Thursday, February 16, 2006

Thoughts from last night

Last night I started a study on basic doctrines. To make it a little more interesting, and to try to teach people how to think critically, I approached it in terms of a question: What's the big deal?

The topic was the humanity of Christ. I find it a fascinating doctrine because it is so taken for granted as true, yet it also so downplayed. We prefer to contemplate the glory of the cosmic Christ rather than wonder how Jesus' coped with splinters or what his personal hygiene was like.

But what's the big deal? Well, a lot of very important doctrines are affected if Jesus is not fully human, but perhaps none more so than the Atonement. In theological terms we speak of Jesus as having achieved a substitutionary atonement. Atonement refers to a covering of sin, as well as deflecting the wrath of God towards sin. "Substitutionary" means what you probably think it does; Jesus took our place, and was our substitute in paying the death penalty for sin. His death was a death for us.

But if Jesus was not human, then he could not really be our substitute. One of the faults of the Old Covenant was that the animals that were sacrificed were insufficient to achieve true atonement. Only a human being can substitute for a human being.

But it could not be just any human being. The human being had to be perfectly righteous. In a substitution, a pair of exchanges take place. One is of course that we exchange places. The other is that we exchange positions. We get the righteous standing while the substitute takes on our status of condemned.

So in the exchange between us and Jesus, where does the righteousness we receive come from? Many might think that it comes from Jesus' nature as God. I believe that it comes from Jesus' human nature. Jesus was perfectly obedient to the will of God. Where the first Adam failed, Jesus, as the last Adam, succeeded. His obedience was the means by which he acquired, as a human, the righteousness that gets credited to us.

Take away the humanity of Christ, and there is no righteousness to be credited to us. We might have our sins forgiven, but that doesn't give us in itself the right to stand before God. To be in God's presence you need to be righteous, not just forgiven. So we would not really be any better off if Jesus were not human.

That sounds complicated. It is in a way. It takes into account a lot of different scriptures. It actually touches on a lot of other related issues. But it all works, and it just shows me how awesome God really is.

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