How Was Jesus God Incarnate?

Christmas (or the incarnation and birth of Jesus) by itself is no gospel. The life of Christ alone is also no gospel. Even the resurrection, important as it is in the whole scheme of things, is no gospel by itself.

Dave Jenkins
Nativity scene

A classic question on why Jesus became man and its answer is found in Anslem of Canterbury’s theological masterpiece, Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Man?). This book deals with the question of the Incarnation.

Anslem stated that God became man in Christ because only one who was both God and man could achieve our salvation. The Incarnation — Jesus taking on a fully human state — shows us that God has not abandoned us but rather loves and values us, even in our fallen state.

Why Did God Put on Flesh?

The atonement is the reason God came as a man. Consider these verses:

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.” Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:4-7,10).

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Jesus linked the success of his mission to the crucifixion:

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

In John’s Gospel, the crucifixion is spoken of as that “vital hour” for which Christ came (John 2:4; 3:30; 8:20; 12:23; 27; 13:1; 17:1).

The death of Jesus is also a major theme throughout the Old Testament: First, in regard to the meaning of the sacrifices (the meaning at the heart of the law), then in regard to the prophecies, which focused increasingly on the promise of a Coming Redeemer.

Isaiah 53 and other Old Testament texts speak of the suffering of the deliverer to come.

In Galatians, the Apostle Paul teaches that even Abraham, who lived before both the law and prophets, was saved by faith in the Lord [Jesus] (Galatians 3:8,16).

Furthermore, Jesus told the downcast disciples on the Emmaus Road that the Old Testament foretold His death and resurrection (Luke 24:25-27).

The atonement of Christ is the primary reason for the Incarnation. It explains the twofold nature of Jesus and the focal point of the world and biblical history.

The Centrality of the Cross

Several explanations follow from the foundation we have built on the doctrine of the Incarnation. First, according to the Scriptures, Calvary is the center of Christianity. Many consider the Incarnation to be the most important thing.

In other words, they consider God identifying Himself with man and consider the atonement as something of an afterthought. According to the Bible, the reason for the God-Man is that it required just such a person to die for our salvation.

To focus on the Incarnation apart from the cross leads to false sentimentality and neglect of the horror and magnitude of human sin.

Second, if Christ’s death on the cross is the incarnation’s true meaning, then there is no gospel without the cross. Christmas (or the birth of Jesus) by itself is no gospel. The life of Christ alone is also no gospel. Even the resurrection, important as it is in the whole scheme of things, is no gospel by itself.

The good news is not just that God became a man, nor that God has spoken to reveal a proper way of life to us; the good news is not even our great triumph over that great enemy we call death.

Instead, the good news is that sin has been dealt with (the resurrection is proof of this); that Jesus has suffered its penalty for us as our representative so that we might never have to suffer it, and therefore all who believe in Him can look forward to Heaven.

Emulation of Christ’s life and teaching is only possible for those entering into a new relationship with God through faith in Jesus as their substitute. The resurrection is not merely a victory over death. Still, the resurrection is proof that the atonement was satisfactory in the sight of the Father (Romans 4:25) and that death, the result of sin, is abolished on that basis.

Any gospel that talks merely of the Christ-event, meaning the Incarnation without the atonement, is a false gospel. Any gospel that speaks about the love of God without pointing out that His love led Him to pay the ultimate price for sin on the cross is a false gospel. The only true gospel is of the “One Mediator” (1 Timothy 2:5-6), who gave Himself for us.

Finally, just as there can be no gospel without the atonement as the reason for the Incarnation, there can be no Christian life without it. Without the atonement, the Incarnation becomes a kind of deification of the human and leads to arrogance and self-advancement.

With the atonement, the true message of Christ’s life, and therefore of the life of the Christian man or woman, is humility and self-sacrifice. The Christian life is not indifferent to those who are hungry, sick or suffering from some other lack.

It is not contentment with our own abundance, neither the abundance of middle-class living with homes, cars, clothes, and vacations. Nor is it satisfied with the abundance of education, or even the abundance of good churches, Bibles, biblical teaching, or Christian friends/acquaintances.

Rather, it is the awareness that others lack these things and that we must therefore sacrifice many of our own interests to identify with them, and thus bring them increasingly into the abundance we enjoy.

Paul, writing on the Incarnation in 2 Corinthians 8:9 said, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Also, in Philippians 2:5-11, he states,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is a strong reminder that we must emulate Christ in every way.

One Last Glance

The doctrine of the Incarnation demonstrates that God offers a solution to man’s problem of sin. God, in His love, sent Jesus into the world. Jesus lived a sinless life as a man, all the while experiencing all the temptations mankind faces. And yet, He lived a sinless life in the midst of people who constantly criticized Him while begging Him for miracles.

The people during Christ’s ministry spit in His face and ridiculed Him, but all the while, Jesus demonstrated that He cared for people by teaching, healing, setting the captives free, raising the dead, and so much more.

All of this disproves the modern notion that God is not interested in man. By becoming a man, God demonstrated that He was interested in mankind through His own willingness to step into our time and space and die for our sins.

So, when we consider the doctrine of Incarnation, let us worship the God of the Bible — the Creator of all and the Redeemer of sinners who alone is worthy of all praise, honor, and glory.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/RomoloTavani

Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOGInstagram, read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign to receive his newsletter. When Dave isn’t busy with ministry, he loves spending time with his wife, Sarah, reading the latest from Christian publishers, the Reformers, and the Puritans, playing golf, watching movies, sports, and spending time with his family.

Originally published November 06, 2020.