by Kyle Pope
Synopsis: Discussing the biblical doctrine of the incarnation, Kyle reminds us of the unique blessings that occur because Jesus came in the flesh.
It is generally believed that the first epistle of John was written (in some degree) to counter the early stages of Gnostic belief. Gnosticism, in the first few centuries after Christ, spread throughout the ancient world and led many souls astray. In their view, Jesus could not really have come in the flesh because they felt that material things were inherently evil. To justify their own immoral behavior, Gnostics argued that since Jesus only spiritually came to earth (without ever actually having contact with the material world), they could do whatever they wished with their bodies, yet still be inwardly pure if they attained a secret knowledge (Greek: gnosis) which they alone possessed. In refutation of this false doctrine, John, through the Holy Spirit, declared that Jesus was One whom—"we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled" (1 John 1:1, NKJV). That might initially strike us as an odd way to describe Jesus' coming to earth, but John's point is that Jesus really lived in the flesh. He was not an apparition—He shared our flesh and blood. Because of this, John said further, "every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world" (1 John 4:3).
While our modern world may no longer have proponents of Gnosticism as it once existed in the ancient world, there are still many who have their own reasons for choosing to deny that "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh." As Christians, we must recognize that, since Jesus really lived in this world, certain conclusions are inescapable.
Jesus offers mankind the way of salvation, but He declares that it is a "narrow" and "difficult" way (Matt. 7:14). Not all roads lead to heaven. Not everything done in the name of religion is profitable to us. While we might hope and strive and try to attain a relationship with God through some other means (i.e., through our imagination, or through our conscience, etc.), Jesus boldly declared, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).
In offering man the way to salvation, Jesus sets down a very exclusive standard of faith and behavior. We will not be judged according to some human philosophy or theory but by Jesus' words: "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). Since Jesus came in the flesh, the standard of truth is clearly set forth in His word.
Jesus taught, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24). Jeremiah affirmed the same principle centuries before: "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jer. 10:23). Since Jesus came in the flesh and offered mankind the way that must be followed, in matters of personal lifestyle or in questions of religious practice, it is not about what we want, but about what God (in Jesus) wants for us.
Just as the Gnostics rationalized away the sinfulness of immorality, many today try to suggest that it is impossible for people to resist temptation and avoid sin. They do so either from some theological doctrine that claims that we inherit a sinful nature, or from a humanistic determinism that treats behavior as the result of genetics, instinct, or ancestry. The Bible clearly states that Jesus possessed the same human nature that we do. The Hebrew writer tells us that Jesus was made like us "in all things," and that He has partaken of our "flesh and blood," which is the very reason He can now act as our "High Priest in things pertaining to God" (Heb. 2:14-17). Yet, Jesus also was "in all points tempted as we are yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). While it is obvious that the flesh is often weak (cf. Matt. 26:41), to suggest that the flesh cannot avoid sin is to reject Jesus' own coming in the flesh.
The fact that Jesus came and offered to mankind a new way of salvation sets before us an offer we can either accept or reject. To reject Jesus is to forfeit the only hope that any of us have for salvation. Those who make such a choice will one day hear the sad words, "I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matt. 7:23). The fact that Jesus actually did come in the flesh means that many in the world (including some of our own family and friends) will hear these sad words from the Lord.
While on the earth, Jesus declared that, when the Day of Judgment comes, He will sit as judge of the world. In his gospel, John relates Jesus' declaration—"For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22). In teaching His disciples about the final judgment, Jesus said, at the end of things, He will sit "on the throne of His glory" and all the nations will be gathered before Him so that he might separate them "as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats" (Matt. 25:31-32). If Jesus never came, we would have no accountability to Him. His coming in the flesh means that we cannot escape our responsibility to Him and our appointment to stand before Him in judgment. We must never make the same mistake as the Gnostics in allowing ourselves to imagine that we can sin with immunity. Jesus' coming in the flesh demonstrates the inevitability of His second coming. The Hebrew writer declared, "as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation" (Heb. 9:27-28).
Author-Bio: Kyle Pope preaches for the Olsen Park church of Christ in Amarillo, TX. He has written several books published by Truth Publications including How We Got the Bible. The church website is olsenpark.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.