Sunday, March 02, 2014

Did Christ Take upon Himself Human Nature or Fallen Human Nature?

For most of Church History there has been a general  belief among all groups of Christians that Christ took upon Himself the Nature of Man in a pre-fall state. I state this in the beginning because the historical connection of doctrines can be important, especially with regards to doctrines which are crucial to salvation. Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would guide His people into all truth in John 14. While this promise does not unconditionally, in general we do see a preservation  and restoration of truth as we follow Church History.   If a doctrine requires you to consider almost all of the previous church to be considered in a serious error or even damnable heresy then it is only on the strongest irrefutable Biblical evidence that you should proceed. The hallmark of a cult such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they believe there was no true church essentially from the time of the apostles until they were founded.
I realize that I am making some strong statements, but when you see someone applying a verse like, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2Jn 1:7 ) to those who teach that Christ came in human but not fallen human nature is to call them deceivers and antichrists. Those are very strong words! Not only that, but who will you be calling deceivers and antichrists, the majority of historical Christians, men as varied as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Menno Simons, John Wesley, Charles Finney (who denied sin nature in general), Charles Spurgeon to name just a few. Were all of these men deceivers? Were they all antichrists? If you believe so speak plainly, and anathematize most of the Church that has gone before.

This verse has a historical context, and as early as can be observed in Church History we see Gnostic groups who like Platonists and Neoplatonists believed that the body was always sinful, because it was matter. Terms like “mortal coil” are platonic and result from the belief that the body is a prison to the soul. Since such beliefs were common Gnostic teachers held that Christ only appeared to come as a man, and there were false Gospels written claiming that Jesus felt no pain on the cross, because pain was associated with mutability in the Greek mind. What these antichrists denied though was that Christ had any humanity at all, not that He had sinful humanity.

Even though the Church fathers rejected and fought against these doctrines, they did influence Christian thought. This is one of the reasons for the prominence of amillenialism as well as a lack of focus on the resurrection of the body and severe asceticism in the first few centuries. It all flowed from a belief that created matter and the human body were evil because they were matter, and therefore a bodily resurrection and physical millenium were not attractive, even though the bodily resurrection was never fully denied, it became less stated with people talking more about souls going to heaven than what transpires after that.

So historically there is no question that the early church taught that Christ took humanity on Himself there is great reason to doubt that they thought it was fallen humanity.

With this in mind I would like to look at some Scriptures and show why there is no support for the belief that Christ took fallen nature on Himself, but it is clearly taught that He took human nature on Himself.

1.      Luk 2:21-24  And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.  And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons."

These verses are supposed to show that Christ had a fallen nature since the offering of the sacrifice was a sin offering (Lev. 12:6-8), however while the Levitical Law is  a strong indication that man is born in sin, using the offering in Luke to show that He had a sin nature proves far too much. If this offering was for the sin nature of Christ, was it effectual or ineffectual? If it was effectual for Christ we can only assume it would have been effectual for all others for whom it was done, and there would have been no need for Christ to come and die since the bird offering dealt with our sin nature. This is directly contradicted by Hebrews 10:4 “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

On the other hand if it was ineffectual then it does not prove He had a sin nature any more than His baptism proves He had actual sins. Jesus did many things that were types of His sacrifice to come as a Jewish Man, and yet we do not imagine that He was in need of the spiritual realities they foreshadowed. He ate the Passover Lamb as well, but that did not mean He required a participation in His own sacrifice as we do in it.

There several other verses sometimes quoted all of which speak of Christ coming in the flesh and as the seed of Abraham and David. I am not going to look at those because they are not at issue here. No one who accepts the incarnation denies that Christ had a Jewish body and was David’s offspring, what we deny is that He had a fallen nature from Adam. The Type of flesh He had is shown clearly from several other verses and we will look at these.

2.      Rom. 8:3 “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”

This is the only time the term sinful flesh is used in Scripture and what is said is very interesting. Paul’s term is very specific as is pointed out in Vincent’s word studies:

Lit., of the flesh of sin. The choice of words is especially noteworthy. Paul does not say simply, “He came in flesh” (1Jo_4:2; 1Ti_3:16), for this would not have expressed the bond between Christ's manhood and sin. Not in the flesh of sin, which would have represented Him as partaking of sin. Not in the likeness of flesh, since He was really and entirely human; but, in the likeness of the flesh of sin: really human, conformed in appearance to the flesh whose characteristic is sin, yet sinless. “Christ appeared in a body which was like that of other men in so far as it consisted of flesh, and was unlike in so far as the flesh was not flesh of sin” (Dickson).

He is not the only one who makes this distinction clear , Adam Clarke wrote on this passage:

He, in whom dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily, took upon him the likeness of sinful flesh, that is, a human body like ours, but not sinful as ours.

John Gill:

This sending of the Son, designs the manifestation of him in human nature; as appears from the form and manner in which he was sent, "in the likeness of sinful flesh"; which expresses the reality of his incarnation, of his having a true real human nature; for flesh is not to be taken strictly for a part of the body, nor for the whole body only, but for the whole human nature, soul and body; which though it looked like a sinful nature, yet was not sinful: the likeness of it denotes the outward appearance of Christ in it; who was born of a sinful woman; was subject to the infirmities of human nature, which though not sinful, are the effects of sin; was reckoned among transgressors, was traduced as one himself by men, and treated as such by the justice of God; he having all the sins of his people on him, for which he was answerable...

There are many others that could be quoted, but the sense of the verses here is clear. Christ came in real human flesh, but not sinful human flesh. He bore the likeness of that.

3.      You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. (1 John 3:5).

Robertson’s word pictures states this well:

And in him is no sin (kai hamartia en autōi ouk estin). “And sin (the sinful principle) in him is not.” As Jesus had claimed about himself (Joh_7:18; Joh_8:46) and as is repeatedly stated in the N.T. (2Co_5:21; Heb_4:15; Heb_7:26; Heb_9:13).

John Gill:

and in him is no sin; neither original, nor actual; no sin inherent; there was sin imputed to him, but none in him, nor done by him; and hence he became a fit person to be a sacrifice for the sins of others, and by his unblemished sacrifice to take the away.

Vincent’s Word Studies:
In Him is no sin (ἁμαρτία ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔστιν)
Lit., in Him sin is not. He is essentially and forever without sin. Compare Joh_7:18.

As all of these commentators bring out Jesus is clearly taught to be not only free from actions of sin, but the nature causing those actions. If this verse is not enough to carry the point that is fine there are two more I will quote though other Scriptures could also be cited.

4.      “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me” (John 14:30).

This is as emphatic a statement as can be made that Christ had not fallen nature which was bent towards sin and temptation in Him. Let’s look at a few commentaries on this.

John Wesley:

The prince of this world is coming - To make his grand assault. But he hath nothing in me - No right, no claim, or power. There is no guilt in me, to give him power over me; no corruption to take part with his temptation.

Albert Barnes:

Hath nothing in me - There is in me no principle or feeling that accords with his, and nothing, therefore, by which he can prevail. Temptation has only power because there are some principles in us which accord with the designs of the tempter, and which may be excited by presenting corresponding objects until our virtue be overcome. Where there is no such propensity, temptation has no power. As the principles of Jesus were wholly on the side of virtue, the meaning here may be that, though he had the natural appetites of man, his virtue was so supreme that Satan “had nothing in him” which could constitute any danger that he would be led into sin, and that there was no fear of the result of the conflict before him.

Christ had nothing in Him that inclined Him to respond to Satan’s temptation. He was able to overcome and that is why we can overcome because we have been given the nature of Christ, the second Adam.

5.      “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Every fallen human being knows sin, even when we do not commit sinful acts, we have the carnal mind inside of us which is an enemy of God. If Jesus had a fallen nature then He knew sin, because He had a carnal mind of which it is said, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). That is clearly an error. Jesus did not have the inward nature which actively and constantly rebels against God. If He did He would have known sin even if He never committed sin.

Concluding points

It is not possible to make a distinction between someone’s nature and their behavior. It is a distinction without a difference. If I said to someone I am not saying that you are a liar, I am just saying you have a lying nature, how would they interpret that? To have a lying nature is to be a liar, and in the same way to have a sinful nature is to be a sinner. Men are subject to death and all of its penalties from the moment of birth, because we are treated as sinners from the moment of birth. God can do this with justice because we have a sin nature. Just as we impute animal behavior from the adult prototype to its offspring, God imputes Adam’s behavior to us. A lion cub is not housed in a chicken coup since it is innocent of killing chickens and might turn into a vegetarian. From the moment of birth a lion is a killer by nature, it only awaits the right circumstance to show what is already inside. We know this and reckon every lion cub as a killer and deal with it accordingly. In the same way God sees every son and daughter of Adam as a sinner and deals with them accordingly because of their sin nature. Sinful acts necessarily follow given opportunity.

We are called to put on the mind of Christ. There is no question which mind this is, it is a mind of love and union with God and His thoughts - a mind of humility and obedience. This presupposes that Christ did not have the carnal mind in Him.

We are called to put on the New Man. That New Man is in the image of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. If He has a new nature now and we are able to put that on, when did He obtain it, if He was not born as a perfect man without the corruption from the first Adam?

To say that Christ could not be fully human unless He had a fallen nature is to say that Adam was not fully human until he fell, this is the opposite of the truth, since the fall turns man into more and more of a beast instead of what God intended for him to be. If Adam was fully a man before the fall, why would Christ need to have a fallen nature to be a true man?

Some state these doctrines because of a desire to show that Christ could be tempted, yet Adam was tempted effectually without having a sinful nature. If Adam could fall without a sin nature why would Christ need one in order to be tempted?

There is more that could be written, but since the hermeneutical principle states that what is unclear must be interpreted by what is clear, and Christ is clearly shown to have had flesh, but not had an internal knowledge of sin, He must be concluded to not have had a sinful nature. That is why we can put on the nature of the Second Adam and have victory over Adam’s nature, because He overcame every temptation, and having overcome the roots of sin which felled Adam overcame every branch and fruit of sin within us.

Praise His mighty name! Amen.