In-Sight: Incarnation

​Having recently celebrated Christmas, the Incarnation has been front-and-center in our faith.  In the birth of Jesus, the Word became flesh, and lived a while on the earth full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  The coming of the pre-incarnate, eternal Christ (second person of the Holy Trinity) was the perfect fusion of spirit and matter.  In Jesus, heaven and earth were united as never before, or since.

But the incarnation was more than unique and historic, it is also universal and timeless.  The Bible teaches that Jesus was the new Adam (Romans 12:5-18), now often referred to as “The Human One.” [1]  In Jesus we see how humanity was meant to be, and was, before the fall. [2]  Christlikeness is the one-word summary for the definition of life as God wills it to be for us.

We are not, and will never be, the perfect fusion of spirit and matter that Jesus was, but we are a fusion of spirit and matter—what the Bible calls “living souls” (Genesis 2:7).  In our humanity we are holy, as God is holy in deity. Far from being a wild idea, this “likeness” to God is what it means to be made in the image of God.  St. Thomas Aquinas described it in these words, “Grace renders us like God and a partaker of the divine nature. Divine virtue gives deification itself, that is, participating in the Godhead, which is through grace.” [3]

This is a grand truth, but we must not allow it to hang in the air as a dangling doctrine, and even worse, we must not let it deteriorate into wishful thinking or, still worse, into sentimentalism–which is precisely where the world leaves “baby Jesus” during Christmas.  The incarnation of Jesus is the revelation that our humanity is not only to be gentle and meek, but also strong and courageous–that is, pastoral and prophetic.

Jesus show us what the full range of human holiness looks like, and the revelation becomes an invitation.  This is complicated, but we must not let that prevent us from receiving the message which comes from Jesus’ incarnation to us: we are human, and that glorious reality is a vision which is meant to invite us into fullness of life—life in Christ.  The new year is a fresh invitation to become what we are meant to be, God’s beloved children.  The incarnation is meant to recur in us.  It is one way God says to us, “Don’t forget who you are.”  Jesus is the living reminder.


[1] Adam is the word for  humankind–before being represented in maleness and femaleness.  As the new Adam, Jesus revealed in his flesh the nature of humanity irrespective of gender.  By calling him “The Human One” we see his example to be applicable to people of all genders.  The Common English Study Bible has good articles about “The Human One,” and uses this translation in place of the traditional rendering “Son of Man” to more clearly describe Jesus’ humanity as an example for all people.

[2] This is impossible to put into words because it is Mystery.  Adam was not the Christ in the technical and full sense of the word, because humanity and deity are distinct.  But being fully human, Jesus revealed what we can call a pre-fall humanity—a humanity which is possible for any of us.  We never become God (that’s heresy), but we can be “like God” (that’s biblical—Genesis 1:26-28).  

[3] Quoted in Matthew Fox’s Daily Meditation, December 23, 2019.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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