At this season of celebrating the coming of Jesus as a baby, it is appropriate to discuss the importance of the Incarnation.
How Can Jesus Be God and Man?
Equally amazing to the doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine of the Incarnation — that Jesus Christ is God and man, yet one person, forever. As J.I. Packer has said, “Here are two mysteries for the price of one — the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. . . . Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.”1
The early church considered the Incarnation to be one of the most important truths of our faith. Because of this, they formulated what has come to be called the Chalcedonean Creed, a statement which sets forth what we are to believe and what we are not to believe about the Incarnation. This creed was the fruit of a large council that took place from October 8 to November 1, 451, in the city of Chalcedon and “has been taken as the standard, orthodox definition of the biblical teaching on the person of Christ since that day by” all the major branches of Christianity.2 There are five main truths with which the creed of Chalcedon summarized the biblical teaching on the Incarnation:
- Jesus has two natures — He is God and man.
- Each nature is full and complete — He is fully God and fully man.
- Each nature remains distinct.
- Christ is only one Person.
- Things that are true of only one nature are nonetheless true of the Person of Christ.
A proper understanding of these truths clears up much confusion and many difficulties we may have in our mind. How can Jesus be both God and man? Why doesn’t this make him two people? How does his Incarnation relate to the Trinity? How could Jesus have hungered (Matthew 4:2) and died (Mark 15:37) when he was on earth, and yet still be God? Did Jesus give up any of his divine attributes in the Incarnation? Why is it inaccurate to say that Jesus is a “part” of God? Is Jesus still human now, and does he still have his human body?
Jesus has two natures — God and man
The first truth we need to understand is that Jesus is one Person who has two natures: a divine nature and a human nature. In other words, Jesus is both God and man. We will look at each nature accordingly.
Jesus Is God
The Bible teaches that Jesus is not merely someone who is a lot like God, or someone who has a very close walk with God. Rather, Jesus is the Most High God himself. Titus 2:13 says that as Christians we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” Upon seeing the resurrected Christ, Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Likewise, the book of Hebrews gives us God the Father’s direct testimony about Christ: “But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” and the gospel of John calls Jesus “the only begotten God” (John 1:18).
Another way the Bible teaches that Jesus is God is by showing that he has all of the attributes of God. He knows everything (Matthew 16:21; Luke 11:17; John 4:29), is everywhere (Matthew 18:20; 28:20; Acts 18:10), has all power (Matthew 8:26–27; 28:18; John 11:38–44; Luke 7:14–15; Revelation 1:8), depends on nothing outside of himself for life (John 1:4; 14:6; 8:58), rules over everything (Matthew 28:18; Revelation 1:5; 19:16;), never began to exist and never will cease to exist (John 1:1; 8:58), and is our Creator (Colossians 1:16). In other words, everything that God is, Jesus is. For Jesus is God.
Specifically, Jesus Is God the Son
In order to have a more complete grasp of Christ’s incarnation, it is necessary to have some sort of understanding of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity states that God is one being, and this one God exists as three distinct Persons. This truth means, first of all, that we must distinguish each Person of the Trinity from the other two. The Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Holy Spirit or the Father, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. They are each a distinct center of consciousness, a distinct form of personal existence. Yet, they all share the exact same divine nature/essence. Thus, the three persons are one being. The divine being/essence is not something that is divided between the Persons with each Person receiving one-third. Rather, the divine being is fully and equally possessed by all three Persons such that all three Persons are each fully and equally God.
How does the fact that God is three Persons in one Being relate to the incarnation? To answer, let’s consider another question: Which Person became incarnate in Jesus Christ? All three? Or just one? Which one? The biblical answer is that only God the Son became incarnate. The Father did not become incarnate in Jesus and neither did the Holy Spirit. Thus, Jesus is God, but he is not the Father or the Holy Spirit. Jesus is God the Son.
The truth that it is only God the Son who became incarnate is taught, for example, in John 1:14, which says “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In context, the Word is God the Son (cf. 1:1, 18, and 3:16). Thus, it wasn’t the Father or the Holy Spirit who became man, but God the Son.
Likewise, at Jesus’ baptism we see the Father affirming, “You are my beloved Son, in You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). He did not say, “You are me, and with myself I am well pleased.” Rather, the Father affirmed that Jesus is the Son, his Son, and that Jesus is well pleasing to him. In this same verse we also see that the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son, for the Holy Spirit is present in “bodily form like a dove.”
Why is it important to know that Jesus is specifically God the Son? For one thing, if we do not understand this truth, we will be mistaken about the very identity of our Savior. Further, it greatly affects how we relate to our triune God. If we think that Jesus is the Father or the Holy Spirit, we will be greatly misguided and confused in our prayers. Last, it is considered heresy to believe that the Father became incarnate in Jesus.
Jesus Is Man
It should be obvious that if Jesus is God, then he has always been God. There was never a time when he became God, for God is eternal. But Jesus has not always been man. The fantastic miracle is that this eternal God became man through the incarnation approximately 2,000 years ago. That’s what the Incarnation was: God the Son becoming man. And that is the great event we celebrate at Christmas.
But what exactly do we mean when we say that God the Son became man? We certainly do not mean that he turned into a man in the sense that he stopped being God and started being man. Jesus did not give up any of his divinity in the incarnation, as is evident from the verses we saw earlier. Rather, as one early theologian put it, “Remaining what he was, he became what he was not.” Christ “was not now God minus some elements of his deity, but God plus all that he had made his own by taking manhood to himself.”3 Thus, Jesus did not give up any of his divine attributes at the incarnation. He remained in full possession of all of them. For if he were to ever give up any of his divine attributes, he would cease being God.
The truth of Jesus’ humanity is just as important to hold to as the truth of his deity. The apostle John teaches how denying that Jesus is man is of the spirit of the antichrist (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7). Jesus’ humanity is displayed in the fact that he was born as a baby from a human mother (Luke 2:7; Galatians 4:4), that he became weary (John 4:6), thirsty (John 19:28), and hungry (Matthew 4:2), and that he experienced the full range of human emotions such as marvel (Matthew 8:10) and sorrow (John 11:35). He lived on earth just as we do.
Jesus Is a Sinless Man
It is also essential to know that Christ does not have a sinful nature, and neither did he ever commit sin — even though he was tempted in all ways (Hebrews 4:15). Thus, Jesus is fully and perfectly man and has also experienced the full range of human experience. We have a Savior who can truly identify with us because he is man and who can also truly help us in temptation because he has never sinned. That is an awesome truth to cherish and sets Christianity apart from all other religions.
Taken from an article by Matt Perman https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-can-jesus-be-god-and-man