The Incarnation– What It Means, Why It’s Vital and Why Only Christianity Has One
|By: John G. Weldon; ©2012|
|Put simply, “incarnation” (astonishingly) means that the infinite God, the One who spoke the universe into existence, actually became a man; specifically that the second Person of the Trinity took on a sinless human nature. Why?|
- “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God…. the Word became human [as Jesus Christ] and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1:1, 1:14).
Put simply, “incarnation” (astonishingly) means that the infinite God, the One who spoke the universe into existence, actually became a man; specifically that the second Person of the Trinity took on a sinless human nature. Why? In infinite love and compassion, knowing our plight, He took on human flesh in order to become the Savior of the world through His atoning death on the cross of Calvary (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2; 4:10, 14). He did so in such a way that He became fully God and fully man – undiminished deity and full humanity – in one Person. This meant that in salvation both God’s infinite justice could be fully satisfied and human nature fully represented. This happened only once and will never happen again, but the unique God-man the incarnation produced will exist forever.
Somehow, this historical fact is often ignored or neglected, even though it is probably the greatest single miracle in history, although some would argue it would be second only to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The incarnation is what we celebrate every Christmas Day, yet because of what the incarnation means for each of us personally, it’s really something we should be celebrating every day. When we are graciously offered a free gift of eternal life in a glorious Heaven that lasts forever – and it’s all for the asking – that’s something worth celebrating over and over. It’s the Gift that keeps on giving, eternally.
But one might ask the question: How did literally billions of people ever come to believe in a factual, space-time historical incarnation of an infinite God in the first place – unless it really happened?
Most people don’t seem to appreciate the uniqueness of the Christian message at this point, because no other religion has anything remotely similar. Further, a compelling argument can be made that something like this could never have become so widely believed unless it really was true. What is at stake here is the quality of the evidence, not the widespread nature of the belief; e.g., a billion people believe in the Muslim God Allah and its prophet Mohammed and also in the Eastern idea of reincarnation – but the evidence for both is lacking. In other words, relative to the incarnation, what kind of evidence would it take to persuade billions of people to believe that an infinite personal God had actually taken on human flesh – become a man? It would take something like Jesus Christ but nothing less – the most powerful, commanding and unique man in human history – One like no other, One who rose physically from the dead as proof of the truth of His claims to be God incarnate. (To understand the uniqueness of Jesus one only need carefully and reverently read the Gospels; unfortunately this is something most people rarely do.)
To illustrate, how can one logically account for the very existence of the Christian Church apart from the incarnation? Given the historical facts available, is there another option explanation? If one thinks about it, no other credible explanation is available: it’s the incarnation and physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead alone that can logically account for the existence of Christianity.
No other religion in the world, past or present, has an incarnation that has been demonstrated in space-time history. That raises an interesting point – how and why does only one religion in the world have a genuine incarnation and physical resurrection from the dead of its founder?
Similarly, no other religion has a God who demonstrates and proves His love to mankind by incarnating upon the earth and sacrificing His life for our desperate need, the forgiveness of sin (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10).
“Incarnation” is therefore one of the most important words in the English language. On the one hand, it is so glorious a teaching that it simultaneously encompasses both God’s transcendence and imminence, the finite and the infinite; the temporal and the eternal and yet on the other hand, it is so vital and practical a teaching that it literally affects the eternal destiny of every person who has ever lived, including everyone currently reading this article (John 3:16). It is something that, paradoxically, at one time never existed – but then in an instant exists forever.
The incarnation happened at the precise instant Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary through the supernatural virgin birth accomplished by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-38). Without confusing either nature, the divine nature of the Son was united perfectly with a unique sinless human nature in one divine and human person. Put another way, Jesus is as much God as if He were never man and yet as much man as if He were never God – the perfect God-man. Nevertheless, the human and divine natures of Jesus cannot be fully explained. Because this teaching involves some mystery (hardly unexpected given an infinite-personal triune God), not unexpectedly, it has resulted in a number of heresies by those who have not dealt carefully with the biblical text.
But again, few doctrines are more vital. Without the incarnation of Jesus Christ, there can be no atoning death on the cross of Calvary and therefore no salvation from sin. If there is no divine incarnation, then there is also no Christian Gospel and therefore no Christian faith. Without the incarnation, what remains? What the apostle Paul says for the resurrection of Christ is also true for His incarnation – if there is no incarnation “your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Indeed, everything Christian disappears.
But to return to an earlier point, in no other religion in history or upon the earth do we find a divine incarnation. Somehow, that has to be explained. It’s the same with the Christian doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone – only Christianity has such a teaching, and there must be some way to explain how such a unique idea originated in the first place. It turns out that only the biblical explanation satisfies. In other words, when every other religion on earth teaches salvation by works, how did Christianity end up being a religion that teaches salvation solely by grace – unless it alone were divinely revealed?
The same reasoning holds true for the incarnation. Why is there only one incarnation that has occurred in space-time history when all other claimed incarnations are plainly mythical? The only adequate explanation is that the incarnation is a divine revelation.
The great theological reformer Martin Luther was correct – in the end there only two religions in the world, the religion of works and the religion of grace. The distinguished Christian writer G.K. Chesterton was also correct when he taught that the incarnation makes “dust and nonsense” of comparative religion. Chesterton’s point was that because there is only one true incarnation, there is only one true God, one true divine revelation and one true way of salvation, exposing other religions (however well-intentioned) as pretenders to divine revelation.
After all, if all religions conflict with one another (and they do), all might be false – but if one is true, only one can be true – and the historic fact of one incarnation proves which religion must be true. What does this mean? The logical implication is that because there is only one divine incarnation, there is only one true God (and other gods are nonexistent idols, Psalm 96:5). If there is only one true God, then it makes sense there is only one true path of salvation, only one manner to approach God and only one true way to Heaven (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5-6).
Other religions which claim a divine incarnation (or which claim to be true) such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc., have never provided convincing evidence for their claims, not to mention explain how an infinite, omniscient, rational and truthful God could logically produce the historical, scientific, logical and spiritual inaccuracies within their own scriptures, i.e., their gods own alleged revelation. One only has to read the Scriptures of these religions to see these types of factual errors (the Vedas/Upanishads, the Pali Canon, the Qur’an, etc.).
The facts surrounding Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and other religions reveal that no other divine incarnation has occurred.
To reiterate, among the religions in the world, only Christianity has a God who incarnates in space-time history. Among the religious founders and leaders who have ever lived, only Jesus Christ physically rose from the dead as proof of the truth of His claims to be God incarnate, objectively establishing Himself as an infallible authority.
But it’s not just that Christianity alone has a God who incarnates in history. Christianity alone has a God who, in His incarnation, weeps over our sin and rebellion and its consequences (Luke 19:41; John 11:35); who suffered beyond imagination for our sins, actually dying the most horrible of deaths in order to pay the price of forgiveness and to purchase for us a free gift of eternal life – because He truly loves us with an infinite love. He actually paid the infinite price demanded by infinite holiness to secure eternal forgiveness for our sins.
Of all the gods of the peoples, of all the gods ever worshiped, only the Christian God does this; only He has not abandoned us in our dilemma to face our fate alone. Only He has delivered us – and not just in this lifetime, but for all eternity.
That’s one reason He alone is worthy of our commitment, trust and worship. If we have never transferred our trust to the Lord Jesus Christ and believed on Him for forgiveness of our sins, we must do so now while the time remains. Beyond all question, the one and only incarnation proves God’s love for us. There is one provision and one only: we have to believe it and trust in the One who incarnated for us.
- “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
If you desire more information on becoming a Christian, please see the homepage of www.JAshow.org
Recommended Reading (available at: www.Amazon.com)
- Robert Glenn Gromacki, The Virgin Birth: Doctrine of Deity.
- Charles H. Spurgeon, Christ’s Incarnation, the Foundation of Christianity.
- Arthur Custance, The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation.
- Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ.
- David F. Wells, The Person of Christ: A Biblical and Historical Analysis of the Incarnation.
- Oskar Skarsaune, Incarnation: Myth or Fact?
- Athanasius, On the Incarnation. (Also available online.)
- J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ.
- Sir James Norman D. Anderson, The Mystery of the Incarnation.
- Harry Rimmer, A Scientist’s Viewpoint of the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ.
- Stephen T. Davis, et al., eds. The Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God.
- Paul D. Molnar, Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding.
- E.g., “The biblical teaching regarding the incarnation of Christ and the person of the Mediator is awe-inspiring. This doctrine amazes us not simply because it is mysterious and somewhat beyond human comprehension, but because there is a sense in which the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ is the greatest miracle in Scripture. (Rev. Brian Schwertley, “The Incarnation of Christ”, [Entrewave Entrewave]; http://entrewave.com/view/reformedonline/Incarnation.htm.)Of course, Jesus’ physical resurrection is the more widely observable miracle and proof that death is conquered; nevertheless biblically I believe the incarnation/virgin birth is overall the more important miracle, as my upcoming article will seek to demonstrate.
- For a discussion see John G. Weldon, “Heaven: A World of Love”, the John Ankerberg Show; https://www.jashow.org/articles/christian-doctrine/heaven-hell-the-afterlife/heaven-a-world-of-love/title=Heaven_-_A_World_of_Love.
- For example, see www.answering-Islam.org or John Ankerberg, John Weldon, Fast Facts on Islam; reincarnation is disproven on the basis of the authority of Hebrews 9:27, but along other lines as well which I will address in an upcoming book. See Mark C. Albrecht, Reincarnation: a Christian Critique of a New Age Doctrine available online at: http://www.ccel.us/reincarnation.toc.html
- See next footnote.
- === As to the latter, former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and leading New Testament scholar NT Wright makes a powerful case for this in The Resurrection of the Son of God. Also see Mike Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, A New Historiographical Approach and my brief article, “The Resurrection As Historical Fact?”, The John Ankerberg show; https://www.jashow.org/articles/guests-and-authors/dr-john-g-weldon/the-resurrection-as-historical-fact-2/title=The_Resurrection_as_Historical_Fact%3F ===
The same reasoning holds true for the incarnation and the virgin birth. See my upcoming article on the latter at www.JAshow.org.
- The incarnation is not only critical theologically; it is also critical apologetically. For example, one way to illustrate the uniqueness of Christianity is through the historical space-time reality of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and His subsequent physical resurrection from the dead.No other religion that ever existed has a historical incarnation or a historical resurrection of its founder from the dead, making Christianity unlike every other religion on earth. Not merely in its teaching of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but in the critical area of proving who God is, what He is like and that He loves us. It is the incarnation and the atonement which prove the love and justice of God in space-time history – that in the incarnation, God loves us while simultaneously demonstrating His justice. No other religion has ever displayed such a teaching. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “This is [proven] love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” 1 John 4:10). “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).Thus, the incarnation demonstrates the justice of God (Romans 3:25-26) because Christ, being fully God was able to fully endure the infinite wrath that God the Father poured out upon human sin. Because He was fully man He was able to fully represent man in terms of forgiveness of sin. Again, without the incarnation, there is no redemption or salvation.
- The vital nature of the incarnation explains why the man who is probably the greatest preacher of modern times (he preached to some 10 million people, even in the 1800s), the man who may exceed every writer as to material in print, Charles Spurgeon, after illustrating how sublimely God is glorified in the creation nevertheless extolled the incarnation as supreme: “But sing, sing, O universe, till thou hast exhausted thyself, yet thou canst not chant an anthem so sweet as the song of the Incarnation! Though Creation may be a majestic organ of praise, it cannot reach the compass of the golden canticle, Incarnation! There is more melody in Jesus in the manger that in the whole sublime oratorio of the creation. There is more grandeur in the song that heralds the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem than there is in the worlds on worlds rolling in silent grandeur around the throne of the most high.” (Charles Spurgeon, Christ’s Incarnation: The Foundation of Christianity, Amazon Kindle, Opening Note.)
- See my articles at www.JAshow.org.
- One of the best, easiest books discussing the specific characteristics of the incarnation (what it is, what it isn’t) is by Dr. Robert Glenn Gromaki; see the Recommended Reading.One of the best books on how heresies positively affected the accurate development of biblical doctrine can be found in Dr. Harold O.J. Brown’s Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church, well worth the time. As to the specific heresies relating to the incarnation, Gnosticism believed Jesus did not come in the flesh and only seemed to be a man; Arianism taught Jesus was created but not deity; Docetism denied the true humanity of Christ; Nestorianism believed the divine Son and the man Jesus were two separate persons; Eutychianism believed Christ had only one nature, not two, the divine nature virtually overpowering the human; Monophysitism fused both human and divine natures producing a kind of third dissimilar nature; adoptionism believed Jesus was born a man but divinely adopted at his baptism when God entered into him, etc. These heresies and others have continued today in various unbiblical religions such as Jehovah’s Witnesses (Arianism), Christadelphianism, Unitarian-universalism, Swedenborgianism, Mormonism and dozens of others. Years ago I remember reading a book that discussed some 200-300 early cults and sects (it may have been 800-900) in the first three centuries; things have hardly changed since.
- For example, in the Old Testament the incarnation is taught by the Psalmist, the prophet Isaiah and the prophet Micah. Every time a verse or Scripture passage refers to Jesus Christ as the Son of God (this occurs many times) or teaches or implies that God exists as a man, an incarnation is required. At Jesus baptism, God the Father Himself declared: “This is My Son” (Mt 3:17). To illustrate, consider the following classic messianic verses:The Psalmist – “Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities–for his anger flares up in an instant. But what joy for all who take refuge in him!” (Psalm 2:12NLT, see especially the context, 2: 7-11; according to Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible the word submit may also imply love, honor, and worship.)The Prophet Isaiah – “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [God with us]” (Isaiah 7:14).”For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father [literally: the Father of Eternity], Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
The Prophet Micah – “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2).
Concerning Psalm 2, Dr. Bayly comments on this wonderful Psalm: “This Psalm is remarkable, not only for its subject – the future kingdom of the Messiah, its rise, opposition, and gradual extent, but also for the elegant change of person. In the first verse the prophet speaks; in the third, the adversaries; in the fourth and fifth, the prophet answers, in the sixth, Jehovah speaks; in the seventh, the Messiah; in the eighth and ninth, Jehovah answers, and in the tenth to the twelfth, the prophet exhorts the opponents to submission and obedience – Dr. A. Bayly.” (Biblios.com: Parallel Commentaries, Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible; http://bible.cc/psalms/2-12.htm)
Jesus Christ Himself taught He was God incarnate. For example, consider the Aramaic Bible in Plain English translation of John 8:58, “Yeshua said to them: “Timeless truth I speak to you: Before Abraham would exist, I AM THE LIVING GOD.” The Jews understood clearly that he claimed not only to be the Messiah, but to be God incarnate; even His enemies understood this clearly: “The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33);”For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). Jesus also claimed He preexisted in Heaven and came down from Heaven:
- “No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven” (John 3:13, cf. 3:17, 31).
- “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38, cf. 6: 57, 62, NLT).
- “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me'” (John 18:37).
The incarnation is also taught by the apostle John, John the Baptist and the apostles Paul and Peter:
The Apostle John & John the Baptist –
- “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God…..So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’” (John 1:1, 14-15, NLT)
- “We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life” (1 John 1:1, cf. vs. 2-3).
- “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin…. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:5,8).
- “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).
The Apostle Paul –
- “… the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:2-4).
- “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,…” (Galatians 4:4).
- “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 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, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8).
- “… Christ was revealed in a human body…” (1 Timothy 3:16).
The Apostle Peter
In contrast to the incarnation myths of other religions,
- “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming [incarnation] of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).
- See note 5.
- Buddhism has no incarnation because the Buddha was an atheist and believed God was irrelevant – later Buddhism has only supposed incarnations that are clearly mythical. The same with Hinduism – no evidence exists for its gods or their alleged incarnations. In Islam, the very idea of an incarnation is blasphemous. Allah is so transcendent it is unthinkable that he would become a man, let alone die for man’s sins in a substitutionary atonement. And the same for every religion – no real evidence is ever supplied for any claimed incarnation or truthfulness as a divine revelation.Professor of systematic theology Dr. John Frame has degrees from Princeton University, Yale University and Westminster Theological Seminary. He makes the following point: “In non-Christian systems of thought, it is impossible for ultimate reality to enter time and space. The eastern religions, as well as Plato, Aristotle, and the ancient Gnostics, all hold that the supreme being is impersonal and would lose its absoluteness if it came in contact with temporal reality. Other religions and philosophies believe that the supreme being, if it exists at all, is the temporal world itself or an aspect of it. For them, “god incarnate” could be, at most, indistinguishable from the rest of the finite world. Only in biblical religion is there a clear affirmation of a personal God distinct from the world He has made, one who is able to come into that world without compromising Himself and without losing Himself in His creation. As incarnate, He remains fully God, and He reveals His full deity clearly to His creatures, even amid all the mysteries mentioned earlier. But this means that only in Scripture do we learn of a God who loves us so much, so wonderfully, so powerfully, that He enters time on our behalf and stands strong to win God’s battle in history against Satan and sin.” (Rev. John Frame, “The Wonder of God over Us and with Us”, Reformed Theological Seminary Reformed Quarterly, Winter 2000; http://rq.rts.edu/winter00/frame.html
- For a brief defense of the historical and other evidence for the physical resurrection of Christ from the dead, see John G Weldon, “The Resurrection As Historical Fact?” The John Ankerberg Show; https://www.jashow.org/articles/guests-and-authors/dr-john-g-weldon/the-resurrection-as-historical-fact-2/title=The_Resurrection_as_Historical_Fact%3F For detailed information, see the books by NT Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God and Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, a New Historiographical Approach.
- For an explanation, see John G. Weldon, “Hell – Why It’s Eternal and the Remarkable Ease of Entering Heaven”, The John Ankerberg Show; https://www.jashow.org/articles/christian-doctrine/heaven-hell-the-afterlife/hell-why-its-eternal-and-the-remarkable-ease-of-entering-heaven/title=Hell_-_Why_It%27s_Eternal_and_the_Remarkable_Ease_of_Entering_Heaven