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The Nature of Man: The Incarnation of Christ

June 03, 2024
By Dr. Laws Rushing II

“He is the image of the invisible God.”

The nature of humankind was fundamentally changed in the fall of Adam. The image of God in man was defaced and vitiated because of sin. The Apostle Paul notes, “in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Ephesians 2:2,3).

Our estrangement and rebellion from God necessitated a Savior. This is the very message of the Bible even back in the garden. A Savior is promised as the “Seed of woman” which would crush the serpent’s head and curse of sin (Genesis 3:15). Our Savior would also have to be God because of humanity’s inability due to our contingent and creaturely complexion. The spiritual predicament required that God enter human flesh and restore His own image in mankind. This is exactly what the Bible reveals about the historical person known as Jesus of Nazareth.

The concept of God becoming human, or flesh is known as the doctrine of the incarnation. The word itself is of Latin origin but built on the Greek phraseology found in (John 1:14), John states that the eternal Word “became” (ἐγένετο) “flesh” (σὰρξ ). This is also a reference to the Torah and Yahweh with the word “dwelt” or tabernacled (ἐσκήνωσεν), from the time in the wilderness additionally substantiating Christ’s divinity (Exodus 29: 42-46). This doctrine is also consistent with the nativity story of Jesus being miraculously born of the virgin Mary (Matthew 1, Luke 2) and designated, "Son of God" (Matthew 3:16, 16:18, John 1:14, 3:16).

Jesus of Nazareth is described as the Eternal Word. (John 1:1-4) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

The Bible puts in no uncertain terms that Jesus is eternal God. From the prophetic voice of the Old Testament to the book of Revelation, Christ is revealed as deity. (Isaiah 9:6) “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The Apostle Paul enjoined by describing Jesus as, “being in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6).

Jesus’ own self-understanding is also evidence of His deity. Christ forgave sins which is the prerogative of God. Christ forgave the sins of the man afflicted with paralysis in which He shockingly said, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise up and walk?” We find later in the house of the pharisee, a woman washes and anoints Jesus’ feet. Jesus exclaims, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7: 36-50). Moreover, on the cross to thief, “today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

God became flesh or incarnated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Furthermore, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3,4).

Jesus also confirms by powerfully alluding to His self-existence prior to human birth. Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, my honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:54-58).

Jesus was born physically that we might be born spiritually which is restorative in eternal salvation. (John 1:12,13) “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

No wonder when Thomas saw the risen Jesus he confessed, “My Lord and my God.” It is through Jesus that we find the image of God created again, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8: 29, 30).

Christ came to earth to initiate a new creation and kingdom. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:17-19).

It is into His kingdom we are born through water baptism and spiritual regeneration. (John 3:3-8) "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?' Jesus answered, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”


The Nature of Man: Sin

May 22, 2024
By Dr. Laws Rushing II

 “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled.”

God created the world and humanity good. Yet, we find in our world the stubborn fact of sin. In one sense, our greatest dignity and identity is wrought through free will, but choice also makes possible our sinfulness and rebellion. The first truth concerning sin is that it is not ontologically sourced in God.

The Bible clearly depicts the perfection and goodness of our heavenly Father. “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:13-16). Moreover, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (I John 1: 5).

The Bible gives the story of the original fall which details temptation and the eternal existential consequences. The Apostle Paul reveals that something profound happened to humanity in the fall of Adam. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Sin entered the world through Adam and proliferated with the result of physical and spiritual death. “Till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). The Apostle Paul relates, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, sin means literally “missing the mark.”

(I John 3:4) “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” The word is related to an action or behavior which is contrary or deficient from the standard required, commanded, and expected by God. It also in some Biblical contexts carries the notion of power. Sin can exert hegemony and control over a person. Jesus relates, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” The Scriptures also say, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.  And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6: 12-14).

Sin spiritually estranges us from God which isolates us from life and being itself. (Isaiah 59: 1,2) “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you.” The Scriptures characterize humanity’s dilemma as spiritual death because of sin. “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Ephesians 2: 1-3). Salvation must come in terms of a new birth (John 3). “Those who are born once (physically) will die twice (physically and eternally); however, those who are born twice (physically and spiritually) will die only once (physically).” (Geisler 2004)

The holiness of God stands in contrast to our sinfulness. The Bible puts this into stark terms, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Isaiah when confronted by an appearance of the Lord reacted, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). Peter similarly with Christ, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

We are sinful. (Romans 3:23) “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Our recalcitrance is rooted in our own inner being “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” Our salvation must be found in God. The Apostle Paul details the magnificent grace and intervention of the Father through Jesus Christ, “in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14). 

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The Nature of Man: Image of God (Part 4)

May 13, 2024
By Dr. Laws Rushing II

Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees and the Herodians about His allegiance to Caesar or the Jewish nation when asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?” The attempt was to entrap Jesus in an answer that was either disloyal to Rome or unbecoming of Jesus in the Davidic anticipation of Messiah. Jesus ingeniously retorted, “Whose image and inscription is this?” The people responded, “Caesar’s.” Jesus concluded famously, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The image of Caesar was on the coin, but the image of God is inscribed on the soul. The instilled image of God is a human nature which is spiritual, free, rational, and relational.

The ancients pursued knowledge of the fundamental essences of life. Many conjectured on the classical elements such as fire, water, air, and earth as dominant. Democritus proposed the idea of an atom which was highly intuitive and ingenious, millennia before the microscope. Some proposed a fifth unknown element, a quintessence. What is the quintessence of life? The biologist would point to the cell, the smallest unit of life. The chemist would present a periodic table. A physicist would exclaim that the Hadron Collider has found the building blocks of the universe in evanescent entities known as quarks. But none of these things speak to the soul of man about the quintessence of life.

We desire relationships and belonging with one another. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We were created with the capacities of communication, companionship, and community. Philosopher Martin Buber explored, “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” (Buber 1923)

Christ was asked about the central commandments to the Torah which He summarized in the commandments of love! It is a relationship which is fundamental and focal to life and Christianity. (Matthew 22:37-39) “Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The phrase “one another” is prominent in the New Testament and appears 100 times and 59 as a command, which directs our attention on the reciprocal quality of life, the aspiration and command of love. (Sterk 2023)

Jesus gives His followers a new commandment, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). Our Lord magnifies the command of love by insisting on his own love as the basis of the command towards one another.

Other “one another” phrases include:

“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10).

“Be of the same mind toward one another” (Romans 12:16).

“Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing” (I Thessalonians 5:11).

“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

The nature of Humanity reflects the “image of God.” The Genesis narrative summarizes God’s creative actions of human beings as “very good.” God created humanity with the spiritual endowments of soul, freedom, rationality, and relational faculty.

The Nature of Man: Image of God (Part 3)

April 29, 2024
By Dr. Laws Rushing II

The metaphysical reality of free will is the basis of human identity, responsibility, and rationality. It is foundational to our spiritual nature and endowments. Rationality itself is an extension of our free will. We have the potential ability to adjudicate beliefs, thoughts, and actions formulated on thinking which is consistent and rational. We also can base our decisions on irrational forces such as emotions or fallacious thinking.

Rationality is based on several criteria. One of which is the idea of causation. The idea of causality is found in every science from math and science to the study of history. The idea of causality is assumed in Newton’s laws of motion to geometric and algebraic computation. Rationality is understanding the basis of causality in different arenas of thought. Medical doctors will observe and treat symptoms which imply causes sometimes even unseen in the human body whether it be organ failure or a bacterium. Our empirical testing has come a long way to where we can detect many illnesses, but diagnosis generally is a conclusion or inference based on evidence. So, rationality includes the idea of necessary and sufficient reasons for a result.

Many philosophers have concluded that rationality is a hallmark of a transcendent Creator. If the mind is not the primary dynamic of the universe, what would be the foundation for the intelligibility of the universe? And even beyond this, why would there be any rationality at all? The laws of thought are immaterial and universal. They were not created by mankind but discovered and articulated over time. The laws of thought dramatically argue with atheistic materialism which postulates a reality only observed and measured through scientific means.

A great pioneer of rationality was Aristotle, who was able to convey the principles of thought called the laws of identity, contradiction (non-contradiction), and excluded middle. He also introduced the ideas of induction which were later refined by Francis Bacon to become what is commonly called the scientific method.

Another framework for rationality is cohesion or consistency. Rationality is holding ideas and conclusions which are non-contradictory. A man cannot be a bachelor and married at the same time. These two contradictions cannot simultaneously exist in the same subject. Some have argued that the idea of God is somehow illogical. The strongest of such assertions is generally connected with the existence of evil or suffering in the world. However, this is not a logical contradiction within the same subject but two distinct identities. There is no logical contradiction in the Christian conception of God which is, God as supreme good and power, which would be the case, for a being, which is being itself. God is unconditioned.

Rationality can be compromised through fallacious reasoning. In other words, believing things because of faulty thinking processes. Consider the logical fallacy of begging the question, which asserts a premise without proper rationales. Or a circular argument which essentially repeats the premise in different words. People often attack a person instead of their intellectual position. All these and more are not rationally valid processes for beliefs.

God endowed humanity with rationality, and this reflects the nature of His being. His wisdom transcends our own. “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Corinthians 1:25).

“For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth comes knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, The Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:8).

We also see in Scripture that Jesus uses rationality to communicate the message of God. Jesus reasons with the people when accused of miracles through Beelzebub by constructing an argument based on the principle that divided kingdoms fall (Matthew 12: 22-29). If He (Jesus) is casting out demons by the power of demons, then He is “dividing the kingdom” and thus undermining Himself.

Jesus also reasoned about the afterlife by recalling Moses and the burning bush. God revealed Abraham still had a covenant relationship despite being physically dead and is thus still living. This subtle argument was based on the tense of a verb! ‘Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken” (Mark 12:24-27).

Early evangelists would reason with their audiences in the proclamation of the Gospel. Stephen’s preaching was persuasive through wisdom, “Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen.  And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke” (Acts 6: 9, 10). It is said of the Apostle Paul, “Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2).

God has endowed humanity with rationality through free will and knowledge of thought itself. We are all trying to make sense of life and the Scriptures.

Rationality is the signature of God on the soul of man.

We can make decisions based on truth, reasoning, and consequence. This has ennobled man to accomplish amazing things spiritually and scientifically. This substantial characteristic is reflective of the image of God and enabled our dominion of the earth as primevally promised in Genesis.

Then Nature of Man: Image of God (Part II)

April 18, 2024
By Dr. Laws Rushing II

The Psalmist of old contemplated humanity’s place in the universe by writing, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” Humanity is constituted of two unified natures, body and soul. The body is created out of matter and physical while the soul is immaterial and categorized as the mind. One of the most significant features of our image bearing is the endowment of freedom which is a hallmark of our distinctive spiritual nature.

The transcendent trait of free will is a building block to other spiritual faculties and integral to the essence of humans.

When we look at the universe and other lifeforms, we see that plants and animals behave differently than humans and for good reasons. Either they act entirely in accordance with physical law or upon instincts. Whereas humans have the potential to function based on other mental frameworks, priorities, conceptional and even ethical hierarchies. Simply put, mature humans have the ability to choose actions.

The fact of human freedom, while seemingly self-evident, intuitive, and how we understand ourselves and others is shockingly controversial among some scientists and philosophers.

In recent years, atheistic thinkers have been doomed to this radical deduction because of their unwavering commitment and faith to atheistic materialism. The idea that all of reality consists of what we can detect empirically or by scientific methods. Yet, this epistemological modus operandi is plainly self-defeating and beyond its own criterion for knowledge.

In the worldview of atheistic materialism, there is simply no room for free will because it cannot be defined by material terms or measures. The assumption is that humans are entirely physical, and all our behaviors are determined by mindless chemistry. So, you are left eventually with the absurdity that a 747 plane was designed by merely deterministic chemicals in the brain with only illusory choices in the process! Rationality itself is destroyed in the wake of materialistic determinism.

Also, understanding that the universe was born in the infinite freedom and agency of God. Freedom is unconditioned except for being itself which would be adequately explained by God as pure being. All other alternative origins are ultimately, as the adage goes, “turtles all the way down” (infinite regress) or being from non-being which have major philosophical problems. Almighty God in his unconditioned freedom is a rational and sufficient explanation of the created universe and our own image bearing nature.

The Bible clearly portrays humanity as responsible agents. God said of humanity in the beginning, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat” (Genesis 2: 16). To the people of Israel, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30: 19).

The great leader Joshua challenged the people, “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the river and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14, 15).

Jesus speaks in Revelation, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Revelation 3:20,21).

Our free will is limited, finite, and fallen. Our choices are impacted and influenced undoubtedly by our genetics, environment, and selfishness. However, we still have personal volition, intentionality, and responsibility for our actions.

The great Anselm summarized brilliantly, “Remove grace, and you have nothing whereby to be saved. Remove free will and you have nothing that could be saved.”

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