So essential is the concept of the Incarnation to the identity of the Church that early believers made it a test of authenticity for true acceptance of faith.1 To reject the Incarnation was to reject Jesus. Likewise, to reject the way God accomplished his mission through the Incarnation was to reject the everyday and eternal identity and mission of the Church.2 The Church, filled with witnesses sent by Jesus, today serves as a corporeal demonstration of the Incarnation. Jesus is the head of the Church, which the scriptures refer to as his Body. As a result, the Church is to reflect Jesus, who is the “visible image of the invisible God.”3
Scripture teaches us that the Incarnation is the model for the identity and action of the Church in the world today.4 The writer of Hebrews underscores the unselfish obedience Jesus displayed in going to the cross for our salvation.5 Jesus desired that his followers do likewise.6 Jesus showed us how to “fish for people” like he did.7 And just as God forgave us through the work of Christ, so we are instructed to forgive others. We are also taught to accept others, just as Christ, who came as a servant, has accepted us.8 Just as Jesus displayed, we are also to put on tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience and especially love which binds everything together. The Apostle Paul stressed that his followers are to have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had:
“Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”9
The Incarnation compels us today to so love the world as Jesus did. As Christ was sent so that those who believe would have everlasting life, so Jesus shapes us to go into all geographies and contexts in order to share the newness of life that transforms us because God has come among us in the Person of Jesus Christ.10 Just as Jesus broke into this world, so the Church is sent to break into lives to reveal God’s mission of redemptive love (See Figure 2). Paul teaches us that:
“God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors.”11
1 1 John 4:2-3, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” NIV
2 Stan Grenz suggested that “in this one historical, personal life we find revealed who God is and who we are to be- true deity and true humanity. As this human being, Jesus is divine… The foundation for this confession, Jesus is the incarnate one, is not limited to Jesus’ birth. All of his life, including his resurrection as the confirmation of his claims concerning himself, indicates that in Jesus the Word has come in the flesh. In short, we do not celebrate the incarnation merely at Christmas, but throughout the church year climaxing at Easter.” (Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994, 405).
3 Colossians 1:15
4 “In order to understand the nature of Jesus’ ministry, it is necessary to remember his incarnation.” Glasser, 201.
5 Hebrews 5:7-8
6 John 17:6
7 Mark 1:16-18
8 Romans 15:7
9 Philippians 2:5-8 NIV
10 Matthew 28:19-20
11 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NLT