It is important to distinguish between God (The Son) simply putting on a “human suit” and God (the Son) truly becoming a human being. When we say “God became a man,” we mean that literally. God the Son became the human being, Jesus. We do not mean that God simply “looked human”, nor do we mean that God “possessed” or indwelt a human being. We mean that the Creator became a creature. As Stan Grenz points out in Theology For The Community Of God, this means that he took on our human needs and limitations. Additionally, as Grenz goes on to say, the humanity of Jesus means that he “developed and grew as a human, just as we do.” While these points may make many professing Christians quite uncomfortable, I believe them to be both well supported by scripture (John 4:6-7, Matt 26:36-37, Mark 1:35, Luke 2:52, Hebrews 5:8) and essential for a workable Christology. Many followers of Jesus want to speak of him as a sort of superhuman and unchanging figure. While these characterizations intended to honor Jesus, they are actually quite destructive, and several recognized heresies have been based on exactly these sorts of ideas. They create a kind of “cop-out” Christology where Jesus only seems able to identify with us, but that identification is simply an illusion. Our assertation that the Son became fully human, however, is in no way a denial of his deity or power. Indeed we affirm that God was not only powerful enough to make himself (the Son) completely human, but that he also maintained his Trinitarian relationship with this divine human being.
While the fact that the Son became truly human is crucial, it is not our main point. Jesus was not only truly human, but rather, in the incarnation he became the true human. In Jesus, we see true humanity exemplified. Jesus is the model of what God intended humans to be all along. He lived as God intended humans to live their lives from the very beginning. Paul seems to allude to this idea in both Romans 5:12-20 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 where he contrasts Jesus and Adam. He seems to imply that while Adam knocked the project off course, Jesus brings it back in line. While Adam failed to be what God intended, Jesus fully realizes human potential. Interestingly, Jesus does not live as an individual devoted to personal piety. Rather, he immerses himself in community, both with God (the Trinity) and with other people. As has been pointed out by many theologians and practitioners (Stan Grenz, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, etc.), his way of live can be characterized by shalom (peace/harmony) with God, other people, and creation. In churches of Christ, we have we have historically stressed the importance of and need for a “pattern” to follow. Patterning our churches after “first century churches”, however, has proved to be problematic at best. Perhaps the problem is that this is somewhat like “making a copy of a copy” in which the final product comes out “kind of fuzzy”. Instead, I believe that Jesus is the pattern for both the individual and the church. In the book of Acts, Paul is recorded as repeatedly referring to the church as “the Way”. This seems to imply not primarily a group of people who give mental assent to the same propositional ideas, but rather to a community devoted to living the way of life of Jesus, the true human.
There is still one aspect of our subject we need to explore. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul refers to Jesus resurrection as a “firstfruits” of our resurrection. We maintain, as Paul does, that this resurrection was and is physical, as opposed to some kind of disembodied “spiritual” existence. In the post-resurrection Jesus we catch a glimpse of our future. This future does not entail our “disembodied souls” shedding our bodies to go off and live in some sort of “spiritual realm”. As N.T. Wright points out in The Challenge of Jesus, “[in vs. 50-57]…Paul states clearly and emphatically his belief in a body that is to be changed, not abandoned.” He goes on to add, “As in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul envisages the present physical body ‘putting on’ the new body as a new mode of physicality over and above what we presently know. This is not mere resuscitation, but equally it is emphatically not disembodiment. And if this is what Paul believes about the resurrection body of Christians, we may assume (since his argument works from the one to the other) that this was his view of the resurrection of Jesus as well.” After his resurrection, Jesus (the Son) becomes the future of humanity…the new human. This is no temporary state of affairs for Jesus. The Son did not become human for a while and then go back to being God again in the way he was before. The incarnation is permanent. The Son is alive in the form of the post-resurrection Jesus. He is resurrected and glorified and in this way points toward our future.
We affirm that God, The Son became a human being. We further affirm that this human being, Jesus, embodied true humanity as God intended. Post-resurrection, this divine human being, in his resurrection and glorification, reveals the future of those who walk in his Way.
- Grenz, Stanley J…Theology For The Community of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000
- McLaren, Brian D…More Ready Than You Realize. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002
- Wright, N.T….he Challenge of Jesus. Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1999
- Wright, N.T….Creation and New Creation In The New Testament. Vancouver: Regent Audio, 2003
- Wright, N.T….Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004