Thursday, April 17, 2008

“The Reality of His Humanity”

Are there eternal consequences to what we believe about what kind of human nature Christ assumed? What is the problem God solves by sending His Son in human flesh? Was there ever a time when we were united on this subject?

Let’s begin with the historical context. “Adventist thought leaders up through the early 1950s generally followed the lead of Jones and Waggoner in holding that Christ’s human nature was the same as Adam’s sinful one after the Fall” (George R. Knight, Angry Saints, p. 131). From the 1916 edition of Bible Readings for the Home Circle, p. 174: “In His humanity Christ partook of our sinful, fallen nature. If not, then He was not ‘made like unto His brethren,’ and was not ‘in all points tempted like as we are,’ did not overcome as we have to overcome, and is not therefore the complete and perfect Saviour man needs and must have to be saved. The idea that Christ was born of an immaculate or sinless mother, inherited no tendencies to sin, and for this reason did not sin, removes Him from the realm of a fallen world, and from the very place where help is needed. On His human side, Christ inherited just what every child of Adam inherits,—a sinful nature. On the divine side, from His very conception He was begotten and born of the Spirit. And all this was done to place mankind on vantage-ground, and to demonstrate that in the same way every one who is ‘born of the Spirit’ may gain the victories over sin in his own sinful flesh. Thus each one is to overcome as Christ overcame. Rev. 3:21. Without this birth there can be no victory over temptation, and no salvation from sin. John 3:3-7” (condensed).

A.T. Jones wrote regarding the origin of the doctrine of the unfallen nature of Christ. It is the “official and ‘infallible’ doctrine of the Immaculate Conception” defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. “It is thoroughly understood that in His birth Christ did partake of the nature of Mary—the ‘woman’ of whom He was ‘made.’ But the carnal mind is not willing to allow that God in His perfection of holiness could endure to come to men where they are in their sinfulness. Therefore endeavor has been made to escape the consequences of this glorious truth, which is the emptying of self, by inventing a theory that the nature of the virgin Mary was different from the nature of the rest of mankind; that her flesh was not exactly such flesh as is that of all mankind. This invention sets up that by some special means Mary was made different from the rest of human beings, especially in order that Christ might be becomingly born of her” (The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, pp. 41-42; please read the entire discussion on pp. 39-46, posted on, “Insights” page).

Our second question: “What is the problem God solves by sending His Son in human flesh?” When Lucifer rebelled in heaven and was “cast out” (Rev. 12:9), he brought the war to this newly created world. Through the fall of Adam and Eve, Satan hoped to secure on earth an eternal beachhead for his rebellion against God. His own enmity against his Creator was instilled into the mind and soul of humanity so that “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7). Like an incurable virus, sin took up residence in the creatures God created in His own image. We can imagine Satan’s malignant mind reveling in the pain he brought to the heart of God through this tactical maneuver. Satan thought he had God over the proverbial barrel. Adam would die, but there would be more and more men born, all infected with sin. There was no solution to this problem. The eternal law of God could not be altered, and man was condemned to die by God’s own word.

However, Satan never imagined that God had the ultimate trump card. “What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). By taking upon His sinless nature our sinful nature which needed redeeming, and by faith in His Father’s power over Satan, Christ never allowed that fallen nature to become a sinning nature. “God, in Christ, condemned sin, not by pronouncing against it merely as a judge sitting on the judgment seat, but by coming and living in the flesh, in sinful flesh, and yet without sinning. In Christ, He demonstrated that it is possible, by His grace and power, to resist temptation, overcome sin, and live a sinless life in sinful flesh.” (op. cit., Bible Readings, emphases in original, condensed).

The nature of Christ confronts us with the truth about sin and redemption—how horrible sin really is, and how expensive it was for God to save us from it. The human nature which Christ assumed convicts us of the sin in our own lives and of our guilt before God. At the same time, through the same process, He gives us our only hope, and the power to overcome all sin here and now. The “faith of Jesus” is not some theological enigma. It is the dynamite that destroys sin. This faith is given to all (Rom. 12:3) and is one of the identifying characteristics of God’s people at the end of time (Rev. 14:12).

Just as the nature of Christ is precious to us, so is the faith which He perfected in that flesh. “And from the standpoint of the weakness and infirmity of the lost, He trusted in God, that He would deliver Him and save Him. Laden with the sins of the world; and tempted in all points like as we are, He hoped in God and trusted in God to save Him from all those sins and to keep Him from sinning. Ps. 69:1-21; 71:1-20; 22:1-22; 31:1-5. ... This victory of His it is that has brought to every man in the world divine faith by which every man can hope in God and trust in God and can find the power of God to deliver him from sin and to keep him from sinning. That faith which He exercised and by which He obtained the victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil—that faith is His free gift toevery lost man in the world” (The Consecrated Way, pp. 56-57).

Jesus did more than just “appear in a body” (the Greek word for “body” is soma as compared with “flesh,” which is the Greek word sarx—the concrete form of human nature marked by Adam’s fall). Jesus did more than merely “feel our pain” of hunger, fatigue, sorrow, and physical and emotional injury. Through the fallen nature which He assumed He personally knew the struggle against sin that each of us deals with on a daily basis. Our hope in the battle with sin rests on the conviction that Jesus, in the same nature that we have, did indeed deal with and conquer every temptation that confronts us. Through the power of the faith of Jesus working in our lives, we can say “No” to Satan’s temptations. Christ endured the very same battle and thus He can honestly and unequivocally, here in our fallen condition, say to us all: Follow Me, the path I prepared leads straight to the throne of God! “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne” (Rev. 3:21).

The Gospel lays the glory of man in the dust that the righteousness of Christ might shine forth. An unwillingness to believe that sin “in the flesh” can be overcome is at the root of the age-old controversy over the human nature of Christ. It is the foundation for the resistance to accepting that Christ truly was like us in our fallen nature. The truth about the nature which Christ assumed in His incarnation means that there is no excuse for sin in our own lives. Let’s reverently study this subject in all that it means to us in this cosmic Day of Atonement with its cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary.

Ann Walper


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