.  Our ‘light’ and ‘words’ are derived from Christ.  We live, yet not us, but Christ lives in us (Gal 2:20).

Of course, we Christians sin and fail, but it is not the new nature or new life or new man that sins and fails.  It is the power of indwelling sin (the flesh within) in our still fallen condition that sins which indeed, if fed, will do nothing but sin (Roms 7).  But which of us would dream of saying that when we sin it is or may be Christ dwelling within us that sins?  Who among us would dare to say that our new nature can fail?  It is not that which is ‘born of God’ that sins (1 Jn 3:9).  That which is ‘born of God’ loves (1 Jn 4:7) and overcomes the world by faith (1 Jn 5:14), Equally it is not the Holy Spirit within who sins and fails.  It is our remaining fallen flesh that incites sin for in  fallen flesh there dwells no good thing (Roms 7).  The Spirit wars against the flesh (Gals 5).  In the full realization of new creation our bodies too will be renewed, fallen flesh will be gone and then we will never sin again.  Indeed we will be unable to sin for that is the nature of the new life from God.  This is why heaven is so sure.

We need only take this back to Christ who was ‘born of God’ to grasp the invincible holiness of his humanity.  He was created ‘born of God’.  He is the One, ‘born of God’, who keeps his own who are ‘born of God from the evil one (1 Jn 5:18).  The life that was planted in us at conversion is his life.  The nature we receive by spiritual new birth is his.   The light that shines in us is sourced in him.  If the fulness of deity dwells in Christ then the fulness of the incarnate Christ in resurrection dwells in us (Jn 1:16; Col 2:9).

The biblical profile is inescapable.  Christ is invincible in his person and any attempt to make him less than such is not engaging with the biblical composite.

I hope in the next blog to consider more directly the issue of temptation.

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The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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