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Posts Tagged ‘Hypostatic Union’

Recently I posted on the importance of Christ’s simultaneously complete human and divine natures, also called the “hypostatic union”, to the cross. I mentioned that I wanted to comment more on Christ’s dual natures, and apparently since this is my own blog, I can do this. I wonder how long they were going to let me go before I figured this out? Just goes to show…

The hypostatic union of Christ is just as important to the sanctification of Christians as it is to their justification. We can begin to see this in the book of Colossians. The errorists at Colosse were trying to convinve the church that they could grow in holiness through a form of legalism called asceticism. Asceticism is the practice of self-denial for personal purity. Particularly, the false teachers at Colosse were advocating that church members abstain from certain foods. This was a lie:

“Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules:”Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (Colossians 2:20-23)

One of the critical errors of legalism is the thinking that what we do on this side of eternity manipulates eternity itself. It is as though the individual could reach through the invisible plane between the temporal world and eternity and put some holiness beans on the judicial scales that measure their life. This is of course absurd, but when we pretend that we are sanctified by avoiding certain kinds of food (read: beer and wine) or certain kinds of music, or by observing special days, fasting, or whatever we might do, we are guilty of the Colossian heresy (a portion of it, at least).

As my pastor explained to us a few weeks ago in church, pagans of the time of the early church had a warped view of the relationship between the material world and the spiritual world. They saw the two as being somewhat fused together. In part, this explains how a person could fashion an idol made of wood, call it a god, and worship it. This is part of what Paul was getting at when he told the Athenians at Mars Hill, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;” (Acts 17:24-25).

These false teachers were bringing their pagan baggage into the church. This thinking that material things can manipulate spiritual things is rampant in the church as is easily sold to earnest Christians seeking to grow spiritually. Abstention from alcohol was sold to me as true holiness some years ago. My studies in Colossians reminded that it is not what goes into my mouth, but what comes out of it that matters (Matt 15:17). Of course, moderation in all things applies as well (1 Cor 9:25). But my view back then was that I was just “better off not touching the stuff.”

I see now that the problem with anything that goes into the mouth is that the heart can appropriate it for evil. Is the answer to avoid alcohol? Any food can be eaten with gluttony. Sex, while declared good between a man and his wife, can be perverted even within the bounds of marriage. Orange juice can be consumed excessively. It is the heart which must be brought under subjection (Jer 17:9)! And no material thing can touch the heart.

So I am left with a dilemma. I cannot manipulate my eternal destiny from here. Problem is, because of my sin weighing down those judicial scales, I do need some of those aforementioned beans. But again, I can’t cross that plane, can I? It would seem that I need someone who lives over there to do it for me, and somehow He needs to get over to my side of realty.

In comes Jesus Christ: fully man and fully God. He takes on human flesh:

“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,” (Colossians 2:9)

His dual nature is the solution to my problem. He takes on human flesh, obeys God laws for me, dies in my place, and ascends to heaven. His beans go on my scale by faith:

“and in Him you have been made complete,” (Colossians 2:10a)

Those key words “in Him” mean that what He has done applies to me because I am united with Him by God’s gift of faith. Since He has crossed between planes, my problem is solved.

This gives me a revolutionary view of my relationship to material things. I know think of material things in terms of why I desire them. I think in terms of my affections, my desires, and whether they worship Christ or myself. I think of the effect that food, drink, music, etc have on me and why I might pursue them. Rather than having a checklist of things I do or don’t do, I work to evaluate my own motives in every case. This is the nature of pursuing holiness. Not beer, and certainly not beans.

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Two weeks ago, Don Carson was at my church as our guest speaker for our Fall Family Conference. I was overheard, at one point, referring to his messages as the theological equivalent of a foot-rub.” Indeed it was. Dr. Carson gave us a three-part lecture called “Making Sense of Suffering” which was as enjoyable as his book, “How Long O’ Lord” in which he originally compiled his source material. As always, listeners of all levels were challenged and encouraged.

During the third session, Carson touched on something that intersected with some things I have been thinking about lately: the importance of the Trinity to the atonement and the hypostatic union of Christ. By the “hypostatic union” I am referring to the doctrine that Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully God (Col 1:19, 2:9, Php 2:7, John 1:14, Heb 2:17). It has been a controversial issue in church history as various heresies have involved stripping Him completely of one or the other. The Aryan heresy sought to strip Him of His divinity, for example, and the Gnostic heresy sought to deny His humanity. It is an important issue because the nature of His atoning work on the cross demands that He posses both natures fully.

This issue, intersecting with the importance of God being triune, was placed on the table by Dr. Carson when he brought up the difference between “expiation” and “propitiation”. I think that some got a bit lost at this point, but here is where Carson doesn’t mind putting some theological cookies on the higher shelves. It was entirely pertinent to his discussion of suffering. Let me lay out a few definitions to clear things up, if necessary:

  • Expiation has sin as its object. The goal of expiation is to render justice upon sinners. Sinners sin and God punishes sin. The sin is expiated, punished. God cancels sin, He expiates it.
  • Propitiation has the favor of God as its object. Its aim is to make God favorable toward sinners. Expiation stops short of this. Where expiation goes out from God toward sin, propitiation goes toward God.

To illustrate the importance of this, Carson presented the case of C.H. Dodd, a liberal theologian who argued that God’s act upon Jesus on the cross had to have been expiation because His favorable mood, being propitious toward sinners, was evident in John 3:16. God was already propitious, Dodd said, therefore He have His Son. For God to propitiate Himself was nonsense. You don’t make an offering to yourself, after all.

Dodd was missing a few things, though. First, He missed the fact that as God is holy, he must be angry at sin because the sin has not yet been punished. Before the cross, God must be propitiated. He must be made favorable.

Second, Dodd was likely overlooking Christ’s dual nature. Liberal scholars of his ilk had a problem with Christ’s divinity. But it is Christ’s divinity AND humanity, WITHIN the triune Godhead, that makes sense out of propitiation. Why is this? Because propitiation requires that two parties be involved: the guilty party and the offended party. Because Christ took on human flesh and lived a perfect life, He could stand in as humanity’s representative (Rom 8:3). Because Christ was God, he was able not only to withstand the Father’s judgment against sin, but raise Himself from the dead (John 10:17-18). Propitiation is a closed loop between the guilty and offended parties. Christ’s dual natures allowed humanity to be brought into that loop. As both Father and Son are God, God is in fact making HIMSELF propitious.

Nuclear testing was restricted to underground testing after 1963 due to obvious harmful effects on the ocean and upper atmosphere where the tests had taken place up until then. What would it be like standing inside an underground testing facility at ground zero. I imagine it might be a bit like God’s wrath. The strongest, most “righteous” man on earth would be instantly reduced to ashes. Scripture says that the wages of sin is death (Rom 3:23, 6:23). If this is the case, how do we get man out of the room alive? He must also be God. He must be Christ.

This dynamic of the Trinity was brought to my attention be a book I read this summer called “Pierced for Our Transgressions” by Jeffery, Ovey & Sach. More can be said about the particluar need for a sinless substitute, but for now it somply blows my mind that in Christ, humanity is brought into this circuit of propitiation such that God can mevel His righteous judgment on humanity and yet humanity can survive.

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