“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taken the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedience to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” Philippians 2:5-11. Note that Paul is attributing to Jesus the words of Isaiah the prophet, that before YHWH “every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.” Here we have a clear cut text for the deity of Jesus.
In this text, we have the statement that I have been making all along: Because Jesus humbled himself even to the death on a cross, God the Father has exalted Him. One might say that this is dangerously close to saying that God has exalted a man, but that is not the case. Jesus is our mediator because He is God. As it begins here in Philippians 2:6, Jesus was God in very nature and made of himself nothing. It is only through the incarnation – God become flesh – that God could be the mediator to humanity. To say that Jesus is God is not simply a statement of His divinity in Himself, but also in us and among us. Jesus is the revelation of God to the world, even before His incarnation, yet that act of revelation could not fully be mediation until God Himself became a tangible reality in the cosmos. It was in the birth of God into humanity that God thus introduced Himself as mediator to the physical plane. Before that time, God was able to reveal Himself and even walk alongside of humanity, but it took the act of propitiatory obedience to death for God to truly be the mediator between God and creation.
Thus, we are saying that the eternal Son in Himself is the revelation of God to the cosmos, but because He became man, He is now also a reality in our cosmos. The eternal Son has once and always been the revelation of God, but it was at the advent of His birth that He became one with His creation, and thus is now the mediator, or go-between, for God and His creation. God must be the mediator, for no mere human being can see God and live. Yet, it must be a human to mediate, for humanity is the culprit of sin entering the creation. To atone for Adam’s iniquity, a death must take place on behalf of Adam, for “the life is in the blood.” As God promised Adam, “when you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you will surely die.” The wages of sin are death, and for we, the sons of Adam, to have eternal life, there must be propitiation on our behalf. It is not that we are unable to atone for ourselves, nor that the blood of animals is not enough for our atonement. The argument is that in order to attain unto eternal life, we must be remade into the image of eternity. We cannot be formed into that image of eternity on our own, nor by the blood of animals. It took the eternal man – God as Man – to open that possibility.
In Christ becoming the incarnate God, He became the re-creation so that through the Word all things might be recreated. It was through the Word that all things have been made, and it is God’s good pleasure that through the Word all things might be remade. In this, we have the cosmic purposes of God. God created humanity to rule with Him (endnote reference Genesis 1:26). If God now uses another means for that ruling, then He has abandoned His once and for all purposes that He has established from the foundations of the Earth. Our ruling and reigning with Him is only achieved through the New Creation, by being remade in taking up the death, burial, and resurrection of the Word of God. In this we are firstfruits of that New Creation, awaiting the day that our bodies might be resurrected unto that eternal glory.
The question of sin enters at this point. We know that in the New Creation, there is no sin. Therefore, we ask the question of whether it was possible for Jesus, the ambassador of the New Creation, to sin? Because in Jesus God is man, that man would not sin. However, because in Jesus man is God, the possibility of sin is alive and real. We cannot say that Christ was tested like we are in all things if that temptation was not tangible. Jesus cannot be our mediator and thus understand our trials and temptations if He did not experience real temptation upon this earth. In His humanity, Christ was tempted just as we are. Indeed, He has been tempted in every manner that we are, but without sin. The reason that we both know and also can believe that Jesus could be human without sin is because He was God incarnate. God is free from sin, because freedom is constituted by living from the core of who you are. In that communion with the Father – to always share with Him in His character and unity – Christ Jesus would not sin. It is contrary to His nature as being God. Thus, we have the interesting impasse that the temptation was true, but God cannot be tempted. The degree to which Christ is able to live in close relationship with the Father is the degree available to us.
When discussing whether Jesus could sin, it is often either over exaggerated that He is God, or it is over exaggerated that He is man. Some have said that because Jesus was God’s propitiation, there was not the option for Jesus to sin. How you then take the texts of Christ’s temptation is something I cannot understand. Yet, there is a legitimacy to saying that because Jesus is God in the flesh, He would not sin. God doesn’t sin. The challenge pushed toward the believer is the question: Why do you sin? If there was freedom for Christ through His relationship with the Father by the Holy Spirit, what is so lacking in us? Therefore the question is pressed, “To what degree is God able to reveal Himself in us, and to what degree are we able to reject that revelation?”
Christ is the way, and as God the via quo itur (way to which one must go) – as man the via qua itur (way by which one must go). As followers of Jesus, we are apprehended by the via quo itur, and we follow toward that revelation of who God is. Yet, as believers, we know that it is not by strength, nor by power, but by His Spirit. The reality of God being able to conform us to His image is found entirely in the man Jesus being without sin. God is fully able to bring us into that sinless perfection. Yet, the difficulty is still in reconciling human willingness. Maybe this is why the author of Hebrews accused his readers saying, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Freedom from sin is fully available, and that is made known in the man Christ Jesus being sinless, but the freedom from sin is only attainable in the taking up of His death, burial, and resurrection. It is not through our efforts, but instead in our rest. As far as we are able to rest in God, we are free. This kind of resting from our own work takes a striving to enter into, which has always been somewhat of an ironic statement to me. We strive passionately to enter into that rest – ceasing from our own work to take up the cause of Christ. In this, we no longer see Jesus alone as the incarnate God, but we also see the Church as a whole being His Body – God incarnate.
The person of the Son became flesh and not the other two persons of the trinity. In describing that God’s nature became flesh, we can only mean the relation that the Son has to the nature of God, and not mean that the Father or the Holy Spirit became flesh. Early theologians (for reference, see Karl Barth Church Dogmatics pg 34 paragraph 1) used the picture of two persons helping a third put on a cloak. Therefore, it is the trinity that makes the Word Flesh, but it is not the triunity that takes up incarnation, only the Son. In our own reflection of the Divine, it is not by our putting the cloak upon our own shoulders that we find deliverance from sin. It is in the three-fold Spirit of God at work in us. The Father comforts and encourages. The Son recreates a new heart and spirit within us. The Spirit stirs us into greater degrees of holiness. Together we have the Father calling us unto sonship, through the Word’s resurrection, by the Holy Spirit that dwells within us. In all three together, they usher us forth into all godliness and righteousness. The issue of incarnation is not an issue of knowing that the Word became flesh, but that He has placed His Spirit in us. We are the Temple of the Holy Ghost. As such, we are now the living Word of God – God incased in flesh and blood. It takes deep reverence for the reality of incarnation to be brought into the redemption of God. We are not simply “made gods”, as the Mormons teach. Instead, God indwells us, and through our humiliation unto taking up the cross of Christ we are thus exalted, as He was exalted unto glory. It is entirely of God, and not of our attainment. We do not somehow become gods or demigods. Instead, there is only one God, and that one God dwells within us. Unlike Christ, who is God from eternity to eternity, we are only filled with the Spirit. As a corporate Body, we are God incarnate – not like Christ in that we have existed from everlasting, but in the display of God’s character unto the ends of the earth. As Jesus said, so do we say also, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. I and the Father are one.”