Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The God Who Became Man: Millard Erickson on the Implications of the Humanity of Christ

Christian TheologyIn preparation for tonight's Bible study, I came across the following paragraphs from Millard Erickson's great systematic theology text Christian Theology regarding the implications of the doctrine of Christ's humanity.  We wholeheartedly affirm the deity of Christ, but too many of us, as Evangelical, Conservative, Baptist Christians, fail to reflect, study, and apply the important doctrine of Christ's deity.

What Erickson offers below is a good summary of the practicality of this doctrine.  Remember that all doctrines are practical and all of us are theologians. Thus what we believe about the doctrine of Christ (Christology) matters and thus it is important to consider both the deity and the humanity of Christ.  Erickson gives us a good sample as to why.

1.  The atoning death of Jesus can truly avail for us.  It was not some outsider to the human race who died on the cross.  He was one of us, and thus could truly offer a sacrifice on our behalf.  Just like the Old Testament priest, Jesus was a human who offered a sacrifice on behalf of his fellows.

2.  Jesus can truly sympathize with and intercede for us.  He has experienced all that we might undergo.  When we are hungry, weary, lonely, he fully understands, for he has gone through it all himself (Heb. 4:15).

3.  Jesus manifests the true nature of humanity.  While we are sometimes inclined to draw our conclusions as to what humanity is from an inductive examination of ourselves and those around us, these are but imperfect instances of humanity.  Jesus has not only told us what perfect humanity is, he has exhibited it.

4.  Jesus can be our example.  He is not some celestial superstar but one who has lived where we live.  We can therefore look to him as a model of the Christian life.  The biblical standards for human behavior, which seem to us to be so hard to attain, are seen in him to be within human possibility.  Of course, there must be full dependence upon the grace of God.  The fact that Jesus found it necessary to pray and depend upon the Father is indication that we must be similarly reliant upon him.

5.  Human nature is good.  When we tend toward asceticism, regarding human nature, and particularly physical nature, as somehow inherently evil or at least inferior to the spiritual and immaterial, the fact that Jesus took upon himself our full human nature is a reminder that to be human is not evil, it is good.

6.  God is not totally transcendent.  He is not so far removed from the human race.  If he could actually live among us at one time as a real human person, it is not surprising that he can and does act within the human realm today as well.

With John we rejoice that the incarnation was real and complete:  "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

-Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 737-738.

Let me also point you to one other point hinted at in the list above (regarding Jesus' work as our Intercessor and Mediator).  And that is the fact that the sacrifice of God only is problematic for a number of reasons.  First of all, God is eternal and not subject to human weakness and the Fall.  In other words, God can never and will never succumb to death.  But there is another reason beyond this obvious point.  Jesus has to be both God and man because both are necessary for Him to be our propitiatory sacrifice and our mediator.  How?  The Docetic belief that it was God (who only "appeared" to be a man) who was on the cross is problematic for the same reason that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away human sin (Hebrews 10:4).  Animals aren't human enough to be the perfect sacrifice and mediator for salvation.  Similarly, if Christ is not both Divine and Human, then He is not human enough to be the perfect sacrifice and mediator for our salvation.  Christ, as our Mediator, must be both.

This is why Paul boldly proclaims, "For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5).

For more:
Sermon - December 26, 2010 - Jesus is Man  
GBC - Mahaney on the Person and Work of Christ:  Christ Our Mediator  
GBC - Stomach Virus' and the Humanity of Christ:  Moore on the Suffering and Sick Servant
GBC - Sayers on the Incarnation of Christ  
GBC - If Jesus Were Born in Our Digital Age
Blogizomai - We Are All Theologians: The Root of Everything We Are and Do 

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