What do you think is the most hard-to-believe doctrine of the Christian faith? The atonement, the Resurrection, Virgin Birth, or the Gospel Miracles. We may believe that one of these great doctrines of the Christian faith is the most difficult to embrace. But according to J.I. Packer “the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us, does not lie here at all.”
Lesson: The real difficulty of the Christian faith is found in its greatest mystery: God became flesh.
The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man—that the second person of the Godhead became the “second man” (1 Cor 15:47), determining human destiny, the second representative head of the race, and that he took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as he was human.
As stated above, the real and greatest difficulty is found in the incarnation of the Second person of the Godhead. The word “incarnate” comes from the Latin verb incarnare [ in = in + caro = flesh], which means, “to make flesh” or “to become flesh.” It means one of a higher order than man, and of a different nature, assumes the appearance of a man or becomes a man. The meaning of the word incarnation itself tells us that the One who became flesh is not just a man, otherwise, the incarnation would have no meaning at all. He became like us without losing His deity. He was truly and fully divine as He was human.
Aside from the fact that sinful creatures are unable to discern the things of God (1 Cor 2:14), they are blinded, and cannot see the truth (2 Cor 4:4) and that God must open our eyes to behold wondrous things from His word (Psalm 119:34), the fact of the incarnation is hard to grasp for any finite creatures because of the greatness of its mystery. This teaching like other essentials of the Christian faith challenges and reveals the finitude of our understanding.
J.I. Packer called this the “two mysteries for the price of one.” The Trinity (Three Persons, One God) itself is hard to grasp and has been rejected by tons of religions. Now, add to it the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus Christ (Theanthropic/Hypostatic Unio or the Dual natures of Christ). This is affirmed by the council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.)
So, following the holy fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; of one essence with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same of one essence with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days, for us and for our salvation, the same born of Mary, the virgin God-bearer, as regards his humanity
The Scripture, which is the very basis of this mystery, teaches this truth.
John 1:1, 14 - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Philippians 2:5-8 - Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
1 John 5:20 - And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Romans 9:5 - To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
“God became man, the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby… The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.”~ J.I. Packer
The Solution to other difficulties
The disbelief in the mystery of the person of the Incarnate One is the root of all disbelief or inadequate belief in other central doctrines of Christianity as stated above. “But once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve.” The virgin birth, atonement, resurrection, and gospel miracles won’t be hard to believe if we embrace by faith the greatest mystery of all.
Since Jesus is the eternal Word and the Divine Son, “it is no wonder if fresh acts of creative power marked his coming into this world, and his life in it, and his exit from it. It is not strange that he, the Author of life, should rise from the dead. If he was truly God the Son, it is much more startling that he should die than that he should rise again.”
Since Jesus is the God-man, any attempt to disprove or deny other essential doctrines of the Christian faith would be illogical. Here we see that our faith is interconnected and hangs in the person and work of the Only Son of God, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Indeed, “The Incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.”
Questions for meditation:
- Why is the incarnation of the Son of God hard to grasp?
- Why is the incarnation of the Son of God indispensable to your salvation?
Note: This is from our Youth Bible Study. Citations are from Packer, J. I. (1993). Knowing God. Intervarsity Press.
Related posts on the deity of Christ: