Incarnational Christianity

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This past week, Dr. Leonard Sweet posted something on Facebook that really got me to thinking.  He wrote,

“Christianity is a religion of incarnation. Any attempt to make it into a religion of explanation, examination or execution is an abomination.”

In a world where Christ has been theologized, sermonized, debated and hated, I think we do well to pay attention to these powerful words.

The Original Picture

When God really wanted to reveal Himself to His people, He didn’t hand them a theology book.  They already had all that had been written about Him up to that point, and were still largely ignorant as to who He really was.  What did He do?

And the Word (God) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14 (parenthesis mine)

Or, as Eugene Peterson so eloquently interpreted it in The Message,

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

God put skin on in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, and stepped onto the stage of human history where He could clearly be seen by all.  This is the original picture of the Incarnation.  Now, for the first time ever, man could see with his naked eye what God was really like.  So complete was this unveiling that Jesus would later say to His disciples,

“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  John 14:10

Incarnational Living

While we certainly celebrate the original Incarnation, we mustn’t stop there.  God wants His people to continue to live incarnationally.  It is the predetermined will of the Father that every one of His people be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).  Because we could never accomplish this on our own, God sent us a Helper in the person of His Holy Spirit who would live within each on of Christ’s followers.

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.  John 14:16 – 17 (emphasis mine)

This union is so complete that our bodies become the actual temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19 – 20).  As we live under the governmental guidance of this Indwelling Helper, He reproduces the nature of Christ within us.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no lawGalatians 5:22 – 23

I heard Dr. Howard Hendricks say in a message many years ago that the fruit of the Spirit is the shortest life of Christ ever written.  This is incarnational living.

In Practical Terms

I believe the apostle John shows us how this works out in practical terms.

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us1 John 4:12

Notice carefully what John is saying.  No one has ever seen God, yet when we love one another God abides in us.  What does John mean?  When we love one another, people see God!  Why?  Because God is love! (1 John 4:8)  When we love one another we live in God and God lives in us.  The result is that He is manifested in the lives of His people.  This is the practical outworking of incarnational living.

One of my favorite movies is Les Miserables.  In the closing scenes, the saintly bishop who was instrumental in Jean Valjean’s redemption, visits him as he is dying.  One of the lines the bishop sings is,

To love another person is to see the face of God.”

While there is a lot of merit to that thought, I believe it needs a little tweaking.  Perhaps it should be,

“To love another person is to show the face of God.”

That’s incarnational Christianity.

Isn’t It Time?

Isn’t it time we put aside our theologizing, theorizing, sermonizing, and debating to simply get on with living Christ in the midst of a broken world?  Society desperately needs to see God as He really is.  That can only be accomplished as we, His people, go about our daily lives living in the Reign.

M

“Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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