A.W. Tozer, in the Knowledge of the Holy, says that what you think about God is of utmost importance. I would like to extend that thesis to the person of Jesus, for John 3:36 makes it clear that what you believe about Christ has life and death consequences.
My theology class this semester is intended in part as an answer to a simple question: “Who is Jesus?”
Dr. Porter states that most systematic theology classes and books focus their “Christology” on trying to make sense of how Jesus can be both fully divine and fully human — a complex topic indeed! While understandable, they do this, however, at the expense of neglecting a complete answer to the question above. If all you ever hear about Jesus is that He is fully God, and fully human, and then move on to the work of Christ on the cross, you may be left with an imprecise view of Christ.
It’s understandable — for how are we to expect a systematic theologian to go into more detail than that, when it can take a modern day biographer up to 500 pages just on the life of one historical figure — and Jesus was no mere historical figure!
Nonetheless, one’s understanding of the person of Christ directly affects one’s perspective on the works of Christ and therefore the doctrine of salvation (soteriology). While not necessarily creating fallacy, it will at the very least diminish one’s view of His glory — which Paul states is crucial to our growth in our relationship with God (2 Corinthians 3:18).
And so, Dr. Porter seeks to mend this gap by providing emphasis to the aspects of the character and work of Christ that are often misunderstood or overlooked, beginning with Christ’s humanness.
This is where our systematic theologians are irreplaceable — for they lay the foundation for properly seeing Jesus for who He is by helping us wrap our minds around this “God-man”. When we look at Jesus as man, we have to understand how His divinity interacts with His humanity. For instance, when Jesus healed the sick, was He engaging in His divine nature — thus drawing upon His own resources and power. Or was He instead so humanly united to God the Father through the Holy Spirit that He was led and empowered from on high as a human to heal? When Jesus is said to have “known what was in man” (John 2:25), did He know that because He was omniscient, or did He know that because of a pure, sinless human intuition built upon years of experience of relating with imperfect mankind? When Jesus was tempted, did He truly experience the real possibility of sinning against God, or did He have some advantage because of His divine nature?
Philippians 2:1-11 is a crucial passage in attempting to understand the relationship between Jesus’ human nature and His divine nature. In verse 6-7, it says “who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant…”. Other translations use the phrase “He emptied Himself”. Does it mean that in becoming completely human, He had to empty Himself of any of His divine nature? Millard Erickson, in his book Christian Theology, cites this as problematic. For it suggest that “Jesus was not God and man simultaneously, but successively,” (p. 749). This is contrary to the perspective of the Biblical authors who knew Jesus as both God and man.
So what did Jesus empty Himself of? Millard suggests that the phrase before and after it is enlightening: Jesus let go of His equality with God, but not the form of God — He functionally became a servant, subordinating Himself to God.
Why is all this important? There are several reasons, such as the necessity of being the perfect atonement for our sins. But primary to our every day lives is that if Jesus in any way utilized His divine nature during His time on earth, it would not be reasonable for Him to expect us to be able to imitate Him; He could not be our model and example for how to live our lives, for He would have an advantage we lack — the divine nature.
But if Jesus’ divine nature was subordinated to His Father, then when He experienced temptation, He experienced it as a human, not as God. The power He had to resist temptation came not from He being a person of the Trinity but from His continual relationship with God His Father through the Spirit.
The famous words of Jesus in John 15:5, “Whoever abides in me and I in Him, He it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing,” strike a surprising resemblance to His description of His relationship with God the Father in John 14:10: “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, bu the Father who dwells in me does His works”. Jesus refers here both to His teaching and His ministry being of the Father, not of His own authority. So it is reasonable for Him to expect nothing less from us — for if He, being fully human, could live in such union with God the Father, than we can too!
For me, this changes everything. Jesus lived in full dependence on God the Father through the Holy Spirit. (And this is most often seen practiced through His prayer life). Jesus really was in this regard just like me in that He understands the power of temptation, He understands weakness and being tired, and frail and how hard it can be sometimes to live your life completely dependent on an invisible God in a physical material world. It takes faith! And so Jesus is the perfecter of our faith, and the example to us — the crown in the long line of witnesses of what it’s like to live “by faith and not by sight”.
Suddenly Jesus becomes tangible to me.
Once I have one foot on the ground of Jesus’ humanity, I can now turn to more deeply appreciate His divinity. For here is a man that is not so unlike me that I can’t relate to Him, or see aspects of myself in Him. And yet this man is the “perfect representation of God” (Colossians 1:15). If I want to know who God is, all I have to do is look at the person of Christ Jesus.
But that we shall have to leave for next time…