Is Jesus the only way?

Couldn’t God have saved us some other way – like give us a billion years in heaven so we could watch him in action, soak up his love and never want to sin in the first place? Or, if we did sin, why couldn’t God simply forgive us? Or, better still, why not give us the Holy Spirit from birth so we wouldn’t sin at all? Jesus had the Spirit from conception, and he didn’t sin, so why not start us off the same way?

Because God gave us a will, unlike any other creature, and he allowed us total freedom to exercise that will, rather than force us into obeying him or programming us to behave in a certain way, like the animals. God wanted us to be absolutely free to choose, even if that meant choosing to turn our will against him. We have that kind of power.

So had the angels. They had a will too, and they clearly demonstrated to us that it doesn’t matter how long you spend with God in heaven, it’s still no guarantee that we’ll turn our will toward God, because after all that time with God one third of the angels turned their wills against him. And forgiving them wouldn’t have changed their wills, either, because we also learn from the angels that once the will is turned against God the mind becomes so warped that it sees God as the enemy. The same thing happened to Adam and Eve. They turned their will away from God and their minds became so warped they hid from him. They didn’t want anything to do with him anymore, just like most human beings ever since.

So why couldn’t God have given all of us his Spirit from the start? Because our own experience tells us that even when we’ve got the Spirit, our will is so powerful it can still get us focused on ourselves and not on God. So what on earth does it take to keep our wills turned toward God at all times? If giving us a billion years in heaven doesn’t work, and forgiveness doesn’t heal a warped mind, and even a mind with the Spirit still sins, what else is there?

There’s Jesus, the only human who ever turned his will to God all the time, without fail, and he’s there for us right now still turning his human will to God on our behalf, so that through the Holy Spirit he can live his perfect will in us. He makes possible what for us has proved impossible. That’s why Jesus is the only way.

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Being filled with Jesus’ humanity

People would often tell me when they saw my children as youngsters, “Oh, how they look like you,” because children are little versions of their parents. As our children grow they develop several of our personality traits and mannerisms too. Later still they may even follow us into the same careers, or enjoy the same hobbies.

Similarly, God created us in his likeness, so in our humanity we’re little versions of him, the goal being that we develop and share his likeness more and more as we grow, just like our children develop and share more and more of what we are as adults as they grow. Unfortunately, we fell far short of God’s likeness because we believed the serpent’s lie that all we need as humans to become like God is to know good and evil (Genesis 3:5).

The serpent was clever because he was partly right: Knowing good and evil does make us like God, but only in the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:22). It doesn’t fill us with everything that God is. It’s like a child thinking he’s just like his Dad if he can repair a puncture in a bicycle tire like his Dad does. But just because he repairs tires like his Dad does, it doesn’t make him like his Dad in everything else his Dad is capable of.

God’s goal is to make us in the likeness of ALL that he is, but the serpent got us settling for less. So God sent Jesus in whom “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,” Colossians 2:9 to fill US with the fullness of God in our bodily form too, verse 10. Jesus came in our limited form of humanity to give us the fullness of God’s form of humanity – which Jesus could do, of course, because HE IS the fullness of God in human form, so he’s fully qualified to make us into the fullness of God in human form too.

It is Jesus’ goal, therefore, to fill our humanity with the same fullness of God’s humanity that he has in himself, so that we are truly made in God’s image in every way, not just in knowing good and evil. Through the Holy Spirit Jesus is “transforming us into his likeness with ever-increasing glory,” 2 Corinthians 3:18, just like our children grow into our adult likeness with ever-increasing strength and brainpower. And one day our children become fully-fledged adults in their own right, just as God sent Jesus to make us into fully-fledged humans in the fullness of his humanity too.

Christmas, Advent, or Incarnation?

Christmas and Advent both celebrate the coming of Jesus to this Earth, but Advent differs from Christmas in that it also celebrates the second coming of Jesus as the Mighty God and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), whereas Christmas focuses only on his first coming as a baby.

For some Christians, however, neither Advent or Christmas are suitable terms, because neither tell the full story behind Jesus’ birth. Christmas, for instance, has buried the story in a circus of meaningless rituals, and Advent is an old-fashioned term that makes for nice children’s calendars leading up to Christmas, but offers no insight to non-Christians as to why Jesus was born. The term these Christians prefer for celebrating Jesus’ birth, therefore, is ‘Incarnation’.

Incarnation is defined as taking on the body and nature of a human, which is exactly what happened to Jesus. He was God in human flesh, and Incarnation focuses our full attention on that, not on all those pesky Christmas customs that don’t tell us anything about why Jesus was born as a human being. It’s better than ‘Advent’ too, because Advent is associated more with a season than on Jesus the person.

But ‘Incarnation’ is not a perfect term for celebrating Jesus’ birth either, because the Incarnation didn’t begin at his birth. It began before we and our world existed. Jesus was slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8, 1 Peter 1:19-20), so from where God sits and in how he views time, the Incarnation of Jesus happened long before he was born as a baby from Mary. Jesus knew “before the creation of the world” that he would become a flesh and blood human being (Ephesians 1:4) who would die on a cross (verse 7), so the Incarnation was already in motion before we existed, and Jesus’ willingness to go through with it made it a certainty.

The time would then come (Galatians 4:4) for Jesus to take on the body and nature of a human being (Philippians 2:7-8), but he would continue in that state after his death too, because three days later he came back to life in human form again. And after he ascended back to heaven the disciples were told he would return one day in the same way he left too (Acts 1:11), meaning Jesus will return in the appearance of a human yet again.

When using the term “Incarnation”, therefore, it recognizes that Jesus being human didn’t begin with his birth, nor did it end with his death. The Incarnation extends way beyond his short stint here as a human being. It includes his human birth, but the Incarnation began before our world existed, and it continues forever into the future too.