GRACE AND THE INCARNATION

When we read in Philippians 2:6-7 that Jesus Christ, who was by his very nature God, made himself nothing and became a man, we are reading about an extreme expression of grace, we are reading about something totally underserved and unmerited, something totally unlooked for and unexpected:

Here in the incarnation God becomes a human being.

Here in the incarnation the eternal One becomes locked into and subject to physical time.

Here in the incarnation the infinite One becomes limited in and by physical space.

Here in the incarnation he who is spirit becomes flesh.

Here in the incarnation he who is divine becomes human.

Here in the incarnation he who is immortal becomes mortal.

Here in the incarnation he who is the focus of eternal worship becomes ordinary, indeed less than ordinary – incognito, unrecognized.

All for us and for our salvation. And we cannot escape the grace that these facts demonstrate.

Yet there is even more grace here than we might at first realize.

Here in this incarnation that which is impossible becomes possible: we, the sinful ones, stand side by side, face to face, with the Holy One, and we are not destroyed. We, the guilty ones, stand in the presence of the Judge of the whole earth, and we survive. We see God – we see him with our eyes, we hear him with our ears, we touch him, actually touch him, with our hands …and instead of dying we live.

In strict justice this encounter between us and God should have meant our condemnation and destruction, for God has clearly said ‘no one may see me and live’ [Exodus 33:20]. In this encounter it should have been inevitable that we would not survive …the shepherds were aware of this [Luke 2:9], Simon Peter was aware of this [Luke 5:8], the temple soldiers who came to arrest Jesus had a brief awareness of this [John 18:4-6].

But here, in this incarnation, in this encounter, we see God, we really see God, and we live, we really live. Not despite this encounter, but because of this encounter.

And even this is not the limit of grace in the incarnation. There is also this: that in this incarnation God comes and lives a human life – with all of its struggles, all of its suffering, all of its temptations to sin and pressures to abandon faith. That which we could not do because of our sinfulness, Jesus Christ does as our perfect and sinless representative: he experiences all the life pressures that we experience and comes through them all without sinning [Hebrews 2:10, 14-18; 4:14-16]. God in Christ does this for us. Thus Paul states in Romans 5:10 that we who believe in him are ‘saved through his life’.  This perfect life, lived out in the context of the same pressures that we all experience, is just as essential for our salvation as the death of Christ.  

We shrink from this idea of the Holy One being pushed, prodded, pummelled, poked and pressured by the suffering, struggles and stresses of an ordinary human life; we want to encapsulate him in a mythical cocoon of an ideal trouble-free life. But the only thing perfect about his life is the one fact that he did not sin. Here, in an action of incredible grace the Son of God, the Holy One, the One of infinity purity, took upon himself our flesh, our humanity, our ordinary human life, our struggles, our suffering, our pressures, our temptations, in order to qualify as our legal substitute under the judgement of God and our representative in the presence of God.

By this incarnation, by this incredible and unexpected grace, we live.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009