Incarnational Theology Essay

Religion is a thief, a destroyer, a killer! And religion is as old as time! It might come under the guise of different names, but the message is always the same. Speaking the same language, a separation between God and human flesh. In fact, the word religion is “re,” which is a prefix meaning “again, once more, or anew” it is with a sense of undoing. And “ligare” means to bind.  Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary traces the word back to an old Latin word religio, meaning restraint. The purpose of religion is to place us in bondage, to restrain us from experiencing freedom.

The freedom that comes with being sons made in the image and likeness of God. Freedom of being partakers of the Divine nature. In Greek, theias koinonoi physeos. “Theias” is the adjective of Theos (God – Father, Son, and Spirit). Nature is origin or birth; inherent nature. Partaker is a sharer, a partner, a joint participant. Being a joint participant of the inherent nature of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is our birth right. It’s our origin. It’s who we have always been sons made in Their image and likeness…divine like Them… ONENESS! Religion seeks to draw us away from that life IN Christ.

The voice of religion was in the garden when the serpent deceived Eve. Telling her that she wasn’t image and likeness of God. That instead, she was lacking the FULLNESS of God because He was withholding from her. And then religion was there in Adam’s errant thinking, that sin had separated him from God! Of thinking his union, his oneness with the Father had been broken! And in the Old Testament, it came in the form of the sacrificial system, teaching that men needed God’s forgiveness. That they needed to appease God because their “sins” had separated them from a holy God.

In Jesus’ day, religion came under the names of Pharisee and Sadducee.  And in Paul’s day, it was the Judaizers who taught the people that Christ wasn’t enough in their lives, they needed to follow God’s rules and regulations in order to be right in His eyes. Different faces but the same result: man is lacking in his relationship with God. Beginning toward the end of the first century, after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. and especially into the 2nd and 3rd centuries, Gnosticism was the voice of religion. Believing that all matter is evil and as such, no one is worthy, they are unable to approach God. And the belief that Jesus’ body was not real and therefore they refuted His death, burial, and resurrection.

By the time the 4th century rolled around, a man named Arius was causing much concern in the church. He was denying the incarnation, God coming in the flesh in the Son, Jesus. And introducing the idea that Jesus was created by the Father for a particular purpose. In 325 A.D., Arius stood before 2,000 delegates at the Nicene Council and presented his argument. Saying things like, “humanity must be held at an infinite distance from God.” And, “human beings cannot endure the absolute presence of God.” What he was declaring was that Jesus could not be divine.  And reasoning that, therefore, Jesus must simply be a human being with a particular calling.

He also said to these 2,000 delegates, “the spiritual is good, and matter, including human flesh, is ‘evil.'” Which was an idea that was developed by Plato and Aristotle.  It was never an idea that had any origin in the Hebrew tradition. So, if you were to take Arius’ position, agreeing with his pagan ideas, then you would have to use your mind logic, reasoning, and speculations, believing that if that’s the case, then how can the Good be in union with evil? Deducing, therefore, that the incarnation is impossible. He believed that Jesus was finite, having been created, that He was Logos, Wisdom, and Son of God, only of grace. Stating that He was not so in Himself. Hence, He is not God but simply exalted above all other creatures. And his central theme was Plato’s idea that “sin is separation from God.”

When the Nicene Council heard Arius’ declarations, they covered their ears and shouted him down! Almost causing a riot in the process. Arius believed that if the Son were equal to the Father, there would be more than one God. The church argued that the Trinity was three EQUAL entities, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They expressed the doctrine of the Trinity through the use of the word homoiousia, meaning of the same thing, or essence.

A man named Athanasius argued against Arius’ proposals. Insisting that if the Son was not equal to the Father and the Spirit, Arius was taking the church into mythology, or worse, polytheism. So, the church prevailed. And the Trinity was established as the core of the Christian church. So, Athanasius penned the Nicene Creed, which states, We believe in ONE God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible. And in ONE Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten from His Father before all ages, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of ONE substance with the Father, through whom all things were made who for us men and for 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 under Pontius Pilate.

Jesus was declared by the Nicene Creed to be of the same substance with the Father. In Greek, it is homoiousian to Patri. Meaning ONE being with the Father!  And then in 381 A.D., the Council of Constantinople, changed the language in the Creed to make the Holy Spirit of the same thing, the same essence (homoiousia – ONE being) with the Father and the Son. The ancient church in the Creed described God in three ways of Being who is co-essentially in Themselves, ONE. Father, Son, and Spirit make up ONE God who is co-equal sharing the title God… or in Hebrew Elohim and in Greek Theos!

And then later in 451 A.D., the council at that time ratified that document saying, “yes, that’s what we believe.” Thereby resisting Apollinarianism that was trying to influence the church at that time.  Simply, another voice of religion, attempting to place people back in bondage, to restrain them from living in the truth, which brings freedom. Apollinaris of Laodecia was stating that Jesus had a normal human body but a divine mind instead of a regular soul. It denied the full humanity and sinlessness of Jesus. Denying that Jesus was 100% man and 100% God at the same time!

Again, religion never changes through the ages. Its influence is to pull mankind away from the mystery of ONENESS between God and man! From the serpent in the garden to Arius and Apollinaris in the 4th century to the modern church today! There aren’t new heresies, there are just the same old heresies dressed up in new clothes. Teaching that man or flesh is sinful and separated from God… inferior to God, lacking His divine nature, and eternal ONENESS.

How has the modern church fallen so far from what the ancient church believed, from what Paul and John taught? How did we stray from what the Nicene Council and the Council of Constantinople determined was the foundational tenets of Christianity? We find in our churches today theologies and ideas based on sin and separation from God. An idea that made the church in Nicea almost riot, causing them to cover their ears and shout down these “pagan” beliefs.” And yet we all to readily accept these false ideas as the ABSOLUTE teachings of the New Testament.  And while most believers have probably never heard of Athanasius, or Arius, or Apollinaris, I know I hadn’t heard of them before taking these classes at GGS! Most of us, however, have probably heard of the man Augustine. Even if the only thing we’ve heard about him is that he was one of the early church fathers.

That’s all I knew about him. And I just assumed that because he was a church father, he must’ve known what he was talking about. I also assumed that there was only ONE branch of Christianity, and so whatever we were being taught had to be what the New Testament taught. I had no idea that there are actually two branches of Christianity… Western Christianity influenced by St. Augustine of Hippo and Eastern Christianity influenced by St. Athanasius of Alexandria. And I definitely know that had I even heard of Western and Eastern Christianity, my mind would’ve pre-judged that Western Christianity must be correct (teaching what Paul taught in the New Testament) and Eastern Christianity must be some kind of new-age “eastern” pagan philosophy that I needed to steer clear of. And I don’t think that would be too far from what most believers would probably think! But, thank God for teachers who teach us theology in a simple, plain way that the average person can understand.

So, in 1054 AD Christianity officially split into two schools of thought… Eastern and Western. Also known as Catholic and Orthodox. One of the areas of disagreement was how the Trinity was to be understood. So, it officially separated into two “schools of thought.” I like that term. That isn’t so stringent! It allows me not to feel like I’m “backsliding” by looking at the other school of THOUGHT! It also infers that because there is another school of thought, maybe what I thought was the ONLY way, isn’t necessarily the ONLY way or even the RIGHT way!

In St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is The Four Pillars. On each pillar are names of men that have been called the Doctors of the Church.  St. Ambrose and St. Augustine for the Church of Rome and St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom for the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Augustine and Ambrose shaped the framework for theology and interpretation in the Western church. Whereas the eastern Christian church followed the teachings of Athanasius and Chrysostom.

Augustine based much of his writing for the Western church on the problem of man’s sin. And his quest for answers to the question of sin came from his own lifelong struggle with sex. He said Romans 13:13-14 was the Scripture he read that caused his conversion. It reads, “Not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” And while that’s a good Scripture, it’s no wonder his theology was focused on sin and punishment and separation from God.

After his conversion, he lived a life of celibacy and poverty, believing that both sex and money were evil! And as a result of sin consciousness, he devised a very Roman view of law and justice that has since shaped the Western church. Terms such as “Penal Substitution” and “Man is separated from God by sin” were all birthed from his commentaries.  The teachings of Stoicism, Neoplatonism, Aristotle, Plato, Manichaeism, and the Roman Catholic Church influenced Augustine.

On the other hand, Athanasius came from a very Jewish mindset and laid the foundation of Trinitarian Theology. His theology was based on 2 Corinthians 5:14, “For the love of Christ constrained us; because we thus judge that if One died for all, then all died.” His writings and commentaries centered on our co-union and relationship in the Godhead, not on sin, punishment, and separation from God. Athanasius was mentored by Irenaeus, who was mentored by Polycarp, who was mentored by the Apostle John.  Only three removed from John!! That’s a drastic contrast from Augustine, who had no connection to the Apostles, instead following the teachings of the philosophers of the day.

Paul warned the Colossians not to be taken captive through philosophy (philosophia meaning a lover of wisdom) and empty deceit according to men’s traditions, according to the principles of the world and not according to Christ.  But men in the 3rd and 4th centuries didn’t heed this warning. Instead, they mixed the ideas of the philosophers with the truth. These lovers of wisdom, these philosophers, were trying to find answers for what they felt was lacking in their lives. It sounds like the same old voice of religion that spoke to Eve in the garden. Telling them that they lacked the FULLNESS of God in their lives!  These philosopher’s experiences differed from what Paul taught, and they were desperate to understand why. However, they were seeking this understanding apart from Christ.

BUT there is no wisdom and understanding apart from Him. Jesus is Wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30). We’re to be lovers of Wisdom, lovers of Him, not love wisdom apart from Him! Colossians 2:9 says that the reason we are not to chase after philosophical wisdom apart from Christ is that in Christ, ALL the fullness of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Spirit) dwell IN bodily form.  And then verse 10 says that we are already COMPLETE in Him, filled to the FULL, with the fullness of the Godhead!  Augustine mixed his theology with the philosophy of the day, constructing a “gospel” of philosophy and empty deceit. And while he later changed some of his beliefs, the western church based their doctrines on his early theology of separation from God.

It’s time to change our perception. We can’t continue to understand the New Testament through Western eyes! Through the interpretations of church fathers like Augustine.  And it’s time as a church that we question these faulty doctrines, these wrong beliefs regarding the ONENESS of humanity and God. Teaching that human flesh is wicked, evil, sinful, and therefore separated from God!

This pagan concept of separation of flesh and God is not what the New Testament teaches. It’s not the Gospel that Paul received from Jesus… in fact, it’s not the gospel at all! The Gospel of Grace that Jesus revealed in His incarnation, that Paul taught in the New Testament, and that men like Apostle John, Polycarp, Irenaeus, and Athanasius taught is that God (Father, Son, and Spirit) is perfectly at home IN human flesh. The Gospel of Grace is all about our union… us IN Christ and Christ IN Us!

But since the days of Adam, mankind has feared God because of a misunderstanding of who He is. Thinking that He was too holy to look upon us in our “sinful state.” We ran and hid, expecting God to punish us and judge us. And over several thousand years, that same Adamic mindset gradually worked up a systematic theology that said:  God is over there, and I am over here.

But we were always IN Him, even before Adam fell. Ephesians 1:4 (Mirror) says “He associated us IN Christ before the fall of the world! Jesus is God’s mind made up about us! He always knew in His love that He would present us again face to face before Him in blameless innocence.” The entire “fall” was simply a falling away in our minds from our true identity as sons made in God’s image and likeness. There never was a separation between heaven and earth, between God and man, except in our minds darkened or blinded by a sin consciousness.

Religion keeps us in bondage to a pagan idea of separation from God. A separation that does not exist from God’s perspective. The true gospel is concerned with freeing us from that bondage – waking us up to the reality that we are ONE with Father, Son, and Spirit.  There is never a time when Jesus was not IN the Father. And never a time when we were not “IN Him.” This is what the incarnation was about! God, coming IN human flesh to set us free in our thinking… to reveal to us who He is, who we are, and that we are ONE with God! The problem has been a lack of knowledge of our co union. Of knowing that this intimate union IN the Godhead and the Godhead IN us is what we were created for. Our thinking instead has been that man “down here” is evil, and God “up there” is too holy and good to abide with man.

Genesis tells us a different story than what religion tries to tell us. Genesis 1 says that God created everything, and it was GOOD. Then He made mankind IN His image and likeness and declared it is VERY GOOD. Genesis 2:8 tells us then He planted a garden in Eden and placed man there. In Hebrew, Eden means delight, pleasure, luxury. God has never had a problem with us having delight, pleasure, or even luxury! Religion has said those things are evil. God says they are GOOD!

He also placed in this garden of delight… in this garden of pleasure and luxury, two trees. A tree of life and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree of life is also mentioned in Revelation 22. It says that it stood on either side of the River of life (i.e., the Spirit) that flowed from the throne of God. And it continually bore fruit, and its leaves were healing for the nations. It goes on to say that there was no more curse, BUT the throne (grace) of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants will worship Him. Verse 4 goes on to say, “and they will see His face (co-union); and His name will be on their foreheads, and there will not be night, nor the need of a lamp, or the light of the sun because the Lord will enlighten (shine) upon them, and they will reign (rule) forever and ever.”

What a beautiful picture of us IN CHRIST!  Religion and philosophy eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and as a result, produced all kinds of sin conscious doctrine that we were never meant to have in our lives. Doctrines that were given to us by men like Arius and Augustine who mixed Christianity with the pagan philosophies of their day. They were pagan philosophies that promoted things like duality (good and evil; light and darkness) and sinful, depraved humanity being separated from God. We were created to feed on the tree of life – to live IN co-union with the Godhead. To live life IN Christ… eternally ONE with Father, Son, and Spirit.

I love that the word theology is from two words, theos and logos. Theos means God, and in the Septuagint, it is the Hebrew equivalent Elohim, which is Father, Son, and Spirit. Logos is, of course, Jesus or the Word. Theology is Theos Logos. John 1:1 says, “in the beginning, was the Logos (Jesus) and the Logos (Jesus) was with (pros=face to face with) Theos (God – Elohim; Father, Son & Spirit), and the Theos (God – Elohim; Father, Son & Spirit) was Logos (Jesus).” He was face to face (ONENESS) with the Godhead in the beginning. And the Godhead (Theos) was the Logos (Jesus). The word was is imperfect indicative indicating a continuing situation in the past. The Godhead was Jesus and continues to be Jesus! They are ONE BEING! Jesus is perfect theology.

The Logos is the One who came to earth, became flesh, and dwelt among us (according to John 1:14) and revealed to us the Father! Theology is defined as the study of the nature of God. The Logos is the incarnation of Theos (Father, Son, and Spirit) on the earth. And we can only understand the nature of God by looking at Jesus, the incarnate Son, who is the exact image of the Father. To see the Son is to see the Father and to see the Father is to see the Son. They are one in the same (homoiousia – ONE BEING!). And IN Jesus (the Logos), the FULLNESS of the Deity (Theos – Father, Son, and Spirit) dwell. Incarnational theology (incarnational theos logos) is the triune nature of God dwelling IN man.

So, in the beginning, there was a triune God. And IN Jesus was the fullness of this triune God IN flesh, walking on earth among men. Jesus walked IN this mutual movement of ONENESS. This shared fellowship. He walked IN this perichoresis… the beautiful dance of Father, Son, and Spirit IN human flesh, releasing the love and goodness of God!  Revealing to ALL that not only is the Father pleased with them, but He passionately LOVES them! Jesus came and revealed that God is not an “up there,” distant God. But a relational God… a family God! He’s not a judicial God. He’s a Father! Abba!

And just as the Father, Son, and Spirit share a ONENESS that is characterized by Love, we were created, destined, in fact, predestined IN Christ from before the foundation of the world, to be sharers with Them in this beautiful dance of life and love (perichoresis). To be partakers of Their divine nature. We are included IN their Triune circle… we are ONE with Them. That is what Jesus came to show us. Jesus (Logos) was the conduit through which the triune God (Theos) chose to communicate (also logos). Their ONE BEING (homoousian) was communicated or revealed to us through the Incarnation of Jesus.

He didn’t come to reveal that we could become part of this union IF we would just receive Him. NO! He came revealing that we have ALWAYS been a part of this perichoretic union. Because before time ever existed, we were already IN CHRIST. Chosen IN Him. Of course, believing it allows us to experience the beauty of incarnation… of the awareness that we are right now FULL of the Godhead just like Jesus (Colossians 2:10). We have always been included IN the Triune God. There has never been a time humanity was outside of God. EXCEPT in our own minds. In our own wrong thinking. We have always been IN the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus on this earth lived a life of divine participation of Divine Life in time and space. Likewise, with us, we are divine participants of the Divine Life in this world, right NOW. We will never be more ONE than we already are and always have been. They breathed their Divine Life INTO mankind from the beginning… making Themselves ONE with us and us with Them.

Mankind had simply lost sight of who God was over the years. They believed He was transcendent, beyond and above the realm of mere physical, human experience. And so, they believed that communication with God came only through the prophets. Their mindset was God is FOR us or at times, God against us based on their behavior.  But Jesus comes along and reveals that God is WITH them. And then Paul comes along with the revelation that Jesus said, “they were unable yet to bear.” That God is WITHIN us. He reveals the mystery of God’s eternal good news… Christ IN you! What a radical concept for this generation of people in Paul’s day. Sadly, it is still a radical concept for us today! The message of the New Testament is imminence, which is Christ incarnated (embodied) IN us, AS us.

Paul wasn’t teaching that Christ would be imported into us (to live in our hearts) when we believe. NO! He taught that Christ has always been IN us, and all we need is a revelation. He’s already there, we just haven’t understood it. He told the Galatians that it pleased the Father to REVEAL the Son IN him (Paul) so that he (Paul and us!) would preach or proclaim Him IN others. In Philippians 2:13, Paul tells them (and us!) that it is Theos (God; Elohim; Father, Son, and Spirit) IN us! He is the One working IN US both to will and to do His good pleasure! What good news! We don’t have to try and get our will aligned with what pleases Him. Nor do we have to try and DO what pleases Him. No… the Father, Son, and the Spirit IN us does all of that FOR us, AS us, and THROUGH us. Paul’s complete message was CHRIST IN YOU. His understanding of theology… Theos Logos IN all mankind! Father, Son, and Spirit IN you, AS you, and living Their lives THROUGH you.

Paul taught grace as the fact that we move through this life IN union with God… perfect, complete ONENESS. There is nothing we lack. There is no part of God, not IN us. They (Father, Son, and Spirit) have NOT withheld any part of Themselves! We have Their Divine nature, Their passions, Their joy, Their health, Their immortality, Their LIFE, and LOVE! We are not simply living beings like the first Adam was. No, we are Life giving spirits like the LAST Adam! I love the acronym Paul Anderson Walsh uses, ClimateChrist Living IN Me Alters The Environment!

1 Corinthians 6:17 says, “he who is joined to the Lord is ONE spirit!” Not two spirits… He isn’t up there, and we’re down here like religion has always taught. No! ONE SPIRIT! ONE Life giving spirit! Giving life to the environment around me. How? By living in the awareness of ONENESS. Living conscious of Their life being lived through mine. Elohim/Theos (Father, Son, and Spirit) sees through my eyes, speaks through my mouth, and thinks through my mind. They are IN my body, feeling within my feelings! They are touching people through my hands, releasing Their love, goodness, compassion, and good pleasure into everyone’s lives that I come into contact with. I give Life to the environment around me by walking through life with the awareness, the knowledge of AS HE IS SO AM I in this world.

Most theologians have made theology hard for the average person to grasp. Using big words that most of us would need to refer to a dictionary while listening to them. When I tell most people that I am working on my Masters, in Theology, I get funny reactions. People assume someone studying theology, must be smarter than they are, more spiritual than they are, or too deep for NORMAL conversation! For Jesus, living life in union with the Father in the Spirit was normal. He lived IN and from this ONENESS as a son, a carpenter, a rabbi, a friend, etcetera.  In ALL the normalcy of life!

Theology shouldn’t be hard. The understanding of what God is like shouldn’t be beyond our ability to grasp. Jesus is PERFECT theology! As long as we look at Him, we can’t miss seeing who God is and what They (Father, Son, and Spirit) are like. I want to be able to make the grasp of theology EASY for people… not giving them long discussions filled with all kinds of big, technical words that make them feel like they know nothing about God. Or making them feel inferior! What I want is for people to walk away feeling like they really know God. And that they could now go and explain who He is and what He’s like (i.e. theology) to other people.

Paul’s simple theology was Christ in ALL men. John’s was God is Love. David’s was God is GOOD! And my husband’s theology is, by far, my favorite. When telling people who God is, he paraphrases Jeremiah 3:19 telling them, the Almighty God says about Himself, “call Me Daddy!” It’s simple and yet so deep! He is Daddy! He is Love! He is Good! And the Father, Son, and Spirit live IN ALL men! God never saw human flesh as something evil! As something, He needed to separate Himself from! NO! He is perfectly at home in human flesh… it has always been His favorite abode! We were created to be His dwelling place! That is Incarnational Theology in a nutshell!

 

 

 

 

 

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