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The Cross is the Incarnation

This is a brilliant post on some of the key distinctions between Reformed and Orthodox views on salvation and man.

Energetic Procession


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4 comments on “The Cross is the Incarnation

  1. Benjamin Scott
    August 17, 2015

    Interesting stuff, although some of the specifics of gnosticism are too abstract for me to always grasp very well. I think it may just be that gnosticism is absurd.

    But I’m struggling with understanding recapitulation too. I used to own a really old copy of “On The Incarnation Of The Word” by St. Athanasius. But I loaned it to someone and never got it back! Now I’m lost! The concept of the second Adam is clearly Biblical, Rom. 5, but it seems more a focus on the cross than the incarnation itself. Of course the whole passage moves and operates in a proper understanding of the incarnation.

    I believe recapitulation has a lot of explanitory power of various texts in the NT that would be hard to understand without it, since they relate to the salvation of humanity as a whole, which is taught in the NT and not without mystery to many atonement theories. But the irony of this is that though the NT states that the atonement saves all, it really hones in with all of its theology to how that relates to Christians with very scant material given outside of the Christian relationship to salvation. I’m trying to grasp how the focus on saving all of humanity in the incarnational model of atonement more specifically relates back to our own union with Christ as Christians in some higher sense than the rest of the world has union with Him? How is our union more or different than theirs?

    Because the biggest focus on our union with Christ seems to clearly be for Christians alone, and not the world at all. Romans 6, for instance. To assert that all of humanity is united with Him dictates against this focus, although it doesn’t necessarily contradict it entirely. How are we saved through “union with Christ” in a way that is much more profound than the world is?

    On a surface reading of 1 Cor. 15, the priority of resurrection to Christ’s resurrection is taken both ways. “Resurrection happens and so Christ is raised too,” vs. 13-19. What?? And then just after this, “Christ is raised and so we expect resurrection too,” vs. 20-26. The both ways back and forward thinking of this is interesting. It’s difficult to understand the reasoning on the surface. I note also that Jesus was not the first one raised from the dead. Lazurus, etc…. But resurrection did “come by Him” according to this passage.

    I get that in assuming humanity, Christ redefines what humanity is, in Himself. But to my primary thinking, this redefining of what humanity is in Himself is only accessible to those who are united with Him in Spirit and Truth, in a worship that imitates Him in life action, so that we are “as He is, so also in this world.” Thus we are living sacrifices. Obviously He overcame sin in Himself and confronted whatever needed confronting about human nature’s bondage to death.

    But in being our accessible salvation and re-definer of who we are or can be, we must choose to participate in His offer to be our “bread” and our life. This is defined in baptism and in the cup and bread, but most fully expressed in the way we live in the worship of Spirit and Truth, in imitation of Him. In the Holy Spirit and the life expressed first in Christ and now in us. I guess what I’m saying is that I see in Christ a new type of man, but I don’t see how a new type of man makes all men new, but rather only those who participate in this newness. I’m sorry I don’t get the logic entirely. Does Christ redefine who humanity is? Or who humanity can be in Him? Or is this the wrong question anyway!? Probably if I understand Orthodoxy correctly, my misunderstanding all stems from some lack of insight into the precise relations of the Trinity! (Grinning)

    I am being candid here about how I see the emphasis and focus of the NT, whether I lack insight or not. Recapitulation can seemingly overlap heavily with my focus here so I am very open to it. But how does humanity as a whole have access to the power of the incarnation when they reject the light and are unwilling to come to it? How can it operate on those who refuse it when it seems focused on those who accept it, Rom. 6:5?

    I am hoping to flush out the distinctions I have with Orthodoxy in regards to mysticism, asceticism, etc…, as related in all of this incarnational stuff. I certainly see Christ Himself as being salvation. That’s how I put it and so this is very incarnational since Christ Himself had to be incarnate to be our salvation and offer Himself to us. But I really tend to see humanity as not accepting this offer found in the Incarnation and thus they are in no real way unified with Christ since they reject the offer to be unified with Him. This is my core thinking about soteriology. There are a lot of metaphors of atonement that all point back to Christ as salvation, but the core idea is that He and His life are ours through His invasion of our story, out through the other side of death, and the Holy Spirit given us through Him to do the same.

    Also, the thinking in the article of Rom. 5:18 seems somewhat decoupled from 5:19 which carries the thought in an explicitly Christian direction and doesn’t seem to apply to humanity as a whole. In fact only 5:15 and 5:18 are the only two verses in this passage which in isolation could seem to me to fit with this model. 5:16,17,19, and 20 seem to operate in the other direction.

    Another question related to all of this is, why Jesus had to raise from the dead to overcome death? He did but why? What rights did Satan truly gain over death other than the enslavement we have out of a fear of it? Is the problem between God and Satan or between us and sin? 1 Cor. 15:56 – if the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law, then isn’t sin and law (“knowledge of good and evil”) the cause of death? At least as much as fear of death is the thing that enslaves us to sin?

    I guess I’m saying that this passage seems focused more on Christians being freed from death than on non-Christians being freed from it. They are not in any way freed from sin or law, but rather condemned by that very duo which we are freed from as Christians.

    Even 15:24 only seems to possibly hint at a resurrection of the unrighteous before Paul moves into describing how death is the last enemy conquered. This enemy is associated again with 15:56 in the resurrection itself, and does not have close associations here with the unrighteous, who according to Revelation must now face second death.

    Ironically I once heard an SDA pastor say that Christ died “second death” on the cross. I confronted him about it not being Biblical. Note that I am not, never have been, and never will be, SDA. And note, I do need to do a word study on death in the Bible. Sometimes the question is illusive. Is death physical, spiritual, eternal, etc…? With statements such as, “He who believes in me will not die and though he die, yet will he live” around, it is challenging.

    I’m sorry if I ask too many questions all at once. I hope you have the time to reply to whatever you think is central.

    • Yoshua Scribes
      August 17, 2015

      //I’m trying to grasp how the focus on saving all of humanity in the incarnational model of atonement more specifically relates back to our own union with Christ as Christians in some higher sense than the rest of the world has union with Him? How is our union more or different than theirs?//

      Christ rescues all people on the level of nature, by rescuing from corruption and death. But each must personally be conformed to his image by synergy with grace. Otherwise they won’t participate in the fullness of God’s energies/Trinitarian life. I think that God’s glory/consuming fire which is meant to be our delight will be part of the scourge of the unprepared. The work of Christ and our resurrection are connected in scripture. If it doesn’t apply universally then all people will not be raised or Christ’s work is not necessary for resurrection.

      // I note also that Jesus was not the first one raised from the dead. Lazurus, etc…. But resurrection did “come by Him” according to this passage.//

      Resuscitation and Resurrection are not the same. Lazarus died again. In Christ, corruption puts on incorruption.

      //I get that in assuming humanity, Christ redefines what humanity is, in Himself. But to my primary thinking, this redefining of what humanity is in Himself is only accessible to those who are united with Him in Spirit and Truth, in a worship that imitates Him in life action, so that we are “as He is, so also in this world.” Thus we are living sacrifices. Obviously He overcame sin in Himself and confronted whatever needed confronting about human nature’s bondage to death.//

      Humanity’s problems are not just relational, but natural. As Athanasius said in On the Incarnation, even if we simply repented and were forgiven, they’d still be subject to death and corruption. Is immortality a natural human property? It’s a divine energy that is united to man, by virtue of Christ. And since all men are made immortal, Christ died and defeated death for all men. “but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).”

      //But in being our accessible salvation and re-definer of who we are or can be, we must choose to participate in His offer to be our “bread” and our life. This is defined in baptism and in the cup and bread, but most fully expressed in the way we live in the worship of Spirit and Truth, in imitation of Him. In the Holy Spirit and the life expressed first in Christ and now in us. I guess what I’m saying is that I see in Christ a new type of man, but I don’t see how a new type of man makes all men new, but rather only those who participate in this newness. I’m sorry I don’t get the logic entirely. Does Christ redefine who humanity is? Or who humanity can be in Him? Or is this the wrong question anyway!? Probably if I understand Orthodoxy correctly, my misunderstanding all stems from some lack of insight into the precise relations of the Trinity! (Grinning)//

      Remember the nature person distinction. Remember that humanity is made in the image of God. And Christ is the image of God. He is the telos of humanity. So were always meant to be glorified and partake of the life of the Trinity. Which means the glorification of all human nature in order to partake of it. But given free will, people can choose to go against their natural telos. So in redemption, Christ restores the natural image of God in man for all people. But the Father’s of the Church distinguish between image and likeness. The image is the plan and blueprint, the likeness is potential and our conformity to it.

      So Orthodoxy teaches that creation and all of mankind is redeemed precisely by Christ becoming man and by virtue of creation being united to Christ, in this union of the Logos with human nature. In other words, all creation is connected the body of Christ. That is how all mankind is rescued from death and brought to the final resurrection.

      “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (1 Corinthians 15:21-23 NIV)”

      Paul is saying that in Adam all people die, in Christ all are raised, but then he goes on to emphasise the salvation of the Church. Because salvation takes parts on two levels, on the level of nature, and on the level of person. All are raised by the work of Christ and given immortality (their nature is preserved). But not all synergetically co-operate with the grace now available to them, bringing their person in right relationship to God (personal salvation).

      Everyone is in a sense united to Christ’s body. Otherwise they would not be preserved. And yet Christ still offers us His body to partake in. And his body is still a visible and real body. So the question of salvation here is now about ones personal orientation to God. Which requires synergetic response and co-operation with grace. The fullness of which is concentrated in the Church. Christ’s body.

      //Also, the thinking in the article of Rom. 5:18 seems somewhat decoupled from 5:19 which carries the thought in an explicitly Christian direction and doesn’t seem to apply to humanity as a whole. In fact only 5:15 and 5:18 are the only two verses in this passage which in isolation could seem to me to fit with this model. 5:16,17,19, and 20 seem to operate in the other direction.//

      Sin as evil is a personal property and cannot by swapped around “The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.” (Ezekiel 8:20).

      Also, as a personal property, it cannot be attributed to nature either. So when scripture says in “God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh” it is not saying that God punished nature as evil. Nor is he punishing his Son (the Trinitarian problems galore). Nor is sin an actual substance as such. Rather the reality of sin’s corruptions are *destroyed* in Christ’s death and resurrection. So it’s a natural (dealing with the nature) destruction of sin and its effects which then lead to the opportunity for a hypostatic deliverance from sin, in all who choose it. In other words, the atonement was on the level of nature, to make salvation on the level of persons possible.

      It follows then that consistency must be applied. Per Romans 5, it is clear that Adam’s sin and Christ’s redemption are parallel in touching upon the same issue. Keeping in mind the above principles that a) sin as an evil is personal b) it has no substance c) it cannot be shared, we interpret the following verses in like manner:

      “Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.”

      Condemnation here cannot be personal on the many due to the one. That would violate the above principles. And also we are interpreting condemnation via how it is used in Romans 8. Rather condemnation here is destruction. As the result of God’s judgement on Adam’s sin, the consequence is condemnation [destruction] for him and his offspring. Here the judgement is separate from the condemnation. God’s decision/judgement as to what to do with Adam resulted in this destruction to us. But back up one second, we see in Genesis 3 that God explicitly says, Man must not eat from the tree, lest he live forever. Adam’s own sin brought about his decay and destruction. But it could have been thwarted (so it seems), had he eaten of this tree. God’s decision/judgement prevented this, and thus let death play out, just as God had warned. So death was not something superimposed on Adam, but rather it was his own doing. Which God saw fit to allow (which is also an act of mercy, in order to make us redeemable).

      “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” Adam’s act of sin brought destruction (death) for all humanity. Christ’s act brought immortality for all people. This is the natural level.

      “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” First of all remember that none of us believe in imputation. Second, sin is not a substance such that one can have it apart from freely participating. Third, this is the level of persons, since sin and righteousness must have the free will of the individual hypostasis involved. Thus following the logic of the previous verse, the consequence of Adam’s sin is that many become sinners. The consequence of Christ’s act is the opposite. In no sense are they both immediate apart from the individual.

      //Another question related to all of this is, why Jesus had to raise from the dead to overcome death? He did but why? What rights did Satan truly gain over death other than the enslavement we have out of a fear of it? Is the problem between God and Satan or between us and sin? 1 Cor. 15:56 – if the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law, then isn’t sin and law (“knowledge of good and evil”) the cause of death? At least as much as fear of death is the thing that enslaves us to sin?//

      Satan had no rights over us. He is a usurper, who in bringing the fall of man, murdered mankind. And has used death in order to bring the destruction of our race. The problem isn’t between us and God as some put it. The enemy is sin which separates us from God, leading to corruption and death. And that’s what death is. First it’s separation from God, then separation of soul and body. The Orthodox idea is that humanity faced annihilation. Jesus however by the hypostatic union, united his person to human nature. Such that that even though he died, unlike us who are separated from our full nature, Jesus’ person still remained connected to both soul and body. Since he has a divine nature and is not dependent upon the human nature to exist. Preserving both. He communicated the the energy of immortality to his human nature, and being consubstantial to us saved all of humanity from the threat of annihilation. Immortality now became intrinsic to humanity. Restoring likeness to an aspect of the image of God lost in mankind.

      And don’t be sorry for all your questions! If people didn’t answer mine, I’d still be where I was almost 2 years ago. I only wish I were better equipped to answer 🙂

      • Yoshua Scribes
        August 17, 2015

        I totally recommend that you soak up and read everything on Perry Robinson’s blog. His work more than any is what was brought to my attention in bringing me to a robust Orthodox understanding of key Christological issues. Particularly the nature/person distinction. And many Facebook interactions have helped too. I can try and explain certain things (he can be a tough read, it took me a year to begin grasping some of it). Two more valuable resources. This podcast helped explain to me many aspects of Orthodox Christianity. It’s made specifically to help outsiders understand.

        http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/ourlife

        Here is also a very excellent blog on similar topics to Perry’s.Though more accessible to lay folk like us. The link here is on a whole list of posts in regards to the incarnation and it’s importance to defeating death. I think you’ll find them more than helpful

        https://thewellofquestions.wordpress.com/category/incarnation/

  2. Benjamin Scott
    August 23, 2015

    You’re a great help Sir. I really appreciate your thorough answers. I’m with you about 90% of the time but I’m still trying to fully grasp some concepts fully. I will spend some time on Energetic Procession and Incarnation as well. I’ve been to Perry’s website in years past and have done my own study as well. The Orthodox theology is very difficult philosophically and you’re helping to clarify it for me some. And I say that as someone who reads philosophy on my lunch breaks! What I love about all this it is that it’s all about Christ and who He was, and how if we get that right, we consequently get everything else right too.

    I am completely repulsed by imputation and penal substitution and I fully follow your reasoning on person vs. nature distinction as I see it operating in various theology.

    <<>>

    You anticipated my question, so thanks for bringing that up about the tree being tied to immortality, because that’s one that I always have worked with in my own thought and feel that Protestantism ignores.

    I almost grasp what you’re saying and I think you are probably describing it clearly, but I’m just too dense to fully understand, so I will ask a few more questions if you don’t mind, centered around the topic of death.

    So Adam was created without an immortal soul, right? Because otherwise he wouldn’t have needed the tree of life, right? So he was a tree of life sustained mortal soul, living in a state of innocence and seeming ignorance (without the knowledge of good and evil). And if so, then how does this relate to the tree of life being mentioned in Revelation as well? Why would it be there since we are now immortal? Or is it meant to be taken figuratively?

    Also, what is meant by the term “death” in the Bible? Is there a consistent usage or is it always used differently in different contexts? Paul says that it’s “the last enemy to be defeated.” Yet recapitulation is saying that it’s defeated by the incarnation, cross and resurrection already? Thus we die now because Christ died, not because of the consequence of the fall. So then when it’s finally defeated in the end, in what fuller sense is that? Death seems to have so many layers of meaning to it that it becomes confusing.

    You said that death is “separation from God and then separation of soul and body.” That’s two layers. But my question is, is this the definition of death before Christ’s work was finished or after it? Before right? I’m guessing…. And this is what you mean by “annihilation?” Because now that Christ has died, when we die, it is something different from death before.

    When Rom. 8:12-13 and Gal. 6:8 says that those who live according to the flesh “die” and inherit corruption, it then means what? Is it referring to what kind of death? Separation from God only? Because all are saved from death in Christ. So in what meaningful or specific sense does my living in sin make me “die?” Why use that word in what seems like so many different meanings? Again my thinking is maybe not fully defined, but at this point I am just struggling to understand this fully either way.

    I am also curious about God allowing Adam to die being something which “makes us redeemable”? I guess this question revolves around a lot of speculation on what the knowledge of good and evil is, etc? I see the knowledge of good and evil as being the first intrusion of a type of law which brings death. It seems clear that before the fall, Adam and Eve weren’t sinless, they were rather ignorant of anything by which to define sin. Sin isn’t imputed when there’s no law.

    As you see, I tend to be holding onto something like what Orthodoxy understands by the cross, but I am only seeing its affect on a more personal level through imitation and spiritual union. I see how what you’re saying about “condemned sin in the flesh” is not personal in the sense that He was punished for our sins. I have tended to see this passage in a more moral exemplar, “trail blazer” styled approach, as Christ condemning sin in the flesh by not committing it, and going into the grave in this state, “leaving sin there,” so to speak, and thus conquering death in the process. Death doesn’t apply to the righteous who follow Him in this same way, Phil 3:10-11. I have tended to see the total identification of Christ with sin in 2 Cor. 5:21 as the same thing. Thus in this sense, His righteousness is personal to Him. And yet His personal conquering of sin in Him, becomes my personal conquering of sin if I will personally take up my own cross and follow Him in the same way, with the aid of the same Spirit which was in Him. I tend to focus more on a “spiritual” and “imitative” union with Christ rather than on a consubstantial union which precedes my participation in it by personal choice. I see Him as a trail blazer for me, and a redefiner of what is now possible for human nature, now that He’s taken it upon Himself and redefined it as overcoming death. His conquering of sin by facing it to the point of death is a similar sounding idea to what is mentioned in 1 Pet. 2:21-25 and 4:1-2, as well as Heb. 12:2-4, etc…. Do you see how I’m thinking? My focus really says that the Incarnation and the work of Christ saves us through our relational imitation of Him or not at all. Of course Protestants think I believe in “salvation by works.” I am actually stating that salvation is by the fruit of the Spirit. I’m not arguing against the Orthodox position. They seem to integrate together really. What do you think?

    Thank you again, so much, for your willingness to invest time in me. Not many will.

    Ben

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