Showing posts with label Incarnation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Incarnation. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Who Can Forever Resist the Love of God?

If there were a being who was eternally impervious to God, forever able to resist the Love of God, would not such a being be greater than God? Indeed, would not that being then be God? But we are created by God to be the image of God, which is to say, the image of Love, for God is Love. We were made by Love and for Love, to be loved and to love. It is inherent to our true nature, what it means to be human. The evil that has invaded the human heart cannot change that but can only obscure it.

Yet, our Lord Jesus Christ has come to deliver us from this darkness of heart, this depravity of mind, this enmity of the will against Love, which is to say, against God. This is the truth of the Incarnation, in which Christ has united divinity with humanity, God with humankind, Love with the human heart. And it is the truth of the Cross and Resurrection, by which Christ has defeated death and the devil (who held the power of death), and all of the powers that blind us and pull us away from Love. 

In self-giving, other-centered, cross-shaped love, our Lord Jesus submitted himself to shameful death by the wickedness of our own darkened hearts. And by that one death defeated death for all, for Love is stronger than death. Who, then, could forever resist the love of God?

There is no heart so hard
that the Love of Christ
cannot soften it,
No mind so darkened
that the Light of Christ
cannot enlighten it,
No will so bound
that the Truth of Christ
cannot set it free.
And so shall God
be All in All.

Monday, May 13, 2024

The Fullness of Him Who Fills All in All

And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and gave him to the Church as head over all things. Now the Church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23 NET).

This passage is packed with stunning revelation. Not only that God has placed all things under the feet of Christ crucified, risen and ascended to the right hand of the Father. Not only that God has given Christ as head of the Church, and that the Church is, consequently, the body of Christ. Not only that Christ fills everything in every way. But this: The Church is the fullness of Christ.

Earlier in Ephesians 1, Paul tells us what God’s mysterious will and good pleasure is, which he purposed in himself and which is perfectly accomplished in Jesus Christ:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace  which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth — in Him. (Ephesians 1:7-10)

Christ has not merely come at the end of time, he is himself the end of time, the fullness of time, the meaning and purpose of time. In him, God gathers together all in heaven and on earth — everyone and everything — bringing all into union, with Christ as head (anakephalaiomai). At the end of the chapter, we see Christ placed far above every rule, authority, power and dominion, far above every name that could ever be invoked. This is the Ascension. 

God has given Christ to the Church as the head (kephale) over all things. Paul specifically has in mind the relationship of head and body. He speaks of Christ as the head of the church, and of the Church as the body of Christ. Likewise, since Christ is the head of all things, what does that say about all things in heaven and on earth but that all is, in this way, the body of Christ.

Christ fills all things, in every way, with himself, and Paul declares that the Church, the Body of Christ, is that fullness which fills all in all. Being filled with Christ in every way, everything in creation is finally revealed to be the body of Christ, which is to say, the Church. This is what the end of time looks like. Fr. John Behr puts it very well for me:

I can no longer see the Church as a select group of people called out from unbelievers. Rather, the Church is the whole of Creation seen eschatologically; from which we already see islands in the present, called out from “the world” (in the negative sense).

Friday, May 10, 2024

Christ Has Ascended — And We With Him

Forty days after our Lord Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and in the fullness of his humanity and his divinity, he ascended into heaven. Paul speaks of this in the wonderful prayer he makes for the Church in Ephesians 1: that we may know the wonderful anticipation to which God has called us, that we may know the riches of the glorious inheritance God has in us, and that we may know the unfathomable greatness of his power for us. He tells, here and elsewhere, about that great power, and we see the glory of our Ascended Lord Jesus:

That Same Power,
The Mighty Strength
God exercised when He
Raised Christ from the dead
And seated him at the
Right hand of the Father
In the heavenly realms,
Far above all rule,
Far above all authority,
Far above all power,
Far above all dominion,
Far above every name—
The Name above All Names.

God has placed
All Things under his feet
And given him to the Church
To be head over All Things
In Heaven and on Earth,
To the Church,
Which is His Body,
The Fullness of Him
Who Fills All Things
Everywhere.

Through the Incarnation, Christ united divinity with humanity, God with humankind, and became Human Being, of which we all partake and by which we are all now defined. Because of the Incarnation, the death of Christ has become our death, too. The resurrection of Christ has become our resurrection, too. And the ascension of Christ has become our ascension, too, the ascension of All Humankind. 

Only a few verses later, in Ephesians 2:6, Paul declares, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” Christ has ascended into heaven, and we have ascended with him. This is not future promise but accomplished act and present reality. It is the good news of the gospel.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

The Pattern of All Creation

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Word, the Logos of God. Which is to say, Christ is the Logic, the Reason, the Purpose, the Plan of God. He is the Will and the Way of God, the meaning and pattern of all that is. All things are made through him, by him, for him and in him, and in him all things consist, cohere and hold together (Colossians 1:16-17). Everything that exists receives its being from him and in him.

The good news of the gospel is that he who is the Logos of God became human being (John 1:14), in whom all humankind participates. Jesus Christ defines human being, what it is to be human. He is at once the full revelation of humanity and the full revelation and glory of divinity.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth ... No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:14,18)

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

The Cross and Resurrection is the full revelation of God and the divine glory. There we see not only what it means to be human but also what it means to be God. We understand what it means that God is love (1 John 4:8), that love is self-giving, other-centered and cross-shaped.

Christ Crucified and Risen is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. Indeed, through the Cross and Resurrection, he is the foundation of the world. For he who is the firstborn from the dead is the firstborn of creation (Colossians 1). In this way, he is the paradigm of the whole universe; in his self-giving, other-centered, cross-shaped love, all things find their reason and meaning. And so he is the fractal reality of all Creation, the recurring pattern, at every layer and level of everything that is.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

The Light Who Makes Us Divine


You are the Light of the World,
O Christ, in Whom we become
Partakers of the Divine Nature.

In the Gospel of John, the Logos, the Word who has always been with God and is God, is “the True Light which gives light to everyone coming into the world” (John 1:1,9). And it is of him that the psalm writer sings, “With You is the fountain of life; in Your Light we see light” (Psalm 36:9).

Paul exclaims and exhorts, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-10). And, “When Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him” (Colossians 3:4). Other New Testament letters speak similarly:

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the True Light who gives Light to everyone who comes into the world. In His Light, we see light and become light, participating in his Glory, and in him we become partakers of his divine nature.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

God is Both Willing and Able

Christian universalism
is the belief that God
is both willing and able,
that God can and will save
all in heaven and on earth,
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In Jesus Christ, God has shown both the willingness and the ability to save all in heaven and on earth. This does not require that God in any way ignore or override the will of anyone — that is contrary to the way of Love. But it does require that the human will be set free from ignorance, deceit, darkness, and bondage to sin — all of which render human will defective, and anything but free.

Freedom of will is the ability to live according to one’s true and inherent nature. The true and inherent nature of human being is to be like God, in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), in whom all the fullness of divinity of dwells in bodily form, and in whom we are made complete (Colossians 2:9-10). 

By the Incarnation, Jesus Christ has become human being, the humanity of which we all now partake. He defines what it means to be human. It means that all who once were headed up in Adam are now headed up in Jesus Christ. It means that Christ is not only God’s faithfulness toward all humankind, but he is also our faithfulness toward God. It means that we are inextricably united with the One who is the Image of God. Through this union, we become transformed, conformed to the image of God (Romans 8:29). And in Christ, we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

Just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22). And so, whatever happens in the meantime, in the end, God will be “All in All” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Monday, April 22, 2024

Salvation is an Ontological Reality

Salvation is not
a juridical determination
but an ontological reality,
through the faithfulness of
Christ in the Incarnation
and the Cross.

Salvation is not a proposition but a Person, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, from whom and in whom we receive life, being and personhood. Faith is not a contractual agreement concerning propositions about Christ but a dynamic relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ himself.

Eternal life is not only in Jesus Christ, but he himself is eternal life. And it is in him that we live and move and have our being, both by the Creation and the Incarnation. It cannot finally be lost because the Incarnation cannot finally be undone.

Friday, April 19, 2024

The Only God the Gospel Knows

The only God
the Gospel knows
is the One revealed
in the Incarnation,
the Cross and the Creation,
as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)

For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:9-10)

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Continuity of All Things

Though the world be in chaos, Jesus Christ is the continuity of all things. For in Him all things consist and hold together — in Him who is the same yesterday, today and forever. And He is making all things new.

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” (Revelation 21:5)

Monday, April 8, 2024

Creation, Incarnation and Inclusion

Inclusion is not something we can create but something we can only discover. What we discover in the gospel is that all are included in Christ from the very beginning and to the very end.

We are included in Christ by the Creation. In Colossians 1:15-17, St. Paul tells us that all are created by Christ, through Christ, for Christ and in Christ, and in Christ all Creation consists and holds together.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

We are included in Christ through the Incarnation, in which Christ became human being. There are many human persons, but there is only one human being, of which we all partake. In the Incarnation, Christ became human being; he defines what it means to be human, and showed us at the Cross exactly what being human, and being divine, looks like — it looks like self-giving, other-centered love.

We are included in Christ at the Cross. For in the death of Christ, we all died. This is a necessary consequence of the Incarnation, by which Christ united divinity with humankind, joining himself with all humankind. Paul said, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

We are included in Christ in the Resurrection and the Ascension. In Ephesians 2, Paul says,

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

In the Resurrection, Human Being, which Christ has become and of which we all partake, was raised from the dead. And by that resurrection, human being has been born again. St. Peter said, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

In the Ascension, Human Being, of which we all partake, ascended to the right hand of the Father, and so all humankind is seated there with Christ, in Christ, forever and ever.

The purpose of this inclusion is deliverance from death, from the power of the death (who held the power of death), from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14), and so from the power of sin. That we may live unto God (Romans 6:11). That, through Christ, we may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), and enjoy divine union with God, experiencing forever the relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit that Lord Jesus knows and experiences.

If, as the gospel shows, all are included in Christ, partaking of the one Human Being, who is Jesus Christ, then we cannot ignore anyone, for we are all part of each other. Apart from each other, we cannot finally know the fullness of our humanity, nor can we finally know the fullness of humanity’s union with God, which is revealed in Jesus Christ. 

The Good News of the Gospel is that
All are in Christ by the Creation and
Christ is in All by the Incarnation.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Deeply Connected With One Another


The Incarnation Means That
We are Deeply and Inextricably
Connected to One Another,
for Christ is Deeply and
Inextricably United with
All Humankind.

Though there are many human persons, there is only one human being, only one way of being human, of which we all partake. Christ, who is the Creator of all and from all derive their being, is being itself. By the Incarnation, he has united with all humankind by becoming Human Being.

This means that humankind, which was once defined by and headed up in Adam, is now defined by and headed up in Christ. And this is why St. Paul can speak so inclusively concerning Adam and Christ.

For if, by the trespass of the one man [Adam], death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. (Romans 5:17-18)

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

This deep and inseparable connection of Christ with all humankind, and of all humans persons with each other, means that, if there are any who are not finally restored, then none of us will ever fully be restored. There will always be something missing. Humankind — Human Being — will be eternally diminished.

Friday, March 15, 2024

The Only Moment There Is

The Incarnation of Christ is not only the union of divinity with humanity, of God with humankind, it is also the union of eternity with time in such a way that time is transfigured. This is why Paul can speak of us as being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. And why John the Beloved, in the book of Revelation, can speak of Christ as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. 

The Moment of the Creation
Is the Moment of the Fall,
The Moment of our participation
In its downward spiral
    By our own thoughts and deeds.

But it is also the Moment of
The Incarnation and the Cross,
And of the Resurrection.
It is the Moment of Christ drawing
All Creation to Himself.

The Moment of Christ
Transforming All Creation,
Making All Things New,
Conforming All to the Image
Of the Divine.

The End is in the Beginning
And the Beginning is in the End,
In the One Eternal Moment.

Friday, March 8, 2024

God Reconciling Us to Himself

What does “separation from God” mean? Inasmuch as all are created through Christ, by Christ, for Christ and in Christ (Colossians 1:16-17), it is therefore actually impossible to be separated from God, for Christ is God, and everything exists in him, or else does not exist at all.

God has never separated himself from us. Though we turned away from God, God did not turn away from us. When Paul speaks about the reconciliation brought about by Christ and the blood of the cross, it is not about God reconciling himself to us but about God reconciling us to himself (Colossians 1:19-20; 2 Corinthians 5:19). 

Whatever sense of separation there may have been was only in our own minds, not in the mind of God. It is the enmity of the fleshly mind (not controlled by the Spirit/spirit) that Paul speaks about in Romans 8:7, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.” The Cross did not change God’s mind about us but it changes our minds about God.

This enmity that was in our own minds was not any kind of punishment from God, nor does Scripture speak of it as such, but it is part of what we needed to be delivered from.

Inasmuch as “separation from God” is not any punishment imposed upon us by God, the Cross and the Atonement was not about Christ taking any such punishment upon himself in our place.

The Incarnation demonstrates that God did not separate himself from us. Quite the opposite, by the Incarnation, Christ, who is God, united himself with all humankind, joining God with all humanity.

It is simply not possible for Christ to be separated from God, because Christ is God. To speak of any separation within the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is to speak incoherently. Any theory of atonement that posits such a separation fails to understand the historic Christian faith and the doctrine of the Trinity.

So, the Cross was not about Christ being punished in our place. Nor was it about Christ being separated from God. It was not about reconciling God to us but about reconciling us to God. At the Cross, Christ was not drawing God to us but, rather, drawing all to himself (John 12:30-33; see The Cast Net).

When we make the Cross about Christ appeasing God, or changing God’s mind about us, or turning God back toward us, we have gotten the whole directionality of it exactly wrong. Penal theories of the atonement get it all backwards.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

The Body of Christ, the Whole of Humanity

Now the body of Christ,
as I often have said,
is the whole of humanity.
St. Gregory of Nyssa

It is a truth of the Incarnation, in which Christ has united himself with all of humanity, that the body of Christ is the whole of humanity. For there is only one humanity in which we all share, and Jesus shares in it with us. That one humanity is thus united with God. It violates no logic. It is no redefinition except inasmuch as the coming of Christ into the world changes everything. This truth was well defined in the early Church, as Gregory of Nyssa (AD 335-395) demonstrates. He was no theological hack, and orthodox Christian understanding today owes much to him.

We find the Incarnation in John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1,14). This and many other passages shows the intimate connection between Christ and all humankind. He did not become human in a different humanity but in the only one there is. We are all and united in it, and Christ shares in it with us.

So thoroughly united is all humankind with Christ, Paul can say that, just as Adam’s disobedience resulted in condemnation for all humankind, so also Christ’s righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people (Romans 5:18). And that, just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Because all humankind is united with and in Christ, and Christ is united with and in all humankind, there can be no situation where only some are the body of Christ while others are not. For Christ would have to be disunited with that part of humanity which is not his body, and that would be the undoing of the Incarnation. And the undoing of the Incarnation would be the undoing of salvation not just for some but for everyone.

This Incarnational union and embodiment does not at all do away with divine judgment but is precisely the means of that judgment — and it happens through the Cross and Resurrection. This is how God sets everything right in the world, making all things new.

Inasmuch as in Christ all will be made alive in the end, then all humankind, eschatologically understood, is the body of Christ. And inasmuch as humankind is inextricably bound with creation, and Christ is inextricably bound with humankind, so Christ is inextricably bound with creation. All creation is in him, as Paul tells us in Colossians 1, and Christ is in all creation — Christ is all and in all. Just as all of humankind, eschatologically understood, is the body of Christ, so also, all of creation, eschatologically understood, is the body of Christ.

There is no place in creation where Christ is not present. Not one part, not one cell, not one atom. But Christ is in all of creation, every bit of it. This means that Christ is embodied throughout all creation, so thoroughly united with all creation that all in heaven and on earth are brought to unity in Christ, headed up in Christ. 

God made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10).

Friday, October 28, 2022

All Has Been Accomplished in Jesus Christ


His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:10-11)

The eternal purpose of God has been accomplished in Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 1, Paul tells us that God's eternal purpose is to be bring all in heaven and on earth to unity, all summed up in Jesus Christ.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our offenses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight. He did this when he revealed to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ – the things in heaven and the things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10)
When we see the Cross, we see the accomplishment, the fulfillment not only of God’s eternal purpose, but of time itself. The Cross is what the end of history looks like — Christ crucified, risen and ascended. For through the Incarnation, divine being is joined together with human being, heaven is united with earth, and eternity is made one with time.

Lord Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself” (John 12:32). This is ascension language, and here, Jesus refers to the Cross, the death he died. Christ, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, in his ascension to the Cross, “draws” all to himself. The Greek verb is helkuo, which means to draw or drag, like a fisherman drawing in his net. It is not merely all kinds of people Christ draws to himself. And I do not think it is only people that Christ draws to himself, but I believe it is all of creation that Christ draws to himself, everything in heaven and on earth. At the Cross, the devil is deposed and, in Christ, the world is put right, and Christ announces, “It is finished!”

We are used to thinking of the Cross as merely an event in time, locating it somewhere in the middle of history, as something that happened long, long ago. But the Cross is the eschatological event, the end of time, the final denouement and consummation of all things. I believe it is also the creation of all things, for it is through, and by, and for, and in Christ crucified and risen that all things come into being. The end is in the beginning, and the beginning is in the end.

The Cross plays out in time, and we experience its outworking mostly as a succession of moments. Yet it is accomplished in eternity as the reality of the world. Even time itself is transfigured by it, such that we can experience the eternal in the mystery of the sacraments — Baptism and the Eucharist — as full and complete.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Freedom of Will

So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God. (Philippians 2:12-13 NET)

People usually think of freedom of will as the ability to choose, a deliberative action by which we select from among competing options. But in recent years, I have come to think of freedom of will as the ability to live according to our true, inherent nature; which is to say, according to who we really are — and who we really are is beings created in the image of God and to be like God (Genesis 1:27).

St. Maximus the Confessor, a very interesting Christian theologian from the 7th century, spoke about this distinction. There is the “gnomic” will, which is the deliberative will, choosing among the perceived options. But there is also the “natural” will, by which we act according to our inherent, created nature.

The problem has never been that human beings have free will and must deliberate between moving toward God or away from God, and therefore must somehow be persuaded to choose the former rather than the latter. The problem has been precisely the opposite: human will in bondage, leaving us incapable of acting according to our true, inherent nature, our natural selves, as God created us to be. Human will needed to be redeemed and set free.

God delivers us from that bondage of will through the Incarnation, in which Christ became one with us, not only revealing God’s faithfulness toward us but also becoming our faithful response to God. But more than that, and as the manifestation of that, Christ delivers us through the crucifixion, in which he destroyed death and all the powers that kept our human will in bondage.

Now we are in the process of the outworking of that deliverance, for it is God himself who is at work in us, bringing forth in us what he desires (Philippians 2:12-13). In other words, God’s work in us is to free our wills from bondage so that we may naturally be what God created us to be from the beginning: the image of God, created to be like God.

Another way of saying this is how the apostle Paul put it in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This is not about us deliberating among the options and choosing “good works” but about our inherent nature as beings created and redeemed in Christ Jesus being manifested through “good works.” What we receive in and through Christ’s union with us is true freedom of will, which is to say, freedom of being — for it is Christ who is ever and always the source of our being.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Paradox of Descending and Ascending



In my last post, we looked at the Cross as Ascension, particularly in the Gospel of John. There we saw Jesus speaking of his death on the cross as being “lifted up.” The Greek word is hypsoo, which means to be elevated, and can even mean exalted. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” Jesus said (John 3:14). “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

It is at the cross that Christ, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, is“lifted up” from the earth; it is there also that he “draws” all to himself — surely this describes his exaltation. Is this not what the apostle Paul describes it in Philippians 2:5-11, the paradox of descending and ascending?
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient 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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Here we see the descent: Christ, thoroughly divine, “made himself nothing” or “emptied himself” (NET) — the Greek word is kenoo, to make empty — taking the very nature of a servant, participating fully in human nature. As humankind was created in the image and likeness of God, now God in Christ took on human likeness, to become what God intended for humankind to be. This is the Incarnation.

Thus joining himself with humankind, subject to mortality, it was necessary that he should “humble himself” (make himself low) and become obedient to death, so to deliver humankind from death. And it was necessary that he be put to death by the hands of wicked men, so to deliver humankind from wickedness and sin. Christ became obedient even to death on the cross, and by that was “lifted up.”

Here we see also the ascent of Christ: God “exalted him to the highest place.” The Greek word is hyperypsoo, a compound of hyper and hypsoo, the latter being the word Christ used of his crucifixion — this is Christ highly exalted. Further, God gave Christ the “name that is above every name.” As Theodoret of Cyrus observed, Christ “did not receive what he did not have before but received as a man what he possessed as God.”

Jesus was given the highest name so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Is this not what Jesus said would happen? “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

We tend to think of the descent and ascent of Christ as two different things. First, he goes down, down, down, then subsequent to that is raised up, up, up — two movements with a u-turn in between. But I don’t think that is necessarily what Paul is describing here, because he is exhorting us to have the same mind toward each other as Christ has toward us. Is that so we may one day be glorified, with servant humility as but a means to that glory? Surely not.

Christ’s humility was not a means to glory but the very expression of divine glory. For God is love, and it is the nature of love to give and serve. God loved the world by giving us the Son; the Son did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life for us. When we see the humility of Christ in his deep descent, we are not seeing the divine glory in recess but, rather, most fully revealed. The lower Christ descended into the depths of the world, to redeem it, the more his glory was made manifest, and in that way, Christ was seen to be highly exalted.

The paradox of the descent and ascent of Christ, then, is this: It is not two different things but the same thing. His descent into the earth is simultaneously his ascent into heaven — and us with him.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Cross As Ascension


We often think of the Cross, the Resurrection and the Ascension as three events instead of  one. They seem to be separate in time; each is given its own day within the space of forty-something days. But Christ is eternal, and in the Incarnation, not only is humanity joined with divinity but time is joined with eternity, and what appears separately in time is one in eternity. In the Gospel of John, Cross, Resurrection and Ascension are one continuous movement. (See also, Cross and Resurrection As Singular Event.)
In John, being lifted up refers to one continuous action of ascent, beginning with the cross but ending at the right hand of the Father. Step 1 is Jesus’ death; step 2 is his resurrection; and step 3 is the ascension back to heaven. It is the upward swing of the “pendulum” which began with the incarnation, the descent of the Word become flesh from heaven to earth. (NET Bible, study note at John 4:13)
We can find several references to ascension in John’s Gospel, but they cast it as crucifixion. We see this early, in John 3:
No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:13-15 NET)
Jesus speaks of descension from heaven and ascension into heaven — a downward movement (katabaino) followed by upward movement (anabaino). We may think of the descension as the Incarnation, the Logos of John 1 becoming flesh and dwelling among us — God condescending to join in union with humankind — and the humiliating death of the cross, with the descent from the cross into the grave.

But when we come to ascension, we find something unexpected. It does not begin with the resurrection but with the cross. In John 3, Jesus, understanding the Scriptures as speaking of himself, refers to the story of Moses “lifting up” the serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9) and makes a comparison (indicated by “just as”). The point of comparison is lifting up: Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness; Christ must be lifted up. The Greek word is hypsoo and means to elevate or exalt.

In the Numbers 21 account, when the people turned away from the LORD, venomous snakes passed through the people, killing many. When the people turned back to the LORD, Moses was instructed to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole. When anyone who had been bitten would look upon that serpent, they would be healed and saved from death.

Just as Moses elevated the bronze serpent on the pole, Jesus says, so the Son of Man must be elevated, and the instrument of that elevation would be the cross. Jesus had just been talking about descension and ascension? Which one was he now speaking of by this comparison of himself with the lifting up of the serpent? Well, we can say it is descension; is it not the cross to which he is referring? Indeed it is. Yet Jesus speaks of it as ascension, being lifted up, elevated, exalted. In John 12, Jesus again speaks of it as exaltation:
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:31-33)
Is this descension, or ascension? By his words, Jesus showed the kind of death he was going to die, death by crucifixion. And yet those very words speak of him as being “lifted up,” elevated, exalted. For the world was about to be judged, which is to say, there was about to be a world-changing crisis (the Greek word for “judge” here is krisis) that would set things right. The old death-dealing way of the world was about to be condemned, and the living, life-giving Christ would prevail. The “prince of this world” was about to be driven out, exorcised.

The cross is the exaltation of Christ because it is his judgment on the world, casting out darkness and death and the devil. It is his rule and reign that is exercised, and in a singular way, dramatically changing the world forever. It is ascension, and humankind, joined with Christ through the Incarnation, is ascended with him — to the Cross, to the Resurrection and to the right hand of the Father.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Mercy of God Rescues Us All


Through the Incarnation, Christ participates in humanity, the only humanity there is and in which we all participate. Christ participates in it with us; we participate in it with him. This is how Christ is able to save us, because he participates with us in our humanity.

This is why Paul can say, “Just as one trespass [Adam’s] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Christ’s] resulted in justification and life for all people” (Romans 5:18), and “Just as in Adam all dies, so in Christ all with live” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Humankind, formerly headed up in Adam is now headed up in Christ — because of the Incarnation, and through the Cross.

The mercy of God rescues us from very real consequences, namely, the death that resulted from Adam’s sin, and the bondage to sin that death entailed. That death was never a penalty but a consequence. When God warned Adam (whose name means Man) about eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God did not say, “For on the day you eat of it I will kill you,” but, “On the day you eat of it you will die.”

It is death that is the real problem, and it is death from which Christ delivers us. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

At the cross, Christ broke the power of death, breaking the power of the devil, and the fear of death that enslaved us — and so the power of sin.

This does not mean, however, that sin can be winked at or simply waved off. No, sin has no place anywhere in God’s creation or in God’s creatures. It must be completely destroyed, not merely sequestered in some dark corner of creation for eternity. For sin is corruptive, destroying the lives of all in whom it exists and defiling God’s creation. That is why it must be thoroughly dealt with and purged from everyone.

God is doing this through Jesus Christ. For it is God’s purpose to bring all in heaven and on earth to unity in Christ, under the headship of Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10). It is God’s will to reconcile to himself all in heaven and on, through Christ, having made peace by the blood of the cross (Colossians 1:19-20).

All the enemies of God’s creation will be destroyed. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. As it is the last enemy, when it is destroyed, there will be no more enemies of God anywhere in Creation. All will be made subject to Christ, and Christ will be made subject to God, “so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:26-28).

Oh, hear and believe the good news of the gospel, what God has done in Jesus Christ. For God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting our sins against us (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Monday, May 4, 2020

Christ is Our True Nature


We are already in Christ as much as we are ever going to be, and Christ is already in us as much as he is ever going to be — which is 100%! It is irrevocably so because to undo it would require undoing the Incarnation, in which Christ has united with all humankind. Indeed, it would require the dissolution of creation itself, for all things are created in Christ and hold together in him.

Our salvation in Christ is settled from the beginning. For Christ is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, and we are chosen in him from the beginning (Ephesians 1:4).

But there is a sense in which our salvation is progressive as we continue to be transformed, by the life of Christ and the Holy Spirit in us, in our experience of salvation and the redeemed nature we have in Christ.

And there is a sense in which our salvation is future, for we have yet to experience the transformation of our mortal, corruptible bodies into immortal, incorruptible bodies, like that of Christ in his resurrection.

Yet our identity in Christ remains the same throughout. We neither increase nor decrease in him, and he neither increases nor decreases in us. What increases is our awareness and experience of him and our awakening response to him. Our true nature in Christ remains constant, created in the image of God and to be like God, to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

There is only one human nature, of which we all partake, and it is redeemed in Christ, by his participation in this nature with us. And though we do agree with God about sin, the things that do not belong in us and in our life (this is called confession), we do not agree with any false idea that we are of a sinful nature. For Christ is now our life (Galatians 2:20) and through the Incarnation, he shares with us in the only human nature there is and has healed it, so that Christ is our true nature. So instead of agreeing with the false idea that we have a sinful nature, we agree with the gospel, and with the Incarnation, which is foundational to the gospel.