February 18, 2017

Music and Trinitarian Theology

I think you'll enjoy this GCI You're Included interview in which Dr. Jeremy Begbie shares his thoughts on the unique powers of music and how they enrich our understanding of theology.

February 6, 2017

The nature of our union with Christ

This post excerpts Gary Deddo's essay, "The Christian Life and Our Participation in Christ’s Continuing Ministry" (to read the full essay, click here). The portion excerpted here relates to clarifying the meaning of the important New Testament concept of "union with Christ."

The New Testament message is that we are so united to Christ that the core of our very being is changed because it has become spiritually joined to the perfected humanity of Jesus. The apostle Paul writes that we are one in Spirit with Christ (1 Corinthians 6:17). In his letter to the Ephesians he writes that we are presently—right now—seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6). We are so joined that what happened to Christ 2,000 years ago has actually included us. So in Paul’s letter to the Colossians we read that we have co-died with Christ and have been co-raised with Christ (Colossians 2:12-3; 3:1). Paul announces this fact as a completed action that is true of all the members of the body of Christ.

Jesus himself indicated his purpose to unite himself with us. He teaches that our oneness with him is comparable to his oneness with the Father. He declares, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20, ESV unless noted). He prays, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one…. that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:23, 26). Jesus teaches that eternal life, salvation, involves a close communion: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56).

In 1 Corinthians, Paul announces that everything that Jesus has is also ours. He declares that Jesus himself is our wisdom, our righteousness and our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30). The New Testament is filled with language that points to a profound reality: we belong in an astounding way to Jesus Christ. We can be said to indwell him and he us. We are often depicted as being “in Christ,” not just with or alongside him. The book of Ephesians is full of this kind of description that frankly blows our minds and fries our rational mental circuits. We have become new creatures “in” Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), because he has made us “his own” (Philippians 3:12) in such a way that there is what Calvin called a “wonderful exchange” at the deepest level of who we are. At that level Christ takes our fallen and broken natures and gives us a share in his sanctified and perfected human nature. Who we are is no longer who we are alone, for we are not alone.

We are who we are by virtue of being united to Christ. As James Torrance tirelessly reminded us, by his grace we are given the gift of sharing in the Son’s union and communion with the Father in the power of the Spirit. As the early church expressed it: He who was the Son of God by nature, became a son of man so that we who are the sons of men by nature might, by grace, become the sons and daughters of God.

In the New Testament, especially in the book of Hebrews, we see that such a union had its beginning in the Incarnation, in Christ’s assuming a complete humanity, from conception to his death. What qualifies Jesus to accomplish this exchange with us is his assumption of our humanity along with its fallen condition. The early church recognized the depths of the incarnation when it declared not only that Jesus was “one in being” (homoousios in Greek) with the Father, but also “one in being” (homoousios) with humanity. His divinity by virtue of his union with the Father is no more true of him than is his humanity by virtue of his union with us. The apostle Paul laid the ground for this doctrinal explication of the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) when he identified Jesus with the new Adam (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45). Jesus Christ is united to us even more than we are united to the Adam of the Garden in Genesis. Thus our relationship with Christ puts our very existence on a whole new basis.

Our redemption does not just depend on what Christ did, but on who he is in the depths of his being—one with God and one with us. Our salvation, our life in Christ, was not only accomplished “by means of Christ” but “in Christ,” as Calvin used to say and James Torrance used to regularly remind us. Our new life is not external to us and layered on over us, but is worked out first in the humanity of Jesus and then given to us through his Spirit.

Calvin used to warn that we ought never consider Christ at a distance. We are, to the root of our being, who we are in relationship to him who made himself one with us. This is why Luther and Calvin recognized that our whole salvation was complete in Christ: not just our justification, but our sanctification and glorification as well. To have Christ was to have the whole Christ. Christ could not be divided up into pieces, so neither could our salvation.

What is complete and actual in Christ is truly ours even if it does not yet appear to be so. Our lives are hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3). Our life in him is being worked out in us by the Spirit. This new humanity wrought in us comes through the sheer gift of our union with Christ. It is not the result of us working out a potential that might be true if we properly apply ourselves. Rather, the Christian life is living out and manifesting the present reality of our union with Christ.

Obstacles to grasping the reality of our union with Christ

There are significant obstacles to our even beginning to grasp the truth of our union with Christ. I’d like to give some consideration to those concerns that often have blunted if not obliterated any concerted effort to grasp this profound theological truth.

First is the sheer wonder of the profound depths of such a grace. Would God really go to such lengths, heights and depths for us? It sounds too good to be true. But when it comes to God, shouldn’t we expect the good news to sound like it is too good to be true? Is not God’s grace beyond all we can ask or imagine, as Paul says? (Ephesians 3:20). Certainly this response is no reason to rule out its gracious reality.

Second is fear. Our union with Christ often is avoided because of fear that if we say we are united to him at the ontological depths of our being, we will collapse ourselves into him and confuse ourselves with him. That misunderstanding of our union with Christ is a possibility that could be expressed not just in what we think, but reinforced by how we are taught to think. We learn that what things really are is what they are all by themselves. They are individual substances, all one stuff. So, if two things are truly united, the difference between them as well as the distinction of each must be lost. Either one thing would turn into another, or both would turn into a third thing.

Following this [erroneous] pattern of thinking, union with Christ would mean we turn into Christ or he would turn into us, each ceasing to be what we were. The Torrances were quick to warn that it is this way of thinking about ourselves as individual substances (a way that can be traced back to Aristotle) that leads to such confusion. If we assume that we are what we are independent of anything else, then a relationship, such as union, cannot contribute in any essential way to what things actually are.

But what if Aristotle was wrong? What if the essence of being human is defined by what we are by virtue of our being in some kind of relationship with God? What if relationship is essential to human being and not optional or accidental, but constitutive—such that we would not be what we are except by virtue of the relationships in which we exist, especially in relationship to God? If that is the case, then the Triune God who has his being as Father, Son and Holy Spirit reconstitutes our humanity by forging a new relationship with fallen humanity through his Incarnation and his entire life, death, resurrection and ascension as the New Adam. In that case, Jesus Christ has become our Lord from the inside of our humanity. We are now what we are because of Whose we are!

It was the truth of our union with Christ that led the Torrances to rethink our Aristotelian ontology (the study of the nature of being itself), and conclude that being itself, divine and human, is “onto-relational.” If relationship is essential to who we are, then in union with Christ, we are really united, but remain distinctly ourselves without confusion with Christ. We are most truly ourselves when we are united to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Union is a continual relationship with Christ at the deepest level of our being, not a confusion of ourselves with Christ.

Grasping the truth of our relationship to Christ calls for the renewing of our minds so that we begin to think differently about what makes us who we are. In the end, we even have to approach reading Scripture differently. The challenge becomes not so much taking the Bible literally, but taking it realistically. When Paul declares that we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2: 6), we have warrant, despite our Aristotelian philosophical training, to grasp this realistically.

The good new is that we as Christians are united to Christ in such a way that all that is ours is his and all that is his is ours. Paul refers to this reality when he states, “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

What does it mean to be a Christian? It means by grace we are united to Christ as his true brothers and sisters. Nothing less. That is who we are in him.

No place for us?

Some people worry that any real union must confuse us with Christ. This idea can be reinforced if we feel somehow compelled to trace out a false logic—a third obstacle, which goes something like this: If who we are is who we are in Christ, and our whole salvation is complete in Christ, then there is no place for me and no significance to what I do. This is the antinomian objection, that if we are really united to Christ then there is no reason or purpose for my choices or obedience. I can do what I like.

This might be one of many possible logical implications of our union with Christ. But theology is not the result of strings of logical implications. And simple logical inferences are never necessarily true. Second, everything depends on what we mean by “union.” The New Testament affirms a profound union with Christ, the completed work of Christ, and the wonderful exchange and yet it also calls for our involvement, our activity, our participation. Union in the New Testament sense does not rule out response, obedience, action and decision, but includes them.

Can we make any progress in understanding how these elements fit together? I think the answer is yes, and the Torrances lead the way. Union with Christ in this realist way does not eliminate the trusting obedience of the Christian life, but actually strengthens it!

A personal union

The biblical picture points to the union of persons who remain persons. The union is a personal union, not mechanical or functional or impersonal. Such a personal unity calls for interaction, for inter-relationship. A personal unity means that neither person is lost, but the distinction of persons is maintained while the personal, deliberate and chosen interaction takes place. Unity in this frame means the establishment and fulfillment of the creature in relationship to God through the humanity of Jesus Christ, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. This union is a reflection of the Triune relationships but now mirrored in God’s relationship to us in Christ and through the Spirit. Jesus can pray to the Father in a meaningful way even though he is one in being with the Father in the Spirit. From all eternity the Son can glorify the Father and the Father glorify the Son and yet be one. It turns out that the oneness of God is a unity where relationship is intrinsic to the being of God, so that if God were not Father, Son and Spirit, God would not be God. Aristotle’s presuppositions about what things can be and how they exist are apparently incorrect. Relationship can be essential to who, at least, God is—and who we are.

A saving relationship

Within those relationships there is real interaction, personal activity. So the saving relationship of exchange into which we are taken by grace, calls for interaction, inter-relationship, and responsiveness. Salvation, rather than being an impersonal steady state of being, like a statue, is a relational reality. This is what makes salvation personal and alive. Being united to Christ is not being formed into a perfect, inert statue, but more about living and being in a dynamic relationship where there is intimate giving and receiving in a wonderful communion. That relationship determines the essence of who we are and who we are becoming.

Perhaps we can draw a distant comparison with marriage in answer to the question, “Why should we do anything if we are united to Christ and our whole salvation is complete in him?” Raising the question that way about our union with Christ would be like asking why two people who are married should live together, since they have entered into the fixed state of matrimony. But isn’t marriage by definition a sharing of life together? It would make no sense and be a violation of the logic of relationship to say, “Since we’re already married, there’s no point in living together.” So too, in our union with Christ. As James Torrance used to exhort us, following Calvin, union with Christ and communion or participation in Christ are twin doctrines that can never be separated and never collapsed. Our unity with Christ in a relationship of wonderful exchange is a completed gift in which we personally participate so that the truth and reality of who we are in Christ becomes more and more manifest in our lives as we grow up into him.

We live our lives in union with Christ because we live and move and have our being by being in communion with Christ. It is a personal reality in which we are meant to participate. Neglecting our active participation is neglecting our present salvation established in Christ. What does it mean to be a Christian? It means living daily by the grace that unites us to Christ as his brothers and sisters. Nothing less. That is who we are in him.

The Christian life is nothing but the gracious gift of daily thanksgiving for our real union with Christ, sharing in his glorified humanity and participating by faith in his faithful and continuing ministry to us and all those around us. On this we may surely build our lives in Christ’s name and live to the praise of his glory!

January 27, 2017

Barth's Theology of Relations, part 2

This post continues a series looking at Gary Deddo's two-volume book, "Karl Barth's Theology of Relations (Trinitarian, Christological, and Human: Towards an Ethic of the Family)." For other posts in the series, click a number: 1.

[Revised 1/28/17]

Karl Barth
Last time we noted that Gary's goal in writing is to explore Barth's theological ethic, which begins with who God is (Trinity), then proceeds to how God acts in relation to humanity (Christology), leading to an understanding of how we humans act in correspondence with who God created us to be as bearers of his image (anthropology). Gary then explores the application of this ethic to the family, including parent-child relationships, which, according to Barth, are a human counterpart of the divine Father-Son relationship. Gary elaborates:
The divine being in act of God revealed in Jesus Christ is inherently relational, that is, is loving in freedom. In a corresponding creaturely way, our being in act is also inherently relational, first in connection with God and correspondingly with each other and with all creation. We were created, reconciled and redeemed for giving glory to God by having our being in relation reflect God's own character of being in loving communion. (p. 8, emphasis added)

Christology informs anthropology

As Barth notes, "a true knowledge of humankind, like our knowledge of God, is not gained through an autonomous human quest." As Gary notes, "the God-man Jesus Christ is the object of our faith and the object of our anthropological (and subsequently ethical) inquiry" (p. 11). Barth thus understands humankind in its relationship with God, in Christ, being the source of knowledge as to both God and humanity, with Holy Scripture testifying as to who Jesus in his divinity and humanity. In this divine-human union we find the essential basis of our identity as humans created in the image of God for relationship with God and one another. Thus theology (knowledge of God), carries within it an anthropology (knowledge of humanity)---in both instances, this knowledge is grounded in relationship, both within God (as triune), between God and humankind, and between human persons. Gary comments:
Barth's theological anthropology... is a Christological anthropology, which asks who God and mankind are and answers that they are who they are and are truly known only in this relationship. Thus, it is their being in relationship, which constitutes the content of the revelation of God and humankind. (p. 15 emphasis added)
Gary then notes how Barth sees the relational, triune God as a "commanding God" who calls people to live in relationships in ways corresponding with God's relationship with us:
Persons are created, reconciled and redeemed to become in their person those who are like Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate. Our relationships with one another are to become analogous to the Christological relationship of God with humankind and so become analogous also to the triune relationship. (p. 15)

Triune relationality

Rublev's Trinity (public domain)
Barth thus asserts that God is the one God of triune relations (p. 18). The revelation of this truth comes to us in and by Jesus Christ, who attests in his actions and words to the existence of the divine Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Jesus we see both God's being and act (doing), noting that with Jesus (as with God), there is no separation, no conflict between the two. God always does who God is, and God always is what God does.

Barth declares that the triunity of the one God is fundamentally about relationship. But if God is three-in-relationship, what sort of beings are each one of these three? Barth was troubled by the use of the word "Persons" (Persona in Latin) used in the classical definition of the doctrine of the Trinity, feeling that the word Persons implies tritheism (the idea that there are three Gods, not one as Scipture attests). Instead, Barth preferred to speak of God as being One in three ways of being, noting that "the one...personal God is what He is not just in one mode, but...in the mode of the Father, in the mode of the Son, and in the mode of the Holy Ghost" (p. 23 emphasis added). As Gary notes, Barth insists that these three modes of being God must not, in any way, be...
...exchanged or confounded or reduced [for] ...they are essential to God. God would not be the One God were He not God in these three distinct ways essential in Himself and in His relation to the world and mankind. Consequently, what is three cannot be taken either as attributes or acts of God. For these designations apply to each---Father, Son and Spirit---and therefore do not distinguish them at all. Even the fact of the differing actions of revelation does not tell of the actual distinctions between three modes of God's being, for these are also unified in their variety..... He is, as God: Giver (Father), Receiver and Giver (Son) and Receiver (Spirit). For these relations of origin there is no analogy. Consequently, Barth, along with many Church theologians, acknowledges the inadequacy of words in light of the reality to which they point. (pp.23-24)

Perichoresis (communion with distinction)

According to Barth, God is a tri-unity---a being-in-relationship. For him, this reality of God's being is summed up well in the classic doctrine of perichoresis (circumincession, in Latin), which states that in the one God there is difference (distinction), which leads to and facilitates fellowship. That fellowship (communion) is a complete, never-ending participation of each one in the mode of being of the other. Thus in God there is both complete unity of communion  as well as distinction. In this union with distinction, each one "inexists" the other, and thus there is a "co-existence" of each with the other (see p. 26).

In absolute freedom

As a God of fellowship/communion/participation, God is love. But here we must be careful to not read back into God our humanly-derived concepts of love. As a being-in-relation, it is God who defines love. Thus Barth speaks of the three persons of the Godhead, not as isolated individuals (as we tend to think of persons in our modern context), but as a tri-personal communion of love. The love that God is, is expressed both inwardly (among the divine persons) and outwardly (to God's creation) in absolute freedom. As Gary notes (commenting on, then quoting Barth):
God is free to love. He is self-moved and self-determined to love. His Lordship is one of love. His sovereignty is a sovereignty of love. We have here no abstract notion of freedom as arbitrariness. God's freedom is the exercise of his triune life of perichoretic love. God loves in freedom and is free in His love. God is free to love Himself and is freely loving in relation to His creation... [Now quoting Barth] "it is not that God first lives and then also loves. But God loves, and in this act lives." ...God is He who acts to form and sustain a communion or a fellowship of love. This communion-creating action results in a becoming with God and for humankind. It is the action of a love of God's free unconditional self-giving for the sake of love itself, which God is in Himself, that others might be included in His love.... God's loving is unconditioned, it is free, it is unbounded ...It is purely loving. (pp. 31-33)

Barth's trinitarian, relational grammar

These concepts about who God truly is (as a tri-personal communion of love lived out in absolute freedom), and about who we truly are as creatures created by God to image him in and for love (loving relationship), are what Gary refers to as Barth's "grammar of intra-trinitarian personal relations." We'll see how this grammar plays itself out in greater detail as we proceed.

January 11, 2017

Barth's Theology of Relations, part 1

This post begins a series looking at Gary Deddo's two-volume book, "Karl Barth's Theology of Relations (Trinitarian, Christological, and Human: Towards an Ethic of the Family)." For other posts in this series, click on a number: 2.


[Revised 1/13/17]

Dr. Deddo's book offers a detailed analysis of what Karl Barth (in his massive work, Church Dogmatics) says concerning the intrinsic relationality of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Trinitarian theology), God's relationship to us in and through Christ (Christology), and how God's triune relationality is shared by humanity (Trinitarian, Christ-centered anthropology). Gary then shows how Barth applies these theological truths in the arena of ethics (particularly in the context of family). In this way, Gary defines and explores Barth's Trinitarian, Christological and anthropological perspective on human ethics.

To me, having this theologically-grounded, holistic understanding of ethics is critical in our post-modern era when so many ethical questions are being asked, and orthodox theology increasingly is being dismissed as irrelevant or even contrary to a post-modern perspective on ethics. It seems we live in a time like that described in the book of Judges when, "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25 ESV)---an ethos that has been re-stated in post-modern terms in Nike's iconic trademark:

public domain via Wikimedia Commons

To understand Gary's goal and approach in writing, it's helpful to read his thesis statement:
First we hold that the comprehension of Barth's special ethic of the parent-child relationship requires its interpretation in terms of his grounding it in his christological and so trinitarian anthropology. Second, we hold that the key, for Barth, to the interconnection between theology and ethics lies in comprehending the character of the relations in his doctrine of the analogia relationis [analogy of relation]. Third, we intend to show and make explicit the nature, or better the "grammar" of his theology of relations, which arises in his Christology, is central to his special ethics.... Fourth, we contend that, in light of the grammar of personal relations, Barth's special ethic of parents and children, while not beyond criticism, is both relevant and fruitful for the Church's addressing many of the issues facing the contemporary American family. (p. xx)
Some (many?) of Barth's detractors accuse him of being "so heavenly minded that he is of no earthly good." They see his theology as so lofty and dense that it's irrelevant to "practical" matters like ethics. Though I admit Barth is difficult to read, I view it as ironic that people see his theology as having no relevance to ethics. Indeed, it was his pastoral-ethical concerns that were the crucible within which his theology (which is a theology of relations) was forged. His ethical concerns, of course, came to a head during the rise and rule of the Nazi regime in Germany leading up to and including World War II. Barth saw the liberal theology of his day (particularly its form within German Lutheranism) as ethically impotent---of "no earthly good."

Barth's response was not to develop an ethically-directed theology, but to go back to the Source of ethics---the triune God himself, and there answer the question, "Who is God." That question then leads to another: "Who is Christ," and still another: "Who are we, and how then should we live?" To grasp Barth's thought in these areas, requires, as Gary notes, "a synthetic approach" to reading Barth. Those who read him often err by considering sections of Barth's massive Church Dogmatics (abbrevidated hereafter as CD) in isolation from the others. Gary has done us a great favor of looking at the full picture in CD and then synthesizing Barth's essential thought on these key issues.

As noted above, key to Barth's thought throughout CD is the concept of analogia relationis. As Gary notes, "[Barth's] understanding of relations qualifies his entire theology, and so, in turn, his ontology, anthropology and ethics" (p. 4). That being so, Gary exhaustively mines CD in demonstrating how Barth construes those relations. Barth begins by establishing the relationality of God himself---both in his triune being and act, seeing the two as inseparably intertwined. Gary comments:
For Barth, relationality is not an abstract attribute of God's being, Rather, relationality involves being and act, form and content, living and doing. The trinitarian, Christological and human relations require a grasp of the shape of the relations as well as the interactions within the relations. Each qualifies the other. It is on the basis of this large and comprehensive theological understanding that Barth develops his view of the relational nature to humanity in being (ontology) and act (ethics).... [Barth's] ethical treatments always fall within the context of a theological grasp of the act and being of humanity which is placed in the more comprehensive context of the act and being of God in Jesus Christ, which is finally located within the most comprehensive context of the act and being of the Triune God. (p. 4)
Though there is much to explore in unpacking this interconnected chain of thought, we'll end here for now, digging in further as the series continues. But before I close, let me share a relevant summary statement from Gary concerning Barth's view of Christology and our true humanity:
Jesus Christ not only reveals us to God, but humanity as well. Not humanity apart from God, for there is no such thing, but humanity in right relation to God. So at the heart of [Barth's] anthropology is Christology, properly distinguished and related to it. The Christological relation sheds light and gives life to humanity in its relationships, first with God and then with others. Humanity is given its existence in being and act by God through Jesus Christ. In freedom we live out our lives in being and act in correspondence to the essential relations in which we live and move and have our being. (p. 5)
Stay tuned for more next time.

December 30, 2016

Stay focused on Jesus

The post below is adapted from an article by Joseph Tkach. It provides food for thought as we enter the season of Epiphany, which celebrates the revealing of Jesus Christ to the world.

[Revised 1/9/17]

Given that he is the final and ultimate revelation of who God is (Hebrews 1:3), Jesus must remain our focus throughout the year. Knowing who Jesus is and what he has done for us helps us grow in understanding the reconciliation we have with God and each other. In Christ, through the Holy Spirit, we are set free to love. Let's look at some related concepts.

Come Follow Me
by Liz Lemon Swindle
(used with artist's permission)

Jesus' two natures and his vicarious humanity

Jesus is both divine and human---two natures united permanently in one person, through what theologians refer to as the hypostatic uniona term utilized in the early church to apprehend the truth revealed in Scripture that Jesus is the complete, personal sharing of God in humanity's life and humanity in God's life. This fundamental and profound truth is addressed in the book A Passion for Christ, the Vision that Ignites Ministry, where brothers Thomas, James and David Torrance emphasize what theologians call the vicarious humanity of Jesus. The word "vicarious" means “speaking and acting in place of another, on that other’s behalf.” Jesus, in and through his humanity, by his life, death, resurrection and ascension, acted on our behalf (as our representative) in our place (as our substitute). As James Torrance was fond of saying, Jesus is "the one and the many" (our representative) and also "the one for the many" (our substitute).

His mission

This understanding of the vicarious humanity of Jesus enables us to understand that the atonement was accomplished not merely by Jesus, but in, with and through him. This means that Jesus was baptized for us, as one of us. It means that he went through the wilderness and was tempted for us, he died and entered into darkness for us, and he rose from death into life in order to take us with him in his ascension to our Father. In all this vicarious work for our salvation, Jesus did not play a merely instrumental role (like a tool being used to build something). Rather, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit planned together for Jesus to fulfill in his own Person and work the pivotal role in our salvation. The atonement, in its entirety, is accomplished in, with and through Jesus: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This is the truth that sets us free!

Adoration of the Magi by Burne-Jones (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

His objectification

In Christ, God objectified himself without becoming impersonal. When the Son of God became human, he became an object we can see and touch and worship. He was God to man. And when Jesus assumed our humanity, he also became the appropriate response from man to God as led by the Holy Spirit. Note T. F. Torrance’s comment in his book, God and Rationality:
[Jesus Christ] is in Himself not only God objectifying Himself for man but man adapted and conformed to that objectification, not only the complete revelation of God to man but the appropriate correspondence on the part of man to that revelation, not only the Word of God to man but man obediently hearing and answering that Word. In short, Jesus Christ is Himself both the Word of God as spoken by God to man and that same Word as heard and received by man, Himself both the Truth of God given to man and that very Truth understood and actualized in man. He is that divine and human Truth in His one Person. In his incarnate constitution as God and man joined in reconciling union, Jesus Christ is both the objective revelation of God and the appropriate response and conformation of man to divine revelation. He is not only the Truth (John 14:6) spoken from the highest, he is also the perfect response to that Truth, heard and actualized from within the ontological depths of the fallen humanity he assumed in the incarnation.

Our mediator

As both man (human) and God (divine), Jesus is uniquely the one mediator between humanity and God (1 Timothy 2:5 KJV). In the Incarnation of the Son of God in the human person of Jesus, we have “double fact”---what some call "the twofold, inseparable movement of mediation.” The first fact, as Tom Torrance liked to put it, is that “Jesus is God’s language to humanity.” The second fact is that Jesus is humanity’s true and faithful response to God---he is our true word and gives true speech for us (humanity) to God. In other words, Jesus Christ mediates the things of God to humanity and simultaneously mediates the things of humanity to God.

This mediation is illustrated in the way the Son of God (the pre-incarnate Christ), lovingly and patiently worked in covenant relationship with his people Israel. That story begins with God providing Abraham a sacrifice in place of Isaac, Abraham's beloved son. This event not only gave instruction against child sacrifice, it is prototypical of what the Son of God would do for all humanity following the Incarnation. Because God knew Israel would not (indeed could not) fulfill their side of the covenant to live as holy, obedient people, God gave them under the old covenant a liturgy different than that of the pagans. While Israel and the pagans all celebrated spring and fall harvest festivals, Israel was given divinely prescribed patterns for worship that signified the fact that only God can forgive sin, remove guilt and reconcile people to himself. All of Israel’s sacrifices and ordinances, as well as the priesthood itself, were vicarious ways of covenant response to God. Because of God’s faithfulness and love for Israel, he gave them an experiential way to worship. However, as the Old Testament tells us, Israel repeatedly abandoned worship as given to them by God. In doing so, they failed the mediating priestly mission that they had been given on behalf of all nations. In contrast, the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, through his life, death, resurrection and ascension, was the perfect, unfailing response to God that Israel was unable to provide.

Jesus not only took on Israel’s affliction of failure, he assumed all of humanity’s brokenness and made it his own in order to heal it. In this we see Jesus’ twofold ministry, the “double fact” I mentioned above. Jesus mediates and intercedes from God to humanity and from humanity back to God. The old covenant highlights this truth in a number of ways: “I shall be your God and you shall be my people,” “I am holy, be you holy,” and “I will be your Father and you will be my son.” These declarations concerning Israel are fulfilled perfectly in Jesus who is both the covenant-making God and the true, singular, faithful Israel. Note this related comment from T.F. Torrance in one of his papers:
It is the whole incarnate life of Christ vicariously and triumphantly lived out from his birth to his crucifixion and resurrection in perfect obedience to the Father within the ontological depths of his oneness with us in our actual fallen existence, that redeems and saves us and converts our disobedient alienated sonship back to filial union with the Father. That is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. (“The Atonement, The Singularity of Christ and the Finality of the Cross: The Atonement and the Moral Order,” 1993)

May he always be our focus

Jesus is fully God and fully human—God with us and God for us. He is the Word spoken to humanity and the Word heard and received by humanity. He is God’s relationship to us—through him we are in relationship with God. He is the God others could see and hear and worship and he is our worshipful response to God. Jesus is our atonement. He is our mediator. He is our focus—it is in Jesus that we live and move and have our being.
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And now a prayer for Epiphany from The Book of Common Prayer that is used by various churches to guide their worship of our triune God:
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and all the world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.