The Incarnational Principle

Anglican Studies Forum
March 30, 2014
Fr. Philip Eberhart



The question of 'HOW' Jesus was both God and Man was a hot topic in the first 3 centuries of the Church's history.  It was settled, over against the heresies that were being entertained at the time, at the Council of Nicea and we have its conclusion in what we know as the Nicene Creed.

I want to just open here and then go to Scripture as the "unshakable warrant" for our belief in the Incarnate Son of God / Son of Man:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.

Let's take a moment and look at the scriptures as they warrant this statement:

Paul begins the great Unity Chapter in Ephesians 4 with the words:  One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father of all.

Peter, when asked who he believed Jesus to be replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!"  Jesus acknowledged this as being a revelation from the Father regarding who He was indeed.  He did not say that Peter had gotten it all wrong! (Matt. 16: 16)

Jesus himself, in his famous conversation with Nicodemus (Nick@Night) said the now famous words:   
"For God so loved the world that He gave His ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, that whosoever believes on Him, should not perish but should have everlasting life."  (Jn 3:16)

John, in his prologue to his gospel, writes of Jesus as THE WORD in this way:

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. 
14 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.

The WORD became flesh!   Later John would elucidate this further in his first letter thus:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the lifewas made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life,which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 

These scriptures pretty completely capture the sense of the second paragraph of the Nicene Creed.   Can you think of other scriptures that do that?


The Scriptures and the Creeds lead us to a firm belief that Jesus was God - He himself did not deny it or shun the worship given him, nor did he retreat from the charges of blasphemy leveled at him by his detractors and the opposing leadership who knew perfectly clearly what He was saying along the way - as he forgave sin, as he claimed for himself God as Father, His own sonship with quotes from the Old Testament scriptures that were clearly "messianic" in nature, not the least of which was His reading in the synagogue in his own home town!

So... what shall we say to all this?  Jesus is God AND Jesus is Man!  Fully 100% of both, in substance and being, from before time and throughout eternity to come.
He is the "Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world." and He is the "King of kings and Lord of Lords, from everlasting to everlasting, the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega, the ever-living One."  "He is the same, yesterday, today and forever!"  "He ever lives to make intercession for us."

The concept of the Trinity was solidified in the same century as the diety of Christ.  The relationship between God the Father and God the Son was the focus of the Council of Nicea.  The relationship of the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, was settled later in the 4th Century.  This formative time is the subject of a whole other course of study on Doctrine and "Patristics" (or the early Fathers of the Church).  

The Concept of Incarnation

Perhaps the best window that we have into this reality is from Paul's letter to the Philippians.  He is quoting an ancient hymn or poem of some kind, that celebrates the self-emptying of Jesus' God-ness, if you will, and the taking on of mortal flesh, in the image and likeness of man, and further becoming a servant and even subject to death, and death on a cross at that - the worst, most humiliating and painful death ever devised by man, to that time.  We know this passage as the Kenotic Passage: 

Phil. 2:5-8  (The Message)

5-8   Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

We see Jesus, during his earthly ministry, tired, thirsty, needing quiet or to get away, in pain, physically and emotionally, all just as we are.  The writer to the Hebrews writes that Jesus was made just like us in every way, save sin.

This concept of Incarnation, that Jesus was fully God (though he chose not to exercise his "Godly" prerogatives of omniscience, omnipresence, etc) and fully Man - that there was no division internally between the two nature (not a kind of holy schizophrenic) but that the Incarnation was the perfect blending of all that God is in his nature and person and the best of what "man" or humankind can be, in their created and unfallen nature and image of God.

The Application of Incarnation

People sometimes ask me about the balance of God's part in the equation of our life and work and our part in the equation.  My answer is one that is modeled on the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and on the image that He portrays for us in his life:

100% God  <---->  100% Man

Some ask me if they should pray for a job and do nothing else (as if this is faith), or if they should look, ask ,seek, knock and do the work themselves.  What I respond with is an application of the Incarnational Principle:  When we are faced with a job loss or some question of direction in our life, we should "Pray LIKE it all depends on God (because it DOES!) and we should work like it all depends on us (CAUSE IT DOES!)

When I teach about the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, many will ask if they can do something to get more of the Holy Spirit (More Love, More Power!) and expect someone like myself to be able to give them a slick formula for getting "more" of the Holy Spirit.  Most of the time in those kinds of situations I simple relply that the question their asking needs to be turned on its head:

The question isn't one of "how much of the Holy Spirit does a person have?", but of "How much of the person does the Holy Spirit have?!!!"

I love bumper sticker quotes like [If God is your copilot, you're in the wrong seat!]  Or theology that is made of street truth!  And the Incarnation is one of those that can withstand even the most rigorous examination, whether by academia or in the trenches of life.

I sometime liken the life of faith in God to riding a bike - only this one is a "tandem" bike - one where both people pedal and the rider in front is in charge of steering.

Here is a personal, real life example of what it means to give over control of your life into the hands of Jesus.  Which seat are you in?  Are you pedaling or are you coasting and trying to let Jesus do all the work?

How do you see this Incarnational Principle at work around you?  How does it challenge you?  Comfort you?

This week take some time to spot check your spiritual life and your spiritual practice of this principle.  The question is almost always, "How much of me does the Lord have?"

Blessings as you wrestle with this principle and life it out with His power, grace and favor.

Fr. Phil Eberhart+

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