This article continues my series based on my sermon on the incarnation of Christ — “The Word was Made Flesh.” In this article I’d like to look briefly at the core importance of this doctrine. The Scriptures make this a test case, a dividing line, and those on the wrong side of it are on the side of antichrist.
“The Reason” for Everything — an introduction to John’s use of the Greek word logos, translated as “Word” in John 1:1 and 1:14.
Word Made Flesh — the “Logos” Philosophy Falls Short — a contrast between the use of the word logos in human philosophy, and a discussion of how the human ideas of logos fell far short of the reality of God’s self-revelation.
Word Made Flesh — John’s Gospel, John’s First Epistle — A brief comparison of the beginning verses of these two books.
Word Made Flesh — Fully God, Fully Man — The essence of the doctrine of the incarnation is that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was both God and man, the two natures united in a way that diminished neither.
If You Can’t Get the Incarnation Right….
I John 4:2-3
2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
John was telling his readers how to discern the spirit driving a false teacher, and he used the incarnation of Christ as a test.
In the last article, I said this: “The incarnation of Christ simply means that He came in the flesh, that God came to earth in a human body.” That is pretty much what John is saying here. He is not merely requiring an assertion of the humanity of Christ, but also His deity.
For someone who is a human and only human, we do not say they are come to earth in the flesh. They were born, brought into existence, in the flesh. Jesus is different. He is come in the flesh. This refers to His pre-existence, that He existed as God before He ever became human.
John had already written in chapter one that Jesus had come to bring us into fellowship with God, and in chapter two the He is the propitiation (payment) for our sins. The reason for the incarnation was to die to pay for our sins to restore fellowship. This is all included in this test case.
True Christians may get some other things wrong. Salvation is no guarantee that we will immediately think clearly and understand all the God has revealed rightly. But if you can’t get the incarnation right (at the most basic level, that God became man to pay for our sins and reconcile us to Himself), you aren’t of God, but of antichrist. That’s pretty hard-hitting, but I’m not the one who said it, it was the Apostle John, in the Holy Spirit-inspired Word of God.
No Salvation Without the Incarnation
9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
These verses tell us that Jesus became man (“a little lower than the angels”) for the purpose of dying (verse nine). Verse ten tells us this was part of God’s plan to bring “many sons (that’s us) unto glory.” How was this done? A few verses later, we read:
14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, He destroyed death’s power, death’s fear, death’s fear-monger, and death’s bondage. This is the purpose for which God became man, so He could die to accomplish this victory which brings us to glory.
17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.
By becoming like us in all things, He was able to become a perfect High Priest, merciful and faithful. He was perfect for the one-time priestly work of reconciling us to God by dealing with our sins, and perfect for the continuing priestly work of aiding us in temptation because He knows, understands, and conquered temptation.
All this flows out of His incarnation. That is why the Holy Spirit made the incarnation a test case. If you don’t accept the incarnation, you don’t really accept Christ’s provision of salvation, and if you don’t accept that, you aren’t a Christian.
Another key passage on the incarnation’s necessity to our salvation, and the removal of our sin, is in Hebrews 10. I won’t discuss it here, other than to note the stark contrast between verse 4 and verse 10:
4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:
6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.
8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;
9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.
10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
God Come Near
As we’ve seen, the incarnation was vital in the legal sense of judging and forgiving our sins, but it is vital in a relational sense as well. The incarnation of Jesus Christ teaches us much about the nature of our Father-God, for it tells us that He has made Himself near to us.
A proper understanding of our God demands reverence for One who is far above us, One we could never fully comprehend.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
But this God who is so far above us came to earth on our level, became one of us, so that we could be drawn to Him. The amazing love of our God was fully on display when God became man, when the Word was made flesh. The message of the angels summed it up — the message of the incarnation is God’s good will toward men:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Our God is not a distant God! He is not remote from us, uncaring or even hostile. Our God is not the god of the Muslims, aloof, leaving them to hope they have been good enough to earn his mercy! He did not leave us wondering how to find Him or please Him, wondering if we were doing enough. Our God came to us where we were, in our great need, giving us a sure way to salvation, a sure way to His favour.
I John 4:9
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
So often we focus on the purpose of the incarnation as leading to Christ’s death to solve our sin problem, and well we should. But it is also a glorious revelation of our God’s nearness to us. The Lord of all creation made Himself accessible to us.
His disciple, reclining at supper as was the Jewish custom, could lean his head back against His Maker, and no one would say, “How dare you touch God? Did He tell you to do that? Did He say that was ok?” John knew it was ok, because of the way Jesus was with His disciples — He had come from glory to be near to them.
Jehovah-God walked among the crowds, and they pressed against Him. He didn’t stand in a high pulpit to preach and teach, He was among them. A woman who was unclean under the Law could touch His clothing in the crowd, in faith of being healed, and she earned no rebuke.
He called His disciples “friends,” no longer just “servants.” He didn’t just come to our level, He became our level. He spoke in human language, He was human language which we could hear, understand, touch, see, feel. He was just as human as we are — and He wanted us to know that, to see Him that way.
The incarnation is certainly about solving the legal problem of our sin, but it is also a relational matter between us and our God. It opens to our view His great love, and gives us a glimpse into what He desires of us. He isn’t just looking for servants, for He has all the servants He needs, and to spare. He loves His children, and He wants us to be One with Him. He didn’t just call us, He came seeking, He made Himself accessible.
His incarnation of Jesus Christ refutes the Roman Catholic invention of purgatory, the doubt about whether you can really know you are saved. You can have your traditions and church teachings, but the incarnation tells my that my God simply isn’t like that. He came to this earth so we could know Him and know we are His. It also refutes the Roman Catholic invention of intermediaries such as Mary or saints. The incarnation tells us He is accessible and we need no other intermediaries than the God who became Man.
When “the Word was made flesh,” it should have killed forever the fear that is cast out by His perfect love (I John 4:18), fear-based philosophies of sanctification, coldness in worship, and the last vestiges of self-righteousness and pride. The more you think about it, the more you realise that the incarnation of Jesus Christ refutes every human error — and the more you think about it, the more it changes you, the way you see God, the way you see yourself, the way you see others. The incarnation of Jesus Christ changes everything.
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
No wonder the Scripture makes this the test case. The incarnation brought grace and truth, and if you don’t accept the incarnation, you don’t have grace and you don’t have truth. All you have is the spirit of antichrist — a pretty poor exchange.