Tag Archives: gospel

The Lord of Birth, Born

25 Dec
St. Athanasius, depicted with a book, an icono...

I am celebrating Christmas today by reading the Christian classic “On the Incarnation of the Word”, written sometime before 319 by Athanasius of Alexandria.  I was planning on reading the entire thing (it’s short), but at halfway I’m having to stop and digest some, because I’ve already highlighted about a third of the text.  It is not difficult reading, and I thoroughly recommend it.  At the very least, you should read C.S. Lewis’ sharp and insightful introduction to the text. Both the Lewis intro and full text can be found here. For free! Party.

I find the power of Athanasius’ words magnified by their antiquity.  These are truths that Christians have always believed, and that we still believe. I want to quickly summarize what Athanasius said about what the Incarnation was, and why the Incarnation had to happen.

 

What is the Incarnation?

We can quickly define it as God being born a man, but Athanasius unpacks this dense truth in a soul-stirring way.

“Invisible in Himself, He is known from the works of creation; so also, when His Godhead is veiled in human nature, His bodily acts still declare Him to be not man only, but the Power and Word of God… The healing of the man born blind, for instance, who but the Father and Artificer of man, the Controller of his whole being, could thus have restored the faculty denied at birth? He Who did thus must surely be Himself the Lord of birth. This is proved also at the outset of His becoming Man. He formed His own body from the virgin; and that is no small proof of His Godhead, since He Who made that (His own body) was the Maker of all else. And would not anyone infer from the fact of that body being begotten of a virgin only, without human father, that He Who appeared in it was also the Maker and Lord of all beside?”

So the baby born at the Incarnation was not just a god, but the very Maker of all things and the Father and Artificer of man. But why would the eternal creator form himself into his own creation?  Athanasius gives us 2 reasons.

 

English: Adoration of the shepherds -seems to ...

 

Why did the Incarnation happen?

1. For God’s self-revelation.

“The Savior of us all, the Word of God, in His great love took to Himself a body and moved as Man among men, meeting their senses, so to speak, half way. He became Himself an object for the senses, so that those who were seeking God in sensible things might apprehend the Father through the works which He, the Word of God, did in the body. Human and human minded as men were, therefore, to whichever side they looked in the sensible world they found themselves taught the truth.”

Of course, this could not be the only reason that God became man. Gods will was not “merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way.”  No, the primary reason was the surely second.

2. To make us alive through his death.

I love this rich, awesome quote:

“He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.”

Amazing!  It is impossible to speak of the incarnation without speaking of the cross!  Being “cross-centered” is not a fad!  1,700 years ago, Athanasius says that the death of Christ is “indeed, the very center of our faith”. For 2000 years Christians have rejoiced in the gruesome death of Christ, because it is in his death we find life. Athanasius, being gospel-centered before it was cool, says that abolishing death and saving mankind was the ultimate meaning of the Incarnation, and the eternal plan of God.
“The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than through death; yet He as the Word, being immortal and the Father’s Son, was such as could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection.”
That quote is as clear a summation of the gospel as I’ve ever heard. By the grace of God, the Salvation which was effective in 319 AD is no less effective in 2012 AD.  Today, together praise Christ!- “The Mighty One, the Artificer of all”, that he took on this corrupt temple as his own, so that we could claim his incorruption as our own.

Fiction and costly redemption

21 Dec

I’ve been reading a lot of fiction lately, and thinking over what it means for a Christian to read fiction well. A fiction novel, liberated from the world of “things that actually happened” can often resonate with more actual truth than non-fiction. This is of course provided that the author’s worldview is infused with truth. Because of common grace, even non-Christian authors are often able to deftly communicate truth with their stories. For example, the novels of Cormac McCarthy are dripping with the truth of man’s depravity, and the presence of evil in the world. Redemption of course, is one of the most popular and universal of all themes in stories (because all men are woefully aware of their need of it). Flannery O’Connor, a Southern Christian novelist, goes as far as saying that we demand redemption in stories. And then she goes even further and says something very interesting.

“There is something in us as story-tellers, and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance of restoration. The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but he has forgotten the cost of it. His sense of evil is deluded or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. He has forgotten the cost of truth, even in fiction.” (emphasis mine)

For redemption, even fictional redemption, to really grip us, to really ring true, it must be costly. Only when redemption is costly will it resonate, because only then is it reflecting the true redemption.

O’Conner demonstrated this brilliantly in her own fiction. In many of her stories the characters are blind in their sin and self-righteousness, and only a violent, costly wakeup call is able to snap them into reality. The most famous example is probably the grandmother from her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. She was enamored with her own goodness; she referred to her “good blood” and that “she’d never hurt anybody” as evidences of her goodness. It took the violent death of her family and her own imminent death to slap her into an awareness of her need for grace. In that moment, amid that violence, she found her redemption.

For most of us, such violence will not have to touch our lives in order to find redemption. But the violence is still there. Redemption is not free, and our salvation from the bondage of sin will always cost someone, and cost them dearly. Galatians 3 says that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us”. This was both violent and costly. Philippians 2 says that Christ “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” and that he “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Fictional stories have the power to captivate us with dramatic stories of heroic self-sacrifice and costly redemption, but all human stories pale in comparison to the true story. Only one redemption has ever been infinitely costly. Christ was infinitely pure, infinitely just, and infinitely worthy; his death for our atonement is the most dramatic moment in history, and it is the redemption to which all others point. This is the story which must captivate our hearts.

I always look for biblical themes when I read fiction, with a special eye out for acts of redemption. Now, instead of only looking at the object of redemption, I want to pay special heed to its cost. And in that cost, I want to be reminded of the cost that I no longer bear; of the cost absorbed in Christ for me.

John Owen on Christopher Hitchens (and me)

19 Dec

“The difference between the knowledge of believers and unbelievers is not so much a difference in the matter of their knowledge but in the manner of knowing. Unbelievers, some of them, know more about God, his perfections, and his will, than many believers do; but they know nothing as they ought, nothing in a right manner, nothing spiritually and savingly, nothing with a holy and heavenly light. The excellence of a believer is not that he has a large grasp of things, but that what he does grasp, which may be very little, he sees it in the light of the Spirit of God, in a saving, soul-transforming light; and this is that which gives us communion with God.”

– John Owen, the Mortification of Sin

As I read this quote, I couldn’t help but think of the late Christopher Hitchens.  Much has been written on the famous atheist in the wake of his death this week, and a great deal of the obituaries were from the mouths of Christians. (see here or here or even here)  The overwhelming response seems to be that of respect and regret.  Respect for his wit, vigor, and knowledge of the Christian faith, and regret that he seemingly never turned from his sins to embrace Christ as Savior.  It was said that Hitchens had a firm understanding of the Christian doctrine of the atonement; he could explain an orthodox understanding of the penal substitutionary atonement as well as a true believer (probably better in many cases,sadly), only without the belief.  Instead, his knowledge only fueled his harsh anti-God rhetoric and cutting arguments.

The other person I was reminded of as I read Owen’s quote was me.  How deep is my own faith?  How often do I fail to see my knowledge of salvation “in the light of the Spirit of God, in a saving, soul-transforming light” leading to communion with God?  Christopher Hitchen’s knowledge of the truth resulted in passionate raging against the God of the gospel.  How many of us know the same truth, and experience neither Hitchen’s revulsion nor the graceful transformation Owen describes? I do not doubt my salvation.  Rather, I am reminded to pray that my acceptance of this glorious gospel of grace would be at least as passionate as Hitchen’s rejection of it, and never result in the cold head knowledge that produces no fruit, no heat, and no light.