God Dwells with Us, In Us, and Unites Us to Him
God Dwells with Us
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (Jn. 1:1 NKJ)
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:14 NKJ)
In all of Christianity, there is hardly a verse more well established and more referenced when speaking of Jesus’ divinity than these two verses. Christians of every stripe will recite these verses from memory with a sense of deep devotion and profound humility. The WORD, the second person of the triune Godhead from all eternity, humbled Himself and took upon Himself a human nature. The WORD, the second person of the triune Godhead from all eternity, by His very power spoke the universe into existence. The WORD, the second person of the triune Godhead from all eternity, is present on every page of Scripture! Whether we are addressing His communication with Adam and Eve in the Garden; His revelation of His divine character and nature via His Holy Law; or whether we are citing His speaking through His prophets and Apostles we are overwhelmed with His presence from Genesis to Revelation.
And we then arrive at John 1 and, the WORD both communicates to St. John Himself verbally and to us in Scripture that HE took to Himself our lowly form. He identified with us physically! He, ever constant in His revelation in Scripture in the First Testament, left His glorious residence in heaven to Dwell with, live among, Tabernacle not only with us but also in us via His indwelling Holy Spirit.
The human mind is not capable of fathoming both the cosmic change that took place with His descent into the physical sphere, but also, the magnitude of the need, effect, and result of this union of divine and human natures.
We revel in the glory of this transcendent mystery; we proclaim it with almost a schoolyard pride that our God took upon Himself a human nature to save us! However, a strange transition occurs primarily among Protestants and particularly among Protestants of an Evangelical flavor – a form of selective amnesia.
Oh, Yes, trumpet the Incarnation; shout of the two natures of Christ; bask in the wonder of the atonement deriving from that Incarnation; and then, once we speak of the atonement, all discussion of the physical element of those 2 natures suddenly ceases. It’s as if, there is a fear to acknowledge that, yes, Christ has 2 natures, but let’s not focus too much on His physical nature at the risk of minimizing His Divinity. There is a virtual subconscious Gnosticism that takes place when we acknowledge the Ascension. Oh, yes, He has two natures but, well, now He’s in heaven and His physical nature is there and because it’s there, well, let’s not talk about how His physical nature, being seated at the right hand of the Father, still impacts us, directly, today!
St. Athanasius, in his letter to Epictetus 7 says,
…But our salvation is no imaginary thing; nor is it the body only,
but in reality the whole person, both body and soul, which has
attained to salvation in the Word.
In other words, our salvation was not merely a conceptual thing but a real, truly spiritual/physical salvation because of the dual natures of Jesus.
“SO HEAVENLY MINDED IT’S NO EARTHLY GOOD!”
The charge against some Christians has been at times, “you’re so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good.” We seem to, at times, forget that there is a real-world, with real people, with real problems, that need a “real” solution. ‘No pie in the sky bye and bye’ aphorisms; something tangible is needed.
This is almost what it seems like when serious discussions of the full gamut of Christianity and its impact on the world, take place. We proclaim the Gospel; we speak of the spiritual and emotional healing power of Christ and God’s word; we speak about forgiveness of sins; etc. All, of course true; but all utterly impossible without the physical element of Jesus’ work. We shy away from that almost as if we’re Greek and we think that the “body is the prison house of the soul.” We forget the importance of the first 3 chapters of Genesis where God proclaims His work of creation “is good.” Man, being the crown jewel of that creative period “is good.”
We tend to forget the lllloooonnnggg connective tissue of God’s creative acts in Genesis; His promise of redemption given in Genesis and carried out in redemptive history; that physical manifestation of the spiritual work He performed in His redemptive-historical plan.
Let’s us, for the moment, pause and reflect on what’s being addressed. God promised a redeemer through the woman. This redeemer would come through her “seed.” This originally began with Abel and was then continued through Seth. And of course, we all know what happens next; Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob leading up to the Davidic line. This redemptive-historical plan of God took place in physical time and space; with real physical people.
This set the stage for David’s greater Son who, ate, drank, suffered hardship, lived in a dry land, traveled on foot, hungered, thirsted, wept, laughed, partied (Wedding at Cana in case you’re wondering from where I got that one), loved, got angry, and so on. The importance of the nature of the physical element in Christianity is impossible to over-emphasize. Without the physical, we have no Incarnation, no atonement, no resurrection, no ascension, no glorification of the God/Man, and therefore, no perfecting and glorifying of human nature!
The relationship between the physical and spiritual, human and divine as expressed in the Incarnation is just as critical of our understanding of Christianity today as it was then! And just as important.
St. Ambrose of Milan, in his work, On the Sacrament of the Lord’s Incarnation 6, writes,
And so he took flesh in order to raise it again; he assumed a soul
for the Word of God did not become live in its flesh by replacing
our soul; the Word rather, assumed both our flesh and our soul
by assuming human nature perfectly.
“He took flesh in order to raise it again… .” This was not limited to the 1st century but continues until the consummation!
One might be asking, ‘ok Fr. Paul, nice review, I understand all this, but it’s not new. What’s your point?” Glad you asked. The point is, that while we often can recite, with full faith and confidence, that this is true, we encounter many Christians who aren’t consistent in understanding the full import of the Incarnation. Let me phrase it this way, your understanding and application of the Incarnation will directly affect and impact your ENTIRE CHRISTIAN LIFE. It will affect how you view worship; how you view baptism and communion (the sacraments); how you view your Church building; how you view the ministry of healing; and so much more.
Now we get to the “nitty-gritty” of this entire discussion. As has been laid out, the creation narrative and the Incarnation are intricately connected in redemptive history. As the capstone of God’s creative activity, Adam held the place of most prominence and highest honor in said creation. Adam’s fall threw, not only the course of man’s spiritual life into a destructive pattern, but creation itself was bludgeoned by his “cosmic treason.”
Therefore, the coming of the second person of the triune Godhead into creation as He assumed a human nature, was the divine resolution to our cosmic dilemma. Like the first Adam, in the perfection of creation; the lush, full, resplendent wonder of sustenance from which he had to choose; a partner with whom to converse, laugh, discuss; the overwhelming beauty of all that surrounded him SUCCUMBED to the insidious, destructive, pernicious lies of a subtle creature arising out of that stupendous creation. Imagine, if you will, the guile it would take, the deceit one would have to invoke, the craftiness to be employed to get our parents to not even question how a snake could be talking to them?! But this is the setting of our first parents as they fell before the supernatural legerdemain of Satan.
Yet the Divine Son takes to Himself a human nature, never relinquishing His divinity but assuming humanity; this second Adam, in stark contrast to the first arrives and is immediately, AFTER His identification with us in His baptism, ushered into the desert. 40 days without food or water. Harsh are the conditions. Loneliness is His lot – no companion with whom to distract Him from all of the factors assaulting Him – internally and externally. There is the dry, arid, oppressive heat, hunger, thirst, buffeting Him. If you’ve ever been exposed to this type of climate, you KNOW how brutal it can be. Diaphoresis sets in; the inability to urinate due to dehydration creates extreme back pain in the kidneys; the overbearing heat and sweat cause exhaustion and severe headaches accompanying the loss of fluids.
THEN, the Evil One appears. No disguise is necessary for even Satan isn’t stupid enough to think that, the One in front of whom he stood in eternity past to lead his rebellion in heaven, would not recognize him! No fancy talking creatures. No party costume for him. Satan manifests himself to the second Adam completely unadorned by any ruse. It’s almost as if he was saying, ‘ok big shot, let’s do this.’ Mano – a – Mano, if you were. Satan, assuming he has the, already established, successful go-to-plan, begins. Just as he did with the first Adam, he attacks the second Adam in a similar manner, after all, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it! As Adam was barraged with Satan’s original attack tempting him in the lust of his flesh, eyes, and his pride of life, he invokes the same pattern against Jesus. The 3 temptations against the first Adam worked, the 3 temptations against the second Adam were a resounding failure.
This triumph of the second Adam shatters the stranglehold of failure Satan might have thought he had on creation and man. For now, as the first Adam stood as the culminating glory of the original creation and frittered it away, the second Adam stands as the true glory of the NEW CREATION! The redeemed creation; the restored creation, IN HIM!
We arrive at the effects of this incarnational action by the divine Godhead. It is here that we must truly examine our understanding to ensure that we’re not falling victim to some sort of implicit neo-Platonic or even Gnostic understanding of what the Incarnation means in general and to us in particular.
As I mentioned earlier, the Incarnation didn’t cease upon Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of the Father. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Simply understood, everything we do in reference to Jesus involves the God-man, it involves the Second Person of the Triune Godhead and a human nature, it involves spirit and flesh. Our very salvation then is not merely a spiritual redemption, though it certainly is that; it is not exclusively a physical redemption whereby, as nature is redeemed, we follow suit and are redeemed, as the liberals would have us believe. NO, our salvation is a total redemptive work by Jesus, predicated upon His Incarnation, for the redemption of the total person and the redemption of the totality of mankind.
Consider the following passage from the Apostle Paul:
15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.
16 What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.
17 But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. (1 Cor. 6:15-17 KJV)
This entire passage points to the profound ramifications of Jesus’ Incarnation. Upon our commitment to Christ, as our dead spirits are regenerated, as we then are given faith from the Father, and as we profess and then demonstrate our faith, we are, in the COMPLETE, TOTAL, WHOLE PERSON – body and soul – saved! This divine act of our redemption THEN UNITES US TO THE COMPLETE, TOTAL, WHOLE PERSON of Jesus Christ – body and soul!
This unfolds astounding implications when properly understood (NOTE the physical terms used in the imagery involved).
In our baptism then, our sin is not only “washed” away in the sacramental sign, but we are “united” to the Church, Christ’s body! We are members of Christ’s body. We are grafted into Christ’s body! The mystery of how this is eludes us, but this mystery is true, nonetheless.
When we arrive at our moment of confirmation and are privileged to participate in the Eucharist, to commune with the body of Christ, we are communing, participating, receiving the FULL PERSON of Christ. The grace that Christ offers, He offers in His very person – body and soul! When the priest distributes the bread and the wine, these instrumental means provide us the glory of having the Holy Spirit (who indwells the Christ, Christ’s body) distribute to us, in the bread and the wine, Christ! His entire Person, body and soul, thereby objectively receiving God’s Grace!
When we fellowship with other Christians, we fellowship IN THE BODY OF CHRIST, as members grafted into Him! Our fellowship then isn’t exclusively a conceptualization of knowing we have believed in Christ, it is the actual Koinonia, “the commonness” we share because we share the same whole person of Christ, body and soul.
The most overlooked and, in my estimation, most dangerous oversight is how Christ's Incarnation informs, not only the spiritual body of Christ, the church but the physical body of Christ, the place we worship. The Incarnation then, not only creates a spiritual Church, but we must see that, as He is forever united to the Holy Spirit, and we are united, via the Holy Spirit to Christ, then, whenever our "sanctuaries" are consecrated, sanctified, set apart for holy use, CHRIST IS THERE IN RESIDENCE! GOD IS IN RESIDENCE THERE! As Yahweh descended upon the Tabernacle and Temple and was present with His people, so, the same dwelling takes place in His Church. Christ is the fulfillment of the Tabernacle/Temple imagery and IN HIM is the true eschatological Temple. Therefore, as He is present in the Holy Spirit and we are united to Him both in body and soul, He MUST be present in the Church and the Church then, becomes much more than a mere building! It is the physical expression of the Incarnate Christ!
I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. I hope, in engaging this discussion it adds a new, fuller, more complete understanding of not only what Christ did in His Incarnation, but how it impacts each and every one of us.
Soli Deo Gloria.