The Incarnate Savior (Nicene Creed #6)

This post continues our series exploring the Nicene Creed (read other posts in the series by clicking a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 910, 111213). We come now to important words defining the Person and work of Jesus Christ:
Who for us men and our salvation, came down from heaven, and was made flesh from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father. And he shall come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead; his kingdom shall have no end.
A key point here is that our salvation is the act of God himself, who through the Incarnation...
...takes the concrete form of the actual historical man Jesus. As St Paul had expressed it: "God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the  knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is on Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself a ransom for all" [1Tim 2.4-6]. For Athanasius [a primary author of the Creed] this meant that the mediation of Christ involved a twofold movement, from God to man and from man to God, and that both divine and human activity in Christ must be regarded as issuing from one Person. Here we see again the soteriological [saving] significance of the Nicene homoousion: If Jesus Christ the incarnate Son is not true God from true God, then we are not saved, for it is only God who can save; but if Jesus Christ is not truly man, then salvation does not touch our human existence and condition. The message of the Gospel, however, is that Jesus Christ embodies in his human actuality the personal presence and activity of God. In him God has really become man, become what we are, and so lives and acts, God though he is, "as man for us." Only God can save, but he saves precisely as man - Jesus Christ is God's act... (T.F. Torrance in The Trinitarian Faith, pp148-9).
Thus the doctrine of the Incarnation stands at the center of the Creed's assertion that salvation is fundamentally personal. It is accomplished by who the Son of God is and by what he does in person by becoming fully and truly human (the Incarnation); and as human, being born, living, suffering, dying, rising and ascending on our behalf. This points to the related doctrine of the vicarious (representative-substitutionary) humanity of Jesus. For comments from David Torrance (T.F.'s brother) on this vital doctrine click here (and start watching the video at 11:28). Here are T.F.'s related comments:
It was the whole man that the Son of God came to redeem by becoming man himself and effecting our salvation in and through the very humanity he appropriated from us - if the humanity of Christ were in any way deficient, all that he is said to have done in offering himself in sacrifice "for our sakes", "on our behalf" and "in our place" would be quite meaningless....The whole life of Christ is understood as a continuous vicarious sacrifice and oblation which, as such, is indivisible, for everything he assumed from us is organically united in his one Person and work as Savior and Mediator" (p152).
Torrance emphasizes that the human nature, which the Son of God assumed in the Incarnation, was the same nature we have, "the defiled nature of man" (p153). This is vital to understand, because it is only by being united with the person of God that our defiled human nature is healed. Thus we understand that the atoning work of Jesus on our behalf is something that happens within Jesus' own Person...
...within the incarnate constitution of his Person as Mediator... As the Head of creation, in whom all things consist, he is the only one who really can act on behalf of all and save them. ...Thus the redemptive work of Christ was fully representative and truly universal in its range. Its vicarious efficacy has its force through the union of his divine Person as Creator and Lord with us in our creaturely being, whereby he lays hold of us in himself and acts for us from out of the inner depths of his coexistence with us and our existence in him, delivering us from the sentence of death upon us, and from the corruption and perdition that have overtaken us (pp155-6). 
Torrance continues:
Through his incarnation the Son of God has made himself one with us as we are, and indeed made himself what we are, thereby not only making our nature his own but taking on himself our lost condition subject to condemnation and death, all in order that he might substitute himself in our place, discharge our debt, and offer himself in atoning sacrifice to God on our behalf. Since sin and its judgment have affected the actual nature of death as we experience it, Christ has made our death and fate his own, thereby taking on himself the penalty due to all in death, destroying the power of sin and its stronghold in death, and thus redeeming or rescuing us from its dominion (p157).
Thus the Creed emphasizes that the Incarnation was essentially redemptive and conversely, that redemption is inherently incarnational. Said another way, Jesus in his own Person is the atonement. Our reconciliation with God is not merely something Jesus did (external to himself), but something that he is in himself. This is why forensic (legal) theories of the Atonement are flawed. These theories conceptualize salvation as a transaction, rather than as the personal/relational act it truly is. If you take away the Incarnation, you remove the very ground of salvation. "God in Christ has substituted himself for us in making our sin and death his own that we may partake of his divine life and righteousness" (p161). God accomplished this atoning exchange for us, by transferring, in Christ...
...to himself [our] fallen Adamic humanity which he took from the Virgin Mary, that is, our perverted, corrupt, degenerate, diseased human nature enslaved to sin and subject to death under the condemnation of God. However, far from sinning himself or being contaminated by what he appropriated from us, Christ triumphed over the forces of evil entrenched in our human existence, bringing his own holiness, his own perfect obedience, to bear upon it in such a way as to condemn sin in the flesh and to deliver us from its power (p161)
 The whole incarnational assumption of our human nature was at the same time a reconciling, healing, sanctifying and recreating activity. In making himself one with us he both took what is ours and imparted to us what is his (p162).
This atoning, redeeming exchange between us and Christ is at the heart of the Creed's doctrine of salvation - he became what we are in order that we might share in what he is - thus restoring our communion (fellowship) with God. Truly, our salvation is in Christ - the one who forever, and on our behalf, is fully divine and fully human.

Comments

  1. Sellappan11/07/2011

    The Incarnation of Jesus is truly awesome. It presents reconciliation, atonement, salvation, etc in a totally different light from what we have understood in the past [transactional view].
    It is good for us to review the Nicene Creed all over again. Thanks for taking us through this one doctrine at a time.

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  2. Anonymous11/20/2011

    At first, the difference between the transactional view of Christ's action on our behalf, and the incarnational view is hard for me to see. Yet, I wonder if it is like a "big brother" adult, becoming a part of a troubled young man's life, as opposed to a kind benefactor paying his bail.

    The later has some short-lived benefit, but the boy will be in trouble again. The incarnation is God's willingness to live with us, in our messy lives, encouraging, forgiving, healing, correcting, with great patience and love.

    We forget that the incarnation was planned from the beginning. This is no patch. It is a necessary part of our creation. We somehow need the pain of this walk through hell. Satan wasn't allowed into the garden because God is slow.

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