God is

Way More

Personal

Than you may Think

See also: Intimacy with God

Psalm 139

The Inescapable God

To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me. 
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from far away. 
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
   and are acquainted with all my ways. 
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
   O Lord, you know it completely. 
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
   and lay your hand upon me. 
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
   it is so high that I cannot attain it. 

7 Where can I go from your spirit?
   Or where can I flee from your presence? 
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 
9 If I take the wings of the morning
   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me fast. 
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
   and the light around me become night’, 
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day,
   for darkness is as light to you. 

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
   Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well. 
15   My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
   intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
   all the days that were formed for me,
   when none of them as yet existed. 
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
   How vast is the sum of them! 
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
   I come to the end—I am still with you. 

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
   and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me— 
20 those who speak of you maliciously,
   and lift themselves up against you for evil! 
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
   And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? 
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
   I count them my enemies. 
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my thoughts. 
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Personalized Salvation

Real Life Now

Intimacy

Prodigal

Almighty Father

The Last One Percent

The Eightfold Way to Knowing God

Born Again and Adopted

How Jesus Saves

Suppose I said to you, "God is Three Persons." Would you think of three men in suits and ties sitting around a conference table in charge of a large corporation? Sure, they are "persons" with families, history, a great track record but way too busy to see either you or me. If we gained a few minutes of their time, would it get us what we needed. In fact would an audience with the Pope or with the King do any real good? Mom and dad can only help us go so far in life, even if they are wise and caring parents. My gf, bf, is a great encourager, but they always come with excess baggage. Don't you need a bigger God?

Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge..." (1 Corinthians 8:5--7)

The real God IS three distinct persons. You and I are invited to get to know each of the Persons intimately. They have "all the time in the world" for you or me. Also paradoxical is the fact that the Three act in concert and unity so perfectly they act as One.

Many people I know don't believe God exists at all! Still others claim to know Him--He bails them out in a time of trouble but He is otherwise either disinterested or impotent, or both. You gave Jesus Christ permission to take over your life did you not (He is Lord)? You may not realize it but you are safer than you've ever been before. Your eternal destiny is guaranteed.

The body of everyone one of us is described in the Bible as a temple. In the sanctuary of our hearts either the true God reigns or all manner of false gods control us! Since there are three Persons in the godhead, all three take up residence in us: "Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." (John 17:3)

God the Father is in you: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Jesus Christ is in you: Jesus said... ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him." (John 14:6,7)

God the Holy Spirit is in you: "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:30)

Focus on knowing Jesus. He is, for instance, a fully human being. Jesus will introduce you to the Father and to the Holy Spirit.

Ray Stedman pointed out, "There is only one way to the Father. Jesus said so, but there are many ways to know the Savior. Come to Jesus and He will introduce you to the Father."

The Holy Spirit is also in you if you know Jesus. We are urged, "...be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 5:18-20). The Holy Spirit seals each of us with an invisible mark of God's ownership. The Spirit (aka The Comforter) is our intimate companion in life,

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him...

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:14-27)

There are many other gods out there. Only the God of the Bible is personal and knowable. Occasionally an email reaches me from a Muslim who is seeking to persuade me that Allah is the one true god with no rivals. I often start a discussion by making a few comparisons between Allah the god of Islam, and Yahweh the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There are major differences. Yahweh is a personal God. He enters into personal relationships (covenants) with individuals and with groups of people. Allah is not a personal god. Muslims do not receive any assurance of forgiveness for their sins during their life-times, nor any inner confirmation that they are dealing with a living, personal, intelligent, responsive being.

Beware of counterfeits: "Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold." (Matthew 24:10-12)

The religion Abraham gave to the Jewish people was strictly monotheistic--a vivid contrast when introduced by the Patriarch four millennia ago, in a pagan, polytheistic setting. Muslims are also strict monotheists and have difficulty understanding that God could be One yet possess an inner plurality of Persons.

Many people today are polytheists (perhaps without realizing it). In religions where more than one god is supposed to exist, the gods are generally male and female and often sexually active among themselves and sometimes with mortals. They are frequently rivals of one another with a hierarchy, and with territorial boundaries or other limits to their power and rule. Some pagan gods are part human and part animal.

But consider a hypothetical universe where God was one person--one entity. Prior to creating anything, we can easily imagine that a one-person-god might eventually become, in time, a bit "lonely." In fact when we think of "person" we always automatically think or more than one person(s). What would a one-personal god do with all his time if he had no companions? Surely he would be bored with no one to relate with? If that one-personal god then decided to created sentient beings--men and angels--how could he avoid creating robots and puppets who surely would soon also bore him? Without a consort this god one-personal deity would have no equal. But if god were to have a consort, we already would have a universe of two gods. i.e., living under some form of dualism.

If a one-person god were all-powerful, why would he ask his subjects to bow to his wishes and demand that they live in subservience in all matters? Surely that would be a dull and unimaginative arrangement for all parties?

One of the other Hebrew names for the God of Abraham is Elohim. This important name is used in Genesis One--and a total of 2750 times in the Old Testament. Elohim is a plural noun which takes singular verbs--implying more than one Person in the godhead, a Being who always acts self-consistently ("in concert" or "by divine counsel"). But it is only in the New Testament that we get a clear picture that the true God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit--three Persons yet one God. We only know this about God because He has chosen to reveal Himself to his creatures this way--it is not something we can discovery by reason or scientific investigation.

Now consider the situation where no universe has yet been created, but a Three-Personal living God exists (eternally). The three Persons, we suppose, are equal, but not identical. Since all "personal relationships" we know about involving giving and taking, initiating and responding, leading and following, it is easy to imagine that the Persons of the godhead are likely to be perpetually involved in some kind of totally fulfilling relationships among one another. They evidently do not ever become bored with one another. Nor does a three-personal God need a creation. This kind of God could exist with an inner dynamism which we can scarcely begin to even imagine. When we add into this picture the additional information--which He has also revealed to us--namely "God is Love," then it is not difficult to imagine that each Person of the godhead lives not for Himself but for the other Persons within the godhead. This God can apparently not act selfishly as we do -- His love is always "self-giving."

For this three-Personal God to decide to create a universe with men and angels in it now takes on a whole new dimension. What if this God has chosen to allow men and angels to know Him and to relate to Him personally? Suppose we are invited somehow to "share in His love?" If the real God has chosen to make men very much like himself in terms of free-will, creativity, imagination, diversity--and the capability of loving and being loved--then He has given us created beings the highest possible honor.

Pay particular attention to the Second Person in the Godhead. For instance He is a team player in the creation of the entire universe. Think of God the Father as the Architect, the Designer. God the Son is the Master Builder who constructs the universe in accordance to the Design. Finally, God the Holy Spirit imparts life, energizes the entire created universe, and upholds it.

Jesus and the Creation of Everything

Several separate passages in the New Testament make reference to the creation of the universe. John's gospel speaks of an earlier state of existence than is described in Verse 1 of Genesis,

In the beginning was the Word, [logos] and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; [before creation] all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father...No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. (John 1: 1-17)

This passage of the New Testament teaches that Jesus was eternally existent with God the Father prior to the creation of all things. (He was not given the name Jesus until He came into the world. In the Old Testament the Second Person shows up as THE Angel of the Lord. Further, this Word, the Son of God, was and is fully God in his own right. At a point late in the history of mankind the Son of God became a man and was born into the human race as a man in order to solve the problem of death and to repair a broken universe).

Chapter One of Paul's Epistle to the Colossians gives a further description of the role of Jesus in creation which is consistent with John,

[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born [prototokosof all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities [i.e., hierarchical angelic powers]---all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

The Holy Spirit, in giving us this inspired passage of Scripture, now explains that all things (both visible and invisible) in the entire universe were created through this same Jesus, the Eternal Word. We may think of the universe and its intricate design as being conceived in the mind of the Father then spoken into existence by the Son (who makes the invisible, visible). The Holy Spirit is the One who energizes and supplies life to the creation, not only at the time of creation but also moment by moment after that.

We are also told that all things were created for Jesus. He is "the heir of all things." That means that we are house guests in Someone Else's universe. There is a future accountability to be given by all of us---history is headed somewhere and at the end of road stands Jesus to whom all power and authority has already been given:

Jesus said, "The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment." (John 5:22-29)

One of the key words in the Colossians passage above ("...and in Christ all things hold together") is the Greek word sunistemi which means "to stand-together," "to be compacted together," "to cohere," "to be constituted with." This passage can be applied to the structure of the atom, for example. The nucleus of every atom is held together by what physicists call "weak" and "strong" forces. (Physicists today are familiar with four basic forces in the natural world: gravity, electrical forces, a "strong," and a "weak" nuclear force which act at very short ranges. The first two forces decrease in strength inversely with the square of the distance between two objects. Recently two additional close-range, weak gravitational forces have been suggested. These are thought to be quantum mechanical corrections to Newton's Law of Gravitation.)

The nucleus of the atom contains positively-charged and neutral particles--to use a simplistic model. Mutual electrostatic repulsion between the like-positive protons would drive the nucleus apart if it were not for the "strong force" which binds the nucleus together.

The third New Testament passage which talks about atomic structure and physics is 2 Peter:

"But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise and the elements (atoms) will be dissolved with fire and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up." (2 Peter 3:10)

The Greek word translated "elements" in this passage from Colossians is stoicheion which means the building blocks of the universe, or "the ordered arrangement of things." It can also mean the "atomic elements." The word translated "dissolved" is literally (in Greek) luo, meaning "unloosed." This suggests a further, future letting-go of the nuclear binding force that holds the nucleus together. This passage strongly suggests that the active power of God is behind the mysterious strong force that holds every atomic nucleus together. If this is so, all the other fundamental forces of nature are likewise forces that originate with Christ and His sustaining direction of the old creation.

If this is a correct view, were God to merely relax His grasp on the universe every atom would come apart "by fire" (that is, by nuclear fire). God dynamically sustains the universe, including the atoms themselves. They are "stable" only because force from the spiritual realm is being supplied into the physical nuclear binding fields. Whatever we may think of God and physics, the Bible leaves us with no room to doubt that God does care about the sparrow that falls to the ground, the widow, the orphan, and the homeless. He does not lose track of His children and watches over them with infinite, patient, intimate Fatherly care. He sustains the universe by His mighty word of power. He also alters the status quo and, in response to prayer, frequently changes the course of entire nations.

Another important claim of scripture about the old creation is that God is the present Sustainer of the universe. That is, He is not uninvolved, remote, detached and impersonal, leaving things to run by themselves by any means. Among secular scientists today there are many who acknowledge that God exists. But He is usually considered as only a First Cause---the One who brought the universe into existence and set it into motion. But most of these same scientists assume God was not involved after the initial act of creation. This is contrary to clear statements in the Bible that God is very much involved in every event that takes place in the on-going history of the entire universe:

"In many separate revelations---each of which set forth a portion of the Truth---and in different ways God spoke of old to [our] forefathers in and by the prophets, [But] in the last of these days He has spoken to us in [the person of a] Son, Whom He appointed Heir and lawful Owner of all things, also by and through Whom He created the worlds and the reaches of space and the ages of time---[that is] [He made, produced, built, operated, and arranged them in order]. He is the sole expression of the glory of God---[the Light-being, the out-raying or radiance of the divine],---and He is the perfect imprint and very image of [God's] nature, upholding and maintaining and guiding and propelling the universe by His mighty word of power..." (Hebrews 1:2-3) (Amplified Bible).

The Son of God Becomes a Man

This is huge! Imagine a planning meeting among the Three Persons before creation took place. Nothing will be added to the fullness and completeness that is inherent in the Three Persons by them bringing into existence a created, separate universe. Should they create us and our universe in the first place? But the self-giving love already existing between the Three ought to be enjoyed by creatures? Can a broken universe be fixed? Is it worth fixing?

Surely, the Three Persons may have conjectured, "We will be creating a host of problems, especially if man is created to be very much like God?"

Fast Forward: We are here, we were created--not as a race of puppets, not as nest of clones, not avatars. We must have been created with freedom to chose God or "Other?" The other choice for created beings is of course to choose "not God." Sooner or later those created beings (us) will choose to act in independence on the only true Source.

Here the Second Person volunteers to step in and restore! Revelation 13:8 says Jesus is "The Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world."


Who has believed what we have heard?
   And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
   and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 
He was despised and rejected by others;
   a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
   he was despised, and we held him of no account. 

Surely he has borne our infirmities
   and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
   struck down by God, and afflicted. 
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
   crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
   and by his bruises we are healed. 
All we like sheep have gone astray;
   we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all. 

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
   and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth. 
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
   Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
   stricken for the transgression of my people. 
They made his grave with the wicked
   and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
   and there was no deceit in his mouth. 

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
   he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. 
   Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
   The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
   and he shall bear their iniquities. 
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
   and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
   and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
   and made intercession for the transgressors. 
(Isaiah 53)

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The Self Emptying of God the Son when He became a Man

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love,
any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete:
be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
Let each of you look not to your
own interests, but to the interests of others. 

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 
who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited, 
but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 
  he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross. 

Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name, 
so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father. 
(Philippians 2:3-11)


Some non-Christian religion and cults imagine that man is already God, or somehow already part of God. Other suppose they are capable of attaining "godhood" by some kind of path of trial and testing and good deeds. However, the Bible always makes a sharp boundary between the Creator and the created. God is separate from, and He transcends all that He has created.

Though men are not real gods and can not become "God" the Apostle Peter says something amazing in this regard. Peter writes, "God's divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1:3-4)

The New Testament shows in clear terms that normal humanity was designed to be indwelt by God. We human are incomplete without a relationship with a personal God. This is how God decided to create us! Granting men free will and allowing to know their Creator by means of personal relationships (one at a time) now opens marvelous possibilities for life and liberty among men. "You are complete in Christ who is the head of all rule and authority," Paul writes in Colossians.

God uses mostly masculine pronouns when speaking to us in Biblical revelation. But believers understand right away that the Biblical God is not a sexual bring--as the heathen gods usually are. The image of God in man can not be expressed by a male alone, but must be imaged to us by male and female together.

"Then God [Elohim] said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." (Genesis 1:26-28)

That is, the God of the Bible is as much "feminine" as He is "masculine"--(we must use these terms carefully when talking about the nature of God). Men and women are identical in spirit but different in soul and in body. The interactions of the two sexes are not the interactions of two identical clones with one another, but relationships of unique persons who are designed to balance and compliment one another. (See Made in the Image of God). Furthermore, no two human beings are identical. Each one of us is a unique creation--a work of exquisite art. Therefore the personal relationship each of us has with God is one-of-a-kind. Every friendship, every marriage, every relationship we have with another person is also unique. God likes variety in His all creative handiwork--He did not make us a bunch of clones and we are far, far from being puppets or robots.

When we think of interpersonal relationships of any kind it is immediately evident that we are all constantly involved in both giving and receiving. One can not have the one without the other. There also exists in life a response to match a stimulus, a responder to answer to the initiator. God Himself is also a "community of three persons."Therefore the true God is also the God of community. The importance of community is very important. God Himself is a member of the community. This is also part of His design for mankind. God participates fully in all aspects of His creation.

If God being a member of the community was not a very evident fact of life before the birth of Jesus, it is certainly clear from the New Testament that in taking on the form of a man, the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, has indeed joined Himself to our humanity. God's purpose in doing this is not only to accomplish our salvation from sin, but to enable us to live together in community with Him forever more. God meets us through the man Jesus Christ as our Mediator, our Great High Priest, our Counselor, our Lover, our Friend. For instance, there are two Adams in the Bible: the first Adam, from whom we have all descended--and Jesus the Last Adam who heads a whole new race of humans. Christians can think of Jesus as their Elder Brother--among His many other attributes.

 

"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, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 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." (Philippians 2:5-11)

About this "family" the Bible has much to say! Once one begins to speak of a personal God who want to know people personally and once we learn that this God has chosen to meet us through a fellow human being of our own race, Christian faith moves quickly and radically apart from all other religions. [Because of the Fall--man's rebellion against God--one becomes a true member of God's family by spiritual rebirth--but this does not release non-Christians from ultimate accountability to God as Creator, Lord and Judge of all.]

Glenn Miller of the Christian Think Tank asks, "Why can't God just forgive sin, instead of demanding justice?" Glenn shows that our behavior as humans implies accountability to our Creator, but also to one another. We have major responsibilities to the community--and God is a member of the community. Our actions--public or private--affect our relationship with God--but also the entire community. There are no private deeds and actions we do that are innocuous--"we all bound up together in the bundle of the living" to use an Old Testament metaphor.

The Law of Moses given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai tells us what God is like as a Person. He is moral, just, holy, but loving and compassionate. Since He can not change, any outside "persons" who wish to live in a harmonious relationship with Him must find a way to adjust to what He is like. Briefly put, the writer of Hebrews says, "Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." (Hebrews 14:14)

At first glance, it appears that the Old Covenant (the Law of Moses) is ordering us to try to change on our own, and to make every effort live up to the standards of Deity, by meritorious self-effort. Romans 3 sets us free from such a delusion--the Law was given to establish our deep need for grace and mercy. The Law also lets us know that we are to live daily in total dependence upon the Lord. We are quite incapable of any righteous deeds when running on our own steam.

The New Covenant, on the other hand, makes it possible for us to live in a harmonious personal relationships with God--because God changes us from the inside out, if we give Him permission to do so. This is a tall order! We all start out quite self-centered and self-seeking and we must be changed into the likeness of a being who is self-giving.

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds," then he adds, "I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more." Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Hebrews 10:12-25)

Every one of us understands quite a bit about relationships among ourselves--with parents, siblings, spouse, friends and enemies--from experience. We all learn to relate to other people by trial and error, both positively and negatively. Instinctively we know and sense what an interpersonal relationship is all about.

But, it is strange to me that I do not tend to deal with God the way I deal with other "persons" whom I know. Yet God is much more of a living Person than any other "entity." God is the very Author of life. All of life, at every level, has its source in Him. Yet, I worry most about what other people think of me. Everything I think or say or do--my entire history--is known to God. But I can easily be indifferent to what he thinks about me! Often I remind myself of what the Lord said to Samuel about King Saul, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

I know intuitively than I can not expect to enjoy a more intimate relationship with another person which goes deeper than the degree of intimacy I have attained in my personal relationship with Jesus. But my time alone with God is easily set aside, compromised, crowded out by a thousand mundane matters, on a daily basis. If we think we understand something about how two persons can relate with one another, imagine the intensity and vitality of the relationships the Three Divine Persons share with one another! For us to know God is to be drawn into God Himself, into union with Them.

From the closing chapter of C.S. Lewis' science fiction trilogy:

"For one moment she had a ridiculous and scorching vision of a world in which God Himself would never understand, never take her with full seriousness. Then, at one particular corner of the gooseberry patch, the change came. What awaited her there was serious to the degree of sorrow and beyond. There was no form nor sound. The mould under the bushes, the moss on the path, and the little brick border, were not visibly changed. But they were changed. A boundary had been crossed. She had come into a world, or into a Person, or into the presence of a Person. Something expectant, patient, inexorable, met her with no veil or protection between. In the closeness of that contact she perceived at once that the Director's words had been entirely misleading. This demand which now pressed upon her was not, even by analogy, like any other demand. It was the origin of all right demands and contained them. In its light you could understand them; but from them you could know nothing of it. There was nothing, and never had been anything, like this. And now there was nothing except this. Yet also, everything had been like this; only by being like this had anything existed. In this height and depth and breadth the little ideal of herself which she had hitherto called me dropped down , and vanished, unfluttering, into bottomless distance, like a bird in a space without air. The name me was the name of a being whose existence she had never suspected, a being that did not yet fully exist but which was demanded. It was a person (not the person she had thought), yet also a thing, a made thing, made to please Another and in Him to please all others, a thing being made at this very moment, without its choice, in a shape it had never dreamed of. And the making went on amidst a kind of splendour or sorrow or both, whereof she could not tell whether it was in the molding hands or in the kneaded lump.

Words take too long. To be aware of all this and to know that it had already gone made one single experience. It was revealed only in its departure. The largest thing that had ever happened to her had, apparently, found room for itself in a moment of time too short to be called time at all. Her hand closed on nothing but a memory. And as it closed, without an instant's pause, the voices of those who have not joy rose howling and chattering from every corner of her being.

"Take care. Draw back. Keep your head. Don't commit yourself," they said. And then more subtly, from another quarter, "You have had a religious experience. This is very interesting. Not everyone does. How much better you will now understand the Seventeenth-Century poets!" Or from a third direction, more sweetly, "Go on. Try to get it again. It will please the Director."

But her defenses had been captured and these counter-attacks were unsuccessful." (C.S. Lewis,That Hideous Strength)

Solomon, by the way, says that contentment and happiness in life is a gift from God--and he gives these gives only to those who choose to serve Him.

"...for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the man who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy." (Ecclesiastes 2:25-26a)

Our society is crumbling rapidly. Families are falling apart. Close friendships are few and far between. Promises that are kept and commitments that are honored are few and far between. People seem to have forgotten that God is a Personal God. What this means is that true community is almost gone as well. God, the Creator and Judge and Master of the community must inevitably move decisively to judge, to heal and to restore that community. In the real world that means that some will be excluded in the time of renewing and all of us will be judged and evaluated in the process.

"Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:6-7)

Ray Stedman on the Kenosis

Now we come to what I think is the most breath-taking passage in all of Scripture. This passage on the glorification of our Lord Jesus is the Mt. Everest among the mountain peaks of revelation concerning the Person of Christ, the amazing story of how the eternal Son of God stepped out of eternity into time, and became a man as God intended man to be. These few short verses in this simple little letter written to the believers in Philippi many miles away from Rome, capture some of the most amazing truths that have ever confronted the minds of men.

It is an amazing passage, yet I think there is a temptation as we study it to forget its background, remove it from its context and treat it as a passage on Systematic Theology or Christology. We must never forget that this passage is set against the background of two quarreling ladies in the church at Philippi. That quarrel was threatening to destroy the unity of the whole church. The apostle has made it clear already in this letter that the secret of maintaining unity is humility. Wherever there is contentiousness, it is a revelation of the presence of pride. Pride in a single individual life, in a family, a church, in government, or a whole nation, always destroys, divides, sets one person against another, perpetuates conflict, breaks up marriages and partnerships and unions of every sort.

When people are quarreling, the path to peace is to seek humility, rather than to assess arguments and weigh one against another, because when we do that we run into relative values which are so subjective it's impossible to come to a conclusion. The way to settle an argument is to seek humility in each party. The question that comes to mind is, how do we do this? When tempers are hot, passions are aroused, and patience is strained, how can you get people to calm down and start thinking about a humble attitude? How do you quell the rising of pride in a human heart? How do you stop the urge to defend yourself, and the stubborn insistence of what we call our "rights"? This sounds familiar, doesn't it? The answer is in this marvelous passage concerning Christ.

Let's begin by recognizing the answer is possible only to Christians. When non-Christians quarrel, all that is possible is compromise, which is really a way of perpetuating pride on an agreed level, what we call "saving face". That is the most you can expect from those in whom the Spirit of Christ does not dwell, but with Christians it is possible to have peace. I would like to ring the changes on that note if I can, because I think so many times in our Christian lives we are so content to settle for compromise, which is nothing more than the best the world can attain in disagreements.

Christians can achieve peace--not merely a truce, or cold war, or an agreed settlement, but peace, which is a mutual sense of wrongdoing. Mutual-did you get that word? Each person acknowledging they have contributed to it, and burying the past in forgiveness. The result is a deeper sense of acceptance than ever before. When we come to this point the quarrel actually helps unity rather than destroy it. It will result in deeper understanding and love than before. That is what the apostle is wanting for these two ladies in Philippi and those in the church who were taking sides with them.

The secret to this unity set forth in verse 5 is a certain set of mind. I think "disposition" would be a better word to use here. "Have this disposition among yourselves which you have in Christ Jesus." Have this set of mind, or as the King James Version says, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. He doesn't say proudly imitate Christ. It is a mistake to say that Christianity is imitating the life of Christ. If that's the best we can do, it's a cheap substitute. No, it isn't imitating Christ, following His example, or trying to be like Him. The word of the apostle is "Let His mind be in you." We will look at that more closely, but before we can lay hold of this we must see what the mind of Christ is.

There are many ways to divide this passage. We could look at it theologically, we could divide it into the various steps the Lord took. But I want to keep it in context, and approach it in the simplest possible way. We will look at it two ways, first the process of peace, and then the experience of peace in our lives. The process is set forth in verses 6-11:

"...who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 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."

Now in the passage you see that we enter the realm of history. We cannot possibly hope to fathom all that is involved in these wonderful words. This is what Paul, later writing to Timothy, calls the "mystery of godliness", how God was manifest in the flesh, was seen among men, and preached among the nations. But three things are very clear in this passage, three steps that are evident in the preaching and actions of the Lord Jesus. 

The first one is he gave up the right to his rights. He did not give up his rights-he couldn't do that-but he gave up the right to enjoy those rights. And what rights they were! Paul says that he was existing in the form of God, and was equal with God. That doesn't mean equal with God the Father, but that he was equal with all the members of the Trinity in the expression of the nature and essence of God, and was existing in the exact form of God. 

Unfortunately, in our human language this word "form" to our minds always carries with it the idea of shape, so we ask in what way did Jesus manifest the shape of God. That isn't at all the thought of the Greek. The word form expresses the essential nature. We come closest to it when we say of some athlete, "My, he was in good form today." We mean by that his outward action was a perfect expression of his inward ability. He exhibited outwardly that ability for athletic coordination that was inwardly inherent. The Lord Jesus was the expression from all eternity of the fullness of God's nature, whatever that is. He always existed in that form, and was therefore the equal of God.

You remember how John says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God , and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." Who can question that as a statement of the fullness of Deity? In Colossians Paul says, "For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily." And the writer of Hebrews begins that great letter with a similar expression. that he was the express image of the substance of God, that he bore the very stamp of God's nature upon his being , "upholding the universe by his word of power." 

What holds us together while we sit here this morning? Our skin? That helps. But what holds our skin together? What holds the atoms together? What is that strange power at the base of all matter that counteracts the centrifugal action of the revolving electrons and protons and holds it all together? The writer of Hebrews says it is Christ. He upholds all things by the word of his power. Paul agrees, writing in Colossians, "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." You can see how right Paul was in speaking to the Athenians on Mars Hill, the intellectual capitol of the ancient world, saying to them, "In him we live, and move, and have our being", every one, without exception. All of these references together agree that in Jesus Christ there was the fullness of all that God is, fully made manifest and visible. From all eternity, those were His rights.

But having all this, the argument goes, he did not count all these things to be held onto at all costs, but he emptied himself. He did not empty himself of his deity-he couldn't do that, just as we could not empty ourselves of our humanity no matter hard we tried, because we are human, and all we do is an expression of our humanity. When Jesus entered this world, stepping out of eternity into time, he could not empty himself of his Deity. That needs to be made clear. What he could and did do was empty himself of every expression of Deity. He did not come to manifest what God was like. He came to show us what man ought to be. He did not give up his rights as God. He gave up his right to enjoy the rights of God. 

It began in his mind with this thought, Paul says, that the enjoyment of these things is not the most important thing to me. In other words, he did not insist on his rights, but laid aside the right to have his rights, and emptied himself. This is where humility begins-the readiness to lay aside the right to enjoy our rights. The thought was followed by his action. The scripture uses this very expressive term, "he emptied himself." He poured himself out, like taking a bucket and pouring out its contents so there is nothing left inside. He poured out every right he had to enjoy life as God. 

You ask, what about those times he walked on water, when he changed water into wine, opened the blind man's eyes, and raised the dead? Wasn't he then manifesting the power of God? That was not his inherent power as God, but the Father working through him as man. He did not come to behave as God. He came to show us how God would act through a man, to show us man as God intended man to be. He came to show us that the secret of man's life is complete dependence upon an indwelling God. 

He became a man, and never once did he ever take a step in the thirty-three years of his life on earth, ever utter a word or perform an act of any kind on his own inherent Deity, but in sole and unremitting dependence upon the indwelling Father. He said so himself, "..the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing", and "Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me." That is what a man must be, completely available to an indwelling God. That is what he came to show us.

But even that is not enough. This is only the first step. If all that Jesus did was to demonstrate all that man ought to be, we would have a perfect example, but we would not be one whit closer to being that ourselves. We would have learned how we ought to live, but we would have been totally unable to do it. I love to listen to recordings of Jascha Heifetz playing violin. I have never heard a man do so much with ten fingers. It sounds as though he has twenty-five. But though I have listened to him many times, it hasn't helped me one bit with the fiddle. If anything, the example only depresses me. 

Jesus Christ would never have solved men's quarrels and brought men to peace if the only thing he had done was renounce his right to be himself and come into this world and live as a man totally dependent upon the Father throughout his earthly ministry. It would not have helped, only discouraged us. It took another step. We read, "being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death."

Following the step of renunciation, there comes humiliation. He not only gave up the right to enjoy his rights, he also assumed all the indignity, the injury, and hurt, all the rejection of an unbelieving world himself, without complaint. That's the key-without complaint. He was obedient unto death, we are told. He is the only man who ever lived who didn't have to die. He said so of himself, "I lay down my life of myself, and I take it again." And though he was nailed on a cross and gave himself up to death, he never had to die. He voluntarily gave up his life. No one could take his life, but he became obedient unto death. 

He lived under a shadow all his life. He was misunderstood and opposed by his loved ones all the days of his boyhood. He lived under the constant insinuation that he was an illegitimate child. When he came to the end of his ministry, he was deserted by his friends, betrayed by his own disciples, handed over to spitting and mocking and to the terrible Roman scourging. The crowning indignity of all came when he was stripped naked and nailed to a cross to die as a common criminal, an outcast of society, as Paul said, "even to death on a cross."

Remember that, Paul writes to his friends at Philippi. Remember that when you feel self-assertive and tempted to withdraw from others and break the bonds of fellowship. Remember that! Remember that with renunciation comes the willingness to bear injury, to put up with insults, to accept the cost of another's wrong doing. This is the place to which the Lord Jesus came, and the startling thing is that the lowest place to which he came is the place for you and I to begin. The death on the cross is where we belong, the place to which he came.

The third step inevitably follows the first two: exaltation.

"Therefore, God" (you see, Jesus does the first two; God does the third) "has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 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."

Our Lord Jesus was given in his resurrection and ascension that name which is above every other name that has ever been given in heaven and on earth. What is that name? Every Jew reading this would know immediately what Paul meant, because in the Jewish scriptures there was a name that was never pronounced. They called him the Ineffable Tetragrammaton. Ineffable means unspeakable, unpronounceable. Tetragrammaton means four letters, YHWH . It was the name above all others, and they substituted another name when they came to it in the scriptures. It is the name we call "Jehovah". It is translated "Lord" in our English versions of the New Testament. That is exactly what Paul says of him: "and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." 

Now what does Lord means? Lord means he has the right to everything he surveys. In Scotland he is called, the Laird. The Laird of the castle has the right to ownership and authority, who holds the key to everything-the one who has mastered all the forces he controls and is perfectly at ease in every situation he encounters. Paul says Christ is the one who has won that position because he unhesitatingly and unreservedly committed himself to all that was involved in the mind of Christ, that attitude of his own heart that led him first to mortality, then to ignominy, and finally to unequaled glory.

The result is peace! You see how this picture is drawn for us? Here is the end of the story: every knee to bow, every tongue confessing, every voice unitedly ascribing praise to him above all the created universe. If you want to complete the picture , read the closing chapters of the book of Revelation, and chapter 5 where every tribe and tongue and people and nation is gathered before the throne singing, 

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing", because he was slain from the foundation of the world.

This is the word of peace, and it results from the work of our Lord. Now all of this is wonderfully true, and I'm sure every one of us subscribes to this doctrinally. But what I am trying to get at here is , do you subscribe to this in terms of your relationship with others? Does your understanding of this process translate into the experience of it! The KJV reads, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." The RSV says we already have this, which is confirmed in the letter to the Corinthians, where Paul says, "We have the mind of Christ." Now let it show! The place to do it is when you get into disagreement with someone. These people were divided by conflict, separating from one another, and it was in that kind of situation Paul came with this tremendously healing ministry based upon these two actions: renunciation and humiliation.

It is in that kind of situation that the mind of Christ is intended to operate today. Paul is saying, let it happen, give in to it. He doesn't say, seek for the mind of Christ, struggle to achieve this, try to imitate it. This is the way we read it. He is saying, you have the mind of Christ if you have him. All that he is, is available to the one who is available to him. We must stop resisting him. Accept the position that is involved in the mind of Christ. The inevitable result will be peace, because God takes over and brings us to that final third step.

If you were holding the door closed and I wanted to enter the room and asked you to let me in, what would you do? Wouldn't you stop resisting, step aside and open the door and let me in? That is what Paul is saying here: let the mind of Christ, involving the renunciation of your rights and the willingness to accept injury break through in your life. Accept these conditions as God's will for you. This is why you have Christ in you. Accept the hurt without complaint, and without fail he will bring you through to victory and to peace. Do you believe that? You will only experience the mind of Christ to the degree you accept it. Are you willing to believe that taking the first two steps will lead to the third in the quarrel you are having with someone right now? If you don't believe it, then don't say Christianity doesn't work, or that having Christ doesn't make any difference. You are simply not using what is available to you.

I know perfectly well that our normal reaction to mistreatment is to feel upset and angry. Don't beat yourself up if that is your immediate reaction. That is simply the inevitable human reaction, and it becomes the ground of temptation to respond with evil, to strike back, to separate, to rail with angry words, to retaliate. This is why Paul says to the Ephesians, "Be angry, but sin not."

We not only feel the temptation to respond in sinful acts, but we also feel the mind of Christ pressing our will. You know about that, don't you-that quiet, insistent voice of the Spirit that says to you, now don't insist on your rights. It's not that important. Bear the hurt gladly and willingly for the sake of peace. Explain the situation if you can and try to work it out, but if you get nowhere, forget it. Take it, for Jesus' sake, without complaint. Paul is saying listen to that voice. Let this mind which you have in Christ Jesus take hold, yield to it. The inevitable result is that God works his will and his way and you will share in the lordship of Christ. You are not under the circumstances; you are the master of them, and you live in peace.

I remember one of the stories Dr. Ironside told when I traveled with him that beautifully illustrates this. He told of coming into a town (I think it was Spokane, Washington) where he knew quite a number of Christians with whom he met and had a wonderful time, but he noticed one man who had previously been active in the group was not there. He asked about him and was told "Oh, he got on his high horse about something and won't come any more." They said they tried to talk with him and persuade him to come back. They admitted where they thought they were wrong, and asked to be forgiven, but he wouldn't come back. They said they thought he was "just a stubborn old mule", so Dr. Ironside said, "Well, I'll see what I can do." 

He went to the man's house, and as he came up the front steps and knocked on the door, he heard the back door slam. In a moment the lady of the house came to the door. She greeted him warmly and invited him in. He asked, "Is your husband in?" She looked sad, but said, "No, he is not right now." Dr. Ironside said, "Oh, I hope he'll be back. I'm just in town for a little while and I did so want to have fellowship with him." "Well", she said, "I think I know where he is. I'll send one of the children. Maybe they can find him." One of the children went out the back door and sure enough the fellow turned up, and greeted him, a little distant, but fairly warm. They sat down and talked together about what was happening. 

Finally, Dr. Ironside said, "Now I understand there is some difficulty between you and the others at the church, and I've come to see if I can possibly be any help." The man's face clouded and he said angrily, "Well, you don't understand the situation at all. They are completely opposed to what is right, and I'm not going to stand for it. I want my rights." Dr. Ironside said, "Well, brother, before we talk further let's read some scripture together. So he turned to the second chapter of Philippians and he read, "Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus.." Then he read the description Paul gives of the willingness of our Lord to leave all that was his by inherent right as God, to take upon himself the limitations and frailties of mankind. And more than that, he humbled himself to take all the indignity, pain and heartache of human sin, until it resulted in the awful indignity of the cross.

When they finished, the man sat there with his hands over his face, and after prayer he remained that way. Finally, one hand came down, then the other, and he said, "Oh, I've been a stubborn old mule." Dr. Ironside said, "Well, that's exactly what they told me you were." He said, "Since you are both agreed, you should have no trouble getting together." And sure enough, they did get together. Now what did this man do? He let the mind of Christ show through. He gave up insisting on his rights. He acknowledged the accusations of others, he took the pain and indignity, and there was immediate harmony as a result.

Now I don't know whether or not there are quarrels among you. There could be. But this message is not intended to simply stimulate our intellect and move our emotions to thank God for his grace toward us, but to have the practical effect among us that I trust it had in the Philippian church when this letter was read to them. If you have a quarrel with someone, and your temptation is to withdraw or break off fellowship and stop talking with them, then comes the exhortation of the Spirit to you: "Let this mind be in you which you have in Christ Jesus." He gave up his rights and humiliated himself even to the death on the cross, that he might one day be Lord of all, Master of the universe. --Ray Stedman, The Secret of Humility.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 
He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ,
according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace
that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 
In him we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will,
according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 
as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, 
having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 
so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 
In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him,
were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 
this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
(Ephesians 1:3-14)


Did Mary Give Birth to God?

How Scandal Clarified Christ

March 29, 2022 by Daniel Hames

Daniel Hames is Associate Director at Union, and lectures in historical and systematic theology at Union School of Theology.
He lives in Oxfordshire where he is also a local chur
ch minister.

Who is God? What is he like, and how do we come to know him? What is salvation?

We may be tempted to consign these questions to the first weeks of evangelistic courses or the earliest years of discipleship, yet they were central to the ministry of Cyril of Alexandria (c. AD 376–444). As a bishop and theologian with far-reaching influence, he saw the gravity of these questions, as well as the pastoral fallout if Christians thoughtlessly rattled off pat answers.

Cyril’s heart was that believers would consciously and joyfully place Jesus Christ front and center in their understanding of God and their salvation. His tenacious Christ-centeredness shaped some of the most significant all-church councils and creeds that we have inherited today.

Seeds of Scandal

In the fifth century, perhaps the most famous church in the world was the Great Church of Constantinople. Enthroned there in the heart of the “New Rome,” its archbishop carried a leading political and theological voice. In 428, the job was given to a well-loved Syrian preacher named Nestorius.

Nestorius wanted to stop all references to Mary as theotokos, Greek for “Mother of God.” The title had long been popular and had tried to express something of the wonder of the incarnation: that a human mother should give birth to God the Son in human flesh. In Nestorius’s mind, however, the title was imprecise and dangerous. His concern was not that it encouraged undue veneration of Mary (that would develop later in church history), but that it implied something about God that he could not accept.

That God should be born, naked and crying, depending on a mother to feed and wash him, was unthinkable. God, eternally unchanging and untouchable, simply could not be straightforwardly identified with the wriggling baby in the manger. No, Mary must be called “Mother of Christ,” not “Mother of God.” There had to be a clear distinction between the two. Nestorius devoted a sermon series to the subject, and his troubled colleagues began to ask, If Mary is not the “Mother of God,” then just who is her son?

Nearly seven hundred miles to the south in Egypt, Cyril, the archbishop of Alexandria, was alerted to the emerging scandal. Having spent years writing biblical commentaries and theological works on the Trinity, he knew he had to step in and challenge Nestorius. Like the apostle Paul centuries before, Cyril saw that when the identity of Jesus Christ is distorted, so is our understanding of God and what it means to know him — with devastating consequences. “Another Jesus” goes hand in hand with “another gospel” (2 Corinthians 11:4).

Another Jesus

Nestorius believed in Jesus as the eternal Son and Word of God. He believed, along with the Council of Nicaea of AD 325, in the humanity and divinity of Christ. Yet the distortion of Jesus he presented threatened to undo the orthodox faith he claimed to hold.

“‘Another Jesus’ goes hand in hand with ‘another gospel.’”

Nestorius’s deepest problem was that he had his definition of God prepared long before he came to look at the person of Jesus Christ. The carpenter from Nazareth, in the manger and on the cross, could not fit with his understanding of God. Following his mentor, Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350–428), Nestorius taught that Mary’s son was a separate man from God the Son: a man assumed (taken up) and brought into fellowship with God. Jesus and the Word enjoyed a relationship of unique cooperation, with the Word graciously sharing the honor of his sonship with Jesus. Because of his obedience, Jesus came to earn his resurrection into a new life free from death and decay (Nestorius, Bazaar of Heracleides, 1.3).

For Nestorius, although the people of first-century Israel saw an individual human being with divine power, they were actually looking at a kind of partnership of two sons, presented in one man. A glass wall ran down the middle of Jesus Christ, shielding the eternal Word from the human experiences and troubles of the man until he was perfected. While Nestorius was happy to worship and adore the man Jesus, he did so only beside “the one who bears him” (Sermon 9.262).

Cyril could see that Nestorius’s Jesus was only a man like the rest of us, elevated to a special relationship with God. The one who suffered and died on the cross was not technically God the Son himself coming to us in the flesh. Instead, God wore gloves, as it were, to deal with sinful humanity. He promoted a man to divine dignity, setting before us a supercharged example of holiness to imitate. Nestorius’s Jesus is the perfect Savior for those who would win salvation for themselves.

The Real Jesus

In AD 431, at the Council of Ephesus, Cyril (along with most of the other bishops) opposed Nestorius’s teaching. They saw that it contradicted not only the biblical Jesus but also the biblical gospel. Leaning heavily on Cyril’s writings, the fathers of the church affirmed that while there are two natures in Christ, there is only one person.

In other words, God the Son was the person in action during the incarnation, whether he was walking on water by the Spirit or tired after a journey in his flesh. He maintained his unchanged, eternal divine nature, but had added to himself a truly human nature — along with all of its capacity to fall asleep in a boat, battle temptation, or suffer crucifixion.

“The Son of Mary was none other than God the Son himself, made known and living in human nature as well as divine.”

God the Son personally took all that we are to himself, choosing this way of being “for us and for our salvation,” as the old Nicene Creed had it. In answer to the question of the pastors of Constantinople, the leaders gathered at Ephesus were clear: the son of Mary was none other than God the Son himself, made known and living as man as well as divine.

Cyril’s Influence

In time, this picture of Christ came to be known as the “hypostatic union”: a true union of divine and human in the one person (Greek hypostasis) of God the Word. It was not an agreement between two parties with separate agendas, nor a cooperation of equals.

In fact, there was a critical asymmetry to this union, for the humanity of Jesus comprised no separate person, as Nestorius had taught, but was “personated” by the Son. Humanity had been added to a preexisting divine person. There was no Jesus to know other than the second Person of the Trinity, now made flesh. This meant that all of Jesus’s actions and words were truly the actions and words of God the Son.

Just as it was right to call Mary theotokos, so it was right to say that God the Son played in the streets of Nazareth as a child, that God the Son had compassion on lost and helpless sinners (Mark 6:34), that God the Son shed his blood on the cross for our redemption (Acts 20:28). For it was no other person, no other human, but only the eternal Word in his humanity. After all, he was Immanuel, God with us.

These biblical convictions were honed and clarified by another all-church council held in Chalcedon in AD 451. Responding to another stream of false teaching, the church again turned to Cyril’s Christology (though he had now been dead some seven years). The gathered bishops affirmed that the one person of Jesus Christ was to be acknowledged in two “unconfused, unchangeable, indivisible, inseparable” natures. They confessed that the divine and the human in no way undermined or undid one another, yet that he was nevertheless just one person: “one and the same Son” who was with the Father before all things and who was born of Mary for us and our salvation. Chalcedon rang deeply with the echo of Cyril’s theology.

God Was Pleased

Nestorius’s precooked doctrine of God meant that he struggled to get divinity and humanity in the same person. There was an unbridgeable gulf between the divine and human, and his theology left believers the task of crossing it on their own, following at a distance in the footsteps of a superman from Nazareth.

Cyril, however, began with Jesus and allowed the Son of God to reveal the nature of God (John 1:18). And the God revealed in Jesus, he saw, was pleased to draw near to sinful humanity in person (Colossians 1:19¬–20). He came in uncompromised deity, but with mind-bending condescension, to cross the divide himself. The Son stepped in, clothed in our humanity, laying down his life, and taking hold of us when we could not save ourselves. In Jesus, God truly demonstrates his love for undeserving sinners, up close and personal.

See Also: The Sperm of God


Some Further Reading

In the Cross 

The Names of God

THE Angel of the Lord

Six Hours in Eternity on The Cross

Real Life Now

How Jesus Saves

The Eightfold Way to Knowing God

Dry Bones

The Wedding Psalm (45)

The Call of Heaven

Behold the Messiah

Jesus, Our Great High Priest

Jesus, our Trailblazer

Seek the Things that Are Above





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