“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” 2 Corinthians 5:17.
I haven’t posted in awhile, but I thought that I should put my education to work over the summer before I head off to Yale Divinity in the fall to begin an MA. As a member of a local church, Horizon Christian Fellowship Central, I feel that I should use all of the hard work I’ve put into my theology major these past three years so that I can help others. So here comes round one…
The past year, I lived in what people have come to call “The Theology House.” It was an intentional living community started by our Theology Department Chair, Skip Jenkins. I won’t go into the minute details of everyday life, but one particularly beneficial aspect was the evening devotions we had three nights per week. The other five guys I lived with would always discuss a particular debate they had one night (before I joined the house) about whether or not the Son of God retained his human nature after the resurrection (I am assuming an elementary understanding of the dual natures of Christ (human and divine)). They entitled this debate “Post-Resurrection Quasi-Monophysite Jesus.” For the blog, its not necessary to know exactly what that title is referring to.
At this point, I’m sure you are thinking about exiting this tab and spending your time in a better way (read: instead of on something that doesn’t matter!), but I want to spin this around back to salvation at its most basic level. The point of this debate boils down to whether or not the Son of God in a sense needs the human nature any more. We all believe that the Son of God became human in order to do a certain work on this earth. The work of Christ culminates in his ministry, passion, and resurrection. It would seem, if the work was temporal to his time on earth, that the Son’s work of salvation is finished forever and there would be no point for the Son of God to remain incarnate. Any objections so far?
However, I believe that type of understanding rests upon a simplistic and worrisome definition of salvation: that Christ merely did what needed to be done, then was finished with the whole endeavor, awaiting humans to make a “decision” to accept the offer of salvation. But what IS salvation? If salvation is merely God declaring one righteous once they accept Christ and forgiving their sins, then Christ’s work does seem to have been finished at the cross. On this view, we merely need a heavenly judge to move us from the guilty category to the righteous category and that’s that. On the contrary, I would like to get back to a more traditional understanding of salvation, one that doesn’t merely stop at penal substitution. Salvation is much more than that.
The real problem addressed by the Incarnate Son is that of human separation from God. Some proposals think that this issue can be addressed just by declaring humans righteous because our guiltiness was the only thing separating us from God in the first place, but I would disagree. There is something different about the being of God and the being of humans. The two are completely different, and cannot have any sort of union due to the completely different nature of humanity. The gospel is the story of God drawing humanity into union with the Trinity, not merely removing our guilt (and thus “saving us from hell”). In the Incarnation, there is a perfect unity between God and Humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. This is a real unity. A type of unity in the same category as the fellowship God desires with all humanity. In order for this to work, however, Christ becomes the means by which we are brought into union with God through the incarnation.
We are saved IN Christ, not merely BY Christ. To be saved IN Christ means to secure the fellowship with God that was brought about by the Son’s taking on a human nature in the Incarnation. We are saved in Christ’s human nature, and that human nature is the means by which we have the ability to be in eternal unity/fellowship with God. Christ, in this way, remains the one mediator between God and humanity by acting as that point of unity. As we are united to Christ in salvation, we also become united with God because Christ is both human and divine. Christ’s dual nature is the means by which humanity can have fellowship with God for all eternity! This becomes fully realized only after we ourselves are resurrected from the dead, just as Christ was.
So far, I have presented a bunch of scrambled statements and ideas in an attempt to redirect our minds to the meaning of salvation. The debate about whether the Son retains his human nature is an important one, because one’s answer to this question reveals their underlying view of salvation: whether it is merely God wiping our slate and declaring us righteous, or whether it is God providing the opportunity for unity with Godself for all humanity in a fellowship of love. For real human fellowship with God in eternity, The Son must retain his human nature as it is the means by which our fellowship with God is enabled. Though you may not care about the debate we had in “The Theology House,” a significant point of clarity came out through it, and that was the underlying meaning of salvation as eternal fellowship with God.
Though one day I will be much more clear and organized, I felt the need to briefly get out some thoughts in order to help facilitate discussion about what it means to be saved. There will definitely be more to come!