One of the stark characteristics of the ancient church was its ability to make the message plain and simple to the Christians they served. By contrast, the heretics would confuse and complicate the message. While the ancient church would focus on who God is through Himself revealed in the Person and work Jesus Christ, the heretics were more concerned with who God is not. We find in the early writings the fathers accused the heretics of their constant claim that God was incomprehensible and far beyond the capacity for any human being to grasp. Even though the heretics insisted on this claim, they were confident that they knew what God is not. The father’s response, in particular Athanasius, if you do not even know what God is, then how can you know what God is not. Their confidence from the beginning was in the Incarnation as the breaking forth of the reality of the nature and character of God into human existence. Having this meeting point between the mind of God in the Person of Jesus Christ and the mind of human beings means we can have precise knowledge of who God is and what He can do. The Scriptures bear witness to the acts of God in the four gospels. When we read them, then we see what God says and what He does as a precise representation of His being.
We know God because Jesus Christ is the only one who has intimate knowledge of God. We know God because Jesus Christ in Himself is God disclosed to us. Jesus Christ is God united to His humanity where the two function as One. When we look to Him, all other knowledge, theories and ideas about who God might be are obsolete. Only knowledge that is consistent with the nature and character of Jesus Christ disclosed in His Person and work are of any real value. In the same way we see the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ function as one, so too, do we see Jesus Christ nature and character correspond as one in His relationship with the Father.
The Incarnation means God has united Himself to every single human being. Now every single human being has the same intrinsic worth and value as the Father has towards His own Son. It is not so important to see the value placed on us as an individual as in “my relationship to God.” It is much more important to understand when we say, “our Father” we acknowledge our adoption as a collective whole, i.e. the whole human race. As much as we treasure the value placed on us by the Father in Jesus Christ, we also treasure the value placed on every single human being around us. God laid hold of the entire human race in Jesus Christ and transformed them in Himself as He circumcised the old Adam from human flesh, put it to death on the Cross, rose all humanity from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father.
When we downplay the Incarnation, then we risk taking the rest of the life of Jesus Christ out of context. The heretics would focus on the Incarnation as a means of undermining its significance. Once we start to just see the Incarnation as God becoming flesh and nothing else, then the whole meaning of the New Testament text takes on a Gnostic/Arian mindset. Some will say Jesus only seemed to be human in appearance and he was not really human like us. Others might say Jesus was God but did not share the same Godness as the Father. Others might say that he took on a different kind of flesh to ours, perhaps a pre-fallen flesh. Others might say that he was only a human being given special powers by God to fulfil his purpose. Others might say Jesus took on all that we are but the human mind was replaced by the divine mind. There are so many variances that play down the significance of the Incarnation but have damaging implications for the overall gospel message.
On the contrary, it was the overwhelming generosity on God’s part to step into our time and space and make Himself human as a measure of His goodwill and peace towards all humanity. In fact, God volunteered Himself for this long before the foundation of the world that He would array Himself in the flesh of humanity and suffer all things for our sake. He would take on all that we are so that we might become all that He is. He took on all our corruption into Himself so that we might be saved from the corruption that was driving us towards oblivion so that it could be destroyed once and for all.
However, it is the Incarnation that gives us the true meaning of this entire event. It is God, who has power over all things, who emptied Himself of all His power and descended into the existence as a human being joining His own eternity deep within us so that we might enjoy the very same way of being in Him. It was powerless for humanity to know God and without a clear way to guide them to the truth of God, they were bound to become totally lost in their own darkness. In God’s own philanthropy, He allowed Himself to be this powerless and made known by making Himself take on human form through the Virgin Mary. He took from Mary’s heritage the full stock of Adamic fallen humanity consumed by darkness and fear and began to shine the Light of Himself in it. This shining Light lit the way for all who wanted to see the very heart and nature of God as Father, Son and Spirit. As I have said many times before, it takes God to know God and without God, God cannot be known. Nevertheless, it is God’s explicit will that He should be made known through Jesus Christ and Him alone.
The humanity of Jesus Christ brackets the truth of God. We, as Christians, know we stand within these brackets in the same way we stand under a light to truly see what is going on in darkness. It is only in His light we see light and can fully discern what is real concerning the ways and works of God. When we step away from Jesus Christ as the one in whom contains truth, i.e. the one and only reality regarding all the ways and works of God, then we step away from the light and walk in darkness—which means what we say about God is nothing more than a guess. When we push aside Jesus Christ and begin elsewhere, then we are trying to turn a theory into a so-called fact, or, we are trying to turn unreality into reality. For example, Arius believed human beings could not tolerate the absolute presence of God. Therefore God created an intermediatory between Himself and creation who was Jesus Christ, a mere human being bestowed with divine qualities but not divine in Himself. This was the theory put forward by the pagan world. Athanasius responded by saying if Jesus is a mere creature, how could he tolerate the presence of God? In addition, if Jesus is a creature, why are we worshipping a mere human being? This is idolatry. The Incarnation shows us that God was present to humanity and therefore we can tolerate His presence. If we allow God to approach us His way, then we come into His presence and know within ourselves that He is present to us.
When we say, “the Word was made flesh,” then we are saying, “God has joined Himself to us.” He has joined Himself to us in such a way to show no partiality between human beings. We do not qualify ourselves but we are given qualification because the Word has made Himself flesh. The more we allow this to actualise deep within ourselves the more we begin to realise the way things ought to be. That is, the church are made up of people who serve Jesus Christ. The ground upon which Jesus stood is the same level upon which all human beings stand. This means if you are the pope or plumber, it makes no difference because you both stand on the same ground as Jesus Christ and are equal co-heirs in the promises of God. Even the pope needs a mediator just as much as the plumber needs a mediator between himself and the Father. The pastor, priest, reverend, bishop, theologian, the parent, the shopkeeper, school teacher and everyone are all in as much need of Jesus Christ as anybody else, are on the very same level ground and have all received the very same grace. The Giver is synonymous with the Gift and it is given by the Giver straight into our souls. No other hands can lay hold of it and keep it from us. It comes straight from the heart of God and is freely placed straight into our hearts.
When we realise the enormity of the Word made flesh, that is, the humanity of Jesus Christ, then it is more concerned with human beings than institutional bodies. In recent times, it appears the structure of the church is seen more as buildings rather than a collective body of people. There is only one head of the church which is Jesus Christ who has knitted the whole of the human race into His own body.
In the ancient mind there were so many things about the ways and works of God that were taken as granted by everyday people. When we read the ancient Christian texts there was no question that all things originated in God. For the Christians, it was now without question the one in whom all things originated from has become human, Jesus Christ. Today, there is a huge gap between the God as the Origin, Cause and Source of all things and Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is in Himself the Origin, Cause and Source of all things who has now become Human. If this is true, it was not only a huge game changer in the ancient world but it is just as much a game changer today. But very little is afforded to it by many in modern Christianity. Many see Jesus Christ as the Word of God who came to be nailed to a Cross and be the whipping boy for the Father. He dropped in on us, sorted out the sin thing and then dropped out again. On the contrary, the Word of God is present everywhere as the Father is present everywhere. As the Father is not contained by anything, while the Word was manifest in His body as the Lord Jesus Christ, He also was not contained by anything but contained all things in Himself. In Himself as the Word, Jesus Christ gave life to all things. Even while quickening His own body He is at the same time quickening the whole universe. While we as ordinary human beings may ponder as to how things in the skies are held in their place and what it is and why it is that they move and have their being, the Word in the flesh may ponder on them but while He is in the Father, He gives all things the ability to move and have their being because He is in everything. Just because the Word became flesh, though this was something new even for God, in His own being He did not change. As this human being, Jesus Christ lived in the universe as distinct from it but at the same time He is quickening and sustaining it. The Word took on His corrupt Human Body into Himself but as the sun dissipates the darkness, His incorruptibility sanctifies and cleanses this body (Athanasius De Inc 17; John 1.1-18; Acts 17.21; 2Cor. 5.14-21; Phil. 2.5-8; Col. 1.15-20; Hebrew 1.1-3). It was in this scope the ancient mind understood their belief in God. The fundamental difference here is the very God as the Origin, Cause and Source of all things the christians now claimed to have become human while remaining who He is in Himself.
Having a strong, clear and robust doctrine of the Incarnation helps us to have a unified approach to the gospel. The unity of the ancient church was their defence of the Word made flesh. It set the tone of the rest of the event of the life of Jesus Christ. Irenaeus says that the Incarnation meant God united Himself to all flesh. This meant God, the Word, is now our brother and we are now adopted children of the Father. Once God joined Himself to us, nothing could undo this union, Romans 8.38-39 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Not even death could destroy the union forged in the Incarnation of the Word. This of course meant that when Jesus Christ rose from the dead, the whole of the human race was raised in Him and are now seated at the right hand of the Father ratifying our adoption in Him.