Tis The Season - Part 1
Conversations with A toothpaste cap
One morning, when I was about 24, I woke up and went through my daily routine. Nothing significant changed that particular morning. I had coffee, breakfast, and got ready for work. But when I went to brush my teeth, it turned into one of the greatest demarcation moments of my life. I picked up the toothpaste and realized that I had yet again neglected to put the cap on the tube the previous night. I don’t know if you have ever consistently forgotten to replace the cap on the toothpaste, but when you do it day in and day out, eventually the whole top of the toothpaste is filled with dry, crusty, old toothpaste. It is disgusting.
For some reason, that morning when I picked up the toothpaste, I stopped and thought, “Why can I never remember to do something so simple as replacing the toothpaste cap?” It was that question that got the ball rolling on a number of other personal insights in my life that would play out over the next few years. If I couldn’t be trusted to replace the toothpaste cap, in what other ways was I neglecting areas of my life? And if something so simple had passed me by every morning, what other things in my life was I unaware of? The toothpaste cap began to convince me that I really did not have everything together, and if my life was going to improve, it was going to take consistent work.
When we become Christians the bible teaches us that the life of Christ is now our life. We have died to our old life and are now alive in him. Our old man is dead and buried we are to put on the new man. Bible verse after bible verse claims that everything has changed:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. Galatians 6:15
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Romans 8:5-6
If all of these are true, and I am becoming the image of God, how come I had so little control over my life that I couldn’t even remember to screw a tiny little lid on a tube of toothpaste? I am fearfully and wonderfully made, yet that one little thing that drove me crazy I did not have the power to change.
The Early Church and Jesus
When the early church fathers wrote about Jesus, often times their purpose was not so much to explain how to live a Godly life (though they did that), but rather to understand the nature of the Trinity and to defend the theology of the Trinity. This is never more present in Church history that in the 4th and 5th centuries when people like Augustine and Athanasius were writing significant books about the who Jesus was, what he accomplished on the cross, and his place as God.
Paul says that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” and that he, “determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” This means that the hidden treasures of Christ are found in the weakness of Christ, or his humanity. Given that, Augustine, Athanasius, and others of the time were convinced that in order to understand Christ as fully God, we would have to understand Christ as emptied of divinity.
Augustine wrote that any misunderstanding about Jesus was due to a failure of human understanding. If people would simply do a careful study through scripture, the matter would become much clearer.
“…men have erred through a want of careful examination or consideration of the whole tenor of the Scriptures, and have endeavored to transfer those things which are said of Jesus Christ according to the flesh, to that substance of His which was eternal before the incarnation, and is eternal.”
Misunderstanding about Jesus come about because people take statements that are meant to speak to his humanity and apply them to his divinity.
A clear example of this is found when someone reads Jesus saying in John 14:28,
How could the Father be greater than Jesus if Jesus is also God? Misunderstandings like these have splintered our view of the Godhead and confused modern Christians about the nature of God and the nature of the Father. Many of our views of the Trinity have an implied divisibility within them. The statement in John does create a theological problem IF it applies to the divinity of Christ.
Paul laid out the simple way to understand this theological conundrum in Philippians 2:
“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.”
Jesus, the very son of God, coequal with God, took on the form of a servant, came in the likeness of men, and emptied himself. So Jesus, the son, became less than himself. How can the Father be greater than Jesus? Because even Jesus was at one point greater than Jesus.
And so that no one takes any added confusion that this means there was a time in history that Jesus was not fully divine, Philippians 2 says that the way in which he emptied himself was to take on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. It does not say that he was no longer fully divine, what it does says is that he was both God and man. His emptying was not a negation of his God-ability, but a taking on a temporary human body and humbling himself unto death.
Setting a clear distinction between passages that speak of the divinity of Christ and the humanity of Christ brings clarity to many passages in scripture. How can Jesus be equal with God yet also begotten as John 1 tells us? Because his begottenness does not imply generation or creation, but nature and relationship. If Jesus is only the Son because he was at one point created (begotten), this means the Father was at one point not the Father. Jesus is eternally the son and the Father is eternally the father because that is the eternal relationship within the Godhead. Jesus was not begotten at a time in creation, rather this verse speaks to the nature of the Godhead.
Another one is Hebrews 1, that Jesus is the image of God. If you have ever seen an image of a person, you know that the image is not the person himself. The image is something that points to the person and tells you about the person, but is not the fullness of that individual. So how can Jesus be the image and also be fully God? Hebrews 1 also states that Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God.” Does this mean that the Father has no radiance or glory if only Jesus is the radiance and glory? Of course not. He is the Father of lights, He is radiant. Jesus is the image of God in that, for roughly 30 years, the word became flesh and “imaged” God into creation. Jesus was the image in that he took on human flesh to demonstrate to a fallen world the loving nature of a good God.
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