The Saviour of Mankind 
 by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira 

4 – The Significance of Christ’s Humanity to Us

At the heart of the Christian faith is the affirmation that Christ, the Son of God, became man in order to be the Saviour of the world.  According to one spiritual giant, “the humanity of the Son of God is everything to us.  It is the golden chain which binds our souls to Christ and through Christ to God.”  That is why, as Christians, this should be our study.

But mystery has always surrounded the coming of the Son of God in human flesh, one we can never fully comprehend.  Yet our finite minds must endeavor, within the limits of divine revelation, to grasp this central truth of our faith.  For what Christ accomplished in His humanity is everything to us, with reference to our redemption — our justification, sanctification, and glorification.

If we are to realize the full significance of Christ’s humanity to us, it is essential that we answer two vital questions concerning that humanity.  First, what was the primary purpose in Christ being made flesh?  The answer to this question is the starting point of a true understanding of Christology.  Today, three answers are being given to this question.  They are:

  1. To prove that the law of God can be kept by man.

    The problem with this answer is that it cannot be substantiated explicitly by Scripture.  Naturally, the fact Christ did keep the law perfectly in His humanity proved that man, controlled by God’s Spirit, can fully meet the law’s demands.  But the Bible does not teach that this is the primary reason why Christ became a man.

  2. To be our example.

    While the Bible does point to Christ as our example, it does so only with reference to believers who have accepted Christ by faith and have experienced the new birth.

    1 Peter 2:21:
    To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

    Philippians 2:5-8:
    In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!

    But Scripture does not teach that this is the primary reason why Christ took on our human flesh.  Those who emphasize Christ as our example, without first clearly presenting Him as our Saviour, give the impression that they are teaching the example theory of the atonement, which is why they are often accused of the heresy of perfectionism or legalism.

  3. To redeem mankind from sin.

    Scripture presents this as the primary reason for the Son of God being made flesh.

    Matthew 1:21:
    She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

    Galatians 4:4-5:
    But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

    Hebrews 2:14-17:
    Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.  For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

    At the very heart of the doctrine of Christology is the glorious truth that Christ assumed humanity so that He could be the Saviour of the world.  And only to those who have first received Him as their Saviour does He become to them an Example.

Once we have established the primary reason why Christ became a man, to redeem fallen humanity, this leads us to the second important question, and that is:  How did Christ, in His humanity, save mankind?  To this question two answers are taught within Christianity — vicariously and actually.  Each of these answers demands a different view on the human nature of Christ.

  1. Those who hold to the vicarious position (one person acting in place of another), as the Reformers and many Evangelicals today, teach the pre-Fall nature of Christ.  Here is their basic argument.

    Sin is a dual problem.  It is first of all a condition or a state, since, to them, a sinful nature is sin that automatically stands condemned.  Accordingly, Christ had to take a sinless human nature in order to vicariously substitute our sinful nature which stands condemned.  They insist that, if Christ had taken our sinful nature as we know it, He would automatically have been a sinner Himself in need of a Saviour.  Secondly, His perfect life and sacrificial death substituted for our sinful performance.  Thus, by His sinless human nature, which vicariously substitutes for our sinful nature and by His perfect performance (i.e., doing and dying), which vicariously substituted our sinful performance, Christ redeemed mankind from sin.

    But this position presents a twofold problem.

    1. It makes the gospel unethical, since no law, God’s or man’s, will allow guilt or righteousness to be transferred from one person to another.  Therefore, those who teach vicarious substitution are rightly accused of teaching “legal fiction”or “as if passed-on righteousness” (by Osiender and Newman in the Counter-reformation, and Islamic scholars today).

      Today the problem of “legal fiction”has become a real issue for some scholars, so that they are turning to a modified form of “the moral influence theory” to answer the question, why Christ had to die.  Incidentally, the “moral influence theory” is not heretical in what it teaches (Christ died to demonstrate His love for us) but in what it denies (that Christ’s death was legally essential for our justification).

      While it is true that the New Testament clearly teaches that Christ died “for us”and “in place of us,” all attempts to solve the ethical problem created by the Reformation definition of substitution (i.e., an innocent man died instead of sinful men), such as “Christ is above the law,” or “since He volunteered to die in man’s stead as their Creator, this makes it ethical,” are unacceptable.  Not even God’s law will allow sin to be transferred from the guilty to the innocent.

      Deuteronomy 24:16:
      Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.

      Ezekiel 18:1-20:
      The word of the Lord came to me:  “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:  ‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.  For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child — both alike belong to me.  The one who sins is the one who will die.

      “Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right.  He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of Israel.  He does not defile his neighbor’s wife or have sexual relations with a woman during her period.  He does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan.  He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked.  He does not lend to them at interest or take a profit from them.  He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between two parties.  He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws.  That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign Lord.

      “Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father has done none of them):  He eats at the mountain shrines.  He defiles his neighbor’s wife.  He oppresses the poor and needy.  He commits robbery.  He does not return what he took in pledge.  He looks to the idols.  He does detestable things.  He lends at interest and takes a profit.  Will such a man live?  He will not!  Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.

      “But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things:  He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of Israel.  He does not defile his neighbor’s wife.  He does not oppress anyone or require a pledge for a loan.  He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked.  He withholds his hand from mistreating the poor and takes no interest or profit from them.  He keeps my laws and follows my decrees.  He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live.  But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.

      “Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live.  The one who sins is the one who will die.  The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child.  The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.”

      Only when the two (the humanity of Christ and our corporate humanity) are linked together, as it was illustrated in the sanctuary service, does the substitution theory of the atonement become legally accepted.

      1 Corinthians 10:18:
      Consider the people of Israel:  Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?

    2. The vicarious view is very conducive to turning the gospel into cheap grace, i.e., since Christ did it all without having to identify Himself with us (He lived and died instead of us), we can receive the blessings of His holy history by faith, understood as a mental assent to truth, without identifying ourselves in that history — His life, death, burial, and resurrection, which true faith and baptism demand.

      Galatians 2:19-20:
      For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

      Romans 6:1-4:
      What shall we say, then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
  2. Those who take the actual position teach the post-Fall nature of Christ.  Their argument is that, since Christ came to save fallen humanity, He had to assume the humanity that needed redeeming, which, of course, was sinful.  Thus, by identifying Himself with our corporate fallen humanity, Christ qualified Himself to be the second Adam and legally to be our Substitute.

    Consequently, by His doing and dying, Christ actually changed mankind’s history so that all humanity was legally justified at the cross.  Justification by faith is making effective that legal justification in the life of the believer.  Faith, therefore, is more than a mental assent to the truth.  It is a heart appreciation of the cross of Christ which, in turn, produces obedience or surrender of the will to the truth as it is in Christ.

    Romans 1:5; 6:17; 10:16:
    Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.  ...But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.  ...But not all the Israelites accepted the good news.  For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”

    Galatians 5:7:
    You were running a good race.  Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?

    2 Thessalonians 1:7-8:
    ...And give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.  This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.  He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

    Such obedience of faith is the basis of true holy living.

    Galatians 2:20:
    I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

    Romans 6:10-13:
    The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.  Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.

    But the proponents of the vicarious view make a serious charge against this view.  If Christ fully identified Himself with our sinful human nature (which they believe stands condemned under sin), they insist that we drag Christ into sin and, therefore, make Him a sinner like us, in need of a Saviour.  Paul clearly teaches that our sinful human nature is indwelt by sin...

    Romans 7:17, 20, 23:
    As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  ...Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  ...but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.

    ...and, therefore, we are “by nature children of wrath.”

    Ephesians 2:3:
    All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

Since the Bible clearly teaches that Christ assumed the same flesh as that of the human race He came to redeem,...

Hebrews 2:14-17:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.  For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

...the correct solution to the above problem is to take note of the qualifying word used by the New Testament writers when they refer to the humanity of Christ — for example:

John 1:14:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Galatians 4:4:
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law....

2 Corinthians 5:21:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

In these three texts the word “became/born/made” is used with reference to the human nature of Christ.

What does this word mean?  When Christ became a man, He actually became what He was not, so that the sinful nature He assumed was not His by native right but something He took upon Himself, or assumed, or was made to be.  He did this in order to redeem that nature of sin.  The words “took part” found in Hebrews 2:14 and the word “likeness”in Romans 8:3 carry the same connotation as the word “made” (see the International Critical Commentary, 1982 ed., and Word Biblical Commentary on Romans 8:3).

Hebrews 2:14:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil....

Romans 8:3:
For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in the flesh....

Had Christ consented to the sinful desires of that nature which He assumed, even by a thought, then He would have become a sinner Himself in need of a Saviour.  That is why it must be stressed that, in dealing with the human nature of Christ, we must be exceedingly careful not to drag His mind or His will into sin, or say that He had a sinful nature.

But the fact is that Christ did actually assume our condemned sinful nature that “is enmity against God” and “not subject to the law of God”...

Romans 8:7:
The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

...but, in His case, He totally defeated “the law of sin and death” that resided in that sinful human nature, which He assumed, and then executed that condemned nature on the cross.  This is the main thought expressed in Romans 8:1-3 which is Paul’s explanation of Romans 7:24-25.

Romans 7:24-25:
What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Romans 8:1-3:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in the flesh....

By assuming our corporate sinful humanity at the incarnation, Christ qualified to be the second Adam, the second head and representative of mankind (the word “Adam” in Hebrew means “mankind”).  Thus, in His doing and dying as man’s Substitute, He wrought out a redemption for all humanity.

1 Corinthians 1:30:
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

Ephesians 1:3:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

This is the good news of the gospel.

But in identifying Himself with fallen humanity, He also demonstrated that man, as he is after the Fall, united and controlled by God’s Spirit can live a life of total obedience to the law of love.  This is the hope and goal of Christian living.

We may, therefore, conclude that the primary purpose of the Incarnation was to qualify Christ to be the second Adam, so that He could legally or lawfully represent and substitute for fallen mankind in His redemptive work; while the secondary purpose for which He assumed our fallen humanity was that He could become the believer’s example and surety in restoring God’s image in man.  It is with this twofold purpose of the Incarnation in mind that we must examine the humanity of Christ.


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