To Bridge The Great Divide
TO BRIDGE THE GREAT DIVIDE: A LOOK AT THE INCARNATION
A Midweek Lesson
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: December 13, 2018
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
I have titled this lesson “To Bridge The Great Divide: A Look at the Incarnation.” Our focus won’t be limited to the Incarnation event, but to the life and suffering of the Incarnate One, the Incarnate Word, the ‘Word made flesh’.
I want to begin by setting forth some quotations that are worthy of our attention.
- “He became what we are, so that we might become what he is.”
- “Christ became what we are – ’adam – in order that we might share in what he is – namely the true image of God.”
- He “became like human beings, so that we would be like him.”
- “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”
- “God’s setting Christ in our place, namely, in condemnation and death, has as its end our being set in Christ’s place in righteousness and life.”
These quotations, all of a similar nature, are expressing something very profound. They are saying that the eternal Son of God condescended into the depths of our human frailty for the purpose of lifting us up to the heights of His divine glory. These quotations are saying that Jesus didn’t come for our mere survival, or for our mere getting off the proverbial hook, or for our mere serenity. Far beyond that, He came for our glorification, for our radical transformation into to His own image and likeness, for our participation in His life and in His presence forever.
So, these quotations are saying something very wonderful, and it is very important to point out that they are saying something that is wonderfully true. If it was false, it wouldn’t be wonderful – it would just be an illusion. But the fact of the matter, biblically speaking, is that these quotations actually capture what the Bible teaches. These quotations are true – gloriously true, wonderfully true.
My aim in this lesson is to show you that these quotations are faithfully expressing biblical truth. To do that, we turn to the Bible. Keep in mind that this is a relatively short lesson, even though the subject matter is worthy of lectures, sermons, courses, and books. We’re just scratching the surface, and hopefully enough of the surface to get you thinking and, more importantly, to keep digging.
A GREAT EXCHANGE BETWEEN CHRIST AND HIS PEOPLE
First, there are biblical texts that speak of a great exchange between Christ and His people.
Turning to 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read:
“For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
On one level, we may say that Christ became something that He wasn’t, so that we could become something that we weren’t. But of course there is more to it than that. There is the dynamic of exchange, what Mark Seifrid calls “transfer and exchange.” Here’s the point: Christ became what we were [sin], so that we could become what He is [righteous].
Jesus is the One “who knew no sin.” In other words, Jesus is the Sinless One, the Holy One, the Righteous One. We are the sinful ones, the unrighteous ones. But God’s will is that we who are deeply corrupted by sin would be cleansed and would, through the grace of Christ, actually “become the righteousness of God.” Do we think of ourselves this way? We ought to. If we are true believers who have not received God’s grace in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1) but have become “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) in Christ, then we ought to think of ourselves as God’s righteousness. We are God’s righteousness because we are “in him,” because we are in the Righteous One and thus clothed with His righteousness. As a result of being “in him” and being controlled by His love (2 Corinthians 5:14-15), we actually grow in righteous living (2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1). We are God’s righteousness: this is who we are (positional, forensic righteousness), and this is how we seek to live (practical, functional righteousness).
In a similar vein, 2 Corinthians 8:9 says:
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
Once again we see the dynamic of exchange. He became something that He wasn’t, so that we could become something that we weren’t. More precisely: He became what we were [impoverished], so that we could become what He is [rich]. Jesus is the eminently Rich One: rich in eternal fellowship with the Father and the Spirit, rich in Trinitarian love, rich in heavenly comfort, rich in sovereign glory, rich in the fulness of life. By contrast, we are the impoverished ones. Our problem isn’t that we are human; our problem is that we are sinful humans, and as sinful humans we are alienated from God, we have broken relationships with other people, our afflictions and troubles are many, and death always looms on the horizon. But God’s will is that we who are deeply impoverished on account of our sinful and fallen world, would be redeemed would become partakers of the infinite riches that are found in Christ. In Christ, we are God’s righteousness. And in Christ, we are rich: we have fellowship with the living God, we have fellowship with His people – the saints, the holy ones! His grace overflows to us in spectacular abundance, and He calls us to participate in His gracious generosity by sharing what we have with others. (see 2 Corinthians 8-9)
Both of these passages show us that our Lord Jesus Christ became what we were, so that we could become what He is.
A GREAT PARTICIPATION IN THE LIFE AND WORK OF GOD
Second, there are biblical texts that speak of our participation in the life and work of God.
To begin with, we are created in the image and likeness of God: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:26, 27) We are God’s image-bearers, His representatives who should reflect the character and glory of God. Although our calling as image-bearers was severely corrupted by our fall into sin, the purpose of redemption is to restore: Paul says that learning “the truth [as it] is in Jesus” means “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:21, 22-24, italics added).
These words may be familiar, but let them sink in: In Christ we are “created after the likeness of God,” which is to say that we are created “in true righteousness and holiness.” Consider how other Scriptures calls us to be like God: “… as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15). And: “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (1 John 2:29). Similarly, “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:1-2). These are not theoretical categories: we are talking about our conduct, our practice, the way that we live. We are to live as image-bearers who image, display, set forth God’s character in concrete actions – righteous actions, holy actions, and loving actions, not as the world would define them, but as God defines them, and indeed as God shows us). How’s that for a high calling?
It is possible to participate in this high calling because this is God’s work: God is the One who has (re-)created His people after His own likeness. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). To be “born of him” is to be regenerated/born again by His Spirit (John 3:1-8) and thus to be transformed from the inside out.
Not surprisingly, right at the center of all this is Jesus, the ultimate and eternal image of the Father: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). The Son of God is the original, uncreated, eternal radiance and imprint of the divine glory, the divine nature. As Christians we are called ‘into Christ’ and so we begin to share in the work of radiating and reflecting and displaying the character of God. What did the apostle Peter say? “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4). Our calling is not to be merely decent, or merely moral, or merely virtuous, or merely religious, but to actually be “partakers of,” participants and sharers in “the divine nature.” How do we enter into this privileged position?
Through the grace of Christ. Where does the Gospel of John begin?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life as the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world…. And the Word became 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…. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:1-5, 9, 14, 18)
The Word, the true light, the eternal life, the Creator of all things, the One who has dwelt with the Father from everlasting to everlasting – He came down to our sorry world. Life and light, glory and grace, knowledge and truth, streaming from the eternal Word to our finite, fallen, sinful, and distressed world. But why? For what purpose? To what end?
John’s Gospel teaches us that the purpose of the Incarnation was precisely to draw sinners into the life and light of God, indeed into fellowship with God. We see this in John 8: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Then in John 12: “The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:35-36) There is that word again: “become.” It is not enough to merely “have” the light around us; it is not enough to only “believe” in some kind of heady way; but we must have a truth faith whereby believing facilitates becoming, in this case, “[becoming] sons of light.” Then we will “walk in the light, as he is in the light” (1 John 1:7).
We also see this high calling in John 11: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26) This promise of eternal life is not about surviving forever, it is about thriving forever in fellowship with God. The Son knows the Father (John 1:18), and He came to make the Father known (John 1:18), so that people like us would be drawn into the life-giving experiential knowing of the Father, and of the Son: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
John 1 told us that “the Word was with God” and “is at the Father’s side.” This “Word became flesh” for the purpose of lifting us up to be with Him there in the presence of God. We see this in John 14: “In my Father’s house are may rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” (John 14:2-3) The prize here is not the room. That’s just backdrop. A family enjoys their home and the rooms in it, but the rooms are the backdrop to being together – and being together is what matters. So here: the prize is being with Jesus where He is, which is in the presence of the Father: “I am the way, and truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Perhaps the highwater mark of what John’s Gospel reveals about our high calling is found in John 17: Jesus prays for His church, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21) Our high calling, now and forevermore, is to dwell together in the Father and the Son. In this rich fellowship, we do God’s works: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do” (John 14:12). And we will continue to do God’s works forever: “and they [the servants of the Lamb, Rev. 22:3] will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).
A GREAT GLORIFICATION WITH CHRIST
Finally, there are biblical texts that speak of our conformity to Christ and ultimately our glorification with Christ. We see this in Romans 8: we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17) Colossians 3 tell us: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4). Part of this glorification will be sharing in Christ’s rule, as Paul says in 2 Timothy 2: “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12).
Who will be glorified? Those who are in Christ, those who have become God’s righteousness, those who have become rich in spiritual wealth, those who have become sons of light, those who have become partakers of the divine nature, those who have displayed these realities in their ordinary and daily conduct – not in their own strength, but in the strength of God, through the grace of Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. In short, the people who will become like Christ in His glory are the people who are in the process of becoming like Christ in their everyday character now. And remember this: every day, every situation, every relationship, is part of ‘the school of transforming grace’:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who have been called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28-29)
He became what we were – He became sin and suffered in the flesh and was condemned in our place, so that we could become what He is – righteous and holy, gracious and kind, in fellowship with the Father, and glorified forever, amen.
In the words of Charles Wesley:
“Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Both to give them second birth.
Hard! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.”
 Words attributed to the second-century church leader Irenaeus. Quoted in Michael J. Gorman, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015: Kindle Version Page 267 of 340. Also see Footnote 19 on the same page.
 Morna Hooker. Quoted in Michael J. Gorman, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015: Kindle Version Page 261 of 340. See Footnote 2 on Page 262.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Quoted in Michael J. Gorman, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015: Kindle Version Page 261 of 340. See Footnote 2 on Page 262.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
 Mark Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014: p. 262.
 Charles Wesley, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.”
The good work of Michael J. Gorman has been very helpful to me, both his 2016 Didsbury Lectures and his book entitled Becoming the Gospel. Though I don’t necessarily agree with Gorman on every point, I have found his careful and missional reading of Scripture to be quite edifying. I also consulted Mark Seifrid's commentary on 2 Corinthians in relation to 2 Cor. 5:21 and 2 Cor. 8:9.
Gorman, Michael J. Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015.
Gorman, Michael J. “Missional Theosis in the Gospel of John”: The 2016 Didsbury Lectures, October 24-27, 2016, Nazarene Theological College (Didsbury, UK). Accessed online: https://nazarene.ac.uk/community/didsbury-lectures/. I watched at least the first three lectures (out of a total of four lectures).
Seifrid, Mark. The Second Letter to the Corinthians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.
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