Trinity and Incarnation
1 John 5:19-21 (ESV) We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
The Athanasian Creed, which we confessed on Holy Trinity Sunday, says, “whoever desires to be saved must” hold to the articulation of the Trinity given in the Creed. Yet the Creed goes on to explain that confessing faith in the Trinity is not the whole of our Faith: “But it is also necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This reminds us that the real question that leads us Christians to insist that God is one God in three Persons is: “Who is Jesus?” Is He only a regular man, perhaps a great prophet sent by God? Or is Jesus also divine, truly God Himself?
If God exists in eternity and not in time, and if He created the world out of nothing, then logic requires that everything in the universe is either God or a creature of God. But consider the following passages from God’s Word:
“…they…crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:8)
“…the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)
“[God’s] Son Jesus Christ…is the true God and eternal life.” (1 John 5:20)
“…when they saw [Jesus], they worshiped him.” (Matthew 28:16)
[Jesus said,] “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)
As the passages show, the New Testament clearly depicts the man Jesus as divine, as God Himself. He is the “Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8), “God” (Acts 20:28), “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20), worshiped by His disciples (Matthew 28:16; in the Bible, people are allowed to worship God alone, otherwise it is idolatry), and “one” with God the Father (John 10:30). Yet these passages also depict Jesus as a true man, a creature: “crucified,” with “blood,” and walking, talking, and standing just like the rest of us.
The only way the early Church could satisfactorily resolve the seemingly contradictory teaching—that Jesus is not only God the Creator but also part of the creation as a man—was by articulating the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity.
The Incarnation is the doctrine that God’s only-begotten Son (the second Person of the Holy Trinity) became a man by taking up human flesh when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. So this one Lord Jesus Christ has both a divine and a human nature in His single person.
If you believe Jesus is God, then as a consequence you have to confess the doctrine of the Trinity; on the other hand, if you reject the divinity of Jesus, you are consequently going to reject the doctrine of the Trinity. Incarnation and Trinity go hand in hand; you can’t have one without the other, as the Athanasian Creed explains. So throughout history, orthodox Christians have confessed the Faith taught in Holy Scripture and the Creeds and opposed the heresies espoused by anyone who rejects the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity. We confess the orthodox faith and condemn heresy not only because we want to confess God’s truth in Holy Scripture but also because we want to have the certainty of salvation.
If Jesus is not truly God and truly man, then our salvation is up in the air, uncertain. Jesus needed to be a true man in order to take our place under God’s Law (Galatians 4:4-5) and then to suffer and die in our place under God’s wrath (Hebrews 2:14). But He needed to be true God in order to fulfill the whole Law perfectly in our place (Romans 5:18-19), to provide a perfect ransom for sins as our Redeemer (Mark 10:45) [which no single human can do for the whole world (Psalm 49:7-8)], and to defeat the devil and overcome death for us (2 Timothy 1:10).
So in the Incarnation, God takes up human flesh in order to redeem fallen humanity and give us the hope of everlasting life (which is, by definition, only something that God possesses and so only He can give it). What amazing love God has shown to us by coming down into our sin-filled world to redeem us! Our God is not remote, out of touch, and distant from us, but is willing to “get His hands dirty” in the Incarnation in order to save us.
Prayer (LSB 540: 1, 5, 6):
1. Christ, the Word of God incarnate,
Lord and Son of Abraham;
Christ, the radiance of the Father,
Perfect God, the great I AM;
Christ, the light, You shine unvanquished,
Light and life You bring to all;
Light our path with Your own presence,
Grant us grace to heed Your call.
5. Christ, the way that leads unfailing
To the Father’s home on high,
Christ, the truth that frees the captive,
Christ, the life that cannot die.
Mediator to the Father,
Sacrifice and great High Priest:
Lead us to Your heav’nly mansions,
There to share Your wedding feast.
6. Christ, the Alpha and Omega,
Christ, the firstborn from the dead,
Christ, the life and resurrection,
Christ, the Church’s glorious head:
Praise and thanks and adoration
And unending worship be
To the Father and the Spirit
And to You eternally. Amen.