WORDS OF SALVATION

© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002

STUDY 1: INCARNATION

The word incarnation is used to describe and refer to that action of God in which he took upon himself human flesh. God, who is essentially spirit, became flesh. This is stated simply in John's Gospel: 'The Word became flesh ... ' (John 1:14a). He who is divine, became human. He who is the almighty Creator became part of his creation. He who from eternity had no body, was born into this world in a body at a point in historic time. For this we use the word incarnation - of which the root is the Latin carnis - flesh. Paul speaks of this in Colossians:

'For God is pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him' (Col 1:19)

'For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form' (Col 2:9)

Obviously then, incarnation speaks directly about the historical birth of Jesus Christ the Son of God, and you might well be asking the question: why is this word featured in a series of studies titled Words of Salvation? It is a good question. It reflects the concept common across the churches that salvation is related to the death of Jesus Christ, and not to his birth. Yet as we read the New Testament we find that the incarnation is of central significance, that it is so important that without it, and without acknowledgement of it, there would be neither salvation nor true knowledge of the Biblical God.

Before we press on let us realise that there are concepts of incarnation that are decidedly different to the Biblical concept. There are those who teach that every believer is as much an incarnation of God as Jesus Christ was. There are those who teach that incarnation happens when a human being allows God to 'live in' or have control over his/her life. There are also those who speak of 'the god within' each human being. It is not such concepts as these that we are dealing with here in the Biblical concept of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.

When the Bible speaks of incarnation in relation to the birth of Jesus Christ it is speaking of something utterly unique, a once-only, never to be repeated event. It is also speaking of something totally unexpected (although it was foretold by the prophets), something so incredible that it can only be believed if God himself opens the eyes of our understanding (Matthew 11:27).

But why is incarnation a Word of Salvation?

It is a word of salvation because, according to the Bible, no one knows God (Romans 3:11; John 8:19,55a.) We need to be saved firstly from our ignorance of God, from that blind darkness in which Satan holds us bound (2 Corinthians 4:4), from that corruption of truth (see Romans 1:18-32) in which false understanding has been substituted for true understanding (Jeremiah 2:9-13) and we love to have it so (Jeremiah 5:30,31).

In foretelling the coming of Jesus Christ the prophets indicated that it would bring knowledge of God to the world:

'And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it.' Isaiah 40:5.

'You who bring good tidings to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
"Where is your God!?' Isaiah 40:9.

'I will ... make you ... a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind, ...
... to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.' Isaiah 42:6b,7.

'No longer will a man teach his neighbour,
or a man his brother, saying ?Know the LORD,?
for they will all know me,
from the least to greatest.' Jeremiah 31:34.

In the incarnation God comes to us: Emanuel - God with us. The Son who is born of Mary is called 'Mighty God' (Isaiah 9:6). It is not that Jesus was god-like. It is not that Jesus was god-ly. It is not that Jesus allowed God to have full sway in his life. Rather it is this: that Jesus, in the most absolute sense of the word, was God. In seeing him, we see God. In knowing him, we know God (John 14:7-9). He himself said: 'I and the Father are one' (John 10:30).

For this reason Jesus claims: 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life' (John 8:12). The meaning is clear: in Jesus Christ alone is true knowledge of God to be found. All else is darkness, no matter how light it seems to be. He claimed also to be 'the truth' (John 14:6). All else then, is not the truth. There is only one place in which a human being can find the true God: that place is Jesus Christ (1 John 5:20). If we do not recognize God in Jesus Christ then we, like the Jews with whom Jesus discussed his identity, do not know the God of the Bible (John 5:36-47; 8:19, 39-47, 54-56; 12:44-46), and our god is just as much an idol or false god as if we were worshipping wood or stone.

Jesus Christ is God. If we do not first acknowledge this, then we do not know God and the cross can do nothing for us. Jesus said: 'this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent' (John 17:3). He also said: 'if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be you will indeed die in your sins' (John 8:24).

Salvation is thus intimately and directly connected with the incarnation. If we fail to see that Jesus Christ is God-in-human-flesh it is impossible to be saved. The forgiveness obtained through the death of Jesus on the cross is effective only for those who believe in him. Jesus himself said that those who do not receive him, those who do not believe in his name, are already condemned because of that failure (John 3:16-18; see also John 1:12).

Whether we are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas or his death and resurrection at Easter, let us not forget to give full significance to that birth. Let us remember his name: Emanuel - God with us. That infant life to whom we give praise and honour in the Christmas carols we sing is indeed worthy of that worship. Here lies our Creator. Here lies the One who sustains all things by his powerful word. Here lies the One who is Lord of lords and King of kings. Here lies our God.

  • Impossible?
  • Unbelievable?

Yes. To our blinded, darkened minds. Yes.

But this child grew and lived among us. His light shines upon us, dispersing the darkness, ripping away the blindness. No longer, he says, are you ignorant, blind and darkened. No longer can you say you do not know God. You have seen me: you have seen God. You know me: you know God (John 14:6-9). This is eternal life. This is salvation.

For your study: make sure you have looked up all the Bible references in the study. Have you understood their significance?
For discussion: when you speak to people about your faith in Jesus Christ, what should be the most important element in your conversation? Your personal experience? The fact that Jesus died on the cross? Or, the true identity of Jesus Christ? Discuss why the first two are meaningless unless the third is understood.