Revisiting the Incarnation and what it means for us.
In the previous post on this topic, I talked about how it is vitally important to understand Who Jesus is as He relates to the Godhead. “To know what God is like we must see Him ‘through the lens’ of Jesus Christ.” (You’ll have to refer to the previous blog for the full discussion: know Jesus, know God…)
Before I start sharing some thoughts on what we should consider about the Person of Jesus Christ in our understanding of the Godhead, I want to quickly review something I shared in the previous blog. Speaking of the Old(er) Testament, I shared “that [the older] revelation was partial, incomplete (note, I did not say ‘imperfect’), and we can miss so much of Who God is without the completion of the revelation.“ As I pondered over this I remembered something I had read before that is relevant to this discussion.
*In embarking on a quest to bring some clarity to the apparent theological tension between the revelation of God unveiled in the Old Covenant and the truth of God’s nature revealed in Christ, we first need to be reminded that the Old Testament was an incomplete revelation of God’s nature. While inspired, it was still a progressive unfolding of God’s heart and purpose that would see its fulfillment in the coming of Messiah. One of the primary reasons why Jesus came to earth was to give us a true picture and understanding of the character of God.
Throughout the Old Testament, God was laying the groundwork for an ongoing, progressive revelation of Himself that would culminate in the coming of Christ.(1)
Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God is the fulfillment of the revelation of God to the world, “…THE RADIANCE of GOD’S GLORY and the EXACT REPRESENTATION of His being…” (Hebrews 1:3a). To know God, we must know Jesus.
I became a Christian at a very early age, and very early on I acquired a tremendous love for the Old Testament. Somehow I “instinctively” knew that there was a treasure of knowledge, wisdom and revelation within its pages. But there was much that I did not understand; in fact I was down right confused about much of what I read about God. To complicate matters, most of my Christian upbringing was within a culture that was somewhat authoritarian and legalistic in nature.(2) This began to color my entire understanding of Scripture, and of God.
Fast forward many years later, where I’ve had difficulty understanding and receiving the grace and love of God. Oh, I have no problem understanding it philosophically and theologically, but my relational experience has been ‘stunted’ by my original grid work. I’ve often felt “caught in the middle” of a tug of war that shouldn’t even exist. Perhaps I should unpack that a bit: on the one hand, my heart longs to know and experience the genuine love and grace of God. But I am acutely sensitive to anything that smacks of (what I have ‘affectionately’ referred to as) “sloppy-agape”, a misrepresentation of grace, without holiness. On the other hand, I deeply desire to walk uprightly before God, in purity and holiness, but I have now become all too aware of my tendency towards “law” or legalism, and a bent towards ‘heavy-handed’ authoritarianism, which tends towards a lack of mercy, compassion… in a word, grace.(3) What I say I believe (in my head) and what I really believe (via my experience) are not always the same, to put it mildly. All this tends to affect how I relate to others, not the least my relationship with God.
So the question is put before me: what do I need to understand about the Person of Jesus Christ that will positively impact my understanding of God and how I relate to Him? While what I share here is by no means close to being an exhaustive exposition on the subject, here are a few things that the Holy Spirit has been bringing to mind and heart to me lately.
First off, I need to remember that the central characteristic of God is LOVE.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. THIS is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.(4)
(1 John 4:7-9)
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.(4)
There is no greater demonstration of the love of God as seen in the sacrificial life and death of Jesus Christ. But did you catch it? It was in the heart of the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to demonstrate this love to fallen mankind.(5) And if Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), if He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3a), then it stands to reason that this is Who God is from eternity past to present to future! Once I started to get a hold of this, I was absolutely amazed at how the love of God is the theme of all of Scripture; I mean, I saw it everywhere! Some things began to make more sense to me, like Abraham’s intimate relationship with this Mysterious God, or King David’s absolute love of God’s Law (have you read the ‘law’ lately!?); or how about Moses’ intimate relationship with the God Who’s Presence made the mountain shake and smoke, causing the rest of the camp run in fear! These men had come into relationship with the same I AM of John 8:58 that has invited me into relationship with Him, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah Who is also the Lamb of God! And for those things in the Old Testament that I don’t understand about God, there is a simple axiom I have learned to apply: when I can’t trace His hand, I’ll (continue to) trust His heart. And the heart of God is the heart of holy, genuine, passionate love.
This presents a good segue to the next thing I’ve been learning. We find in 1 Corithians 13 (commonly referred to as “the Love Chapter”) a ‘definition’ of sorts of love.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (vv. 4-7)
It occurred to me some time ago that these are all character traits of Jesus when He walked among us so long ago. In fact I have often substituted the word “love” for “Jesus” or “God”: Jesus/God is patient, kind; Jesus/God is not envious or boastful or proud; Jesus/God does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking (selfish), He is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongdoing, has no delight in evil but rejoices in truth. Jesus/God always protects, trusts, hopes (a positive expectation), perseveres: Jesus/God never fails! This is the God Whom I serve. This is His disposition towards me.
I’ve applied this same principle to “the fruit of the Spirit.” These are as much a manifestation of the character of Jesus as love, and therefore it is the character of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit, the manifestation of the character of God in Christ, is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
(Galatians 5:22,23 – adaptation added)
This is the nature of the character of God as we find demonstrated in Jesus. As I keep these truths before me, before my heart, I find that it begins to dispel the false notions about God that have tried to actually separate me from God. They begin to anchor me to God, to be in genuine loving relationship with Him. They do not detract from the other revelations of God; rather, they bring God into clearer focus as I focus on the Revelation He has given of Himself: Jesus Christ, Son of God.
Admittedly, this is just too deep a topic for an ‘amateur theologian’ like me to tackle. But this is how God has been drawing me to Himself so that I might begin to walk in greater intimacy with Him. I, for one, am grateful to understand in greater measure His love towards me; this holy, righteous, powerful, relentless Judge and Ruler of all Creation, Who just happens to be The God of Love who loves me. Makes the journey a little easier along the way.
(1)Steve(S.J.)Hill, A Love for the Ages, Endnotes, pp.64,65 (emphasis added)
(2)Let me quickly say that my mentors and teachers were genuine and sincere believers, and I owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for their investment into my life. Nevertheless, the culture I was exposed to over the years greatly influenced my [mis]understanding of God and His ways.
(3)See my related blogs, what love requires…, and a prostitute, a desperate housewife, and love… .
(5)”God is Triune in nature. He is The Eternal God Who continually manifests Himself as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. One God, One “Substance”; Three distinct yet equal Personalities.”- Endnotes, know Jesus, know God… .