Union in Incarnation, the Root Error of Modern Theology.
The main question is this: Did Christ unite Himself to sinful humanity on earth to renew it?
Does the believer have a wholly new life, united by the Holy Spirit to Christ in heaven?
Traditional orthodox teaching looks only at the renewal of the first man; it maintains that Christ was united to fallen man. If Christ had entered into the state of fallen man before redemption, the last Adam would have been united with the first Adam in its sinful state. For example, the Wesleyan Methodists and many in Germany assert that there is some good in fallen man, and that what is wrought in salvation is the setting right the first Adam, as such there is a ‘point of connection’ with sinful man. Edward Irving, a 19th century theologian who heavily influenced both Protestant and Catholic churches held that Christ had a sinful human nature – lust: but as He did not exercise His will, He did not sin. He died because of what He was as a mortal man, not to atone for our sins. This is in spite of what is said in the tenth commandment (Thou shalt not covet [or desire, or lust] Ex 20:17). Paul made that clear in Romans 7:7.
The truth is that man in the flesh is utterly rejected and lost; that Christ stood alone, though a true man, till He had accomplished redemption. Having risen, ascended and having been glorified, the believer with the Holy Sprit has received by faith justification and life and been given a wholly new nature. Therefore he is united with a glorified Christ, by the Holy Spirit, and is a member of His body.
Christ’s union with sinful humanity is an anti-scriptural fable.
Here are a few more examples of this false doctrine:
‘We are renewed in the whole man after the image of God‘ (Dr. Moody Stuart, late moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland) – false because in Ephesians 4:24, we have a new creation, where ‘Sin hath not dominion over us, because we are under grace’ Colossians 3:10 .
In regeneration the old nature remains the same, but a new one is also introduced: a new power (the Holy Spirit) enters the soul. The truth is new birth – the soul is born again, passing out of its former state of unbelief and darkness, and enters into a new state of faith and holiness.
‘Connected in every fibre of His nature with the common nature of mankind, He saw that He must suffer, the Just for the unjust. It could not be that human nature should fail of enduring the settled and necessary penalty of its sin, and He not only had a human nature, but in Him human nature was organically united, as it never had been before, except in Adam; if the members suffer, should not also the Head? ‘ (a president of a Baptist College). If Jesus had no connection with a sinful and lost humanity, or if that connection with a sinful and lost humanity had been merely a factitious and forensic one, then it would have been the greatest breach of justice, and an absurdity, that the Lord Jesus should have submitted to an ordinance which was in effect a confession of sin, deserving nothing less than death.
‘I must die to sin, by having Jesus’ death reproduced in me. I must rise to a new life, by having Jesus’ resurrection reproduced in me. … The putting away of the sin and guilt of humanity, which was the essential feature of Christ’s work, must take place in me, and this I must do by having my life incorporated with His life.‘ (Dr Strong) This really denies the atonement. He puts our death and resurrection as a result of His death to sin and resurrection to holiness. It does not accept our evil nature.
The above is all based on reforming the old man.
How different is the beautiful simplicity of the scriptural account of Christ’s life! Let us see how Scripture speaks about the incarnation. After stating what Christ was ‘The Word was God’ (John 1:1), John tells us in verse 14 what He became: ‘The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us‘. So in Hebrews 2:14: “As the children were partakers [κεκοινώνηκεν – kekoinoneken – shared in the same way] of flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner took part [μετέσχεν – meteschen – He shared the same thing, but in a different way] that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death.” As a man, He was made a little lower than the angels, but His birth was by Holy Spirit, so He was born holy (see Heb 2:9 and Luke 1:35). This was not sinful flesh. He was not united with sinful humanity; but was a wholly unique, a sinless Man, born holy in a miraculous way.
Does Hebrews 2 lead to any other thought? ‘Behold I, and the children which God has given me‘ (v.13). The children were in flesh and blood – so He took part in that. In His death He drew men to Him; He had to draw them because they were not united to Him, they were in fact far from Him. That is not union with humanity. People speak of His being bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, but that is not scriptural. Eph 5:30 (we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones) relates to Christ glorified. [Note that the expression ‘of his flesh, and of his bones’ is of dubious authority. JND puts it in brackets, most modern translations omit it.]. Setting union before Christ’s redemptive work falsifies Christianity and the state of men.
An alleged connection with men is in 1 Corinthians 11:3, ‘The head of every man is Christ‘; but that is not union, it is a relative position of dignity. Also sometimes quoted is that we are ‘crucified with him‘ (Rom 6:6). This applies to believers only, and is faith’s apprehension. It is also God’s apprehension of us as looked at as in Christ, inasmuch as He died for us. But this only confirms the distinctiveness of Christ’s manhood. Ungodly sinners who die in their sins could never be viewed as crucified with Christ. Furthermore, His being a propitiation (1 John 2:2) has nothing to do with union with the race – it was for, not with men.
The Lord was Son of God and King of Israel according to Psalm 2:7, but according to Psalm 8:4 He was Son of man. He was that in regard to the race, because of His death: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit‘ (John 12:24) but to take His place, according to that title, He had to die. “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:23) For in truth men were far away. So far was were they from union, that they rejected from the earth, lifting Him. When man had rejected Him utterly, and the world was judged in consequence (John 12:31), lifted up out of it, He, the crucified Jesus became the attractive point to all men in grace.
Before there could be any bond between man and God, God’s love and the redeeming power of Christ’s blood had be known. The sin of man, in total alienation from God and the love of God could only be met by redemption.
The living Saviour was, when in the world, Son of God, Messiah, and entitled to be King of Israel. As the risen Son of man, he could take the world, as Redeemer and Saviour. ‘He who descended into the lower parts of the earth is the same that is ascended far above all heavens, that He might fill all things’ (Eph. 4:10). It is in that character that He takes His place and power in grace and glory.
Before His resurrection God dealt with men in various ways, or dispensations:
- Innocence in the garden of Eden, where they fell,
- Up to the flood without any special institution, though not without God’s testimony. The world became so bad, that it was destroyed by the flood.
- In the new world came government in Noah.
- God’s promise to Abraham when he was called out from the midst of universal idolatry.
- The law which would be transgressed, and the prophets, who recalled the people to the law and testified of Christ.
Then God said, ‘I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him‘.. And when they saw Him they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him.(See Luke 20:13-15). Not only was man lawless (without law), and a transgressor (under law), but when grace came in the Person of the blessed Son of God, he refused it. The presence of a divine Person drew out the enmity of the heart of man against God: ‘Now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father” (John 15:24). So far from their being a link with humanity, the entire race of man had been exposed. God had come in grace – a man in their midst, and He was cast out. Consequently the Lord had to say, Now is the judgment of this world’ (John 12:31).
So John says, ‘In him was life, and the life was the light of man…He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not‘ (John 1:4, 5). In general His own did not receive Him, ‘But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’ (v. 12-13).
In John 3:3, ‘Except a man be born again [ἄνωθεν – anothen]‘, ‘anothen’ means ‘from the very beginning or starting-point’, as in Luke 1:3. Nicodemus, thought he was well-taught, but he did not see how a totally new life could be possible ‘can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?’ (John 3:4). As ‘born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever’ (1 Pet. 1:23), we are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus; (see Gal. 3:26). The Lord declares that that which is born of the flesh is flesh. It is of an animal nature, but that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Scripture states distinctly that divine life is a wholly new thing given of God: it is in absolute contrast with the flesh, for which death is the only remedy. So along with the error as to Christ’s humanity is that of what happens in man. Generally Presbyterians and Baptists hold that man is given nothing new; there is simply a renewal of man as he is, in his affections, thoughts, and in his whole soul. The Wesleyans go further in the doctrine of perfectionism: man, (body, soul, and spirit), was in a good state before the fall, and in a bad state after it, then, by the operation of the Spirit, in a good state again. Thus, they hold that a man may be born again ten times a week, and also be perfect; but it is the perfection of the first man. As a result they are exalting the first man, and losing of the full and blessed truth of grace in the Second. There can be no mixing the Last and first Adam, no renewing of the latter by the former, but the utter rejection of the former by the latter. The world is convicted of sin by His rejection, and judged. Union in incarnation is a mystical and mystifying fable. Man must be born again
In the nature and standing of the first Adam, we are said to be in the flesh. Now ‘the carnal [or fleshly] mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.‘ (Rom 8:7-9). The flesh, or the old man, is an evil thing, rejected by God and reckoned to be accounted dead (because of Christ’s death). It is never renewed; it is never changed; it is hopelessly bad. It cannot be improved; it cannot be forgiven. When left to itself it is lawless, rejecting Christ when He came in grace. Even in the believer it is said to be lusting against the indwelling Spirit. We are by nature the children of wrath.
Having the Son is a new thing to us sinners. Our affections and thoughts have been changed, and having the Son we have life. Hence Christ says, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also’ (John 14:19). It is life which is given us, life in Christ in the power of the Spirit; ‘For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.’ (v. 3).” We have everlasting life now, and the prospect of eternal glory. When we understand the full Christian place, we enjoy a life of which God is the source. We have been born of God through the Spirit, and the Spirit dwells in us. We have been given power and liberty, living by every word that proceeds out of God’s mouth (See Matt. 4:4).
God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, has condemned sin in the flesh (see Rom. 8:3). It was condemned in Christ’s death, He having been made made sin for us. Now he that has died is justified from sin; (Rom. 6:7 Darby). I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live: but not I, but Christ liveth in me; (Gal. 2:20). They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts; (Gal. 5:24). Knowing that our old man is crucified with Him; (Rom. 6:6). If ye be dead with Christ; (Rom. 6:8). Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God; (Col. 3:3). Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 6:11), Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body; (2 Cor. 4:10. Christ having died, it is as if we had died, and we reckon ourselves dead, crucified with Him. We are dead to sin, dead to the law, crucified to the world, and the world to us, Christ lives in us, alive to God — not in Adam, for our old man with his deeds; is crucified with Christ.
So we have a new life communicated to us; the old man has been crucified. Our privilege and duty being like Christ – and He is in glory. So ‘Christ in us’ is the hope of glory: this is something wholly new. We are accepted in Him. Read Colossians 3:5-17. In chapter 3:1, we associated in life with Christ risen and glorified. Christ is our life, we belong to heaven where He is, though of course we are not yet there physically.
The positive testimony that our union is as believers with Christ in glory is the gift of the Comforter. The Lord said, ‘In that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you‘ (John 14:20). Who? Humanity? No, the disciples only. The Comforter was not for the world — ‘whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you,’ (John 14:17). This is a present experience
In Romans 8 there is no condemnation for them who are in Christ Jesus; but this is through the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, consequent on the death of Christ. So in 1 Corinthians 6:17, ‘He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.‘ We are members of the body of Christ, who was raised from the dead by God’s power. We have been ‘raised together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Him‘ (Eph 2:6). God has given Him ‘to be Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who filleth all in all‘(Eph 1:22) . It is compared with the husband and wife, Eve’s union with Adam, and further developed in 1 Corinthians 12 as a system established here on earth, that it is by one Spirit we are all baptised into one body, united to Christ by the Spirit. The whole groundwork of the New Testament, and the truth taught in it, is that Christ, though a true man, was alone until He had accomplished redemption. Now as glorified, He is the Head and we the members.
Our life as Christians is a wholly new one; we have been born again. There is no renewing or ameliorating of the flesh; it is enmity against God and cannot be subject to His law. Our union is with Christ glorified, in a new life in Him, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, against whom the flesh always lusts. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, so also we shall bear the image of the Heavenly (1 Cor 15:48). And in the ages to come God will shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. May we know it, that through grace, we may be occupied with Christ instead of ourselves.
For original see Union in Incarnation, the Root Error of Modern Theology